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American Federation of Musicians Inks New Videogame Agreement With Microsoft

The American Federation of Musicians, which has lately been assailed by studio musicians for its failure to secure lucrative videogame-scoring work, on Tuesday announced a new game agreement, the result of extensive negotiations with Microsoft Corporation.

AFM president Ray Hair told Variety he hopes the new deal – which replaces an October 2012 contract that was rejected as too restrictive by every game publisher – will serve as a template for deals with other game publishers.

The contract is effective immediately and runs through December 2016. It calls for basic scale wages of $300 per musician for a three-hour session and, according to Hair, “allows the game publisher to record a track, use it for that videogame, throughout the franchise and across all platforms for that franchise.

“That’s what they (Microsoft) wanted, and that’s what we did,” Hair said. “But if music from those games is used in a McDonald’s commercial, or in any other medium, such as movie or TV show, that requires an additional payment.”

Game publishers previously complained that they were not allowed to use AFM-recorded music outside of the original game context, and this new provision appears to satisfy that issue for the most part.

A prominent game composer, who asked not to be identified, called this deal “a really good first step,” and felt that other game publishers would accede and sign similar agreements. “Not all of them will,” he said, because some game publishers may want free and unfettered use of the music for all future uses including licensing to libraries and possibly into films.

Hair said that AFM reps spent a year and a half negotiating with Microsoft. “We learned their terminology and what their concerns were,” he said. “We got a really good education in the game business from them.

Hair could not say when Microsoft would take advantage of the new deal and record new game music; he said he expected that recording would take place in either San Francisco or Los Angeles.
He added that the deal would be submitted to rank-and-file members for ratification within the next 60 days.

Microsoft, which created the popular games Halo, Gears of War, Fable and others, is one of the world’s top game publishers. Paul Lipson, Microsoft Studios senior audio director at Microsoft, said in a statement: “Our collaboration with the AFM has remained strong over the years, and this new agreement reflects the collaborative spirit and positive communication we enjoy with the AFM leadership and its members.”

Hair’s announcement comes on the heels of the AFM’s controversial targeting of game composer Austin Wintory, who has been charged with violating AFM rules by recording his “Banner Saga” music last year under non-union conditions in Dallas. He faces possible expulsion and a fine as high as $50,000.

The game community has been in an uproar and thousands of musicians and fellow composers have announced their support for him. Hair declined to comment on the Wintory controversy.

In addition, the word comes just two days before a special Local 47 AFM meeting to discuss the ongoing loss not only of game music from L.A. but also considerable film-scoring work, now widely done in London and other European cities as a result of AFM contracts that some producers refuse to sign.

On Monday, the AFM announced it had reached a new three-year deal with the advertising industry, calling for a 6 percent increase in wages for music in commercials.

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