Disney Gets a Surprise at Its D23 Expo: Musicians Demanding Better Pay

photo: American Federation of Musician Local 47
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photo: American Federation of Musician Local 47
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photo: American Federation of Musician Local 47

This past weekend, Disney held its D23 Expo, which is the largest Disney fan event in the world.

This year’s event, however, wasn’t just for fans. Musicians who work for the company, recording music for countless TV shows and movies, also attended as part of their efforts to attain a new contract relating specifically to new media.  Their presence wasn’t exactly part of the experience Disney was hoping for.

During the event, Disney musicians not only engaged with fans but also performed music.  The power of a lovely tune lured in Disney enthusiasts, who quickly learned about various compensation qualms.  Most importantly, the musicians let people know about their #BandTogether movement, which is fighting for an updated contract for streaming platforms.

#BandTogether is more than just about Disney.

American Federation of Musicians (AFM) members from all the major studios, such as ABC, CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony, Warner Bros., MGM and Paramount would like to gain wages and residuals for their music that appears on streaming platforms. That is getting extra attention following the launch of Disney+, the latest subscription streaming launch from a major media behemoth.

Danita Ng-Poss, who is both an orchestrator and a music preparation worker, says that what she and her colleagues are doing in order to get paid properly will determine not only their future, but the future of all musicians that come after them.

“We owe it to our friends and colleagues to ensure we are all paid properly,” Ng-Poss said.  “We also have a responsibility to pass along a career with proper pay to those who are starting out in the business, just like musicians who came before did for us.”

At the moment, the studios are refusing to pay residuals to musicians for new media productions, and the AFM insists that this threatens their livelihood. They further insist that they will step up their efforts to win a fair contract in the lead up to the next round of negotiations between them and the studios later this year.

“The music we make lives on for generations. A residual payment is only fair,” said P. Blake Cooper, recording musician and director on the board of Los Angeles AFM Local 47. “It’s the only way to actually make a real living doing this work.”

The AFM believes that their #BandTogether campaign is gaining support not just from fellow labor unions but also from the community as a whole.

Earlier this summer in June, the AFM held a press conference for the campaign, in which leaders of both SAG-AFTRA and WGA-West spoke in favor of the musicians’ demands. This included Angelina Burnett, who is a board member of WGA-West, and Jane Austin, who is the SAG-AFTRA national secretary and treasurer and the Los Angeles chapter president.