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The AFM (musicians' union) - pros & cons?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Jim Nazium, Jan 21, 2011.

  1. Let's try to keep this discussion civil, OK?

    I'm just looking for some general info about the union. What are the advantages / disadvantages to being a member? What kinds of gigs are union-only? If you join, are you forbidden to play for less than a certain rate? How much are dues?

    I skimmed the AFM web site, but it didn't answer my questions.
  2. TRichardsbass

    TRichardsbass Banned Commercial User

    Jun 3, 2009
    Between Muscle Shoals and Nashville
    Bassgearu, Music Industry Consulting and Sales. Tech 21, NBE Corp, Sonosphere.
    Pro: if you work for an orchestra or full time as a studio or show cat, gets you jobs, allows you to get jobs, and gives you some assurance of what you will get paid.

    Also, they provide a pretty reasonable instrument insurance program.

    Con: Not quite as useful for rock and roll musicians, especially original artists. Comes into play when you play headlining large shows, but other then that not necessarily much bang for the buck. Membership across the country has dropped in recent years because of it.

    The most active locals are obviously NY, LA and Nashville. Dave Pomeroy, bassist extraordinaire, is the local president in Nashville.
  3. From my experience, it all depends mainly on the kind of work you want to do. If you are doing TV, Movie, National Jingles, Master Record dates, Theater Pit Gigs , or Symphony work membership is a must. The AFM keeps up with your payroll, reuse checks, benefits, and pension. They negotiate the pay scale and benefits for the Symphony Orchestras and other types of venues.

    And, if an account stiffs you or gives you a bad check, they'll collect for you.

    They do set a minimum scale for the different types of work, but you can negotiate above that, depending on your relationship with the account or contractor. I usually work for double scale and sometimes more. What you actually make for has to do with your talent, reputation, experience and negotiation skills. Scale is a good place to start. Since, most of us don't appreciate what we are really worth.

    You can make some great career contacts by being in the Union that you would never make elsewhere.

    If you are on the road with a band and traveling, being in the Union (using signed and filed Union contracts for your gigs) offers you some protection in the case you get stiffed by a promoter or the venue.

    When I was on the road years ago, we got stiffed by a club in Kansas and were pretty muck broke. The Union got us some cash to help us get back on our feet and they collected our dough and got it to us. We would have been totally screwed were it not for the AFM. They also collected the money for me from an album that I was the session leader and played on too. The record company was trying to pull a fast one on us and the AFM stopped them.

    Some states are right to work states, which means you don't have to be in the Union to work and you can work along side of Union players (if you get hired, which isn't likely) but you aren't protected if you get screwed or do you get any benefits. Some states, Union membership is pretty much a requirement.

    There are 2 dues.
    1. Your monthly local and national dues..they are a combined amount. National dues is the same everywhere, the local dues varies by location.
    2. Work dues, a percentage that is paid to the union on each gig contract that is filed. It is usually factored into the total amount of the contract and doesn't come out of your pocket per se.

    No one can tell you to join or not, it depends on your situation.

    I don't know a Union player that has not done a scab or non-union gig. Getting caught used to be a big deal with fines attached if you got caught. It all depends on how strict the local office is regarding it.

    But remember, if you do work non Union you are undermining yourself and the organization.

    Just my 2 cents.
  4. undeadbass


    Jun 27, 2008
    New York, NY
    I'm kinda straddling both worlds right now - working as a rock musician with a couple original artists, but also getting some studio work, and I'm musical director for an Off-Broadway production (non-union), and developing a musical. I don't know if the union would help or not - whether it would actually help get more studio work like I'd like to be doing, and if the rest of my main project (who are also killer players in my position) would join, could it help that project (as well as the individual players)?
  5. I'd suggest you to AFM's website and find the nearest local chapter to you. Call the chapter president and find out from him what they can offer you.

    I know of a few cases where AFM sued on behalf of members who were stiffed on gig payments. You can also get group medical insurance through AFM.
  6. Con: it's a union. :bag:
  7. Ross Kratter

    Ross Kratter Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 31, 2010
    New York, NY
    Artist, RS Berkeley, La Bella Strings and Phil Jones Bass Amplification
    Dues depend on which local you join. I don't know which local you live in. However, I do know that NY (Local 802) charges $210/year, and the percentages they take are very low. It's generally around 3%.
  8. TRichardsbass

    TRichardsbass Banned Commercial User

    Jun 3, 2009
    Between Muscle Shoals and Nashville
    Bassgearu, Music Industry Consulting and Sales. Tech 21, NBE Corp, Sonosphere.
    By the way, I'm a member, so is Gene Klein (aka Gene Simmons) and of course, JUSTIN BIEBER! LOL!

    I can afford it, so its worth it for me. I can understand how in situations it could be more expensive then it brings you benefit. However, joining does give you more opportunity.
  9. anonymous122511

    anonymous122511 Guest

    Dec 28, 2010
    The union makes available comprehensive, reasonably priced instrument insurance. I haven't need to be a member for years but I'm thinking of re-joining partly for this.
  10. Eric Swaim

    Eric Swaim GOD, U.S. MIlitary, Country Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2004
    Murfreesboro, TN
    I was a member for 9 years, great if all you play is union gigs. Not worth the money if you do not play any union gigs, other than to say "I'm in the Union". My Father was an International Representative for the CWA (Communication Workers Of America) and I joined because I could not get on the tour bus unless I was union. As A Teacher I am in the Union, because that's the way the game is played in my profession now. I don't really like paying $532.00 a year for dues (knowing some money goes to political campaigns I would never support). But I do like having a job and representation.

    You'll have to figure it out for yourself. Insurance on instruments from the AFM is a pretty good deal. Although now I have a policy through my insurance agent that's pretty good $125.00 a year for $15,000.00 worth of insurance.
  11. anonymous122511

    anonymous122511 Guest

    Dec 28, 2010
    You're absolutely right. I've been thinking of jamming my foot back in the door doing union gigs. It would be smarter though to investigate other insurance and wait until the phone starts ringing before shelling out to the union. God knows I have no burning desire to spend several hundred just to "say I'm in the Union".
  12. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Los Angeles
  13. Also *essential* if you are Canadian and want to gig in the U.S.!
  14. Mark Wilson

    Mark Wilson Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2005
    Toronto, Ontario
    Endorsing Artist: Elixir® Strings
    That's why I'm in it.
  15. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    It also depends on the local union. Some of them take care of their buddies and the big shows (traveling groups, symphony, ballet etc etc) but do little for anyone else.
  16. DirtPoorRobins

    DirtPoorRobins Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2005
    Our union does basically nothing for you here. I was on a gig where no nobody got paid and we.
  17. Saxn


    Oct 23, 2010
    Nashville, GA
    Whups... looks like the Union caught up with him before he could get his story out... DAMN those guys are better than the KGB!
  18. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    Hey man, that's weird to here. Schmaus told me joining the union when I get there is pretty much necessary. Care to PM me?
  19. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Los Angeles
    Well, consider whether you'll still have those bargaining rights if unions and working people don't connect with those interests at the voting booth - can we spell "Wisconsin?"
  20. Mattosaur


    Jan 21, 2011
    Man, in 15 years no one will be able to spell Wisconsin. :)

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