Los Angeles musicians ramp up the non-union rhetoric

Los Angeles musicians ramp up the non-union rhetoric


norman lebrecht

May 07, 2015

Following moves by Colorado Symphony musicians to disaffiliate from the AFM, session musicians in Los Angeles are agitating for non-union recording in the film studios. One activist, Richard Kraft, predicts this will happen in a matter of months. Read his post (below) from the rebel website.

jumping the shark





While things have been awful for LA Session Players (dropping from a $50 MILLION a year industry to one worth only $15 MILLION), there was always a sliver of hope something would somehow save the day.

Things took a dramatic turn for the worse over a year ago when the Union decided to direct its focus on its infamously embarrassing and completely ineffectual LISTENUP campaign that tried to drum up work by shaming potential customers. That ended disastrously.

On the heals of that blunder they idiotically and recklessly shifted their attacking and accusing tactics towards their greatest allies, COMPOSERS blaming them for their woes.

This started with them bring up Austin Wintory on charges, continued by calling out the extremely well-liked and respected John Debney and then peaked recently when Ray Hair sent out a letter smearing composers within his Motion Picture Agreement ratification package.

I suspect history will see that as the tipping point in this whole drama.

The domino aftereffect of that ultimately reckless action already includes the normally apolitical Society of Composers and Lyricists stepping up and denouncing those actions and, for the first time, clearly laying out options for its members, including Fi-Core.

Messing with the Composer community was THE dreadful mistake paving the way for a series of almost inevitable fallouts. The downward dominos will most likely continue to fall when the Task Force assigned to finding paths to address revitalizing recording will come back shortly empty handed (rumor is they are doubling down on no buyouts, even in video games).

It will be abundantly clear that all the AFM will have to offer to address their plight will be meaningless tax incentive gibbilty-goop, prattle of “enforcing” their existing deals, and some gibberish about sister Unions and government officials lending support.

It is most likely the Task Force will emerge with nothing but empty words and no game plan.

This will force those clinging to any hope of a Union reversal of direction into needing to consider other options for themselves.

All of this will set the stage for the eventual rise of open non-Union recording in Los Angeles.

I suspect this will happen within months.

Once the Shark has been Jumped, there is no going back.


  • Mike Macaulay says:

    I’m an AFM member. I’m grateful for the AFM and everything it provides to me.


    I seem to hear the same question over and over and over again: “why aren’t young musicians joining the union?” I don’t know, could the fact that the bylaws don’t make any sense have anything to do with it? Could it be that the bizarrely harsh punishments for breaking rules that no one follows are acting as a deterrent to membership? Could it be that musicians don’t want to be part of an organization that sues its own members for trying to generate more work with common sense agreements?

    I’d try to change the situation, but the AFM’s power structure is designed to prevent meaningful change at all costs

    • Michael says:

      One reason musicians don’t join the Union is simply because we don’t understand what the Union does for rock musicians who don’t read music. I’ve called AFM47 3 times and asked. I don’t understand one word they say. It’s like talking to a lawyer, a lawyer who is talking litigation. I’m a rock musician, I play and learn by ear. I can make chord charts but I don’t read staffed music. I’ve had a bad experience in LA over 15 years of bands being disorganized, unstable, who break up before there’s any success, make no money and I waste several months for nothing. I called AFM47 to see if they could help me find work as a rock musician but they speak in legal terms I don’t understand. Can they help a rock musician find a stable, working band, yes or no?

  • Dennis says:

    Unions have always been their own worst enemies. It’s ridiculous that any union could be able to even try to enforce some rule that all recording of film music be done through it’s members. Film producer, directors, etc. should be able to hir whatever musicians they wish for their projects. Likewise, musicians should be able to work with and record for whomever they wish without having to first get approval from some union bureaucrat.

    The sooner unions collapse, the better. Unions should frankly be disbanded for unlawful restraint of trade under anti-trust laws, especially those company-based unions that attempt to forcibly extract dues from company employees whether or not one wants to be a union member or not (most of such dues just go to feeding the union bureaucracy, lining the pockets of union executives, and engaging in left-wing political agit-prop).

    • NYMike says:

      American signatory film producers use union members (writers, directors, actors, stagehands, etc.) for everything BUT post-production scoring. So it’s not so ridiculous for AFM musicians to want the same deal that everybody else gets. No AFM or Local officer is getting rich off members’ dues. The two full-time AFM officers make far less than officers in other unions.

      Unions are responsible for what’s left of the USA’s middle-class. Your anti-union diatribe shows you to be an uninformed person who’s swallowed the plutocrats’ baloney hook-line-and-sinker. “Right-to-work” nonsense means the right to work for less.

    • Blane Harford says:

      Agreed. In an age where one could sue a major franchise over the temperature of a cup of coffee, the need to take advantage of protect the musician is over. We can take care of ourselves.

    • Stereo says:

      Quite right. As an ex pro musician in UK I resigned from the MU at the earliest possible opportunity. They never actually represented the full time contract musician yet charged us a fortune for giving us nothing. Get out as soon as you can is my advice.

  • NYMike says:

    Norman: the “Committee for a Responsible 47” is not a “rebel” group – just a group of longtime malcontents envious of the success of other Local 47 members.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Why do I think the end result of all this is that they are going to get the 50 million dollars of work back and get paid only 10 million dollars to do it?

  • Robert Levine says:

    If I read, on that particular “rebel” website, that the sun had risen in the east this morning, I’d go outside to check before I believed it. They have a long, long history of cluelessness and obfuscation.

  • Robert Levine says:

    Absolutely; it’s union members who were responsible for the 2008 Great Recession, the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and no doubt the Spanish Inquisition as well. America was a far better country when workers had no power at all.

  • Barbara Kim says:

    Just to clarify — I realize this wasn’t stated here — Richard Kraft is not an AFM member. He is an agent who represents some of the top film composers.

  • Stan says:

    A point of information and perspective. The author of this post, Richard Kraft, is not a musician activist as implied by your introduction. He is co-owner of Kraft-Engel Management, one of the world’s leading agencies specializing in representing film and theatre composers, songwriters and music supervisors. As such he represents the people who hire recording musicians in the LA area.

  • korry kung says:

    There is no musicians’ union in Korea.

    Korea, therefore, is the non-union future you prefer, the place where your eyes see greener grass…

    pay is horrible, arbitrary hiring and firing, unacceptable working conditions…

    No AFM means employers will TRAMPLE ON YOU as they so freely do in Korea.

    The AFM is absolutely essential. No union is perfect.

  • MacroV says:

    At the risk of being pedantic, if one is going to use the “jump the shark” metaphor, better know what it means, and its origin:

    The term came from the notion of a television show (at least in the US) doing something – usually out of its character and in a desperate ploy for ratings – that is seen as having led to its inevitable decline; “jumping the shark” came from an episode from the show “Happy Days” in the mid/late 1970s when Fonzie jumped on waterskis over a shark tank. After which the show was supposedly never as good again (there is debate about that, but it’s the perception). And it became a parlor game of sorts to determine when other shows “jumped the shark.”

    The AFM may well have had its “jump the shark” moment(s), but more likely it’s just swimming in vain against a current.

  • Peter says:

    Utter idiocy. Without the unions the race to the bottom will start. At the bottom, musicians will make even less money, even if they might work more hours.

    • Barbara Kim says:

      Agreed. I’ve often wished that incoming AFM members would have to attend a seminar about the history of US labor unions. It’s not musicians against the union. Musicians ARE the union. You want lower pay and no benefits, please don’t join but don’t criticize those of us who have toiled to protect musicians’ interests.

  • Steve says:

    Rubbish. Go back and study your history. Fees members pay largely go back into services for those members. Your laissez-faire attitudes towards working musicians has only one outcome: lower benefits and wages to musicians. The union is made up of musicians. If you want different policies, run for the board or get elected. To tear down so nonchalantly what those before us literally died for is foolish at best. Usually it is a less competent player who envies those who are on top and rather than aspire to better themselves to earn the spot, they seek to reduce others to elevate their own status. That is more often than not the issue.