American Federation of Musicians Threatens to Expel Grammy-Nominated Video Game Composer (EXCLUSIVE)

American Federation of Musicians Threatens to

The American Federation of Musicians is sending mixed signals to its members this week: threatening a Grammy-nominated video game composer with expulsion, while also trumpeting a new contract with producers and networks whose specifics are being kept under wraps.

Austin Wintory, who was charged last January with violating union rules for recording his score for “The Banner Saga” video game under non-union auspices in Texas, was found guilty by the union’s International Executive Board and fined $2,500. Wintory is refusing to pay the fine on principle.

“Doing so would be to agree that their failed policies, selective tactics and threats work,” he said. Failure to pay the fine by Jan. 19 will result in expulsion. Wintory says his lawyers are “dealing with the realities of the board’s ability to expel me.”

The AFM board’s actions puts it in conflict with its own Local 47, the L.A. local, which not only passed a resolution supporting Wintory in October, but praised him in a front-page story in its own inhouse newspaper for his “strong support of the use of AFM musicians [and] applauds his efforts to bring more work to AFM and Local 47 musicians.”

Wintory said that, instead, he would write a $2,500 check to Education Through Music – Los Angeles (ETM-LA), “where the money can be used toward building on dreams instead of destroying them.”

Game composers have been critical of the AFM for years, contending that the union’s existing game recording contracts contain provisions that publishers refuse to accept. A December 2012 agreement hasn’t been used at all; a new one created in June 2014 has been used only once.

Game publishers are turning increasingly to Nashville (Tennessee is a right-to-work state, where AFM members can work non-union) and London to record music. Wintory attempted to record “Banner Saga” with L.A. musicians but, he said, it was twice as expensive as recording in London and added extra fees related to future uses of the music.

Meanwhile, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the “player conference” within the AFM that represents many studio musicians, announced over the weekend that the union had concluded negotiations with the AMPTP on a new multiyear contract for recording TV and film scores.

Details of the pact, however, were being kept under wraps Sunday. Musicians are expected to be informed of the details late Monday during meetings of the RMA and Local 47 membership.

Local 47’s new leadership will take office Monday, with new president John Acosta and vice president Rick Baptist expected to be more responsive to the growing number of dissenting voices in the 7,000-member local. Many are unhappy about the steep decline in recording work, which they blame on companies that flee L.A. because they can get better deals in London or Eastern Europe.

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    1. Lynne Serridge says:

      The AFM is a fair and reponsive organization that helps it’s members in all situations. Just to snub fellow members of the AFM for a contract on a video game sounds ridiculous to me. Really? Can’t you figure out a way to make everyone involved happy???

    2. Peter says:

      The reporter has misunderstood the Right to Work laws – in Right to Work states employees may work under a union contract without having to join the union or pay initation fee or dues. However, if one is a member of a union, then that member must always work under the union contract. It also means that the non-union person working under a union contract must be paid as if they were a union member.

    3. Lisa says:

      You can’t hear the music over all the gun-fire in video games anyway.

      • Lea says:

        Someone hasn’t played Journey, one of Austin Wintory’s crowning achievements. That game is DEPENDENT on his music.

      • Cloud Surfer says:

        “can’t hear music over all the gun-fire anyway.” I will be sure to tell that to John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Alan Silvestri, if you do not know those names then look them up because you really should.

        That and there is not a single gunshot present in the game Journey who this man wrote the score for. Music in movies and video games is a huge compliment to the experience. If you cannot notice this then that is fine obviously. Listening to a score is (pardon the pun) instrumental when analyzing a piece of media as art. This is why the Academy Awards has categories for original songs and musical score.

      • This is what someone who doesn’t play video games would say.

      • Nadia says:

        I beg to differ with the sentiment this comment projects. The Banner Saga is a heartfelt and incredibly atmospheric viking-style epic story. Not all games are Call of Duty.

        • Norwegian says:

          Norse style, not Viking. There are in fact no Vikings in The Banner Saga. Viking is an occupation, not the culture. Know what you’re talking about, before you embarrass yourself. Oh, and in norwegian it is –> Norrøn kultur.

    4. srvwp2013 says:

      Video games have dumbed down America. If we did not have them to begin with, this issue would be a non-existent issue. All this energy should be being used to educate a youngster.

      • John says:

        This is superficial (and just plain wrong) on soooo many levels that it is actually funny. But I am curious, why just America? Shouldn’t you be stating that they have dumbed down the entire world? It is a global media…

      • You don’t know the slightest bit of what you’re talking about. If you believe all video games are just mindless, violent button mashers, you need a reality check. The best video games out there offer compelling stories or fun challenges that no other medium can offer and entertain for hours on end.

        Saying they “dumb down” and time is better spent by being “educated” is pointless. It is foremost a hobby and entertainment, not a substitute for learning skills and gaining knowledge. As a matter of fact, some games could SUPPLEMENT certain subject matter and make it far more engaging for someone to absorb information.

        If you would mind setting aside your reservations about video games for a few hours spread across a week or so, I recommend playing The Walking Dead from Telltale Games. It’s very accessible to even those who have never played a video game before and, despite the violence and presence of the living dead, it is presented in a mature and dire manner.

      • jourdy288 says:

        I strongly disagree with this idea- video games are a complex medium capable of telling a wide variety of stories.

      • fourteentoone says:

        Sounds like this was written by someone who has little to no experience of the medium in its current form.

    5. SS says:

      Hmm…I’m curious as to what the specific union rules are. If video games are covered under their union contract, then no, you can’t just jump to non-union and expect to not be penalized. But if they are not, then the union can’t say anything about it and can’t issue a fine. That said, I do believe that games should be covered under the union if they are not already, because they are quickly becoming more prevalent and tons of people are getting work with them, as we see here. I would be very interested to see what the current policy actually is.

      • Brandon Bell says:

        The problem is a right to work state allows employers to hire union and non union alike. Which gives the Musicians Union not much ground to stand on. Because if they require all their members who are contractors to hire union only, it’s just going to drive all the work to non union. More the half the states are Right to Work anyway which has become a huge union problem.
        The people who push the whole RTW thing say it allows you to get a job and not have the union in your pocket. But what it really means is it gives the employer the right to pay you anything they want and to treat you anyway they want without any recourse.

        • Zimriel says:

          Union-manager contracts are a conspiracy against both side’s customers.

        • pwlsax says:

          AFM has not been interested in expanding opportunities for live music for decades now. They’re in holding action mode. Their main objective is to make sure longstanding, dues-paying members don’t feel the pinch, and to never make high profile concessions that might weaken their image – really, at this point, their self-image.

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