Why The Music Community Needs the CGA

By • February 21, 2011

The following guest editorial was written by composer Alan Elliott. He can be reached at alan@alanelliott.net

What is the CGA?

The Composers Guild of America (a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation) is an advocacy group dedicated to representing, defining and helping implement and further the rights of composers, musicians and other members of the music community for the 21st century. The CGA is NOT a union but works with unions and other organizations that work with and within the music community.

The CGA works within the entertainment community to implement structure for today’s music community. The CGA provides information and connectivity to help bring the music community together.

Bruce Broughton, who I feel is personally doing similar work through his teaching at USC, told a reporter last week that he feels the CGA is “confusing” (maybe because, like the Society of Composers and Lyricists, we have the word “composer” in our title).

To be clear, the CGA is an advocacy group focused on accomplishing the heavy lifting of rebuilding our profile and community… and for those still confused… the CGA IS NOT A UNION.

For those who still might be confused, please read on!

How did we get here?

Five years ago, the AMCL was created to become a forward thinking and responsible unit that would function as a 21st century partnership amongst composers, musicians and music supervisors.

A year ago, we were on our way towards making that union a reality.

In February, 2010, the WGA executive board unanimously approved a deal with the AMCL that would have ended the practice of free music in television and had the AMCL working in partnership with our WGA employers (99% of scripted network television show runners are WGA members).

Why was the WGA Agreement important?

The WGA agreement would have delivered to the music community a partnership with our WGA employers to enforce that “no free music” (a problem for the plurality of composers) became accepted policy.

It was TRULY a fairness issue, an agreement that would level the playing field so that composers would be judged by what they could do… not what they would do.

The WGA and AMCL would mutually have benefited from the agreement, written by Steve Dayan and WGA Executive Director David Young, which concluded with the following:

“Any free writing diminishes all writing.”

The deal was to be a pivot for the AMCL towards similar deals with the DGA, the Editors, and the Producers. The AMCL was scheduled to implement a dedicated intern program for young composers and an outreach program in colleges. It was an ambitious agenda to be sure, but one for which we had support and momentum.

And then… well, things changed.

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

In March, 2010- four weeks before the AMCL was to announce the potentially game changing WGA pact… at the WGA theater… with WGA President John Wells giving the invocation- the AMCL killed it’s own agenda, support and momentum- voluntarily.

The AMCL partners demanded my resignation and informed me the AMCL would seek no more deals with other creative unions, stop all education outreach, break up the intern program, and kill our infant WGA pact.

What was left?

Well, the AMCL decided they still wanted to keep the 200 confidentially signed union authorization cards. They liked those so much that they publicly posted the names of signatories on the AMCL web site (they are still up there too!)… and they did this without first telling those who signed the cards!

For me, after working for four plus years on unionization, and putting myself on the line (NOT confidentially…), it was devastating.

However, I had some bargaining power.

Supporters of the original agenda

My energy, reputation and contacts were good for some signatures… but most importantly, the original agenda of the AMCL helped get 200 union cards signed, with big names like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Randy Newman, Quincy Jones, Carter Burwell, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Dave Grusin (and a host of others) providing quotes to the mainstream media press on behalf of our original agenda (the AMCL was on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Business section as well as regularly featured in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and even Deadline Hollywood).

I leveraged this. I offered to only resign with the proviso I would do so only IF (and this was a big IF)… the WGA agreement was announced and implemented by the AMCL.

Steve Dayan and the group agreed to this. Steve shook my hand and gave me his word. I lived up to my end and sent out an email announcing I had “stepped down.”

Three weeks later, two days before the April, 2010 WGA meeting, the AMCL reneged on that promise and the WGA agreement was thrown out.

The AMCL: Bait and Switch

The reality is that the 200 union authorization cards, most signed prior to last February, have either expired or will expire shortly (the cards have a shelf life, legally, of one year).

The AMCL promised to schedule meetings every six weeks to discuss how to move forward together in an open and democratic fashion. There has been one meeting in almost a year (with no further meetings scheduled).

Because there is little support (the WGA agreement offered a compelling reason to support the AMCL), the AMCL now asks people to sign a non-binding “statement of support.”

This would be really nice if we were putting together a Hallmark card, but the reason the AMCL went with the Teamsters was not because the Teamsters put together sweet “statements of support.”

Unless the AMPTP decides to voluntarily accept the composers – something that has virtually no chance – as the AMPTP is busy trying to shed members of it’s health plan (increasing the number of hours to participate from 300 to 400 hours), not ADD people – there will be no composers union.

This is not some educated guess. After talking with leaders from the SAG, AFTRA, DGA, AFM, WGA- not ONE person believes this has any sort of remote possibility of happening. But that is what the AMCL is still trying to sell to composers, rather than open the AMCL to discussion and democracy.

The AFM

Currently, the AMCL has stopped all discussions with the AFM. The AMCL has decided it no longer needs to deal with the AFM.

The AMCL has not had ONE meeting with the AFM since Ray Hair was elected AFM President last JUNE (eight months ago).

Drink that in for a minute. A hopeful composer union no longer has any interaction with – or support from- union musicians.

15 months ago, the AMCL promised 350 in attendance that we would be partners with our fellow union, musical, brothers and sisters. Currently, the AMCL trumpets the year-old signed statement by then AFM President Tom Lee, as proof that the AMCL is supported by the AFM.

Lee (and others) signed that statement when the AMCL promised to be PARTNERS with the AFM. The inference that the AFM (and other unions who signed on to the previous agenda) support the current AMCL agenda, of course, can be seen on the AMCL web site.

Future… Present

At some point, the AMCL charade will end. Rebuilding our community cannot wait while the AMCL plays out the clock.

There remains plenty of meaningful work that needs to be done, and the CGA is DOING it. NOW.

Change. Now.

As Yogi Berra could have said, “The best way to start implementing change is to implement change.”

Today, we should be almost a year into the WGA Agreement.

However, the reality is that no existent group (SCL, AMCL, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC…) is willing to step up to implement the change that the WGA Agreement would have begun.

I wish there was an easier way than starting a union like the AMCL… or starting an advocacy group like the CGA. I can honestly say it isn’t for lack of looking or for a lack of effort.

I wish the SCL had the fire in the belly to implement change (the AMCL spent three years asking the SCL for it’s support, but the SCL had no interest), but they don’t.

So with no other group around… and the knowing realization that our community can no longer afford to wait… we created an advocacy group (not a union) called the Composers Guild of America (CGA).

The CGA’s First Step: WGA Show Runners’ Training Camp

On February 5, the CGA did its first presentation, ironically enough, with the WGA Show Runners’ Training Camp. The AMCL enlisted all their energy to make sure it didn’t happen… but it did happen and…

It was awesome.

For those who read our email blast (which you can sign up for at: info@composersguild.org), feel free to skip ahead.

To those that missed it, Here’s why the presentation was awesome.

The WGA show runners have NEVER, EVER had music folks explain how to plan, budget and incorporate music early in the creative and budget process.

The presenters- Ludwig Goransson, David Carbonara and Alan Elliott- came away feeling that this type of dialogue with our employers is powerfully positive stuff.

What was great was starting to involve the WGA show runners in our process- something that, over the years, has been shrouded in misunderstanding with a lack communication between the music community and show runners.

Considering that most film schools (if not all) have no training for directors or writers on “how to work with a composer” and that for 40 years composers have had no union…

That’s a lot of non-interaction for a lot of years.

The composer/presenters (all AFM members) explained our process and how, with planning, the show runners maximize their budget to make music more beneficially for their shows.

Here’s a for-instance of the lack of understanding (to be fair, the music community is equally responsible for this):

When we showed the show runners the cost breakdown for a 39 piece orchestra + contractor + conductor + music prep = approx. $17k (plus money for a composer), the first question was:

“You mean that’s it?”

This led to these follow up revelations:

1) “You mean we can get the orchestra to play all the cues for that price?

2) “So if we took out a licensed song or two from the budget, we could use it so the composer could write something original for our show?”

3) “…and the show would own it and could use it again when it wanted?”

Composers (to each revelation): “YESYESYES.”

Attendee: “I never knew this.”

One small step for show runners… one giant leap for composers.

It was literally… hushed when they found out how cheap music is… and when we played them music from “Mad Men,” “Community” and “The Naked Truth” (all with full bands)…

It drove home the point that real music could really HELP THEIR SHOWS.

And… it was THAT basic… and that productive.

The big take away from the WGA/CGA day is:

When we (composers, musicians, music supervisors) educate our bosses (in this type of environment), they WELCOME the dialogue.

So now the CGA will go about setting up more… of these types of environments.

Next up is the DGA and the Editors… as well as starting the first comprehensive trainee program for composers in conjunction with music schools from across the country.

Finale

Others may talk. The CGA is doing. NOW.

Again, to be clear, there are distinct differences:

The CGA is NOT a union. The AMCL wants to be a union.

The CGA IS an advocacy group. The AMCL has NO interest in advocacy.

The CGA and the AMCL do NOT intersect on any of the above issues.

I hope this clarifies what was my old job, and what is my present job.

And believe me, it is a job (this editorial as an example). The CGA has an intern program, an outreach program, a series of seminars, screenings and partnerships with the DGA, WGA, Editors, Producers and others to do ASAP.

That is why the CGA is a 501c3- so we can raise money and those who donate can write it off.

Some tell me I take this too personally.

They are right. I do. And if you are a composer who wants to make this a better place for this and future generations, you should take this personally too.

My life as a composer-for-hire (and often slave-at-will) has been affected by miscommunication and lack of interaction with employers for 20 years now but…

Sitting in the room with the WGA Show Runners Training Camp was evidence that we can make change that changes the dynamic.

The work that needs to be done to help build and rebuild the music community must be done and can no longer wait.

This is why the music community needs the Composers Guild of America.

Please support the CGA.

Thank you.

-Alan Elliott

www.composersguild.org

Comments

By Brian Lee Corber on March 3rd, 2011 at 6:44 pm

If this is an example of the business savvy of composers, any union will be mismanaged. An advocacy group? What is that? a mouthpiece for Alan but an organization that has no power or asuthority to do anything. The best friend a composer can have is their own lawyer; advocacvy groups, unions and the like are just a lot of mental masturbation. You want advocacy, read the fmpro list and you’ll get typical composer advocacy: all of it foolishness. Your biggest problem is you undercut eawch other and would sell your own mother dfor as gig; most of you, especially those new to this, haven’t any talent–and that’s why filmmusic sucks. Now with the death of John Barry–not one of you could create a musical ascore for a film that soared.

By Yadgyu on May 26th, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Music should just be given away.

Composers are replaceable and music has very little value.

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