Sunday, September 06, 2015

Who Should Be Paying for the Music?

Perhaps my mindset concerning the economics of music is a bit odd, but I feel that it is one worth sharing because it informs everything I do with music.

I was born into a musical family, and string playing was pretty much "grandparented in." Both my grandfathers played the violin, my grandmother played the piano, my mother played the flute, and my father made his living as the principal violist of the Boston Symphony. I grew up in a city that had a thriving music program with peers who were serious about music. While most kids were doing teenagerly things, my friends and I practiced and played in orchestras and wind ensembles that had charismatic leaders.

There were enough of "us" in the greater Boston area to make a small culture.

In the beginning of my "career" as a music student my parents paid for my lessons, but I somehow became friends with a few great musicians and teachers who wanted to teach me for free. I guess my willingness to try their musical and technical suggestions provided adequate payment for what they had to teach me. After I graduated from Juilliard (paid for by my father) I found myself in school situations (like the Hochschule in Vienna and graduate school) where tuition was covered by the state. I have had close friendships with older and wiser musicians who have served as mentors, and I have a brilliant father who can answer any question I have about the things I encounter in my travels through the orchestral and chamber music repertoire.

I have always had excellent instruments, and most of them have been given to me as gifts. I married a great guy who supports me in all my musical endeavors, and I have not had to work at a non-musical job for 30 years. I have had time to practice, and have been able to follow new musical passions as they have presented themselves. I have also been able to play chamber music with wonderful and patient colleagues who are also great friends. Many of them live close by.

My musical "cup" overflows. Sometimes that overflow takes the form of original music, and sometimes it takes the form of arrangements and transcriptions.

So much of the current musical culture involves making the practicing, studying, or performing musician into a customer. Publishing companies and recording companies think of composers and performing musicians as revenue sources. When a publisher makes 90% of the price he or she puts on a piece of music and pays a 10% royalty to the composer in exchange for essential ownership of a piece of music, that composer is only being well served when the publisher puts great resources into marketing. For most non-pop and non-religious compositions written by composers who are not already household names, marketing doesn't seem to pay off. I have 77 perfectly good pieces published by a reputable publisher, and I rarely see a royalty check. I also do not have the power to move the published music into the public domain if I choose to do so.

With all the musical gifts that have been handed to me over the years, I hate the idea of marketing the music I write to musicians. I hate to think of musicians as potential customers. Most musicians are poorly paid for the work they do. Many musicians have to take out loans to buy adequate instruments. Many musicians work very hard and do not make a lot of money.

I have always considered a thoughtful performance of a piece of music I have written is adequate payment for the work I put into it. I really do write music and make arrangements for my mental and emotional health. If it was something that I felt was a chore to do, I might think differently. If I were a different person with a different life situation, I might think differently. But I don't.

I do think that musicians who perform for audiences should be paid to play. A musician can make the choice to give a performance as a gift, but it should be acknowledged as a gift. I believe that the people who haven't put the time into preparing (or are unable to do) what performing musicians do should be the people paying for the musical experience.

I find it extremely satisfying (even rewarding) to make the music I write available through the IMSLP. Since it is impossible to pay back the kindnesses that people have shown me through my life (many of my kind friends are no longer alive), sharing the music I write and the arrangements I make is my way of paying the kindness forward. I cannot sell arrangements of songs that are not in the public domain without getting into legal trouble, so I share the arrangements I make with people who want them. You write to me (I need to know that you are a serious musician looking for music to play), and I give you access to an on-line folder. It's a simple exchange that doesn't require postage or printing (on my part). Everybody is happy, and people have music to play.

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