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American Federation of Musicians, AMPTP Resume Contract Talks Amid Fight Over Streaming Residual Fees: ‘Their Value Cannot Be Denied’

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As the American Federation of Musicians and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed contract negotiations Wednesday, the AFM has released statistics that shed light on the changing nature of employment for industry musicians who play on many of the films and TV shows now being made.

When a film or TV show that features AFM musicians makes it to a secondary market — airing on broadcast or cable, released on home video, or even transitioning to a streaming service — that triggers a residual payment to actors, writers, directors and craftspeople, essentially sharing in the profits of a successful project.

But the studios have steadfastly resisted granting musicians a residual payment for original series, movies and other programs that are made specifically for streaming services. It’s a key demand, along with protections against the use of AI, that the AFM is making in this round of negotiations, which began Jan. 22. It’s understood that the issue of hammering out some form of compensation for music recorded for streaming original series and movies is on the table in the contract talks, signaling that the AMPTP is open to movement in this area.

Wages for theatrical films, which have historically generated the highest residuals for Hollywood players, have plummeted over the past decade, according to statistics from AFM Local 47, which represents most of the musicians who play on TV and film scores. In 2013, movie calls constituted 65% of members’ work; by 2022, that number had dropped to 20%. Similarly, “traditional” TV dropped from 46% in 2014 to 21% in 2022.

Recording music for streaming originals has skyrocketed from 2% of musicians’ work in 2016 to 59% in 2022. The problem for musicians, union execs say, is that the residuals, those payments from film and TV that players have relied on for many years, are rapidly declining, and there are no residuals attached to the streaming shows that are becoming the basis for most of their work.

These include such popular series as Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” and Paramount+’s ongoing “Star Trek” series, all scored here in L.A.

“For veteran musicians, residuals are more than just a temporary solution to a downturn in employment,” AFM international president Tino Gagliardi tells Variety. “They also represent a critical part of their retirement. This is an area where musicians that are new to the industry are at a disadvantage. Not having residuals as part of their compensation deprives them of the financial stability that follows them for the rest of their careers.”

The average L.A. studio musician played on 91 sessions for streaming originals in 2022, according to Local 47 numbers, and their total wages were “below the local poverty line,” AFM officials say. Without residuals to augment their initial recording session payments, musicians won’t be able to sustain a career.

Unless there is a change in the status quo, “the generation of musicians working now is going to have no financial future,” says Marc Sazer, VP of Local 47. Gagliardi, a former professional trumpet player with credits on Broadway shows, reinforces the economic crisis that working musicians face.

“You’re talking about the finest musicians in the world, who invest tens of thousands of dollars in their instruments and their training, in order to express themselves,” says Gagliardi.

He resents the term “below the line” being applied to musicians, which has been commonplace in Hollywood for decades meaning all crew other than producers, directors, screenwriters and principal cast. “It’s insulting, and a belittlement of our contribution to this industry, and to this art form.” Musicians’ work is undervalued as a key element in the storytelling, he asserts.

Music often supplies the emotional, atmospheric and mood needs of any film or TV show, as composers so often point out.

“Oppenheimer” composer Ludwig Göransson tells Variety: “Musicians form the backbone of my film scores. I believe that the human aspect can elevate a story and bring a depth that would be impossible without the contribution of each individual musician.

“I have cultivated long-standing relationships with remarkable musicians such as [AFM members] Jacob Braun, Tereza Stanislav, Alyssa Park and my wife and artistic collaborator, Serena Göransson,” he said. “Each musician contributes their own unique phrasing, inflection, tone, and dynamics, shaping the music in distinct ways. This human connection to the music is what breathes life into my scores.”

Adds composer Bill Conti (“Rocky,” “The Right Stuff”): “Anything that moves you in a communicating medium, you have to pay attention to. If the music makes you cry, it’s got to have value. And the players are those people who are carrying the message.

“Just as you want the best actors you can afford, you want the best musicians you can afford, not just any musicians,” Conti adds. “Their value cannot be denied. And they should be treated with dignity.”

(Pictured: Tino Gagliardi, international president of American Federation of Musicians)