AFM and AFTRA: What is a Music Union?

A music union such as AFM or AFTRA, is made up of musicians that have joined together to demand better pay and working conditions. The largest performing arts union is the AFM (American Federation of Musicians,) which is made up of copyist, arrangers, proofreaders, leaders, music librarians, and of course instrumentalists.

AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists,) is made up of actors, announcers, sound effects artists, singers and narrators that work in television, phonograph recording and radio. If an artist is both a singer and an instrumentalist, they should join both unions.
Both AFTRA and AFM are made up of local governing organizations and unions. Benefits and live performance rates vary among each local chapter.

There are initiation fees that must be paid to the local and International Federation of AFM. The artist is also required to pay annual dues. Work dues must be paid based on total earnings for all musical services provided.

For membership to AFTRA an artist must have performed or intend to perform as a singer on radio, television or for phonograph recording. The initiation fee to AFTRA is $1,000 and does not have to be paid until 30 days after the artist’s first gig. AFTRA also requires semi-annual dues that are based on the artist’s gross earnings.

When a music employers such as television and movie producers or record companies sign an agreement with a union they promise to pay the minimum set by the union and hire only union members. They also promise certain working conditions that are stated in the contract.

As I stated before, the benefits vary among local unions. For example, AFM 1000 gives its members a health benefit plan that pays all medical expenses as well as discounts prescriptions. They provide emergency assistance, contract support, instrument insurance, and disability insurance.

The biggest benefit that is offered is that if a person does not pay a musician for their services, the union will try to collect that payment without charging the musician. Some union agreements require funds to be paid by employers, which are then used for welfare, retirement benefits, veteran’s hospitals and pensions. Benefits for AFTRA members include a health fund, pension fund and a credit union.

AFM sets a minimum pay rate for its members, but that rate can be negotiated. The AFM sets a basic scale for instrumentalists, leaders and contactors, with regular sessions being three hours and special sessions being one and one-half hours. The basic rate for a regular session is $345.98.

Leaders and contractors get double scale, which is 20% more. If artist play more than one instrument during a session, they also get an additional 20% for the first double, and 15% for each double thereafter. For low budget recordings – full-length phonograph albums with a recording budget less than $90,000 – the minimum scale is $194.35. Session musicians also receive compensation for cartage. For string bass, tuba, amplifiers, baritone, saxophone, steel guitar and electric keyboards, this fee is $8.00. For drums and percussion, the fee is $16.00 and for harp or organ, $32.00.

Dubbing is discouraged by AFM, but is allowed if the record company notifies the union and pays the current scale to the artist of the original recording.If the artist records pursuant to a recording contract that pays at least 3% of the SRLP of records sold, they are considered a royalty artist. As a royalty artist, they receive the basic session rate per song for the first session they perform.

According to the AFM bylaws, a union artist cannot enter into a personal service contract for more than five years without the AFM’s approval. Record companies may include all payments made to the AFM as recoupable recording costs.
Under the Phonographic Record Manufacturers Special payments Fund Agreement, record companies are required to pay a percentage of the price of each record sold to the PRMSP fund.

This money is paid annually to members depending on how many sessions they played in the year. Musicians that appear in music videos must be compensated for videos that include big record company recordings. One percent of money received by a record label for licensing, sale or leasing of a video must be paid to AFM after company has recouped $75,000.

If an artist plays on a movie soundtrack they are entitled to receive recording scale, which is based on the number of musicians employed. Musicians are also paid production scale when they perform at rehearsals for movies. In New York this rate is $164.43 for three hours. Musicians that appear on camera but do not record are considered sideline musicians. They are paid on a rate that applies to up to eight hours of work.

The Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement Orchestrators sets the rate for proofreaders and copyist on per page, hourly and weekly scales. In New York, the rate is set by line. For fourteen to twenty lines, the rate is $33.60. Sound consultants are also paid a set rate hourly rate. A movie producer is requited by the Theatrical Motion Picture Special Payments Fund to make payments to the AFM on behalf of musicians that perform on movie soundtracks.

The AFM Television Videotape Agreement sets the scale for network and syndicated live and taped television. Rates are set according to length of program. For a 90-minute variety program, the scale is $593.40. For musicians who only rehearse but do not record the rate for two hours is $69.15. Copyist and orchestrators are paid per page.Employers must also pay reuse fees for reruns of programs. For reuse in the U.S. or Canada, the pay is 75% of the normal rate for the second and third use and 50% for the fourth, fifth and sixth use.

There are also special rates set for made-for-television movies. If an artist plays on the soundtrack for a made-for-television movie and the session is three hours, they will be paid $261.93. If the musician plays at rehearsals but not on camera they receive a nonrecording production scale. If the artist appears on camera but does not record, they are considered a sideline musician and are paid a set fee for up to eight hours. Orchestrators for made-for-TV movies are entitled to the minimum rate set forth in the agreement.

Three agreements that also hold their own pay rates are the Basic Cable Television Agreement, the AFM Nonstandard Television Agreement and the AFM National Public Television Agreement.

A separate scale is set aside for commercials, which is usually paid by the advertising agency that makes the commercial. In Los Angeles, the basic scale wage for a one-hour session is $110.00. An overtime fee of $36.67 is assessed for every 20 minute time period over one hour. A maximum of three spots can be recorded in one hour.

Reuse of a spot for thirteen weeks costs 75% of the original fee. Orchestrators are paid a fee of $31.00 plus applicable doubling and multiple part fees.
The individual local AFM organizations set the wage scales for nightclubs and other venues where live music is performed. No performances can be recorded without permission from the AFM because the musicians are entitled to payment for those recordings as well.

Scales for AFTRA are set on hourly or side scales, which ever is greater. One song or melody on a single record that does not exceed 3 �½ minutes is considered a side. The individual scale is the same for duos but for any additional members the individual scale is decreased. AFTRA requires that the featured artist give their consent and the record company notify AFTRA if any dubbing is used. Royalty artists are paid three-times the minimum scale per side.

For television wage rates are different depending on the number of people participating in the session. The scale increases as the running time increases. Artists are paid 75% of normal rate for the first and second replays and 50% for replays thereafter.

Television commercial scale is based on an eight-hour day. The scale for commercials is also divided into classes depending on the number of cities it is televised. Bigger cities count as several cities.

This is just a basic outline of how music unions work and the fees that are assessed. Music unions are beneficial to artists as long as they follow the rules of the union.

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