Friday, July 11, 2008

Money, Music, and Value

It always amazes me that people tend to value something that has a high price on it, and they tend to assume that if something is offered to them for free it must be something of little value.

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a distant cousin of mine who was connected with an important opera company. I had just completed an opera about Emma Goldman that was an adaptation of a play by Howard Zinn. It was a real treat to work with Howard Zinn on the libretto, and it was a joy to fulfill my long-term fascination with Emma Goldman in a most musical and personal way.

My cousin, who thought that the subject of my opera was very interesting, told me that I should put a high price on it in order for people to consider it a work worthy of their consideration. I thought that it would be best to be true to the spirit of Emma Goldman, and along with Howard Zinn, I decided that it would only be right to offer the PDF files of the music and the performing rights to anyone who would be interested in performing the opera for free. We gave the work to the Emma Goldman Papers project, and they sent a lovely limited-edition framed photograph of Emma Goldman to express their gratitude for our gift.

Maybe my cousin was right. I know now that I will be lucky if I ever get a chance to hear the opera performed at all, which makes me rather sad. I would love the chance to see and hear its flaws, and fix them while I am still able (alive, that is), thus increasing the real value of the opera.

1 comment:

Daniel Wolf said...

Elaine --

In practice, traditional publishers will give comp or perusal copies of opera scores to any house which shows a potential interest in a production. The value of grand rights to those works makes any potential income from the scores negligible; in fact, the price you or I would pay for the same score is basically the cost of going to the trouble of dealing with us.

There's no problem to distributing your score for free; it's just not a substitute for the schmoozing necessary to promote your work with potential presenters whose limited resources are probably already focused on the handful of composers which which they are already connected, if not already commissioning. With such producers, having a completed and non-commissioned work ready to go is not necessarily seen as an advantage.