Austin Wintory vs. AFM Local 47

A Grammy-nominated video game composer has been penalized by the union for doing his job.

Unions are strange things. Initially, they were set up to protect organized workers united to achieve common goals such as improved working conditions, higher salaries and employment benefits. As Stan Lee so eloquently wrote, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It seems the musicians union in Los Angeles might have lost touch with this philosophy.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the AFM Local 47 debacle these past several years let me give you a brief run down.

* AFM issues new contract which is unilaterally rejected by the video game industry
* AFM is not happy when game composers and publishers go elsewhere to record music for their games.
* AFM threatens fines or legal action to any member who does this.

This has been going on for a while and it’s not been pretty. Veteran video game composer and AFM Local 47 member Austin Wintory (Journey, Monaco)  recorded his score for The Banner Saga with the Dallas Wind Symphony in July 2013. This made his union very unhappy, so they slapped him with a $50,000 fine.

Specifically, AFM charged Wintory with breaking the bylaws which state he can not, “"perform services (whether as composer, arranger, copyist, proofreader, instrumentalist, leader, contractor, cutter, editor or in any other capacity) for the purpose of producing, editing or dubbing recorded music except where expressly authorized and covered by a contract with the AFM or when expressly authorized by the AFM.” Texas is a right-to-work state which means that members of the musicians union have the right to work on anything they choose even if it’s a non-union project.

The entire video game industry rejected AFM’s contract because the terms were ludicrous in their summation. The result is AFM members are no longer allowed to work on any video game score outside of LA. How does this help preserve the integrity of musicians’ ability to work when they are barred from working within an entire industry? Is it that easy to earn a living in LA as a musician that they don’t need the work? This is ugly and there is no sign of it getting any better. Wintory is fighting back.

What do the musicians’ themselves think? Apparently. there is growing dissension among the ranks as upper-level management continues to steer the ship directly into the iceberg. The whole point of the union is to set up their members for success. That is not happening.