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First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

Can you give me some information about the AGMA and a contact number for them?
Is there a benefit in becoming a member?


- Herows


Dear Herows,

AGMA, or the American Guild of Musical Artists, was formed in the 1930s. It is the union for classical singers (soloists and choristers), dancers, choreographers, stage managers, and stage directors. As such, AGMA bargains collectively with opera companies for better, safer working conditions and pay. It attempts to resolve disputes, such as how many hours you can be made to rehearse before the company must pay you overtime, what type of fog juice can be used in a production and sexual harassment issues . Sometimes it brings lawsuits against companies that it feels have wronged its members. It is the sister union of Actors Equity, and as such, shares some of their benefits.

The best reason to join a union is that there is power in numbers. When you add your voice to those of your colleagues, when it comes time to negotiate you stand together and you stand with greater strength. It’s not just you against the world. Because you and your fellow union members pay your dues, you can afford professional negotiators and attorneys to speak for and protect your interests. This works especially well for choristers, who work as part of a group.

How much it benefits soloists with individual disputes is more of a gray area. Soloists are leery of appearing to be the squeaky wheel, and with good reason --- if they complain, they may not be rehired and they may acquire a bad reputation which will impact their work with other companies. And if they don’t complain and put their name on it, AGMA may not be able to help much.

Another reason to join is because if you don’t, you will not be able to work at an AGMA signatory company without a special release, which could make it more difficult for that house to hire you. However, this needn’t be a concern unless you are planning on working with an AGMA house; and if you are at the beginning of your career, chances are you won’t be. There is a list of AGMA signatories on their website. Also available is a downloadable copy of the New and Prospective Members Handbook, which includes the aforementioned list as well as AGMA’s own ideas about the benefits of union membership; and a downloadable membership application.

Some of those benefits include a retirement fund, health fund, insurance (currently available only to performers in the New York area), a credit union, work transition programs, an emergency relief fund, and more.

AGMA can be contacted through their website at, or by calling (212) 265-3687.