Max the Trax: Musicians Turn Up Volume on Scoring Tax Credit

California Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon addresses the crowd at the AFM “Keeping the Score in California,” with (from left) RMA’s Marc Sazer, RMALA’s Steve Dress, AFM Local 47’s John Acosta, LA County Federation of Labor’s Rusty Hicks, and Local UNITE HERE Local 11’s Jordan Fein. (Photo: Paula Parisi / MaxTheTrax)

– Published by Max The Trax, Aug. 28, 2017

With three top California assemblyman singing their tune at the American Federation of Musicians’ “Keeping the Score in California” event, it appears as if the tax incentive designed to keep recording work in the state is destined for passage. “I don’t see it as a question of if it’s going to happen, I see it as a question of when it’s going to happen,” said Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, who in April introduced the measure, AB 1300.

Other Sacramento heavy-hitters who joined AFM Los Angeles president John Acosta and about 150 attendees for a free concert at City Hall on Aug. 19 were James Cooper, who chairs the assembly budget subcommittee overseeing the initiative, and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the assembly committee on revenue and taxation.

While California passed a film production tax credit of $1.55 billion starting in 2014 and running through 2020, scoring was not included in the $330 per year of relief. That may be because at the time, music was considered more a part of post-production, as with many aspects of filmmaking, digital technology has compressed music into part of the production process. And while that production credit has seen some improvement in keeping work in California, runaway scoring has become rampant, with the business dwindling in the past 10 years to half its size, with Paramount and Universal closing their scoring stages and the legendary Todd-AO room at CBS Radford razed to make way for office space.

“Sony, MGM, Fox and Warner Bros. are the only big studio scoring stages left,” composer Dan Redfeld said. “Keeping the scoring work here in Los Angeles supports a whole ecosystem of work here — not only the musicians but the facilities staff, the engineers, orchestrators, copyists.”

“We’ve done the grips, the propmasters, the painters, the electricians, the teamsters, the carpenter and the plumbers. We now need to look at those musicians who are part of the creative pipeline that help make California the capitol of the American dream, the American imagination, the global imagination,” Ridley-Thomas said. At the moment, AB 1300 is an idea in search of funding.

“Either we find a pot of money we can dedicate to expand the existing credit or we can start the conversation of what the next tax credit’s going to look like in 2020,” said Calderon, who represents the 57th district, which includes Whittier, Norwalk and La Habra. “Whatever money we dedicate toward these programs is money we don’t dedicate to other programs like the social safety net or education, so it’s not an easy thing, but when you look at the overall state budget and the value of retaining these jobs, it’s extremely valuable and of significant state interest.”

Musician Rickey Minor, left, and Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. (Photo: Paula Parisi / MaxTheTrax)

Because we are just entering the second of California is on a two-year assembly term, Calderon thinks there may be some movement next year. But Ridley-Thomas is even more optimistic. “I think there’s a chance we may do some of this in the next six weeks, repurposing existing money,” said the assemblyman, whose district 54 includes Century City, Culver City and Crenshaw. To make that happen, Ridley-Thomas urges musicians and their supporters to “Go to and sign the petition. Write majority leader Calderon and myself, write Governor Brown. Use social media, call our offices and express concern. Take time to write a personal letter and say music should be part of the film and television tax credit. Those personal narratives I think will make a huge difference.”

Rickey Minor, a bandleader whose credits include The Tonight Show and American Idol, was one of performers at the first “Keeping the Score” event, along with This is Us composer Siddhartha Khosla. Although Minor — who is nominated for two Emmys this year and has been tapped as music supervisor for the 69th Annual Emmycast — is highly sought after, he said the drought of work “has affected me personally not only because my friends are leaving, but because the pool of players at the highest level are leaving,” making it more challenging to put a great orchestra or band together. “A lot of my friends have packed up their homes and families and moved to a place where they can work, or they’ve changed careers, because there’s not enough work for musicians in this town. It’s a tragedy.”

“You spend your life dedicating yourself to an art, so many years of blood, sweat and tears in a practice room, only to go to a work environment where you could be at the top of your game, playing as great as anyone in any orchestra, and still struggling to find work and having to take a day job,” American Youth Symphony bassist Freddy Hernandez said. “That just shouldn’t happen, especially in Los Angeles, where film music and studio orchestras were once a staple of the town.”