Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit


Home » Recent News » Want to Read About Labor and AFM history? Here are a Few Titles We Recommend

Want to Read About Labor and AFM history? Here are a Few Titles We Recommend


Robert D. Leiter, The Musicians and Petrillo (Bookman Associates, 1953)
The first complete study ever made of the American Federation of Musicians, this book traces the development and growth of the union as an economic force. It begins with the earliest attempts to unionize musicians in the US and continues up to the book’s publication in 1953. It considers the various problems which arose during that time, the impact of the actions of musicians on other sectors of the economy, and the personalities of the men who shaped the destiny of the union.

As the title states, the book focuses on the life and influence of James Caesar Petrillo, AFM national president from 1940 to 1958. Petrillo grew up on Chicago’s West Side and, after a brief period as a trumpet player and bandleader, became active in an independent musicians’ union and served as its president for three years. Defeated for reelection, he joined the local chapter of the AFM in Chicago in 1918. In 1922 he became president of the Chicago local, and in 1940 was elected national president of the AFM.
One of Petrillo’s lasting legacies was the 1942-44 general strike against the nation’s record companies for their failure to pay royalties to musicians for sales on their recordings. Despite personal pleas from Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the union held out for 27 months before winning the desired concessions. This victory led to the establishment of the Music Performance Trust Fund. Petrillo fought to protect his union’s membership from changes wrought by technological change in the entertainment and recording industry.

James P. Kraft, Stage to Studio: Musicians and the Sound Revolution, 1890-1950 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)

Between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, technology transformed the entertainment industry as much as it did heavy industries such as coal and steel. Among those most directly affected were musicians, who had to adapt to successive inventions and refinements in audio technology—from wax cylinders and gramophones to radio and sound films. In this study, James P. Kraft explores the intersection of sound technology, corporate power, and artistic labor during this disruptive period.

Kraft begins in the 19th century’s “golden age” of musicians, when demand for skilled instrumentalists often exceeded supply, analyzing the conflicts in concert halls, nightclubs, recording studios, radio stations, and Hollywood studios as musicians began to compete not only against their local counterparts but also against highly skilled workers in national “entertainment factories.” Kraft offers an illuminating case study in the impact of technology on industry and society—and a provocative chapter in the cultural history of America.

Howard Zinn, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Dana Frank, Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor’s Last Century (Beacon Press, 2002)
In this book, three renowned historians present stirring tales of labor. Robin D. G. Kelley’s story of a movie theater musicians’ strike in New York asks what defines work in times of changing technology. Howard Zinn tells the grim tale of the Ludlow Massacre, a drama of beleaguered immigrant workers, Mother Jones, and the politics of corporate power in the age of the robber barons. Dana Frank brings to light the little-known story of a successful sit-in conducted by the ‘counter girls’ at the Detroit Woolworth’s during the Great Depression.

Julie Ayer, More than Meets the Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History (Syren Book Company, 2005)

More Than Meets the Ear is the story of a grassroots movement that transformed labor relations and the professional lives of US and Canadian symphony musicians. The struggles and accomplishments experienced by many visionary leaders of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s offer inspiration to new generations of musicians, students, teachers, music lovers, labor historians, and orchestra administrators.
Written from the perspective of a professional orchestra musician who has experience in committee activity and labor negotiations, More Than Meets the Ear is an overview of the profound effect the musician’s labor movement has had on the profession. Minnesota Orchestra case history documents the growth of a major American orchestra in dramatic detail and anecdotes.

If you want to delve a bit deeper into AFM labor history, here are three articles from three different law reviews studying the organizational power of the AFM:

Vern Countryman, “The Organized Musicians I” and “The Organized Musicians 2” University of Chicago Law Review 16, no. 1 (Autumn 1948)
56-85 and University of Chicago Law Review 16, no. 2 (Winter 1949): 239-297.

This article (in two parts) examines the history and the activities of the AFM in an attempt to discover how it functions, what its objectives are, to what extent its activities have been subjected to regulation, and “to what extent those activities suggest the need for further governmental intervention.”
Written by a Yale Law School professor during the second recording strike of the 1940s, the articles examine the threat of technological change and unemployment to union musicians, the 1942 recording ban, and the Lea Act of 1946.

Robert Gorman, “The Recording Musician and Union Power: A Case Study of the AFM” Southwestern Law Journal 37, no. 4 (1983): 697-787.

A study of the evolution in the philosophy and bargaining policy of the AFM from the 1930s to the 1950s. The article, written by a University of Pennsylvania law professor, discusses the rise of AFM national President James C. Petrillo, the 1942 recording ban, the Lea Act of 1946, the 1948 recording ban, the creation of the Music Performance Trust Funds and the later lawsuits against them, and the internal politics of locals in Los Angeles and New York and their impacts on the national union.

Christopher Milazzo, “A Swan Song for Live Music? Problems Facing the American Federation of Musicians in the Technological Age” Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal 13, no. 2 (1996): 557-581.

This article focuses on the problems encountered by AFM members as musicians face an age of automation and the threat of unemployment due to advancing technology, starting with a brief history of the union and the effect of phonographic technology on musicians. The article also suggests possible solutions for the AFM as the music industry continues to make advancements in recording technology.

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