Why Aren’t Orchestra Musicians Listed In Movie Credits?

My wife and I have a little ritual when we go see movies: we like to sit through the end credits to see if the orchestra is mentioned by name. While watching the credits for True Grit (2010), it dawned on us that even in the rare instances where the orchestra is listed by name, we never see individual musicians listed…

And seeing that just about everyone who even walked by the set during filming is listed in the credits these days; I went looking for an answer to why the individual orchestra musicians aren’t included. I contacted Marc Sazer, President of the Recording Musicians Association whose reply demonstrates that the answer is a bit more dynamic than you might imagine.

“I can tell you that we tried for several rounds of motion picture negotiations (before my time) to get credit crawl for musicians without success,” said Sazer. “Virtually every square centimeter of credit crawl has been negotiated by other unions at great cost. However, when we were able to negotiate into the contract provisions for the release of soundtracks that allowed a certain number of free units (which are promotional tools for the composer and helped incentivize composers to demand [American Federation of Musicians] coverage) in exchange for including the full orchestra credits on the liner notes or jewel case, an unforeseen benefit was that musicians were added to the credit crawl for a certain number of films that had taken advantage of those provisions. And, some filmmakers just have a thing about it; they like musicians, so, for example, Pixar will frequently list all of us in the credits.”

So there you go; questions, answers, and closure all wrapped up in one tidy little blog post.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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11 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Orchestra Musicians Listed In Movie Credits?”

  1. One of the rare occasions – I downloaded the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recording of Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony conducted by Charles Dutoit after hearing them perform it in Carnegie Hall the same week they performed/recorded it in Verizon Hall. The entire orchestra roster was included in the downloaded program booklet.

    As an RMA officer preceding Marc Sazer by about 25 years, I can attest to his concise description of the lack (in most cases) of musicians’ names in the credit crawl. The AFM’s demands for musicians’ credit at the bargaining table usually fell by the wayside in exchange for advances we needed more.

  2. Interesting post. I agree with Timothy that it’s too bad orchestra musicians aren’t listed on more orchestral recordings. I imagine in the case of commercial recordings, the recording companies very closely guard the available liner space, and similar to what Michael pointed out for the RMA negotiations, compared to other concerns, liner credits were probably at the bottom of the list for both the orchestra and the musicians. When I was working at the Indianapolis SO and oversaw the liner books for a handful of self-released donor CDs, we did include the musicians’ names.

    As someone who also was and is responsbile for digital albums, I have to honestly say that with the lack of traditional liner books, replaced by just pdfs of the program notes, I hadn’t thought to include the musician names, but that is something I should start considering. What does everyone think of the logistical issue – do you just include the orchestra roster or do you try to list the actual personnel on each piece? I remember the Dallas SO did the latter with some of their releases in the early 2000s.

  3. Thanks for exploring this Drew – agreed – I’m creating my own tradition of listing all of the players on the score on my films (Soundtrack and Credit Roll). Sometimes the challenge can be timing, as you are often recording at the same time or after the credits are being compiled, but I agree – I think it’s important to show the talent involved. Here’s hoping it becomes a wider practice.

  4. Thank you for asking and getting an answer for an important question!
    I’m somehow not surprised that formalizing a standard has gotten left on the bargaining table … but give kudos to those who recognize and value the contribution (of performers) and give the respectful listing of at least the orchestra or ensemble if the opportunity of listing individual musicians is logistically not possible.

  5. It’s just plain stupid that the person getting the donuts gets a credit yet the person playing the bassoon doesn’t. With as long as the credits are now with hundreds of people listed (sometimes even babies that are born during production) what is another 50 or 60 names? Or is it because the music is being synthesized by 2 guys in a studio with a computer? Even the Oscar show, while they showed the musicians a half dozen times during the show, didn’t credit them while the people seating the audience got a credit. Outrageous!

    • Since this article was written, I’ve noticed that it is a bit more common to see more key musicians in the recording listed (especially soloists) but that’s strictly observational and I can’t say for certain if it is a trend or not. In the end, if it comes down to making more or less money, it isn’t difficult to see where the musicians would opt for former.

  6. Fortunately I play live theatre, where the musicians are always given credit in the program. Imagine a musical with no musicians ( yeah, kinda silly). Now imagine a movie with no music. How would you know when the scary part was coming up? Anecdotal story: a friend met someone who claimed to play guitar on a movie soundtrack, yet there was no way to verify if this guy was telling the truth or just blowing smoke. Hey, I played the guitar for James Bond!

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