For the past two years, a union that represents professional musicians and the video game industry has been at loggerheads over a contract dispute, but one award-winning composer has dared to cross that picket line. Now, he is being criticized by his union and fined $50,000 for working with a video game company.
Austin Wintory is not just another low-level musician. He is an award-winning musical composer who has penned scores to such video game blockbusters as “The Banner Saga” and “Journey.” He won one BAFTA award and was nominated for another. Additionally, he received the Outstanding Achievement in Organic Music Composition Interactive Achievement Award and was nominated for a second. In 2013, he was also nominated for a Grammy for his work on “Journey.”
But Wintory has run afoul of his union. Because he completed his most recent work for the video game industry, a job he accepted before the union’s new contract was to take effect, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has filed sanctions against him, including a $50,000 fine.
According to the union, Wintory violated the terms of a contract written by AFM President Ray Hair that supposedly went into effect in 2012, an agreement that he claimed would “fix” the “problem” between the union and the video game industry.
The union claims that the video game industry is not paying enough for “secondary market” use of the work of its musicians and composers. The new contract was meant to correct that slight.
Unfortunately for the AFM, the industry stood together and rejected the contract, and the union has boycotted the industry ever since.
Critics of the union say that the gaming industry doesn’t really have “secondary markets” for its music. Unlike movies that sell DVDs and CDs after their initial product leaves theaters, the video game industry generally has but one product: the game.
For his part, Wintory asserts that the contract President Hair offered the video gamers was never presented to the membership. “This new contract was done without allowing any composers, musicians or any of the 90,000 members of the union … an opportunity to vote on it,” he wrote on his YouTube page.
“This contract created an untenable situation,” Wintory stated. “Composers and musicians have continued to need to earn a living in this industry. He went on to say that composer and muicians have been “forced to work without union sanction because the union has failed to signed [sic] any video game companies to work with them in almost two years.”
“Simply put,” the award-winning composer concludes, “this current leadership does NOT represent me, and I believe does not represent the best interests of AFM musicians.”
Another factor in Wintory’s situation is that he lives and works in Texas, a right-to-work state.
But Wintory feels that the union is attempting to make an example of him because he’s spoken out publicly on this issue. The composer expects the union to take further action, but so far, everything is quiet.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.