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film negotiations

Campaign for Fairness in Streaming Media Continues with Film Negotiations

With the 101st AFM Convention now in the rearview mirror and the annual August marathon of player conference meetings concluded, the Federation has turned its attention toward its collective bargaining objectives in television and motion picture film scoring, live television production, sound recording production, touring theatrical musicals, and public radio and public television.

First and most immediate in our procession of industry-wide negotiations toward acceptable successor agreements is the resumption of discussions with television and theatrical film producers to obtain industry-standard wage and residual patterns in the scoring of soundtrack for programs made for New Media. “New Media” is a term of art to describe content produced for on-demand consumption on streaming platforms that are either advertiser-supported (AVOD) or subscriber-based (SVOD). Our existing contract extension with the film industry expires November 14. Negotiations with signatory film producers are set to begin October 7 in Los Angeles.

In March of this year, as in March of 2018, the Federation and film producers agreed to extend the agreement previously concluded in 2015—with increases to session wages in traditional media—because the parties deemed a short-term contract solution as a better alternative to the existing deadlock resulting from the producers’ failure to adequately address the Federation’s goal of achieving acceptable wage and residual patterns for the scoring of tracks for original streaming media.

In recent years, the rise of streaming as a preferred model of digital distribution and consumption has radically transformed the media marketplace. Worldwide, audiences have accelerated toward both advertiser-supported and subscription-based consumption models that benefit digital service providers, producers, and other stakeholders, but studios have refused to bargain progressive terms for musicians in streaming media to augment the existing residual provisions in traditional media.

There is no shortage of news about the rise of online streaming services and the impact upon the relationship between consumers and traditional media—live television broadcasts, cable and satellite TV, the sale of DVDs, and the movie box office. The generational difference in consumer preferences has seen subscribers migrate to subscriber-based streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon as viewers trend away from traditional media.

Over the past few years, the TV networks and film studios have agreed to make meaningful residual payments and have increased pension and health contributions to singers, actors, writers, and directors when content is made for streaming, but have refused to do so for musicians. It is unconscionable that these wealthy global companies have decided that some digital content creators deserve compensation that reflects the value of their work, but that musicians don’t. Any industry trend toward a streaming distribution model that excludes a residual compensation and pension contribution basis for musicians, who contribute as much or more to a film as anyone else, is unacceptable and due for an all-out fight for fairness.

film negotiations
AFM members across the country have launched the #BandTogether campaign to demand a fair contract from major studios, including Disney, ABC, Warner Bros, CBS, MGM, Sony, Paramount, NBCUniversal, and others. On Labor Day, more than 80 AFM Local 47 musicians marched in solidarity in the annual parade at Banning Park in Los Angeles promoting #BandTogether.

The Federation has had constructive agreements with the film industry since the 1930s and with the television networks since the early 1950s. Over the decades, the livelihoods of thousands of talented musicians have been substantially supported by Federation film and television agreements. A distribution model lacking fair session wages, pension contributions, and a residual compensation base would dramatically and negatively impact musicians’ lives. Newer generations of musicians would be unable to sustain a middle-class lifestyle, support families, or retire in dignity.

AFM members across the country have launched the #BandTogether Campaign to demand a fair contract in new media from TV and theatrical film producers and are engaging in concerted activity in their fight for respect from the producers. Musicians also know that their pension fund needs additional employer contributions, and that the flood of money toward digital media is a place to get those contributions.

As I’ve previously reported, digital revenue in the entertainment and media industry totaled $616 billion in 2013 worldwide. That figure was expected to rise to $1 trillion last year. Against this dramatic rise in industry revenue and profits, the Federation, its locals, and its members have no choice but to address the glaring disparity between those who create and those who exploit, particularly at a time when the major studios—Warner, Disney, Universal and CBS—are launching their own streaming platforms and refusing to pay musicians standard wages, pension contributions, and residuals for content made for those platforms.

When we resume our meetings with film studios in October, the Federation will continue to seek a fair bargain when musicians are employed to score original programs for AVOD and SVOD platforms. Some sore points are as follows:

Standardized wages and industry-standard residuals. Why should musicians, unlike other creative artists in the film industry, be forced to accept sub-standard wages and benefits, and forego residuals when employed for a streaming production? How rich do the producers, the studios, and their investors need to be before musicians, who are as important as anyone else in the film, are treated fairly?

Industry-standard Electronic Sell Through (EST) provisions. If a covered motion picture is sold or rented from a cable or satellite TV service or streaming platform (Netflix or Amazon, for example), musicians should receive a fair, industry-standard residual, like other creative artists do.

Screen Credits. Every musician, orchestrator, and copyist employed under the Federation’s film and television contracts should be credited in the crawl at the end of the show. Everyone who worked on the production gets credited, including the principal and assistant coffee runners. What about musicians? The composer is always prominently billed, but keep watching the credits roll to see the conductor, the music-prep office, the recording studio and engineer, the music contractor, and every other music-related entity from whom not one note of music emanated or was captured and memorialized in the recording of the film score. Each musician whose sound is embodied in the score should receive screen credit.

I will report on the results of the Federation’s discussions with the film industry in this column next month.

Ray Hair

Player Conferences Are Essential to the Promotion of Internal Member Involvement

Each August, I have the pleasure of attending the annual meetings of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), and the Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA). ICSOM, ROPA, OCSM, TMA, together with the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), comprise five intermediate bodies within the AFM known as player conferences.

Player conferences promote internal member involvement by providing forums for musicians from similar workplaces throughout the Federation to share their experiences, to identify, articulate, and prioritize their needs and discuss and develop plans of action to address those needs. The flow of accurate information from the workplace to local and Federation officers and staff from rank-and-file committees, through their conferences, is vital to our support toward the bargaining of our members’ collective agreements, as well as efforts to organize additional meaningful employment for musicians.

I find it extremely beneficial to attend player conference meetings. It demonstrates that despite differences in instrumentation, wage scales and benefits, or the hundreds or thousands of miles separating our members by country and venue, we all share the same fundamental problems—exploitation by employers and managers who make way more from our labor than we do, but who couldn’t do what we do as musicians in a million years.

Player conferences elect their officials by a vote of delegates from constituent workplaces. A consistent goal of my administration has always been to maintain close working relationships and clear and effective lines of communication between the Federation and all conferences, including our geographical conferences.

Player conference leaders perform an important role in our union—they channel musicians’ attitudes, experiences, opinions, hopes, and desires directly to the union from the workplace, so that, as a team, we can organize to bargain and bargain to organize. After my election as your president nine years ago, I supported a policy of rotating player conference leaders as monthly columnists in the International Musician.

This month, I am reintroducing AFM’s player conference leaders in this column, each with a bit of biographical information. They are wonderful people and I enjoy working with them. I’d like to thank them for bringing their energy, dedication, and commitment to bear on behalf of their talented constituents as we continue to build real unionism and a unity of purpose for the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.

ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow, a graduate of the Juilliard School, has been a member of AFM Locals 802 and 47. She began her career as a violist with the Colorado String Quartet, then San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and for the past 30 years has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She was elected as a delegate to ICSOM in 1991 where she served as a member-at-large to the ICSOM Governing Board until her election as ICSOM chairperson in 2016.

OCSM President Robert Fraser became secretary-treasurer of AFM Local 247 Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 1991 early in his career as a trombonist with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. He continued to serve as an officer of Local 247 until 2002. He became a union activist as a result of his experiences as a local union officer and also, he says, because he was inspired to activism by the leadership of Canadian locals, the player conferences, the Federation leadership and Federation senior staff. Robert represented the Victoria Symphony as a delegate to OCSM from 1999-2003, then served as OSCM secretary from 2003 through 2013, when he was elected as president of OCSM.

ROPA President John Michael Smith. A bassist in the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, John Michael’s involvement in ROPA began in 2007, serving first as an alternate delegate and later as delegate to ROPA from the Minnesota Opera Orchestra. He began his performing career with the Norfolk (VA) Symphony, has been a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and has performed, recorded, and toured with both the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. He was elected to the ROPA Executive Board in 2011 and became president in 2016. John Michael also serves as chair of the ROPA Electronic Media Committee and served on the AFM’s negotiating team for the recently concluded Integrated Media Agreement (IMA). He is an active freelancer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and is a Life Member of Local 30-73

RMA International President Marc Sazer is an active performer both in the recording studios of Hollywood and in Southern California concert halls. Marc has performed for innumerable film, television, recording, and other media projects, from TV shows like Animaniacs and Pinky & the Brain to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Empire, films from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to the currently-scoring Star Wars Episode IX, to records for Shirley Horn, Frank Sinatra, and Randy Newman. He is a current a member of the Pasadena Symphony, and has performed with virtually every orchestra in the Los Angeles area. He currently serves as first vice president of the LA Chapter of the Recording Musicians Association, and international president of RMA. He has been at the forefront of campaigning for fair contracts, fair tax credits, and fair employment for AFM musicians.

TMA President Tony D’Amico. A freelance bassist in the New England area, Tony performs regularly with the Boston Pops, Boston Philharmonic, Rhode Island Philharmonic, and Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestra. He also performs with locally produced and touring theatrical musicals when shows are presented in Boston. He is a member of Boston Local 9-535 and Providence Local 198-457, has served on the Executive Board of Boston Local 9-535 since 2001, and has served on that local’s theatre committee for many years. He founded the Boston TMA Chapter in 2006 and was elected as TMA president in 2016.

retiree representative

AFM Pension Fund: The Retiree Representative and Equitable Factors Panel

The American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (Fund) has faced financial difficulties since the global 2007-2008 recession. Similar to dozens of other pension plans, the Fund is now underfunded and will be unable to pay benefits at the level projected in the pre-recession financial market. The Fund’s history of financial struggles is available here. The Fund is in the process of evaluating various options to reduce a portion of participants’ benefits in order to remain financially solvent.

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media rights

Live Concert Venues and Media Rights: Are Musicians Sold Short?

When we consider fair wages and working conditions for musicians working roadshows, the Federation’s Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tour Agreements (SET) are the gold standard. Pamphlet B establishes fair conditions for musicians on the road in touring theatrical musicals, where the shows are booked for a given number of weeks. The SET contract was structured to cover tours where most engagements are one-nighters or run for less than a week.

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Negotiations Roundup—A Capsule View of Talks in Progress

The Federation’s negotiations with its bargaining partners, whether on an industry-wide, single-, or multi-employer basis, are a never-ending process. Other than contracts with touring producers such as the Broadway League, most of our negotiations seek improvements in compensation and working conditions when musicians are engaged to perform electronic media services either streamed or broadcast live, or captured for analog and digital distribution.

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mptf advantage

The MPTF Advantage: Employment, Audience Building, Recognition

The Federation’s recently concluded Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) has brought new life to both the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF) and the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), which are important residual components of that agreement. As music consumption transitioned to streaming, both funds experienced declining revenue due to the precipitous drop in royalties from physical recorded product (CDs, etc.) and digital downloads, which had been the sole sources of revenue for the funds. 

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Ray Hair

Media Talks Driven by Streaming Growth, Part 2

This is the second of two articles on the continued rise of streaming and its effect on Federation media industry negotiations. Read the first here

Last month, we discussed the Federation’s January 2017 deal with the sound recording industry, where major record labels agreed to earmark a percentage of domestic and foreign streaming revenue toward the American Federation of Musicians & Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF), Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), and the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF). We also discussed the skyrocketing growth of streaming revenue from recorded music, which now accounts for 62% of total record industry income.

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Graduate Students Fear Reversal on Unionization

Graduate student unionization efforts at private colleges have become more urgent following the election of President Donald Trump.

Even though in 2016 the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) ruled that students may unionize, many fear that they will eventually lose that very right due to Trump’s appointment of two Republicans to the NLRB. The NLRB has a history of flip-flopping on the issue over the past two decades.

Ray Hair

Pattern Bargaining: A Blueprint for Improvements or Concessions?

The perennial objective of unions has been to “take wages out of competition,” as labor-economists, who analyze the supply and demand of labor and patterns in wage, income, and productivity are prone to say. By seeking to standardize minimum wages and benefits across an industry, unions can stabilize wages, prevent competition among workers and employers, and avoid a race to the bottom. More importantly for the AFM, minimum wages across given industries, such as sound recording, film, live TV, and theatrical tours, provide a floor for future improvements in successor agreements.

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Ray Hair

Changing Channels: from Pamphlet B to SRLA, Network Television

I am pleased to announce that the Federation has concluded negotiations with the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical Productions for a successor Pamphlet B Agreement. The new agreement establishes wages and conditions of employment for musicians working on the road in touring theatrical musical productions. The Federation’s Pamphlet B Agreement is administered by the Federation’s Touring/Theatre/Booking Division (TTBD), headed by Assistant to the President Michael Manley.

Despite a rough start in our initial round of bargaining, the Federation, Disney, and the League were eventually able to find common ground during subsequent negotiations, ultimately reaching a progressive agreement that will become effective retroactively after ratification to March 11, 2016 and extend through March 15, 2020.

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