A Composers’ Union: The Time Is Now
I’m very excited by the news that a new organization, The Association of Media Composers and Lyricists (AMCL), has been working for four years to build a relationship with the Teamsters with the goal of organizing and creating a union for composers. The steering committee for this organizing group, made up of Alan Elliott, Alf Clausen, Bruce Broughton and Jim DiPasquale includes some very experienced and respected people who understand the challenges composers face in today’s marketplace. I strongly urge anyone who can make it to RSVP for the November 16 informational meeting in Burbank, and please send your questions with your RSVP – the organizers promise all questions will be answered.
Creating a composers’ union is not an easy task – some have compared it to herding cats, and others will say that trade unions are an outdated concept. But unions in the film and television industry clearly are the strongest and most respected groups, and composers desperately need and deserve industrial representation. This group and their work so far represents the best possibility I’ve seen for creating strong representation for film and television composers.
The choice of the Teamsters is a smart move – the Teamsters are a powerful organization that is well-respected in Hollywood and familiar with the challenges of organizing independent businesspeople like composers. After looking at their website, I also have to applaud the AMCL on their focus on the art and craft of composing – these days, painfully few entities within our industry focus on the actual quality of the music we’re hired to create, but this new union clearly is making that a priority.
Certainly there are challenges – how do you establish wage scales for package deals where the composer’s pay and own expenses may be hard to estimate? Will composers need to become employees of the production companies under union agreements, and if so, what if any ramifications will there be on work-for-hire clauses, benefits (such as unemployment, etc) and what kind of retirement and health insurance options can be created for composers and their families? All important questions.
But despite the challenges, I believe that we as an industry should strongly support the current unionization efforts by the AMCL, especially in view of the rapid decline in compensation and deal terms for composers we’ve seen over the last 15 years. As an industry, we’ve been “divided and conquered” so many times, in so many different ways, that the viability, both artistically and financially, of being a professional composer now is in question. We have become an industry of mercenaries, and I for one am sick of watching desperate people do desperate things simply to push ahead of the next guy and get a gig at all costs. The constant undercutting and lowballing of composer fees has eroded these to zero on some jobs, further reducing the value and respect of our art, our copyrights, and our industry. As an example, here’s the compensation portion of an ad I saw recently published by a filmmaker doing a short film:
1) Studio Teacher $75.00/day
2) Film Editor $200.00 flat rate
3) Sound Editor $200.00 flat rate
4) Music Composer, No Pay, IMDB credit only
Indeed, if we fail to achieve some sort of strong industrial representation for our craft, there may not be much of a craft left for our children and the next generation of composers. I believe we must seize the moment and support the work the AMCL is doing to unionize composers. For more information, visit the AMCL website.