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The Ins And Outs Of Hiring A Union Player For A Session

It isn't as easy as saying, "I'll give you $75 to play the session," because things don't work like that once you've crossed the realm into union territory...

By Bobby Owsinski July 20, 2015

Most musicians who play club gigs in the United States don’t belong to the Musicians Union since they don’t feel that it has much to offer them. While that may or may not be the case, everything changes when you’re working on a union gig for record label or a symphony orchestra, because that’s where the union guarantees a reasonable wage rate and demands that your employer contributes to the union pension fund.

But what happens if you’re a producer who wants to hire a union player? It isn’t as easy as saying, “I’ll give you $75 to play the session,” because things don’t work like that once you’ve crossed the realm into union territory.

Here’s an excerpt from the The Music Producer’s Handbook that explains just some of the ins and outs of hiring union session players.

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It costs a lot more money to hire musicians that work under the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union rules than ones who don’t. Not only is the pay generally higher for working a shorter session than non-union players, but you also have additional costs that go beyond what the player gets directly, which we’ll cover in a bit.

What’s more, union rates can be somewhat of a maze since different scales cover different situations, rates are renegotiated every few years, and pay scales vary from union local to union local (not that much, but they do vary).

Generally, the union pay scales for recording are based on 3-hour sessions and are broken down as follows:

Demo Scale—This means that whatever the musicians play on is only used to secure a master record deal and can’t be sold commercially. This is the least expensive (to the producer) of all the scales. Demo scale is a relic from a time when demos were a necessity to take your project to a higher level in the business, and even though it’s still on the books, this scale is outdated since any recording is so easy to release commercially.

Limited Pressing Scale—Another relic of the past thanks to digital music, the limited pressing scale allows the producer or label to make and sell up to 10,000 copies of anything the musicians play on. The limited pressing scale pays a bit more than the demo scale.

Low Budget Scale—The low budget scale was originally created to help small indie record labels who never had the large recording budgets that were typical of a major label product. The key here is that the budget needs to be submitted to the union for approval in advance before you can play on it, but the label can sell as many copies of the product as they can.

Master Recording Scale—This is the scale used to pay musicians to record a typical medium or big budget master recording for a major record label. It’s the highest paying scale with the most perks.

Jingle Scale—The jingle scale is a little different in that most jingle (commercial music) sessions are so short that everything is based upon a single hour pay with 20 minute increments. The number of jingles that can be recorded in that time period is limited to 3 (or 3 minutes of music), or else you must pay the musicians for another session. The musicians also get payed again for every 13-week run that the commercial stays on air (but it doesn’t come out of your budget). The musicians also get paid again if the producer takes the music bed that you played on and creates an additional commercial (called a dub fee) or a new commercial (called a conversion fee).

Motion Picture and Film Scales—This is a dizzying array of scales for orchestral recordings that vary depending upon the size of the orchestra and budget, and whether the performance is a “buy-out” (you only get paid once for the original performance) or if you’ll get paid for subsequent performances.


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About Bobby

Bobby Owsinski
Bobby Owsinski

Music Industry Veteran and Technical Consultant
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. To read more from Bobby, and to acquire copies of his outstanding books such as The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, be sure to check out his website at www.bobbyowsinski.com.
http://www.bobbyowsinski.com/

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