Disney Plus finally debuted Nov. 12 with its catalog of streaming content—from Star Wars to The Simpsons—and a labor dispute, to boot! When it comes to scoring soundtracks for exclusive films and shows, musicians are hoping to be heard in their demands for residual pay rights. Under the banner of #BandTogether, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has fought for months to ensure its members don’t get left behind as Disney’s media empire expands.
Directors, writers and actors all earn residual cuts from streaming services. But under an extended contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that expired this week, musicians don’t. And they’re looking to change that, especially with Disney Plus’ big rollout.
Musicians handed out leaflets explaining their cause at the Anaheim Convention Center in August. “We knew Disney was going to be announcing Disney Plus at the D23 Expo,” says Edmund Velasco, vice president of AFM Local 7. “We tried to bring awareness to the public about the struggles musicians are having with the new streaming platform.”
Last month, Velasco joined fellow musicians in protest of Disney CEO Bob Iger’s appearance at the Alex Theatre in Los Angeles to promote his new book, The Ride of a Lifetime. This time, they brought instruments along for a flash-mob-style street performance.
To mark Disney Plus’ launch, union musicians protested various studios on Nov. 12, ending at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
“Right now, Disney is the biggest player in the movie industry,” says Velasco. “They don’t want to have to pay musicians anything after the first time they do the recording.” Since studio recording work can be sporadic, losing out on residual payments could lead to a steep 75 percent cut in income, claims the union. That, and many musicians have given producers discounted rates on the assumption streaming content would offer the same residual pay as traditional “secondary market” DVD home release and cable reruns.
“It’s a matter of fairness,” says Velasco. “We know that the times are changing, but we’ve got to make sure that we don’t leave people behind.”