Journey And Banner Saga Composer Might Get Fined $US50,000

Journey And Banner Saga Composer Might Get Fined $US50,000

Austin Wintory, the composer behind the soundtracks to games like Journey and The Banner Saga, might be in trouble for… doing his job. The American Federation of Musicians, his own union, is thinking of fining him $US50,000. For making video game soundtracks.

He details the background and causes for this in the YouTube video below, in which he claims that no AFM musician has recorded a video game soundtrack since 2012.

If the video’s not working, or you just want to skim, here’s the accompanying statement:

I, Austin Wintory, am facing a $50,000 fine from my own union for – The American Federation of Musicians – and have decided to speak up against my union’s blockage of ALL new video game recordings

Several years ago Ray Hair, the President of the American Federation of Musicians put together a Videogame Agreement working committee to develop a new game agreement. The new Videogame Agreement was approved by the AFM’s International Executive Board and went into effect December 2012. This new contract was done without allowing any composers, musicians or any of the 90,000 members of the union given an opportunity to vote on it.

“The new administration, was deeply committed to fixing the videogame mess,” explained committee member and Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President Marc Sazer at the time. He also predicted, incorrectly, that “the new agreement should induce employers to sit down and negotiate with the AFM.”

Nothing could be further from the reality of what happened.

The end result was an agreement that was universally rejected by every single video game developer and publisher, and has gone completely unused since the day it was created.

For almost two years now, under this contract, no union member has been allowed to work on a new video game soundtrack as a result.

“Unfortunately employers have not signed the current agreement,” admits AFM Local 47 Vice President John Acosta who represent the recording musicians of Los Angeles, “and the limited work we were doing before has all but vanished into non-union land.”

This contract created an untenable situation. Composers and musicians have continued to need to earn a living in this industry. Those musicians and composers therefore we’ve been forced to work without union sanction because the union has failed to signed any video game companies to work with them in almost two years.

After having successfully recorded the iOS game HORN with AFM musicians, I attempted to do the same with THE BANNER SAGA. The unusable contract forced me elsewhere, and I soon found the remarkable Dallas Wind Symphony. This collaboration happened as a direct result of the AFM’s unusable contract, and I am now being punished for simply doing my job under those circumstances.

In an article telling entitled “Education and Discipline in the Videogame Industry,” AFM President Ray Hair declares, “The time has come for education and discipline”, “within our ranks” as well as within the Video Game industry.

“I don’t think anybody give you anything because they like you,” said AFM President Hair recently, “In the union business they give you things because they are afraid of what you are going to do to them.”

Simply put, this current leadership does NOT represent me, and I believe does not represent the best interests of AFM musicians.


  • I don’t understand.
    Why did you join the union?
    This is what happens when you sign away your free will for perceived bargaining power.

    And why didn’t you leave when you (must have) realised that unions are in-fact terrible?

    I mean, I do sympathise. But that all sounds pretty par-for-course for your typical union scumbag.
    If you think it’s bad on your end, imagine how difficult it is engaging with these bastards as an employer.

    I hope it comes to a fair resolution.

    • Yes, because just like every Asian person in the world is exactly the same, and just like every Mexican person in the world is the same, and just like every caucasion person in the world is the same, that MUST mean that every union in the world is the same. ‘typical union scumbag’ – great stereotyping when they’re just trying to get musicians paid resonably and at consistent rates while video game companies as a whole haven’t shown consistency across the board in the contracts offered to musicians, the rates that they are paid or the duration of their employment – the unions intentions are good as they are trying to achieve some workplace standards for musicians involved in the video game industry, but the way they’re going about it is bad.

    • You’re assuming that all unions are terrible, when it’s only really a small minority.

      The job of a union is to represent its members, not to make employers happy. Certainly there are cases – such as here – where a union is inflexible and forgets or ignores that employers have other options (including, for creative work, the option of sourcing overseas).

      However, there are also cases where if there was no union then employees would wind up quite badly off. When a big employer faces off against an individual, the individual has little bargaining power. When they face off against a union, they are to some extent forced to play nice. In those cases being a member of a union is a definite advantage.

      It’ s not surprising that employers don’t like unions when the existence of a union is almost always to the employer’s detriment. The flipside is that it’s almost always to the members’ advantage.

      Where you get real problems is when a union tries to bargain unilaterally and refuses to negotiate, effectively going on strike, despite a lack of actual bargaining power. In such cases it’s only damaging its own members.

    • You would assume he signed a contract when he joined the union, agreeing to abide by its rules. So if he doesn’t pay then the union will probably sue him.

      • There is also the part where the original clause about video games was written to be voted on by members of the union but actually wasn’t. I would say he will be ok and avoid the fine then the whole thing will likely be looked at to see what can be done about it.

  • I’m sure I’m missing something here but I have never heard of a union that you couldn’t leave whenever you want. Also to the best of my knowledge a private corporation cannot fine people.

    • unions are different in north america compared to here, to the point that for so jobs, if your not a member of the respective union than you will not be hired

    • Well it might not be a “fine” in the strictly legal sense, but you can sign a contract that says you’ll abide by certain rules and if you don’t then you have to pay some kind of financial penalty that is, to all intents and purposes, a “fine”.

      Perfect example of this is sporting competitions. You often see players, coaches, clubs, etc get fined by their respective governing bodies (e.g. the AFL or NRL or whatever) for indiscretions on or off the field.

    • Also to the best of my knowledge a private corporation cannot fine people.

      You’ve never returned a video late?

      • I have but I always told them I would go somewhere else instead of paying them, getting said late fees promptly removed. no ones going to loose years worth of business over a couple bucks.

  • Potentially he wants to stay in the Union for it’s bargaining power and contracts in any case which *doesn’t* involve video games. Assuming video game composition isn’t his only revenue stream.

  • perhaps it’s just me not understanding the whole union thing, but aren’t they supposed to help you with your employment? Blocking avenues of employment in areas like video game soundtracks is well and good if they’re protecting you from something, but what’s their reasoning behind the restriction? Are the union just ‘media racist’s’, or does the video game industry screw composers out of certain base level of ownership/potential earnings?
    To put a blanket ban on members without providing good reason for doing so. They should have taken a vote by the sounds of it too. That’s not just a small neighbourhood group that will likely get trampled quietly :\
    Given the information at hand, I have to side with him on this one. Especially if they haven’t signed anything yet.
    I’m sure there’s not a million jobs out there for composers either, especially ones that would get a world wide audience. This guy’s got an opportunity to share his music with the world, so who cares if it’s a live orchestral performance, a tv soundtrack, movie, or video game?
    I’d much rather listen to a well composed soundtrack while I interact with a fantasy world, than sit and watch the orchestra play it. Some may say otherwise, but my point is, good game soundtracks do make a hell of an impact, and unless they can give a legit reason why, I’d be fighting it for sure!

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