Under the agreement, which is based on a new revenue-sharing model, musicians will receive an agreed-upon percentage of sales income from live performances recorded and sold as CDs or downloads. Ownership and copyright will be retained by the orchestras, although third parties (such as a record company) may be awarded temporary distribution licenses. Musicians will also have veto rights over which performances are distributed this way.
The agreement differs from previous ones because it represents direct negotiation between orchestras and the American Federation of Musicians with regards to payment, whereas earlier agreements covered studio recordings and were negotiated between unions and record companies.
The agreement follows a recent trend that has seen more orchestras offer live concert recordings in downloadable format, including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony.
Zarin Mehta, New York Philharmonic president and executive director, said the agreement is a vital step to both ensure the future of classical recording and to bring orchestras into the digital age.
"This arrangement means that our great institutions can preserve their performances and make those performances available to the widest possible audience in such a way that each institution can maintain the artistic integrity of its own heritage," said Bill Foster, a violist in the National Symphony Orchestra.
Musicians will receive a set, upfront payment (six percent of their weekly salary), followed by a minimum of $80 for the first 15,000 recordings sold. If sales go above 15,000, each musician will receive $10 for each additional 1,000 recordings sold.
Forty-eight orchestras have signed the agreement, from Big Fives like the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to regional orchestras such as the Monterey and Modesto Symphonies.