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Composers and the American Federation of Musicians

 


Composers and the American Federation of Musicians

 
Recent actions and statements by the leadership of the American Federation of Musicians has prompted many SCL members who are also members of the AFM to seek clarification of their options and the associated ramifications when deciding whether to accept an engagement that requires them to use non-AFM musicians.
 
The SCL has long been a champion of recording AFM and we who live here in Los Angeles have a particular desire to see recording in our hometown continue to be vibrant.  As many of you know, the number of AFM recording sessions have declined significantly over the past decade and contracts that the AFM continues to embrace have often made recording with AFM musicians more difficult.  Though the SCL takes no formal stance on these contracts many members of the recording community have long been urging changes that would encourage recording to return to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other places where the union continues to be present.  On a positive note, AFM Local 47 has new leadership we believe is striving to present alternative solutions that we hope will eventually influence the national federation.  
 
This letter to our members, however, is not directly related to those contracts and should not in any way be construed as any kind recommendation in that respect.
 
Many of you are aware that in January of 2014 Austin Wintory (a composer who is a member of the AFM and a board member of the SCL) was brought up on charges for recording with a non-AFM orchestra for a video game, and threatened with a fine of $50,000.  Mr. Wintory has an extensive history of working with AFM musicians whenever possible, however at the time of the recording, the AFM had promulgated a game agreement that no video game company would consider using.  Therefore his only choice was to work with non-AFM players to fulfill his contractual obligations.  It took a year for the IEB (AFM’s International Executive Board) to reach decision and reduced the fine to $2,500.  The decision is on appeal.  
 
The SCL strongly disagreed with the AFM’s arbitrary choice of Mr. Wintory and made it clear in numerous private communications with its leadership of our desire to see the charges dropped.  Most of these communications were ignored.
 
As all composers who are members of the AFM are similarly vulnerable, we feel it is the SCL’s obligation to inform its members of the potential jeopardy they face should they be required to work with non-AFM musicians on any of their projects.
 
Although in the past such charges have been rare and selective, if you are an AFM member you are vulnerable whether you record in London, Seattle, Bratislava, or on a non-AFM date anywhere.  Should you be charged, you may find yourself in the expensive position of hiring lawyers to defend the charges, as has been the situation with Mr. Wintory.  
 
So in simple terms here are your options if you are a composer who also is a member of the AFM:
 

  1. Remain a member of your Local and never work with non-AFM musicians, obtaining contracts for every project you score with live players;

 

  1. Remain a member of your Local and when recording with non-AFM members take the risks described above;

 

  1. Resign from your Local and rejoin under the so-called “Beck Act” the Financial Core (Fi-Core) option[1], which allows you to work on both union and non-union projects while retaining many of the privileges of a union member without jeopardy;

 

  1. Resign from the AFM altogether or never join.

 
The SCL has repeatedly asked the AFM to guarantee that no further charges be brought against composers who need to work (whether required by an employer or otherwise) with non-AFM musicians to score their projects however, to date, they will not make such a guarantee.  We continue to hope for a change of heart and mind at the AFM but under its current leadership our members must be aware their options.

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