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Hollywood Musicians Begin Bargaining With Focus on Streaming and AI

The union representing Hollywood musicians begins bargaining on Monday with demands for streaming residuals and protections from artificial intelligence.

The American Federation of Musicians kicked off the talks with a rain-soaked rally at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, home of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the major studios.

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The musicians’ top issues are the same ones that forced Hollywood writers and actors to go on strike last year, paralyzing the industry for six months.

Like the other unions, the AFM is not seeking to completely block artificial intelligence or “instrument replacement technology.” But the union wants to make sure that musicians can use it as a tool, and are not cast aside in the process.

“We’re not Luddites,” said Tino Gagliardi, international president of the union. “In fact, a lot of our people are developing this stuff. We need consent. We need compensation. And we need credit.”

The AFM represents about 70,000 members across the U.S. and Canada, including recording musicians as well as touring artists and orchestra and nightclub performers.

The union’s TV and film contract was originally set to expire on Nov. 13, but the union agreed to extend it by six months in light of the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

Talks are scheduled to take place over the next two weeks.

“The AMPTP looks forward to productive negotiations with the Federation, with the goal of concluding an agreement that will ensure an active year ahead for the industry and recognize the value that musicians add to motion pictures and television,” the studio group said in a statement.

Unlike the other guilds, the AFM does not get residuals for work on made-for-streaming shows. The union has made that a top priority this time around.

“The business model has changed for all of us,” Gagliardi said. “Musicians are making 75% less now than they were before the streaming model. We need to have a residual on streaming.”

The union is also fighting for wage increases. B.J. Levy, president of the Chicago local of the AFM, noted that while writers and actors can halt production, by the time it gets to the musicians, the production has nearly been completed.

“There’s cost cutting at all points in the process,” Levy said. “But when they get to us, they really want to squeeze… If they don’t like us, they can take it to Czechoslovakia. We can’t shut down the process at that point.”

Several other Hollywood unions — including the WGA, Teamsters and SAG-AFTRA — had members and leadership on hand at the rally, and some noted that AFM members had joined on the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket lines last year.

“All of Hollywood labor is fighting for the same stuff at the end of the day,” said Michele Mulroney, vice president of WGA West. “It just comes down to really basic respect and fairness… We’ll stand with them for as long as it takes or them to get the fair deal they deserve.”

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