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Streaming Issues May Impact Residuals for American Musicians, Execs Say

FMSMF Streaming
Courtesy of Dan Goldwasser

What does the future hold for the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund? Like so many aspects of a rapidly changing media business, that’s hard to predict.

When union musicians struck the networks and studios in 1980, the hope was to gain residual payments for reruns of network TV series, something that had been overlooked in earlier negotiations with producers dating back to the 1960s. But they failed, and have never been able to achieve that goal in any contract talks since.

Streaming services that produce their own series are very often a “dead end” in terms of residuals, because shows that air exclusively on Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus or other services – and don’t pass on to a secondary market like DVD or Blu-Ray – will not generate later payments for union musicians who played on those scores.

What’s more, a growing number of producers are not hiring union musicians in order to avoid any kind of future payments.

The Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund is not part of the collective bargaining process. Those contracts are negotiated between the American Federation of Musicians and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The FMSMF collects and distributes residuals based on those terms, and you must be covered by the union in order to benefit.

“For musicians, the shift in the industry to these new made-for streaming platforms is something that will have a profound effect on their futures and something that they will have to be thinking through and paying attention to in the years ahead,” says Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, FMSMF executive director.

“We are committed to supporting the industry,” she adds. “It’s important to respect professional musicians. They are our core.” To that end, the fund has recently been supporting efforts to encourage filmmakers to hire professional musicians, and to encourage young composers (at Columbia University in New York, and with the ASCAP film-scoring workshop in Los Angeles) to work with professional musicians.

Recording Musicians Association international president Marc Sazer believes “the big issue facing us, going forward, is the new world of streaming, and the streaming economy. Once [a program] goes to a streaming service, it never comes back out to free television or pay TV or cable TV or, rarely, DVDs. The whole world of secondary markets is broken when this market swallows everything up. That’s an existential threat for us that we have to figure out.”

Adds Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli, president of the Los Angeles RMA: “I’ve been able to make a career because of the Secondary Markets Fund. We’re in such a huge transition now, to watch that be undermined in this transition to streaming, would be a tragedy.

“I want to make sure that the next generation [of musicians] has the ability to take their talents and make a solid career here in L.A., and not live hand-to-mouth. To me, that’s the most important point.”