Tag Archives: musician

acoustic shock

Too Loud, Too Close, Too Long: Musicians Suffer Career Ending Acoustic Shock

acoustic shockIn the symphonic world, a crescendo makes for a dramatic finale, but it can have serious consequences for musicians. Recently, in an unprecedented court ruling, British viola player Chris Goldscheider, 40, won a landmark High Court judgment against Royal Opera House when he suffered career ending hearing loss from a rehearsal of Wagner’s Die Walkure. Seated directly in front of the brass section, he suffered acoustic shock, the result of sound that exceeded 130 decibels.

It’s a story that cellist Janet Horvath knows too well. The former associate principal cello for the Minnesota Orchestra, sustained an acoustic-shock injury to her left ear in 2006 after a one-time concert.

That night, the drum set, piano, electric guitars, keyboard, and conductor were positioned directly in front of her for a pops concert that included Broadway singers. Horvath was wearing musician’s earplugs, but one speaker was no more than two feet from her left ear. Eight speakers blasted music back toward the musicians. She says, “I felt it instantly; it was excruciating. When the concert was over, I took out my earplugs and could not bear to hear anyone talking. It never subsided.” She took a few months off to heal, but she needed to wear her left earplug. She compensated, relying on her right ear, and continued to be exposed to high decibels.

By 2009, her right ear, like the left, could no longer tolerate normal sound. After several doctors, she was diagnosed with hyperacusis, an auditory injury caused by repeated exposure to high decibels or a single acoustic shock. In 2010, she had to leave the orchestra that was her home for nearly 34 years.

She says, “It was characterized by abnormal sensitivity—the total breakdown of tolerance to all sound. I couldn’t leave the house. There was pain in my ear, teeth, tongue, it radiated down my neck. You actually fear sound. Many people with hyperacusis become hermits.”

The problem is prevalent, especially among woodwind players, Horvath says. “There is more awareness of the condition and I was lucky to have found physicians who helped me retrain my brain. I was fitted with special hearing aids, which turned sound down.”

“It was painstaking training that took more than two years of slowly increasing sound. I am aware of limits and decibels,” she says. Today she is mostly cured, but avoids loud restaurants and sports events. She can finally attend concerts and plays chamber music.

Noise-induced hearing loss is a combination of exposure time, noise level, peak level, and proximity to the sound. Being aware of decibel levels is important. Horvath explains, “If you know you will be playing Mahler, it’s not a day to mow your lawn.” Horvath maintains that silence is as critical to musicians as making sound. “It would be smart to have rooms where musicians can go to have silence.”

Minnesota Orchestra has an audiologist come in to offer hearing tests and fit musicians for earplugs. According to Horvath, this could be precedent-setting. No one wants to get sued so they’re now willing to take further steps to protect their musicians’ hearing. She hopes, too, that conductors will begin to alternate the repertoire to give musicians a break.

OSHA limits the number of decibels one can be exposed to per day. The decibel level of an average two-hour concert generally exceeds OSHA’s recommendations. And there are no regulations for intermittent loud blasts. Horvath adds that OSHA only talks about hearing loss as a disability when you can no longer hear speech. 

In the hall where the Minnesota Orchestra regularly performs, they have made modifications. “Our orchestra has always been on the cutting edge, partly because of my work. Their stage manager was one of the first to build a Plexiglass shield,” she says.

Horvath has written a number of books, including Playing Less Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians. She is a recognized authority in the area of medical problems of musicians and a recipient of the Richard J. Lederman Lecture Award presented by the Performing Arts Medicine Association. She conducts seminars across the country and regularly appears on national radio and television.

CFM Continues to Lobby for Musical Instrument Passenger Rights

Canadian Federation of Musicians continued to lobby the Parliament of Canada to include the carriage of musical instruments as part of the Passenger Rights Proposals on Bill C-49: The Transportation Modernization Act. CFM/AFM International Representative Allistair Elliott and AFM Local 180 (Ottawa-Gatineau, ON) President Francine Schutzman, appeared before the Transportation and Communications Committee of the Senate of Canada. Through the lobbying efforts of the CFM, Bill C-49: The Transportation Modernization Act contains language mandating that all Canadian airlines implement a fair policy for musicians flying with their instruments. The bill passed through the House and, if passed by Senate, will align Canadian regulations with those already in place in the US. CFM anticipates this Bill will receive Royal Ascent before June 2018.

For three years, CFM has been working on legislation to include musical instruments in Passenger Rights. Transport Canada will be tasked with preparing regulations to accompany the legislation. The process is expected to take the remainder of 2018, culminating with the Canadian airlines implementing a musical instrument friendly policy by early 2019.

“It is critical that, as professional musicians, we are able to get to the show, audition, rehearsal or concert hall without fear of our instruments not making the flight. Clear consistent regulations enacted by a policy for musicians travelling on airlines that hold those airlines accountable is a victory. We are committed to working with the Canadian Transport Agency on getting this Bill passed, says Elliott.

“I was honoured to join Allistair Elliott for this all-important presentation on behalf of our 17,000 CFM musicians. We need industry-wide, consistent guidelines for traveling with instruments, and it is our hope that the passage of law C49 will help us achieve this aim,” adds Schutzman.

Below is the French translation.

La FCM poursuit ses pressions pour l’inclusion des instruments de musique dans les droits des passagers aériens du projet de loi c-49

La Fédération canadienne des musiciens (FCM, le bureau national canadien de la Fédération américaine des musiciens (AFM)) a poursuivi son travail de lobbying auprès du Parlement du Canada en vue de faire inclure le transport des instruments de musique dans le cadre des propositions sur les droits des passagers aériens liées au projet de loi C-49 : la Loi sur la modernisation des transports. Allistair Elliott, Représentant international de la Fédération canadienne des musiciens, et Francine Schutzman, Présidente de la Musicians’ Association of Ottawa-Gatineau (Local 180 de l’AFM), ont comparu devant le Comité sénatorial des transports et des communications du Canada. Grâce aux efforts de lobbying de la FCM liés au projet de loi C-49 : la Loi sur la modernisation des transports, cette dernière stipule que TOUTES les compagnies aériennes canadiennes doivent instituer une politique équitable pour les musiciens qui voyagent avec leurs instruments.  Le projet de loi a été adopté par la Chambre des communes et, s’il est adopté par le Sénat, alignera les règlements canadiens avec ceux déjà en place aux États-Unis. La FCM prévoit que ce projet de loi obtiendra la sanction royale d’ici juin 2018.

Depuis trois ans, la FCM travaille sur un projet législatif visant l’inclusion des instruments de musique dans les droits des passagers aériens. Transports Canada sera chargée de l’élaboration des règlements  qui accompagneront la loi. Ce processus devrait prendre tout le reste de l’année 2018 et atteindre son apogée au début de l’année 2019, avec l’instauration par les compagnies aériennes canadiennes d’une politique favorable au transport des instruments de musique.

« Il est essentiel, en tant que musiciens professionnels, de pouvoir se rendre au spectacle, à l’audition, à la répétition ou à la salle de concert sans craindre que nos instruments ne soient pas à bord. Des règlements clairs et harmonisés issus d’une politique visant les musiciens voyageant à bord des différentes compagnies aériennes et qui tiennent ces compagnies responsables représentent une victoire, mais nous sommes déterminés à travailler avec Transports Canada pour faire adopter ce projet de loi », a déclaré Elliott.

« J’ai eu l’honneur  de me joindre à Allistair Elliott pour cette présentation de la plus haute importance faite au nom de nos 17 000 musiciens membres de la FCM. Pour ceux qui voyagent avec leurs instruments, il faut des lignes directrices uniformes applicables à l’ensemble de l’industrie, et nous espérons que l’adoption du projet de loi C-49 nous aidera à atteindre cet objectif », d’ajouter Schutzman.

To Mongolia, with Love

Thomas A. Blomster of Local 20-623 (Denver, CO) (with black bow tie) was made an honorary member of the Morin Khuur Ensemble (pictured here) and presented with official pendants and a commemorative history book of the ensemble. His score of Postcards to Mongolia was placed in the Mongolian national archives as a permanent part of the country’s more than 2,000-year history.

Last summer, Mongolia’s Morin Khuur Ensemble, performed the world premiere of Postcards to Mongolia, by American composer and conductor Thomas A. Blomster of Local 20-623 (Denver, CO)—a first for both maestro and orchestra. The concert was broadcast live on Mongolian TV and the score was placed in the Mongolian national archives.

“Making music, the arts, are an integral part of the Mongolian people,” Blomster says, “There’s a real sense of identity. You combine that with the music making and it’s really powerful.” Ulaanbaatar, the capitol, hosts world-class concerts; the opera singers are veterans of major opera houses around the world. What’s more, there is an audience for these concerts. “In this developing country, there is tremendous support for the arts,” he says.

He and his wife, pianist Noriko “Nikki” Tsuchiya, also of Local 20-623, were guests at the opening ceremonies of the midsummer Naadam Festival. Dating back to Genghis Khan, the elaborate, highly choreographed event is Mongolia’s version of the Olympics, with competitions in archery, wrestling, and horse racing. Plus, it showcases performing arts groups: traditional ensembles, choirs, and dancers, ballet, military bands and choir, and pop singers. The whole time, Blomster says, “The Mongolian Philharmonic was in the pit supporting them.”

The Soviet influence in Mongolia is still in evidence, especially in its cultural institutions. The training of Mongolian musicians is pure Russian conservatory. “Everybody in the [Morin Khuur] ensemble is at a virtuoso level,” Blomster says. “There is a high level of technical ability, but the intonation is a whole other level. Their approach is different. I could hear them tuning between every piece. Each player was sensitive to this—for instance, when a musician was tuning his morin khuur, you could hear the yatga softly play the intervals. You combine this technical expertise of the ensemble with heart and soul—the Mongolian culture is alive and well. Genghis Khan is not dead!”

Blomster’s journey to Mongolia began 20 years ago, when he attended an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. He watched a loop of a film from World War I, so old it was inaudible, but clearly it was the Nadaam Festival. “I could see the musicians playing these giant oversize finger cymbals and as a percussionist I was dying to know what the sound was like.” Years later, he found Mongolian cymbals in a junk shop which, he says, “I immediately dropped a fortune on.”

Eventually, he made a connection at the Mongolian Philharmonic, with the assistant executive director Erdene-Oyun Burgedee, who visited Denver and introduced Blomster to the work of the Morin Khuur Ensemble, a traditional folk orchestra associated with the philharmonic. They became good friends as he helped her navigate the Denver arts scene. The thought occurred to Blomster, “What if I wrote a piece for the Morin Khuur Ensemble?’”

A bowed instrument similar to a violin, the morin khuur holds a sacred place in Mongolian culture. Says Blomster, “It’s the soul of the country. In the old days, even in the yurts, every nomad owned a morin khuur, in part, to keep away evil spirits. It’s an instrument that has many powerful associations.”

“[In my composition] I tried to be respectful of the aspects of their music, which could easily be overwhelmed by my Western training. Using pentatonic scales was at the forefront and being careful about not having too much moving harmony.” For instance, he says, “There are a whole bunch of hotshot yatga players—which has some of the same limitations as a classical harp. If it’s set in a certain key, that’s the note choice you have, but I also know the bass strings of the harp—even if you don’t hear them out in the audience—are really good for reinforcing the bottom harmony.” 

Blomster, who is director of the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, splits his time evenly conducting and playing percussion (including timpani and vibes) in other orchestras as well as jazz ensembles. “A big part of what attracted me to the country was the landscape—the mountains and huge steppe plains,” he says. He drew inspiration closer to home, from his relationship to the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.

They were not expecting to be cultural ambassadors, but the American musicians were treated as emissaries and introduced to a number of government dignitaries, including the advisor to the American ambassador at the US Embassy. Blomster says, “We were hanging out with the deputy prime minister!” 

The language barrier posed a challenge, he says, “But ultimately the music became our common ground.” As a tribute to the American conductor, the ensemble ended the program with a Souza march arranged by the director.

No stranger to the world stage, Blomster studied at Berlin’s Hochschule fur Musik, where he trained with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and the Deutsche Opera. He spent many years performing at the Aspen Music Festival, where he also worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Elliott Carter and acclaimed Polish composer Kryzstof Penderecki.

When Blomster talks about his work now, it’s teaching that fulfills him. When the school district on the south side of Denver eliminated its elementary instrumental music program, one of his colleagues started a before- and after-school program, which now includes 1,500 students. He says, “For me, in many ways, it’s the most significant thing I’ve been a part of in my life because of the influence that we’re having.”

A longtime union official and member since 1974, Blomster says the AFM is invaluable for a musician’s career. He’s finishing his third term on the board of Local 20-623 for which he has also served as vice president. The union supports better wages and working conditions, but on a personal level, he says, “The union has gone to bat for me when I’ve been in situations where I needed some muscle behind me.” He adds, “Today, technology is turning our industry upside down—all the more reason to stick together.”


Piano Man Mike Renzi Creates Colorful Orchestration


Pianist Mike Renzi of Local 802 (New York City) was just 12 years old when he joined the AFM and began his professional career.

Pianist, arranger, and musical director Mike Renzi of Local 198-457 (Providence, RI) and Local 802 (New York City) joined the union as a youngster. Recognizing the young Renzi’s abundant talent, his piano teacher booked him to play at the Narragansett Hotel. “Every Saturday night, they had dining and dancing. It was a six-piece group with three horns and three rhythm players. My piano teacher put me there with a big fat book—but I’d already been memorizing songs. I was so young, in fact, people would dance by and ask, ‘How old are you?’” he recalls.

When he heard jazz, he explains, “It was like a magnet. My parents had great jazz records. I loved the harmonies and songs. I wanted to learn to play this kind of music, and that’s what I did. I started doing that when I was eight or nine and did my first job when I was 12.”

Renzi went on to win seven Emmy awards for musical direction and composition, both for his work on Sesame Street and the long-running soap opera, One Life to Live. Now semi-retired, Renzi divides his time between Newport, Rhode Island, and Florida, but still performs with longtime friends and colleagues, including accompanying singer Marlene VerPlanck in New York City; gigs at Birdland; an Irving Berlin tribute at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; dedication of a new Tony Bennett-Frank Sinatra Studio in Queens; and performing with Michael Feinstein and the Kravis Center Pops Orchestra Big Band in Palm Beach.

Throughout a career that’s stretched nearly 60 years, Renzi has worked with a panoply of stars—among them: Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Ben Webster, Julius La Rosa, Gerry Mulligan, Mark Murphy, and Local 802 members Houston Person and John Pizzarelli. He played with Lena Horne on Broadway in Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, later joining her at Carnegie Hall and recording the CD, An Evening with Lena Horne: Live at the Supper Club in the late 1980s.

He was a studio pianist on the films The Birdcage, Everybody Says I Love You, Broadway Danny Rose, and Biloxi Blues. Then he was called to play a session for the soap opera Ryan’s Hope. “The music supervisor needed a couple of extra cues, which I composed on the spot. Before I knew it, I was writing music for the soaps, from the 1980s until 1990s,” says Renzi.    

Eventually, he was tapped by Sesame Street as a big band arranger. “The script writers would say, ‘This is my song about a veterinarian, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Fur,’ and I want it to sound like ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.’” He arranged songs to zydeco, disco, and funk.

“I kept that gig for 12 years,” Renzi says. “It changes you financially. Two recording sessions a week adds to a union pension.” He notes that the entire band on the show was contracted through Local 802, including Glenn Drewes, Wally Kane, Steve Bargonetti, Ben Brown, and Ricky Martinez.

Before graduating from the Boston Conservatory of Music and Berklee College of Music in 1974, he played professionally with local and visiting artists. Following an engagement with Sylvia Syms, he was recruited to work with Mel Tormé, a partnership that would last nearly 25 years.

Trained classically from the time he was a child, Renzi says, “When I practice, I don’t play jazz, or show tunes. I play Bach fugues, Chopin waltzes, or a Beethoven sonata. I keep my hands in shape that way.”

Renzi owes his musical genius to those who came before him. He says he learned by listening to great pianists—Sergei Rachmaninoff, Earl Wild, Dave McKenna (who hailed from his hometown), Dick Hyman of Local 802, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Tommy Flanagan, Red Garland, Bud Powell, and Monty Alexander. He’s a big fan of Local 802 members Bill Charlap, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock.

Having developed his own hard bop style, Renzi became a much sought-after arranger over many years, establishing rapport with some of the greatest jazz soloists: Cynthia Crane, Freddy Cole, Blossom Dearie, Jack Jones, Eartha Kitt, and Peggy Lee, among others. He and Maureen McGovern have been frequent collaborators since 1981, when Mel Tormé first introduced them. Their CD, Pleasure of His Company, is one of his favorite recordings.

“I like to make colors and orchestra behind singers,” he says. “Accompaniment is a very beautiful thing for me. Words mean a lot to me and I know the lyrics to most of the songs I play. The words help me color the song, [to know] how I’m going to fill in a certain space, what kind of mood I’m going to try to create. The lyric and mood  help me pick my chord voicings, how I fill it in, and create an introduction and ending. I’m creating not for me, but for them—but vicariously, how I would like to be accompanied.”

Other pianists capitalize on Renzi’s experience, at times asking for direction on particular pieces. “Occasionally, professionals come by the house. They’ll bring in a song and ask how I’d play it and we’ll sit at the piano. I’ll spend two or three hours with them—almost like an informal clinic,” he says.

What’s most important, Renzi explains, is to have the taste and the skill to edit your own playing. “You can have all the chops and technique in the world, but you still have to edit and make musical sense out of it. A lot of people have so much technical facility—they play a million notes and it’s impressive, but the editing is important. You make that happen through improvisation—make it melodic and swinging. Everything in jazz and improvisation is articulation and time feel,” he says.

Stylistically, nothing defines the freedom and unpredictability of improvisation more than his three-year world tour with classic crooner Tony Bennett. The repertoire may not change, but the interpretation, the undercurrent of each song shifts to fit the mood of the audience. “We did the tour with Lady Gaga, which was fabulous. With Tony, you’re at the greatest venues—great theaters and high-end casinos. He was 87 when I joined him. He’s remarkable and still sounds great,” says Renzi.

A sign that he has no intention of completely retiring, Renzi and singer Nicolas King paired up to record the CD, On Another Note (2017) comprising Great American Songbook standards like “Skylark,” “The Way She Makes Me Feel,” “It Amazes Me,” “Love Is Here to Stay,”  and “On Second Thought.” The song “You Must Believe in Spring” from the album has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

gig gloves holiday gift guide

Holiday Gift Guide 2017: The Perfect Gifts for any Musician


holiday gift guide and gig glovesProtect your most valuable asset: your hands. Gig gloves are the ultimate gloves for gigging musicians and production pros who spend a lot of time loading in and out, setting up, and tearing down. They protect the back of the hand and palms with breathability for extended use, access to the first three fingers via fold-over fingertips (for fine motor tasks), and touchscreen capability directly through the fabric. Original Gig Gloves provide visibility of the hands in low light, Gig Gloves Onyx are completely black for those who need to be invisible to an audience, and Thermo-Gig Gloves add a layer of internal fleece for cold weather. Gig Gloves come in six sizes (XS to XXL).


d:vice MMA-A

d:vice MMA-ADPA’s d:vice MMA-A Digital Audio Interface is a high-quality, dual-channel microphone preamplifier and A/D converter that captures crystal-clear audio via your favorite recording or broadcasting apps. It’s pre-
programable, easy to use, and inconspicuous. While third-party apps can be used with d:vice, an exclusive downloadable DPA app allows you to store gain settings and low-cut filters for personalized use in dedicated presets. The d:vice MMA-A comes with one Micro USB-B to iOS (Lightning) and one Micro USB-B to PC/Mac (USB-A).



Cloudlifter zi

Cloud Microphones’ Cloudlifter Zi instrument DI and mic activator is designed for guitar, bass, keyboard players, and singers. It maximizes your instrument or mic’s signal and lets you contour your tone. The variable impedance “Z” knob and high-pass filter combine to create massive tone shaping, while the three-position gain switch adds gain (up to 25db for microphones or 12dB for instruments) for a clean signal.




Holiday gift guide avidThis holiday season, there will be plenty of great deals out there. If you’re thinking to yourself, “what’s the deal, Avid?”, we’ve got you covered, whether you’re a relative newbie, or a seasoned pro. Get our best deal of the season on Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD, amazing deals on plug-ins, and more. Here’s a small sampling: 20% new Pro Tools subscriptions, 75% Off sound library, 50% off audio plug-ins. And keep an eye out for flash sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Get these deals while they’re still around!



Halo Sport

halo holiday gift guideHalo Sport, the first product from Halo Neuroscience, is a wearable neurostimulator that accelerates the development of muscle memory, when paired with training. See them in action at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVUvgUSX9hU.




Designed and optimized for outstanding music recording, the Philips VoiceTracer DVT7500 music recorder features three high-quality microphones for uncompromising high fidelity sound. The innovative XLR and line-in connectors allow you to connect your instruments directly, achieving crisp and accurate, multi-source recording. The DVT7500 records PCM (WAV) and MP3 files at up to 24 bit/96 kHz, and features virtually unlimited storage capacity thanks to 16G internal memory and a microSD memory card slot supporting up to 64G of additional memory. A large color display and intuitive user interface make it user-friendly. The high-capacity lithium polymer battery extends battery life up to 30 hours, ensuring that your recorder is ready to work when you are.



CD Baby

Your audience is out there. CD Baby helps you build the bridge, giving you more ways to reach fans and make money from your music than any other distributor. For a one-time setup fee of just $49 per album, or $9.95 per single, your music will be selling and streaming on Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, and more. Plus, we give you major-label promo tools, help you make money from YouTube, give you daily trending reports, and all without annual fees! CD Baby is a preferred Apple content provider, so we’re the quickest way to get your music onto Apple Music and iTunes. We’ve also been paying artists weekly since 1998, so you know your music is in good hands!



Lotus Light pro

Lotus Light PRO holiday guideLotus Light PRO series incorporates a lithium polymer battery and the highest quality LED technology to provide the most powerful music light. It floods four pages of music with light, without any hot spots, and for a longer time than ever before. Lotus Light is lightweight and compact enough to take wherever you go. It clips to any music stand and the jaws are padded to clip to a piano music rest without fear of damage. A stiff but flexible arm allows you to position the light where it won’t distract others or interfere with page turns. Visit our website to learn more about the light and other accessories to make it the most useful light you can own.



Result6 Monitors

PMC’s result6 compact nearfield monitors guarantee ideal results for audio professionals in all areas of music—recording, mixing, mastering, broadcast, and post production. These monitors provide the perfect introduction to PMC’s renowned sound quality and sophisticated ATL technology. With result6 there are no overly complex DSP-based user options or room profiles; instead, these monitors achieve their characteristically neutral, dependable reference sound solely on the strength of engineering. You can plug them in and immediately trust what you hear to create the best results in the shortest time. result6 are available from PMC USA and the PMC Factory Boutique at RSPE. For more information email maurice@pmc-speakers.us.



Happy Holidays from Sennheiser!

Sennheiser wants to help with your holiday shopping this year. Check out customer favorites like the popular evolution 900-series wired vocal mics; e935 and e945, the industry-standard HD 25 line of headphones, and the incredible ClipMic Digital (powered by Apogee) for mobile recording with iOS devices! Visit your favorite Sennheiser dealer or visit Sennheiser.com for more holiday specials.



Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit

Kala Ukulele Starter Kit has everything you need to start playing today! It comes with a Kala soprano mahogany ukulele, logo tote bag, free online lessons, and a free tuning app with lessons. Our high-quality ukulele and lessons make learning the uke fast, simple, and fun! Pricing is just $59.99 MAP/$84.99 retail. Look for the Kala Learn Ukulele Starter Kit on Amazon.




shoulder rest holiday gift guideDurable, ergonomic, light-weight, and adjustable. After years of development, Balu Musik is excited to present the ShouldeAir, a new and revolutionary shoulder rest for Violins and Violas. The ShouldeAir is made of the highest grade carbon fiber (used also by NASA, Boeing, and NASCAR) making it lightweight (just under 60 grams!) and built to last. The sleek, elegant design provides exceptional comfort. The adjustable height and legs provide a perfect fit. (Patent Pending – #62/546,294)



Chromatc Pedal Tuner

Stunningly accurate. Or, more accurately, stunning. With its striking, full-color vertical display and quick, accurate response, the new D’Addario Chromatic Pedal Tuner helps you make sure not to miss the mark—even in demanding onstage conditions. Its slim profile leaves room on your pedalboard for all your effects, so it’s there when you need it, but out of the way when you don’t.




Happy Holidays from ChopSaver! Invented by Local 3 (Indianapolis, IN) member Dan Gosling, ChopSaver Lip Care is the perfect gift for all your musician friends. While brass and woodwind players love it, no one likes chapped lips in the winter, no matter what they play! So let ChopSaver’s all-natural ingredients soothe and protect your lips all year long. Visit www.chopsaver.com to find a store near you—and watch out for flying sousaphones while you’re there!


Steely Dan Co-Founder Sues for Control of Band

Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member and Steely Dan co-founder, Donald Fagen, is suing the estate of his late, longtime musical partner Walter Becker in order to maintain control of the group and its name.

In 1972 when the band was formed, they signed an agreement that, upon the death or departure of a Steely Dan band-member, the group would purchase that member’s shares. Since around 1975, the group had fundamentally been a duo of Becker and Fagen accompanied by session musicians.

A few days after Becker’s death, Fagen received notice that the 1972 buy/sell share agreement was “of no force or effect.” He demanded that Becker’s widow, Delia, be appointed director or officer of the group, meaning she was also entitled to 50% ownership.

Fagen is seeking a ruling to uphold the buy/sell agreement as well as to require Becker’s estate to sell his shares of the group, along with damages.



BOWIE: The Illustrated Story

Widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians and performers of the past five decades, David Bowie released 27 studio albums from 1967 until January 2016, two days before he died. This retrospective follows his career from the folkie baroque rock of his debut to his soul phase, massive pop success in the 1980s, to electronica in the 1990s. The book features stunning photography—on stage and back stage images, gig posters, concert stubs, and more. Bowie

Bowie: The Illustrated Story, by Pat Gilbert, Voyageur Press,

Unknown Hinson

Unknown Hinson Leaves a Mark with Persona and “Chart Toppin’ Hits”

Unknown Hinson

Stuart D. Baker of Local 342 (Charlotte, NC) performs rockabilly and blues tunes onstage as his redneck, Dracula-inspired persona, Unknown Hinson.

The story of guitarist and performer Unknown Hinson is closer to rockabilly myth than biography. His wild, womanizing, honky-tonk persona has been carefully crafted by Stuart Daniel Baker of Local 342 (Charlotte, NC), a music teacher and studio musician.

Unknown Hinson was first conceived by Baker as a character for the Charlotte, Virginia, public access TV show, The Wild, Wild South. With his creative partner Don Swan, Baker would perform politically incorrect songs and skits and feature Hinson’s music videos. Wild, Wild South came to an abrupt end in 1995 when Swan, who played Rebel Helms on the show, passed away. Baker then spun off Wild, Wild South into the Unknown Hinson Show, which found success, winning Creative Loafing’s “Best Of” poll for Best Public-Access Television Show four years in a row.

Baker’s Hinson persona is a legendary oddball outlaw. The story goes, Hinson learned one chord on the guitar from his mother who mysteriously disappeared when he was 10, leaving him orphaned. His father—and namesake—was “unknown.” Hinson went to work for a traveling carnival, playing the guitar and working as a sideshow act biting the heads off live chickens.

In another chapter in Unknown Hinson’s legend, in 1963, at age 21, he was framed for the murder of his boss at the carnival. Sentenced to 30 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary, he spent most of his time “pickin’” guitar and growing his knowledge on the instrument by listening to the radio in prison. Rumors also persist that he is a 400-year-old vampire.

“If people believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, or call me a vampire, I’m going to let ’em. It doesn’t bother me none. I’m just going to go out and put on a good show for ’em,” says Baker, in character, as Hinson.

Rarely does Baker appear out of character. Baker grew up in a musical family in North Carolina. His father was a musician who taught him to hold a guitar right-handed, even though Baker is left-handed. He also played the drums in a local band he started with his brothers.

Baker decided to move to New York City in 1979. He found the “studio racket” as he put it to be a “dog eat dog” world. “I learned a lot but everything I was making was going to rent and food,” says Baker. After two years of session work, subbing on guitar for bands, and even putting together his own group, Baker returned south. During the day, he would do more session work on the guitar and bass. He began moonlighting in the house band of a honky-tonk bar in Darlington, South Carolina. This is where Unknown Hinson began to materialize.

“I didn’t realize what I was doing in a honky-tonk full of drunks six nights a week. I told myself ‘well, what you were doing then was R&D for Unknown Hinson,’” Baker explains.

Baker also found inspiration for Hinson from his childhood. “Any small southern town is going to have interesting, funny characters,” he says.

In 1999, Baker moved away from the Unknown Hinson Show, taking his act on the road. He started recording albums of the songs he performed on the show. He soon built a cult fan base performing as Hinson with songs like “Unlock This Bathroom Door” and his signature appearance characterized by a tuxedo, silk bow tie, and jet black hair slicked into a high widow’s peak. Baker based this look on a combination of the redneck persona and his fondness for old horror film icons like Frankenstein and Dracula.

Baker’s break from television didn’t last long. He has been the voice of Squidbillies—a cartoon that pokes fun at southern hillbilly stereotypes—as backwoods patriarch Early Cuyler for the past 10 seasons and he is currently working the 11th.

Not surprisingly, admiration for the actor and musician in the industry is expressed in unconventional ways. The grandson of Hank Williams Sr., Hank III, has a tattoo of Hinson on his bicep, which Baker considers “an honor.”

While he’s known for his comedic and outrageous character performances, Baker proves he has chops and has been a frequent touring partner of Reverend Horton Heat and also as a bassist with Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters. Baker has earned accolades and professional recognition, including the Independent Music Awards and Vox Pop vote for Best Alternative Country Song for “Torture Town” in 2009, and the Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Male Outlaw in 2014.

After more than a decade of performing, Baker announced his retirement from touring in late 2012. Shortly thereafter, his wife and manager, Margo Baker, lost her battle with cancer. That fall, he began touring again. “It’s what I do. You’ve got to do something to justify your life,” Baker says. “I didn’t want to sit on the couch all day, watch television. I’m about making music and playing for people.”

Because of his larger-than-life appearance and colorful lyrics, Baker’s character is often pegged as a comedy act, a designation he thinks shortchanges his talent.

“A lot of people pin me as just a ‘hee-haw act,’ but I try to have quality music,” he says. “I’m known as much, if not more, for my guitar playing than my songwriting.” In the end, Baker seems indifferent to all labels, vampire or comedian, concentrating instead on what he does best: pleasing the crowd.

“They can make of it what they will, I’m still going to play the same for a crowd of 300 or a crowd of 3,000,” he says.

joe ely

After Years on the Road, Joe Ely Takes a Literary Turn

joe ely

Writer, musician, and longtime Local 433 (Austin, TX) musician Joe Ely says the solidarity and protections of the AFM are important to him. He’s been inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame, was named 2016 Texas State Musician, and most recently was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.

Joe Ely of Local 433 (Austin, TX) was recently inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters, which he says came as a shock, something he never saw coming. But it’s storytelling, after all, and no one tells a story like Ely. He’s been writing songs since he was a kid growing up in Amarillo, and later, in Lubbock. Ely says, “I was always listening to things, background noise, the wind blowing a branch against a screen window.”

Ely has kept journals for years and often sketches to have a visual. He recalls Tom T. Hall once telling him, “Some people can travel all around the world and not see a single thing, others can travel around the block and see the whole world.” “That made me continue to keep writing down observations and eventually building them into a form,” says Ely. The University of Texas eventually published some of the journals as raw material titled Bonfire of Roadmaps.

As a songwriter turned novelist, it was difficult for Ely not to keep the words to a minimum. “Instead of a line in a song, it’d have to be three pages in a book. It was the first thing I had to overcome,” he says. Like Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy—of whom Ely is a fan—he draws on the landscape to deliver the emotional depth of his characters. In his autobiographical novel, Reverb (2014), he writes of Lubbock in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a gritty world, but Ely digs into the story of young working-class men, usually in trouble, driving barren roads, living with the threat of going to war.

It’s easy to imagine the narrative running through his life. Ely left home at 16, went to Fort Worth and joined a band. From there, he went to Houston and Los Angeles. “My daddy died a few years before that and I was not doing good in school. I just didn’t see any future in Lubbock. I was playing in bands. I was kind of the sole breadwinner in the family. I’d play till midnight or one in the morning and try to go to school the next day. After school, I washed dishes at an old fried chicken place. I didn’t see an end,” he says.

In the mid-1960s Ely would periodically return to Texas to appear before the draft board, which at the time, he remembers, was drafting about 50,000 kids a month. “I’d always come back and regroup and go somewhere else, from one coast to the other,” he says. In New York City, he ended up joining a theater troupe and going to Europe. “That’s how I started traveling and collecting songs, during that era.”

In the summer of 1971, back in Lubbock, Ely teamed up with friends Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to form the country-folk group, The Flatlanders. The band toured extensively, headlining small shows and opening for bigger acts. Among these, remarkably, was the punk rock group The Clash. (In fact, Joe Strummer was supposed to record with Ely’s band, but died before it happened—one of Ely’s greatest disappointments.)

Such offbeat arrangements are not unusual for Ely, who once made a record with German opera conductor Eberhard Schoener. Ely says, “He had the first Moog synthesizer, which he bought from John Lennon—who hated it. We worked with that synthesizer and two acoustic guitars and did an experimental piece. A couple of years later, I bought an Apple computer and started working on songs as an experiment. He kind of inspired me.” 

Ely has always been something of an artistic maverick, seamlessly moving between country music and rock and roll. In the 1970s and 1980s, especially, he championed the progressive country scene in Austin. “At a young age, I discovered Woodie Guthrie, who lived in Amarillo for a good part of his life. In my teenage years and early 20s, I just happened to run across some of the songwriters who would influence me for the rest of my life,” he says.

Ely has played with mandolinist Chris Thile of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) on A Prairie Home Companion and with Bruce Springsteen of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 399 (Asbury Park, NJ), James McMurtry, The Chieftains, Tom Petty of Local 47, and John Mellencamp. With Guy Clarke, Lyle Lovett of Local 257, and John Hiatt he formed a group that played 40-50 shows a year for about 20 years. “We’d go all over the states, a different city every day. We’d all sit on stage together in a guitar pull, where one person does a song and passes it on to the next.”

On his albums, Ely likes to incorporate cover songs, especially ones he feels have not gotten their due. When he was working on Letter to Laredo, he was just about finished with the record when he went to Europe for a few gigs. “I was in a bar in Norway and heard a song on the jukebox about a guy who crossed over into the US with a fighting rooster and went up and down the coast of Texas and California trying to win enough money to buy back the land that Pancho Villa stole from his family,” he says, explaining that the song eventually made its way onto the album.

A member of the AFM since 1972—when the first Flatlanders’ record came out in Nashville—Ely says the union is an important part of being able to make a living, especially as a traveling musician. That solidarity informs his work. The Flatlanders song, “Borderless Love,” (2009) about the fence on the US-Mexico border, is even more relevant amid today’s political tumult so the band has reintroduced it to live sets.

“I think you take from what’s been and give to what will be,” says Ely, who now lives in Austin and works with a number of young musicians there. Just after the 2015 release of the more literary and deeply personal Panhandle Rambler, he was inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame and was named the 2016 Texas State Musician, an honor previously bestowed on Willie Nelson of Local 433 and Lyle Lovett.

Along with 25 albums to his credit, the 70-year-old Ely has about five books of poetry written, which he hopes to compile into a single collection. He’s led symposiums for Texas Tech University; he recently conducted a solo acoustic tour in the Midwest; and for the next couple of months, he will tour Texas and California. “I like to mix it up. Playing with a band full time can be restrictive. You’re always herding people. I prefer to go out, me and the guitar and a bag of stories.”

Eastern Conference

Conference Gathers Eastern Locals for Informative Exchanges

by Mary Plaine, Eastern Conference Secretary-Treasurer and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD)

eastern conference

AFM staff and delegates of the Eastern Conference met in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, April 22-23.

A historic meeting of Federation and local officers and delegates took place at the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Saturday, April 22, when the Eastern Conference of Locals, comprised of locals from New England, New Jersey, New York, and the former Penn-Del-Mar-DC Conference, was called to order by Eastern Conference President Candace Lammers of Local 400 (Hartford-New Haven, CT). After a lot of work on the part of many people, it was gratifying to see 50 people sitting around the U-shaped table ready to attack a full agenda.

Following the opening business of the conference, the attendees heard presentations from AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, who spoke about the financial state of the Federation, and Department of Labor Investigator Nicolle Spallino, who spoke about locals and their need for financial safeguards, internal controls, and record-keeping.

AFM President Ray Hair brought the group up to date on several issues, including negotiations for Pamphlet B, the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SLRA), and TV agreements. He spoke about changes in media consumption and the Federation’s new revenue streams to help underwrite the Special Payments Fund and the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF). Then, Hair was joined by employer and employee representatives for a discussion of the AFM-Employers’ Pension Fund.

AFM Legislative and Political Director Alfonso Pollard reviewed the many issues he has been wrestling in our nation’s capital: copyright and intellectual property legislation, instrument carry-on rules for domestic and international travel, national “right to work” legislation, and immigration.

Labor Attorney Harvey Mars closed Saturday’s business with the address, “The Impact of the Trump Administration Upon Labor in the Arts and What We Can Do About It.” Mars stressed three actions Federation musicians should take to keep themselves strong: fight for the NEA and other federally funded arts and cultural programs; fight for the right to be treated as employees and not independent contractors so that we can receive our full rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act; and fight to protect the right to organize and to protect union security—fight against right to work legislation. (See page 6 for a longer synopsis.)

On Sunday morning, the first speaker was MPTF Trustee Dan Beck, who updated the conference on the activities of his organization. Following Beck, two Federation employees, Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director/Special Counsel Rochelle Skolnick and Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director Michael Manley, gave presentations.

Skolnick described the personnel and operations of the SSD. She spoke about the SSD Resource Center in the For Members/Document Library section of the AFM website. She explained that serving as one of the AFM’s three in-house legal counsels allows for more efficiency as the AFM aggressively enforces its media agreements. She then reviewed recent legal actions.

Skolnick also spoke about the Federation’s new three-part approach to local officer training: webinars; two days of education held prior to the regional local conferences; and three-day intensive retreats to foster mentorships and peer-to-peer help. Well-trained local officers are more important than ever in strengthening the Federation and providing support to our members.

Manley’s presentation was “Freelance for Hire, Gig Organizing Strategies for Local Officers.” He addressed work not covered by collective bargaining agreements, such as single engagements of musicians hired to back up touring artists (Idina Menzel, for example) or productions such as The Legend of Zelda. Manley encouraged local officers to become familiar with contractors, venues, and peer unions in their jurisdictions, and to know what events are taking place in the venues.

Additional conference business included the adoption of new and revised bylaws and the election of officers. The current Eastern Conference Board is: President Matthew Cascioli, secretary of Local 45 (Allentown, PA); 1st Vice President Tom Olcott, financial vice president of Local 802 (New York City); 2nd Vice President Pat Hollenbeck, president of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA); 3rd Vice President Tony Scally, president of Local 16-248 (Newark/Paterson, NJ); 4th Vice President Michael Angelucci, president of Local 341 (Norristown, PA); and Secretary-Treasurer Mary Plaine, secretary-treasurer of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

Many thanks to all the people who helped bring the Eastern Conference to life, with a special thank you to Angelucci, who was the conference’s lifeline to the hotel.

Next year’s Eastern Conference is planned for April 14-15 and will again take place at the Valley Forge Casino Resort.