Timeline of Labor Issues in the U.S. Music Industry

I prepared this timeline as a research aid while writing the chapter on labor disputes for "How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll," and am posting it in hopes that it may prove useful to other researchers.

1909: The original copyright protections won by ASCAP specifically exempted coin-operated machines, as affirmed in 1947: “the reproduction or rendition of a musical composition by or upon coin-operated machines shall not be deemed a public performance for profit unless a fee is charged for admission to the place where such reproduction or rendition occurs.” In 1909 the logic had been that coin machines played music through earphones, and hence were heard only by one or two people. The rather tortured logic of 1947 seems to have been that the "performance" was still being given just for the person who put the coin in the machine, and thus not public, though it was heard by the whole room. By contrast, if a bar owner played records for free over a sound system or had a live band, that was deemed a public performance, and hence liable for fees to the publishers and composers of the songs that were played. This was an obvious boon to the jukebox business, and--when jukeboxes took over much of public music-making--an obvious problem for anyone earning income from publishing royalties or live performances.
(Information from 1947 supplement to the Copyright Act, in Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II,” p.261)

1912-16: AFM  authorizes locals to demand that members be hired to operate “any mechanical instrument which replaces all or part of an orchestra,” to deal with player pianos in theaters, and enforces this with a boycott of the Wurlitzer Company and support from the stagehands’ union, which included projectionists. In 1916 it required that “the introduction of a music machine shall not interfere with the minimum number of men rule of the Local.”
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p. 241)

1927, Aug: Federal Radio Commission requires that all broadcasts of phonograph records or piano rolls be clearly described as such in the announcement of each number. Adds that “the use of ordinary commercial records in a city with ample original program resources is an unnecessary duplication of service otherwise available to the public, and the crowded channels should not be wasted in this manner.”
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.248-9, quoting FRC Annual Report.)

1928: Chicago Local 10, under Petrillo, gets agreement from local radio stations to use only AFM members as “platter-turners” to play recordings on the air. (This almost became national practice in 1944, but was headed off by the National Assoc. of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians.)
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.274-5)

1931, the Wired Music Company pipes the music of a three-piece nonunion band at New York’s Barclay Hotel to more than fifty local hotels and restaurants.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.108)

1934, North American Company establishes the Muzak Corporation. Muzak soon came under Associated Music Publishers, and they agreed to “deploy Muzak technology without jeopardizing musical employment,” but other wired-music companies made no such agreement.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.108, citing Official Proceedings, 1942, 278-79)

1934: NBC, followed by CBS moved to eliminate all recorded programs on the stations which they operated.
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.251)

1935, Chicago AFM Local 10 gets agreement from local broadcasters to destroy each phonograph record they broadcast after one play.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.126)

1936, Jan: Warner Brother’s Music Publishers pull out of ASCAP. For the next six months, no Warner tunes—between 20 and 40 % of the ASCAP repertory—are played on radio. Seeing potential problems in the future, within the next year the NAB forms the Bureau of Copyrights to tabulate non-ASCAP material.
(Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p. 167, 169)

1937, Feb. 1: Chicago AFM local, under Petrillo, begins a recording restriction forbidding members to make any records or transcriptions without special permission from the executive board of the local (Leiter). This restriction lasts a year, costing local musicians an estimated $150,000 in lost wages and prompting several recording companies to leave the city.
(Leiter, Robert D. The Musicians and Petrillo, p.68; Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.126)

1937, Weber complained that barely 10 percent of the nation’s six hundred commercial stations employed musicians, generating fewer than eight hundred full-time jobs
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.107)

1937, NY Local 802 threatens that members will make not phonograph records or electrical transcriptions after September 30.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.111)

1937, July: AFM meets with heads of leading record companies, and separately with network reps and the National Association of Broadcasters. Asks networks to expand the size of staff orchestras, stop recording live performances, and urge their affiliates to hire more musicians. Weber threatened to pull musicians from networks that fed music to affiliates without staff orchestras. Gave deadline of Sept. 16.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.110-3)

1937: As a test case for the National Association of Performing Artists (NAPA), Fred Waring and his incorporated orchestra had last recorded Victor in 1932, stipulating that the record label should say “Not licensed for radio broadcast.” When Philadelphia’s WDAS broadcast these records in July, 1935, Waring brought suit. Both a lower court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (in 1937) granted an injunction against the station, ruling that Waring’s interpretation constituted “such novel and artistic creation…[as to] elevate interpretation to the realm of independent works of art,” subject to copyright. Also that Waring and WDAS were competitors for the business of advertisers and that the use of his performances for the 75 cent cost of a record would jeopardize his ability to sell his live performances at his current rate of $13,500/week.
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.253-5)

1937, Aug: Record companies agree in principle to license and label records as for home use only. Networks protest that this is a Sherman Act violation.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.115)

1937, Sept, Oct: Independent Radio Network Affiliates (IRNA), representing about half the total affiliates, agree to spend an additional 1.5 million annually for live music, double the amount previously spent. Also, individual stations agreed to pay local union musicians a minimum of 5.5 percent of gross income from time sales.
In addition, NBC and CBS agree to spend an additional $60,000 per year for musicians at each of their network stations, Mutual agrees to boost total expenses for live music by $45,000. Total gains about 500,000 per year for musicians. This “National Plan” is a two-year commitment.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.115-6)

1938, May: National Plan has taken root, and more than 250 affiliates have contracts with AFM locals. 131 affiliates that had not had staff orchestras now did; 77 others had augmented their orchs or raised wages.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.116)

1939, Nov: Justice Dept Antitrust Division sends letter to Central Labor Union, saying that agreements compelling the hiring of “useless” or “unnecessary” workers are “unreasonable restraints of trade” and violate the Sherman Act. IRNA says affiliates will not renew National Plan, proposes that the union negotiate agreements with each affiliate “without reference to any national plan or quota.” The FCC says it will act against the AFM if it attempts to enforce hiring.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.125)

1939: In a case similar to Waring’s the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in NY ruled against Paul Whiteman, overruling a lower court decision that had forbidden broadcast of records whose labels forbade such use. This time it was not just Whiteman and other bandleaders who were miffed, but also the record labels, since RCA had been party to the suit.
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II,” p.257-8)

1939: North Carolina passes a statute specifically voiding recording company controls on commercial use of records: “When any phonograph record or electrical transcription, upon which musical performances are embodied, is sold in commerce for use in this state, all asserted common law rights to further restrict or to collect royalties on the commercial use made of such recorded performances by any person is hereby abrogated and expressly repealed.” The same statute was adopted by South Carolina in 1942 and Florida in 1943.
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II,” p.256.)

1940: ASCAP announces that when current broadcast licenses expired on Dec. 31, 1940, they would demand a higher payment: 7½% of network’s gross time sales. The National Association of Broadcasters began looking at alternatives.
(Gould, Jack “Radio Music Dispute Raises Complex Issues,” New York Times, 9 Feb 1941.)

1940, April 1: BMI officially becomes competition for ASCAP, with agreements from nearly 250 radio stations to pay annual fees amounting to 40 percent of total fees paid to ASCAP in 1937. (DeLong, Thomas A. The Mighty Music Box, p.230) Before year’s end, BMI signs long-term contracts with Ralph Peer and Edward B. Marks, who were dissatisfied with the deal they’d been getting from ASCAP. Peer has Latin-American music tied up; Marks has a huge catalogue of Tin Pan Alley standards.
(Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p180)

1940, June 15: James Caesar Petrillo unanimously elected president of the AFM.

1940, June: AFM locals in St. Paul and Richmond appeal to national for help in disputes with local network affiliates. To pressure St. Paul’s KTSP, an NBC affiliate, AFM orders ten bands including Herman, T Dorsey and Krupa not to play on NBC; then promises to pull all staff musicians from NBC, at which point KTSP capitulates. At Richmond’s WRVA, a CBS and Mutual affiliate, he ordered eight bands  to discontinue remotes, then 22 more, and again won. This established that, though affiliates and networks argued that the latter couldn’t control hiring practices at the former, they could if pressure was brought to bear, since the networks could in turn refuse their vital broadcasts to the locals.
(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.129)

1940, Sept: AFM ban on appearing on “co-op shows”—network programs with cued blanks for the insertion of local advertising. Ban remains until Dec 1947.
(Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.244)

1940, Oct: NBC and CBS order orchestras on sustaining shows must play at least three non-ASCAP compositions per broadcast, and on Nov. 15 NBC ceases all ASCAP performances. (DeLong, Thomas A. The Mighty Music Box, p.230) By October, ASCAP music has been reduced from 80% on sustaining programs and 76% on commercial broadcasts to 25 and 31% respectively.
(Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p. 181)

1940, Dec. 31, midnight NY time. The old ASCAP contracts run out, and most broadcasters do not renew. The radio networks, affiliates, and most independents ceased to play any ASCAP music, with fines of $250 to be paid for copyright violation if they goofed. Sequilae included soundproof booths for sportscasters to avoid accidental broadcast of ASCAP tunes by college bands, and cancellation of broadcast of parades. Glenn Miller, Sammy Kaye and others quit making sustaining programs after being asked to sign indemnification forms making them responsible for ASCAP infringements, though they continued making commercial broadcasts.
(DeLong, Thomas A. The Mighty Music Box, p.230-1)

1941, mid-January: A Variety poll in Philadelphia shows that less than one third of respondents are even aware of the ASCAP ban.
(DeLong, Thomas A. The Mighty Music Box, p.233)

1941, May: Mutual Broadcasting System abandons other networks and signs with ASCAP for 3 to 3½ percent fee for all network and single station commercial programs.
(Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p.258)

1941, Oct: NBC, CBS, and most affiliates sign contracts with ASCAP, ending the music war. ASCAP would be paid at the network source rather than by affiliates, getting 2.25-2.75% of net receipts from sponsors. Within four weeks, ASCAP publishers were responsible for all but one of the 24 most-played numbers over a seven-day period.
(“ASCAP Music Back on 2 Networks,” New York Times, 30 Oct 1931, and Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p.262-3)

1942: FCC survey shows that 76% of broadcast time on standard stations is of programs with music, but over 55% of those use recorded or transcribed music. Among unaffiliated stations, over 80% of musical programs use recorded music.
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.250-1

1942, Apr: War Production Board cuts the amount of shellac available to record and transcription companies by 70%. The material in records was roughly 20% shellac, and this use typically accounted for a third of US shellac consumption. The order also froze 50 percent of all large inventories of shellac. At about the same time, electrical goods manufacturers switch to war productions and last radios and radio-phonographs for civilian consumption are made.
”Shellac Supply for Records is Slashed,” New York Times,15 Apr 1942; Gelatt, Roland. The Fabulous Phonograph, p.277

1942, Aug 1: National recording ban implemented by AFM: union musicians will “not play or contract for recordings, transcriptions or any other form of mechanical music.”(Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.135) Normally, the record companies might have moved much of their operation to Europe, but with the war going on, that was not a viable option. (Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. III, p.217)

1943, Feb: The US Supreme Court upholds  a Chicago decision denying the government the right to prosecute the AFM for anti-trust violations, holding that the Norris-LaGuardia act prohibited injunctions in cases involving labor disputes.
”Petrillo Proposes,” Newsweek, 22 Feb 1943, p.84

1943, Feb: Petrillo for the first time presents terms for ending the recording ban: that the record manufactures and jukebox operators pay a fee on each disk sold and each phonograph in operation into a fund administered by the union “for the purpose of reducing unemployment…and for fostering and maintaining musical talent and culture…and for furnishing free, live music to the public…” He pointed out that because this did not involve direct royalty payments to recording artists, it did not conflict with the wartime wage stabilization act.
”Petrillo Proposes Fees for Records,” NYT 13 Feb 1943.

1943, Mar: Musicraft Records agrees to Petrillo’s terms, but the AFM rejects his offer, commenting unofficially that they do not want to dilute the power of the ban.
”Disc Maker Agrees to Petrillo’s Plan,” NYT 17 Mar 1943.

1943, Apr: Record production falls to an all-time low, with Billboard’s music machine section listing no new records at all for the week of Apr. 21, and reporting “New releases, which have been coming in sparsely during the past few months, have finally hit rock bottom and disappeared altogether….”

1943, June: Petrillo forbids AFM arrangers to work on all-vocal records, and asks prominent singers not to go along with this method of getting around the recording ban. He says Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Dick Haymes, among others, have agreed to comply. Sinatra and Como are quoted as saying that they were unaware of this, but their agent had agreed for them and they would go along. “Whatever Mr. Petrillo says, well, that’s it,” Como said. But…this same month Sinatra began a series of a cappella records backed by the Bobby Tucker Singers.
”Petrillo Puts Ban on Vocal Records,” New York Times, 26 Jun 1943; Friedwald, Will, Sinatra! p. 133.

1943, Sept 30:  Decca Records (who then produced about ¼ of all US phonograph records) signs a four-year agreement with AFM, agreeing to pay royalties to the union ranging from ¼ cent on a 35 cent record to 2½% of the sale price of records selling for more than $2, or 3% of gross revenues for sale, lease or license of transcriptions (excepting those used only once). Within a month, 22 small record and transcription manufacturers signed the same contract, and four more large transcription companies signed a slightly modified version, which Decca’s was amended to match. These royalties were not to be disbursed to the performers who had made the recordings, but rather were placed in a Record and Transcription Fund to hire union musicians at scale to perform free concerts for the education and edification of the public—the point was not to pay the recording musicians for their work, but to create work for the far greater mass of musicians who were losing jobs due to the increasing use of recorded music.
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.270-1, and Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.155.

1944, War Production Board begins lifting restrictions on the importation of shellac, which constituted about 20% of the material in phonograph records. During the war, there had been very little shellac available, which would have limited record production even without the AFM ban. Now it was theoretically possible to resume full production.

1944, Jun: War Labor Board orders Petrillo and the three remaining recording companies that haven’t signed with the AFM (RCA-Victor, Columbia, and NBC’s radio recording division) to negotiate terms within 15 days to pay royalties into a fund whose disposition will be worked out later and end the ban. Petrillo refuses, saying that he already has 86 recording and transcription companies who are paying into the union fund, and it would negate those contracts if he accepted the new ruling.
”Platters Full of Gravy,” Newsweek, 26 Jun 1944, p.101

1944, Oct: Jascha Heifetz switches from RCA-Victor to Decca in order to be able to record.
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.273

1944, Nov: RCA and Columbia sign royalty contract with AFM, ending the recording ban.

1946, March: The Lea Act is passed by Congress, specifically aimed at the AFM, making it “unlawful…to coerce…or attempt to coerce…any person to pay or agree to pay…for the privilege of…producing…recordings…used or intended to be used in broadcasting…”
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.278

1947, Jun. Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act outlaws sympathy strikes and secondary boycotts, and prohibits unions from forcing employers to pay for services not performed. (On the floor, Taft specifically used the example of the AFM demanding that broadcasters employ more musicians than they wanted or needed.) Also prohibited workers from forcing an employer to pay a representative of any “employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce”—a direct hit at the AFM fund.
Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.175

1948, Jan 1: Second AFM recording ban goes into effect, Petrillo formally stating the union’s “declared intention, permanently and completely, to abandon that type of employment [i.e. recording].” Due to Taft-Hartley, it would have been illegal to make demands, but it was not illegal to simply refuse to record ever again.
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.281

1948, Oct. 28: Record companies and AFM agree to continue their royalty agreement, establishing an independent Music Performance Trust Fund to get around Lea and Taft-Hartley limitations.
Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II, p.286 (Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.191 gives the date for signing this agreement as Dec. 14)

1944-48: Petrillo enjoyed overwhelming support from union rank and file, and in this period, though unionization overall among skilled workers in the US rose only 6%, AFM membership jumped 58%, from 147,000 to 232,000.
Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio, p.176


Countryman, Vern. “The Organized Musicians: II,” The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Winter, 1949), pp. 239-297.

Gelatt, Roland. The Fabulous Phonograph: 1877-1977. New York: MacMillan, 1977.

Kraft, James P. Stage to Studio: Musicians and the Sound Revolution, 1890-1950. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Leiter, Robert D. The Musicians and Petrillo. New York: Octagon Books, 1974.

Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business, vols. II and III. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.