Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Love Flies Out Your Door, Money Comes Innuendo

Three months before Convention 2007, the ever-manipulative Tom Lee had a game plan. Phase one was to intimidate his critics. He began with a letter to RMA President Phil Ayling, accusing him of being a member of the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG) — allegedly a union competing with, and thus forbidden to members of the AFM — based upon conjecture and hearsay. Tom Lee's threatening letter continued:

"If any of the above is true, then you will not be welcome to participate in any official AFM activities or committees...it is my view that any participation by you in the PMG would place the RMA's status as a recognized AFM players' conference in jeopardy."

Ayling answered promptly and unambiguously, to Tom Lee and the IEB:
“President Lee is completely mistaken...I have no relationship with the PMG, and claims to this regard are totally without merit. [President Lee's letter] is laced with rumor and innuendo, and appears to be just the latest salvo of a longstanding campaign to silence me and my criticisms of the current administration.”

(Speaking of silencing critics of the administration, recall that during these very months, Tom Lee and his lawyers were in the middle of an unprecedented investigation to unmask the identity of an anonymous blogger who had criticized Tom Lee. The months prior to Convention 2007 witnessed Tom Lee not merely silencing critics, but bulldozing them.)

Tom Lee would not accept Ayling's denial. Tom Lee shot back in another letter:
"Your letter...carefully avoided any denial...I think you will be well served by a more direct response to these questions..."

Tom Lee followed with dozens of prosecutorial questions, demanding to know everything from whether Ayling would "recommend that musicians join the PMG" to whether he had "participated in the creation or review of a PMG application form."

Ayling again responded:
"[My first response] constituted a full and complete denial of the collection of rumor and innuendo which you sent to me...In [my official capacity as President of RMA International] I state that RMA International makes no "unofficial" endorsements of any kind and that our official endorsements and actions — though sadly ignored and trampled upon by this administration — are consistent with our role as a Player Conference...and solely in support of the AFM."

On the first day of Convention 2007, the June edition of the International Musician was passed out to delegates, containing Sam Folio's repetition of the charge: this time, a video game composer said he had discussions with “PMG leaders Mark Sazer and Phil Ayling.” Ayling personally asked Sam Folio that the implication that he is a "PMG leader" be retracted. Sam now cites more hearsay evidence to support it (edited for clarity):
"I verified the published letter [in the International Musician, accusing Phil Ayling of being a leader of the Professional Musicians Guild (PMG)] and the facts are correct, as well as three member friends advised they were at PMG house parties that were run by Phil Ayling who stated he would not join the PMG but was encouraging others to join."

This is the problem with hearsay: it's not credible and it's rarely even consistent. One piece of hearsay says that Phil Ayling is a "PMG leader," the other says he's telling others to join an organization which he would not join himself. Quoting "three member friends" is ridiculous — if it was "five member friends" the chorus would still be out of tune, having no ring of truth.

There was a game plan at Convention 2007, and it was to discredit Phil Ayling and the RMA to gain momentum at the convention, shunt in the Montreal Local with backroom quid pro quo dealmaking, and pass Article 9, Section 29 — at all costs. The charge that Sam Folio now weakly defends was merely part of Tom Lee's Convention 2007 machine.

Since 2001, this is how Tom Lee's administration has spent its time. Nothing of substance has been accomplished; in fact, quite the reverse. There have been two costly lawsuits against the AFM, one resolved for now, the other still pending, with the rumored prospect of a third. The AFM and Tom Lee personally have sued a dissenting anonymous blog into oblivion, which lawsuit, by the way, is still not closed.

The contracts this administration has "promulgated" and "negotiated" — video game, film, jingle — have been met with an overwhelmingly negative response from those members most connected to them. For example, before the video game contract was finalized by the IEB, letters between Tom Lee and Pete Anthony, Vince Trombetta and Dave Pomeroy revealed Tom Lee’s adversarial and argumentative attitude, negating any input, honest inquiry and suggestions by highly qualified leaders who have concerns for their members. It’s Tom's way or no way.

Practically speaking, there have been no winners. We have seen alienation, mounting legal expenses, separation, distrust, loss of members, and the subjugation of locals, members and potential members to the all-powerful Tom Lee.

The IEB has control and power to interpret the Constitution and Bylaws of the AFM, and Tom Lee has total control and power over the IEB. When will we wake up from this collective nightmare?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

AFM Wins

In a 43-page opinion, Judge Margaret M. Morrow has found for the AFM in the Parmeter case. Judge Morrow noted that there "is a well-established federal policy of avoiding unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of unions” and gave great deference to the AFM's own interpretation of its bylaws.

There is, of course, the possibility of appeal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Robert Levine’s recent article, “Up-close and personal with someone who sounds like Tom,” is a revealing look at an anonymous commenter that could very well be Tom Lee himself. That commenter, "keys88,” attempting to suggest that recording musicians are disloyal to the AFM, quoted an article in the International Musician saying that a video game composer said “I had exploratory discussions with PMG leaders Marc Sazer and Phil Aying...” — implying that Phil Ayling, the President of the RMA, is in fact a PMG leader.

There was a hearing shrouded in secrecy before the IEB regarding Marc Sazer's membership in the PMG, which apparently made a finding but never imposed any sanctions, fines or penalties. Tom Lee has personally insinuated before that Phil Ayling is a member of the PMG, but there has never been any evidence or charge. Tom Lee finds it more useful to insinuate than to actually pursue any action — he finds it politically expedient to have someone and something to demonize, which of course is another page out of Karl Rove's playbook. Innuendo, hearsay, and more innuendo.

At the recent New England Conference I had the interesting pleasure of sitting with both Phil Ayling and Sam Folio. At one point Phil directly questioned Sam's publication of that quote. Phil said that considering that there is now, nor ever was, a shred of evidence to verify Phil's membership or leadership in the PMG, a retraction ought to be printed in the IM. Sam replied by saying that he would consider a retraction, review the matter, have further talks and get in touch with Phil to settle the matter.

Sam, we know of your busy schedule, but did you ever get in touch with Phil?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Video Games Negotiations 101

"Video games are poised to eclipse all other forms of entertainment in the decade ahead.”

So said Activision President and CEO Mike Griffith during his 2009 Consumer Electronics Show keynote speech in Las Vegas. He cited market statistics showing that between 2003 and 2007, the cumulative number of movie ticket sales and hours of television watched fell by 6%, music sales fell 12% and DVD purchases remained flat. Over the same four-year period, the gaming business grew by 40%.

Unequivocally, video games are a new element in the recording marketplace. In response, the AFM has come out with another sparse video game agreement, with the usual lack of input from affected musicians, and the usual gaping holes in basic protections. For example, from page 2 of the agreement, on use-and-reuse: the work of professional recording musicians may be used "in any new medium with no additional payment obligations."

Dave Pomeroy, the President of Local 257 Nashville, wrote a calm and measured letter revealing the AFM's closed-door policy of avoidance in creating the agreement. Sam Folio responded* in a hostile fashion; his centerpiece argument was that "Pomeroy, who represents himself as chair of the RMA Video Game recording session has provided no evidence that he has ever played on a video game recording session."

Mr. Folio, how many video games have you played on? What about Tom Lee? Skolnik? Parente, McGrew, Hair, Price, or Linneman? Our IEB, along with negotiators, fact finders and others, ran the gamut from the experienced recording musician Vice-President Bradley, to the non-musician Shaffner, but none of them have the experience that Sam Folio deems necessary.

Tom Lee's administration says his new naked video game agreement is necessary to capture work that otherwise would go elsewhere. But this claim is totally speculative. Why should our musicians give away real compensation for Tom Lee's promise of increased work in the future?

How do we know that the use-and-reuse funds are "real compensation?" Well, Tom Lee knows that use-and-reuse can turn into a lot of money. He and his IEB are now engaged in begging musicians who received over $82,000,000 last year alone from the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund to volunteer a share of it. That is use-and-reuse compensation. Musicians are entitled to it, and the industry will pay it.

So why was use-and-reuse specifically omitted in the video game agreement, even though Tom Lee knows it means that musicians are giving up real compensation for his speculative promise of more work in the future? Whether it's incompetence or something worse, Tom Lee has given away the store.

All of this comes on the eve of a hearing on the AFM's motion for summary judgment in the Parmeter case. Initial reports suggest that the hearing seemed to go better for the AFM than the plaintiff musicians. If the AFM prevails, Tom Lee's power grab will be anointed and he will become uncontrollable and dangerous to all. We await the judge's decision.

* Dave Pomeroy later clarified the sourcing of his letter, and noted that what the Committee called "Sam Folio's response" was actually originally written and signed by Tom Lee himself.