THE MUSICIAN’S UNION, A PLAYER’S PERSPECTIVE

Dave Pomeroy is President of the Nashville chapter of the American Federation of Musicians (Local 257), and is a member of the AFM’s International Executive Board. But it’s not “all work and no play” for Dave—you can hear him throw down on Three Ring Circle’s Brothership [ResoRevolution], which features Pomeroy alongside dobro player Rob Ickes and fiddle/mandolin player Andy Leftwich.
By DAVE POMEROY ,

Dave Pomeroy is President of the Nashville chapter of the American Federation of Musicians (Local 257), and is a member of the AFM’s International Executive Board. But it’s not “all work and no play” for Dave—you can hear him throw down on Three Ring Circle’s Brothership [ResoRevolution], which features Pomeroy alongside dobro player Rob Ickes and fiddle/mandolin player Andy Leftwich.

WHAT DO ANTHONY JACKSON, WILL Lee, Michael Rhodes, Neil Stubenhaus, Jared Followill, Edgar Meyer, Ron Carter, and thousands of weekend warriors have in common? All of them are members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, commonly known as the “AFM,” or simply “The Union.” With more than 80,000 members working in all areas of the music business, from studios and pit orchestras to bars and clubs, the AFM is the largest organization representing musicians in the world. Founded in 1896, its biggest chapters are in New York and Los Angeles, with Toronto, Montreal, Chicago and Nashville being the next largest.

After many years of working the road, gradually making the transition into studio work, I became involved in the business of Nashville’s AFM chapter first as a board member, then as President of the Nashville chapter of the Recording Musicians Association. (The RMA represents recording musicians within the AFM.) In December 2008, I was elected President of Local 257. We have made many changes to modernize and improve services for the AFM members of Nashville, including developing a new scale structure for home studio overdubs, which has now been adopted as a national scale.

Being a member of the AFM has given me the opportunity to protect my recorded work and intellectual property. For example, an Emmylou Harris track that I played on in 1989 was used in HBO’s The Sopranos a few years ago. Because that record was done on a Union contract, I received a New Use payment of nearly $300 from HBO for work I had done over 15 years earlier. Pretty cool. This is because the AFM has negotiated contracts with the major record labels, as well as the movie, television, and jingle industries for many years. These contracts have enabled many thousands of musicians to be paid fairly with benefits including pension contributions and New Use payments.

Over the years, I have done a lot of Union work that has paid into the AFM-EP Pension Fund for my retirement, and have shared in the Special Payments Fund, a once a year royalty check from the record labels for musicians who have worked on Union sessions in the previous five years. There is also a Film Secondary Markets Fund royalty for players who work on movie soundtracks, which pays these musicians (and their descendants) a percentage of post-theater revenue every year as long as the film makes money.

Of course, not everyone is a session player, so you might ask, “What can the AFM do for musicians who mostly play live, either full or part time?” For starters, the AFM establishes fair minimum pay scales for a variety of different gig scenarios and offers free contracts to AFM members for booking live shows. A verbal agreement works most of the time, but it never hurts to get it in writing for times when a handshake is not enough. Best of all, if there is a problem, you are not alone—the AFM has your back, and will go after your money with free legal services provided if needed.

I have been an AFM member for 32 years, and it has worked very well for me in all the different phases of my career. However, like any organization, it is not perfect and is only as good as its members make it. A few years ago, many of us felt that our leaders had lost touch with working-class musicians and saw the need for the Union to change. All over the country, we began to organize and worked to transform our Union. This resulted in a sweeping change that occurred at the AFM Convention in June 2010, where the delegates elected a new President, Vice President, and four out of five International Executive Board members. I was elected to the IEB, and we have already made great strides in bringing the AFM up to date and into the future. It’s an exciting time to be a AFM member, and we would love to work for you in these challenging times for professional musicians. For more information, check out afm.org and nashvillemusicians.org. We can do more as a group than we can ever do on our own. Let’s stick together!