David Byrne, the former frontman of the rock group Talking Heads, has reached a settlement with a major Broadway union, giving in to their demands that he use live musicians for an upcoming production.
The American Federation of Musicians Local 802 announced Friday that it has reached a deal with Byrne’s show, “Here Lies Love,” eliminating the need for a third-party intermediary.
The show will employ 12 members of Local 802 – nine orchestral musicians and three actor-musicians who play music as part of their stage performance.
At first, Byrne suggested using only pre-recorded music, which the union saw as an existential threat to its role in Broadway musicals. Local 802 described Byrne’s request as unprecedented in a niche regional industry where unions remain influential. The union worried that if Byrne achieved his goal, it would jeopardize the future use of musicians in Broadway musicals and the artistic quality they add to the Broadway experience.
“Broadway is a very special place with the best musicians and performances in the world, and we are pleased that this agreement honors that tradition,” Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802, said in a statement.
Byrne spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the settlement.
Byrne’s concession to the union followed weeks after negative media coverage. The union hired veteran political communications strategist Eric Koch to run a no-holds-barred ad campaign against Byrne. And Gagliardi previously wanted to point out to HuffPost that Byrne, a New York resident, was once a member of Local 802.
last tuesday HuffPost reported that in 1986, Byrne admitted that he chose to shoot a musical comedy in Texas because it was a “right-to-work” state where unions had less power. The revelation undermines Byrne’s insistence that he wanted to use recorded music in “Here Lies Love” for creative reasons.
“The story with HuffPost was the last straw that got Byrne to the negotiating table,” a person familiar with the union’s talks with Byrne told HuffPost.
Local 802’s strength on Broadway makes it one of the most influential musicians’ unions in the United States. With more than 5,000 dues-paying members, it is the largest American Federation of Musicians affiliate in the country.
Local 802 has a collective bargaining agreement with the Broadway League, the group officially representing designated Broadway theater owners, that determines how many musicians a musical production must hire at each theater.
However, Broadway producers are free to ask Local 802 for exceptions to the minimum musician requirements on a case-by-case basis. The agreement specified that each musical produced at the Broadway theater where “Here Lies Love” was to be performed must employ 19 union musicians. The final number of 12 union members for the production was a compromise between Byrne and the union.
But in its more than a century of existence, Local 802 has never allowed a musical the production will be staged entirely without musicians, according to Gagliardi. The union was prepared to fight Byrne through third-party mediation, after which it would have the option of appealing any decision to a formal arbitration body.