American Federation of Musicians: Timeline of Accomplishments – SpeakStick

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline of Accomplishments

26. July 2016

With over 80,000 musician members, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) became the leading and largest musician union, not only in the United States but in the World.

Over the past decades, the union continuously grows despite detours and issues that were caused by the development of new and innovative music technologies. However, AFM along with the members strive to maintain their existence.

And so, this is AFM’s story and their greatest contributions to the music industry.

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline of Accomplishments

During 1800’s, musicians across the United States created an organization to improve their way of lives. They come up with a society that provides members with financial assistance in case of unemployment, illness, or death, which they later called as the Mutual Aid Societies.

However, after years of the service, the organization was divided into unions that trigger competition amongst them.

In 1896, President Samuel Gompers, President of American Federation of Labor (AFL), invited the organizations to charter and organize a musicians' trade union. They formed the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) with 3000 members from the United States. And musicians who received service fees are considered professionals.

The trade union was able to expand and serve both the United States and Canada with 45,000 musicians during their first years.

Here’s a detailed timeline of American Federation of Musicians (AFM) journey:

1896- Conception of American Federation of Musicians.

1900- American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was renamed to American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada as the organization extended its services to North America.

1903- AFM discouraged foreign bands to join the union as it provokes the stiff competition between domestic and foreign bands.

1904- Minimum wage scales were set for orchestras that travel to perform musical comedies, comic operas, and alike.

1905- Formalized the wage scale for Grand Opera.

1907- Victor Herbert, an operatta composer, presents to the Congress the need for a copyright reform to support AFM and other composers.

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline and Accomplishments

1910- 1919

Music machines, such as mechanical orchestras, music boxes, and player pianos, were developed.

However, after Thomas Edison developed the first voice recording in 1877, transformation on music sales and presentation was triggered. Classical repertoire and vaudeville sketches were already recorded that minimizes the demand for musicians.  

The success of commercial recording and the start of World War 1 triggers unemployment for several musicians.

1910- The term”jazz” or “jass” was developed and started to resonate all over the country.

1913- The International Association of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the AFM charter to support each other in case of theater controversies.

1914- Theater orchestras in the U.S and Canada employed 11 thousand new members.

1916- In order to alleviate the competition between military bands and civilian, the US congress approved a law prohibiting armed services from contending with civilian musicians.

1918- AFM opposes the submission of the “Prohibition Amendment” or 18th Amendment and entails a 20% “Cabaret Tax to all entertainment establishment. These caused the increase of unemployment rate of musicians.

1919- AFM successfully arranged immigration rules for convenient access to US and Canada for traveling musicians.


1920- 1929

Unemployment for musicians continuously augments due to World War 1 and the Cabaret Tax. Minimal demands for live performances on radio broadcasting and “talking” pictures that overtook musicians on performing live in movie theaters results to high unemployment.

1920- Symphony Orchestras and Grand Opera conductors are required to become AFM members.

1927- The development of “talkie” unconstructively affects the demand for orchestras and Jazz singers on movie theaters. The birth of technology causes a massive unemployment for musicians. 22,000 theater jobs were lost.

1928- AFM sets a standard wage scale for Movietone, Vitaphone, and phonograph record work for “canned music”.

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline and Accomplishments


Musician workplace became diversified as new recording technologies emerged. But the AFM is firm that all musicians must be under their union regardless where they work, either for new technologies or traditional workplaces.

And although the Great Depression has closed several recording companies, fortunately, recording businesses perk up in the mid- 30’s.

1930- AFM enacts the Music Defense League to support musicians against “canned music” being used in theaters and cinemas.

1935- Unemployed musicians were relieved from unemployment with the help of Works Projects Administration of the Government.



1940- During James Petrillo’s tenure, government ratifies several legislations that affect AFM’s power in negotiating with musicians. The Lea Act limits the union’s ability to bargain with radio broadcasters, which made it a struggle for Petrillo to compensate the unemployed musicians. This gives life to the Recording Industries Music Performance Trust Funds, former Recording and Transcription Funds, that promotes music education and appreciation through sponsoring public performances in US and Canada.

1941- Set a minimum wage for arrangers, copyists, and traveling orchestras.

1944- AFM signed its formal agreement with the motion picture industry.

1946- AFM’s 50th anniversary!

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline and Accomplishments

1950- 1959

The United States government with other arts group and AFM established a council for the arts that elevates and conserves America’s heritages.

1952- AFM and independent motion pictures had its collective bargaining agreement to improve musicians exposure in the motion picture industry.

1957- The Canada council by the Canadian Parliament strives to improve Canadian music achievement.

1959- Establishment of The AFM Employers Pension Welfare Fund.


Record sales started to boom especially for millennial and Baby Boomers. Rock songs became the most favorite music genre of teens and adults, and folk music enters the vogue. Electronic instruments started to explode which became an advantage for popular and classical music.

1960- AFM Partnered with Pay-TV. From

1961- TEMPO became AFM’s political action committee.

1962- The union made a campaign to make amendments to the Copyright Act to ascertain property and performance rights for musicians.

1965- US President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that made the development of chamber music groups and symphony orchestras possible.

1969- International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) became part of AFM’s partnered organization that represents orchestral musicians.

American Federation of Musicians: Timeline and Accomplishments


Record sales boomed over the decade while radio stations started to play in a synchronized standard program style. Punk rock, disco, and new waves of music genres began to popularize. Opera started to broadcast live on television, which led to the emergence of new opera companies in the region.

1972- The US Congress enacted the new music piracy law that penalized violators with criminal prosecution.

1975- AFM partnered with the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) to represent musicians who are members of the union.

1978- AFM accepted military musicians to join their union.

1979- Established of AFM’s international office in Toronto.


Music videos made music marketing much easier. Musicians and performers influenced the fundraising momentum. However, politicians disapprove the way rock songs were being marketed to teenagers.

1980- AFM and National Labor Relations Board agreed to the continuous franchise and regulation of booking agents.

1982- The union partnered with International Recording Musicians Association (RMA) to represent their recording musicians.

1984- AFM Partnered with Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) to represent their orchestral musicians.

1987- Approved the Digital Audio Recorder Act to avoid illegal music recordings. AFM also secured an exchange program between US and Canada to make it easier for their performing musicians to travel between countries .

1988- AFM drafted the ROADGIG to secure members from a contract default during their road trip to their supposed venue. The union then enforced the contract terms after.


Music became diversified from live to recorded and old to new music technologies. Multimedia technologies and internet sampling became popular. With these massive changes in the music industry, AFM still and continues to protect professional musicians

1992- Implemented the Audio Home Recording Act that provides royalties to musicians for digital tape recorders and digital audio tape sales.

1994- AFM and movie producers concurred on a low budget film recording to maintain union’s contribution in the industry.

1995- AFM and recording companies settled for low-budget multimedia and audio recording to maintain the union’s embodiment in the industry. 1996- Celebrated AFM’s 100th anniversary.

Today, AFM has over 80,000 members that play sophisticated music in the United States and Canada.

“The only object of AFM is to bring order out of chaos and to harmonize and bring together all the professional musicians of the country into one progressive body,” said AFM’s first President Owen Miller.


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