Studio Beat

Happy belated New Year to you all! I hope that 2006 is a healthy and prosperous year for all of you and your families. I send my congratulations to Dan Warner, vice president, Jeffrey Apana, secretary-treasurer, and the entire executive board. I’m extremely encouraged by the enthusiasm and energy of the board and the committees. There’s a sincere desire to see our local grow and thrive. I look forward to working closely with them and with all of you, the members of this Local.

As we refine our mission, we must always be guided by your needs; after all, you ARE the union. Toward that end, I encourage you to contact me and share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns. Tell me what you think the local’s priorities should be. I hope to hear from you in the coming weeks.

The Value of A Recording

One of our main goals as a union is to improve the working conditions, economic compensation, and benefits for musicians, regardless of whether the work is a live engagement or a recording. The union defines minimally acceptable wages, benefits, and working conditions for all kinds of work. These guidelines are in the form of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) and in scales and conditions set by the local. If a union contract is signed by an employer, this means they have agreed to meet these conditions.

Since this is not a perfect world, all of us have been offered non-union work. Part of being a professional musician and a union member is knowing your value and trying to keep this value as high as possible, even when working in the absence of a union agreement. Familiarity with union scales is one of the best ways of knowing your value.

It’s also good to be aware of what  the “street” (non-union) cost is for any given kind of work. The going rate for some non-union work can pay as much or more than the wages required by union agreements for the same type of job. Surprised? It’s a common misconception that “union” means “more expensive”. That’s not always the case. Of course, there’s plenty of non-union work that pays under scale.

But when a live engagement pays close to scale, the lack of a union agreement may seem insignificant. Of course, the advantage of working under a union agreement becomes clear when an employer doesn’t pay, fires you unjustly, or otherwise treats you unfairly. But assuming none of those things happen and you receive reasonably decent pay, most of us would agree that the situation is not that bad.

However, because of some crucial differences between live work and Electronic Media (including Records/CD's, Film, TV, Radio, Commercials, Internet, etc.) things take on a greater urgency when your musical service becomes part of a permanent recording.

When you participate in a recording, the employer can profit from using that recording FOREVER. Union agreements take this important fact into account. This is why scale for a recording is higher than scale for a live gig. And while scale wages for a session are considered reasonable, AFM agreements with employers also offer additional financial benefits that compensate musicians over the life of the recording. This is why musicians like to record under union agreements; they know they’re getting scale wages, pension, health, and also potential extra money in the future.

So what happens when you’re offered to record without an AFM agreement? Experienced musicians have learned that they need to charge more upfront.

Recently, a famous artist recorded in our jurisdiction. The musicians told him they were union members and worked under AFM agreements. After much discussion, it became clear that this artist was probably not going to sign an AFM agreement. The musicians ended up calculating what correct scale would have been, and adding to that the cost of pension and health benefits – we can call this total the “Session Fees”. The musicians took this total amount of Session Fees and doubled it, and that was what they charged the artist for their work.

Since there was no AFM agreement, the musicians knew that any additional revenue streams such as Special Payments Fund royalties and New Use payments would be unavailable to them. Therefore, they realized they had to get all the money they could upfront.

We can all take a lesson from this. If it’s cheaper for an employer to record without an AFM agreement, why would they ever agree to sign one? On the other hand, if they refuse to sign an agreement, but the musicians still earn more money because of union guidelines, the net result is positive: musicians are well compensated for their work.

When you get called to do a recording, keep in mind that the employer will be able to make money off of your recording forever. If it’s a union recording, you’ll be taken care of. If it’s not, you need to make sure you’re getting MUCH MORE than union scale, because that’s all the money you’ll ever receive for that session.


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