Production Music Union For Composers

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I received an e-mail from one of the composers on MLR suggesting that I would be in a good position to try and form a production music union for composers. As he rightly points out actors, musicians, makeup artists, production crews have unions (with varying degrees of success I might add). I responded to his e-mail that it would be a daunting task and I would rather be writing music! I do think it’s an interesting idea and worthy of a post to at least start a conversation. So… Have at it!

25 thoughts on “Production Music Union For Composers

  1. What about a quality Label?

    I actually have been thinking about a Union to protect the actors of our business (Composers and Library owners) from the abuses of commercial giants.

    However, after reflexion, a union is overwhelmingly complex to set-up, especially that it needs to be global. Besides what previous contributors to the is thread wrote is unfortunately true: It can lead to corruption and would cost a lot to members.

    So like for sustainable development or biological source on groceries products, why not a label that would follow a written charter guaranteeing:
    1/ Fair treatment of all business actors.
    2/ Guaranteed quality and follow up service to customers (including composer support).

    1/ would protect composers. Besides, a library with such a label would tend to attract the best, consequently would be a quality resource for their customers.

    2/ would guarantee the client that he will get what he pays for!

    Beign stamped with this label would be free, but would be legally binding to abide to the principles of the charter.

    For my own catalog, I personally select libraries and RF sites carefully on various criteria. Once this is done, from my perspective, they are part of my team, and at my level, I will act also to protect their interest.
    A label would guarantee such a business behavior. Besides it could also provide a sense of partnership between actors of our business that we so much need these days to counterbalance unethical practices from YT, Spotify and so many others giant sharks.

    It’s just an idea. The hardest part would be to build credibility of such a biz sustainability label… However, I do find it attractive. What do you think?

    • A good idea Edouardo but the most important thing for a label is to have quality customers such as production companies, networks etc.. Successful label owners are very well connected in the biz. We are composers who generally (speaking for myself) are not very good at rubbing shoulders. The only power we can have is in numbers. If we have a unique catalog then maybe, and that is a big maybe, clients will come to us without having to rub shoulders. IMO we need to stay away from being a label because this is a “not for profit” deal, otherwise we just end up being another label owned by composers. It should be a community thing. Composers retain their publishing and no hanky panky like unreported transactions, YT, etc. The most important thing for us to understand is that in this entire chain of events, we are the suppliers. There used to be a time, pre internet, where all the schmoozing was necessary, demos were personally delivered on tape or cassette, publishers were a necessary part of the chain. Today, and the success of RF sites is evidence, all you have to do is add great tags and descriptors and host it. The only problem is, if we all start hosting our own music individually, it doesnt work… too many sites for clients to visit.. but if say 25 or 30 of us do it together and pool our resources, and with a little marketing, it can be very feasible. I am sure we can get a lot more. Guys, IMHO, i really see this as the next step forward for us. I dont see this as a union, each “association” of composers sets its own pricing structure etc so that eventually composers can decide which association bets works for him. Anyway, just a few things for us to ponder on while we are sipping on our egg nog and wondering about 2014.. Have a great Christmas everyone…

      • QUOTE: It should be a community thing. Composers retain their publishing and no hanky panky like unreported transactions, YT, etc. The most important thing for us to understand is that in this entire chain of events, we are the suppliers.

        Absolutely MusicMatters!

        Maybe “Label” was a wrong choice of words, as I wasn’t referring to a label company. Not at all. I meant a “stamp” guaranteeing a certain ethic concerning the product provided. I do not know about the US, but in Europe many products are stamped with a “Label” guaranteeing the end consumer the origin, the way it was produced, the low environmental impact of its production etc… So the consumer can choose to consume responsibly.

        In our case, such a stamp would guarantee for example

        Sustainability : That the music licenced is marketed sustainably, preserving the business against unethical giant corporations that in the end kill the diversity of the offering.

        Service : That there is service behind. If there is a problem, the composer or library will try anything to solve it. For example do you think that libraries licensing tracks 20$ for broadcast uses will really get out of its way to help a customer? This provides a personalization of our service, something many customers need! It also guarantees that for an hourly fee, the composer gets involved in modifying an edit if necessary.

        Quality : The fact that it would group only professionals or serious hobbyists will ensure quality in the production. i.e. a library stamped with this label will only have a quality offering, leading to less time wasted by the customer.

        In the forums, I witness sometimes some animosity between Libraries and Composers. They should be united and fight together to keep the business alive. Such a “Stamp” (Maybe someone can find a better word…), applicable to both parties, would also help unifying libraries and composers.

        QUOTE: Guys, IMHO, i really see this as the next step forward for us. I dont see this as a union, each “association” of composers sets its own pricing structure etc so that eventually composers can decide which association bets works for him.

        Exactly, it’s a group of people (that includes composers and library owners) that would agree to work together following some basic guidelines…

        Yes, sweet ideas to think about.

        Me too I wish a merry and musical Christmas to all!

  2. There won’t be a Composers Union. The AMCL has tabled it. Here’s a article about it: http://www.filmmusicmag.com/?p=8273

  3. Here’s the thing…Music Libraries and publishing houses are the equivalent to agents and managers for actors. Agents have to be SAG- Screen Actors Guild franchised talent agents. So Music Libraries would have to be PMG Libraries- Production Music Guild franchised libraries.

    That would be good for us because we would get uniform standards that all libraries have to live up to. And the “pay for submission” crap would be over. Actors don’t have to pay to give their headshots to agents, for Pete’s sake. Also, All SAG agents get a standard cut from the actors pay check, actors never have to spend their time comparing this deal over that deal and talking about it on some internet forum like this. And the submission process would be uniform too. An actor has a freakin 8″ by 10″ pic, industry standard, it’s not like one agent wants a post card size and another wants a 8″ by 11″. But musicians have to attach files to emails or cut them down to a certain size, when any of these libraries could just go look at our link for christ sake. The lack of streamlined uniformity in the process of getting our tracks placed is a big time waster.

    And a Union could enforce tracking much better, they would be the only one that needs a tunestat account, instead of us having to pay for that and have one more thing to worry about.
    SAG Actors don’t need to worry about if they’re gonna get paid.

    SAG has a decent gradient dues scale you pay a small percentage of what you make. And they have a health plan and a pension.
    What do we have????

    And Music Supervisors are the equivalent of Casting Directors for actors. Even Music Supervisors are starting their union now.

    Whether it’s Casting Directors vs. Music Supervisors or Music Libraries vs. Agents, We the musicians have the same business structure as the Actors except they have a Union which gets them right with the world. If there’s smoke in the room they get a bump in pay, night shoot- bump- driving to set- Bump- have to bring a change of clothes – BUMP- etc. etc. That’s the power of Collective Bargaining. Well, we have our things we need bumps for if we are asked by libraries or productions, like for instance, deadlines…How many times have you gotten a freakin email that asks you to come up with some jingle that sounds like so and so by TOMORROW? And to compete with about a hundred other dudes that got the same email! You’re supposed to drop everything in your life and start on that for the chance you might get it placed for the same price as any old song you didn’t have to rush on? Gimmie a break.

    You see the Actors got a Union so their pitching while we’re catching, know what I’m saying? Their pitching all the way to the bank while we’re wondering if Hans in friggin Demark is gonna really get that buyer’s cue sheet filled out after we got $5 for one of our best cues.

    If a library could be kicked out of the Production Music Union, they damn well will make sure those cue sheets are filled out.
    As of now we are not getting the equity that our counterparts are getting. We need to get into gear on this.

  4. An effective production union would only pertain to to big monolithic platforms like film, tv, and maybe some kind of agreement with youtube. There will always be music sold cheap on the periphery just like there are a lot of non-union actors doing plays and rinky dink videos.

  5. The Association of Media Composers and Lyricists (AMCL) has been trying for a couple of years to organize a Composers Union and have joined the Teamsters. Just Google it there are several articles about this effort.

    Here is there site if your interested: http://theamcl-399.org/

    The last meeting that I know of was held in November of 2010 with the teamsters. There were around 400 composers present that listened and asked questions. This was not a national effort, rather one that just involved a local in California.

    There was a statement made by someone, I don’t remember who, but he said “This would be like herding feral cats”.

    There is no way Art could form such an organization.

    Don’t forget you have to pay to join and then pay a monthly membership due. This can be some serious cash that you would have to pay out.

    • This is from the link that SteveB provided:

      “Composers are the only creative group in the radio, television, motion picture, recording and other entertainment fields without the protection and guidance of a guild. All other creative groups in these fields, without exception, enjoy the right of collective bargaining in their relations with employers.”

      The point that I made below is that for the most part library composers do not have “employers.” We create and sell product. That is why I question the purpose of a union with respect to “Library composers.” For film and television composers that may or may not be writing under contract, in an industry where their counterparts, i.e. actors, writers, crew, make-up etc., are unionized, it makes sense.

      But for library composers who are for the most part selling or licensing finished goods — what would a union accomplish?

      • John (the other John) says:

        The music library business is tough enough. We don’t need sticky fingered union CEO’s taking a cut yet. Unions breed corruption.

        Many libraries won’t even take tracks if musician union players are part of it. Keep the market free. We’re smart enough to make our own deals.

      • That’s pretty much right Michael. The reason there hasn’t been a union created a long time ago is because composer’s are considered “Independent Contractors” or “Freelancer”. Basically we are all Small business owners.

        Composers have brought all of this upon themselves. We undercut each other, hide our business side and techniques and give our music away to individuals out of desperation for getting a “credit”. The movie and television industry or the music libraries aren’t at fault. WE are, for giving away or selling music to them cheaply.

        We are the ones that have to dig ourselves out of this mess. Everyone has a shovel, but nobody is digging.

        • I’m a little ambivalent about the giving it away or selling it cheaply argument. I’ve experienced bot sides of the coin.

          I sold a track ten years ago for $150 that has made me close 50K in royalties to date.
          The $1,000 that I should have sold it for back then pales in comparison. (but it was only a day’s work anyway, so what the heck). Oh..and I didn’t get a screen credit.
          With each passing year the $850 that I “gave away” becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the track’s overall value. And, that track did open doors.

          The point is I don’t think there are any absolutes. There’s a fine line between someone taking advantage of you and a real opportunity. (of course, having a law degree does help with the former).

          By and large though, I think “giving it away” is a product of supply and demand. Everybody and his uncle is trying to sell music now.

          • Well, I didn’t mean to hijack this thread. It should be about the opinions of everyone about the unionization of composers, I guess. I was just making a general statement of my opinion about the state of the business.

            I’ll refrain from writing my opinions here in this tread, because I do have more about what you and I have discussed. Those I would think would be better in another.

  6. A union might be viable of there was only one “library” business model, where libraries hired composers and/or paid for their music upfront. However, with the plethora of licensing agents under the retitling model, who do not pay for tracks, and the thousands of composers selling their own tracks through royalty free sites, I question what a union would regulate and enforce against whom. Force the exclusives to pay x amount of dollars per track? Force the non- exclusives to pay a higher percentage of of sync fees?

    Most actors, musicians, makeup artists, production crew members get paid by the hour or by the day. There are limitations regarding the number of hours that can be worked in a day. There are sometimes harsh conditions, like working in extreme weather or dangerous locations. That’s not how production music writers work or get paid.

    @ Advice is correct. It is a supply and demand issue. One thing that a union would do is set minimum standards for members. After all, to join the carpenters’ union you have to KNOW how to build things, and pass a test. In contrast, the members of this forum run the gamut from those with a music degree to those who’ve never taken a lesson in their lives. And, the level of skill is all over the map. Who among us wants to decide who gets in and who doesn’t? That, however, would certainly correct the oversupply problem, but I don’t want to be the one to tell someone — “keep you’re day gig.”

    Actors, musicians, makeup artists, production crew members are providing services. We by and large are selling products — our compositions. When people join together and agree upon setting certain prices for products to control the market, it hinders competition. Unfortunately, that raises the specter of anti-trust law.

    Can of worms.

  7. There is no question that composers are getting paid less and less for their work. With affordable home studio gear out there, the number of composers and amount of music out there have skyrocketed. Add to that the zillions of music libraries who jumped in and we are on the wrong side of the supply & demand curve.

    That being said, composers are so desparate for placements that they’ll take little or no money just to get their music out there. (I’m just as guilty). For this reason, I don’t think a union would succeed– too many folks would go around the system and sell their music cheap.

    To say it would be a ‘daunting task’ would be a huge understatement.

  8. Yes you could do it Art! And you could charge us too – another nice revenue stream! 🙂

    • Is that sarcasm in your tone? Art provides a very useful service to composers with MLR, and is more than right in charging for the service

      • +1

        Art deserves everyone’s appreciation. If you think he’s running MLR for the money, you’ve totally missed the boat.

        MichaelL

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence guys. One reason for charging for access was to deter those people who wanted to garner as much info as possible then leave without contributing. There are many ways to earn free access and a number of folks already have. MLR is definitely not a get rich quick (or otherwise) scheme:-)

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