This past Friday, October 20th I had the privilege of watching my client and friend Garry Schyman conduct and record a live orchestra for the upcoming VR video game entitled TORN (by Aspyr Media) on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox. What makes this news worthy? IT WAS RECORDED WITH THE UNION. As in on contract, in LA, at Fox, WITH THE AFM. I’m being annoying with the caps because truthfully, that’s a really BIG deal.

I represent several composers who regularly score video games and Friday was the first time I had been to a LA AFM recording session for a game in a very (very, very) long time. Many game developers and publishers cannot or will not use the available agreement for a variety of reasons (none of which I’ll get into here because that’s not the point of this post). The relationship between the AFM and Video Game Industry is a strained one – lets leave it at that. As a result, very few game scores have been recorded here in LA with the AFM.

What is important here (and what I’m personally pumped about) is this: the negotiations I have been a part of as it relates to the recording of Garry’s score for TORN showed me that attitudes are shifting. Friday’s session made me feel energized and hopeful that maybe this could be the start of a whole new era. I could tell that feeling was mutual too. There was genuine joy, appreciation and admiration in the air. Both parties left that day pledging many more to come. This is something to really celebrate.

I will say that the session for TORN was most definitely not the first game score to be recorded in LA under this agreement. I don’t want gloss over the hard work and dedication of my friend Paul Lipson. Paul helped forge the way for the Franchise Buy-Out Agreement (aka 2014 – 2016 AFM Video Game/Interactive Media Agreement), which is the agreement we used. Paul and others like my friend Noah Gladstone use it as often as possible. No doubt it is because of people like Paul and Noah who have helped lay a foundation of trust and respect with the AFM that allow future conversations like these to take place.

There were a few things I took away from this process I thought might be helpful to share:

1. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS BASED ON THE PAST
Just because there hasn’t been much video game scoring done AFM in LA doesn’t mean its not possible. For us not only was it possible but it was a collaborative and positive experience. We knew it would be important to go into this negotiation without the baggage of the past lingering over us. When you get back together with your girlfriend after a bad break up, you don’t bring up the things she did that drove you crazy, right? We focused on what we wanted to accomplish together and what that success would mean instead of any negative stuff. Assuming things won’t go well because it hasn’t for others, doesn’t mean that will be your experience. You’ll never get what you want with that type of thinking. In other words, LET IT GO.

2. ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED (AND BE PERSISTANT)
The agreement wasn’t perfect as is, but it was close enough we could use it as a starting point. The developer was on board to sign it, there was just one area we needed to adjust. We identified what that was and made our needs known clearly. Even if the agreement isn’t close to what you need, you should still lay out your needs and explain why. Support your reasons with facts and kindly educate. We kept at it. If we didn’t hear back for a week we followed up religiously. Persistence is key.

3. FIND AN ALLY ON THE INSIDE
There are folks at the AFM who would very much like to have this work and are eager to establish relationships with game developers, publishers and composers. Reach out and befriend someone who takes interest in what you are doing. They are eager to hear from you and can help influence decision makers. (Hint: John Acosta).

4. BE READY TO COMPROMISE
Negotiation 101: don’t expect to get everything you want. We didn’t get exactly what we wanted but we got close enough. In this situation, close enough for us was still a huge victory. I can’t divulge the specifics of our deal as they are confidential, but it definitely set a new precedent for more recording like this. The mere fact that we were able to have a negotiation and come to a mutual agreement means we can do it again. Giving up something doesn’t actually mean you lose, for us it was opening a door for later on.

5. PROGRESS TAKES TIME
One scoring session isn’t going to bring all of video game recording to LA. Progress takes time, especially when dealing with a long standing institution. The more we share these successes the more common they will become.

Special thanks to John Acosta for your commitment to this partnership, to Rick Baptist for your fantastic hugs, Linda Rapka for quickly jumping on random phone calls with me and to Ray Hair for taking us seriously and approving our agreement. Thanks to David Lowe and Noah Gladstone who were instrumental in helping pull this off (see what I did there?). Thanks to Neill Roger and Dave Prout from Aspyr Media who didn’t go running into the hills when we said we wanted to record this union. And thanks to Garry Schyman who said to me after we closed his deal to score the game, “I really want to record this union”.

I can’t wait to do this again! Who’s next?

[I call this picture “How many people can you uncomfortably fit on the podium”: Neil Roger from Aspyr Media (left), Garry Schyman (center left), Savina Ciaramella (center right), John Acosta (right) and little ol me (front right]