Archive for the ‘Electronic Media’ Category

The Greater Good

December 9th, 2014 No comments

The Way Forward With National Media Policy

By Pete Vriesenga

pete-vriesengaThe Colorado Symphony Orchestra is at odds with our national union (AFM) over differences with electronic media policy. In recent years the CSO [along with 70 other orchestras] was signed to the AFM’s Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) which expired in the Fall of 2013. The IMA is a national agreement that covers electronic media work common to symphony orchestras such as CDs, public radio and television, but doesn’t cover commercial work such as commercial announcements, film, videogames, etc. Over the past year the CSO offered to bargain a new agreement with the AFM, but that effort seems to have failed. On broader fronts a multi-employer bargaining group was formed to represent the management side for a new national contract, but one year later a new agreement remains in the offing.

Before proceeding I should point out that the DMA (Local 20-623, AFM) is the bargaining representative for CSO musicians with respect to most matters in their collective bargaining agreement, including local media. However, the AFM is the recognized bargaining agent for the Integrated Media Agreement and all national media work. Certainly the DMA has a vested interest in seeing a satisfactory resolution to any internal union conflict, but therein lies the question.

Our local membership first learned of this conflict at our March 31, 2014 General Membership Meeting when members of the CSO shared concerns about the AFM’s intransigence over a marketing collaboration between the CSO and the Colorado Rockies. This was a local collaboration that had broad support of the musicians and a perfect example of creative marketing that orchestras across the country should capitalize on. Nonetheless, the AFM only fought management on this matter. They even fought the musicians against their will, all the while claiming to represent them.

Ultimately a resolution was passed at our membership meeting, expressing unanimous support for the CSO on three points: 1) AFM’s unreasonable delay in bargaining, 2) failure to consult the Orchestra Committee before initiating grievances against the orchestra, and 3) CSO musicians’ exclusion from contract and policy-making decisions that affect them.

These are conventional expectations for any democratic organization, but not in the AFM. One reason is the AFM has grown accustomed to setting uniform rates for 70 years. Surely the prospect of achieving genuine support for uniform recording rates across North America would be preferable, but establishing and enforcing such policy requires broad and inclusive representation that frankly does not exist in our union. Yes, the AFM is obligated to represent the interests of those who do the work, but it’s equally important to represent the interests of those who must otherwise turn the work down. That democratic model is a world apart from where we are now and would be expected if the AFM is to serve the needs of “the many.”

This is a key point of contention for the CSO because the Integrated Media Agreement only covers “symphonic” work and does not cover commercial work. Moreover, I see no visible trace of representation between CSO musicians and those who presently establish terms and conditions for work under these commercial agreements. That remains the closely-guarded and protected turf of the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) which is an AFM “Player Conference” that aggressively represents a small fraction of the AFM membership who greatly influence AFM recording policy. Despite their relatively small numbers, RMA has long demonstrated its ability to elect or unseat AFM officers who fail to follow their lead. That political will enables RMA to impose their agenda on AFM members who don’t even know RMA exists, let alone what it stands for. Consequently, RMA’s unchecked power comes at the expense of “the many” and only serves the needs of “the few.”

On the one hand I can’t blame RMA for taking all they can from a union that wrongly and feebly ceded so much power to them, but I do blame other AFM player conferences (ICSOM and ROPA, specifically) for failing to see what’s really going on here. These representational failures have taken a heavy toll on our union, so I applaud the CSO and AFM members across North America for standing up to force necessary change. Fortunately their demands for change are also being heard. In his column in the November, 2014 International Musician, AFM President Ray Hair points to “brush fires in Montreal, Vancouver, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.” Fair representation, especially with respect to electronic media, appears to be a common demand.

The only way to move beyond this old and deep-rooted conflict is if our union commits to serve the ‘greater good’ and it appears that President Hair draws this very conclusion in his November column when he writes: “All previous AFM administrations faced the same institutional pressures as we do to this day – the internal struggle to balance the needs of the many, versus the needs of the few, or the one. The rise of business unionism over the past 60 years, with its culture of divisiveness and hierarchical bargaining has spawned a host of haves and have-nots in the workplace that serve the interests of the employers. This has come with a terrible cost.”

President Hair’s hope to serve the greater good is a step in the right direction, but actions speak louder than words. Whether or not the AFM then commits to doing so will be determined by the success or failure of organized protests and demands for change that are taking place in Colorado and across the AFM.

The AFM’s willingness to go to the next step by confronting “business unionism”, if true, is a very long time coming because AFM media policies have been the standard-bearer of business unionism for 70 years. defines business unionism as “the trade-union philosophy and activity that concentrates on the improvement of wages, hours, working conditions, etc., rather than on the general reform of the capitalistic system”. Sadly, that is an exacting description of the AFM’s flagship “Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA)” which defines AFM media policy. The predecessor to the SRLA – the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement – was established in 1944 with Decca, Capitol, RCA and Columbia. Those four producers were arguably the only true players in the industry then, but today there are thousands of legitimate record labels and independent producers while only seven producers are actually signed to the SRLA document today. Others may come and go, and typically sign for single projects when they do.

Nonetheless, AFM members are led to believe that the 100-page SRLA is an agreement with “the industry” which therefore applies to any and all competing companies from coast to coast, no matter how small. A “Favored Nations” clause exists to this day in the SRLA that obligates the Federation to notify their signatory business partners if a more favorable deal is cut to anyone else. That little clause is an extraordinary deal for our capitalist business partners like Sony ($3 billion annual sales) and Warner Brothers ($5 billion annual sales) and is quite possibly their primary motivation to keep these “agreements” in place. When President Hair publicly assails Lionsgate ($2.3 billion annual sales) for disregarding AFM agreements, few are cheering him on more than the CEO’s of Sony and Warner Brothers. Observe the Clash of the Titans – “the few” – who already command the upper percentile and remain determined to rule the world of media.

How does this affect the great majority of AFM members who work in an economy where the great majority of employer/producers, i.e., “the industry” may only be one-thousandth the size of Warner or Sony? Does “the industry” benefit when the titans establish and set terms for small independents?
Only time will tell if our elected AFM leadership will stand up to these mega-corporations and reject old business union habits so our union can truly serve the greater good. Early indications of change for the better [or worse] will surely be found in President Hair’s reference to “brush fires.” Will these members be welcomed and encouraged for the healthy debate and necessary change they bring, or not?

Internet Music Lessons and the Touring Musician

April 11th, 2010 No comments

By Steve Eulberg

Like many musicians, I have found teaching to be the butter for the bread of performance. Truthfully, the balance between performing and teaching helps me survive as a working musician. I simply love sharing the music with public and private audiences, and equipping them to participate in the creative process.

Steve Eulberg teaching dulcimer class

Steve Eulberg teaching dulcimer class

When I began my private studio I was teaching unusual instruments (mountain and hammered dulcimers, mandolin, bowed psaltery, Irish Bodhran and African hand percussion) as well as guitar. This has turned out to be a good niche for my interests, skills and experience and led to my establishment of the annual Colorado Dulcimer Festival in Fort Collins, which just completed its 7th year. I am also on the road teaching at festivals across the US about once a month, which I link with performances to, from or near the festival region; in short, the life of a touring (and teaching) solo musician.

I’ve been drawn to acoustic folk instruments, and because I am a part-Luddite (resisting new technologies), these proclivities may make my story a bit surprising. The development of my private music studio was concurrent with my development of an internet presence for my music and music lessons.

It began when a computer programmer who heard me play at a local open mike scanned my postcard-schedule and posted it to the internet and then sent me an email to let me know he’d done that (back in 1998.) Because I was busily making these postcards and spending money to mail them out, I immediately saw the potential of having my performance and teaching schedule available on the world-wide-web. So, I developed my first webpage. Over the years I would post photos of my students’ recitals and make my recordings and published books and lesson materials available for sale, had my products included at and (and then iTunes) and various other avenues for disseminating music.

To further develop my understanding and teaching skills, I earned a Master of Music Education degree from Boston University, where I was in the second graduating class of their on-line program. It was amazing to me that I could study at this level and interact with my professors, facilitators and peers through this internet medium, do it from home, and from such disparate places on the road as urban Berlin, Germany and rural Evart and Oscoda, Michigan. I was better equipped to teach my private students, and this education helped equip me to work at the junior high level in our local school district for three years.

What I didn’t know is that I was being prepared for the opportunities that were not yet present, and which now occupy a good deal of my time as a music educator. Through an email, I was approached in 2005 by Jeff Booth, a young northern Colorado man with computer programming and internet experience who wanted to offer guitar lessons on the internet. Together with his partners he had formed and they were looking for teachers. After meeting to explore the idea of offering video lessons that would be posted on the internet via their website, I filmed an audition tape and became the first teacher they hired.

We proceeded to film Beginning Guitar lessons in high definition video, first from two camera angles, then three and now four. The finished product is captured, edited (with multiple views), rendered and delivered in Flash technology on the website. An affordable monthly subscription fee opens the door to all the lessons and features available. Other teachers were hired, and I added the following lessons series: Fingerstyle, Celtic, Bluegrass, Kids and Guitar, Singing with Guitar and several songs in the Phase 3 section of the website. In addition, students would write in to ask clarifying questions about lessons, guitars, repair, gear and styles and we would film video answers to those questions.

This work rhythm continued until last year when the site, which had included a chat room for subscribers to write posts to each other in real-time, was expanded to include a real-time audio/video feed from teachers. At first we were recruited to be available with a webcamera for special events, but then the partners decided to offer a regular schedule of on-line chats with the instructors.

Now I am on-line with my webcamera, a microphone and guitar 11-15 hours a week as part of the 18-hour-a-day schedule to offer live answers to questions and teach specific techniques or styles and songs. Because these lessons are offered via the world-wide web, I am often on-line with students from Beijing (China) Adelaide and Brisbane (Australia), Sao Paolo, Brazil, Mexico City, across the US and Canada, Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq, all at the same time! I’ll post a set of lyrics and chords, or a leadsheet and then host a world-wide jam. (This works because the instructor is like the hub of the wheel, with all of the students as spokes. They can see and hear me and themselves as they play along, without the disruption of latency or echoes of other students’ live signals.) I’m currently preparing everyone for a St. Patrick’s Day Ceiligh since I’m scheduled to be on-line that night.

Long-Distance Private Lessons
This daily on-line presence has also opened up another avenue of on-line instruction which utilizes Skype software. Skype ( is free downloadable software which allows the user to contact other users and talk with them, using their computer as a telephone, for free! (I am a dual-AFM member, also serving on the Local 1000 Executive Board and we’ve been making good use of Skype conference calls as a way to help us to our work more efficiently and save on our bottom line.)

With the addition of the webcam and microphone (sometimes one or both of these are built into one’s computer) I have been able to offer private, long-distance lessons for students on guitar and my other instruments. Students contact me, we schedule a mutually-agreeable time to do a Skype call to test connections, agree on payment and method (most use Paypal), and then schedule a lesson. I use my normal private lesson rhythms with lesson times, cancellation (24-hour notice), re-scheduling, etc. Because people are in other time zones, I can usually schedule these lessons in slots that I am unable to fill locally. What I haven’t yet figured out is how to have these long-distance students participate in one of my two semi-annual recitals, but I’m haven’t given up on that idea!

What this has meant for me is that I can afford to work from home or on the road, providing quality music education which is tailored to the students’ abilities, needs, instruments and musical genre choices. I can do this with a flexibility that a fixed school schedule does not allow, with pay that is comparable or better that in school and I can continue to tour and perform on the road. I get good bread and good butter!

“Canned Cleopatra” opens to over 300 protesters

April 1st, 2009 No comments

ballet juke boxHundreds of musicians and their union brothers and sisters formed picket lines and distributed leaflets in front of Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, in protest of Texas Ballet Theater’s canned music policy. Demonstrators inflated a giant rat balloon to draw attention to musicians’ concerns. Demonstrations were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 27, 28 and 29, 2009 prior to the start of the company’s Cleopatra performances.

The ballet company outsourced its orchestra pit during last weekend’s performances of “Canned Cleopatra,” replacing musicians with a recording it made in China. Company artistic staff traveled to Shanghai in June 2008 and paid the Chinese government $30,000.00 for a recording of the Rimsky Korsakov score of Cleopatra. The ballet company cheated its patrons with canned music this season and says it intends to replace musicians indefinitely, including shows planned next season at the new $400 million Dallas Center For the Performing Arts.

“Over three hundred musicians and members of other area unions stood outside Bass Hall last weekend,” said Ray Hair, president of the musicians’ union, and a trustee of the Tarrant County Central Labor Council. “We sent a strong message to the ballet company and the arts community. When you hurt professional musicians, there are consequences.”

A Dallas Morning News/Fort Worth Star-telegram review of Friday’s performance criticized the musical accompaniment as clumsy and hamstrung. “…the progression seemed hurried. Raw, rough-hewn, taped music barged forward, when a more caressing tempo was needed to mirror the emotions…”

canned-weddingLabor Council President T.C. Gillespie predicted dark days ahead for the ballet company. “The protest was a huge success. We had tremendous support from patrons who were saying they wouldn’t return to hear canned music. It’s obvious the company is on its knees from poor attendance and the high number of ticket giveaways. If they crawl over to the Winspear, we’ll take our show on the road and protest fake ballet there, too,” he said.”

Click here for additional information from the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association.

National Recording Disagreements

March 22nd, 2009 9 comments

After demonstrating its muscle and ability to shut down the recording industry, the AFM emerged the victor by November of 1944 with first-time agreements with Decca, Capitol, RCA and Columbia Records. The structure and framework for these National Recording Agreements still exist today, but that moment in 1944 may have been the last point in time for meaningful “agreement.”

At that time the AFM rightfully claimed to have an agreement with “the recording industry” because those four labels were in fact the only notable companies and employers in the business. Six decades later we now have a variety of national recording agreements; the most prominent being the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) that is signed by six recording labels: Warner Brothers, Atlantic Recording, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and EMI Music. But the difference from 1944 to now is the entry of thousands of new recording labels who are not signatory. The premise of the SRLA as a “National Agreement” no longer holds water, but it is in fact a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The SRLA is periodically ratified by a relatively-small group (1,000?) of musicians. Appropriately, AFM members honor and respect this bargaining relationship that exists between these six signatory labels and the members of the bargaining unit. Furthermore, musicians who accept substandard wages or benefits from these employers should be fined and/or expelled from the AFM. This is a fundamental principle of labor solidarity.

Unfortunately, resolving the existing conflict and disagreement over recording policy is not so simple. Musicians who make up the SRLA bargaining unit somehow draw the conclusion that the SRLA, though signed by only six companies, is also a universal minimum or “scale” that applies to the entire industry, irregardless of the employer. Their reasoning is that the recording industry differs from live performance because recorded product is an international commodity that readily moves to cheaper markets. Sadly, we live in a time where all industries, from heavy industry to candle-making, are seeking cheaper labor.

The  only solution is to build solidarity and support throughout the AFM while growing our membership, but we are doing exactly the opposite by promoting dubious, protectionist policies. Complex collective bargaining agreements are being thrust upon AFM members who have no say in the matter whatsoever. AFM members have been threatened with expulsion and fines (up to $50,000) for violation of bargaining structures that simply do not exist elsewhere in organized labor. It should come as no surprise that untold numbers of young musicians opt against joining the AFM for needless fear of reprimand.

Giant signatory recording companies have benefited most from this arrangement because the AFM is obligated to either turn away or beat down their competition. I wrote about this very subject in 2004 in a piece titled A Great Deal for Media Giants.  These companies have manipulated the AFM into defending and strengthening their monopolies, which would otherwise violate anti-trust laws if attempted on their own.

Once again, I refer to a textbook that was given to me as an attendee of a special AFM training course offered by the George Meany Center for Labor Studies (class of 1998). There is a wealth of enlightening material in this book that I shall refer to in the months to come, but for now I call your attention to the following Exhibit:


Union(s) —————————————Employer(s), Worksite(s)

  1. One local union — Single employer, One worksite
  2. One local union — Multiple employers, multiple worksites
  3. Multiple local unions of same national union — Single employer, multiple worksites
  4. Multiple local unions of same national union — Multiple employers, multiple worksites, same industry
  5. Single local unions of multiple national unions — Single employer, one or more worksites

The structure of AFM National Agreements (multiple locals – all employers, all worksites) doesn’t exist elsewhere in Labor because it violates even the most fundamental tenets of union democracy.  The only way to create an agreement that covers all employers is to establish representation for all AFM members who work in that industry. The AFM attempts to correct this imbalance through Promulgated Agreements that are established by the sole authority of the AFM’s International Executive Board (IEB), but this system has its obvious pitfalls. The IEB is an elected body that is credited for implementing popular agreements, but must also take hits when they rankle the ire of any one segment of the membership.

The controversy du jour is a promulgagted videogame agreement. This has triggered an unjust attack at AMF president Tom Lee , ripe with sensationalist drama that has been pitched to the press on a weekly basis. If that’s not enough, this dispute has led to two class action lawsuits filed against the AFM.

Robert Levine, president of the Milwaukee Musicians’ Association and host author of the AFM Observer has written extensively on this matter. Among ongoing and colorful debate is a discussion thread titled Is suing the AFM wrong? Robert further expresses his views in a recent article titled New Democracy Battles in Musicians Union that was published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of the Union Democracy Review.

These “recording wars” are indeed a battle, but with all due respect to Robert Levine, they have little to do with union democracy. Among the unfortunate turns and twists of this story is the fact that recognized bargaining structures wouldn’t allow for any of this in first place.

Performer Rights – a good fight

March 3rd, 2009 No comments
AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

AFM members meeting in Rep. Henry Waxman's office

On this day (March 3, 2009), representative AFM members from across the U.S. are meeting with members of the House and Senate to lobby in support of the Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848 and S.379. Denver Local 20-623 members’ Bob Montgomery and Tom LeRoux are among the AFM contingent. This effort is made possible through contributions to the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund (formerly TEMPO).

Passage of this legislation would establish performer royalties for sound recordings that are broadcast over AM/FM radio, therefore bringing the United States one step closer to royalty standards enjoyed by most of the civilized world. Much of the necessary groundbreaking has been laid for this effort. The AFM was a key partner in passage of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 (also the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) that established a performer right for the first time in U.S. history. Royalty payments for digital transmissions such as XM and SIRIUS radio are now paid to Sound Exchange, which is an independent performer rights organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office. This year, Sound Exchange will distribute $10 million in royalty payments to professional musicians through the AFM/AFTRA Fund.

A toast to the AFM, and the AFM’s Legislative Action Fund!

Larry Baird

February 20th, 2009 No comments

larrybaird-moodybluesDays of Future Past, the second album released by the Moody Blues in 1967, featured classic hits such as Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin. At the time, record executives were concerned that a rock concept album with full orchestral scoring could backfire, possibly damaging both rock and classical markets. They were quickly proven wrong as the album soared to the #27 spot in the United Kingdom, and then to #3 in the US.

Original orchestrations by Peter Knight were recorded by studio musicians from various London ensembles, and later billed as the London Festival Orchestra. But it was not until 1992 at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado when the Moody Blues performed with live orchestra for the very first time. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, conducted by DMA’s own Larry Baird performed the highly-celebrated 25th anniversary of the album release. Larry recreated orchestrations for Tuesday Afternoon, Late Lament and Nights in White Satin. All of the other orchestrations on the album (as well as thirty-plus original orchestrations since then) are all Larry’s creations.

Larry has established a worldwide reputation as an arranger, orchestrator, and innovative composer of contemporary music. He’s an accomplished keyboardist, saxophonist, oboist, vocalist and producer. His diverse background, talent and experience, make him the obvious choice to handle the heavy responsibilities of ‘Orchestral Music Director/Conductor/Arranger.’

He’s right at home in this capacity with name acts, including songwriting superstar Michael Bolton, Brian Wilson, Al Jarreau, RCA recording artist John Gary, and as an arranger/conductor for rock ‘n’ roll recording artists Flash Cadillac. He has also been conducting shows for, and working with former Styx keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter, Dennis DeYoung, as well as legendary British producer and songwriter, Alan Parsons.

Presently Larry is working with the renowned ’70s progressive rock band Kansas. He arranged and conducted their CD, Always Never The Same, recorded at historic Abbey Road Studios in England with the London Symphony Orchestra. Larry’s latest arrangements premiered February 7 in Topeka, KS  for a show that launched their 2009 tour. A DVD release of the event will celebrate the band’s 35-year career.

If that’s not enough to keep him away from his Colorado home, Larry is also  Orchestral Music Director/Conductor/Arranger for the chart-topping band Three Dog Night. This amazing band earned its place in history with over twenty Top 40 hits, and three that have gone all the way to Number One! Larry recently recorded the CD, Three Dog Night with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Larry Baird at Abbey Road Studios. The band, with Larry Baird conducting, performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on January 3rd, 2009, at Boettcher Concert Hall.

Despite his touring schedule, Larry often looks first to his home community. For more than two decades he has been involved with the Colorado Make-A-Wish Foundation as Music Director for their annual Celebrity Golf Invitational hosted by former Entertainment Tonight’s Bob Goen.

larrybaird-awardThe marriage of rock and symphony orchestra has generated a global industry for four decades. Larry Baird is a leader and influential force in this economy, evidenced by the fact that he alone has conducted hundreds of performances with more than 250 symphony orchestras worldwide. The Denver Musicians Association proudly recognizes him for his accomplishments.

Shulgold: New, virtual orchestra sounds ominous note

September 2nd, 2006 No comments

Marc Shulgold
Rocky Mountain News, 9/2/06

This digital music revolution is starting to get a little creepy.

It was weird enough when the vinyl LP and the record player were replaced by a shiny compact disc that disappeared into a box that made the music come alive via a beam of light.

Then came the download thing, allowing you to play music without ever touching a CD or CD player.

Of course, all along, we knew that the music was created by humans.

Well, we’re not so sure anymore – now that the world has entered the virtual-orchestra age. Today, it’s possible to create and perform music without calling on a musician to blow or bow a single note.

Brings to mind the old TV-ad tag line that became part of our cultural lexicon: Is it live or is it Memorex?

An Austrian company, Vienna Symphonic Library, has developed software that permits the computer user to craft symphonic compositions in vitro, if you will.

An article in England’s Guardian reports that the VSL software (which can cost as much as $11,000) contains 1.5 million individually recorded notes, each captured from the playing of live musicians.

The brains behind this mind-boggling project is a former Vienna Philharmonic cellist named Herb Tucmandl, who reportedly became frustrated at the paucity of digital samples required for his use in composing film scores.

So, he hired more than 100 musicians, who were stationed in soundproof booths and played notes in a variety of prescribed ways. It took each player about a year to complete the task.

Not content to merely reproduce prerecorded notes of live instruments, VSL developed something called a Multi Impulse Response engine that can bring to a computer-generated score a natural concert-hall reverberation.

The impact of this breakthrough is far-reaching. A skilled computer operator can now create a commercial soundtrack that the casual listener would accept as real – without the cost of hiring an orchestra, renting a studio and paying union scale for sessions.

Good news for budget-conscious filmmakers. Bad news for musicians who rely on income from TV and film recording sessions.

The digital revolution has been “taking a bite out of (the paychecks of) orchestral musicians for 20 or 30 years now,” observed Pete Vriesenga, head of the local musicians union. Not that there’s anything that can be done.

“We’d be laughed at if we picketed movie theaters. Most people don’t know the difference, or don’t care. All we can do is educate the public and make them aware.”

Also harmful to session players is the recent trend of outsourcing commercial recordings overseas, Vriesenga added. “But at least there was still live music being recorded.”

Musicians may not be thrilled about the loss of employment, but products such as the VSL allow composers to create amazingly lifelike realizations of their works.

Previous software relied on a MIDI to make the music audible – but the results were crude, even laughable, by comparison.

Surprisingly, the new VSL software holds no interest for Boulder composer Daniel Kellogg. Employing an “old-fashioned” MIDI with his computer, he recently completed a new work, Refracted Skies, to be premiered by the Colorado Symphony at season-opening concerts later this month in Boettcher Hall.

The VSL software, he said, “is useless to me, because my final goal is to have an orchestra play the piece. For me, the MIDI is just a tool.” Kellogg added that realizing an orchestral work via VSL “requires more work than it’s worth.”

Nonetheless, he added that a composer creating a score for a low-budget project, such as a documentary, might embrace this product.

“Technology is bringing us to a point where the creative possibilities are limitless and affordable – and that’s thrilling,” he noted.

“But when such technology replaces people actually doing the playing, then it’s not such a good thing.”

None of these new digital toys can or will supplant the sound of a live orchestra. Even Tucmandl admits that. He told the Guardian’s David Smith, “We have 1.5 million samples, but real musicians have more. I don’t think we’ll ever get them all.”

Even more to the point, no computer can replace the spontaneity and excitement of the concert experience, where live musicians lay it on the line for paying audiences. As Tucmandl observed, “Nobody goes to a concert to listen to a computer.”

At least, not yet – although it’ s now possible to become a virtual audience member at a virtual concert.

Recently, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega performed through a computer-created alter ego known as an avatar (from the Hindu word meaning a temporary manifestation of a continuing entity).

Visitors to the Second Life Web site could hear her live performance and watch a rather clumsy digitally created representation of the event – and they could visit this virtual world by transforming themselves into avatars.

Vega’s digital concert had its share of glitches: Hilariously, she had to wrestle with a computer-generated guitar that refused to fit into her avatar’s grasp.

Still, this may signal the start of something new and groundbreaking. For example, the 100 fans who joined the show were able to manipulate Vega’s onstage gestures – although the singer’s lips were unable to move as she performed.

OK, so all this is pretty goofy. But it’s likely the birth pains of a new age of music performance. As with the early days of recording, the technology will, no doubt, improve.

Truth be told, the virtual orchestra created by VSL already is close to the sounds of the real thing.

We’ve created an A-B comparison on our Web site. Can you tell the difference between artificial and real?

Don’t get too smug if you can. One day, it may not be so easy.

Is it live, or is it digital?

• Test your ability to distinguish an artificial performance from a real one. Visit RockyMountain ment and compare computer-generated music with live performances.

• For more information about the Vienna Symphonic Library, visit Additional audio samples can be accessed at 7/458 7/4851.vsl.

Marc Shulgold is the music and dance writer. or 303-954-5296

The Phonograph Record Labor Agreement – A Great Deal for Media Giants

January 1st, 2004 No comments

By Pete Vriesenga
Published in the Denver Musician, Jan-Mar, 2004

Every day the music industry endures another revolution. New technologies facilitate music downloading and video swapping with as many as 250 million illegal song trades per week in the MP3 format, and yet, this same technology has enabled new marketing methods, allowing growth for small independents. Tower Records was the music retail giant of yesterday, and now they’ve filed for bankruptcy protection as Apple’s iTunes sold 19.2 million units in 2003 (surpassing physical singles) without ever opening a warehouse or talking to a customer. Last month Norah Jones’ second album, Feels Like Home (Blue Note – EMI) helped break a three-year industry slump by selling 1.7 million copies in three weeks.

What does this mean for professional musicians working in the recording industry, and how should the AFM respond? There’s no stopping consumer-driven technology, so how do we use it to our advantage? The AFM has made great advances by securing digital performance rights, and the RIAA is succeeding in their efforts to educate and protect against illegal infringement of copyrights. How can we respond to consumer demand, while at the same time shore-up the AFM’s defenses against downward economic pressures that harm the major recording centers? How can we unify AFM recording musicians to prepare for an uncertain future?

The “Phonograph Record Labor Agreement” (PRLA) has been the foundation of AFM recording policy since 1944, and is the AFM’s agreement with Warner Brothers, Atlantic Recording, Elektra Entertainment, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Polygram, BMG and EMI Music. These major labels have negotiated with the AFM to establish all working conditions from session rates to mandated residual payments. This is great for the musicians who do this work, but it’s even better for the major labels because in recent years these negotiated terms of employment now apply to “the industry.” AFM Locals retain the right to establish rates for Demo and Limited Pressings Recordings (under 10,000 units sold); otherwise “the industry” is expected to be on par with the major labels.

Independent producers can and do sign as signatories to the PRLA, and others name third-party payroll services as the signatory so they can choose where and when to use the agreement. But the use of the agreement is largely confined to the major recording centers where much of that work continues to be lost to non-union or foreign production. Maybe it’s time we take a closer look at this agreement, if only because sixty years is a very long time in the music industry.

It was 1998, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was about to record an original soundtrack for a new fantasy film, Warriors of Virtue. The Law brothers, four Denver doctors produced the film. They wanted a full symphonic soundtrack because of their appreciation and support for the arts. They wanted the Colorado Symphony because they live and work in Denver. The only hitch: the Law’s refused to sign as a signatory to the PRLA, which is mandated by the AFM before such a recording can take place.

The logic of the agreement is that royalty payments are collected and distributed to musicians through the AFM’s “Special Payments Fund” when a film is successful. If the film is a box-office flop (as was Warriors of Virtue) it is unlikely that it will go to secondary markets and residual payments will not be made.

I contacted the attorney representing the Law’s to explain their obligation, as well as the mutual benefits of signing as a signatory to the PRLA. He was very familiar with the contents of the agreement, but his primary objections were the complex secondary market and assumption aspects of the agreement. Without wavering, he said he would not allow the Law brothers to enter into a 100-page contract that was bargained and refined over the course of many years by the major labels. The Law’s, by comparison, were already out on a limb after raising $12 million to produce the film. This was their first attempt at such and effort, so it was his responsibility to ensure the Law’s would not be bound, now or into the future, to an unfamiliar or overly restrictive contract.

AFM Symphonic Services advised that it was my obligation to prevent the recording from taking place. After much thought I chose not to interfere with the project, and quite frankly because I found myself agreeing with Law’s attorney. Why should a small, independent producer be forced into the same agreement that has been negotiated by and adapted for the needs of Warner Brothers?

The recording went as scheduled and I was then bracing for damage control. Within a matter of weeks word got out that the CSO “was open for business” and very soon the orchestra was presented with more than a dozen offers of non-union recording work. To their credit, the musicians elected not to follow the path of the Seattle Symphony by accepting this work, preferring instead to honor AFM agreements. But it was the unanimous view of the musicians that the AFM’s recording policies should be more accommodating for a first-time, independent producer.

Origins of the Phonograph Recording Labor Agreement

From 1912 and into the 1940’s, the Hollywood film industry was the subject of antitrust and restraint of trade suits from the federal government. Related negative press worked in the AFM’s favor during this period since musicians largely viewed the recording and film industry as a threat. In 1929 the AFM launched an extensive public relations campaign aimed at swaying opinion against the “dehumanizing entertainment of canned music.” By 1930 the AFM estimated that 22,000 theater jobs for musicians accompanying silent films had been lost to recorded music, while fewer than 200 jobs for musicians performing on soundtracks were created.

Finally in 1942 the AFM took serious action against the recording industry. Musicians who made phonograph records were “playing for their own funerals,” charged AFM President James C. Petrillo, who then called for a ban on all recording by AFM members. The only exceptions would be the making of “Victory Discs” or “V-Discs,” which were created by the War Department to boost the morale of US troops overseas. The recording ban was finally lifted when Decca signed with the AFM in September 1943, Capitol a month later, and finally RCA and Columbia in November of 1944.

By this time the recording industry was anxious to get back to business. The film industry was still under Federal scrutiny for anti-trust violations, so they were looking for an image makeover. Is it possible they agreed to complex and enticing union agreements as a means to maintain their stronghold in the industry? Eager to bargain, they agreed to establish the “Transcription Fund,” which would soon become the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF). The idea behind MPTF was to provide employment for thousands of musicians who were displaced by recordings. But it wasn’t long before many recording musicians viewed MPTF as little more than a payoff to AFM Locals. Is it possible the major labels had foreseen how the well-established system of AFM Locals throughout North America could then wage their trade battles for them, thus insulating them from federal scrutiny?

“Shutting down illegal filmscoring” was a common phrase in the AFM, and we all read about these efforts in the AFM’s International Musician, and sometimes even the local newspaper when there was a good turnout. Surely some of these efforts were justified, but hindsight is 20-20. With the exception of the motion picture and television strike of 1980, all of these actions were against independent producers – not the major labels. Press coverage of musicians claiming unfair treatment while combating questionable, new production companies served the interests of the major labels very well. As the public saw the issue, it was the musicians and the AFM beating on their new competition – not the deeply entrenched industry that was hiding under the perception of innocence.

Somehow I can’t help but to picture the top brass of the major labels gathering to watch this in celebration saying: “here’s a toast to the AFM … solidarity forever.”

One Size Fits All with Jingle Production

In 1982 the AFM, SAG and AFTRA were jointly objecting to the cut-rate recording practices of Tuesday Productions, which was a non-union jingle studio based in San Diego. Tuesday Productions sued AFTRA for antitrust violations and secondary boycott charges, meaning that the unions were wrongly targeting the studio when they should have gone after the producer. Tuesday Productions ultimately won the case, and because of severe secondary boycott laws Tuesday was awarded $10.5 million and AFTRA was forced into bankruptcy.

Fearing similar retaliation, the AFM rightfully backed off and negotiated a special rate for Tuesday productions in an effort to maintain a union presence. But Los Angeles studio musicians strongly objected to the special rate claiming that it would undermine their established scales. AFM President Victor Fuentealba defended the deal stating: “I don’t think that the agreement that was eventually signed adversely affected our negotiations with the industry…and although it was naturally raised by them [management] at certain points in the negotiations, we were able to restrict it in such a fashion that it did not impact on the national agreement. What we did was the best that could be done under the circumstances.”

Nonetheless, this would become the AFM’s last attempt at compromise as the Tuesday deal galvanized LA studio musicians in opposition against AFM involvement in recording negotiations. The Recording Musicians Association (RMA) seized on this momentum ultimately to become accepted as an official player conference at the 1989 AFM Convention. Consequently, RMA now has the power to establish regional and national recording policy, and the AFM president is fortunate to even be present at negotiations.

As it stands today, RMA writes the rules and we’re supposed to enforce them. All of our collective bargaining agreements contain a mandatory clause that states “the employer shall fulfill all conditions required by the appropriate agreement of the AFM.” This little clause would be a wonderful tool to put more money in our members’ pockets IF they had say in the matter, but we don’t have that right. The members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra believe that AFM policies have to loosen up, but it’s impossible for me to represent that view. I’m pushing my luck to have AFM Symphonic Services bend the rules sufficiently with the Boulder Ballet to allow a videotape of the Sugarplum Fairies as a free keepsake to proud parents.

If it wasn’t fractionalizing the AFM this would be laughable. Imagine the CEO’s of Warner Brothers and Disney watching the Law brothers as they produce their first film, betting 2 to 1 odds that Local 20-623 would perform its rightful duty under AFM bylaws and do everything possible to stop them. I’ll bet they even raised the odds hoping that the Colorado Symphony would follow Seattle’s lead and decertify from the AFM.

Fortunately we didn’t produce the result they hoped for, but it’s only a matter of time before corporate CEO’s gather again to watch another AFM Local fight off their competition. And the best part of this game is that they have no need to fear reprisal from the government as they once did before the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement.

“Another toast…to the RMA”

Note: As of 2002 the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement has been officially renamed the “Sound Recording Labor Agreement.” This is important because it shows that the agreement is changing with the times by recognizing that the phonograph and phonograph records are no longer relevant in the industry.