Alan Willaert International Representative, American Federation of Musicians

Alan Willaert International Representative, American Federation of Musicians
Alan Willaert toured as a multi-instrumentalist/vocalist for 20 years. Now, as an International Representative for the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), he is involved in contract language and negotiations, training and support, as well as electronic media specifics such as royalties, new use and special payments. He is based in the Toronto office of AFM Canada.

When should musicians think about joining the union?
I would encourage them to look into membership the moment they decide to record or that their product is worth money. Both of those scenarios should be covered under some kind of paper, for obvious reasons. They’re going to run into unscrupulous, exploitive club owners that choose not to pay them or pay them less than they’re worth, and when they’re recording there’s only so much they can do that’s covered under the Copyright Act. The rest of it comes their way because of a union contract and that can be the largest position by far.

Such as?
When you record under AFM contract, you have "special payments.” It’s been negotiated with the recording industry that .5 percent of all gross sales go into a fund that’s distributed among all the session players that are union members for that particular year. The more sessions you do, the bigger piece of the pie you get. If you do one session this year, you are a member of the fund for five years. So it can be a significant amount of money that comes in. In addition, everything we do at the national level has AFM pension on it. We have one of the best pension plans in the world. It’s entirely employer funded. If you’re doing casual gigs you have to negotiate it in your contract, but if you’re doing CBC or theatre work or symphonic work it’s always negotiated on your behalf at a different level. Beyond that there’s "new use payments” that can go on for a long time. When a tune is used in a motion picture, you get 100 percent of the session fee paid by the producer of the movie (if they are signatory) for new uses — so if it goes to in-flight movies, that’s a new use so it’s again 100 percent. Also, pay TV, basic cable, free TV and every country it’s sold to is a supplemental market and a new payment.

What is the union doing to stay relevant with the way technology is changing the music business?
We have put into place a lot more things that bring us into this century. We have a new website called which is free to our members. You can post as a band or musician to get work; there can be clips of a video or music or anything that will help you get work. It’s become one of the number one hits on Google for finding live music. So we assist them that way in getting gigs. We also have the GoPro auction site, which is kind of like Ebay for members. There’s a GoProTunes site that’s being launched soon. That’s kind of like CD Baby for members. And GoProLessons, so if you teach music you can advertise that on the website. So all these things are put into place to make sure that we’re there with the modern technology and it all helps. It helps get gigs.

Are there any other Canadian broadcasters, beside the CBC, who are signatory to an AFM agreement?
Not at this time — but they have always been very good about signing letters of adherence. Very few [broadcasters] have in-house producers, so most of it is outside products. We have a co-production contract where the production company signs on — for example, the Junos or Canadian Idol use union talent. Breakfast Television is unique in that the Toronto local has an independent agreement with CityTV where a large amount of money is dumped into a pot and every AFM member who plays and files and follows the procedure gets paid for that show. We don’t have an exclusivity clause where they’re only allowed to use AFM members, because obviously it’s a show about new talent. It would be impossible to restrict it, but anybody who performs and has an AFM card will get scale for broadcast.