Is There a Musicians Union?

March 25, 2024

Struggling musicians trying to make a name for themselves have huge challenges ahead of them–but once a musician has developed a stable career in the business, the struggle does not end there. Each contract signed is fraught with clauses that can greatly reduce a musician’s pay, benefits, and royalties. Therefore, professional musicians often seek to join a union that will represent their interests. 

The largest union representing musicians is the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The AFM covers a broad array of musicians in professional settings such as:

  • Orchestral musicians
  • Opera musicians
  • Studio and session musicians who accompany big-name acts
  • Broadway and theater musicians
  • Television and film score musicians

The AFM also regularly holds musician union elections in the same manner as many of the larger entertainment unions. Becoming a member requires meeting certain eligibility requirements, much like how actors become union members in the Screen Actors Guild. Once a musician becomes a member, they gain access to a wide variety of benefits. 

Services and Support Offered by AFM

The AFM offers its members collective bargaining, representation, and other benefits. While not often discussed in the media, the AFM plays a key role in protecting the rights of many live music performers. These are musicians who generally don’t have recognizable star power but are crucial to the industry. 

Musicians who are part of large and ongoing productions, both in single locations and touring acts, are often the ones most in need of the AFM’s assistance. Negotiating contracts for long-term tours, resident house musicians, and contracted television and film musicians is the bread and butter of the AFM. 

Structure and Governance  

The AFM has a host of local and regional chapters across the country–it operates under the democratic model of governance common in many unions. The AFM regularly holds elections for governing positions and provides members the opportunity to choose candidates. 

Each chapter caters to the needs of musicians under its jurisdiction by offering representation specific to the area. In this way, local chapters can offer assistance that correlates to relevant laws and practices.

At the national level, the AFM helps to coordinate broad initiatives and advocacy for its members. This can include setting standardized contract language, negotiations with large entertainment companies, and even lobbying in state and national government. The national governing body of AFM also sets forth the musician union rules and bylaws.  

The meteoric rise of online and streaming content has posed a huge challenge to entertainers across the spectrum, not only musicians. This is because many contracts contain standardized language that was invented long before online streaming became the norm. 

It’s not just music and movies that have gone online, but also their union elections. Platforms such as ElectionBuddy offer organizations of all kinds the opportunity to easily conduct elections across the country. These platforms offer enhanced security and transparency as well as greatly reduced costs compared to traditional voting. With the help of ElectionBuddy, national elections have never been easier!

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