Tag Archives: marc sazer

What Has RMA Been Up to Lately?

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

Pension Legislative Activism

We are very proud of the Recording Musicians Association’s role in pulling together a working group to help save our pension fund. With AFM President Hair’s support, many groups—ICSOM, RMA, ROPA, TMA, AFM Legislative Office (Alfonso Pollard and Sandra Grier), AFM Organizing Department (Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger) and AFM Communications Department (Antoinette Follett)—all worked together on the intense campaign.

Meredith Snow (ICSOM chair), Mike Smith (ROPA president), Tony D’Amico (TMA president), and I committed ourselves to activating rank-and-file musicians. The American Rescue Act has benefited musicians in a number of ways: allocating financial support to venues, making PPP loans available to unions, extending unemployment benefits, providing COBRA subsidies, and more. But creating a pathway to survival for our pension fund was a particularly tremendous accomplishment. Hundreds of AFM musicians generated thousands of targeted phone calls­—and we won!


RMA helped form a joint RMA-TMA committee on touring issues. Prepandemic, touring artists and musical productions provided a great deal of employment, yet rarely under union contracts. The industry is multi-faceted. There are superstar artists with groups of different sizes, productions that mix traveling with pick-up musicians in their orchestras, artists who travel with regular bands, and artists with side musicians who play regular weekend gigs from a home base.

The first goal of our committee is research. We know that this is a big conversation. Please feel free to contact me, if you have thoughts or questions about this project. We appreciate the participation of AFM Organizing & Education Director Michael Manley and Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi.


RMA is now preparing for film/TV negotiations by doing widespread research on TV contract compliance. In a survey of TV production by our signatory companies, you might be surprised to see how many projects out there could have and should have been under AFM contracts, but weren’t! Musicians should have and could have gotten standard wages, protections on the job, residuals and new use payments, and health and pension benefits, but they didn’t. In virtually every case, the actors, writers, directors, carpenters, costumers, and drivers all worked under union contracts. Only the musicians were denied.

Similar to the touring issues, research is central. We are identifying sources of information and cross-checking corporate filings, copyright office records, trade information, and more to verify and expose. RMA has formed a small research committee focused on this project.

Our goal is to share our methods and grow a cadre of AFM musician-researchers who are able to step in and support campaigns, whenever and wherever needed. If you are interested in participating, or have thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at marcsazer@gmail.com.

We’re all in this together.

Banding Together Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

Scant months ago, recording musicians from around North America were voting to overwhelmingly ratify our new motion picture and television film agreement. We were proud to have had success in gaining some historic improvements but recognized that we had not achieved fair compensation for streaming media. We were beginning the process of pivoting to the next campaign, and live TV.

Then came COVID-19.

Without commenting on the degree to which this pandemic will have a deeper and more dangerous impact as result of the failures of our own US government, we now all know that the effects on musicians worldwide are devastating. We are symphonic, opera, ballet, and theater musicians who tour, play in clubs, perform chamber music, perform on Broadway, record on scoring stages for film and television, and play for late night and variety shows on TV. We are all in this together.

The economic toll this is taking on us as individuals varies in the short run, but loss of income is sure to be widespread. For recording musicians, daily reports of cancellations of sessions, productions shutting down, shows going off the air and studio lots closing down threaten millions of dollars of AFM wages—that is, paychecks for musicians.

One consequence of the pandemic will inevitably be a tremendous loss of revenue for locals and the American Federation of Musicians. This could threaten programs we know to be crucial: organizing, research, education. Our union will still need to bargain, administer, and enforce our contracts. Important negotiations are still on tap: live TV, commercials, the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, and visible on the far horizon, film and television film. This hydra-headed disruption is unprecedented.

President Hair has called on Congress to act on our behalf. Local AFM leaders from around the country and our Player Conferences have stepped up, quietly but with determination, to do what we can. The new side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement spearheaded by ICSOM and ROPA leadership working together with AFM staff, is a shining example of Player Conference leadership on behalf of musicians.

Events are moving so rapidly that it is difficult to envision what the headlines will be by the time you read this article. The one thing we can be confident of is that we will need to remember our common needs and goals. We will survive COVID-19, as we have survived all along: by banding together.

streaming agreements

Musicians Organize to Create Fair Streaming Agreements

by Marc Sazer, President Recording Musicians Association and Member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 802 (New York City)

Even as our national government is mired in anti-labor policies and politics, the entertainment industry has experienced pioneering organizing over the past few years. Actors, writers, even video game workers, are organizing, acting, and gaining improvements. For musicians, our need to participate in the new streaming economy is an existential imperative. The last few years have seen our union negotiate key improvements from major media companies, especially in regards to our US pension fund, Music Performance Trust Fund, and Sound Recording Special Payments Fund.

But the rapid move across all media to streaming platforms threatens to leave musicians behind. This would be devastating, not just to those of us who work directly in recording studios, but for all of us. Our funds and our place in pattern bargaining would be damaged irrevocably, if we can’t achieve fair compensation in streaming media. But perhaps the greatest harm would befall the next generation, and the next after them—aspirations dashed, a decent future denied.

We all have a stake in this, not just the house band players on the late night shows and the performers on The Voice and Dancing with the Stars. This includes musicians who prepare and perform the music on films, television, and streaming shows, from little indie and student projects to Star Wars, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Orville; the players on records that are licensed into these media; as well as sideline musicians all over North America who bring these projects to life.

And we can do it! Take a look at some recent news headlines, as people working all across the entertainment industry seek real-life improvements through organizing.

As Video Games Make Billions, the Workers Behind Them Say It’s Time to Unionize”

Organizers with Game Workers Unite, a group that has sprung up in the last year to push for wall-to-wall unionization in the $43-billion game industry, kicked off each session with an icebreaker: “Damn the man.” (Sam Dean, April 12, 2019 LATimes)

“Telemundo Actors Vote Overwhelmingly to Join SAG-AFTRA”
Actors at the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo have overwhelmingly voted to unionize with SAG-AFTRA, bringing to a close a protracted dispute between Hollywood’s largest union and NBCUniversal, which owns the network. (David Ng, March 8, 2017 LATimes)

“SBS’s La Ley Staffers Vote to Join SAG-AFTRA”

The on-air talent at Spanish Broadcasting System’s Chicago radio station La Ley 107.9 (WLEY-FM) voted overwhelmingly to recognize SAG-AFTRA as their union.
(Veronica Villafañe, October 1, 2018, Mediamoves.com)

“Aaron Sorkin and David Chase Among the Writers Who Support WGA in Fight with Agents”

Ratcheting up the pressure in its fight with Hollywood talent agencies, the Writers Guild of America has released a statement of support from hundreds of its members who are saying that they intend to vote in favor this week of a new code of conduct that would limit agency practices, including the packaging of productions. (David Ng, March 25, 2019, LATimes)

“Actors’ Equity Reaches Development Deal with Broadway Producers; Strike Over”

Actors’ Equity Association and Broadway producers have reached what Equity is calling a “historic” agreement on a profit-sharing contract model for union members participating in early stage production development. The new lab agreement includes profit sharing, higher wages, and additional stage manager contracts, according to Equity. (Greg Evans, February 8, 2019, Deadline.com)

“Musicians Seek Streaming Residuals as Contract Talks Launch with Studios”

The AFM held a press conference Wednesday prior to the start of negotiations at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Musicians are working under the terms of an extended contract that was signed in 2015 as a three-year deal. The AMPTP had no comment.

The AFM noted that SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of America have been able to negotiate residuals for films made for streaming, but musicians have been excluded. The union noted that musicians currently receive residual payments for secondary-market uses of theatrical and TV films, but not for films made for the Internet.

“As streaming consumption grows, the absence of streaming residuals will prevent musicians from being able to afford a home and feed their families, and threatens to erode the major contributions our members make to our local communities,” said Ray Hair, AFM International President.

“AFM members must take on the changes in technology by ensuring that we maintain good jobs and a rightful place in the future of the industry,” he added. “We are seeking a productive dialogue with AMPTP as we work to reach a fair resolution of these negotiations.”

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a letter, “Working people in the entertainment industry must face the changes in our business together. For generations, we have fought for quality jobs and won. Now, as the industry moves toward new media, we believe it is time to stand together again. Our members recognize the tremendous value that musicians bring to our films and television shows, and we support their demand for a fair contract for streaming.” (Dave McNary, March 13, 2019, Variety)


Musicians Must Build Solidarity in a Future Full of Streaming

Marc Sazer

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

The Recording Musicians Association (RMA) plays a variety of roles in our AFM: we are advisors, researchers, activists, educators, and bridge builders. We currently have chapters in New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles, and there are AFM members elsewhere who also choose to support us with their membership.

We work to advance the interests of musicians working in records, Live TV, motion pictures,  TV film, jingles, games, and demos—wherever musicians record on union contracts. Sadly, much of our history is fraught with division—film musicians vs. live TV musicians vs. records, games, or whatever. Recording musicians vs. others.

The world has moved on. We can no longer afford to be at odds with each other. Our issues are converging day by day; the issues at stake in one contract are the issues at stake for all. As all media becomes streaming media, we are faced with an existential threat. We must negotiate sustainable contracts for when musicians create music for streaming media.

Even as budgets for streaming service shows are rising, music budgets are falling. We are in a golden age of television. The AFM is scoring a record number of shows, including award-winning streaming hits like The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock on Hulu, Vital Signs on Apple, Luke Cage and She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. But musicians’ wages in television are flat—we’re working more, but not sharing in the bounty.

The brilliant performers who create the music for live TV—Cleto and the Cletones (the Jimmy Kimmel Live! band), Stay Human (on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), the bands for Saturday Night Live, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and more—get cut out of the loop when their work makes money for the networks on YouTube. And as live TV shows begin to move to streaming first, musicians are left even further behind under our current contract.

These issues matter for every member of the AFM. Our residuals fund, the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund, provides millions of unallocated dollars to support our pension fund. The major record labels similarly provide $6 million each year to support the current and future health of our pension fund. Just as critically, our strength at the table with major media companies is a template for our union’s position with other employers.

As each of our sister unions—International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, SAG-AFTRA, Writers Guild of America (WGA), and Directors Guild of America (DGA)—have faced the media conglomerates, they have recognized the life and death imperative of winning a fair share of the vast revenues from streaming.

From the beginning of this round of bargaining, in early 2017, all the unions, union after union, have been driven to militancy. The WGA threatened to strike in 2017. SAG-AFTRA has only just completed a successful strike authorization vote for streaming residuals in TV animation. IATSE broke off talks twice before finalizing a deal over streaming revenues that remains controversial with their members; at the time of this writing their contract had not yet been ratified by their membership.

This fundamental transformation of media and music recording is happening against the backdrop of a crescendo of general attacks on unions in here in the US. The recent US Supreme Court Janus decision undermined union security for public employees nationwide and attacks on private industry unions like ours are in the works. The existential threat to our ability to make a living in a streaming-first world is mirrored by the threat to the general survival of unions.

And yet, the very real movement we created across the table in the live TV negotiations sends a clear message: musicians have a voice. Musicians speaking across the table and in public have real and rarely tapped power. We can thrive and we can win.

So what can we do? What can you as an individual do? The simplest things can be the most powerful. Show up. Be present. When your local, the AFM, or a player conference invite you to attend a meeting, fill out a survey, or sign a petition—just do it!

LCC/PCC Conference

AFM Leadership Meets Representatives at LCC/PCC Conference

by Dan Cerveny, Locals’ Conferences Council, President Mid-States Conference of Musicians, Secretary Local 70-558 (Omaha, NE) and Marc Sazer, Player Conferences Council, President Recording Musicians Association, and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)


LCC/PCC Meeting

At the Locals’ Conferences Council/Player Conferences Council meeting (L to R): Western Conference Delegate and Local 105 (Spokane, WA) Secretary-Treasurer Rachel Dorfman; OCSM President and Local 247 (Victoria, BC) Member Robert Fraser; Professional Musicians of Texas Delegate and Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) President Stewart Williams; Southern Conference President and Local 655 (Miami, FL) Secretary-Treasurer Jeffrey Apana; New England Conference Secretary and Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT) Secretary-Treasurer Candace Lammers; TMA Delegate and Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) Member David Philippus; ICSOM Chair and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) Member Meredith Snow; RMA President and Local 47 Member Marc Sazer; ROPA Delegate and Local 166 (Madison, WI) Member Naomi Bensdorf-Frisch; Mid America Conference President and Local 3 (Indianapolis, IN) Secretary Martin Hodapp; Canadian Conference President and Local 276 (Sault Ste. Marie, ON) Secretary-Treasurer Paul Leclair; Mid-States Conference of Musicians president and Local 70-558 (Omaha, NE) Secretary Dan Cerveny; RMA Secretary and Local 47 member Steven Dress; Illinois State Conference Delegate and Local 98 (Edwardsville, IL) Secretary Jerrold Cobetto, and New Jersey Conference President and Local 399 (Asbury Park, NJ) President Dorian Parreott.























Since the mid 1980s, during years when there is no AFM Convention, leadership from AFM conferences meets with AFM officers and department directors to discuss issues relevant to their particular constituents.

The Locals’ Conferences Council (LCC) consists of leadership from all the AFM’s locals conferences and essentially represents the entire AFM membership. The Player Conferences Council (PCC) consists of leadership from all the player conferences and specifically represents AFM symphonic, recording, theater, and touring musicians.

On June 17-18, the LCC/PCC Conference was held at the Westgate Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Saturday began with a meeting of AFM leadership and staff with delegates from both the LCC and PCC. A presentation on the current status of the pension fund was followed by several individual reports. AFM President Ray Hair spoke about office relocation and industry negotiations and AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal reported on AFM finances. AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler talked about his department’s work. AFM directors Michael Manley of the Organizing and Education Division, Paul Sharpe of Freelance Services and Membership Development, and Rose Ryan of Communications gave reports. Director Pat Varriale reported on the work of the Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD). Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick talked about resources available to orchestra musicians. Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director Alfonso Pollard relayed his efforts representing the AFM on Capitol Hill.

On Saturday afternoon LCC and PCC met individually to prepare their reports for presentation to AFM leadership on the following day. Sunday was another opportunity for a joint meeting of the LCC and PCC with AFM leadership and staff.

The LCC portion of the meeting covered a wide range of questions and concerns. The purpose was to solicit information and offer suggestions that might help the AFM aid local officers in the performance of their duties. Main topics were: maneuvering around the AFM website, existing and potential organizing campaigns, local officer education, and general messaging about the AFM to musicians and the public. Interactions between LCC delegates and AFM representatives were extremely informative and greatly appreciated. Thanks to Mid America Conference President and Local 3 (Indianapolis, IN) Secretary Martin Hodapp and Local 105 (Spokane, WA) Secretary-Treasurer Rachel Dorfman for co-chairing the council.

The Player Conferences Council consists of leaders from the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM-OMOSC), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), and the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). Their conversations throughout the weekend centered on how to support the health of our US pension fund, organizing and educating our respective members, and sharing experiences in negotiations and other activities over the past year.

The LCC/PCC Conference meetings are invaluable resources that bridge the gap between national conventions and provide attending delegates with updated information that they can share with their locals and constituent groups.

Marc Sazer

Negotiating Pivotal Media Contracts in the Age of New Media

by Marc Sazer, President Recording Musicians Association (RMA) and member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 802 (New York City)

Marc Sazer

Our AFM negotiates three major filmed media contracts, the Motion Picture, Television Film, and Live TV/Videotape contracts. Together, these CBAs are responsible for more than $150 million of AFM wages and support the livelihoods of thousands of AFM musicians. This year, we are facing pivotal negotiations for all three. Since all of our electronic media contracts are interdependent and intertwined, there will be historic consequences for our shared futures. AFM President Ray Hair has written a series of IM columns over the past few months that give a strategic overview of trends in recorded media, which I recommend you review. This column focuses on the immediate here and now of our contract negotiations.

Unions representing directors, writers, actors, and others who work on film and television shows negotiated significant improvements in new media in 2017. For all of us in the industry, it has become clear that new media is both the future and the present.

  • “Disney Makes $52.4 Billion Deal for 21st Century Fox in Big Bet on Streaming” (The New York Times, December 14, 2017)
  • “Disney to End Netflix Deal and Launch Its Own Streaming Service” (The Verge, August 8, 2017)
  • “Cannes Film Festival Takes on Netflix with New Rule” (The Guardian, May 11, 2017)

We are facing a seismic shift in the way filmed media is produced and distributed. More and more, our jobs will come from projects created initially for streaming, rather than for theaters, networks, or cable. How will professional musicians be able to make a sustainable livelihood?

We know that recording music budgets are generally shrinking and that music budgets for new media are even tighter. In film and TV, musicians’ wages are now almost always dependent on composer’s packages, rather than studio budgets. What can we accomplish in these negotiations that will allow us to make a living in this new environment?

The other unions negotiated increased residuals for all types of new media, as well as sharply shortened streaming windows before residuals are triggered. They also negotiated substantial residuals for advertising-based video on demand (AVOD), such as YouTube, network websites, etc. Payments for subscriber video on demand (SVOD), such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, will now be subject to sliding residual scales based on the number of subscribers the service has. For example, Netflix will pay a higher residual rate as a result of having more than 20 million subscribers. The other unions have also moved from freely negotiated scales (which still prevail for low budget streaming projects) to set wage scales for high budget SVOD (HBSVOD). HBSVOD are programs made for SVOD that have budgets equivalent to theatrical and broadcast television programs.

Each of our sister unions negotiated upfront wage increases, as well as different methods of increasing contributions to their respective health and pension funds. Three years ago, film and television musicians voted to send 1.5% of our residuals fund as an unallocated contribution to our pension fund. The AFM has prioritized strengthening our US pension fund in each of our other AFM recording contracts as well.

Over the coming months, we will continue to reach out to the musicians who work under these contracts so that their voices can be heard. However, this round of negotiations in 2018 will impact every AFM member in the long run. Our greatest strength lies in our solidarity.


What Is RMA and What Does It Do?

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

As we reach out to colleagues we are frequently asked, “What is the Recording Musicians Association, or RMA? What do you do?” The first answer is that we are a player conference of the AFM. The next question is often, “What’s that?”

Our AFM represents musicians of many different stripes—freelancers working in symphonic, theater, recording, and touring industries; tenured musicians in full-time orchestras; club musicians; and more. How we developed our rank-and-file player conferences is a crucial part of our common narrative.

Rank-and-File Participation

Other unions also grapple with how to facilitate rank-and-file participation: SAG-AFTRA sponsors the pioneering Dancers Alliance, which works with grass-roots commercial dancers to gain union recognition and improve wages and conditions. Many unions establish temporary “wage & hours” committees in advance of negotiations, organizing committees for specific campaigns, and other types of rank-and-file committees.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) was recognized as an organization of symphonic musicians within the AFM in 1969, followed by Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) in 1975, RMA in 1982, Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in 1984, and Theater Musicians Association (TMA) in 1997.

Our player conferences play a key role as “intermediate bodies” within our union. We are not labor unions; we are not union locals.

So what is RMA? What does it do?

Assists our AFM in contract negotiations for media contracts: Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA), videotape, film, TV, commercials, etc.

Assists our AFM International Executive Board (IEB), locals, and staff in the ongoing administration of our collective bargaining agreements.

Helps our union by providing ongoing research into our employment and our employers.

Acts as both a voice and resource for rank-and-file musicians, helping players navigate our union structure and the structure of our collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

Assists our union by being available as a channel of communication with others in the businesses that employ AFM members.

With the long-standing leadership of RMA Vice President Bruce Bouton, trustee of the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund, works with our union to protect musicians’ intellectual property rights.

RMA is committed to engaging in deep research, trying to understand employment opportunities through data. We are dedicated to making policy recommendations based on factual data, rather than personal anecdotes. Musicians always want more work. The oversupply of musical labor isn’t new, but every generation has to learn how to distinguish opportunity from mirage.

Research Supports Unionism

One example of research is an ongoing project of tracking the motion pictures that open “wide,” that is, the universe of movies that are likely to have substantial music budgets and employment. We look at how many are scored AFM, how many are filmed in North America, where they were scored, who the composers and production companies were, whether or not they were signatory companies, etc.

Data helps us see through the blogosphere and see through misinformation. Good research and data is key to modern unionism.

In June, the AFM began TV/videotape negotiations with the major networks. We met in New York City for a short week of caucus days and direct negotiations. But the real work began long before, and RMA was there.

This bargaining unit includes members of regular, ongoing bands, like the bands for Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and others. There are also a large number of musicians who play various awards shows, like the Academy Awards, the Grammys, and the Tonys. And there are players from The Voice and other nonscripted shows. We went out and talked with players, sounding out issues, hearing concerns, and carrying their issues to our caucus.

Based on years of participation in this and other media contracts, RMA also brought expertise with the CBA itself to our union. All of our media contracts are interwoven and interdependent. For example, key issues with videotape involve new media exhibition; those of us who have worked with new media in film and TV, and have kept abreast of the new media experience of our sister unions, are able to make important contributions to our AFM caucus.

Sony PlayStation

I’d also like to mention an event that RMA played a key role in bringing to fruition.

Sony PlayStation is a titan of the gaming world, producing a complete range of products—consoles, displays, VR headsets, and an industry leading collection of interactive software. Going into E3, the major annual game convention, PlayStation wanted to roll out their new lineup to maximum effect. Sony planned to stream a full orchestra playing to live gameplay. The music director contacted some of us from RMA for assistance, and we worked behind the scenes with AFM President Ray Hair, EMSD Director Pat Varriale, several top executives and attorneys from Sony PlayStation, the contractor, and Local 47 officers and staff to help everybody navigate the system together.

RMA helped PlayStation and the AFM work together directly. The outcome was a stunning success. First, the event was a smash hit, winning rave reviews, and is now available on YouTube and at PlayStation.com. Perhaps more importantly, a level of mutual respect and trusting communication emerged between this industry leading company and our union. We have many more steps to take on this path, but after years of discord, a new window has opened!

This is how RMA contributes to the health of our union. In the spirit of our 100th AFM Convention, we are, indeed, stronger together.