I have been writing about the steady decline of work for L.A.’s studio musicians for 15 years. Back in 2000, I covered the issue at length in the Los Angeles Times. Film-scoring work has continued to plummet, as documented in a recent “white paper” partially funded by the American Federation of Musicians. In this new story for Variety, I look at this very divisive issue and the reasons that, according to one veteran player, musicians are “at each other’s throats” about whether to give up residual payments in order to retrieve the recording work that increasingly goes to London or Eastern Europe.
Don’t invite Randy Newman to speak at your event if you don’t want to laugh nonstop for an hour. Especially in front of a group of musicians. The Recording Musicians Association asked me, again this year, to conduct a live Q&A with one of their favorite composers, the estimable, Oscar-winning songwriter Randy Newman. Really, with Randy you just wind him up and get out of the way.
One of the most contentious, and complex, issues facing Hollywood studio musicians is the role that the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) plays in their lives. If a movie production company or studio isn’t legally bound to score in Hollywood (only major studios and networks are), then they often choose to go overseas to record their music. A growing number of musicians are unhappy about this, and many are urging the AFM to agree to concessions in order to keep more recording work in L.A. This story reports what many had to say at a meeting in Santa Monica in late 2012. (The headline, incidentally, is misleading; it’s not so much about the composers but rather about the musicians who play the music.) And here’s a followup story from January 2013 on the issue.
The Recording Musicians Association has been kind enough to ask me to conduct their annual composer interviews, and this year John Williams agreed to sit down for a one-hour conversation. There were dozens of truly great L.A. musicians present, along with old friends including longtime contractor Sandy DeCrescent. As always, he was thoughtful, insightful and absolutely fascinating. We did this at the Biltmore Hotel downtown and I was honored to be the interviewer.
This was one of the longest, most complicated, and yet important, stories I ever wrote for the L.A. Times: A 3,300-word examination of why studio musicians were losing work to non-union sites in the U.S. and abroad. Although written 17 years ago, it’s uncannily relevant today, as film-scoring work is leaving L.A. in droves and panic is setting in about how to stop it.
For the Record chronicles the struggle of recording musicians — that is, professional musicians who play in studios (for films, TV, records, etc.) for a living — to achieve respect within their own union environment.
Ignored, even ostracized, by members of the American Federation of Musicians in the 1940s and ’50s, they eventually formed their own union (the Musicians Guild of America, 1958-61), then rejoined a chastised AFM. The struggle didn’t end there, however, and the founding of the Recording Musicians Association in 1969 was a first step toward professional musicians’ eventual acquisition of the power and prestige that they enjoy today within the AFM.
Foreword by Edward Asner.