The AFM and Recording Today

by SaskMusic

August 5, 2009 in Recording & Production

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada - the AFM for short, or, "The Union" to some - is still a huge organization with more than 130,000 members, but is it really relevant anymore? In a word, absolutely.

Despite a large menu of benefits/services which include immigration assistance (for work in the US), instrument insurance, a full-service website, assistance with claims and so forth, on of the AFM's most important functions remains negotiating international agreements with record labels, motion picture producers, jingle houses and TV/Radio broadcasters. These agreements establish an industry standard and help maintain stability in an otherwise crazy usiness, as well as defining specifics of the engagement, which are not limited to wages and benefits.

Most musicians are aware of the function of SOCAN, which is collecting and disbursing royalties to the composer and publisher. In addition, they are cognizant of how Copyright is an inalienable right, but registration of your works makes proving they are yours much easier. A few are aware of CMRRA, the agency that issues synchronization and mechanical licences. And there are those who have read the newspaper and kept up with the changes to the Canadian Copyright Act, specifically the new Neighbouring Rights (NRCC) legislation, which provides for a royalty payment to each musician and the producer of eligible recordings.

What then, are the additional advantages of recording as an AFM member? There are five distinct areas of importance:

* Guarantee of timely payments by the label. And in the event the musicians have formed their own record company, the contract is a permanent record of who did what on the recording (something of real value) in the event the group breaks up and there is litigation.
* Pension. Every AFM Agreement has mandatory pension contributions from the employer into one of the best pension plans in the world. This can amount to very large dollars and is a significant benefit.
* Accurate tracking of sessions for NRCC royalties. It is sometimes difficult to find musicians who have had address changes, or who are not listed on the CD insert. The contract contains all pertinent information, and AFM Locals provide monthly member address changes, enabling the AFM to issue royalties to those eligible.
* The Special Payments Fund. Every AFM member who plays on a session receives a royalty by virtue of the labour agreement with the industry. They receive this royalty for five years following the session, and the amount received is based on the number of sessions, not sales. Payments are significant, and each player on the contract receives a cheque once per year, regardless if there was not one copy of the CD sold.
* Upgrade payments for new use. If a tune is lifted from the CD (also called clip use), and used in a jingle or motion picture soundtrack, this constitutes a new use of the product. Every AFM electronic media agreement has provisions that call for up to 100% upgrade payments to each musician for each new use of the product. In some cases, this can continue in perpetuity. For instance, a recording used in a motion picture is one use. The videocassette released for rental is another. In-flight movies another use, as well as Pay-TV and public TV. Sale of that motion picture to other countries generates additional payments. Even if the musicians are since deceased, those payments are then made into their estate.

The AFM's New York and Los Angeles offices are the final repositories for contract information, both electronic and paper. Motion picture, jingle, and TV/radio production is monitored, and producers are invoiced for the new use payments due the musicians.

With all of the cutting edge methods of delivering product to the public (e.g. MP3 files), and the fact that digital product is almost as good as a master for the purposes of unauthorized copying, why would today's musicians not protect their product with an AFM contract?

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada is member-driven, and is the largest entertainment organization in the world, affiliated with similar organizations in nearly fifty countries.

By Alan Willaert (American Federation of Musicians). Originally published April/May 2002.

This article is posted as initially published- deadlines, contacts and links may not have been updated. Please keep this in mind when using this resource. For reprint/usage permission or any other questions, please contact SaskMusic.