Workers Unite?

Tonight is an informational meeting in Burbank between The Association of Media Composers and Lyricists and the Teamsters Local 399 with the goal of organizing and creating a union for composers. The group’s organizing committee is led by composer Alan Elliott, The Simpsons composer Alf Clausen, ASCAP Board Member and Governor of the Academy’s Music Branch Bruce Broughton, and former President of The Society of Composers & Lyricists Jim DiPasquale.

In his blog post “A Composer’s Union: The Time Is Now” at, Mark Northam details many of the challenges facing the formation of a composer’s union:

  • 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.)?
  • What kind of retirement and health insurance options can be created for composers and their families?

With ever-shrinking music budgets, composer fees are obviously getting smaller and smaller. Most telling of the current situation was an ad that Northam saw posted by the director of 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

I even read recently that some composers are being asked to cover recording costs in the studio out of their own pocket, a fee usually covered by the producers. (I wish I could find the link. If anyone else has read this, please provide the link in the comments.)

On the surface, a composers union seems like a good idea. But I won’t even pretend to know the ins and outs of the business of film composers. Will a union make the situation better or worse? Will it protect the composer or hinder the negotiating process, making fees even lower?

What do you think?

  1. This is a very important issue. Glad you are giving it more validity by posting this. It seems to be just about the big guys now with big production studios backing them up. I’m worried about the little guys who try to make a living composing music. We need them too.

    As for union, it sounds like a good idea, just hope the union has some weight so they can actually push back if pushed. Composers are pretty powerful in the fact that movies need music, I’m not just talking about the big movies either. The producers better pay up if they want their music backing up their picture.

    Hope something good comes out of this.

    1. I wish I had more documented examples to use. Perhaps as this thing plays out, more will be written about it so we can get all sides of the issue. It could potentially be fraught with drama (which I’m not a big fan of) but it will be interesting to see what transpires. It could potentially change the landscape of film music…or not. Or it could fizzle and die. I’ll definitely be watching. :)

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