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Joining the AFM?


rainbird

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The thread on "have you had your gear stolen" has made me consider joining the musicians union, if only to save a bit on musical instrument insurance. In theory I believe in unions, and have belonged to one or two in my lifetime. However, as far as my personal gigging history goes, I prefer to stay somewhat under the radar. How does the AFM view those gigs where the band ends up owing the house a $30 bar tab? Sometimes, those dive bar gigs are the most fun - I don't intend to give those up. I guess the real question is: given the mission of unions to ensure fair pay, and given the "real world" of crappy bar gigs...would I be at cross-purposes if I joined to save money on insurance, or possibly jeopardizing my ability to perform under abysmal conditions? :)
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I really don't think that joining the AFM is gonna be a problem for you if you want to go play some dive bars or play at the jams. The union today pretty much just looks the other way on these kinds of gigs. They might not like it but they live with it. And today's AFM does have some good things going for it. The union has some great programs for the members including low cost gear and liability insurance, and some locals still offer medical insurance and pension plans. The union has a credit card program (many musicians can not qualify for a regular credit card) and they have home mortage programs too. And if you file a contract with the union for your gig and don't get paid, the union pays you and then goes after the club owner or whoever was responsible for the gig money. Plus most locals have reduced initiation fees and dues. I belong to the union (life member, joined in '61) primarly for the low cost insurances and being a life member my dues are very low. To sum it up you really don't need to be a union member these days unless perhaps you are a studio/Broadway/symphony musician) but for the money the AFM does offer benefits...and today the AFM loves their rock/blues players as much as their big band/symphony/classical dudes which was not the case in years past. I would suggest visiting your nearest AFM local and checking out what they have to offer.

 

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Good take on it Bluesman.

 

I really don't think that joining the AFM is gonna be a problem for you if you want to go play some dive bars or play at the jams. The union today pretty much just looks the other way on these kinds of gigs.

I've done non-union gigs with Union Presidents, seriously. The only time they care at all is if the gig should have been a union gig. An example would be Seattle, where they are recording movie scores and not going through the union. For stuff like weddings, bars, really most anything, nobody cares.

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" To sum it up you really don't need to be a union member these days unless perhaps you are a studio/Broadway/symphony musician)"

 

To add to this, I think if youre doing composing, say for libraries, production houses, etc, dealing w/ TV/Film..that its also a good idea to belong.

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I really don't think that joining the AFM is gonna be a problem for you if you want to go play some dive bars or play at the jams. The union today pretty much just looks the other way on these kinds of gigs. They might not like it but they live with it.

I'm playing with a working band that plays 4-6 gigs per month, and I've been wondering about AFM membership for a while; whether it's necessary, not necessary but merely beneficial, or what. I just emailed the local here in MS looking for more info.

 

I'm curious about this attitude towards "weekend warriors" like myself, and wonder if joining comes with any benefits outside of the insurance, credit, and such.

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I'm curious about this attitude towards "weekend warriors" like myself, and wonder if joining comes with any benefits outside of the insurance, credit, and such.

Musical benefits, no. You won't get any more gigs out of it.

 

For smaller cities like Harrisburg PA/Charleston etc, the symphony will account for about 97% of the union work in the town. Even for bigger cities like Pittsburgh, I think it's above 90%. Only a handful of LA/NYC/Nashville etc cities will have any significant amount of union work that is not symphony or touring Broadway pit work.

 

The only musical advantage might be to get "The Book", which has the phone # and contact info of every member in your local. It will list them by instrument and even have a category like "contractor". I suppose one get send them emails etc.

 

Overall, it's a bit of a Ponzi Scheme except for a handful of people. Union gigs can pay less than non-union ones. For me, it's $160 a year plus 3 percent of my earnings. It's not a big deal, you just send in the check and they stay outta your hair. The union office here moved several years ago and I've never even been in it.

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Actually the Seattle local does have a good referral service for gigs and they run a good AFM Local. Many of the locals in the Northwest are very progressive and modern thinking. Along with Seattle I would include Spokane and Portland. The Portland local has introduced their "Fair Trade Music" campaign with outreach to the club musician and dealing with it in a positive approach instead of using a negative approach. As time goes on their ideas are being put in place in other locals throughout the AFM. GoProTunes will soon be introduced to the public as a download site. Some of the advantages of this site will be the musician/group can set their own price and will receive payment minus the credit card fee paid upfront by the AFM. It does not limit anyone to using on that site but you can put it out anywhere else you choose. The requirement for using an AFM agreement and the paying of pension, etc. is waived for those signing onto the "Joint Venture Agreement" where all musicians in the band would be sharing in the profits of sales.

 

For full disclosure I will say that I do work for the AFM as an International Field Representative. I work with 43 AFM Locals and in my role train new officers, help locals deal with their problems and also do audits of the locals. Prior to starting this job in 2006 I was on the board, the Secretary/Treasurer for a term and President for ten years in the San Jose local. In 2004 for about 26 months I was also the Trustee for the Reno local and reorganized that local. Although a R&B/Blues & Rock musician in my role then I negotiated contracts for Symphony, Ballet, Opera & Theater musicians. Here at the musicplayer forums, being a bass player, I hang out at the Lowdown forum where I was also the moderator for a couple of years up until 2004.

 

Wally

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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Actually the Seattle local does have a good referral service for gigs and they run a good AFM Local.

 

For a total view of the situation, it needs to be mentioned that the Seattle Symphony and Opera are not members of the AFM, the only symphony of that size ( or almost any size) in the nation that is not.

 

My experience with any sort of "referral" service has been overwhelmingly negative, sorry to say. It's politics at it's finest, at least in the many locals I've been in for the past 28 years. The same politically-connected people get the gigs, irrelevant of their playing ability. AKA- if you're friends with someone in the office or if you are on the board itself, you'll end up with the gig. To me, that's counter to everything a union is supposed to stand for.

 

A few locals do it right: I believe that DC has some sort of talent showcase every year, where one can play and representatives of the various arts organizations will be there. That's the way to do it. :thu: Around here and in most locals I've been in, it's actually pretty disgusting to watch the "referrals" go to the same 5 people over and over, regardless of skill. Since I'm a symphony guy I have no choice and am forced to be in it, but I can assure that my colleagues feel exactly the same way. Sorry for the rant.

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For those of you in Canada who want/will play in the U.S., a Union membership is a prerequisite to obtaining the P2 work visa that allows you to do so legitimately.

 

I can't tell you how nice it is to not try to sneak gear across the border for a short little tour... now we just worry about the duty free excesses... ;-)

 

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What you say about the Seattle Symphony is true that they are not an orchestra that is part of the AFM. However, this is not a reflection on the current leadership of Local 76-493 since this orchestra left the AFM along time ago. For referrals they do list their bands on their website with links to the websites of the individual members. Are there locals that operate in the manner you speak? Sure there are but there are also a number of locals doing it right these days. Bylaws and policies of locals are set by the membership. If there are problems in one's local they need to get involved and attend their membership meetings and push for change.

 

Wally

 

Actually the Seattle local does have a good referral service for gigs and they run a good AFM Local.

 

For a total view of the situation, it needs to be mentioned that the Seattle Symphony and Opera are not members of the AFM, the only symphony of that size ( or almost any size) in the nation that is not.

 

My experience with any sort of "referral" service has been overwhelmingly negative, sorry to say. It's politics at it's finest, at least in the many locals I've been in for the past 28 years. The same politically-connected people get the gigs, irrelevant of their playing ability. AKA- if you're friends with someone in the office or if you are on the board itself, you'll end up with the gig. To me, that's counter to everything a union is supposed to stand for.

 

A few locals do it right: I believe that DC has some sort of talent showcase every year, where one can play and representatives of the various arts organizations will be there. That's the way to do it. :thu: Around here and in most locals I've been in, it's actually pretty disgusting to watch the "referrals" go to the same 5 people over and over, regardless of skill. Since I'm a symphony guy I have no choice and am forced to be in it, but I can assure that my colleagues feel exactly the same way. Sorry for the rant.

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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I forgot to mention that another reason the Seattle Symphony has existed for this long and not under an AFM collective bargaining agreement is they have been doing what is referred to as dark-date recording for films, etc. under a buyout with the producers not having to deal with the new use and special payments funds generated under AFM agreements. In addition the musicians working in the absence of these agreements does not get pension fund contributions or health & welfare payments that are part of AFM agreements.

 

Wally

 

Wally

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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I forgot to mention that another reason the Seattle Symphony has existed for this long and not under an AFM collective bargaining agreement is they have been doing what is referred to as dark-date recording for films, etc. under a buyout with the producers not having to deal with the new use and special payments funds generated under AFM agreements. In addition the musicians working in the absence of these agreements does not get pension fund contributions or health & welfare payments that are part of AFM agreements.

 

Wally

 

Wally

 

Right. What they do get: the actual gig. Pension funds and H and W really don't matter when eastern European orchestras are doing your recording work due to the unreasonably high recording scale. I can't tell you how many orchestras I've been in that have been approached to do recording work, then it goes overseas when people find out about the rate. An hour break for a 3 hour recording???? Seattle dropped out of the AFM primarily because of the contract to record all those American Composers.

 

Wally, I'm not trying to start a debate, and I appreciate your 2 cents here. :cool: The main thing the OP should know is that each union local works in a different way. Some might be good, some suck (Buffalo a few years back comes to mind- Link ). I was in the DFW local under Ray Hair, and the fella knew how to kick some ass and get good contracts. Others have been the opposite and have almost nothing to offer or even a reason to exist. Caveat Emptor.

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