With a projected $32 million loss in wages for canceled scoring dates because of COVID-19, the Los Angeles music community is gearing up for the return of film and TV recording — but cautiously, under strict guidelines.
Yet, musicians say, not everyone is prepared to go back to work in groups, given the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The mid-March lockdown led to “catastrophic job losses,” says American Federation of Musicians Local 47 president John Acosta, and while the remote-recording process – in which musicians record their parts at home for blending into a full score by composers and mixers – has solved some post-production dilemmas, it’s far from ideal.
The re-opening of scoring stages in Vienna, Berlin and London worries American union officials, who are hopeful that modified operation of recording facilities will encourage a return to film and TV scoring in L.A. and limit the number of jobs that go outside the U.S.
“Legally, people can go back to work for music production. In terms of the government, we have the green light to start scoring,” Acosta says, noting that guidelines for music production were included in Los Angeles County’s Reopening Protocol for Music, Television and Film Production released on Friday. But not all the movie lots are open for business, and scoring stages (especially the largest ones at Fox, Sony and Warner Bros.) are within those boundaries.
“There are a lot of smaller operators, independent companies, video games, that are chomping at the bit to start recording here again,” Acosta says.
It’s not simple. Musicians routinely play together, sometimes in close proximity. On large sessions, string players share music stands, brass and woodwind players are usually behind them, percussion players at the back. The recording booth generally includes engineers, music editors, orchestrators, technical personnel, directors, producers and others.
The new rules will alter all of that. “Striping” — the term for recording sections of the orchestra separately — will become routine, so that string players will in most cases be recorded in one session, woodwind and brass players in another. String players can wear masks but no longer share stands as they must remain six feet apart.
Brass and woodwind players are different because both produce what are called “respiratory aerosols” which may contain not only air but droplets from musicians’ lungs, and that method of performance will now require nine to 12 feet of distance between players. The traditional ensemble playing, where everyone sits together, will go away, for the time being, officials say.
Other rules specify adequate air circulation; sanitizing gear and work areas after each session; masks and gloves for those distributing sheet music; and others similar to the protocols announced for production. Acosta said AFM officials even consulted with an epidemiologist on the recommendations.
But that’s for those musicians who want to take part. It’s a freelance business, and some musicians may choose to wait until a vaccine is available.
“We’re now authorized to go back to work,” explains Recording Musicians Association’s first VP Marc Sazer. “But the impact on people is different. Some have spouses at home with autoimmune deficiencies. Some have their own health issues. You can’t ask people to divulge their own private health circumstances.”
Says a Fox insider: “We are all trying to see when we can safely record. Our first sessions aren’t until the end of next month, so we have some time. We want to bring back work, of course, safety being the number-one protocol.”
The remote-recording trend has been a mixed blessing. It kept some musicians working during the past three months, but not all have enjoyed it. “It’s extremely difficult,” says one seasoned player. “It’s a much more time-consuming process to essentially be your own recordist, your own engineer and your own music editor, as opposed to sitting and playing and having somebody else name the files, press `start’ and `stop’ and all of those things. It’s a huge learning curve.”
Most observers believe that a largely orchestral score, involving 70 or more players, is possible but will have to be recorded in sections on a large recording stage over a matter of days. And the acoustic issues involving recording brass and woodwind players spaced far apart in a studio — an unusual physical arrangement that can change the tenor of a sound — have yet to be addressed.