As a member of the AFM, one must pay an initiation fee, as well as quarterly dues. However, the benefits are comprehensive. As well as better pay and working conditions, benefits include, but are not limited to: a pension, job referrals, insurance, legal counsel, discounts, collection of unpaid fees, consultation, industry contact information, workshops, etc.
One drawback to being an AFM member is that a person may not work for employers that are not signatory companies. Doing so may result in fines or expulsion from the union. An obvious problem is that many small clubs/coffeehouses and small record companies cannot afford to pay the union minimums. For a musician just starting out his or her career, these smaller outlets are the only supportive showcases for their talents. Many artists work "under the table" and take the risk.
The important question to answer is when, or if, to join the AFM? The best guideline would be for a musician to join the union when he or she has decided to become a full-time professional musician and when there is some reasonable basis to assume that one can survive as a musician.
Ben McLane Esq