The future of music

The American Federation of Musicians contemplates strike over AI and streaming rights

January 23, 2024
American Federation of Musicians
Image credit: American Federation of Musicians

Key takeaways

  1. The American Federation of Musicians’ potential strike could drastically reshape music industry practices, especially around AI and streaming rights.
  2. Historical precedent: The 1942 AFM strike led to significant changes in the music industry, including the rise of new genres and smaller musical groups.
  3. The outcome of the AFM’s current negotiations will set a precedent for artist compensation and rights in the age of digital and AI-driven music production.

In a crucial moment for the entertainment world, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is on the verge of a major decision. Echoing last year’s successful strikes by actors and writers, the AFM, which represents 70,000 musicians in the US and Canada, may also strike.

The core issue is fair pay and recognition in an age where streaming and AI in music are on the rise. Musicians argue that streaming has drastically cut their income, by up to 75%. This highlights the need for a fair system that values their work.

The AFM isn’t against AI in music; instead, they want AI to enhance, not replace, human creativity. Their demands focus on consent, fair pay, and credit for their work in AI collaborations.

AI in music brings up big questions about who truly creates music. With AI tools like Suno and LimeWire Music Studio gaining popularity, the risk of AI overshadowing human music is real. This calls for an urgent discussion on the ethical use of AI in music, involving labels and streaming services.

American Federation of Musicians video asking for fair pay and recognition.

AI’s impact on music is a global concern

In the global music scene, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) parallels the UK’s Council of Music Makers (CMM) in their critique of major music companies. Both organizations express concerns about the opaque handling of AI and streaming rights, highlighting artists’ growing discomfort with their digital rights and protections.

The AFM’s push for fair streaming residuals and AI guidelines echoes worldwide calls for equitable music industry practices.

These discussions could revolutionize artist treatment in the digital era, focusing on respecting and rewarding musicians. The AFM’s actions could catalyze a pivotal shift in the music industry, advocating for a balance between technological innovation and artists’ rights, ensuring the human essence of music remains at the heart of its evolution.

The 1942 American Federation of Musicians strike and its lasting impact

In 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) initiated a landmark strike against leading record labels such as Columbia, RCA Victor, and Decca, over royalty payments. This action prohibited union musicians from studio recordings, though live performances were unaffected. During the strike, labels relied on stockpiled recordings and re-releases.

The American Federation of Musicians contemplates strike over AI and streaming rights 1
A newspaper front page in 1942 the day the American Federation of Musicians went on strike. Image credit:

Lasting until late 1944, the strike resulted in favorable new contracts for musicians. It also sparked a shift in the music industry, with a surge in vocal-centric records and the rise of genres like R&B, Boogie Woogie, and Bebop, as labels turned to non-union artists.

Additionally, the period saw a preference for smaller ensembles over large orchestras, reflecting a change in musical tastes.

As the AFM contemplates another strike today, this historical episode underscores the significant impact labor movements can have on the music industry. These past changes, alongside today’s challenges of AI, streaming, and digital rights, suggest the potential for another transformative shift in the music landscape.

The far-reaching impact of a potential AFM strike

The possibility of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) striking holds significant implications, resonating beyond the music industry to Hollywood’s entire production landscape. The AFM’s critical role spans film, television, radio, commercials, and streaming platforms. Their absence would notably disrupt various media sectors.

Tino Gagliardi, AFM’s president, told CNN that the union “is going to be prepared to do whatever it needs to get what we have to have, in order to make the lives of musicians better.”

This potential strike brings into sharp focus the broader industry debate on the ethical integration of AI in creative endeavors and the necessity for transparent, fair compensation in our digital world.

The AFM’s actions at this juncture could very well define the future trajectory of music creation and its creators.

The outcomes of these negotiations promise to extend their influence far and wide, shaping not just the fate of the musicians but also the broader landscape of music and entertainment in this digital age.

Sabrina Bonini

Sabrina Bonini is a content specialist, writer, and educator focused on Web3 and entrepreneurship. She started her career as an audio engineer and musician, and has been passionate about the intersection of music and cutting-edge technology since then.

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