Agreement Reached for Live Orchestral Recordings in U.S.

Agreement Reached for Live Orchestral Recordings in U.S.

[Ed. Note: The following news item was compiled from a press release issued this morning from the American Federation of Musicians.]

Symphony, opera and ballet orchestras in the U.S. and Canada and the American Federation of Musicians have reached an agreement on terms and conditions for the creation of commercially available recordings of live classical performances in the U.S. and Canada. This innovative new agreement, which utilizes a different artistic and economic model for recording, was ratified in June by forty-eight leading U.S. and Canadian classical music institutions, including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra as well as the opera companies of San Francisco and Houston, among others. The musicians in these orchestras, who are represented by the American Federation of Musicians, have also ratified the agreement.

Under the agreement, musicians receive upfront set payments for the recording of live performances that will be produced and sold as physical product, such as CDs, or downloads (though this agreement cannot be used solely for downloads), and, under a new revenue-sharing model, musicians receive a percentage of the receipts of CD and downloading sales. Ownership and copyright of the master recordings will be retained by the orchestra institutions, although distribution licenses may be granted for limited periods to a third party (such as a record company or distribution company). Orchestra musicians will have right of approval on a project-by-project basis, with each recording project put to a “yes” or “no” vote before moving forward.

The arrangement is unique in that it represents direct negotiation between orchestras and the American Federation of Musicians with regards to payment of musicians for the production and sale of CDs, unlike existing agreements that cover studio session recording which the union negotiates with recording companies. It aims to establish an economic model that will enhance the potential for more frequent recording by U.S. orchestras, to the benefit of each institution’s national reputation and the advancement of classical music as a whole. Recently, initiatives to release live concert recordings for electronic distribution have been launched under the terms of the AFM Symphony, Opera Ballet Internet Agreement by a number of orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Milwaukee Symphony. The new CD recording agreement is a representation of the ongoing overall effort on the part of the AFM and management to create new models allowing for more frequent recording, and points to a bright future for various types of media including video, internet streaming and downloading.

“This agreement helps to create new solutions that will allow more frequent recording—a crucial element for the future of the U.S. symphony orchestra. It also represents another step towards bringing orchestras into the digital age, which is essential for increasing accessibility to classical music and reaching a broader audience,” said New York Philharmonic President and Executive Director Zarin Mehta.

“This new agreement was made possible by the dedication and hard work of musicians and managers who were committed to forging a new model for the production of live performance recordings of classical music,” said Thomas F. Lee, International President of the American Federation of Musicians. “As partners, our great orchestra musicians and their institutions can bring virtuoso performances to a broader public in a way that benefits society, our arts institutions and the performing musicians.”

San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley commented, “I’m very pleased that San Francisco Opera was able to have a role in helping to forge this new agreement to ensure that commercial recordings of our wonderful performances continue to be made available in the rapidly changing world of classical music. This kind of cooperation between the musicians’ union and management will be essential to ensure the future growth and survival of our industry and to win new audiences for our art form.”

“This arrangement means that our great institutions can preserve their performances and make those performances available to the widest possible audience in such a way that each institution can maintain the artistic integrity of its own heritage,” Bill Foster, violist in the National Symphony Orchestra.

Key Components of the Agreement

Allows for the production of live audio recordings (not studio sessions) made at performances which are then produced and distributed as physical product (e.g. CDs or downloads. However, this agreement cannot be used solely for downloads – a CD must be produced first which is then made available for downloading).

Management must discuss all aspects of the project with the orchestra committee in advance. Each orchestra has the right to a “yes” or “no” vote on the project. Ownership and copyright of the master recordings must be retained by the orchestra institution, and may not be sold or transferred to any third party.

A recording can be licensed for distribution to a third party (e.g. recording company or distributor), but the initial license period may not exceed 5 years. License periods may be renewed but require a further project by project approval vote process by the orchestra.

Upfront Payments

Symphonic: 6% of weekly scale (or 48% of performance scale), with a minimum of $80 per musician for the first 15,000 units sold.

Opera: 6% of weekly scale (or 37.5% of performance scale, with a minimum of $80 per musician, for the first 15,000 units sold.

The up-front payment covers 78 minutes of music or less for symphonic recording, and 126 minutes of music or less for opera recording. Additional minutes require additional up-front payment.

Each musician will receive a tier-payment of $10 upon the sale of more than 15,000 units, and for every additional 1,000 units sold, without limit.

Revenue Sharing: In addition to up-front and tier payments, musicians will receive a percentage of 50% of the gross receipts to the institution after agreed-upon direct costs are recovered.

Agreement allows for digital downloads from recording (but cannot be used solely for downloads), with one full-album download counting as one physical album sale.


Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
Colorado Symphony Orchestra
The Columbus Symphony Orchestra
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Elgin Symphony Orchestra
Fort Wayne Philharmonic
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
Grand Rapids Symphony
Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Houston Grand Opera
Houston Symphony Society
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra
Kansas City Philharmonic
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Little Orchestra Society
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Minnesota Orchestra
Modesto Symphony Orchestra
Monterey Symphony
The Nashville Symphony
National Arts Centre Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra
New Mexico Symphony Orchestra
New York Philharmonic
New York Pops, Inc.
North Carolina Symphony
Omaha Symphony
Oregon Symphony
Pacific Symphony
Philadelphia Orchestra
Phoenix Symphony
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Saint Louis Symphony
San Francisco Opera
Syracuse Symphony Orchestra
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Utah Symphony & Opera
Victoria Symphony
Washington National Opera
Youngstown Symphony Orchestra

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