Keeping the Score

The other day I heard a music publisher inveigh against composers who post their scores for free as PDFs on their web pages. I am one of that tribe. His argument, which was new to me and interested me, was that those composers pose unfair competition to the composers whose scores are published, and thus cost money. I have trouble crediting this argument. As much as I’d love to think that my music has an inside track because people can get the scores for free, it’s difficult for me to believe that any performer or ensemble ever makes a repertoire choice based on the cost of the score. The only such cases I’ve ever heard of are orchestras that have decided against performing certain pieces because the orchestral parts cost too much to rent, and those cases didn’t even involve living composers. I suppose it’s possible that if, say, John Adams were giving his scores away for free and David Del Tredici wasn’t, perhaps there are a few ensembles who would choose Adams over Del Tredici for that reason, but I doubt even that. It seems to me that people choose repertoire based on what music fits their ensemble, or their performance technique, or their stylistic programming, and score prices are hardly so exorbitant as to become a determinant.

I currently have 66 of my scores available on my web site as free PDFs. The scores I haven’t made available all fit one of the following three categories:

1. The notation needs considerable work to be readable; these are pieces that are either microtonal (often in indecipherable MIDI notation), or partly improvisatory, or electronically produced without a full score, or incidental music for a dramatic production that would hardly make sense out of context, or otherwise insufficiently notated.

2. Scores that were commissioned by performers who requested temporary exclusivity over performance, and I consider such exclusivity rather expensive, though certainly negotiable.

3. Scores on which I imagine that I could eventually make a considerable amount of money. The only score that falls into this category so far is Transcendental Sonnets, of which I post the orchestral score but not the vocal score or the two-piano performance version. Choral pieces have the potential of selling a tremendous number of vocal scores because so many singers are involved, and so I have thought it unwise to send vocal scores out into the world for free – although I have done that with My father moved through dooms of love, which has no score other than the full score. Since I will gladly send a PDF of the vocal score to any chorus interested in a performance, even this small scruple on my part seems superfluous, though I might change that policy if the piece became wildly popular.

I do not, on the other hand, make instrumental or orchestral parts available indiscriminately. I keep all those on my web site as well at unpublished URLs, and if anyone wants to perform the work I simply e-mail them the URL, so it can be done quickly and efficiently. I do this to be sure that I am apprised of performances and given some control, though in the case of solo works it’s easy for someone to download the score and perform the piece without telling me. This hasn’t happened, as far as I know. A few musicians have organized performances without any input from me, and let me know about it. Occasionally I’ll attend a gig somewhere and find that someone has made his or her own bound copy of one or more of my scores, which is fine with me – saves me trouble that would hardly been justified by whatever tiny sum I might have made.
Many of my scores are also available though Larry Polansky’s Frog Peak Music. This is a nice arrangement because Larry sells a lot of scores in bulk to libraries, but he’s not trying to make money off of it. Those who want to buy from him get the scores with a spiral binding, and pay him basically the expense of making a bound copy. Nominally my publisher is Monroe Street Music (Bill Duckworth’s company), which collects the publishing royalties, which, however minimal, pay them back for little services they’ve done me.
For me, trying to make money off of scores is just a dubious proposition. The amount I might make seems trivial compared to the wider distribution I get from having interested musicians be able to check out my works whenever they want. There’s also a certain resentment of the music publishing industry involved, since no publisher is likely to accept any music as commercially unprofitable as mine, and my understanding (from Philip Glass and many others) is that, even if a publisher takes your work, the most likely result is that they will print a few copies, keep them in boxes in warehouses as a tax write-off, tie up the copyright, and make your music more difficult to obtain even for those willing to buy it. Of all the friends whose music I write about, the few whose music is officially published are the ones whose scores I have a devil of a time trying to get. When the scores are available for perusal only, I sometimes can’t get access to them at all. I’m also conditioned by my score-starved youth: so many of the scores I desperately needed to see when I was a young, studying composer couldn’t be had under any circumstances. If young composers are burning with interest to see how my music works, I’m happy to satisfy them, and without giving them the hurdle of having to contact me personally. I wish Boulez, Pousseur, Glass, and co. had done the same for me. I bought a ton of scores and would have bought many more i was curious about, but many were impossible to get. I’m just not convinced that the music publishing industry, in its current form, deserves to survive. [UPDATE: I should add, though, that I know some fine, dedicated people in the music publishing business who put their heart and soul into meticulously editing scores by famous dead composers. I guess we still need the business around for that, but they’ll never do all that for me, and I can do it for myself.]
I would hardly be too upset to think that I am undercutting my competing fellow composers by doing it this way, but that way of looking at it seems almost delusional. It’s true – as the publisher mentioned – that I can afford to subsidize my composing career through my academic day job, but I can’t imagine this affecting anyone else. If someone else needs to charge for scores to make a living, indigent performers interested in that person’s music are hardly going to be driven to play my music instead. If anyone besides music publishers thinks there is any social inequity I’m promoting by doing it this way, I’d be curious to know about it.


  1. says

    The few times in my ensemble’s eleven year history I’ve used, or attempted to use a rental work held by a major publisher, I’ve been met with an attitude towards the consumer inconceivable in other businesses. One suggesting I was more bother than I was worth. Then to top it off, I’ve been charged a rental rate far out of proportion to what box office receipts could support. If you’re calling from a large institution, perhaps this is a different experience. I sure wish major publishers saw greater self-interest in working with smaller organizations. Who knows how many performances never take place as folks like me develop an standing assumption that music held by a major publisher is simply out of reach.
    KG replies: Wow.

  2. says

    I agree 100% Kyle. Good points. Many of us disseminate our scores for free because no one is beating down our doors to publish them. And in my case, even if some publisher approached me (as one did many years ago) I have no interest in having my music commercialized in that fashion. Like you, I have a day job but don’t have an issue with anyone who chooses to publish his or her music professionally and commercially. It just doesn’t work for me.
    Besides my own site, most of my stuff is also at the IMSLP site, which is a nice concept but too few new music composers are represented there.

  3. Richard says

    Publishers are deluding themselves, their business model is headed for the trash heap. Does this publisher expect that those of us who write “non-marketable” music to are going to listen to his gripes? Wait until cheap ipad clones come out, and we’ll see the end to music printed on “dead trees”. I’m published, but I only got a couple good royality checks, and the one piece I’m fairly proud of, is only available as a download from the publisher. Good riddance to the publishing “gate-keepers”!

  4. says

    I agree that tying up access to scores is a dubious proposition, and strive to make most of my own scores freely available. However, I have seen instances where repertoire decision was based on expense. In college, the director of the wind ensemble wanted to play Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances, but balked at the cost of renting the score. (I also don’t understand the merits of score rental. Do you want to ensure that you never get repeat performances from the same ensemble?) In high school, I heard that the scores and parts to Johann de Meij’s Lord of the Rings symphony ate up almost all of the band’s budget for buying new music that year. So I suspect that price is a non-trivial consideration for large ensembles at most schools, which can make up a large part of the market for band and choral works in particular. I guess this might fall under your third category of scores you don’t give away.
    Still, for most smaller ensembles, this shouldn’t be a significant issue. I do think that making scores freely available does give you one advantage, though, in that it provides an outlet for people to find your music and become interested in it. If music publishers have a problem with that, then it’s their own damn fault for not making an effort to get music in the hands of performers to begin with.

  5. says

    I just hate the idea of thinking of performing musicians as “customers.” The last thing that this economy, musical and otherwise, needs are financial barriers. I hate the idea of sending the piece to a publisher who will make 90% profit from the sale of the piece. It just isn’t right.
    I applaud people who have the business wherewithall to sell their music on-line. I have chosen to put my energy into musical activities rather than business activities. The added headache of tax reporting, incorporation, record keeping, and logistics connected with printing, binding, and mailing music, not to mention registering it for copyright, is just not for me.
    I don’t think that I am putting people who want to sell their work out of business. If they want a piece written by someone who offers it to them in exchange for money, that is their business. The quality of the music also has nothing to do with how much it costs, or if it costs.
    I have a substantial amount of music that is published and available for purchase from the publisher. I also have a substantial amount of music that I offer to anyone who wants it without having to pay for it. The music that I make available for free is no better than the music that you can buy from a store.
    In stark contrast to my feelings about making music I write available for free, I strongly feel that performing musicians should be compensated financially. If someone gets paid to play a piece I have written, that payment goes to the amount of time and dedication that goes into preparing a performance. A good performance is really adequate payment for my efforts. A great performance is generous payment for my efforts.
    If someone gives me money in exchange for writing a piece, I consider that money a way of insuring that the commissioning person or people will have the exclusive right to the first performance. If someone wants to pay my travel expenses to attend a performance, I never refuse.
    KG replies: Based on my experiences of recent weeks, I’d rather give the ensemble the score and parts for free and then have them pay for the hotel room when I come to the performance. *That* would make sense.

  6. Ernest Ambrus says

    I’ve been thinking about the role of publisher, and distributor in the face of the explosion of downloading, and p2p, and how things could change for the better for composers, and musicians.
    More and more people have embraced the ability to distribute their music online. It costs very little to do, the process isn’t difficult, and it allows composers to cut out the middleman, who seems to be making more money by controlling their product to the detriment of the composer, than engaging in business that benefits all three; the publisher, the composer, and the audience.
    Couple the inability for a group, or ensemble to get exactly the piece they’re looking for because of high cost, and the suffocating copyright laws we have, the role of the publisher should be getting scarcer.
    I’m immensely grateful for those of you that allow the free dissemination of your scores, and it’s really only the beginning, considering the relative freshness of places like IMSLP, and the numbers of personal websites that include more content now than ever. It makes me sad that many of the pieces I really love, from Henry Cowell, to John Cage are still nowhere to be found unless you’re willing to shell out money that in all likeliness would mostly line the pockets of Edition Peters, or another publisher. The DIY mentality of the punks in the eighties is still incredibly useful, and could be a much needed antidote to the ills even in the classical world. Self run labels, organizations by and for the composer, self published scores and recordings, and self organized performances.
    It’s not a new idea by any means, but with the advent of the internet, it could gain considerable support if more and more people get tired of allowing business to interfere with their creativity.
    There’s a lot of talk about the loss of payment in the popular music world right now, but if we are open to the idea that we could trade some of the opportunity to generate income, and to gain the ability to decide on all facets of dissemination, and production, I think the trade off would be well worth it.

  7. says

    I’m still trying to figure out why “Clapping Music” costs twenty bucks.
    KG replies: Ouch! I’m learning more here than I wanted to know. Boosey, I assume? My 1972 copy of 4’33” still bears its 50-cent price tag.

  8. says

    Publishers are the middle-men — they don’t really produce any content in themselves other than the distribution network that they’ve set up, which was important at one point but it’s becoming less so as time goes on. Composers going to performers directly is basically a cut into their profits, so it’s probably not too surprising that they’re going to see PDFs as a threat. That whole “unfairness” thing is just a toungue-in-cheek argument that attempts to justify their self-interests, so I wouldn’t pay much attention to them if they’re trying to be moralizing. It hurts them, not composers.

    In the long run, anything that can be copied (including hard-copy materials) will probably end up being free in one way or another, so the only way to keep the livelihood of composers going would probably have to involve a major change in how performing rights organizations work. There is a mass-digitization movement happening in libraries and content-based companies right now (I know because I’m working in that field), so its likely that most books and scores will end up as digital products as an end result. If it can be scanned, it will be, and it will be available to the public in the way regardless of the intensions of the author.

    I’ve made small amounts of money through ASCAP but the way they keep track of things are so hit-and-miss that it’s hard to really see it as a reliable source of income. Like say, this year I got a few bucks from a radio play of a piece that I didn’t write but had a similar title as something that was in my published list. Not complaining, but that kind of shows how unreliable the organization has become in recent years. It might be that there’s just too many musicians out there doing too many things.

    Maybe in a few years we’ll see “Google Scores” or something of that sort. Yeah, they’re a private entity, but unfortunately at this point the PROs just don’t seem to have their act together enough to adapt to the digital age.

  9. says

    It used to be published by Universal Edition. I had seen a price tag of $18 at one point; so, I do exaggerate a little, but not much. It is now published by Boosey for 8.50 pounds, which still comes out to over 12 bucks, for a piece that, once you know how it works — something I’ve taught to fourth graders — you can write it out in about a minute. What is anyone gaining from that piece being so expensive? I love to use it to teach reading notation, because basically it’s clap or don’t clap, but who’s going to shell out 12 bucks x 20 students for a one-page piece?
    That publisher’s argument, to me, is like saying we shouldn’t have school sports because then people go to those events instead of shelling out the dough to see the professionals. Puh-leeze.

  10. mclaren says

    The publisher was calling you a dirty f*cking communist hippy, just the same way Bill Gates called open-source linux advocated dirty f*cking hippy communists a few years back.
    The big new price for stuff is free, a price with which giant monopolistic cartels like publishers and Microsoft and media monopolies (MCA/Universal, Bertelsmann, et al.) can’t compete.
    Chris Anderson’s essay “Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business”(2008) builds on what Clay Shirky was saying back in 1995 in his essay “Help! The price of information has fallen and it can’t get up” and what Harvard economist Umair Haque is saying today in the video “The New economics of music” at the Berlin Club Transmediale expo in 2010.
    Umair Haque keeps slamming the “lame brain-dad Ponziconomy” which depends on scamming its customers to survive. The problem is that as technology advances, the customers who keep getting scammed flee from the publishers in search of alternatives. The ponziconomy collapses. Hauqe puts this very simply: capitalism 2.0 will be based on doing good, while capitalism 1.0 was based on doing evil.
    We can see this in the health care reform debate, where giant corrupt doctor-hospital-insurer-medical-devicemaker cartels collude to raise prices and crush competition. The end result is pure evil — their profits depend on killing an increasing number of people who can’t afford health insurance. That’s unsustainable, because either everyone loses health insurance and winds up dying slowly screaming like animals, or the current health care system gets blown apart.
    In the same way, the current method of distribution and funding of serious contemporary music depends on artificial scarcity of insanely overpriced scores and artificial scarcity of overpriced out of print CDs. As with health insurers whose ultimate business involves not actually insuring anyone, the giant music publishers have a business model that depends on restricting the available of music scores to the point where, ideally, no one can actually get access to a contemporary music score. This benefits the vertically integrated publisher-composer-symphony-orchestra cartel, but hurts everyone else. In particular, if you want to get hold of, say, a scHore of Henry Cowell’s 1938 composition “Concerto for Rhythmicon and Orchestra,” you can’t, because you can’t afford it. This means that no one can hear Henry Cowell’s concerto for rhythmicon and orchestra because there were never any recordings made, so in order to hear it, we would need to make a recording from Cowell’s score.
    This is evil, pure and simple. In order to protect the income of the biggest 10 or 15 contemporary composers and in order to protect the monopolistic cartel profits of the 3 or 4 big music publishers and the 10 or 15 biggest orchestras in the united states, vast numbers of pieces of contemporary music must be walled off and made unavailable to anyone who wants to hear them via monopoly pricing and georgraphic restrictions (all scores are not available in all areas of America, no matter how much you’re willing to pay).
    This is classic capitalism 1.0. It’s evil. And, unfortunately for them, evil doesn’t win out. We can see this by looking at the complete unavailabilty of La Monte Young’s recordings. They’re all out of print. If you want to buy The Well-Tuned Piano 6 CD set, it will cost you $1500 on So the giant media monopolies have priced their product far out of reach in order to protect otherwise unsustainable profits.
    Something peculiar happens when prices get this high, however. Google La Monte Young torrent and you’ll find that all his recordings are now available via bittorrent and other file downloading services. The technologically literate audience for new music views capitalism 1.0 (as embodied in the music business) as a form of damage and routes around it.
    Obviously when you offer your scores for free you’re engaging in extremely unfair competition with the traditional publishers. Your pricing model of “free” is predatory pricing, and that destroys the old pricing model. Too bad. New business models are always unfair toward older business models — the phonograph made it possible to listen to your favorite musical performance an unlimited number of times without paying to go to a concert, which was fundamentally unfair. Today’s computers and samplers make it possible for composers to realize their own music and put it on the web without jumping through the hoops required by the symphony-publisher-pulitzer cartel, and this makes the vertically integrated monopoly cartel of serious contemporary music urinate in terror.
    It should. “Free” is a new business model and it’s destroying the old business model. The old business model of contemporary music, as an incidental result of its profit-making engine, winds up making ever-increasing amounts of serious contemporary music completely unavailable. You can’t buy recordings of it, you can’t afford scores of it, no symphony orchestra performs it, so it’s been erased and dumped into an Orwellian memory hole.
    Contemporary music audiences are aware of the vast explosion of new technologies for recording and reproducing music (both scores and audio recordings) and they correctly regard this old capitalism 1.0 business model of new music as a form of damage. And they route around it.
    The giant publishers scream that this is unfiar competition, and it is. New business models always compete unfairly with older business models because they are more efficient and more democratic.
    While performers might not play your music because your scores are available for free online, I can guarantee you one thing — some performers somewhere are playing your music instead of the music of Henry Cowell because Cowell’s music (and the music of vast numbers of other superb modern composers) has been priced out of reach. This is a classic example of what Haque calls the “lame brain-dead Ponziconomy” and it’s dying around us.
    The giant media monopolies, including music publishers, are standing around in warm puddles because it’s slowly dawning on them that the communists actually won the Cold War. Everywhere you look, everything is becoming free. The commie business model is taking over in industry after industry and it’s driving capitalism into the sea. I’m typing this on free wifi on a free operating system (Ubuntu linux) running on a scrounged gutted laptop refurbished with a $10 iPod hard drive bought on ebay, and I’m typical of the new generation of musicians. They view capitalism as a form of damage and route around it. Eventually most of the American economy will go this way, or it will collapse and die, because we can’t afford the old lame brain-dead ponziconomy pumped up by stock market bubbles and real estate bubbles and vertically integrated monopolies and cartels and pulitzer prizes for contemporary music that mysterious only manage to give awards to the worst composers and systematically ignore all the best contemporary composers. So the TV networks and the book publishers and the record companies and the movie industry and the old score publisher-symphony orchestra-pulitzer cartels are collapsing and disintegrating.
    While I recognize the plight of the old media and the capitalism 1.0 models of contemporary music, my empathy for them is summed up by this animation.

  11. says

    Andrea: Clapping Music (along with other early Reich pieces) is still Universal. He moved to Boosey for his later works, but the titles Universal had didn’t transfer. (Boosey’s website will sometimes sell works from other publishers which might be why it looks confusing).
    But Clapping Music is definitely still a Universal title — see here the listing in Universal’s database of the Reich titles they own:

  12. Bryan says

    This has been great reading. I’m a playwright and I very recently put two of my plays online so that others could download them and decide if they want to produce them. Because of this, one play is getting produced later this month in another state.
    It seems like getting your work performed is far more important and beneficial than collecting any royalties from selling the published score to the musicians. There are a couple of issues, however:
    In the theatre world, the publisher handles all rights issues and collects the royalty payments. This isn’t a big deal unless someone tries to produce the work without permission or without paying royalties, in which case the publisher has legal muscle to go after those people. Bypassing the publisher means taking on those legal responsibilities myself, and it largely amounts to trusting theatre producers that they will not perform the work without paying me.
    I also wonder if getting published may give the work some sort of legitimacy. I haven’t had a play published so I can’t say for certain, but it seems like producers would look more favorably on a play that has been published, if only because they know the established procedures for securing rights and paying royalties, even if in the end it costs them more. It also means some “gatekeeper” has judged the play worthy of production and therefore worth the theater’s time to consider. However, most theaters have open submission policies and will read any script that interests them, so this may not be that big of a deal. Does it work that way with composers?
    KG replies: Of course publishing is a prestige thing, which is why so many composers still want to do it. But all through the ’70s and ’80s the only new composers who were getting published were really conservative ones whose music paradoxically didn’t garner much attention (Nicholas Maw scores were everywhere, and I’ve never heard a note of his music), so it almost became a badge of irrelevance. Then finally a few people like John Adams and Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt became so popular that it was economically stupid *not* to publish them, and by the time you become publishable via *that* route, you’re already so famous that it doesn’t matter if you’re published or not. Terry Riley, for instance, self-publishes off his web site, and no one imagines he’s less of a big deal than Reich because of that. He probably keeps more of the money.

  13. Bob Gilmore says

    I completely endorse Robin’s comments above. Kyle, I’ve been dining out for some years now on your remark that the main business of music publishers these days seems to be to stop music being played. I’m wanting to programme a portrait concert of the great French composer François-Bernard Mâche with my ensemble next season and trying to deal with whatever remains of the erstwhile-wonderful Durand is sending me into a tainspin (or an early grave).

  14. says

    from the Wired article mclaren quotes above:
    “The new model is based not on cross-subsidies — the shifting of costs from one product to another — but on the fact that the cost of products themselves is falling fast. It’s as if the price of steel had dropped so close to zero that King Gillette could give away both razor and blade, and make his money on something else entirely. (Shaving cream?)”
    The making of money on something else entirely is where, I think, we post-classical people are having problems. What is our shaving cream?

  15. George Mattingly says

    The mechanisms used by old style publishing to restrict access to works are disintegrating. Clearly we need new models which both protect the rights of the creators (including, of course, the right to give away their work if they choose) and also make their works available (publishing: to make public).
    “Free” is a model, but it’s not a “business” model. Setting rental rates for parts so high they’re never rented is likewise not a business model — not a serious one anyway.
    Clearly we need new models (plural).
    In the 90s there was an ongoing argument (located mostly in the pages of Wired magazine) about whether creative artists should be paid for their work. The advocates of “free” contended that whereas manufacturers were selling something “real” (& thus deserved to be paid), the pure joy of the act of creation was payment enough for artists. (Whose product wasn’t “real” & thus shouldn’t be for sale.)
    “Art wants to be free.” Unlike, say, plumbing.
    It’s always seemed to me that the argument for “free” was both impractical (because it provided no support for those creating what was to be given away) and also an excuse for stealing.
    But the choice isn’t simply between “free” and prohibitively expensive & thus unavailable. The idea of making scores easily (or freely) available as PDFs on the web — but charging (on a sliding scale depending on the end use or end user) for parts (or a piece of the gate? or that free trip to the performance?) makes sense.
    What does NOT make sense is the laughable idea that a free score in PDF form from an unknown composer is unfair competition. For anyone.

  16. says

    To follow-up after Bob’s comment -For sometime I’ve sensed this to be a dirty little secret of the new music community needing to be aired. Perhaps it is poorly understood as a problem given that composers are only aware of rentals and purchases that actually take place, but wouldn’t necessarily be aware of who knows how many interested musicians walk away from possibly renting/purchasing works due to unapproachable publishers. It also certainly doesn’t encourage younger performers and less established organizations to consider working through publishers. I already had a bad taste for publishers before leaving grad school, lodging in my head that if I wanted to work with a piece from a major publisher, it meant a lot of money and trouble. As if the new music community needed more obstacles.

  17. Charles Martin says

    “…it’s difficult for me to believe that any performer or ensemble ever makes a repertoire choice based on the cost of the score.” On the contrary – homo economicus does just that, and who can blame them? A string quartet, with young players, performing a one-off at a church or college, faced with buying or renting a full set parts for one work? No, they’ll start surfing the Internet for .pdfs. In my playing days, we could barely afford strings, much less scores for pieces being played once.
    The middleman model is definitely going. The new model for composers trying to make a living? Marry rich!
    KG replies: Well, I guess I *am* on the inside track, then. Woo hoo!

  18. Jon says

    I had a recent experience that highlighted the frustrations of dealing with publishers. I wanted to buy the score of a chamber piece of a certain composer who I will not name so he doesn’t get in trouble with his publisher. It was Schirmer, I think, and I contacted them about buying the score to this piece (of course, they did not have any prices on their website, I had to e-mail them to find out how much it cost). About a WEEK later, they wrote back and told me how much I could rent the score and parts for. I wrote back and said I didn’t need parts, it was only for my own personal study, not a performance, and I would really like to BUY not RENT so I could keep it, study it , mark it up, etc. Another WEEK goes by and they write back and say, sorry, it is only available for rental. So finally, I just wrote to the composer and told him the situation. He apologized and e-mailed me a PDF of the score the next day. Come ON!! What on earth is Schirmer’s problem? Can you imagine any other business being run this way??? Around the same time, I was interested in buying a piece of Terry Riley’s. While it was fairly expensive, the price was listed on the website, I e-mailed to inquire about buying it, received a response the same day, paid using paypal and had the piece in my hands by the end of the week. So the unpublished composer got $50, the published one nothing. Why on earth anyone would want to be published is totally beyond me!
    KG replies: You were lucky: I know some composers who insist I go through their publisher, and won’t send me PDFs, so there are “published” scores I can’t get. And if I can get them temporarily for publicity purposes, I get an e-mail after a few weeks telling me to mail the scores back right away.

  19. mclaren says

    Andrea remarked: The making of money on something else entirely is where, I think, we post-classical people are having problems. What is our shaving cream?
    Nobody really knows the answer to that. Too many old industries are collapsing and disintegrating around us right now, and the outlines of the new industries and new business models still waver and shimmer like mirages in the desert.
    But some people in the new music community clearly are making money selling their music. Here are a couple of possible answers to Andrea’s question:
    [1] Give away low-bitrate mp3s of your music but if people want lossless FLAC or high-bitrate mp3s or oggs, charge something for ’em.
    [2] Even better, give away some of your music — if people want the whole CD, charge for that as a download. Gann already does this. Smart move.
    [3] Even better than that, give away some (maybe all) of your music but charge for an enhanced set of downloads where the composer adds in alternate takes, early versions of the pieces, or versions with different instrumentation, and then walks the listener through what’s going on in each composition by explaining in detail what’s happening each piece with audio examples. Myself, I’d kill to get a set of audio liner notes by, say, David Lang or Aaron Jay Kernis where the composer takes apart the music and gives specific examples showing how it’s put together. There’s absolutely no reason nowadays to limits ourselves to print-only liner notes — the downloaded liner notes, for which the customer pays, could be video + audio, showing in detail how the music works and how each composition is put together.
    [4] Jaron Lanier has suggested micropayments. Not sure whether this will fly. It’s another possibility. The “set your own price” and “pay what you want” that worked so well for Radiohead (yeah, you say, but they’ve got an entire record company behind ’em doing publicity for them — and you’re right) represent a variant of micropayments. Most folks may not pay much if you’re not as famous as Radiohead, but if everyone pays a little, hey, that could add up.
    [5] The composer can sell swag. T-shirts, scores, manuscript notes for the original piece, autographed special editions, limited edition runs of enhanced CDs with extra pieces not available in the regular print run, all that kind of stuff. Check Darcy James Argue — he excels at selling swag on his site, or at least advertising it.
    [6] The more exotic possibilities involve direct audience involvement. The hottest new dress shops let customers upload their own designs — the shop then makes the dress and the customer buys it. Why not let audience members bid to have their musical theme serve as the basis of a set of variations by the composer? Or why not let customers bid to set the musical form of the composer’s next piece? If the composer is a microtonalist, the new music listeners could bid on which tuning the composer uses in a new piece. This could range all the way to a composer setting up an interactive MIDI system (or some other kind of system that compensates for a music lover’s potential lack of musical expertise) that lets the winning bidder directly participate in the musical performance. For instance, the winning bidder might get to conduct the premier performance with a Mathews radio drum, or something like that.
    [7] If the composer requires new homebuilt instruments (as for instance David Lang specified in his piece “The So-Called Laws of Nature”) he might then auction ’em off after the piece gets performed. This might be especially popular if the instruments are exotic or if they use unusual tunings or produce unheard-of sonorities like, say, Erv Wilson’s 31-equal glass marimba.
    [8] If the composer uses more adventurous open forms like Henry Cowell’s “26 mosaics,” the performers could run off a whole bunch of different versions of the piece with alternate ordering of the individual sections. The new music listener gets the standard plain-vanilla version of the piece for free or for some nominal fee as a download, but only gets the more unusual versions of the piece with alternate ordering of the individual sections by paying extra for those particular downloads.
    Anyway, maybe those are brain-dead notions, or maybe they won’t work, but it doesn’t seem like a whole lotta contemporary composers have tried ’em yet. So at least they seem like possible business models.