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Latin 01/09/2001

Latin Musicians Press for Equal Pay

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Carl Joseph Leon has played guitar with a Who's Who list of Latino artists, including Tejano sensation Emilio. But only his latest recording earned him a pension.

For Latin percussionist Henry Brun, a second job is the only way to make ends meet, despite recording 400-plus albums. A pension is still a dream.

Latin music is hot, but some musicians say their compensation is far inferior to that of mainstream artists. The disparity is common for Tejano musicians, many of whom record in San Antonio and Texas' Rio Grande Valley, but it also exists among Latin pop and salsa musicians.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has invited several Latin labels to San Antonio for a Sept. 8 hearing to draw attention to the payment gap, three days before the Latin Grammys show in Los Angeles. Because the caucus is not a full congressional committee, it has little regulatory authority.
``They've been making big bucks at the Tejano and Latin artists' expense,'' said Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, who will lead the hearing. ``We are going to hold them accountable.''

The major music labels - Sony, EMI, Warner Electra Atlantic, Universal and BMG - and several independent labels abide by the Phonograph Record Label Agreement, negotiated in the 1950s.

The agreement provides a professional pay scale for musicians, based on talent and budget. It also provides Social Security payments, a share of ongoing record sales, pensions and health payments.
But EMI Latin, Sony Discos and WEA Latina do not honor the agreement, said Michael Muniz, director of Latino organizing for the American Federation of Musicians.
``They look at musicians down here as second-class citizens who just came out from the barn,'' said Brun, who has recorded with Latin salsa and pop singer Marc Anthony and the late Latin jazz master Tito Puente.

Universal Music Latino and BMG U.S. Latin abide by the agreement, Muniz said.

Sony Music Entertainment spokeswoman Melani Rogers said Sony Discos is reviewing Rodriguez's invitation to the meeting. She declined further comment.

Warner Electra Atlantic and EMI did not respond to The Associated Press' requests for comment.

The record labels previously have told the musicians' federation that the Latin labels are separate companies, Muniz said. The federation represents more than 110,000 musicians nationally.

But Muniz counters that with other music genres, such as country division EMI Nashville, the labels honor the agreement. ``We want Congress to investigate and look at that. Are they really a separate company?'' he said.

Under terms of the Phonograph Record Label Agreement, a recording project with a budget of $95,000 and below would pay a musician $176 for three hours.

Based on three hours of work, the musician also would receive a $17.60 pension payment (10 percent of the pay), $10 in health and welfare payments, and 30 percent, or $52, over five years to share in sales.

The Tejano musicians and the union say the Latin labels hire a contractor, usually the artist or producer, who is given a budget to pay all costs, including salaries and studio time. The musicians say some contractors trim costs by paying them little or in some cases nothing at all.

Joel Jose Guzman, a noted accordionist, said he once spent 100 hours in a studio session on a Christmas project for a major Tejano label and got nothing.

When the musicians' union complained on his behalf, Guzman said he was told that label executives had given the artist the budget and it was out of their hands. ``I talked with the artist directly and he told me to stand in line. I was never paid by the artist,'' Guzman said, adding that he now seldom works in the Tejano market.

Leon said his last recording was with BMG, which honors the agreement. ``We were paid better than we ever have been on any other album. With that, my pension was vested and I'm proud of that,'' Leon said.

Abraham Quintanilla, father of deceased Tejano superstar Selena and owner of Q Productions, said abiding by the union contract would be difficult in the largely family-run Tejano industry, where artists prefer to retain control over their product. They often use relatives as musicians, producers and elsewhere, he said. ``You can't compare the Tejano market to the mainstream market. It's a completely different world,'' he said.

The musicians formed the Support Tejano Advancement in Recording, or STAR campaign, in 1992 to pressure the recording companies to abide by the agreement. Subsequently, Universal and BMG changed their policies, Muniz said.

Among supporters of the STAR campaign are Tejano pioneers Flaco Jimenez - a five-time Grammy winner who played accordion on the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge album - and Joe Hernandez of Little Joe y la Familia, a Grammy-nominated group.

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