Negotiating Pivotal Contracts in the Age of New Media

The following article appears in the February 2018 International Musician. For a rapidly growing list of New Media projects that were scored AFM, please visit “Have Your Heard” at, and note the many entries for Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

Our AFM negotiates three major filmed media contracts, the Motion Picture, Television Film and Live TV/Videotape contracts. Together, these CBA’s are responsible for over 150 million dollars of AFM wages, and support the livelihoods of thousands of AFM musicians. This year, we are facing pivotal negotiations for all three, and since all of our electronic media contracts are interdependent and intertwined, there will be historic consequences for our shared futures. President Hair has written a series of columns over the past few months that give a strategic overview of trends in recorded media, which I recommend that you review. This column is focused on the immediate here and now of our contract negotiations.

Unions representing directors, writers, actors and others who work on film and television shows negotiated significant improvements in New Media in 2017. For all of us in the industry, it has become clear that New Media is both the future and the present.

  • “Disney Makes $52.4 Billion Deal for 21st Century Fox in Big Bet on Streaming“
    nytimes Dec. 14, 2017
  • “Disney to end Netflix deal and launch its own streaming service”
    The Verge Aug 8, 2017
  • “Cannes film festival takes on Netflix with new rule”
    The Guardian May 11, 2017

We are facing a seismic shift in the way filmed media is produced and distributed. More and more, our jobs will come from projects created initially for streaming, rather than for theaters, networks or cable. How will professional musicians be able to make a sustainable livelihood?

We know that recording music budgets are generally shrinking, and that music budgets for New Media are even tighter. In film & TV, musicians’ wages are now almost always dependent on composer’s packages, rather than studio budgets. What can we accomplish in these negotiations that will allow us to make a living in this new environment?

The other unions negotiated increased residuals for all types of New Media, as well as sharply shortened streaming windows before residuals are triggered. They also negotiated substantial residuals for Advertising-based Video On Demand (AVOD), such as YouTube, network websites, etc.  Payments for Subscriber Video On Demand (SVOD) will now be subject to sliding residual scales based on the number of subscribers the service has; for example, Netflix will pay a higher residual rate as a result of having more than 20 million subscribers. The other unions have also moved from freely negotiated scales (which still prevail for low budget streaming projects) to set wage scales for High Budget SVOD (HBSVOD).

Each of our sister unions negotiated up-front wage increases, as well as different methods of increasing contributions to their respective health and pension funds. Three years ago, film & tv musicians voted to send 1.5% of our residuals fund as an unallocated contribution to our pension fund. The AFM has prioritized strengthening our U.S. pension fund in each of our other AFM recording contracts as well.

Over the coming months, we will continue to reach out to the musicians who work under these contracts so that their voice can be heard. However, this round of negotiations in 2018 will impact every AFM member in the long run, and our greatest strength lies in our solidarity.


  • AVOD – Advertising Based Video On Demand (YouTube, websites, no subscription fee)
  • SVOD – Subscription Based Video On Demand (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.)
  • HBSVOD – High Budget Subscription Based Vido On Demand (Programs made for SVOD that have budgets equivalent to theatrical and broadcast television programs)
  • Diginets – Secondary Digital Channels (the multitude of channels playing older library programs that broadcast networks run, available for free as broadcast digital channels)
  • FMSMF – Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund
  • AFM-EPF – The AFM’s U.S. Multi-Employer Pension Fund

– Marc Sazer, RMA President

RMA Conference 2016

The Recording Musicians Association held our biennial Conference in New York this past month, graciously hosted by AFM Local 802. Arranging RMA meetings always presents challenges unique to who we are; free-lance musicians with unpredictable work schedules. For 2016, we planned our Conference to coincide with a round of record contract negotiations in New York. This gave us the synergy of bringing more rank-and-file musicians into the negotiations, and the efficiency of inviting AFM and Local officers and staff who were already gathering for the negotiations. Continue reading

Negotiations – SRLA

This Thursday, we wrapped up a round of negotiations for our AFM Sound Recording Labor Agreement – the SRLA. These negotiations are between the AFM and the major record labels – UMG, Sony, Warner-Chapel and Hollywood Records (Disney). Each of the major labels represent any number of smaller subsidiary labels as well, and some other independent labels sign on to the SRLA once our negotiations conclude.  Continue reading

Beyond the Red Carpet – musicians go to Congress

Beyond the Red Carpet 2015 brought the U.S. Congress Creative Rights Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Judy Chu and Rep. Doug Collins together with labor and industry leaders to showcase the women and men whose skill, talent and innovation create the magic in the American film and television industry.

This year, with the participation of RMA, the American Federations of Musicians stepped up to share our musicians’ narrative in the halls of Congress. Continue reading

SRLA Collective Bargaining

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada collective bargaining agreement with the record industry is called the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA), and is binding on the major record companies and their subsidiaries; Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, Hollywood Records (Disney) and others.
Our union representation for media negotiations comprises: Continue reading

Recording Industry Negotiations

Dear colleagues,
This past week, the American Federation of Musicians held two days of caucus meetings in New York to prepare for Sound Recording Labor Agreement negotiations. We gathered in New York at AFM headquarters in Times Square; President Hair, legal counsel, staff, officers and representatives of the International Executive Board and Locals around North America.

Your RMA Committee for these negotiations includes rank-and-file representative Neil Stubenhaus, 47 rank-and-file representative Steve Dress, and me as RMA President. We were joined in New York by Roger Blanc Gail Kruvand and Chris Parker, all officers of RMA-NY.

Our caucus is union-side only; we reviewed data, heard reports from staff and counsel, and grappled with proposals for us to make across the table, as well as analyzed what we expect the record companies to propose to us. Our RMA team had helped the AFM and locals gather crucial information about the functioning of the contract over the past 3 years; we would like to thank all of you who brought us your ideas and concerns that we were able to carry into the caucus.

One element that is unprecedented this time around is the environment created by the litigation against the companies that has been filed by our Pension Fund. You can read about the legal action, and even read the full legal filing, here:

We will travel back to New York for negotiations on September 28, and we’ll keep you posted about developments as they arise.

Stay tuned!

Marc Sazer
President, RMA

Just Sue Us

Dear Member:

Have you been thinking that our union has seemed to be on a “legal rampage” lately? Maybe that’s because we recently filed three different lawsuits against major Hollywood studios in less than two months.

These studios have violated our contracts either by recording scores outside the United States or Canada or reusing soundtrack clips without appropriately compensating musicians.

When we addressed the inappropriate reuse of clips during contract negotiations, one company representative said, “Just sue us.”

Resolving contract violations through grievance meetings or neutral arbitrators makes sense. No one wants to go to court. Musicians working under AFM Jingle and Broadway Touring contracts for example file grievances—not lawsuits—when there are contract violations. But our film contract lacks a grievance and arbitration process.

So we are going to court as one of the many ways we fight to uphold industry standards.

Musicians standing together have the power.

In Unity,
Ray Hair
AFM President

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