RMA Address to the Southern Conference

Mr Chairman, Delegates to the Southern Conference, Officers of the IEB and guests; good morning. I would like to share with you some of the activities that the Recording Musicians Association has been involved in over the past few months, and give you my perspective on where we are headed both as a player conference and as a union. 

I am particularly pleased to describe the openness and solidarity that has newly become the hallmark of our Federation with the leadership of President Hair and our new IEB. One of the early actions of President Hair was to reactivate the Electronic Media Services Division Oversight Committee, and one of the first actions of the Committee was to work with the IEB to help craft the new recording fee.  Under the mandate of the AFM Convention, the IEB can now work with the the EMSD Oversight Committee to allow recording musicians to raise dues on themselves in non-convention years. With RMA support, eligible recording musicians all around the Federation raised their hands and voted yes to raise their own dues, in order to support our union. Open doors have had other benefits as well.

A big trend in music production, particularly in jingles and television but in other media as well, has been the move by producers to replace live scoring with licensed music. When you watch TV, listen to the commercials; a big percentage of them use records for the music. And many top TV shows license dozens of sound recordings a week to provide music for the show.

One of the consequences of this business trend is that there are often fewer sessions for live scoring, particularly in jingles and TV. That not only reduces income for musicians, it reduces work dues for the AFM, and affected Locals.

Another significant consequence is a cultural shift for young musicians. Where young up-and-coming artists might once have dreamed of record label deals, many now set their sights on licensing their songs into commercials, videogames, TV or films. This creates a powerful organizing opportunity for the AFM, since our union contracts protect those musicians. When music recorded under one agreement, say the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, is used under another AFM Agreement, say the jingles agreement, our contracts require compensation – new use payments.

So New Use enforcement provides multiple strong values:

  • provides an organizing incentive of money for musicians, frequently exactly the kind of new and young band members that we need for our future,
  • provides compensation for musicians who have worked on records, whether they or their descendants live in Atlanta or Detroit or L.A., Nashville or New York,
  • provides incentive for producers to consider live scoring in place of licensing records, and
  • provides critical revenue for our union’s survival; at 15%, work dues on new uses represent an outsize “bang for the buck” for our union.

In March, RMA helped fund and sponsor two days of meetings in Los Angeles that brought Staff, Officers and Rank and File together from the AFM and our three largest electronic media locals, in order to look at how the AFM can maximize it’s protections of, and collections for, uses of our music. These unprecedented meetings helped identify resources, build bridges of communication, analyze current practices, and provide ideas for the future. Subsequent smaller meetings are helping us draw lessons that will be of real value for many other Locals around the AFM. With President Hair’s leadership, we have forged stronger and more successful ties with AFTRA, and RMA has helped cultivate dialogue with AFTRA about Use of Music enforcement processes along with other issues of common interest. We have identified New Uses as a key to our union’s survival, both as a pathway to organizing and a basis for critical revenue.

As a result of this focus, the Los Angeles Chapter of the RMA has committed to hiring a new staff person for the express purpose of assisting the EMSD, someone who will be helping research new use payments that may go to musicians in many cities all around the AFM. The new cooperation with the AFM has led to a stronger union for all of us.

In February of this year we began negotiations for a successor Sound Recording Labor Agreement. We have held three rounds of negotiations, with a fourth round scheduled for July. I have participated over a number of years in many national contracts negotiations on behalf of the AFM, including Motion Picture and Television Film, Commercial Announcements and SRLA. I have never seen our AFM caucus as open, as focused and as strong as this one. President Hair has created a foundation for all of the many intelligent voices from many different places to speak freely, to disagree openly without fear, and to effectively address the needs of our union and its members. For me, these negotiations have been transformative; for the first time in my experience we are facing our employers across the table as a truly united front, bringing all of our resources to bear against them, not against each other. I would like to salute President Hair for his remarkably skilled and effective leadership in these negotiations. The going is slow, our employers are intransigent in many areas, but I am confident that we will do the very best that we can as a union.

There are other media Agreements that RMA has assisted with. We helped the IEB adopt a new Independent/Festival Film Agreement that we have high hopes for, helping the AFM achieve the same penetration into places like the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals that SAG has achieved using a similar strategy. This will help attach the AFM to filmmakers of the future, and maximize our opportunities for employment for generations to come. And, the proposal that RMA brought for this new Agreement included a Music Performance Trust Fund contribution. We are also working with the IEB on an ongoing strategy for videogames, both to try to organize employment and to protect the uses of our music, and we have also recommended an MPTF component to that Agreement.

RMA has represented all of us in the effort to finally achieve performance rights for musicians in the U.S. RMA Vice President Bruce Bouton, the intellectual property representative for RMA, led a delegation that included Monisa Angell from RMA Nashville to the recent “Grammys on the Hill” legislative lobbying event in Washington D.C.  Bruce discusses these issues in this month’s International Musician; it is another great sign of President Hair’s commitment to openness that the IM now features monthly articles by each of the AFM’s Player Conferences, bringing outreach and open communication to our union journal.

RMA has continued in our longstanding determination to stand with our colleagues from symphonic stage to theater pit. Following on our earlier support for musicians from distressed orchestras in Honolulu and Columbus, we have done what we can to help colleagues from New Mexico to Detroit. The attacks that orchestral musicians are being subjected to are both organized and destructive, and the new-found employer’s tactic of abusing bankruptcy laws to harm union protections needs to be fought tooth and nail. The AFM and the symphonic Player Conferences are working round the clock on these issues. And yet, as our good friends in ICSOM, OCSM and ROPA remind us, in the aggregate, symphonies across the U.S. and Canada are healthier than other arts non-profits, and continue to provide excellence and beauty for their audiences. We need to help share the fundamental message of symphonic success with our communities and local media.

We also support our friends and colleagues who are under attack in the world of theater, suffering from an onslaught of non-union touring shows, attacks on minimums, and encroaching use of recorded music to replace live musicians. President Hair and Theater Musicians Association President Vicky Smolik highlighted issues facing the next round of Pamphlet B negotiations in Las Vegas last week, and in New York IEB Officer and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi is fighting the recorded music in Priscilla Queen of the Desert with strength and creativity. So we have battles on our hands. We face employers who care nothing for the lives of the musicians who create the product they happily profit from. We face piracy, clouds, incompetent boards of directors, legislative indifference, and all too frequently, garden-variety cheats and liars writ large. And, I think we all know, we face financial difficulties.

But we are strong. I am witness to interactions with employers both across the bargaining table and through our administrative staff, and I can report that the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada has never in my lifetime stood as strongly and effectively for musicians. There is potential power that can come from a rich treasury, but I assure you real strength flows from our solidarity. I am confident of our pathway forward, because it is paved with teamwork, communication, dovetailed interests and goodwill.

I would like to thank Southern Conference President John Head, and thank you all for allowing me to take up time on your very full agenda. Thank you for your hospitality, and congratulations on a very successful Southern Conference.

– Marc Sazer
President, RMA