US musicians blocked from composing new game music scores 'for almost two years'

US musicians blocked from composing new game music scores 'for almost two years'
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

June 10th 2014 at 3:45PM

Austin Wintory says he faces $50,000 for scoring The Banner Saga

Members of the American Federation of Musicians have been unable to compose a new video game scores for almost two years due to a restrictive contract drawn up by the union, the musician behind The Banner Saga and Journey has claimed.

In a passionate video on the matter, Austin Wintory said a video game recording contract had been written and enacted in 2012, but was “universally rejected by every single game developer and publisher and has gone totally unused ever since”.

He added that none of the union's 90,000 members were consulted on the contract.

As a result, he claims, members of the AFM have been unable to compose new scores for games.

Wintory also said he now faces a $50,000 fine for going against the Union and scoring the music for Stoic's Kickstarter-backed title The Banner Saga.

The musician has called for the contract to be redrawn, and for members to stand up against what he calls "intimidation" and "suppression" from the Union's board against those who speak out on the issue.

You can view the full transcript of Austin Wintory's statements below. You can also watch the video at the bottom of this story.

"My union has made it effectively impossible for composers like me to continue to do this [make music for games]. And I'm even facing a possible $50,000 fine. I think it's madness and I think it's a story that needs to be shared.

"A few years ago the president of my union the AFM put together a committee tasked with developing a brand new video game recording contract. And the contract they came up with was subsequently enacted in 2012 by the union's international executive board.

"Now no composer, musician or any of the more than 90,000 members of the union were given a chance to vote on this contract, and it was subsequently universally rejected by every single game developer and publisher and has gone totally unused ever since.

"The net result is that for almost two years there have been no new video game soundtrack recordings. I am not exaggerating. Under this new agreement, no AFM musician has been able to work on a new videogame score for almost two years. And there is no end in sight to the prohibition of this work.

"This contract has created an untenable situation, because of course composers and artists and musicians have needed to continue to earn a living, and earn a living no less in an industry that we love to work in and feel grateful to be a part of. But we've had to do it therefore without union sanction for almost two years.

"As an artist I was extremely lucky and honoured to be able to work on a very special game called The Banner Saga, which was actually initially given birth through Kickstarter, which is the product of pure grassroots love. More than 20,000 people pitched in to make this game happen and the collaboration was beautiful and I was actually very excited that The New York Times even profiled my work on the game.

"However that enthusiasm was not shared by my Union.

"Days before the game even came out I was sent a letter bringing me up on charges for working on it non-union, and with the threat of a $50,000 fine. The letter quotes from the bylaws which specifically prohibit me from working as a composer, producer, arranger, conductor or producer or in any other capacity, and it is specifically because the union has failed to produce an agreement that the developers or publishers of this or any other game has been willing to sign.

"I've been an outspoken critic of the union's unwillingness to find a successful path for working with developers and publishers and allow me and my fellow composers, and the brilliant musicians of this union the chance to work in this absolutely amazing art form.

"And now it seems that because I was outspoken I am being specifically targeted by the union. It seems that they are trying to make an example out of me, so I have had to seek legal counsel and now I am sitting, awaiting judgement from the exact same union board that decided to turn its back on the entire game industry to begin with.

"Though I certainly don't love the idea of a $50,000 fine and I acknowledge that by going public I am probably increasing the chances of retribution from the union, I feel very strongly that the truth of this needs to be known.

"I refuse to live in fear. And I especially refuse to live in fear of my own union. I'm willing to risk the consequences of speaking out because ultimately I don't actually think this is about me, this is about what's right. This is about composers and musicians being able to work in a medium that we love without fear of threats and intimidation and it's about the next wave of musicians and composers who want to get into this business and dream of working in games who shouldn't have to fear being attacked.

"This is supposed to be our union and instead they've chosen to attack us for working and doing our job and in an art and medium that we really love and cherish working in. We can't let this art form be ignored, or even worse trampled on by a small panel of people that have probably never even held a controller or sat at a computer and played a game and are completely out of touch with its community and the amazing people who are making them.

"On behalf of those who love creating music and on behalf of people who just love listening to it and playing games, make your voice heard that these practices of intimidation and the suppression of people who speak out against that can't be allowed to continue.

"Show that games and great art come from a place of love, enjoyment and celebration. Not from a place of fear."