LA Recording Musicians Boycott Forces Move of Simpsons Game Scoring Sessions to Bay Area

By • July 18, 2007

Responding to a printed warning distributed anonymously at previous recording sessions about the AFM’s new videogame buyout agreements, Los Angeles recording musicians – comprising 40% of the hired session orchestra – engaged in mass cancellations of the recording sessions for the upcoming Simpsons video game. According to sources close to the project, within a few hours of the cancelled sessions, orchestras of AFM players in San Francisco and New York were on hold and ready to record the 40 hours of sessions that had to be cancelled in LA. The sessions eventually were done in the San Francisco area at Skywalker Sound using AFM players under the new AFM video game buyout agreement.

In an open letter to the musicians involved, Simpsons game score composer Chris Lennertz explained how on past projects he has always made every effort to record in Los Angeles, noting, “In every single one of these cases I personally chose to make less money and record union in LA rather than save by going to Prague or Seattle because I knew the quality would be great, I’d get to work with friends, and I thought that encouraging and supporting the local musicians was the right thing to do.”

According to sources at the recording sessions where the “warnings” were distributed, verbal warnings were also discussed, which resulted in 40% of the orchestra for the Simpsons sessions canceling amid rumors of other musicians planning to call in sick for the sessions. In the end, it was determined that recording in Los Angeles with AFM players was simply not worth the risk and the sessions were moved to San Francisco where AFM players there were used.

In addition to the loss of work for Los Angeles players resulting from the cancelled sessions, the action has already had a chilling effect on the video game composer community, with some game composers now openly expressing reservations and concerns about recording in LA with AFM recording musicians under the new AFM agreements.

AFM Local 47 President Hal Espinosa and AFM International President Tom Lee were unavailable for comment.

Andy Malloy, president of the Professional Musicians Guild, a new guild formed by Los Angeles recording musicians who are unhappy with the AFM’s direction towards buyouts, told Film Music Magazine, “From everything that I know, I had not considered this to be a boycott. The loss of the work results from confusion about the terms of the EA promulgated agreement and limited availability of those terms. What is now being called a boycott has come about as a result of players turning down work due to discussions among players called and not called for the work. The PMG was not a part of any real, imagined or attempted boycott. The PMG was anxious for this work to be done under the new contract. Musicians would then have been able to compare the terms and conditions of the original contract with the new EA agreement.”

Malloy continued, “Every player in Los Angeles wants more work in Los Angeles. I don’t think it was anyone’s plan or intention to send work elsewhere. To my knowledge, no contractor, RMA or PMG member or officer pressured musicians to drive this work from LA. I was called for this project myself and accepted two of the three dates I was offered. If the AFM has finally come to the realization that video games are an immense market with an even greater potential, they should develop these new contracts and/or promulgated agreements with much more involvement and active participation from the rank and file who do this work, then publicize these contracts widely, quickly and completely.”

Veteran Los Angeles musician and contractor Chris Tedesco said, “The very fact that a job was run out of town because the old recording guard did not think it was up to what they think it should have been is totally wrong. If there were a ton of sessions like the old days, there would be solidarity, but there is not because there is less ‘A’ work and many feel left out of the scene.”

Tedesco continued, “Producers now have options around the globe to get what they used to get in LA, so the AFM is looking at the global scoring market and addressing competitive issues. It is 15 years too late. Giving up something is not always the answer, but a reality check is in order. Seattle is a reality, Prague is a reality, London is a reality. LA-based musicians don’t have a leg to stand on anymore because producers are ‘hip’ to the options out there. Jobs under the new ‘one off’ single project video game agreement have pension and health provisions. The union cannot be about residuals only, it’s about good pay and good benefits and preservation of jobs. The boycott of the Simpsons sessions is about one small group influencing the opinions of other musicians who are afraid of that small group and their influence with contractors. I’m pro-union all the way, and am happy to book players for jobs with pension and health benefits. And I’m all for residuals, but that’s not necessarily a reality for every job anymore.”

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