Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music Market Ramble

A couple of years ago I wrote a note to an ensemble that recorded some rather rare music by a little-known composer I happen to like a great deal (and anyone reading this blog could probably guess the identity of that composer). I wrote my message to the ensemble through the rather large company that made their CD, which was the only way I could reach the musicians who played this music. My message included a statement about the quality of this composer, and suggested that the members of the ensemble might consider scanning the manuscripts they played from into the Petrucci Library so that other people could study it and play this music. I mentioned how difficult it is to interest publishers in music by little-known composers, no matter how good their music happens to be.

(Nearly three years have passed since that e-mail message, and these pieces are still not available for other musicians to play.)

The recording company executive told me that he passed my message onto a person who would forward it to the ensemble, and included the phrase "This music deserves definitely more recognition; we hope that many customers encourage us to advance soon."

What strikes me as terribly sad about that statement is the simple fact that the furthering (and preserving) of worthwhile musical endeavors is so often driven by consumer demand. It is one thing when the consumer in question is a music ensemble, and that ensemble is looking for interesting and unusual music to play. Most musicians are happy to pay for nice editions of music they want to play. The "economy" in that kind of situation is one that would, under the best of circumstances, move forward. In the case of newly-discovered music by people who have been dead for a while, a publisher makes money (or makes back an initial investment of time and engraving skill) by selling the music, and musicians can make money by playing the music in concerts (and the same people can play the same piece of music for many different audiences). Perhaps there is also money involved in paying people who staff and promote the various ensembles and concert venues. There is also a little money involved when academic musicians include musical analysis in the books and articles they write, and money involved when applied teachers use published music to teach. Most of all, the music itself can be played many different ways by many different people, and a lot of people can get a lot of pleasure from playing and listening to it. At any rate, the egg-white economic theory is at play: money (or anything) is worth more when it remains in circulation.

It is another thing when the consumer in question is a person buying a recording. A person may love the music on the recording, and it may be extremely meaningful for his or her life, but there is no way a record company can measure how many times someone plays a recording. S/he only buys it once, and the only thing that can be measured is how many recordings are sold. Many recording companies require a certain amount of investment on the part of the people playing on the recording, and the production of a recording does involve some economic movement, but once the music is on a disc and the disc is in a box, that is the end of the line. A record company can make the investment to promote a recording, but the resulting numbers really reflect more on how well the recording is marketed than how worthwhile the music on the CD happens to be.

The idea of a wonderful piece of music ending its life as a single out-of-print recording is terribly sad.


Lisa Hirsch said...

But when has some kind of demand not driven what music gets played, whether it's demand by consumers (of performances, sheet music, recording) or patrons or the church, or of musicians who perform? All of music history is like this.

Also, since you think highly of the group, the composer, and the performances, you could tell us who they are so that there's a possibility that some of us might buy their recording.

Elaine Fine said...

But when music becomes an "object," like a recording, the possibilities are more limited than they were before recordings.

And the composer is Anton Ferdinand Titz, and the recording is the one in this post

Robert said...

Note that unlike CDs, streaming services keep track of how often music has been played overall. For example, on rdio, 5 people have played a total of 111 tracks from the Gurdjieff album I've been listening to. The most played John Cage album has 1382 tracks played; the most played Philip Glass 20,280.

So it's interesting to pay attention to what classical music is played and what is not.

That Anton Ferdinand Titz CD appears to have no listeners but I'll rectify that...

Elaine Fine said...

There are still an awful lot of people in the world who don't listen to the CDs that they bought on computers, and there are a lot of excellent CDs that will never find their way to a streaming site like this. There are also people who don't want their listening activities to be regarded as marketing data.

The rdio button tells you that you are getting music for free, and the next screen tells you that you will get a generous number of monthly streams for a limited time, but their collection is really lacking in substance on the "classical" end. They ask you to log in with Facebook, which is, no doubt, collecting the data for somebody's use.

(They only have Volume 3 of the Titz set, and not Volumes 1 and 2.)

Anonymous said...

1) Love music, music and music.
2) Thanks for many recommendations on your blog.
3) Modern composers and performers who think it is easy generating money from their stuff are fooling themselves. Some do; most don't. Just like the rockers and rollers.
4) Who has time for everything anyway?
5) Under your nice new photo your name is spelled "Aine." I think this a mystery.
6) The fiddle/cello duo is a gem. It is sad to think how many people today can at best play a CD.
7) In spite of all the silly negativity, classical music will never die. Why?
8) We and many more like us are here in every generation. Persevere.