Comments on: When composers can’t hear their own compositions A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: Leviathant Mon, 12 Sep 2011 18:06:46 +0000 Don’t even get me started on music publishers. If these 800-pound-gorilla industry leaders had put all their profits to good use, then we’d be buying e-books for our Random House Kindle, listening to music on Universal iPods, and composing music on Hal Leonard’s Sibelius/Finale.

Instead, because these institutions are so reticent to change while simultaneously maximizing profits for executives, new institutions are being built that better fit today’s landscape.

Music has never been easier to distribute, with options like Tunecore and Bandcamp. My wife self-publishes her sheet music as PDFs via a simple Paypal form. (There is a slightly more complex form for larger purchases, which basically acts as a sales lead generator) We bundle rehearsal or performance videos with Bandcamp music purchases – which even gives the listener the option to download the music in lossless quality! Got a question for the composer? Like so many now, she’s on Twitter. This transparency and accessibility is a /good/ thing.

There are still ‘classical’ record labels that require that you pay THEM, and then you end up with a box of unsold CDs in your basement, because no one buys CDs anymore.

Take that money you save from doing this yourself (or with trusted partners) and spend it on a publicist, or keep it DIY and buy your own Facebook and Google ads (you might be surprised at how effective Facebook ads are). If things are going so well that you don’t have time to do it yourself, then you should have enough money to start outsourcing. If you’re successful, others may want to employ your team. You might even accidentally become a leader in the field.

That’s not to say composers should give up making music in order to become full-time promoters, but you also shouldn’t completely absolve yourself from the process that goes into you getting paid for writing music. That money doesn’t come from nowhere. And if no one hears your music, that money doesn’t come, period.

By: bratschewurst Mon, 12 Sep 2011 16:38:53 +0000 PS: the Internet Agreement went into effect in July 2000.

By: bratschewurst Mon, 12 Sep 2011 16:38:17 +0000 “In general, it’s depressing and unsurprising to discover that orchestral unions are even more hidebound and reflexively negative, when it comes to the digital world, than record labels. They look at the world of digital music as something to be scared of, and to say “no” to as loudly as possible, unless and until someone comes along with a big bag of money and pays them to say yes. It’s the same zero-sum mindset behind the Authors Guild’s opposition to Google’s attempts to make their work much easier to search for and find.”

This is simply wrong. The American Federation of Musicians, the union representing all but one of the major American and Canadian orchestras, signed and ratified a labor agreement with the major managers’ media committee that made it possible to put recorded material on the Internet for no payment to musicians except for revenue sharing (if there actually were revenues).

Exactly one orchestra took advantage of that agreement until 2005, when my orchestra became the first orchestra to put previously unreleased recordings on iTunes. (One of the recordings in the first wave of material we put on iTunes was a recording of a world premiere we had performed all of three weeks earlier).

Two anecdotes from the front lines about the orchestra industry’s struggles to move into the digital age might help explicate what has really happened, though. The first is when my orchestra did another world premiere, this time of a work by a composer more prominent than Mulhy. We immediately offered to put the resulting recording (edited for radio) up on iTunes, only to meet with the composer’s refusal because he wanted a “real recording” made (ie, studio session released on CD). He was, of course, given copies of the performances as they happened. (We tried to work with the local opera company to put up the recording of the same composer’s opera, for which we played and which was also a premiere, only to meet with the opera company’s refusal to cooperate).

The second anecdote was a recording of Carmina Burana we made using a binaural microphone as an experiment (we subsequently bought one and have recorded all our main series performances with it since then). It was an incredibly successful experiment, and we wanted to put it online, as very very few orchestral binaural recordings have ever been released. The publisher, even though we had already paid them for the music rental, and even though none of the performers would get an upfront fee for the recording being up on iTunes, demanded a huge additional payment, which killed the deal.

I know it’s easy to blame “the union” for the problems of the orchestra business. It’s also wrong.

By: Leviathant Mon, 12 Sep 2011 15:35:46 +0000 Publius asks “Have you any idea how *much* it costs to record a classical piece with a full orchestra?” – And I’m sure he may be replying solely to the commenter asking for a recording with their ticket, but in Nico’s post (and in the comments) the no-recording issue comes up even when you’ve simply set up sound recorder on your iPhone and set it on the desk next to you while the orchestra rehearses your piece.

My wife’s a composer, and I’ve taken it upon myself to be the one who documents her. So yes, I know how much it costs to make a recording. And I know that some of my favorite recordings of music aren’t in the highest of fidelity, let alone 5.1 surround. You’d be surprised at the quality you can get from under a thousand dollars worth of equipment. Nico’s not asking for a Deutsche Grammophon level recording of every piece that gets performed – as nice as that would be, that’s unrealistic. But a scratch recording, so that you can hear what the music you wrote sounds like when played by real musicians, as opposed to MIDI instruments on your computer, so that you can refine the music… there’s absolutely no reason that composers have to bootleg this sort of thing.

Hell, when we put The Gonzales Cantata on in the Philadelphia Fringe festival a couple of years ago, we posted an earlier recording of the whole thing online. When Rachel Maddow ran a wonderful piece on us using the YouTube clips and PDFs we freely put online, in 24 hours, dozens of thousands of people had gone to the website, listened to the free stream of the entire concert, and we had people flying in from California for a show that up until we were on MSNBC, probably wasn’t even going to break even. We shot three days of 1080p HD footage of the performances, and put the whole pro-edited thing on YouTube (with the libretto in closed captions) — free!

And I guarantee you that if we hid the video, hid the audio, restricted access, we wouldn’t have sold as many CDs, mp3s, posters, and tickets as we did by putting everything online, freely available.

By: FifthDecade Mon, 12 Sep 2011 13:29:39 +0000 Very few classical musicians actually make much money. Usually they have to augment their meagre performance earnings from teaching and other jobs. However, if they become a resident in an orchestra they do make a reasonable income, but again, nothing like a rock star.

The weird thing is, classical music today was the rock music of yesterday. So, why wouldn’t the same marketing model work for them? For instance, in the UK the BBC used Nessun Dorma as the theme tune for one of the World Cup programmes, and it became an instant hit and made it into the Top 40.

What about merchandising? Many orchestras are not well represented here, and there is of course always that little voice in their heads saying “we’re artists, not businessmen”. When they do a concert, they don’t fully utilise the event to sell more product – how about a sales hall with their merchandise, their teaching expertise, offers for individual and smaller group performances in between the big concerts? I might see a CD or two very occasionally on sale, but usually I have to search them out – nobody actually tells me they are there, where to find them so much of the audience fades into the night.

As for the market all being aging fuddy duddies, you should look at how many young people there are attending the BBC Last night of the Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London each year: it’s full of youngsters – and that’s because it’s entertainment that centres around the music, and the conductor plays along with the spirit of the crowd. They have party poppers, whistles, fancy dress, flags and people from all corners of the world, even an air horn sometimes. It’s always a sellout and the queues for last minute tickets can be enormous.

The Classical Market in the UK exploded when Classic FM was born – a commercial National Radio Station that only played Classical music – but in a different way. Not as a whole Symphony, but as a movement only, then something from a different composer, treating the classical music as if it were tracks on an album (which is really what it is, and was). Sales of Classical Music soared, musicians became pop stars. I always tune in to it in the car when I visit the UK.

By: GregHao Mon, 12 Sep 2011 05:13:03 +0000 As someone who is sympathetic to unions in general, surely we can’t be surprised when we read that unions’ first reaction to any new paradigm is one of fear and cynicism. After all, the entire history of unions has been a fight against external forces, why would this potentially be different?

As Publius points out above, orchestras (and thereby unions) are in real trouble so of course they are fighting even harder to hang onto what they’ve got. It’s all well and good to say that “digital is the future” but what good does it do when these musicians face the very real threat of no longer being in the industry in the next few years?

I’ve got a few classical musician friends and many are actively contemplating leaving the industry because there really doesn’t seem to be a future, no matter the role digital plays.

By: Christofurio Mon, 12 Sep 2011 03:58:42 +0000 Fron the headline I thought this entry would be about the later compositions of Beethoven. Sometimes the composer can’t physiologically hear his compositions!

By: kenjd Mon, 12 Sep 2011 03:58:26 +0000 Publius: Who is going to be the market in a 20 years, when most of today’s old guys and gals are not available? The potential replacements are a lot more tech savvy, and know darn well that classical music is subject to the same changes in technology as are books, movies and popular music. Ignoring the changes as long as possible because some people liked yesteryear’s realities better is not a winning strategy. 21st Century classical music will need to live in the 21st Century.

By: Publius Mon, 12 Sep 2011 00:03:10 +0000 Are you guys serious? Have you any idea how *much* it costs to record a classical piece with a full orchestra? Or does the notion of cost structure not occur to you?

Albuquerque has closed down its orchestra. So has Honolulu. Philadelphia is in Chapter 11. The recession has hit the arts world hard, and a lot of high-cost activities in second-tier cities won’t make it.

So OF COURSE orchestras are looking for every nickel they can squeeze out of the recordings they produce. And kenjd wants them to give away recordings, and Felix wants them to have their recording embedded in a composer’s web site. Sure, and print a couple hundred dollar bills while you’re at it.

There’s room for creative entrepreneurship in the classical music space a la Ernie, but consider the market. They are typically not your tech-savvy twitter-posting, facebook-friending, yelp-reviewing crowd. They’re old guys and gals in furs and Lexuses, mostly. With executive assistants to handle the tickets.

By: ErnieD Sun, 11 Sep 2011 23:09:58 +0000 The orchestras should be looking at the business models of music innovators like The Grateful Dead. They figured out that bootleg recordings of live concerts added to their bottom line by helping to build a massive fan base that was very loyal, went to live performances, and bought merchandize and recordings.

They could do things like post live recordings on a short-term, rotating basis on their web-sites (potentially charge a subscription fee to hear the entire performances over the web). I don’t expect them to reserve good seating locations for bootleg recording people, but there are lots of things that could be done short of that.