RMA Address at the 2011 Western Conference

Dear Delegates and Guests of the Western Conference,

It is with pleasure and hope that I can report that the years-long conflict with our own members is over. Reaching out with honest communication and evident good faith, our still-new administration has forged peace. The restoration and rejuvenation of good process began immediately as the Electronic Media Oversight Committee was empowered to undertake its appropriate Bylaws-based role.

Even as the 2010 AFM Convention was turning a thumbs down on any new fees or dues, President Hair and the new IEB were reaching out to the Player Conference, and that helped set the stage for a brand-new, democratic approach for recording musicians to support their union financially; let them vote! The process crafted in Las Vegas and ratified by the Delegates has empowered recording musicians, and as a unified group they voted to raise dues on themselves in order to support our financially strapped AFM. Finally, we have found a way to dovetail the intense desire by recording musicians for democracy and accountability with the financial well-being of our union.

And the newly raised dues will flow. I’m pleased to report that employment in motion picture and television film scoring, employment that is subject to the highest AFM work dues rates aside from new uses, is healthy. Word on the street is that the AFM is enforcing its contracts, and this spring we are seeing dozens of different size movies and television shows scored AFM in various cities. While production cycles in the film industry have fluctuated, the AFM’s percentage of market share has held strong. It is important to note that an increasing number of the films we do are foreign films; that is, we are attracting films from all over the world to score here in the AFM.

The Live TV/Videotape agreement is also healthy, as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, the late night shows such as the Tonight Show and the David Letterman Show, awards shows like the Country Music Awards, the Oscars, the Tonys, and the basic cable shows including the Conan Show, provide excellent employment for many AFM musicians on a stable basis.

Other areas of electronic media are not doing so well. The AFM has two different agreements for commercial announcements, one in Canada and one in the U.S. Sadly, data from Canada is hard to come by, but it was clear in the runup to the U.S. jingles negotiations in 2010 that employment in that field is down dramatically. And it seems clear why. The jingles industry has become a record-licensing industry; jingles are used to break new bands, and even more frequently, records are licensed into commercials, or simply pirated. Our ability to sustain compensation in this industry will depend on our ability to organize in the world of records.

Sound recordings have become central to both the challenges we face as a union, and the opportunities open to us if we respond with smart and energetic strategies. We are in the midst of the Sound Recording Labor Agreement negotiations, and it is clear that while the record labels have lost revenue, we have lost more. As a union we don’t have a good statistical handle on our union density in this industry, but it is apparent that we are losing ground. Every record or song produced non-AFM is a loss on multiple levels. The musicians have lost appropriate wages, SPF payments and benefits, the union has lost work dues, and lost its relationship with the players. The MPTF has lost contributions. Critically and dramatically, both musicians and the union have lost the ability to participate in the compensation that should flow when that music licensed into a commercial, a TV show, or a movie.

All unions need to organize, and the survival of the AFM will depend on our ability to do so. If we don’t organize records and improve our union density, we aren’t just losing records; we’re losing jingles, we’re losing television, we’re losing new media, we’re losing across all the different industries that have moved to licensing records as a core of their artistic and business models.

Considered a guru in the music business, Roger Faxon is now the CEO of EMI. He previously worked for LucasFilm, TriStar and Columbia Pictures. Just this month he spoke about the future of the music business, saying “You can’t think the world is made of discs. We make music, and music touches consumers in vast numbers of ways. We have to look at music not as a thing but a set of rights that we manage into every possible channel.”

The American Federation of Musicians owns rights, rights that are of immense value, rights that frequently far outweigh the wages for the original session. We own the rights to reuses and dubs and cycles of commercial announcements, rights to music for TV, movies, cable shows and live tv shows. And we own rights for the music on every record that is done AFM. We allow companies to purchase rights to our music by paying new use fees. New uses provide compensation for musicians, and maybe more importantly, protect employment. It’s right and appropriate for a producer or ad agency exec to have to think twice about whether to license a record, or hire live musicians to record the music. And new use payments provide something else; AFM musicians pay work dues at an unmatched 15% on the millions of dollars of new use checks. Our union absolutely needs the financial support that flows from both the employment that results from new use protections, and the financial support that flows from new use payments. Passionately protecting the rights to AFM music is profoundly necessary for the continued existence of our union.

Next month, RMA is helping host – and RMA is helping to fund – a series of meetings in Los Angeles focusing on new use issues. We will be helping to bring together the EMSD, Locals, rank-and-file musicians and all of the resources that can be brought on board. Our goal is to learn from each other, educate ourselves, and communicate about how to improve our internal processes. The interests of individual musicians and the interests of our union are completely in sync; protecting and managing the rights to our music serves us all.

We in the Recording Musicians Association are helping make good things happen. We were at the forefront of encouraging eligible members to vote “yes” to raise their own dues with the new recording fee. With the leadership and support of President Hair, our rank and file representatives are playing crucial roles in AFM negotiations, providing assistance to the IEB and the Electronic Media Services Division, reaching out to members who have both expertise and relationships that provide a resource to our union, and helping to analyse, plan and implement improvements in effectiveness for the AFM.

And yet we all know we are facing serious challenges. The plight of our colleagues in Detroit is shameful, and we all share in the pain of the wonderful musicians there. ICSOM, ROPA and OCSM do a wonderful job of helping us all be aware of both the harsh challenges facing symphonic musicians in different cities and their successes. The Theater Musicians Association has stepped up its outreach and communications on behalf of AFM musicians who make their livelihood in touring theater, but producers are moving aggressively to marginalize live theater music. The last decade has left the AFM with deep financial problems, and other scars that will take time to heal.

But there is also great news to share. Our opportunity to stand together, our democratic communication, our willingness to work together from top to bottom and bottom to top, hold great promise for the future. We have leadership on the IEB that is committed to organizing, and we heartily share that goal. When I turn on the news and hear shoolteachers and truck drivers in Wisconsin say that they are willing to sacrifice pension, health care and wages in order to maintain their basic union rights, I am reminded anew of the power of union membership. And when the President of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada opens the door and invites members in to help, I know our union’s members are both willing and up to the task. I would like to thank President Hair and the IEB. I would like to thank Dick Gabriel and Ken Shir, and I would like to thank Wayne Morris and the Western Conference. RMA looks forward to helping create a better future for all of our members, and all of our union.

Marc Sazer