Tennessee wants to encourage video game publishers to bring their musical score work here, but union officials say that the plan is opening a door for cheaper, non-union musicians willing to work for lower wages.
“It’s that respect for musicians that is getting lost in the world of video games,” Dave Pomeroy, president of the Nashville chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, said.
Tennessee is a right-to-work state, so entertainment companies can legally hire any musician they wish. But film and television companies that come to Nashville have historically worked under union agreements. Video game publishers have not been as accommodating.
The state has recently opened its fund for film and television production to video game companies. That means they are now qualified to tap into the $5 million in tax rebates set aside for the entertainment industry.
This was supposed to help Nashville stay competitive with other cities abroad. But Pomeroy says the reason video game companies go abroad is to hire musicians at discounted wages.
“You can go to Prague or Bratislava in Eastern Europe and pay pennies on the dollar,” he says. “They’re trying to turn Nashville into that kind of industry, which is very destructive.”
The typical union musician gets about $125 per hour in pay and benefits for a session, but non-union musicians get about $75 without contributions to their health or retirement.
The union is hoping to get video game publishers to pay better wages voluntarily. If not, they want state lawmakers to get involved.