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WearyKnight

Is the union worth it?

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Hi, I am considering joining the AFM, but am really hesitating still. I was wondering if anyone would be willing to talk to me about it here. I have searched and read through the old threads on the subject. They contained some great info, but are several years old. Maybe things have changed since then...or maybe not?

 

I am age 39 and am a full-time pro piano/organ doubler. It's ridiculously unlikely that I will ever end up with a SO, ballet, or Broadway. If I join, it would be to try to find gigs and for the healthcare. Worth it-- or a massive waste of time and money?

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If you are doing a lot of studio session work, working with major label artists, or have an ongoing gig in a room with a union contract...absolutely. Dues can vary by local. I was an AFM member in NYC in the early 1970s because you basically had to be to work any of the major clubs back then. When I moved to LA, and I approached the local here, I actually did manage to get an audition with a national act...that was the last time the union did anything but collect dues from me.

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Well, another big piece of the puzzle is where you are.

A small town is not going to get you offers for many union scale gigs...you are basically now paying them for healthcare.

Even in a city like LA, unless you are a pro session player, odds of getting much work from union calls? Slim to non-existent, even for keyboardists like yourself. Now, in Vegas, there are union and non-union gigs...Branson...union [last time I heard, anyway], NYC...mainly union, Nashville...a mix, Austin... I have not been recently...but that is the picture.

The nice thing in smaller markets where the union casts no shadow, is that you can create your own market there, like writing jingles and bumper background for the local radio station, things like that...but you have to hustle.

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I currently belong to the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) and have been a member since I was 16 (I'm 60 this year....).

For me, the AFM has been a wonderful opportunity for my playing career.  Through my AFM connections I have had the opportunity to perform with Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Temptations, Barnum & Bailey Circus,plus others when their tours have come through our city.  All of that being said, my resume is pretty stacked (for a local guy) thus it helps me when I sell my group for events.

Another reason for joining the AFM is that, as a member, I am able to use an AFM contract to book work. 

Yes, every band/musician that books work has a contract (maybe even penned by a local attorney) but the AFM contract is more-pro, thus in using it I have a more "polished look".

In my band booking (general business gigs; club dates/weddings, etc) days I did not have any issues collecting pay for work performed, however, I did have associates in the business that encountered problems.  A case comes to mind where a friend's band played a club and, due to a big festival in town on the same date, the club had a slow night.....  At the end of the night the club manager gave the group partial payment with the excuse "we had a slow night". 

Fortunately for band, the club manager had signed the band's union contract.  A couple of days later, the local union president called the club manager and suggested that he complete payment or that he would personally call the truck driver's union (that delivers the beer/alcohol to the club) and stop delivery.  In the end, the band got their full amount.

 

Besides the contracts, an AFM member will have access to band "Liability" insurance at a group rate.  

Let's see: five bands classic rock bands are looking for work at a particular venue, one band (in particular) carries their own liability insurance....   Which band do you think looks 'more pro" to the club manager....?

 

At $125.00 per year the AFM is totally worth it IMO.

 

 

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$125 per year is decent...which local are you a member?   Like I said earlier, a lot depends on where you are.

Our Local, here in L.A., charges $210 per year for a regular [not Lifetime] membership, plus another $140 initiation fee [$65 of which goes to the AFM International].

I know that Local 1000 [aka the Traveling Musicians' Local], now charges $177 per year, which if you are touring, is sometimes covered/reimbursed under the tour contract [but not always].  That is only if you are a member of another Local, in good standing, and an 'initiation fee' of $35, [$100 if your other Local membership has lapsed], or they may waive the initiation if the members of the band/ensemble [IIRC it has to be at least 2 or more people] join the union at the same time.

Also you still have to pay a 2.5% 'work dues' per show, so if you make, say, $1000 per show, you pay the Local $25. You need to keep track of all this, unless you have an accountant.

Why do I have these figures at my fingertips? Because I may be going back on the road after over 40 years of avoiding it, and the gig is Union, and likely International. Still waiting to hear if this tour is going to come to fruition...

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I currently belong to the BMA (Boston Musicians Association) which is part of the AFM.  My dues are $150.00 per year.

My local-local AFM union is Local 216 and I think that it's dues are $120.00 per year.

 

The only reason that I belong Boston's union is that I am a member of a professional orchestra who's members are represented by the BMA.  (Other than that, I'd still be in my local [216] union.

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I'm and on/off member of the AFM in NYC, but it's expensive, and it really just feels like I pay them dues and they do nothing for me. It's necessary for Broadway, and that's the only reason I keep joining when I get pit work. Otherwise, no thanks.

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