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ray chew

Thank You, Brother Ray Chew — You Are Answering Members’ Prayers

As Easter weekend came amid the global pandemic, with virus infections on an upward curve and the spread accelerating across America, Canada, and the world, prayers of hope, healing, and redemption were part of the rituals of professional musicians and their families, all locked down in their homes, locked away from live interaction with their audiences, and locked out of their jobs. The weeks leading up to Easter were also marked by a flurry of interest in raising funds for entertainment industry workers—including professional musicians—whose jobs were among the first to disappear due to social distancing measures and emergency governmental restrictions, and who will likely be the last to return to gainful employment.

No sooner had the pandemic Easter celebration concluded than I received a call from Ray Chew, a distinguished member of Local 802, New York City, whom I met early on in my presidency during his benefit performance for Local 802’s Musicians Assistance Program. Later, I ran into Ray Chew again when ABC television attempted to downsize its orchestra and implement licensed pre-recorded tracks on Dancing with the Stars. And yet again, when our campaign for streaming residuals in film and live television kicked into gear last year, Ray Chew did not hesitate to stand up and speak out in support of his colleagues, his union, and musicians everywhere during the process.

Ray Chew is one hell of a musician. He recently celebrated his 10th season as music director for Dancing with the Stars. Previously, he served as music director for Fox TV’s American Idol, and Showtime at the Apollo. He has helmed award-winning musical events with Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, Aretha Franklin, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, James Taylor, and Quincy Jones, and has directed such prestigious events as the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, the President’s Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

ray chew

So when Ray Chew called, I answered and listened. Ray wanted to partner with the Federation to develop a four-part virtual series featuring a fundraising portal that would accept donations for relief funds to help AFM freelance musicians whose jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I want to do something to bring people together to raise funds for my musician brothers and sisters who are struggling right now because of the pandemic,” Ray said. “Freelance musicians are in an unprecedented crisis. The overnight loss of work has left thousands of musicians unable to pay their rent or buy food to feed their families. I am inviting my musical friends and fellow musicians to join me in putting together a series of shows that will bring us together to sing, perform, laugh, and share stories that will uplift us, inspire us and raise funds at this critical time.”

To help accomplish these vital and timely goals, I appointed a team of AFM staff to work with Ray, led by my assistant and former Local 802 president, Tino Gagliardi. Our team included International Executive Board member Dave Pomeroy (also president of Nashville Local 257), Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, AFM counsel Jennifer Garner and Russ Naymark, Communications Director Rose Ryan, and Electronic Media Services Division Director Pat Varriale.

Jay and Jennifer worked with the AFL-CIO’s Union Community Fund to establish a sub-fund to accept tax-deductible donations for the benefit of AFM members. Dave, Pat, and Russ Naymark developed an appropriate media agreement and waiver option for use by the show to cover the performances of AFM and SAG-AFTRA members. Rose Ryan helped promote the series through social media and internal communications. In the space of little more than two weeks, the first of four fundraising “Ray Chew Live Freelancer Fundraiser” episodes aired at 9 p.m. EDT, Thursday, May 7, on Facebook Live. Additional episodes aired on successive Thursdays, May 14, 21, and 28.

Ray’s musical guests thus far (as of press time) have included performances by legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea, bassist Marcus Miller, P-funkster George Clinton, and interviews with TV newser Soledad O’Brien and New York Times best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant.

To donate to this special AFM Musicians Relief Fund, go to https://bit.ly/2ylzxs2 and enter the amount you wish to contribute. All donations are tax deductible.

The effort has raised thousands of dollars for freelance musicians. “We’ve raised awareness and lots of support for musicians in the industry who are suffering,” said Ray Chew. “I want to thank the person who gave one dollar, and also the person who gave a thousand dollars. I know they gave from the heart. When musicians have the opportunity to go back to work and perform again, it’s going to be great. I also want to thank my union for working to make this possible,” he said.

If you are a freelance musician and wish to apply for relief from AFM’s Musicians Relief Fund, go to https://bit.ly/3bOdw2F, download the application and follow the instructions.

Ray Chew rolled up his sleeves to help our members. On behalf of the entire membership of the American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada, I want to thank him, his production team, AFM staff and the good folks at the AFL-CIO for their swift and exceptional response at a critical moment in the lives of musicians whose prayers of hope during Easter weekend may now be answered.

COVID-19 Lockout: When It Ends, What Will Recovery Look Like?

With the continued spread of the coronavirus outbreak, governments throughout the world have implemented various forms of lockdown, now affecting a third of the global population including the major cities of North America. The impact of the pandemic on musicians and performers, due to the ban on public gatherings, has shut down entertainment venues of all sizes, halted nearly all media production, and eliminated thousands upon thousands of jobs.

The live entertainment industry has gone dark. In the freelance gig economy, we are 100% unemployed. Under emergency governmental restrictions, we are unable to publicly perform. The virus has locked us out—employees, employers, and audiences alike. We are all in limbo. No one knows when or where the infection curves will “flatten.” No one can tell us with any degree of certainty when restrictions will be lifted. No one can say when our communities will be deemed safe enough to risk restarting non-essential businesses and performance venues with the resumption of live entertainment.

Today, as we ride out this deadly virus, we are in uncharted territory. Nobody—the musicians in the gig economy, the promoters, the audiences who support us—none can hazard a guess where or when the venue doors might re-open. Where will the next paying live gigs be? What will they look like? Fear is the stalking horse of uncertainty.

More broadly though, what short- and long-term consequences will we endure from this severe economic shock, and how will we recover? Will we return to our level of pre-shock earnings and productivity? Will the social distancing legacy of the COVID crisis choke economic activity in the live entertainment sector? If so, it could adversely affect our workplaces—the theaters, the concert halls, the convention dates, the nightclubs, the bars and restaurants.

In every economic downturn, winners and losers emerge. How will our employers and those who control our work behave toward us as the lockout ends and the economy comes back to life? Will employers see a window of opportunity from depression-level unemployment to depress wages, extend profit margins, and gain more power over musicians’ lives?

These are hard questions for hard times. Our individual and collective strength will be tested as the pandemic eventually recedes. The decisions we make as the smoke clears may profoundly shape the rest of our lives.

While musicians are sheltering in place, venues closed, worried about the next gig and long-term shifts in live entertainment spending, there remain some positive relationships between musicians, employers, and the Federation as of this writing, April 20. I hope they will outlast the coronavirus.

Symphonic

There are no symphonic concert performances, but the majority of the 52 major US symphony orchestras affiliated with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) are continuing to pay rostered musicians in accordance with agreements governing the shutdowns negotiated with their respective local unions. Some agreements continue wage payments into the summer.

Touring Theatrical Musicals

A total of 23 Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours were suspended during the week of March 15. Together with other workplace unions, the Federation negotiated a shutdown agreement with the Broadway League covering touring employees providing for cancellation payments and necessary expenses for musicians to return home. The unions are expected to meet and discuss workplace issues in connection with the resumption of touring production prior to the end of suspensions.

Motion Picture/TV Film/Live Television

Film producers and TV networks halted all production in mid-March. Company heads are now in discussion about easing back into production and what content to show in a society changed by the pandemic. Despite the hiatus, some films and dramatic TV series had finished production before the emergency declarations. Scoring sessions have continued for those shows with the Federation facilitating contract applications during the crisis (also applicable in sound recording) for the use of remote recording sessions, where individual musicians perform simultaneously, captured alone in safety, but all mixed together for the soundtrack master. In live TV, the late-night bands have continued to be paid, with some shows hosted live, and others remotely, using clips from previous episodes. Primetime TV shows like The Voice are airing prerecorded shows. Musicians in live TV production receive substantial payments for re-runs.

Sound Recordings

With the proliferation of home studio technology, remote recording sessions have continued and are being processed through the Federation’s Single Song Overdub Agreement and Sound Recording Labor Agreement remote recording applications for use during the crisis.

Commercial Announcements (Jingles)

While slowdowns in local and regional media advertising have taken hold, national accounts are continuing to advertise via online and traditional media. New original sessions will likely decline short-term, with increased use of licensed pre-recorded content such as legacy sound recordings. Musicians whose performances are embodied in original and licensed recordings will receive new use and reuse payments as ad cycles continue.

The pandemic and its social distancing regimen will alter how consumers consume, work, and play. In America, the virus has killed over 46,000 people in just two months. It has also killed businesses and it has killed our jobs.

Live musical performances are social by their very nature. Through our performances, we are social and cultural drivers. The disease has already caused the adoption of unfamiliar ways of doing business, but it won’t stop the power of our music. And it won’t stop our union. When the lockout ends, we will adapt, we will perform, and we will thrive.

big radio

Coronavirus Update

As of the date of this writing, March 21, the entertainment industry throughout the world, with few exceptions, has been shut down. Today, emergency governmental stay-at-home orders have been issued in New York, Connecticut, Illinois, and California, affecting 75 million Americans. A national emergency declaration issued on March 13 placed severe restrictions on public and private gatherings, effectively eliminating audiences; canceling concerts and shows for every symphonic, opera, and ballet orchestra in the US and Canada; shutting down festival performances; and closing live venues of every size. Thousands of gigs that otherwise would have been performed were wiped out. TV networks ended all live television production except news. All other media production has been postponed.

Broadway, Las Vegas casinos, and every other showroom, right down to neighborhood restaurants and bars, are dark. Touring theatrical productions have either closed or shut down pending an all-clear signal for audience gatherings. The threat to the entertainment industry across North America and worldwide, to the business it creates and musicians it employs, could stretch beyond these immediate days and have disastrous consequences for months or years to come. As the disease began its spread here, your union took immediate action to safeguard our staff, provide advice and counsel to our locals and our members, while negotiating with signatory employers to preserve and protect employment, extend health benefits, and return touring musicians safely to their homes.

Federation offices—in New York, DC, Toronto, and Los Angeles—are located in the current epicenters of COVID-19 infections. We got ahead of the situation on March 12, implementing work-from-home plans for most staff, and staggering hours for essential staff in all Federation offices, which were eventually shuttered due to additional emergency orders.

Federation staff has risen to the occasion, working around the clock to design and implement new streaming provisions for use to keep live performances alive, to preserve employment. Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard and I have been in direct contact with Congress to push for immediate relief for members who have borne the brunt of these shutdowns. We will not rest until we achieve this goal.

I’m dedicating the balance of my column space this month to accommodate special coverage of the Federation’s response to the crisis. As the outbreak continues, I will communicate frequently via Federation-wide email blasts. Please stay safe. My prayers are with each of you.

To view the article on this month’s special coverage on COVID-19, click here.

big radio

Negotiations Roundup – A View of Talks in Progress

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

Our purpose is to improve the wages and conditions, health benefit and pension contributions when we create the content exploited by the producers. We also negotiate for additional compensation when content is re-played or re-used in domestic and foreign analog markets, and when content is distributed digitally by subscription video on-demand (SVOD) or advertiser-based video on-demand services (AVOD).

Our program of collective bargaining and contract enforcement is aggressive, and is accompanied by a member-driven program of concerted activity, led by the Federation’s organizing department with assistance from locals and also with financial support authorized by the International Executive Board.

The Federation’s emphasis in all of its media negotiations is streaming, and the potential of digital distribution to provide new money for musicians whose services are embodied in streaming content, and also for our residual and benefit funds. Media consumption has transitioned away from traditional physical products such as compact discs and DVDs toward digital formats and streaming. As a result, we are bargaining for our digital future—concentrating on replacing musicians’ declining residual revenue from traditional physical and analog sources with revenue from digital media distribution.

What follows is a thumbnail sketch of negotiations and talks in progress:

Motion Picture TV Film. Film and TV musicians are engaged in a heated campaign toward the studios to obtain and improve industry-standard wages, conditions, and residual payments when content is made for streaming. The Federation and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have operated under a contract extension (with annual wage increases) following the April 5, 2018 expiration of the predecessor agreement.

As major film and television studios prepare to launch their own streaming platforms, they are refusing to bargain a fair deal for the musicians who work for them. Musicians have traditionally received a small portion of secondary-market revenue from the films and TV shows they work on, along with actors, writers, and directors. But, in the production of content made for streaming, the major studios are excluding musicians from their fair share, effectively reducing musicians’ overall pay.

The existing AMPTP agreement covers sidelining, scoring, and music preparation services for theatrical motion pictures and films made for television, whether distributed traditionally or digitally. We will continue to address these concerns when discussions reconvene on November 20 (which will occur after this issue of the IM goes to print). Please visit www.bandtogetherafm.org for the most up-to-date information on our members’ campaign for fairness in the making of content for original streaming productions.

Commercial Announcements (Jingles). The production agreement between the Federation and the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies is set to expire on March 31, 2020. The existing agreement, negotiated in June 2014, achieved significant increases in pay and pension benefits for exhibition of online commercial announcements. However, we expect that discussions next year toward a successor agreement will necessarily focus on an uptick in the licensing of pre-existing tracks by advertisers and their agencies, which has resulted in a reduction in the production and use of new, original recordings for jingle content.

Live Television. Negotiations began in 2016 with the TV broadcast networks for a successor agreement covering musicians performing on all live or pre-recorded television shows, including all late night talk shows, all variety shows such as Dancing With The Stars, awards shows such as the Grammys, and live morning shows where guest artists frequently appear. After five rounds of formal negotiations and additional informal meetings spanning three years, the networks have finally begun to address the Federation’s proposals covering streamed distribution of program content.

Intense concerted activity by musicians working in the TV and film scoring workplace, in an effort to achieve fairness on streaming issues, helped open the door toward more realistic conversations with the producers and networks on those issues. Our next round of negotiations with the networks will occur early next year.

Pamphlet B Agreement. The Federation’s “Pamphlet B” agreement is negotiated with the New York City-based Broadway League and establishes wages and conditions of employment for musicians working on the road in touring theatrical musical productions. The contract is administered by the Federation’s Touring and Booking Division headed by my assistant, Tino Gagliardi, and will expire March 15, 2020.

Historically, Pamphlet B provisions cover only musicians traveling with the show. It does not set wages and conditions for local musicians who are engaged to augment or replace traveling musicians in the cities and jurisdictions where the shows are eventually booked. But beginning in 1992, provisions in the contract were modified and implemented to allow producers to restrict and reduce the allocation of work between local musicians and touring musicians previously governed by local collective bargaining agreements.

The tension in the distribution of touring employment and attempts by producers to avoid hiring local musicians will again figure prominently in our discussions. As the Federation prepares for Pamphlet B negotiations, we will meet with stakeholders to help identify, articulate, and prioritize our members’ needs and develop plans of action to address those needs.

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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fairness in streaming media

Campaign for Fairness in Streaming Media Begins in Los Angeles

As this column is being written, the first leadership training and organizing committee development sessions are concluding at Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) in preparation for an IEB-supported, Federation-wide, member-driven campaign to win industry-standard wages, residual payments, and benefits for musicians who perform and record TV and film content made for streaming platforms. The campaign also seeks to establish meaningful new revenue from film and TV streaming that would boost contributions toward our pension fund.

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Theatrical and Motion Picture Film

TV, Film Agreements Extended Again; Contract Streaming Fight Begins

On March 18, after a week of intense negotiations, an agreement was reached with major Hollywood film producers and their television film counterparts to extend the existing Theatrical and Motion Picture Film agreements until November 14, 2019, with a 2% increase in wages. As was agreed one year ago, the parties deemed a short-term contract solution as the better alternative to the existing deadlock resulting from the producers’ failure to adequately address the Federation’s goal of creating residual payments for films and content made originally for streaming platforms.

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streaming income

Musician’s Streaming Income: Growing and Glaring Disparity

Below are my remarks from a rally hosted by Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) immediately prior to our negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers toward a successor film agreement.

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I’m proud to be here with my colleagues from the AFM International Executive Board, AFM staff, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) officers and staff, members of our sister union SAG-AFTRA, the good folks from the LA County Federation of Labor, but most importantly, great musicians, members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada—the oldest and largest labor union in the world representing professional musicians.

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streaming

Streaming: The Economy of Listening

Guest Column by Mike Huppe, President and CEO, SoundExchange

Below are excerpts from a keynote speech given by SoundExchange President and CEO Mike Huppe at the AFM-FIM International Streaming Conference held in Burbank, California, October 2-3. SoundExhange (www.soundexchange.com) is the world’s premier digital rights organization, and has distributed more than $5 billion to recording artists and rights owners.

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Media Talks Driven by Streaming Growth

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

Mid-year revenue statistics released by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) on September 20 underscored the value of the Federation’s January 2017 deal with the recording industry, where major record labels agreed to earmark a percentage of domestic and foreign streaming revenue toward the AFM-EP Fund (US), Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), and the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund (SPF).

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