An S.O.S for MPTF, Part II

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Con’t from Part I – The MPF; a victim of circumstance or symptom of a larger problem?

Declining revenue from AFM-negotiated recording royalties has forced the Music Performance Fund (MPF) to move on. It has been relying on grants from major corporations and government arts foundations to stay afloat.

At its peak the MPF received about $20 million dollars in royalties from the recording industry. Today it is a fraction of that amount – around $4 million. This huge loss is due to the decline of “hard copy” CD sales and the rise in digital downloads, which are not included in the royalty agreement.

A recent L.A. Times article cites the Fund Trustee as wanting the AFM to renegotiate the Fund:

The musicians union expects to begin negotiations toward a new recording agreement this fall, and, as always, the terms governing the performance fund are potentially on the table. Trustee Hall wants the union to negotiate the fund into the Internet Age by insisting it receive a share of music downloads.

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Given the ill will between the AFM and the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) over media rights, the success of any negotiation for the MPF is questionable. AFM Reality Check interprets the lack of AFM participation in a recent major music distribution agreement as an indication that the AFM “has its head in the sand” on digital royalty revenue.

In a statement symptomatic of the animosity Frank Amoss, President of AFM Local #7, writes:

… the Recording Industry wants to eliminate the MPTF [sic], claiming that this program in no way contributes to the sale of its product, recorded music. Their complaint is that they get nothing in return.

This complaint is (ironically) very similar to the complaint that many AFM orchestra musicians make about their standard 2% AFM work dues – that they get very little in return.

Without focused and credible advocacy musicians in any field will instinctively hang onto whatever they can. This is to be expected – but this attitude is a little like a hungry snake eating its own tail in order to survive.

Weed killer on the grass roots

Among the many hats that I wear is that of a long-term substitute music teacher. I have been doing this for about 5 years now as a means for additional income and also because I enjoy it.

A disturbing trend here in Arizona is the many schools cutting back on classes that when I was a child, were a standard part of the curriculum. Band and orchestra, art and shop classes are common targets for budget cutbacks.

More and more, our children are being exposed less and less to music and the Arts. Programs that were once taken for granted as requirements for good citizenship are now being cutback or eliminated. The Arts can no longer take for granted public school education to supply and maintain interest in its future.

We all know that music education enhances a child’s ability to read and learn. We also know that it determines long-term interest in music as children mature into adults.

Responding to this, the MPF has made music education a major focus of its activities. In recent years 44% of all MPF audiences have been 18 or younger.

A call to arms

I fear that this “me first” attitude among some music affiliations is a dangerous trend. It is ultimately a self-destructive attitude.

  • If the MPF collapses, when and where will our children be exposed to live Art?
  • If musicians do not support larger causes that benefit the Arts, where will that support come from?
  • Must we always rely on corporate and private “angels” to rescue us?
  • How much longer will “angels” remain a viable resource – especially in tough economic times and in the educational black hole that is expanding, not contracting?
  • Do we want our children’s only exposure to classical music be ringtones, fireworks shows, and video games?

All differences aside, we musicians must remember to be as altruistic as possible in perpetuating and advancing our art form. Left to angelic whim and politically-motivated leadership, the Arts will only continue to suffer from our infighting.


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