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Home » Officer Columns » Executive Board Members » Time to Ask “The Question”

Time to Ask “The Question”

  -  International Vice President and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

by Dave Pomeroy, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

Over the past few decades, even before the pandemic, almost everything about the way we make records has been transformed. Hit recordings are being made in bedrooms and basements as well as big commercial studios. Music consumers have more choices than ever, so the old rules no longer apply in many cases. However, one thing that has not changed is the lasting power of an AFM contract.

An AFM B-Form is a digital paper trail that verifies and protects the work you have done, not just in the short term, but for the long run. We have a wide variety of recording agreements that cover almost every scenario, including co-op bands, single song overdubs, and limited pressings as well as master scale. We have your back, but in many cases, someone needs to step up on the front end to start the process. I’ve done it many times, and so can you.

Employers need to understand that an AFM agreement protects them as well. When a legitimate licensing company wants to use a song recorded under an AFM sound recording contract in another medium, such as a commercial, TV show, or film, they know they have an obligation to not only pay a license fee to the artist and/or label for the use of the recording itself, but also to pay the musicians the prevailing AFM wage. These licensing companies know that the AFM is authorized to collect these payments, which saves the employer money.

If a recording is used in another medium and you worked for cash or signed a work-for-hire agreement, you might have a moral and ethical right to ask your employer to give the musicians a share of their money, but you have lost your leverage by working nonunion. By the way, never sign work for hire documents—they are asking you to give away all your intellectual property rights, something they don’t even have the right to do. So, how do you get around this problem?

We understand that sometimes producers are handed a chunk of money by a signatory label who is supposed to be filing contracts on every release. However, sometimes the labels do not keep up with their legal obligation to file contracts on everything that they release. Many producer/engineers also play on the records they are working on, and I have found that many of them are not aware of the “musician money” they are leaving on the table.

If the song is used elsewhere, even if they are only getting producer fees and royalty payments on the front end, their musical contributions create revenue on the back end—but only if they are listed on an AFM contract. Many independent labels and artists have bought into the stereotype that only big artists and major labels deal with the AFM. That is simply not true. Here’s the bottom line: someone (maybe it’s you) has to ask what we sometimes call “the question.”

“Hey, I was just wondering … do you think there is any way we could put this session on an AFM contract this time?” said the bandleader/arranger/side musician to the artist and/or producer. “Things are going good, but doing it ‘on the card’ (aka on an AFM contract) would really take it up a notch and create a bunch of potential revenue streams. I’ve been talking to the players, and they would really like to do that. What do you think?” It’s not that hard, and once you have done it a time or two, it gets easier. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.

In most cases, I have seen employers, producers, and artists refuse to discuss working under AFM contracts because they are trying to take advantage of musicians. However, sometimes, they just need someone to explain the logic to them and help them take care of the details. This is why session leaders make double scale. To be clear, this does not have to be a confrontational discussion in either scenario. You are simply standing up for what is right. No one wants to, or should be, fired for speaking up. You may give up money in the short term by saying you won’t work without a contract, but you are also saying “no” to being exploited. If what you bring to the equation is something they need, it can become a whole new conversation.

This is not old school intimidation. You are a professional asking a fair question, in an era where any recording could blow up beyond all comprehension. From Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member Taylor Swift to Billie Eilish, all bets are off as to what will catch the public’s imagination and become the next big thing. You can go along for the ride, or you can give your future revenue away—the choice is yours. The power of an AFM contract ensures you can be paid years from now for your intellectual property. We can help with the details, but it all starts with someone being willing to ask “the question.”