A very curious story in Film Music News www.filmmusicmag.com :
US MUSICIANS UNION THREATENS $50K FINES AGAINST AFM COMPOSERS AND OTHER MEMBERS PARTICIPATING IN SCORES RECORDED IN SEATTLE
In a Notice to Members, the U.S. Musicians Union (AFM) has threatened fines of up to $50,000 against AFM members who perform services including composing, arranging, orchestrating, copying, and other services related to film and television scores recorded in Seattle after October 1, 2006. The complete text of the AFM "Notice to All Members" is located at
In the Notice, AFM President Tom Lee quotes AFM Bylaw 15 which states:
"No AFM member may perform services (whether as composer, arranger, copyist, proofreader, instrumentalist, leader, contractor, cutter, editor, or in any other capacity): (1) where the product of the services is intended to result in, or be embodied in, recorded music made outside of the United Sates and Canada and the possessions of either; or (2) for the purpose of producing, editing, or dubbing recorded music except where expressly authorized and covered by a contract with the AFM or when expressly authorized by the AFM."
While the AFM Notice to Members specifically targets AFM members involved with Seattle recordings, the AFM Bylaw quoted by Lee is not specific to Seattle, and would seem to prohibit AFM members providing services in "recorded music made outside of the United States..." It is not clear why the AFM has singled out Seattle and whether the AFM will be pursuing charges against composers and other AFM members who record scores in London, Bulgaria, and other parts of Eastern Europe.
The AFM Notice also did not address the situation where some Los Angeles area AFM members have ownership stakes and business relationships with music prep, contracting, and other film score related companies outside the US and may be profiting from the outsourcing of film score recording to non-AFM locations including London and Eastern Europe.
In the interests of presenting all sides of this issue to our readers, Film Music Magazine contacted several AFM officials in Los Angeles and New York including AFM President Tom Lee. No AFM officials contacted by Film Music Magazine would address our questions on these matters.
Seattle Film Score Recording On The Rise
For years, Seattle has seen a marked increase in film scoring work. The website of top Seattle orchestra contractor Simon James lists films recorded by a veritable whoâ?Ts who of film and television composers, including Marco Beltrami, Hummie Mann, Trevor Rabin, Angelo Badalamenti, Inon Zur, Van Dyke Parks, Graeme Revell, Richard Gibb, Jeff Danna, Bill Conti, Steve Bartek, Terence Blanchard, Elmer Bernstein, Daniel Licht, Chris Young, Brian Tyler, Teddy Shapiro, Joel Goldsmith, Michael Giacchino, John Ottman, John Powell, Leonard Rosenman, Ernest Troost, Teddy Castelucci, Tim Trumann, Nick Glennie Smith, Mervyn Warren, Bill Ross, Joel McNeally, Mark Adler, JAC Redford, Gary Chang, and Lawrence Schragge among others. Most recently, the scores for "Brokeback Mountain" and "Stealth" were recorded in Seattle.
The Industry Reacts
A Los Angeles area AFM orchestra contractor responded, "The union is attacking the wrong people. The rank and file members have little or no choice about where scores are recorded today. Why doesn't the Union go after the producers and the studios? These are the people making the decisions about whether to record in LA, Seattle, or Europe."
The contractor continued, "The AFM threat is no surprise - work for all but the top players is horrible in LA now, while Prague and Bulgaria are booming. Why? Because the studios are bottom-line oriented, they have a legal right to record their scores wherever they want, and they want to get the best, largest sound at the lowest cost. The AFM won't provide rates that are competitive in the studios' opinion, so they record out of town. It's that simple. You have to wonder why the AFM is going after the small and medium projects that record in Seattle and giving a 'pass' to all the A-List AFM union member composers who record huge, blockbuster scores in London. It's clearly a double standard. If the AFM wanted to get more work for LA players, they'd reform the rates and terms - especially for low and medium budget films - to be competitive with the international market and they could recapture the work overnight. Nobody really wants to travel all the way to Seattle or Europe !
to record." The contractor asked that his name not be used for this article.
Composers Among Those Targeted by the AFM
It was unclear how the AFM expected to carry through on threats of fines to AFM members for composing, as the AFM does not regulate, protect, or cover the craft of composing music for film and television. The AFM does cover orchestration, conducting, music prep, and other related areas, and many composers are members of the AFM to collect benefits for the related work they perform in addition to composing.
Film Music Network founder Mark Northam expressed concern about the fact the union is apparently targeting composers. "The vast majority of our 1,500 Film Music Network members are working composers and many of them have no choice but to record out of town or not be hired for projects. While many of them try and "rescue" jobs and keep the work in town, that's becoming increasingly difficult as European orchestras become much more proficient at film score recording. But here's the issue: contracts are now being given to composers by the studios that specify "No AFM recording." It's a non-negotiable point. The composers didn't create these rules, the studios and production companies did. It's time the AFM starts going after the real culprit here, and it's not the composers who go to Seattle or Europe when they're given no other legal choice by the studios and production companies."
Options for Composers, Orchestrators and other AFM Members
For those AFM film and television composers who are required by the studios or production companies to score in Seattle or other non-union locales and do not wish to risk fines from the AFM, the options include resignation, or election of Financial Core Status.
According to union officials and Seattle industry sources, election of Core Status, a special "non-member" designation enabled by federal law, allows union members to work both union and non-union jobs without fear of fines or other penalties. Generally, union members who elect Core Status may continue to work union jobs and receive their pension, insurance and residual payments for union jobs, but may also work non-union jobs without fearing fines or punishment from the union. Union Core Status "non-members" union dues are reduced and members lose certain benefits, including receiving union newsletters/magazines and the right to vote in union elections.
The International Guild of Symphony, Opera and Ballet Musicians, an independent union recognized by the US Department of Labor which represents the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and others, has published information specifically for AFM members considering Core Status election at:
Film Musicians Secondary Payment Fund head Dennis Dreith confirmed that those AFM members who elect Core Status or who resign from the AFM will continue to receive any residual Secondary Payment Fund payments from prior union work just as if they were still members of the AFM.
Film Music Magazine will provide continuing coverage of the AFM's actions regarding Seattle. We look forward to publishing any statements of AFM officials pertaining to these matters.