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I’d like to explore recording my next recording project with vocals on a union contract. Whom should I call?

Contact the Singer Department of SAG-AFTRA at 323-549-6864. Tell them the area you will be working in (Film, TV, Sound Recordings, Video Games, Commercials, Songwriter Demos, etc.). They can talk you through the process, help you with specific rate information, and explain the additional Pension & Health/Health & Retirement contributions process.

Once I have made contact, will I get in trouble if I decide not to record on a union contract?

As long as the call is made in good faith, the call does not compromise or obligate you in any way.

I’ve heard that it’s a hassle to record vocals union – is it really complicated?

It’s easier than you think, and there are many resources available to streamline the process.

  • SAG-AFTRA staff can provide all the information you need, including rates and any necessary paperwork, and are available to answer any questions you may have. Visit our Contact Us page.
  • Information, documents and rates for all singer-related SAG-AFTRA contracts are available online on this site.
  • A vocal contractor can be a valuable resource in providing all necessary SAG-AFTRA information, including budgets and paperwork.

Do you have any special discounts or waivers I should know about?

We’re so glad you asked! Under certain conditions, films that use 9+ singers can apply for our 3-hour Theatrical Film Waiver. Instead of paying for an 8-hour day, you can choose to pay only for a 3-hour session. This waiver must be requested in writing from SAG-AFTRA in advance of the session; email Terri Becherer.

Animated films in the pre-production period, when musical material, story line, and character concepts are being developed and workshopped simultaneously, are eligible for our Animation Workshop Waiver. With this waiver, you get 6 hours of singers at demo rates (50% of their usual rates), with all overdubbing and sweetening included. You only pay the singers their regular fee if the cues are used in the final product. This waiver must be requested in writing from SAG-AFTRA in advance of the session; email Terri Becherer.

What are the basic steps of putting together a union vocal recording session?

The process of planning a vocal session is very similar to the process for booking an AFM musicians’ session. The only difference is that a vocal contractor is required for any group of 3 or more singers.

  1. After your schedule has been set, contact the vocal contractor you wish to use. Explain the “sound” you are looking for, the size and voicing of the vocal group, and any particular singers you want to include.
  1. Your vocal contractor will prepare a budget, if required.
  1. Tell your vocal contractor who the signatory producer is. If this is an independent project, or if you are putting together a songwriter demo and will be the signatory yourself, your vocal contractor can assist you in getting the agreement you will need to sign with SAG-AFTRA.  SAG-AFTRA has streamlined the process of becoming a signatory. The SAG-AFTRA Production Center is where you will find all the signatory information.
  1. The producer will usually select a payroll company. The payroll company is responsible for cutting the checks for singer wages and benefits, and handles taxes, payroll benefits and records.
  1. Your vocal contractor will select the appropriate singers for the project and clear their status with SAG-AFTRA.
  1. At the session, your vocal contractor will provide and have the singers fill out the documents the company will need for processing the payments.  Those documents include tax documentation and individual contracts where applicable. The vocal contractor is also responsible for filling out and signing the member report, which is basically an invoice containing information about the session and wages and benefits to be paid to or on behalf of each singer.

What is a "signatory"?

The signatory is a company or individual that signs the union agreement and thereby assumes the responsibility of fulfilling the contractual obligations, including payment; usually the producer or owner of the content.

What is a "vocal contractor," and do I need one?

A vocal contractor is required for vocal groups of 3 or more singers. Any SAG-AFTRA singer can act as a vocal contractor. He/she can prepare budgets for you, handle the paperwork required, choose singers based on the musical style you require, and in some cases, even conduct the choir or vocal group if needed. For solos or duos, no vocal contractor is required. Vocal contractor fees vary from 50-100% of the applicable scale fee, depending on the contract used.

The vocal contractor must be part of the vocal group, except in the cases of a woman contracting male singers, a man contracting female singers, either one contracting child singers, or a vocal contractor hiring an established vocal group (such as The Four Tops).

Vocal contractors often also fill a musical role similar to a concertmaster for a string section. They act as a mediator between the conductor and the singers, suggesting or developing technical solutions for achieving what the conductor wants.

Can someone help me put together a budget for a live recording session with union singers?

It is part of the duties of the vocal contractor to prepare a budget upon request, with no obligation to you. Give them the information about your session, number of singers, type of contract, etc. They can ask for assistance from the Singer Department if it is a contract new to them. And they can also help you to minimize your budget.

What are the definitions of these terms: "Scale", "Overdubbing"/"Multi-tracking", "Sweetening," and "Assumption Agreement"?

Scale – The initial session compensation due to each singer based on the terms of the applicable union contract; usually based on the number of hours worked or the amount of material recorded at the session; may also include additional compensation for overdubbing/multi-tracking and sweetening.

Overdubbing/Multi-tracking is the recording of additional vocal tracks of the same notes sung on the original vocal track, just to enhance or thicken the “sound.”

Sweetening is the singing of tracks of additional harmonies or parts that differ from the notes sung on the original vocal track.

Assumption Agreement – A letter of agreement by which one party assumes the contractual responsibilities of another for a “new use.” When music or other material originally recorded under one union contract is licensed for a new use, the original producer should obtain an Assumption Agreement from a secondary employer “licensing” the work to transfer the union payment obligations. For example, if a Sound Recordings song is licensed for use in a theatrical film, the label/producer should obtain an Assumption Agreement from the party licensing the material, which obligates that producer to pay the applicable union scale for that new use. If a Songwriter Demo is licensed for use in a theatrical film, commercial, etc., the licensing producer needs to sign an Assumption Agreement to assume the responsibility for proper scale payment of that new use. Without the use of an Assumption Agreement in these situations, the original signatory remains responsible for all new use payments.

"Back-end" payments: After the vocal recording is done, are there additional payments that must be made to the singers in the future?

Unlike the AFM back-end payment structure, singer back-end compensation comes out of the same pool as the actors, NOT the music budget.  The singers are considered part of the “cast list.” So if a film project has SAG-AFTRA actors, adding SAG-AFTRA singers will NOT add any back-end payment obligations for the producer. The residuals “pie” will simply be cut into smaller “slices” to accommodate the singers, as well as the actors.

New Use –  If the singers’ performance is later used in another medium unrelated to the original use (such as the original film, videogame, etc.) or its promotional materials, then the signatory who signs the assumption agreement must pay for the new use. For example, if the performance is used in a commercial for an unrelated product, the new signatory (the ad agency) must pay the singers the applicable commercial rate.

I accepted a package deal for my project. Am I, the composer, on the hook for singers' back-end payments later on?

As long as the Assumption Agreement (see “Definitions” above) is signed by the signatory producer/company, you, the composer, will have no obligation for any back-end payments to singers. 

What are "residuals"?

Residuals are additional payments due to performers when the project is exhibited in markets beyond the use covered by the initial session compensation (for example, a theatrical film being released on DVD, TV, and foreign markets). Residual payments are the responsibility of the signatory producer/company.

Again, if there are SAG-AFTRA actors on a film or TV show, singers are considered part of the “cast list,” and share in the percentage that the producer is required to pay to the actors.

For TV work, residuals begin once a show starts re-airing or is released to video/DVD, pay television, broadcast TV, basic cable, or new media.

For film work, residuals begin once the movie appears on video/DVD, basic cable and free or pay television, or new media.

For video games, there are no residuals owed.

Are there different agreements for low-budget projects?

Yes, there are rate structures tailored to all levels of projects. For example, in film, different rates are available for singers who perform on “low-budget,” “modified low-budget,” “ultra-low-budget,” student films, and short films.  These rates are extremely competitive. Please see our rates page for detailed information.

What about promotional materials, such as "behind-the-scenes" and "making-of" videos?

As long as these are not being sold separately, and promote the original product on which the vocalists are singing, they are included in the original session fee. Call the Singers Department to confirm specific projects.

Can a score be recorded with union singers even if the instrumentalists were recorded non-union?

Yes. Whenever the ACTORS in the signatory project are SAG-AFTRA, the singers are covered to record the score, with no additional residual obligations owed by the producer.

What about live shows that are not recorded?

Live shows are not covered under any SAG-AFTRA agreement. If you would like to hire singers for a live show that is not being recorded, the rates are entirely negotiable between you and the singers. So if you’d like to hire a bunch of SAG-AFTRA singers for a live concert, call your favorite singer and let’s make some music!

What if I don’t yet know if the clip will be approved – are there demo rates?

Yes indeed! When you would like to use a singer but don’t know for sure if the project will be used, or in what medium, you can use the all-purpose Songwriter Demo contract. Those rates are 50% of the Sound Recordings Code rates, which are extremely competitive. The songwriter can become the signatory to that contract.  No bonds are required, and it is a very simple process with a one-page contract.

Songs/cues that are written on spec for a film are covered by the Theatrical Demo Agreement, and those that are written on spec for a commercial are covered by the Commercial Demo Agreement. Animated films are also eligible to apply for the Animation Workshop Waiver for their demos.

I have an issue that hasn’t been addressed here. Whom should I contact?

We want to hear from you! If you have a problem that’s preventing you from hiring singers, we’d like to hear about it. You can always send us an email – it will go to the singers currently serving on the “IT Sub-committee” of the LA Local Singers Committee at SAG-AFTRA. Please also see our Contact Us page to reach SAG-AFTRA staff in charge of singer issues.