Millions in Musicians’ Residuals Going Unclaimed, FMSMF Says

The Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund every year pays thousands of musicians for their movie and TV work when it appears on cable, free TV, streaming services or home video.

But not every musician is aware of this benefit when they begin their recording career, and many who have left the business are still owed money – sometimes, a lot of money, FMSMF officials say.

The fund website (www.fmsmf.org) lists thousands of musicians (and in some cases their beneficiaries) who are owed, in all, several million dollars in residuals for movies and TV shows but have somehow dropped out of the system.

Even FMSMF executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth discovered, to her surprise, that she was on the list. “My dad was a musician, in New York. It turned out my father had done one or two small things that generated teeny-tiny residuals, and I was his beneficiary. So there was enough money for me to buy a couple of lattes,” she says with a laugh.

Some of her 40-plus employees spend part of their workday playing detective, tracking down musicians that are not in their system.

Participant Services generalist Rachel Arno recalled looking for one particular musician several years ago. He had played on a handful of films (two of which received multiple Oscar nominations) but was no longer in the Los Angeles area.

Using internet search engines, she eventually managed to locate him: He was working at a piano bar in northern California and – after she managed to convince his skeptical boss that this was no scam, that she really wanted to give him money – she was able to send him a check for $158,000.

In fact, an estimated 800 to 1,000 musicians are added to the FMSMF rolls each year, says Hedgpeth: “We call them ‘new musicians’ because they are being reported to us for the first time. But they might have been members of the union for 10 years or more; this was the first time they were on something that generated a residual.”

Improvements in technology have helped FMSMF personnel find these “lost” musicians, and social media has been a surprising plus in tracking them down, says Chris Kuhrt, director of Participant Services Operations. Locating musicians who played on songs that wind up in movies or TV are some of their biggest challenges, he notes.

Hedgpeth would like to dispel an enduring myth that “only 50 guys are getting residuals,” and that they’re all staggering sums. “For the first couple of years, it’s modest,” Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli, president of the Recording Musicians Association, concedes. “But year after year, you realize, this is a special thing to have.”

The fund was known as the Theatrical Motion Picture and Television Producers Special Payments Fund until 2001-2002, and many musicians still refer to their annual check as “special payments.” But there is actually a separate unit, the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund, that applies more specifically to musicians who play on records than in films.

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