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June 22, 2007


Competition is not something that unions should always be involved with. Especially with for profit companies. I know AFM members may be screaming for more work, but at what price? At a certain point, musicians will say, "the money is not worth the time." The great musicians will find other groups that pay better or if there is no work, get a day job. I agree that the second and third tier players in LA have suffered recently, but not because of special payments. If that were the case, why has there been an enormous drop in television soundtracks since the '70's? Those don't pay special payments unless a recording is made. Does anybody really think that production companies will flock back to LA if the AFM drops special payments? If it were a new AFM contract with no special payments they would still have to pay EP and H & W. Why would they do that if they are paying cash to non-union Seattle and Eastern Europe musicians with no benefits? Let's not fool ourselves.

Special payments are the single biggest obstacle to film and television companies recording with the AFM. They are the single largest reason why Seattle and Eastern Europe have received so much recording work.

Simply put, Special Payments aren't competitive in the global arena, especially for low and mid-budget films. That's a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of RMA-ers, but it's a fact. Tom Lee is trying to change that by eliminating special payments from SOME AFM contracts. But it all gets down to the "LA Syndrome" - keep special payments and drive the work out of town (except for the top studio films), or get competitive and recapture the work. So far, the RMA has succeeded in keeping Special Payments and, at the same time, driving a lot of work to Seattle and Europe. While the top studio folks retain their Special Payments, a lot of lesser-A and B-players have suffered greatly, and the new work in Seattle and elsewhere has created orchestras now highly proficient in film scoring work. Was it worth it?

Special Payments just aren't competitive, whether it's under the flag of the AFM, the PMG, or any other union. There are too many other options that are acceptable to the studios. Virtually everywhere other than the AFM now offers a buyout, and many companies are choosing to work under that scenario.

It's as simple as that.

So, does this mean that since I've left LA 12 years ago recording contracts have been gradually phasing out special payments? And Tom Lee wants to eliminate them altogether now instead of letting them phase out by your 2009-2013 prediction? And the top tier studio players and RMALA are fighting to keep the special payments?

all very interesting....

Let's think about this: AFM has not had residuals based on sales on ANY of the videogame agreements in the last 4 years. People seem to forget that. Even the ones that the RMALA crafted. SAG also has no residuals for voice-over actors for videogames.

Further, direct to dvd motion pictures that are AFM-scored also have no back end residuals based on dvd sales. Not a lot of people know that. There are now entire divisions at each major studio to make direct to dvd films.

Also, the first 15,000 soundtracks pressed/sold for each motion picture regardless of budget- no residuals, and no new use payments. Any tv show that goes into syndication domestically and worldwide and gets hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars - no extra payments for the musicians. This includes Seinfeld, Friends, JAG, Lost, etc.

So to act like the scenario of no special payments is "out of the blue" or inconceiveable is pretty ridiculous. It lasted the longest, but will be the next point to disappear, whenever it happens, 2009 or 2013.

Good point! However, I don't think we should give up the special payments or blame our recording contracts for lack of work. I'm still not convinced that it will bring it back at a meaningful level. We still have to look at runaway production costs, bad management decisions as well as virtual orchestra technology. Don't forget China bootlegs, too.

--on "award winning" scores--

since 1996

Academy Awards

1996 Emma non AFM
1996 English Patient non AFM

1997 Titanic AFM (L.A.)
1997 Full Monty non AFM

1998 Life is Beautiful non AFM
1998 Shakespeare in Love non AFM

1999 The Red Violin non AFM
2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon non AFM

2001 Lord of the Rings non AFM
2002 Frida AFM (NYC)

2003 Return of the King non AFM
2004 Finding Neverland non AFM

2005 Brokeback Mountain non AFM
2006 Babel non AFM

To summarize, just 2 AFM scores have won "Best Score' at the Oscars- out of 14 that have been awarded since 1996.

That is 14%.

I agree with some of the posters before and I hope that these figures open some eyes to the possibility-- the possibility - that something is wrong with the contracts. These films all wildy vary in budget as well.

I'm not saying that other orchestras like the London Symphony have not been making big score soundtracks like Star Wars etc... Those out of country soundtracks have not affected the top tier LA musicians as much as the 2nd and 3rd tier. There will always be major soundtracks recorded by LA musicians and many of those will be award winning. Special payments have protected and enhanced TV soundtrack musicians too... How about the hundreds of episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Those musicians have recieved special payments from vidoe and DVD sales. The real issue that Tom Lee and Sam Folio should be focusing on is itellectual property rights especially in China. This issue has gained huge momentum as those in the multi-media industry lose billions in lost revenue from China that North America and Europe recognize. I still believe that special payments allow LA to have a certain uniqueness by allowing virtuoso musicians to be able to make a living as full-time freelancers. Sure a soundtrack is a soundtrack is a soundtrack to the average audience member. But I think there is a quality in LA that even the best musicians in London, Prague and Seattle can't copy.

After all, the big movie score has been preserved all these troubling years by the top tier players without concessions.

-No concessions? Here's what top tier players missed out on:

GHOST RIDER-- no residuals
SHREK 3- no residuals
HARRY POTTER- no residuals
STAR WARS- no residuals
SURF'S UP- no residuals

someone is making money here, but it's not musicians under AFM contracts and it is specifically because of back end payments. You can keep denying it, but it's right there for you to see.

Here is what the RMA/AFM has done:

-AFM wage freeze after last negotiation (no other guild had that)
-Expressed to members that the raise would be in SP fund. Instead the opposite has happened- America stopped buying dvds at the same pace and Fund has been down the last 3 years with almost everyone getting smaller checks. Eventually, all sales will be rentals (streamed via internet) and dvd sales will continue to decline. SP does not get money from rentals.

-lower and lower up front rates mostly on independent movies that also dont have significant residuals based on dvd sales
-giving away soundtrack new use for almost ALL MOTION PICTURES NOW.
-creating a scale for tv, that shows like LOST, the most expensive show on television, for the first season paid LOW BUDGET RATES. How smart is that? Why not grant that provision if the pilot doesn't cost 10 million dollars.

ALL OF THAT HAS RESULTED IN EVEN MORE PROJECTS LEAVING THE AFM. Yes, some do use afm contracts... when they have to. Most do not. Even when they have a contractual obligation to do so.

You can't keep making the argument that AFM musicians are the best as the sole reason to do it AFM-- if producers continue to go elsewhere to record they must not care. AFM may be the best and the fastest.... but is it worth it to producers to keep paying back end payments? The answer is no.

Perhaps, but is it really better for the entire community? Why should musicians be the first of all the trades to bail from special payments? I like and have worked under the low budget agreements primarily because of the preservation of the special payments. I know many LA musicians don't like them because they did not bring that much work back especially for the 2nd and 3rd tier players. I just don't trust that ending special payments will bring work back. Profit sharing should be embraced by all musicians who work for for-profit entertainment companies. After all, the big movie score has been preserved all these troubling years by the top tier players without concessions.

Actually $75/hour is higher than both of the AFM low budget film scales! And for LA players who aren't doing the "big studio" films, $75/hour for them is better than $0 per hour if the work goes to Seattle or Europe.

NES is prepared to offer $75 per hour now??????? (See link below) It may seem like a lot of money to many freelancers... However that was the base union pay back in 1989!!!! What about inflation? It looks like the race to the bottom is on... The top tier freelancers will be OK, but this will be devastating to the 2nd 3rd and 4th tier freelancers in LA... They'll have to get day jobs.

AFM, NES and Local 47 together live in LA Tuesday night - here's the story:


Tina. You've missed the entire point. The problem is NOT with musicians trying to "protect their work" ala orchestras with tenure. The problem is with particular musicians using unfair and unethical (if not outright illegal) tactics that protect their work by way of putting other musicians completely out of business. The point is abusing the systems and structures of AFM to accomplish these ends. People have left (RMA AND AFM) because there came a point where being so affiliated directly prohibited them from accepting work in this industry. BECAUSE of the tactics being attributed here to certain members of RMALA.

Any AFM players conference -- and its members -- should be working for the good of union members as a whole. We're talking about people who systematically dominated a player's conference in order to restrain the trade of other musicians. To the very obvious detriment of the entire recording industry as it is practiced in the United States.

THAT. Is the point.

Pretty sure the big movie studios aren't worrying about music anytime soon, they have other problems:


Plus, they know they can always do the music elsewhere if things don't work out. Now to film A-list movies without A-list actors, cant do it. But Ghost Rider, sure, lets score in seattle. You know why? Because.. they can.

Some past comments about the audition situation is a little off the mark. Right after college, I moved to LA to try my luck at landing some studio work. While in college, I had met and worked with several top LA studio players at various summer festivals. I learned about the biz like an apprentice of other trades would. When I moved to LA all of the professional musicians who played my instrument were very nice and supportive. Not that they gave me studio work...rather, they understood the daunting task of me trying to break in the recording business. One player told me that it would probably take 14 years of freelancing in LA before I could make a substancial living off of recording alone. I did not care at the time because I loved LA and it's professional musicians. During my first three years in LA, all of my gigs came from recomendations from other musicians, not contractors. This is very common with Broadway shows, touring and subbing with a symphony orchestra. The recording musicians of LA have allways been prepared for their work to suddenly stop. After all they are freelancers. Many would take as much work offered as possible to be prepared for the inevitable rise and fall of recording work. I would usually be hired by these musicians at the last minute when they were double booked. Another aspect of my experience as an LA freelancer was that I would never know when a top tier studio player would be sitting next to me at a church gig or symphony concert. With the uncertain demand for studio musicians, you never knew when that would happen. Therefor I and many of my peers treated all gigs in LA like auditions. We knew recommendations from other musicians would get us the jobs if there was a need. I would always prepare myself to perform at my best and also very important, make those around me comfortable. It's very much like freelancing anywhere. The people you remember are the great players, many of whom are very nice people. Sure I'd like to have more opportunities to audition for gigs. But we could write lot's of comments on auditions and contractors alone. To make a long story longer, three years into my LA experience a Pamphlet B show was hiring musicians while in town. One of my studio collegues recommended me and I spent the next seven years performing four different Broadway shows all over North America and a small run on Broadway. Not once did I feel like I had to "suck up" to any contractor or conductor. There were vacacies and I was ready to perform. It has been 12 years since I left LA and I feel that I and many of my peers were treated fairly. Mainly because the top studio musicians can play their ax's like nobody's business.

Hi Folks,

I'm really trying to understand the point of view of those of you who are so critical of RMA and especially RMALA, but I don't.

What I'm hearing is that you think that the RMA is trying to protect their contracts and their work. Yeah. And? I really don't see anything wrong with that. I've been working for 10 years as a local officer to protect my musician's contracts and work. Using the logic you're presenting, we should get rid of all symphony contracts that grant tenure to musicians because it makes it unfair to other musicians looking for work. I mean, try being a symphonic bass trombone player and look at all the jobs regularly available. Oh, there aren't any?

I know my musicians would deeply resent an orchestra from another area coming in and taking over their season.

It's hard to break into any market in our business, but that doesn't mean we should resent those who are successful.

It might help me to know more about you to be able to gain an understanding. I know you're not comfortable posting under your own name on this site, but I welcome you to contact me directly through e-mail: tina4ieb@msn.com.

I really want to understand. Maybe then we can figure out a positive approach to improve your work situation.

Best wishes,

Let me get this straight--- the RMALA wants Tom Lee and the AFM to account for all expenses, and be fair with voting procedures, yet the RMALA doesn't publish annual income/expense reports, those reports are NOT available for the membership to see, and there is NO viable system to elect leaders that represent the RMA (similar to SAG or WGA)? Come on! They don't have a leg to stand on in any argument in any of these issues. You can't have it both ways. Since producers are willing to take work to Seattle, Prague, London etc, why not try other orchestras.. in our own country?? Once there is an AFM buyout, the Boston Symphony might seem much more affordable. Welcome to competition, RMALA and in your own country no less. Being geographically desirable will help in some cases, not all. Since the work is truly global, let's open it up to the rest of our country at least. Isn't that what being a union is all about? Oh wait, they just want all the work to stay in LA... It's all making sense now...

Great point! When's the last time that large contractor that does most of the top studio dates in LA ever held open auditions? Nope, you've got to suck up, kiss up, and continually endear yourself to the contractors in order to keep working. It's 100% political, as there are many talented players who never get called because their not "on the list." And this, of course, is the system the RMA is fighting so hard to protect. It's elitism and political favoritism at its worst.

Hmm... RMA's leaders are not elected by its members? What are they.. self-appointed? Or appointed by a puppet board of directors who does what they're told? No financial reporting to the members? And now the PMG and their shadowy links to the RMA? Talk about a lack of transparency! We need to know a lot more about what's going on with these groups...

Interesting comments, all of these - but maybe the problem is that there is no fair and unbiased system in place to decide who gets studio work. (Remember, we are in a union here). SAG actors have to audition. If you have to win an audition to make $120,000 with the NY Phil, shouldn't the standard be even higher to make $200,000+? The rest of the AFM is justifiably upset- if there was a system in place (ANY system would be better than people making decisions that aren't musicians), things might no be so bad. Also why don't the RMA members get to vote for their own leaders? that seems out of whack for the RMA to ever discuss the AFM's voting procedures when none exist for their own conference. And can we see where the RMA spends its money? Nope.

I think you are wrong on all counts.

If the majors wanted to get rid of special payments, they could have and would have long ago, maybe even back during Fuentealba's unsuccessful film strike in 1980. The fact is that the studios have no axe to grind with the musicians. The studios' chief negotiator, Nick Counter, seems to be a better friend to the musicians than their own union. It would be an interesting scenario, though, to see the president call a strike because the industry would agree to elimination of special payments.

As to the rest, the only people falling all over themselves dissing the LA musicians seem to be those who aren't talented enough to get the work.

regarding sp funds--they will be history, the AFM will get 2% next summer, the next CBA with the studios will be for a buyout, and that will be that. No studio will sign up with PMG if back end payments are part of the deal. No amount of debate will ever change that. The producers will simply just go elsewhere. Not sure why this point is still being talked about. it's over, folks.

RMA loses every battle it tries to fight. If they wanted a CBA with SP so bad, maybe they should hold auditions based on how people play--to see who should work, not just play political games. They compare themselves to the LAPhil and other orchestras-- well you can't just sign up and be part of the LAPhil. Thats why those organizations are respected, and people are falling all over themselves dissing the RMA.

And not only that... leaders of the RMA should be elected by the members. They aren't. End of story.

Sadly it appears the AFM has succumbed to the same pitiful class envy that has been used by politicians in the public arena for years. Instead of unity we promote envy. Instead of all boats rising with the tide we want to sink the biggest boat. We should be grateful for those AFM members years ago who worked so long and so hard to negotiate this wonderful benefit known as Special Payments. We owe them a great debt. However now we don't celebrate this benefit, we scourge those who are its recipients, we don't work to improve the lives of all musicians we want to slap the most successful among us. The single greatst strength of a union is collective baragining but we have chosen instead to promote cannibalism - we eat our own.

And by the way - yes, I do benefit from Special Payments. And I beg to differ - I did not get here by luck or a geographical throw of the dice - I got to where I am by working my ass off for a long, long time. Funny, that sort of thing used to be what we told our kids to do in order to be successful. It isn't greed, it isn't selfishness - it's called a work ethic!

Yes the world is changing, yes the community of musicians is much more global. Yes, a lot of the reasons labor unions were created in the first place don't exist any more. Yes, the RMALA needs to do more than simply try to protect its own. But the AFM will NEVER survive if we lose sight of our common goals and become like a wolfpack fighting over meat scraps

Heaven forbid that I paint corporations and businesses as greedy because they don't want to deal with residual payments!!!It's much easier to blame all these issues on those "rich, elite" recording musicians.

Read your labor history, folks. Unionism has rarely been easy.

Sorry, but today, the AFM absolutely is in competition with other music providers, both in the US (Seattle, NES, etc) and the many international orchestras now actively competing for recording jobs, especially film and television. The AFM has no monopoly, domestically or otherwise, on talented recording musicians. The idea of the strong union monopoly using the threat of strike, etc. to leverage its position with employers is way, way out of date and totally impractical now given the global competition for music recording. Those are days that will never come back, just like the days when buggy whips were the primary method of energizing your transportation.

More and more, it's this denial of the competitive realities of the domestic and global marketplace for recording music that is the root of many of the issues here. If the RMA splits off into the PMG or some other organization, it only creates more competition in the workplace, not less, and unless the AFM begins modernizing its approach to the marketplace, more competition will only mean bad news for our union.

Competition is not inherently a bad thing, and it's not a "race to the bottom." It's actually a great motivator for companies and individuals to stay on their toes and keep their skills and business terms current and competitive. But competition has winners and losers - that's a concept that's hard for some to swallow. But in a competitive environment you will win or lose based on your business strategy, your wits, and your talent. That means taking matters into your own hands, rather than looking for a paternal organization or entity like a union to hold your hand, conduct all your business for you, and guarantee you work and/or a minimum rate for your work.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for independent businesspeople like musicians banding together and exerting their collective strength in the marketplace, but that's no excuse to be non-competitive, offer terms employers don't want, and expect that you can shove it down the throats of businesses who have any number of more attractive alternatives domestically and internationally.

And the "employers" are not some evil monolithic gazillion-dollar industry. Actually in many cases it's small independent companies making and hoping to sell an indie film, a reality show pilot, etc. Let's not forget that with the film and television business, just like other businesses in the USA, there are far more small and medium sized businesses producing product than big corporate conglomerates. Painting them all with the "big evil rich employer" brush is simply unrealistic.

Competition is here to stay. Some say that the competitive entities like Seattle and NES, plus the European orchestras, were products of and/or had their growth fueled by a non-competitive AFM which drove work to non-AFM locations due to the insistence on special payments clauses.

The only question now is how the AFM and the RMA will respond to the competitive global marketplace for music recording. And that response will play a major role in the shape of the AFM, if there is to be an AFM as we know it today.

If you were to go to any per-service orchestra in any AFM local and ask several musicians "do you know what special payments are?" Most of them would say no unless you are in the LA area. Also, not many rank and file musicians know or care about the Lee-RMALA wars. When I explain special payments to these musicians I overwhelmingly get a positive response, especially from young-professional freelancers. Profit-sharing seems logical to these musicians who might still be paying off their student loans, buying expensive instruments and practicing several hours per day to maintain virtuosic performance levels for their "customers." The RMALA and the AFM have both really missed a golden opportunity to recruit new members by not aggresively advertising motion picture soundtrack and recording wages and benefits. Someone mentioned that London studio musicians do not get special payments and what makes the AFM right and London wrong. I've heard that London musicians are not really all that satisfied with their wages, even to the point of getting a second (day) job. I still think that if the Lee-RMALA war gets to the point where the recording musicians leave the AFM, they (the PMG) will still maintain high wages and the special payments while we in the AFM will lose much needed revenue for union activities such as education and the negotiating of first time CBA's. Many small locals can't afford those activities. Also, I just don't buy all this "were competitors...we compete all the time" stuff. In my experience, professional musicians with that attitude tend to burn out faster and eventually don't get asked to play as much anymore. Those musicians who form a healthy teamwork network within their instrumental group tend to be happier and thus their particular instrumental group gets noticed for their high levels of performance. Competition should be from within to perform at our best...not to compete with our collegues.

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