afm-150x150.png (32474 bytes)

In 1942 the conflict  between America Society of Composers and Publishers and the record companies was a battle between one long time influential group and another that was instituting technological changes that were reshaping popular music. The battle  was over the value of popular music, both economic and cultural. the battle was being played out against the backdrop of World War I I, wherein basic features of America's cultural identity were being challenged. The ATM ban was primarily a protest against the increased use of records in public performances, on radio and in jukeboxes.bar.gif (3285 bytes)

In the 1940s, one of musicians’ most reliable sources of work was playing live on radio stations. So when radio began experimenting with playing recorded music instead of live performances, the American Federation of Musicians ordered a boycott in 1942.

In early 1942 AFM  president James Petrillo had decided not to pursue new contracts with recording companies whose pacts expired July 31, 1942. This act would lead to one of the longest work stoppages in American labor history.

Power had shifted to broadcasters. AMF protested against the use of records in public performances destroying the livelihood musicians by using prerecorded instead of live performances. The broadcaster's eventual victory would push forward the discovery and development of new artists and styles. canned music

petrillo.png (37840 bytes)
AMF president James C. Petrillo

Petrillo had long thought that recording companies should pay royalties. In 1936, he instituted a regional recording ban for eighteen months. AFM endorse such bans to protect members. In 1940 became national president. His predecessor Pat Joseph Weber saw AFM as standard bearer for quality music, whose primary function was to expose to masses high quality live performance by its members. When Petrillo replaced Weber Nicholas Devore of the Musician charged  Petrillo "machinated his way into control" AFM simply to satisfy his lust for power. Bothered by Petrillo's attempt to bring the American Guild of Musical Artist into the AFM called him a petty dictator.   For Petrillo job protection was paramount, while promoting quality music was at best second. That attitude led American Mercury to name him the " Mussolini of Music".However, Petrillo claimed "we have only one problem, canned music."

The fact is that Petrillo was reacting to a legitimate concern. The record industry booming 1940 as the depression came to an end. In 1941 record production had almost doubled and the jukebox industry was booming. AFM's International Board believed records played over the radio or in public via jukeboxes cutting into the number of live engagements. Some musicians were contributing to their demise by playing on recording, though many were not. Also dance halls and hotels that had been placed on AFM unfair list for violations against union rules could evade punishment by replacing live music by playing records instead.

The jukeboxes expanding offering available to consumers revitalized recording industry by making available commercially marginal styles (hillbilly and race) that suffered during depression. Blues and country music were basically  unheard on radio.. had not disappeared.

Petrillo not only feared the jukeboxes but recorded music record and transcription services the the demand for cheap radio programming small towns and shoe string stations replaced more expensive live programs dramas and comedies too. Small stations unaffiliated with networks or dependent for only small portion unable  put on full programming subscribed to transcription service that provided them with inexpensive, pre-recorded shows. NBC announced new policy in 1941 allow record  material on network.

In late 30s disc jockeys began popping up.  Al Jarvis in Los Angeles and Stan Shaw in New York were among the first to develop strong ratings and loyal following. Martin Block turned his Make Believe Ballroom into long  lasting and influential prototype for what radio would become in the 50s. These shows showed how inexpensive, yet profitable disc jockey programs could be. Petrillo saw them as a threat to his members livelihood.

Jukeboxes were the more immediate threat as it allowed owners of taverns, clubs, corner stores that provided customers music to avoid live shows. Also the operators did not have to pay royalties under copyright law as it didn't meat definition of public performance for profit. The owners only needed to pay attention to the taste of the users and stock the machines accordingly. Jukebox operators were highly sensitive to local tastes. This was especially important to country and blues artists since fans unable to afford these records simply went to local hangouts to hear them. It also increased recording opportunities for artists by encouraging local labels that promoted local favorites.

The war had a huge impact on the jukebox industry as Southern workers moved to defense jobs in the North and West Coast. These homesick, rural  migrants were  so supportive of acts that reminded them of back home that hillbilly acts had huge success, fueling the rise of honky tonk style that evolved to rockabilly in the 50s.

Petrillo feared impact that this would have on his members. Jukeboxes in a club or tavern was an omen that the  club or tavern house band would be phased out.

The war helped the jukebox industry as shortages of material, especially shellac, forced limits on record production. This meant that record labels  had to be   more choosy in what the recorded.  It also meant that consumers unable find hits in stores might still find them on the jukebox. The draft of performers forced radio to increase the use of records and transcriptions to compensate.

Petrillo's first move as AFM President to solidify his position was get rid AGMA and bring their members into the AFM and force the unaffiliated Boston Symphony Orchestra to join. After this Petrillo on August 1 1942 told the record companies that "Members will not play or contract for recordings, transcriptions or any other form of mechanical reproductions of music," thus beginning a strike." It meant no union musician could make commercial recordings for any commercial record company. Union musicians were now allowed to participate on radio programs and other kinds of musical entertainment, but not in a recording session.

After the announcement of ban and before the expiration of contracts, Petrol's opponents worked furiously, record and transcription companies packed as their studio schedules to get a much on wax as possible before losing musicians.  They also used public relations firms to put out arguments that only a small percentage of union membership made their living in music, most only  did occasional jobs to supplement regular income. Many localities outside the big cities had irregular opportunities to perform yet AFM listed such inactive members as unemployed to inflate statistics. With these charges it was thought Petrillo would back down but he didn't

It was then thought that Petrillo had painted himself into a corner, alienating industry and public. Petrillo announced that anti-trust name cleared status quo pending litigation.

It didn't happen. His position was endorsed by AFM and parent American Federation of Labor. The Justice Department proposed a civil suit objectives  A strongly worded resolution from the Federation resolved "The objectives sought by the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice would prohibit the use of peaceful measures in furtherance of labor disputes, would deny the exercise of freedom of speech and would impose involuntary servitude upon the workers of the county"  A federal judge agreed and refused the Justice's request for an injunction, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court early in 1944

Initially hoped threat of ban would force the companies to address the union's concerns.

In February 1944 submitted his plan for a resolution which called for a fixed fee, the amount to be negotiated to the AFM for each record, transcription or mechanical device sold if the master was produced with AFM members. The money paid would be used to reduce unemployment of musicians, further music appreciation and provide free concerts.

The proposal was rejected on the grounds it violated legal sanctions governing the relationships between employers and unions, obstructed technological advances and

That summer NAB announced plans to form a company union modeled on their publishing and licensing group. BMI, they would use away members from afm with five year guaranteed job, with time split between radio, records and movie work.. the hope was that once records received air and jukebox exposure, Petrillo would end the ban. when the plan failed the coalition of recording interests , jukebox operators and broadcasters fell apart.

Decca signed and independent agreement with the union in late 1943. Decca was strictly a  recording company unlike not a broadcasting subsidiary like the other two.

In the summer of 1944 the War Labor Board called for an immediate end of the ban and a negotiation of fees to be paid by the remaining record company holdouts, Victor and Columbia. Both parties were unhappy with the this. The record companies were unhappy that WLB sanctioned a direct payment of fees to the union and Petrillo that the Decca agreement wasn't the model for all future contracts and refused to comply.

AFM attorney Joseph Paddy argued that the WLB had no jurisdiction in the matter that did not impede the war effort. The matter was turned over to Fred Vinson director of the Office of Economic Stability. Vinson who had doubts about his power to impose sanctions and force compliance. Those were the calling up of musicians to be re-examined for the draft or ordering the War Man Power Commission to force them to take defense jobs, since the ban did not impede the war effort

Finally, President Roosevelt  made a direct appeal to Petrillo which was turned down. Petrillo claimed that conditions had changed after Decca and one hundred smaller record labels had already settled no one could complain that union members weren't making records,.there was no threat to national morale, nor was there any legitimate reason for Victor or Columbia to demand concessions not granted companies that already signed contracts with the union.

Roosevelt vowed to find a legal way to to settle the ban. Columbia and Victor could wait no longer as their competitive positions had worsened since Decca signed  and they believed they had used all their legal and government options, they signed..

The ban directly and indirectly altered business and creative practices and changes in public opinion about popular music and its role in in America's cultural and social life. It fostered the growth in independent labels that were to become responsible for emerging styles like bebop, rhythm and blues and the crossover potential of country and western and specialized radio programming. economically viable. The commercial and artistic impacts of the independents would not have happened without the ban.

Petrillo won the battle but ultimately lost the war as the consequences for the union were significant. The recording ban went beyond the concessions won by the union as the ban directly and indirectly changed business,creative practices and changes in public attitudes about popular music and its role in America's cultural life. Many of those changes contributed to an increase in the independent record companies. It also brought awareness of the racial boundaries in the music industry.

The ban that was supposed to secure musician employment by opposing records and jukeboxes had no long term impact on either. The new contracts between the union and record companies did nothing to stop the loss of jobs created by recording since there were no provisions curtailing recordings or the use of records in jukeboxes or broadcasting. The failure of the agreement to adequately address the job issue would lead to  a second ban. in 1948.

ASCAP had virtual monopoly on Tin Pan Alley while BMI by 1945 controlled most country, blues and r&b ensuring regular income for performers and companies, started to fund publishing efforts. devoted to those styles. The major players still controlled most profitable music but, these networks were no taste setters. More and more stations were choosing music based on local preferences. This benefited BMI as it built support by sponsoring those  among programmers e who wanted to expand into publishing and recording. Since ASCAP payment system demanded wide spread appeal before a song generated royalties there was little benefit for part-timers and small operations in membership. in the 40s it was largely irrelevant because the industry was geared to mass success but, by the 50s it had change. independent operations, both recording and broadcasters offered viable alternatives and BMI's support paid off big.

In 1948 Petrillo again barred union musicians from recording. Again he was trying to improve their bargaining position and protesting the Taft-Harley Act on the union's power. He felt that Taft-Harley threaten the Recording and Transcription fund. He wanted more paid to the union to help offset unemployment. the most important concession won. the ban lasted a year before theft was restricted long term effects

Record companies again built up inventories. With hundreds more record companies, broadcasters and jukebox operators wouldn't run out of music. Many employed non-union performers, hillbillys and bluesman ignored by the majors who failed to see their potential. By 1950 r&b was dominated by independents when market expanded to white teenagers the majors scrambled to catch up.

When the ban ended, months later the musicians returned to the studios to find vocalists in charge. Vocalists belonged to their own union, which did not strike, and took advantage to establish the dominance of lead singers and solo vocalists. Other forces helped undermine the “big band” and performances involving full orchestras -- among them the demise of ballrooms as central to the music scene, but the strike helped usher in a new age: that of the crooner in the limelight.

home.gif (2894 bytes)