Giving It away

I’ve gotten a self-produced CD from one of America’s more prominent composers, Augusta Read Thomas, composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony, etc., etc., etc. The CD is very professionally packaged (though badly designed), and offers just two works, lasting together no more than 20 minutes, in performances conducted by no less than Pierre Boulez. The project was conceived as a CD single, not a full-length CD, and the idea behind it (or so I’m told by the publicist for the project) is in part to plant a seed for major record companies. Why don’t they record Thomas’s work?

I like the idea of composers taking command of their careers, including their recordings. But my suggestion in this case is to cut the CD price in half, and give the tracks away as free downloads on the Internet. The CD, I’m told, will sell for $11.99. And yes, that’s less than the $18.99 you might pay for full-length product on a major label (or even a smaller one), but it’s too much. Who’s going to buy this? Hardly anyone, if we’re going to face the truth. A few people in Chicago. Libraries, if Thomas is lucky. (And if her publisher doesn’t promote her work by giving the CD to libraries at no charge.)

So income generated by sales can’t be an issue here. The CD, in any case, was very likely funded at least in part by helpful donors; I see at least one credit to people who’d do this sort of thing on a list of acknowledgements. In any case, the money came from somewhere, has already been paid, and will never be earned back from sales. Why not cut the price, to put the music in as many hands as possible?

And that’s also why Thomas should give the tracks away. She can’t seriously worry about cutting into sales; there aren’t going to be many sales. So — I can’t say this often enough — why not just give the music to anyone who’s curious to hear it? Thomas might even generate more sales that way — more people, in other words, might buy the CD after hearing the download than would decide not to buy it because they can download the music free.

Composers have to be realistic. (Ditto everyone in classical music.) CD sales — especially for music like this, which sounds a bit like Boulez — can’t be an issue. Getting people to hear the music is what counts.

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