Musicians Union Rules

April 5, 2024

While Hollywood unions may attract the spotlight, some people may wonder if there is a musicians union. Unlike SAG-AFTRA, where even superstars are members, musician unions typically cater to working musicians lower on the ladder. This is because superstars of the music industry can easily afford the best attorneys and superstar agents, whereas working musicians often lack adequate representation. 

The primary union that represents musicians across the country is the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The AFM exists to provide benefits and advocacy to a variety of professions, such as orchestra musicians, contract musicians working alongside big-name acts, and TV and film score musicians. 

Like most unions, the AFM encourages musician union voting in order to provide its members with a voice. Of course, membership and voting rights come with rules and standards of behavior that members must adhere to. 

Membership and Professional Standards of the AFM

In order to join the AFM, prospective members must demonstrate active involvement in the world of professional music. This can come in the form of contracts, pay stubs, or other evidence of past work. It is also helpful for a musician to have sponsorship or a recommendation from current AFM members. 

Once they’ve met the work requirements, applicants must agree to pay initiation fees and membership dues to maintain their association with the AFM. The approval of membership is typically done on a local basis through the closest AFM chapter. Lastly, would-be members must agree to the rules set forth by the AFM. 

Once admitted, members are expected to uphold the AFM’s code of conduct. The code includes standards for professionalism, ethical conduct, and respect for fellow musicians and the industry as a whole. These rules help set a standard of professional integrity that ensures the reputation of the AFM and its members remains positive. 

These rules also help to maintain a supportive and respectful environment that helps all members feel welcome and well-represented. This sense of unity fosters not only the individual’s career but the careers of all members. 

AFM Governance Guidelines

The governing body of the AFM is decided via a democratic election process that is similar to drama club elections or elections of other professional organizations. Members vote for not only the national governing board but also for their local chapter governance. 

Local chapters of the AFM are critical to supporting musicians who work in areas where musicians tend to congregate, such as music hubs like Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville. Local chapters can set standards that more accurately reflect state and local laws, as well as react to specific market conditions that impact earnings. 

Considerations such as the local cost of living can have a large influence on minimum wages set forth by union contracts. While the AFM operates under a set of national bylaws, the local chapters may have additional rules to ensure they operate in the most efficient manner possible. 

The Rise of Online Elections in Unions

With such a large national footprint and members located throughout the country, voting in the AFM and other entertainment union elections can be complex. In order to make voting as easy as possible and encourage participation, many unions have moved their elections online. 

Companies such as ElectionBuddy offer a secure and transparent election platform in which every step of the process–nominations, campaign messaging, voting, and tallying–can be completed through a simple online interface. Boosts in participation also help to guarantee that the voices of all members are heard. The organization as a whole benefits when as many members as possible are active in the election process.

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