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February 09, 2009


Hi Tina -

You make some very good points, and I'm all for "decent" wages. But at this point, the AFM scales for film and TV including special payments are priced sky-high compared to the rest of the world, and that goes way beyond "decent". The rest of the world has embraced the buyout business model, the AFM remains isolated worldwide as the only organization not to.

Look, I'm all for decent wages too, and as far as I'm concerned, decent work doesn't HAVE to have special payments clauses, just like there are lots of decent cars that don't have to be Rolls Royces or Mercedes or BMW. Union work with full union protections, and full union health & welfare and pension payments is decent work too! But that's being denied to many people due to current AFM policies, forcing them to go without work or to do dark dates, all to protect a very small minority of the wealthiest AFM musicians - the 1,000 who receive significant special payments checks every July.

We must resist the idea that a "decent" wage have to be the world's highest. We must resist the assumption that good union work HAS to include special payments strings attached that the rest of the world has decided are inappropriate and abandoned, and we have to start thinking about what's in the best interests of more than just the richest 1,000 recording musicians.

If those richest 1,000 musicians want to have their own scale and terms for high budget projects, fine, let them! But let's not prevent musicians who work on lesser budget projects from the protections and benefits of an AFM contract, even if it doesn't include special payments clauses. We can and should open up more industries, like indie films and music libraries, to AFM recording agreements. And with indie filmmakers popping up all over the country, can you imagine how many more musicians might be fortunate enough to do union recording work in a wide variety of locations if a compatible AFM contract were available? Same for music libraries.

The AFM cannot and must not be about lesser experienced and lesser income musicians sacrificing recording jobs, benefits and income to overseas and non-AFM orchestras in order to "protect" a tiny minority of the richest AFM members. I cannot imagine a concept more incompatible with trade unionism than that.

Downbeat, I understand what you’re saying. The problem you are describing is prevalent throughout the US economy and is being faced by many Unions. One could say that ignoring the trade imbalances is one of the reasons the US is in the mess we’re in. If we don’t have decent paying jobs how can we afford to make house payments and buy cars? I get frustrated hearing certain US Senators say the new stimulus package shouldn’t require US products to be used for buildings and infrastructure projects. Senator McCain for example said this isn’t the time for the US to become protectionist. Wait a minute though…US taxpayers are footing the bill for the package along with our children and probably our grandchildren, shouldn’t we be investing in companies that provide decent wages and benefits to US citizens? Build our tax base? Provide health insurance? US manufacturers can’t compete with Chinese manufacturers and shouldn’t have to until the Chinese start paying appropriate wages and comply with basic environmental protection rules. It seems a similar argument can be made for Eastern European music products. At what point do we say enough is enough. We can’t continue to allow our wages to be undermined by subsidized products from overseas. It’s a political problem and a perception war. Maybe we should pass a law saying that if there are a certain amount of US investors, workers, and content, the music should be recorded in the US.

Seattle on the other hand is an organizing issue and it makes sense to me that our Union should consider making an investment in that area. The problems there run deep and won’t be fixed overnight, but the AFM has the opportunity of being the home for musicians – if it (we) so choose. The AFM appears to be making progress in the political spheres - maybe if an organizing plan was created the RMA might consider it a good investment and feel better about the special payments tax.

I really don’t think buy outs are the answer. We need to be more creative in our problem solving and marketing. I wish the AFM and RMA leadership could go into a room, maybe with a facilitator or mediator, and figure out how to fix this mess. There are good people and good minds on both sides. The AFM needs to be funded and the RMA needs services and support. There has to be a solution. Accusations and name-calling really aren’t helpful. We’re all musicians. Nobody cares about us like we do and if we don’t stand up for each other, nobody else will. Then where’ll we be?

Thank you Robert , for having the courage and wisdom to speak the truth.


You're absolutely right - we do not know whether the non-AFM work is increasing or decreasing compared to AFM work - those are statistics that nobody knows at this point because the research hasn't been done, obviously. But whatever that trend is does not change what the competitive advantages that are offered by Seattle, Eastern Europe, etc are.

There are only 2 advantages offered by most non-AFM recording venues: Buyout contracts, and in some cases, reduced scale wages. But the caveat on reduced scale wages is the fact that those wage discounts are often offset by the increased costs and hassle of travel and the fact that the orchestra may not work as fast as experienced AFM recording orchestras.

I'm not going to belabor this point with you, and I respect your right to doubt the significance of buyouts in the worldwide competitive recording marketplace. But one thing's certain: the rest of the world offers them, and the AFM is the last major recording organization on the planet that does not. The results of that policy, completely out of step with world norms and standards - even those of other established Musicians Unions like that in the UK, concern me greatly.


Please don't play stupid here. By your own admission, if you are the one who's behind this weblog, you are an orchestral musician in the Milwaukee Symphony, you only know what you read here or accept as truth from your RMA bud's about recording. And they are by no stretch of the imagination un-biased.

Speaking of that, what do you have to gain by carrying their water? You don't commute to LA or Nashville to record, do you?

I'm not sure why you're so willing to be played by and carry the water for these RMA koolaide drinkers, unless you too have an obsessive dislike for Lee, which means it's an "Enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation.

As someone who's dealt with the RMA true believers for years, the moment you don't preach the gospel according to Phil, they'll have no use for you, regardless of the sacrifices you've made for them, truly fair weather friends.

Try uncovering your eyes and call a few media composers, those who hire musicians and ask them if the backend makes a difference! Call some contractors other than the chosen two and ask the reality.

Don't sit in Milwaukee, open a brew, listen to the RMAers and think you know the score. If that's the deal you're being played. And you can bet they're laughing at you behind your back. Using yet another gullable player for their own agenda.

I claimed 2 things in my post that you are claiming are "unverified"

1. That there is a significant amount of recording work being done non-AFM, and
2. It is that way because of AFM policies that insist on special payments, "protecting" the richest recording musicians and their July Jackpots

Obviously there is film work done non-AFM, and there has been for quite a while. But that's not the asumption I question.

Is the amount of non-AFM work increasing relative to AFM work? If so, is it that way because of special payments? I have no idea. Neither do you, and neither does the AFM, because no one's looked at the issue in a systematic way.

Any claim that the way to recapture non-AFM work is to abandon the special payments compensation model is what might be called "faith-based."

Robert, are you still denying that US recording jobs are being lost to the growing list of overseas recording venues? A quick look at Simon James' website will prove exactly how much US production work is being done non-AFM in Seattle.

And assuming you're willing to admit that a significant amount of US production work is being recorded non-AFM, are you actually saying that AFM policies have nothing to do with why those films are recorded non-AFM?

How many more blockbuster feature films have to record in Seattle or Eastern Europe before you're ready to admit we have a problem?

I claimed 2 things in my post that you are claiming are "unverified"

1. That there is a significant amount of recording work being done non-AFM, and
2. It is that way because of AFM policies that insist on special payments, "protecting" the richest recording musicians and their July Jackpots

It is inconceivable that AFM policies have nothing to do with those US production companies that choose to schlep at great expense and hassle to Eastern Europe and Seattle to record - that would defy common sense. And the amount of work being done in various locations is easily verified by visiting sites like Simon James at: http://www.simonjamesmusic.com

I think I've finally figured out who Downbeat is. Downbeat is an AFM-specific implementation of the famous ELIZA software package, intended to pass (or at least pass on superficial inspection) the "Turing test." That is the most logical explanation for the fact that, regardless of the subject of the argument, Downbeat always responds with the same unverified assertions.

And, if I'm arguing with a computer program, what does that say about my intelligence? So I'll stop.

But as far as anotherrecordingmusician's assertion that RMA is out to "destroy" the AFM, it seems to me that the record proves the reverse. It's not the RMA that's trying to pretend that the AFM doesn't exist, but the reverse. It's not the RMA refusing to meet with the AFM president, but the reverse. It's not the RMA that holds a board meeting in New York and can't make time for the IEB, but the reverse.

At least this writer is more honest about the number of recording musicians, about 1000, rather than the inflated numbers of 2,300 and 1,600 respectively, when there are far more recording members who are not members of the RMA and have no desire to be members of the RMA.

RMALA has about 900 members tops. NY maybe 88, Nashville maybe 188, Oakland?,.. 2 probably funded by the RMALA. That's it. A couple in Florida.

So this small group is willing to destroy the AFM for the 70,000 others for their July checks, telling everyone that all the Orchestral, Casual, Pit orchestra, Touring and Teaching members are all hobbyists.

Feel free to take a hike, leave the contracts behind and become the next New Era Scoring scab orchestra, become what you profess to hate and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Your RMA leaders are selling you down the river and you aren't awake enough to even know it.

It's just my opinion, but I think anotherrecordingmusician's frustration comes not from contempt for the richest 1,000 recording musicians you refer to, but from observing many other musicians including library musicians, low budget film musicians, and others whose sessions cannot be done AFM and are being offshored or done in Seattle because of policies that are in place to "protect" those 1,000 richest recording musicians.

In our rush to "protect" those musicians who are the most financially successful, let's not forget about the job losses caused by offshoring and the growing list of non-AFM recording venues whose businesses are being propelled by those same AFM policies designed to "protect" the most well-to-do recording musicians.

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