Videogame Composer Blasts Musicians Union for Rule-Violation Charges Amid Contract Strife

Videogame Composer Blasts Musicians Union Rule-Violation

Videogame composer Austin Wintory has been charged by the American Federation of Musicians with violating musicians-union rules for recording a game score in Texas.

Wintory faces a maximum $50,000 fine and possible expulsion from the union. He was first notified in January, even before the release of the Viking-themed fantasy game “The Banner Saga,” but decided to go public because he believes he’s been unfairly targeted.

The dust-up between Wintory and the union comes at a time when musicians are increasingly angry about the AFM’s failure to keep vidgame score recording in L.A. by focusing on a contract that has been rejected by major game publishers. AFM Local 47 VP John Acosta declined to comment about the case as an “internal union matter.”

Wintory concedes that he recorded “The Banner Saga” with the Dallas Wind Symphony in July 2013, most of which was conducted by Wind Symphony music director Jerry Junkin. Texas is a right-to-work state, meaning even union musicians can’t be stopped from working under non-union auspices.

Wintory conducted a few cues for publicity purposes, and one of those photos accompanied a story about the score in a Jan. 3 New York Times article about the composer, whose “Journey” had just become the first videogame to receive a Grammy nomination for music.

“I was in Texas as a composer and music producer, which I did not believe were in violation of AFM bylaws, since those tasks are not covered or represented by the AFM,” Wintory said.

He points out he has been an active supporter of recording with union musicians in Los Angeles. He insisted on recording his “Captain Abu Raed” film score with AFM musicians in 2007, and he recorded the first iPad game, “Horn,” under union auspices in the summer of 2012 before the union instituted a more restrictive game contract that game publishers refuse to sign.

The composer initially attempted to record “Banner Saga” with L.A. musicians but found that the revised union contract made it twice as expensive as recording in London as well as adding conditions regarding soundtrack albums and extra fees related to future uses of the music.

Composer and frequent AFM critic Michael W. Barry, who founded and moderates the 3,000-member “Hollywood Film, Television and Interactive Scoring Community” Facebook page and who has scored the popular “League of Legends” game, confirms that no publisher has used the most recent game contract since the AFM drafted it in December 2012.

“The terms are nowhere near what the industry wants,” Barry says, noting that game companies insist on owning all of the intellectual property, including music, that goes into their games. The previous AFM game contract, dating from 2007, was “very producer-friendly,” he said, and a handful of games “grandfathered” under that contract continue to be scored in L.A.

Wintory is just one of many composers who record non-union but, according to several game composers contacted by Variety, he is believed to be the first to be charged with violating AFM rules. Game composers frequently go to Seattle (a non-AFM city), London or Nashville (whose AFM musicians are, as in Texas, allowed to record non-union because Tennessee is a right-to-work state).

Although Acosta declined to comment for this story, he wrote in a recent issue of the Local 47 publication Overture that “the lack of market share for the AFM in video games has reached a point of crisis” and admitted that “the limited work we were doing before has all but vanished into non-union productions.

“We need to begin serious conversations with the videogame companies that want to record AFM, and craft deals that protect musicians but will be acceptable to the employers. Unless we act fast, it will be game over for us,” Acosta wrote.

Wintory believes that he has “plainly demonstrated that I am interested in the health of the community, a community that’s not intimidated and threatened by its own union. There are a huge number of composers and musicians who make the majority of their living from the game industry, and I can only assume they’re all next on the chopping block.”

Ironically, Wintory will conduct his music from “The Banner Saga” Wednesday night at L.A’s Nokia Theatre as part of the latest “Video Games Live” concert — an event presumably staged under a union contract.

Local 47 is holding a special meeting Thursday night to discuss musicians’ dissatisfaction with the growing number of game and film scores being recorded away from L.A. as a result of current union contracts.

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    1. AFM is part of the cause of orchestral scoring sessions going to right to work states and abroad, not a part of the solution. Their thinking is antiquated and provincial, and their methods nothing short of bullying, IMHO. They’ve so consistently driven business away that non-union orchestras abroad are now not just more financially practical; today, subsequent to so much work over the last twelve years, they are musically comparable to our best Stateside union orchestras and now have state of the art recording facilities.

    2. It appears to me that online video gamer companies are beginning to stream soundtrack music from web_casters thus bypassing the need to produce original, pay reuse, or obtain appropriate licenses for their music usage.

    3. Tennessee Slim says:

      The 50 grand is the maximum amount for that type of infraction. It in no way means that is what the fine, if any will be. But that the is the maximum possible fine in current AFM bylaws and has been for decades.

      President Hair is not a ‘shy’ person. A bully? I have never seen it. The IEB as ‘toadies’? Why would they have to be?

      Its a big deal in video games for developer teams to want to control all intellectual property on their product. Its actually the financial backers of the developer start-ups that demand this. It in no way means musicians and artists should give in to these 1%-er want-it-all venture capitalists.

    4. Aimee says:

      I don’t believe the Video Games Live concerts are unionized. They are produced using orchestras and choirs that are either student groups or community groups.

      • AH (AFM member) says:

        Although I do not know whether “Video Games Live” has been staged with student/community groups or not, I do know that the productions I have been a part of or known about were performed under the union contracts of the orchestras involved, even in a right-to-work state (Virginia).

    5. AnotherAFMember says:

      AFM President Ray Hair undoubtedly sees himself as a modern day James Petrillo (who lead a musician’s strike in 1942 against record companies). Petrillo’s name still evokes respect amongst union musicians, but it is unlikely that Ray Hair will enjoy the same prestige or respect, as he is primarily seen amongst many union members these days as a dictator and a bully, and the IEB (The AFM’s International Executive Board) as a bunch of spineless toadies. The threat of the “50K Fine or expulsion from the AFM” is so widely used now by the IEB, that it conjurs the image of The Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland” shouting “Off with their heads!!!” at the slightest provocation. Never a smaller fine, or a discussion with the member who has raised the union’s ire – just an instant leap to the greatest possible punishment the AFM can inflict on a members. This kind of bullying is what weak people do, and it shows not only the weakness of the AFM as an organisation, but of its primary leader.

      One further note: all the stories about this seem to focus on how upset that musicians are that video game recordings are “leaving Los Angeles”, as if it is LA’s sole privilege to be where games, not to mention films get recorded. Guess what folks; it’s the AFM of The United States and Canada, in short, the whole friggin’ North American continent! Might there be other places on the continent where musicians would like to perform scores for video games and films? Answer: yes, there are PLENTY of places on the continent where ther talent pool is deep and the willingness is high. Until the AFM learns that it needs to negotiate appropriate contracts that work in many markets, it will find itself deeper and deeper in trouble.

      In the meantime, it’s “Off with their heads!!” until Ray Hair and the IEB find themselves with their tin swords raised, and no more loyal union members willing (or even left) to put their head under the blade.

    6. jimmysee says:

      AFM can’t “impose” a contract. A contract should be negotiated with the industry. AFM made a good start years ago working out a framework with G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild, a videogame organization of composers). If it wants the work in LA, the union needs to negotiate a contract with the industry that can work for both sides. That’s the nature of collective bargaining.

    7. Reblogged this on Open Labs Blog and commented:
      What’s your take on this?

      #videogames
      #MusiciansUnion
      #litigation

    8. This could get ugly.

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