What I Hope, Want and Expect From a Composers Union

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Below is the full text of a letter sent this week by composer Chris Alpiar to the AMCL Board, the group that is currently working with the Teamsters to attempt to form a union for composers. With Chris’ permission, I wanted to share that letter with all of our readers, as I think it presents a very detailed perspective on the formation of a composers union that is shared by many including myself. For those who may not know Chris, he’s the President of the International Alliance of Composers, a group of independent composers I am happy to support.

If you’d like to share your comments with Chris directly, he can be reached at chris@alpiar.com

Mark Northam

———————————————
FROM: Chris Alpiar

TO: The AMCL Organizing Committee: Bruce Broughton, Sean Callery, Alf Clausen, Ray Colcord, James DiPasquale, Richard Gibbs, Christopher Klatman, Vivek Maddala, Richard Marvin, Mike Post and Snuffy Walden.

Dear Gentlemen,

I am writing you today after much thought, research and discussion regarding the impending unionization efforts with the Association of Media Composers and Lyricists and the Teamsters to deliver an active and functioning composers’ labor union to champion music composers in the business of media composing.

Firstly, please allow me to commend you, each and every one of you, for spending your personal energy and time towards creating this union. This is an excellent endeavor and while I may be (often) very critical of certain aspects of this union attempt, that criticism is aimed solely at doing my very best to make sure that you folks, a small group of amazing composers who are active in the Hollywood scene, can understand the wants and needs of the rest of the composer community, and as critical as my points may be, I have nothing but sheer respect for your tenacity and seemingly genuine interest in creating a legacy to survive the times of the (also seeming) destruction of our art and craft. I also publicly and privately support the unionization efforts fully and wish you the very best success, but I do have many concerns on the finer details at the same time. I hope my letter will address the issues and be helpful in gaining a broader understanding of professional composers not amongst your immediate group.

If any of you follow online forums and lists such as the FMPRO discussion list, you will have heard and know my mind regarding this unionization effort. Since I assume you all are mostly very busy with your careers and have little time for internet speculation, I will try and state my mind and position clearly in this letter and make no assumptions other than that you are each super busy in your careers and lives.

A brief introduction is a good start: I am a Jazz saxophonist and media composer. I have been performing and writing professionally for over 25 years. I write old fashioned style with pencils and score paper, but I also have a studio filled with computers, DAWs and terabytes of sampled instruments and soft-synths. I studied performance and sound engineering in Miami in the 80s and did a dual major (performance/jazz composition) at Berklee College of Music from 1990-94 where I won the Quincy Jones Award for Jazz Composition. I have played all over the US, Europe, South America and played with Jazz legends like Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, Joe Lovano, Michelle Petruccianni, Van Morrison, etc. I currently live in Atlanta, GA and have my studio in a large production facility in downtown Atlanta. I have been a full time working composer since 2003 when I moved to LA to open my company “Too Much Reverb, LLC” with my writing partner John Comfort. But I am not _in_ LA anymore and I am not working on studio features other than via some ghost writing WFH situations. And for all my lifetime of dedication to the art and professionalism I am feeling quite distressed to be directly left out of the right of union representation by the new found AMCL as well as disappointed with the seemingly chosen direction of the AMCL to focus solely on health care and pension and to ignore the more important issues we face like wage minimums and working conditions.

About 3 years ago, I started getting the notion of how terribly wrong the business aspect of music composition, especially film, tv, game, and advertising music, has become. And after some time, with a small group of similar-minded folks, we put together a small organization: The International Alliance of Composers ( http://www.iacomp.org ). Out of a sense of “the end of the world is nigh” regarding the composition business, I built the website and lots of technology that goes with it (management, advocacy, social and communications software suites) and set about collecting (free) memberships and getting people involved in making change. After roughly 1.5 years without ever advertising we have nearly 800 members that completed the lengthy application and are looking for solutions. The goals of the IAC are lofty as you may read on the website, and are mostly focused on the politics and policy of the music industry. But the website and collecting memberships has mostly been as a means to collecting ideas, defining what the real problems for composers today are, and understanding potential paths to creating amicable change for composers, while still finding solutions that would work for industry lug nuts like the PROs and various other groups that support or feed from the composing industry.

In as much, that endeavor has been extremely successful, and after several years of discussing issues with peers, both successful “in-LA” folks, people working full time around the country and world (remotely or in other metropolises), as well as aspiring composers, we have created a pretty good list of the main issues that afflict composers, in the US primarily, but abroad as well.

When I started this project, my first intent was to focus on full time working composers, mostly in the LA area. As I had some pretty successful times living in Westwood Village in the mid 2000’s doing ghost work and working on a few pretty big stage theater productions, while I wasn’t doing features for the big studios (tho I sure hope to someday), I was having a very successful career in LA as a composer, so I had this certain affinity for folks living that life. But once I started the IAC, I realized that the pro-LA-composer was just a small portion of reality and there was a growing tsunami of highly creative and excellent productions from all over the US and the world. The internet has changed us all. Certainly much for the better but also changes that hurt. I think of how a kid who knows nothing about music, orchestration, writing for strings, notation, conducting, big band writing, etc, can be competing with me for placements with his $100 copy of Fruity Loops and a mouse (not even a keyboard needed!!). And as much as I want to ignore those “hummers” with a computer, I realize the danger it puts my life in and the potential ostracism I face by trying to live aloof in an (albeit deservingly) elite manner.

And so I decided to do my best to understand issues that affect _all_ composers and to do my very best to not be judgmental on the art but rather focus on the advocacy of composers’ rights in the same tone and ideals that we all are asking from the industry for ourselves as individuals. Through these ideals, which feel quite Jeffersonian, I feel that I have learned more about the approaching changes and shape of the industry than I ever had knowledge of and it has helped shape considerably the issues I feel are most important to _all_ who are creative content/product creators in the composition industry.

With all this in mind, I beg you each to consider the incredible monolithic foundation of which you are about to create. With it comes a tremendous power to create something substantial, that can change the shape of our livelihood for decades. Also with that comes the responsibility to represent unselfishly the entirety of our community: locally, nationally and indirectly globally. I understand with some depth the fear that is present of how to not loose footing of your careers in this slippery cesspool that our art has wedged its business end into. But I beseech you to not abuse this power to simply create control mechanisms for your careers but rather to use it to further your careers in a healthy manner which still does the right thing for the whole. I understand even this statement is extremely presumptuous and I do not say it without immense respect for the sacrifices you have each given to have maintained a life filled with the creation of music. But rather because it needs to be said at this juncture, where the choices you collectively decide will guide us into the next era, or lock us out in an abyss.

As for ‘weeding out the flock’, while I cannot agree with the concept more whole-heartedly in todays age of cheap technology, the place is not for us to choose who is good and who is bad. The very root of the concept of a labor union is to protect equally, those who individually do not have the strength to stand alone. It is the spirit of being a Champion, a Protector. I agree we need to do something to demonstrate the value of someone who can write with score paper and maybe a piano, who can orchestrate, who can write a fugue or a chorale, who can really nail syncing music with picture, or whatever. But I think this path lies in education: for film makers, for students, for the general public. But it should not stem from the organization that should be representing the labor rights of our group as a ‘union policy’ but rather an educational approach. How can we be upset with the PROs for paying 20 cents on the dollar for score vs song when we ourselves are considering the same types of discriminatory policies to meet our own ends.

I am also very worried about the whole “only in LA” thing. I understand the value of aligning with the Teamsters (or AFL-CIO as an alternative) and how it benefits us by having the ability to use the leverage of other unions currently being used in film production to ensure that union composers are used as well and that our composers are treated in the manner in which we demand. And that is mostly in LA at this time. I get it. I will move back to LA eventually when the time is right for me because I do understand that. But there are a lot of folks who are working full time as composers all over the country who deserve the benefits of a union, and not only “someday maybe in NYC also”. I am in Atlanta and I know a lot of folks who are of the highest caliber, who are full time composers for media (more advertising and TV promo stuff here than film or tv scoring, but some of that as well). And I know folks all over the US who are doing so. I dearly hope that the initial LA only group does not satisfy itself with that and stops there. It would be one of the worst things I can think of that could happen to the whole movement and change the dynamic and perceived spirit of the endeavor from a genuine unionization attempt to some kind of SCL extension to keep your small group of folks secure and lock the rest out. That might work on a very short term basis, but it is bound to fail over time.

I also understand the inherent difficulty of focusing on gaming composers because so little of games are done with union production. Programmers have generally been so well paid and given such nice benefits that they have had no interest to unionize. Therefore how would the Teamsters be able to help promote union policy in a vastly non-union game production world. I do understand but I do hope that we do not leave gaming composers and their issues and rights out just because its difficult. None of this is easy, but this union must be built from the highest echelon of ideals and with the morality of championing all composers, not just ones that are easiest to deal with and make the most sense to the organizing committee. If the AMCL committee has not the experience to delve into other realms than LA-based studio feature and network tv show composing (and lyricists?) then I would ask the committee to expand itself and seek out those who are familiar with it and who can give the input you will need to move forward.

On that note, what in the world are lyricists being represented for? Arent lyricists already represented by WGA? What issues do lyricists have today that genuinely coincide with composers? Other than many of us who are composers also can be songwriters and a few of us have a talent with language and poetry. But in my mind ‘composer’ refers to (especially in the “weeding out” tone you folks have demonstrated) an instrumental composer, a score composer, background instrumental, etc and the issues we face generally have nothing to do with lyricists and are in some rare cases even diametrically opposed.

As for the pricing of membership, it also seems pretty out of line. I understand it is part of the ‘weeding out’ which will keep only folks who are actively working on the big projects able to pay that kind of price tag. I believe the price is like $1560 to join and then $83 per month after. Seeing as most of composers are doing worse financially than musicians, I think following the AFM pricing makes much more sense. Joining in LA was around $400 when I joined and then it was (I think) like $150-190 per year after. Thats more along the lines of what every professional full-time composer can afford. I am basing this not on research (which should be done to find an amicable price tag) but on what I know about composers and lyricists who are working full time and paying their bills based solely on music making, but who arent necessarily doing 5 studio features a year, or 3 network prime time tv shows. Come on fellows, you were struggling yet completely dedicated body & soul at one point in life, lets try and not blow off the world here, but rather embrace it.

As for issues and goals, I have been truly saddened to learn that the efforts to dig into real issues like scale minimums and working conditions has been usurped to drop all political and policy issues and only focus on health care and pension. While I agree whole-heartedly that these are both important things, the impending US national health care kind of dwarfs the need for a union health care, and yes pension is a central part of the benefits of a union and a good starting point, but the real issues that we *need* the power of the Teamsters to help redefine lie in other areas.

Since I don’t want to be a part of the problem but rather a part of the solution, here is my list of issues that I think the AMCL needs to consider. Not necessarily in this order, but if the AMCL is to be more than a pension collection box for your very small group of talented people (*in* LA, *on* film and tv for the major players _currently_) I think it is imperative for the union to give heed to the following issues and to use its growing leverage to create and enforce policies on these issues, creating and empowered state of composers nationally:

• Rate/scale minimum guarantees that will not affect any pay ceiling issues. No composer, no matter what level, can argue with this. It simply sets a minimum rate for union work and does not put any caps or limitations to the pay potential.
• Working conditions: that COMPOSING be one job and all the other 23092384098 things we are expected to do as a package be treated as separate jobs that we can collect scale for or hire others (i.e. orchestration, copyist, digital realizations, programming, spotting notes, tracking, mixing, mastering, orchestra/musician contracting, etc, etc, ad infinitum). And that we have as good of working conditions in general that any human being in our modern society deserves.
• Public and Private policy:
• PRO Issues: especially $0.20:$1.00 payout for score vs song, PRO transparency in accounting and operational decisions, ubiquitous tracking of our music, etc (many issues on the PRO front, please visit the IAC website for full list of issues)
• Federal Legislation: work with all the groups (PROS, NMPA, RIAA, etc) on all the legislation making sure that COMPOSER RIGHTS are taken into consideration and our rights arent just tossed out for the sake of easy negitiations as they usually are
• Cue Sheet Fraud: working with the DOJ to ensure that our cue sheets are not fraudulent and the suit-feeders stop getting our royalties. Things like the “Same Room” crap in Nashville be done away with and working towards legislation to make the COMPOSER or the songwriter the only one legally allowed to receive the ‘writers share’
• Digital Age Issues: committees with power and tenacity to act on the issues that are NOW and will be our legacy for the next hundred years dealing with how when and how much we are paid for all digital downloads and streams, anti piracy concepts that actually work and dont estrange us further, concepts on how to deal with things like music clouds and public sharing (illegal), considerations for CHANGE to our current Intellectual Property law that makes sense in todays age, etc
• Pension/Retirement plans
• Emergency Funds
• Education and Seminars
• Health Insurance
• Professional opportunities (even small stuff like live performances of union composers works, awards ceremonies, clinics featuring union composers, screening shindigs, etc)

I would like to thank you each once again for caring enough about the fate of composers and the path on which we are riding. I hope that my words are helpful and that the AMCL makes plans to move into real issues plaguing composers in LA and all over the US. This is the time to get it right after our failure 20 years ago. Its the time to stand up and represent our community, our entire community, and to embrace the role of champion. With all the assent from the big names you guys have put together (including each of you here!) you have created a real opportunity for meaningful change that has never been available before this phenomenon. Please use the situation and the power of it to do what is right for composers everywhere. The time is right, the spirit is right, and we have a just and fair cause. Let our ideas and ideals tremble the foundations and form a new place where composers are no longer held estranged from our inalienable rights.

My very warmest wishes,

Sincerely,

Christopher Alpiar

Christopher Kennedy Alpiar
International Alliance of Composers
President

12 Comments

  • May 20, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    Dear Chris,

    I’ve just read your very long, thoughtful and impassioned plea addressed to the AMCL Organizing Committee. I recognize your ideas are sincere, but I need to respond on behalf of the Committee.

    First of all, if this was meant for the AMCL Organizing Committee, we never received it. Our new website, which has just gone live, can be found at http://www.theamcl-399.org. It will be growing with information about the progress we are making over the next few weeks. An email address that you can use to contact the Committee is info@theamcl-399.org. It is important to note that there is no other website or email address which represents or speaks for the AMCL.

    There is a lot of confusion over who will be represented and who will not. There is some confusion over what the present goals of unionization are and why. I hope the following information will be helpful.

    The initial push for composer recognition will be with those production companies that come under the aegis of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Excluded from that group will be composers for games, commercials and library music. It is important to state that this is not because these composers are inferior, “no good” or not of interest to us, especially as we look forward to the future. Rather, we are focusing on composers who have a history of working for members of the AMPTP, composers who have not been able to enjoy either individually or as a group the advantage of paid-for health and pension benefits that the AMPTP has provided via negotiation for every other person in the Hollywood creative community. We absolutely agree with you that “the place is not for us to choose who is good and who is bad,” except that it’s a non-issue in terms of what we’re trying to achieve. We’re only concerned at this time with beginning to get a collective bargaining agreement with composers who have worked with the 350 and more television and film producers who make up the AMPTP.

    You “beseech” us “to not abuse this power to simply create control mechanisms for your careers but rather… [do]…the right thing for the whole.” This is another non-issue. There are no “control mechanisms.” In fact, if we are successful and get to union status, the advantage will not be to the majority of the Committee members. Several of them, myself included, will not benefit greatly. The advantage of the union will clearly be primarily for younger writers, our future.

    There is no discussion, nor has there ever been, about “the value of someone who can write with score paper and maybe piano, who can orchestrate, who can write a fugue or a chorale,” or any of the other things you mention. These issues have nothing to do with unionization, any more than is the ability to learn to tune a banjo five different ways. The only thing that is an issue here is the identifying of composers who have a working history with the AMPTP, no matter how great or small, for which our stated goal is benefits.

    We are not unaware of traditional union issues like minimums and working conditions. We are not unaware of the state of composing for film and TV these days. Many of us have witnessed first-hand the change in the way the composing business has changed over the last several years and are painfully aware of the deterioration and modification of work standards. After the initial “informational meeting” in November, however, the Committee — which at that time consisted of only four people — found that there was a great amount of fear in the community from working composers who felt that if any unionization attempt set upon the course of anything other than benefits many composers and lyricists would find their jobs and futures at risk. We eventually found that the only idea that gained traction with the majority of composers, both well known and not so well known, was benefits only.

    The AMCL Organizing Committee was clear to state this position at the meeting on April 19th held at the WGA Theater in Los Angeles. Are there opposing views? Yes. Do these views, some of which have been published and distributed anonymously and in secret, reflect the present goals of the AMCL for unionization? No.

    In answer to your question regarding lyricists, no, they are not represented by the WGA, nor are they represented by any other union. Lyricists who work in film and television have the same problems as composers. In terms of the stated goal for the AMCL, lyricists are entitled to benefits for their work the same as composers are. You asked “what issues do lyricists have . . that genuinely coincide with composers?” They are creative partners, equally contributing to and co-writing the songs that are written for television and motion pictures, partners who also work under the constraints of Work for Hire. Lyricists write words, composers write notes, but they both mutually create a single work under similar conditions. What reason would there be to exclude them?

    Your list of issues that you would like to see the AMCL consider is in many respects admirable, but extraordinarily premature. The baby hasn’t been born yet. How can you expect him or her to clean up Congress?

    You write that “None of this is easy, but this union must be built from the highest echelon of ideals and with the morality of championing all composers, not just ones that are easiest to deal with and make the most sense to the organizing committee.” I’m sorry, but this is a presumptuous and offensive statement. Composers and lyricists have been without any union representation for more than 30 years. If it had been an easy thing to organize, it would have been done by now. If there was ever any personal advantage to those who tried to organize in the early ’80s. or even in the ’50s, it certainly escapes me. If we could wave our magic wands and make it happen, our hands and arms would be a blur. There is no easy way to unionization and there is no guarantee of success. If the effort is successful, there are no knighthoods waiting for those who worked to make it happen. And there are many who are working to make it happen.

    The AMCL has no intention of excluding anyone. There is certainly no plan under consideration to “lock the rest out.” Although it is not clear to some of us why a composer or lyricist who is not working could possibly derive any benefit from paying monthly dues and initiation fees and get nothing in return, we hope that if we are successful we might in the future be able to have many different kinds of composers working in many different kinds of media in many different places throughout the country. But we have to begin somewhere, and we intend to begin by negotiating with the AMPTP for benefits because it has gained the most traction with the majority of composers and lyricists we have spoken with, individually and in groups.

    I thank you for voicing your concerns and appreciate the input. I can only once more assure you we have no plans to shut out, ban, ostracize, rule out or be exclusive of anyone. But as Steve Dayan, our Teamster organizer, recently wrote to someone, “We are (hopefully) going to be negotiating with the major Hollywood studios on behalf of those individuals who work regularly on film & television productions for now.”

    – Bruce Broughton

  • May 21, 2010 @ 7:06 am

    This is a well written letter, as was Mr. Broughton’s response. Getting this composer’s union off the ground is feeling like the health care bill, so many different things to consider. But like that issue, this one is too important to ignore as well.

  • May 21, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

    Dear Bruce,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. Please understand in no way am I trying to simply be rude or imflaming as some of your words indicate your feelings. I am simply trying to be honest and direct in my personal perspectives that I have been defining in my head since I first heard about this movement. From my experiences in LA and from my life, I dont trust anyone, especially folks creating a seat of power, of any kind, until I see the results. Its not personal at all, especially since we have not met, and while I genuinely look forward to the opportunity at some point I have to start my opinions based on what I have learned to expect from the music business in general.

    It is very warming to my heart to hear you emphatically declare several times that there is absolutely no intention to divide the community of professional composers. I hope with all my heart that this can be our reality and that the AMCL and the Teamsters actively work to build the union into a national one that represents all composers and not just folks who have AMTP history. As one who has every ounce of my life force dedicated to music composition but has not yet had the wonderful opportunity to get on board the AMTP level of productions, the idea of doing this and leaving me and those like me out of the picture is one that is very hard to embrace. And it will only change, assuming the AMCL works and takes off, by you guys actively pursuing means to open the gates for other types of composers.

    As for the issues I mention, of course I would never expect that these all be dealt with as the doors open for the AMCL. I understand how difficult it is to create something like the AMCL and I am in awe of you and your fellows for the labor you have contributed towards its inception. However I do remain worried that while you acknowledge that these issues and problems are understood by the AMCL committee, there is no desire to talk about them or create any type of stance or ideas of how to solve them. Which comes across, regardless of the empathy you suggest, as the new center for championing composers labor rights and laws, being a mechanism to ensure they never do get dealt with. I hope that in reasonable time your committee will express its desire to fight for composers rights as the AMCL and that there will be some transparent means of demonstrating the steps being taken to work on them. Honestly all the pensions and health care will do less for composers than any one of the real issues will. Because if the Labor Union for Composers will not use its newfound leverage to instigate tough yet badly needed changes, who will? And then in 20 years the art of composition will just fade away and it will be like going to the tri-corner hat store in colonial Williamsburg where you can witness someone doing a craft left over from an age past. At least thats how it feels to me.

    Again, I am completely supportive of your labor and the idea of a Teamsters backed Composers’ Union. I think its WONDERFUL. But we are at the precipice where we can either create a real legacy for the future of our art and craft or we can create a secure bubble to ride out the last days of it. And since you are focused solely on AMTP folks only and with the cast of impressive names you have assembled, can you blame me for being in fear of where it may or may not go?

    Thanks again for your time. I am very hopeful of a bright future for us all!

    Sincerely

    Chris Alpiar

  • GrisGrisJouJou
    May 21, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    This is a nice, pleasant pat-on-the-head-kid, note by Mr. Broughton but it tells us what we unfortunately were told last week by Mr. Gibbs:

    The AMCL will do nothing for our community until Mike Post and his old men probably bleed us dry.

    Here’s my first question for the committee, perhaps Mr Broughton will dig in and answer these too:

    1) Why is the AMCL not telling everyone that the WGA letter has nothing to do with the “pension and benefits” that is a separate negotiation entirely with the AMPTP?

    2) Why, Mr. Broughton can’t you spell this out as elegantly as your above letter dances around that issue?

    We are big boys and girls and we can handle it.

    3) Why are the WGA, AFTRA, SAG and AFM featured on your brand new web site’s right hand side but you refuse to honor the agreement that was passed by the WGA?

    4) Why have these endorsements if all the AMCL wants to do is have more pats on our heads instead of rolling up our sleeves?

    I am sure you will tell us there are all these composers who won’t sign up for that. However, doing the right thing is never going to be convenient for getting slave owners to sign a deal they will never agree to.

    I was at both meetings and watching Mr. Post and his group take the union over has been very deflating for those of us who want to stop the bleeding now. Heck, Mr. Post said the minute we talk about anything besides what he wants he’s “outta here”- I think I can speak for many of us when I say, if that’s your stance, good riddance. Which leads me to my last questions, Mr. Broughton:

    5) What happens if a plurality wants to talk about these vital issues but Mr. Post stays true to his word and pulls out?

    6) Are we all just not to discuss this until you and your group make us wait a year or two (or never) to POSSIBLY face the AMPTP while ignoring the simplest and most easy thing to do: implement an already negotiated WGA agreement.

    As a supporter of the union and a composer, the new committee’s backpedaling is disgraceful from it’s original intention. I have no idea why a bunch of older men have decided to patch up the next generation with a band-aid over our open gun shot wounds. It makes no sense.

    Like the saying goes, you gotta stand for something or you’ll fall for everything. Give us a reason why we should believe you stand for us.

    Look, I am a supporter. I want to believe. So remember, I am the constituency for this union. But I don’t want to spend my life working on spec and I don’t want to wait two years for a maybe on an AMPTP health care plan that won’t help me like talking to my WGA boss and having him stop making me do free work will today.

    Thank you.

  • May 22, 2010 @ 12:30 am

    Remember, folks…

    You have to build the foundation before you can raise the walls and put in the toilets.

    @ GrisGris JouJou – Bruce’s reply was anything BUT a “pat on the head” – he took the time to delve into a lot of the “whys” and “wherefores” and explain them thoroughly.

    As long as folks are trying to read into someone’s words what they personally think is the other’s agenda, there will be unnecessary mistrust, paranoia and prejudice.

    And, btw… that WGA letter was a draft, not a final, and was meant to be brought forward once it had been finalized and deemed to be able to do the most good for the unionization efforts.

  • May 22, 2010 @ 10:00 am

    To GrisGrisJouJou:

    There was no intent to pat anyone on the head, to talk down or to hide anything. I believed Chris’ letter to be, as I said, “thoughtful, impassioned and sincere.” Read my response again. There was also no intent to get sidelined on issues which are not directly related to our immediate goal, which is to form a collective body of composers and lyricists to be represented by the Teamsters and recognized by the AMPTP.

    This reply is an attempt to “dig in and answer” your questions. I will try to be “elegant,” as requested, but make no promises thereto.

    The WGA letter was an internal draft which was anonymously released for publication to coincide with the date of the April 19th meeting at the WGA theater. It has as a result caused a great deal of unwarranted suspicion, paranoia and vitriol in forums such as this one, even though it remains a non-issue in terms of what the AMCL is presently seeking. A further email from “Supporters of the AMCL” led to further, though understandable, confusion in the composing community. But even if the WGA letter had been sent by the guild to its membership, it would have been nothing more than a request of its members. It was not a negotiated settlement, as it’s being touted, for it was no settlement, nor was it negotiated, as I have read, by “members” of the AMCL organizing committee. The committee of which you are so suspicious, while preparing for the April 19th meeting, talked over whether they wanted such a letter of support to go out and decided against it, for the same reason that the committee decided to push for benefits only.

    If a “plurality” wants to talk about “these vital issues,” then talk about them. And write to the AMCL Organizing Committee about them, rather than using forums like these for bluster. The Committee, like you, is also composed of “big boys” (no “big girls” yet, but be patient) and it, too, can handle it. If Mike Post and “his group” (whoever they are) decides to leave because of such a “plurality,” which I sincerely doubt, he or they can do as they please. But Mr. Post is not the only one on the committee who thinks for himself. Anyone can say he’s “outta here” anytime he wants. That’s our real “stance,” as you put it. There is no one on the committee bowing to any other person on the committee. All of the members are heavy lifters, taking different tasks, some of whom have different opinions from the others.

    I remind you again that you and other interested parties can reach the committee at its new email address: info@theamcl-300.org. This is, as I wrote to Chris (and by extension to you and to everyone else), the only email address that represents the AMCL. The new website, http://www.theamcl-300.org, is live and will be growing with more information in the coming weeks.

    As for your last question, the committee is not making anyone wait “a year or two (or never),” since it has no control over how long the process will take. Given that composers and lyricists have been without any sort of collective representation for over 30 years, everyone may even have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, the committee is willing to receive comments from composers and lyricists as to their thoughts and issues. The committee frankly needs the input from composers and lyricists on relevant issues, even when they are not in agreement with the proposed goal for unionization. But the committee cannot “implement an already negotiated WGA agreement” for the reasons stated above: the “agreement” even if implemented was not of a sort to “talk to [your] WGA boss and [have] him stop making [you] do free work.”

    By the way, although you say you are part of the constituency for this union, I’ll take you at your word. But I have no idea to whom this reply is addressed other than GrisGrisJouJou. My name is Bruce Broughton.

  • May 22, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

    I guess the bottom line of this whole thing is that you guys are creating this union and asking all of us to trust you, to have faith that you are going to do the right thing. A trust that when the time is right you will work on having the union represent larger pools of composers, and maybe someday work on issues.

    The feeling remains, from the outsider perspective, from generations of witnessing the corrupt nature of the music business (not saying any of you are or have alterier motives at all, just talking about history), and possibly from some members of this committee being board members of PROs and other industry orgs (that have either failed to champion composers in the past or possibly have in some cases directly interfered with our livelihoods), that the desire to create the union could potentially come as a means to curbing more volatile folks from creating real change which could affect your positions. Or, on a less conspiratorial note, in the least could be dangerous for your careers were you to put your names on something that the studio execs would not like.

    I wish I had a good solution for how to bring this about without unzipping our flies and letting it hang out. But I dont see one even though I hope we can all swing our things to the beat of a different drummer and find the way, together, as unified composers nationally, and find a good balance of dealing with real issues and not having the studios nuke us to movie jail.

    I just had a very lovely talk with Richard Gibbs and it was very enlightening to hear about the various committee members and the spirit of how this union is coming to be. I am convinced that in the very least most of the members of the AMCL committee are genuine in their interest to build a functioning union and to not shut out any particular groups of composers. And as always, I am very supportive of the idea and I hope this can succeed and at the same time the issues that we ALL know are plaguing composers everywhere (on all levels of composers who need or want to make money – I guess it wouldn’t affect composers that are independently wealthy and dont need to work) be not only acknowledged but plans put in action to bring about positive change.

    So, here is my thoughts for today:
    1. it is obvious that the leverage we will gain from aligning with Teamsters is the ability to enforce some amount of change on union productions. Why we would need Teamsters backing to get pension and healthcare still evades me. But a smart league nonetheless.
    2. In order to make the Teamsters alignment make sense, starting with a focus on composers who are involved with AMPTP productions makes sense, because what good will Teamsters muscle have for game composers where there is no Teamsters or union productions, or for promo composers, library composers, advertising composers, ghost writers, stage theater composers, concert composers, etc. Who would the Teamsters strong-arm to demand anything even if there was a focus on something besides benefits?
    3. since the focus is going to be AMPTP productions, and there is no good way to enforce union rules on really any other situation, how do you see this union effort being of interest to anyone other than current AMPTP production composers? You claim emphatically that there is no desire to ostracize any type of composer from this AMCL attempt, but then how would a composer that, say, writes cable network promos all day, or advertising spots, or has placement on features from libraries, or etc etc ad infinitum, be eligible to JOIN the new union, so that in time with the union’s democratic process, be allowed to vote on officers and issues to change the shape of this initial union? By making AMPTP production the pre-requisite, how will any other type of full time working composers anywhere be even eventually represented? I totally get the “we have to have a foundation before we can have walls” argument, and I embrace it completely. But folks want to know what is the plan to include the rest of us?

    Again, I must state so I can be completely clear, that I am not trying to fan flames or put doubt in anyones mind, but rather am speaking about the main issues that my constituents have been writing me. As always I have the highest respect for you, Bruce, Richard, and for all the folks spending their personal time and experience to the goal of unionization. I know the headaches in creating organizations (truly i do!) and in the good juju that an altruistic endeavor can bring about. So I commend you over and over till you are sick of the lovin! And would like to hear about how you guys plan to make the union not split and divide the composer community of many thousands even further than it is today by this top-down approach. As much as bottom-down would not work, the opposite is true as well, and I hope to see a nice balance found in the middle somewhere where we can all prosper and flourish :-)

  • May 22, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

    Sorry, but there is a typo in the AMCL address I reported: It should be info@theamcl-399.org and the website is http://www.theamcl-399.org.

    Okay, Chris, I promised myself I would not respond further to these notes, since I think I’ve made myself clear, but I will respond to yours.

    Chris, there’s no way to prove that anyone is either honest or isn’t cheating you. if it makes you feel better, call the other members of the committee. You’ve called Richard Gibbs and you’ve heard from me. You will find different versions of the same message. The bottom line is that if you or any other person is distrustful of the committee or any of its members, then stay away from the process. There’s been far too many vitriolic and paranoid assumptions for some of the readers of these pages to feel completely comfortable.

    The basic idea of all of this is to be able to create a union of composers with the help and power of the Teamsters. Period. We’re starting with benefits. We’re focused on the AMPTP. If that is successful, we’ll have the first opportunity to collectively bargain for the first time in over thirty years! I fail to see the problem here.

    No, we weren’t voted in. No, we weren’t selected by the readers of Film Music Magazine or any other group. We came together independently, out of the Great Void of composers and lyricists working on their own to try to find a better way.

    This will be my last response on this site, but any other questions should be directed to the (corrected) address above. We will answer as many questions as we can or will continue to throw out information as it comes to us.

    I honestly appreciate your concern. We all do. You write as though you’re a sincere person, but nervous. Join the ranks or continue sitting on the fence. You’re not the only one. If you were at the April 19th meeting, you heard from Rick Marvin, who, even while he was on the committee, was on the fence, but finally decided for unionization.

    This is very possibly the last chance to do this. We don’t plan to screw it up.

    Best regards,

    Bruce Broughton

  • May 22, 2010 @ 7:47 pm

    We need to make plain one fundamental fact and then let’s start the debate:

    THE WGA AGREEMENT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH AMPTP NEGOTIATIONS- THEY ARE COMPLETELY SEPARATE.

    The AMCL committee does it’s supporters no good by confusing the WGA with the AMPTP and this must stop.

    This parsing of words hides a potential cancer which can eat up what we have worked four + years to help organize. When we parse words instead of explaining positions, we sow the seeds of disloyalty and mistrust.

    We must create a union that does what is right, not merely what is convenient.

    The “benefits only” position works if we believe that two completely separate issues are one and the same. They are are two-SEPARATE- issues and they have nothing to do with each other. I hate to sound redundant… but it’s the key to understanding that this is not just black or white… there are many shades of grey. So here are the facts we have yet to hear from the committee, there are:

    1) the AMPTP negotiations (“benefits only”); and

    2) the WGA agreement, the SAG/AFTRA/and other potential alliances.

    The AMCL board should say this… clearly.

    Then let’s discuss “benefits only” and the WGA agreement and other potential issues.

    Personally, I believe our union should be able to do good for many- on many different levels… NOW, but… It’s hard to order off the menu when you are only presented with one option of “benefits only.”

    I believe, after four + years of living these issues that if we fall into the previous generation’s peril of solely waiting for an AMPTP agreement, we are screwed.

    We will be playing a game that the previous generation has all ready lost and… for THIS generation, I believe we may not even need to be playing this game- as the WGA agreement provides relief NOW and has NO EFFECT on any potential AMPTP agreement.

    Look, if there is to be a union… we are going to need a lot of smart people thinking of different ways to help the community… but this is not a black and white issue- there is a lot of grey and if we are to mobilize… people need facts… not demonization. If we have a union, everyone will have somebody they don’t like in it. But that shouldn’t preclude our trying to set up a system that respects everyone.

    I believe our union- and our organizing committee- should be a healthy democracy with room for dissonant voices.

    For instance, if I disagree with war in Iraq, I am still an American. And… if I disagree with an AMCL issue, I am still for the union. So with regards to the cause from here on out, let’s unite and resolve to debate the strength of positions, not demonize personalities.

    That said, we need to have the facts straight- and THEN argue positions. In the words of Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your own opnion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

    Further, to put a dagger through the “was it a draft? was it agreed to? wha’happened?” re: the WGA agreement…the details are as follows:

    – For four months, Bruce Broughton, Alf Clausen, Jim DiPasquale, Steve Dayan and I negotiated with WGA exec. director David Young before presenting a letter (not a draft) for presentation to the WGA board.

    – On Nov. 16, 2009 at the AMCL’s November meeting, I detailed my conversation with John Wells which began/led to the present WGA agreement.

    – On Feb. 2, 2010 the AMCL executive committee and Steve Dayan, Teamsters 399 organizer, sent a final version of a much-drafted letter to David Young.

    – On March 1, 2010, David Young presented the aforementioned Feb. 2, 2010 letter at the WGA board meeting where the letter was unanimously approved by the WGA board.

    In sum:

    – The WGA letter passed unanimously through the WGA board at the WGA board’s March 1, 2010 meeting.

    – The letter was supported by the WGA board wholeheartedly, without reservation and in support of improving our community- and mutually helping the WGA (as evinced in Steve Dayan’s well stated quote at the end, “The Guild believes once writing at any level is seen as /”free” /it compromises writing on all levels”).

    – Though the letter has nothing to do with “benefits only(AMCL/AMPTP negotiations)”, the current AMCL board will not implement it.

    Lastly, and most importantly so there is no confusion:

    – The WGA agreement can change the dynamic of WGA showrunners and composers the day it is implemented.

    (editorial: That’s how important I believe the WGA agreement is- it’s a paradigm shifter… and it’s 21st Century unionization in that it solves issues EVEN BEFORE WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE PRODUCERS.

    That’s why I believe it is important to say how important the WGA agreement could be RIGHT NOW- and… again:

    this agreement is completely separate from any “benefits only” conversation with the AMPTP.)

    Now that these facts are, ahem, straight, let’s discuss the positions.

  • GrisGrisJouJou
    May 23, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    Thank you Alan for clearly delineating this issue and trying to remove the personalities from this equation.

    I am very interested in the AMCL’s response to this.

    It makes no sense to me why the AMCL board would not want you inside the room helping to put together a strategy given what you have detailed. Well done.

  • May 24, 2010 @ 7:59 am

    Fine, thoughtful letter on why we need a more inclusive composers’ union, which then advocates excluding lyricists, and by extension, songwriters. We’re all in the same boat, Chris. We don’t get a strong composers’ union by throwing any of us to the sharks.

  • May 24, 2010 @ 8:01 am

    Fine, thoughtful letter on the need for an inclusive composers’ union, which then advocates excluding lyricists (and, by extension, songwriters). We’re all in the same boat, Chris. We won’t get a strong union by throwing any of us to the sharks.

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