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

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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