Case Study: Background Vocalist


Posted on February 24th, 2014 by Chhaya Kapadia in Financial Case Studies, Participant Data. 2 Comments

Previous: Reflections, Part 1

Though it’s clear that residuals are a significant part of this background vocalist’s income stream, it’s important to underscore that this livelihood is only possible because of the unions, AFM and SAG-AFTRA.
This Background Vocalist relies on SAG-AFTRA to negotiate her payments and ensure they adhere to union scale. Since she received 144 checks (!) for TV/Film Mailbox Money in 2009-2010 in amounts as small as $0.01, the unions provide a valuable service by collecting income she’s earned but would otherwise have to figure out how to access.

Even within our two-year sample, the unions collected mailbox money for three seasons of this Background Vocalist’s primary show and two seasons of its spinoff, not to mention all of the previous work she’s done. If a production company changes midstream or a show changes networks or gains syndication to a new broadcaster domestically or abroad, this artist doesn’t have to renegotiate a rate for her work or fill out more paperwork; the union manages the changes.

Practically speaking, without unions to do that negotiation and administration, she probably wouldn’t receive most of her residual income and what she did receive would not have benefited from collective bargaining power.

The same applies to the recording mailbox money she receives from the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund. Without the union’s work collecting royalties from multiple domestic and foreign sources, this money would require much more time, effort and organization on the part of the session musician to collect.

The AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund makes it possible for union and non-union session musicians to collect the income they’ve earned more simply and efficiently.

Certainly unions have more relevance for some genres of music and some musician roles than others. For example, classical orchestra players and session musicians like this Background Vocalist benefit most directly from union affiliation, as the unions often represent their interests at the bargaining table. For those whose work fits within a union’s mandate, a musician union can bolster income with its mere presence, administrative know-how and negotiating power. Nevertheless, all musicians – union or not – benefit from the unions’ advocacy on behalf of artists.

Next: Revenue Pies for 2009-2010, detailed by year

Back to Key Findings

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About the Case Studies

Graphs do not have a Y-axis dollar value in order to observe the conditions of our privacy policy. In addition, graphs and visuals in case studies are not comparable within or between case studies. For more details about this, read about our financial case study protocol.

Information detailed in case studies is based on data received directly from the artist or their authorized representative. The data analysis and lessons learned here are based on individual experience, and do not necessarily reflect the experiences of all musicians in genre or roles.

Case studies are one of three ways this project is looking at music creator income.




2 responses to “Case Study: Background Vocalist”

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