Last week, I mentioned how SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) agreed to a tentative deal
with the major record labels. What was boasted about in this most recent deal was improvements in the minimum wages being offered and an increase in the amount of streaming money towards AFTRA’s Health and Retirement plan. Even though I’ll note they were light on the specific details as the deal hasn’t yet been approved by the union.
Now just to give a little bit of context, this 2018 deal builds on SAG-AFTRA’s National Code of Fair Practice for Sound Recordings
, or in simpler terms the “the Code,” which sets the minimum rates for performers and contributors money generated by SAG-AFTRA artists into the guild’s health care funds. In regards to music streaming the revenue generated by streams was first added in the 2015 contract.
AFTRA’s code dates back to the early 1950s and mirrors a model the American Federation of Musicians were able to win after multiple strikes in the 1940s where a percentage of the revenue generated by the record industry was put back into providing work for unionized musicians. These particular union funds can take different shapes, for example here’s an expert from a September 23, 1967 Billboard article
describing another fund for workers within the American Federation of Musicians:
Under the agreements each record manufacturer bases its contributions on its sales of records, and each Federation musician who made phonograph records receives an individual payment in the proportion that his annual scale wages from recordings bears to total scale wages paid by the industry to all union musicians.
The Future of Music Coalition a few years ago explained in fuller detail
how SAG-AFTRA’s deal worked, particularly in regards to the new medium of streaming music:
Here’s how it works. If an artist has a royalty contract, which most major label artists do, the label makes special contributions to SAG-AFTRA’s fund on behalf of the artists under exclusive contract based on royalties earned, even if unrecouped, and including all those micropennies netted from streams. So if you sold $150,000 worth of records in a 6-month accounting period, but you still have $375,000 in recording costs on their books, you won’t be seeing a royalty check yourself. However, the label will make a contribution to SAG-AFTRA based on the $15,000 you earned.
Even though these deal were set-up long before the record industry fully matured, these funds and deals offer a glimpse at what unions can provide for rank-and-file musicians, who might not make it big but still need health care or a little bit more money to get by. A vision of music that treats its like a 9-5 career, not a pursuit of capitalist passion.