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Variety: London is now Hollywood’s music studio

The entertainment industry gazette has published an article on the flight of soundtrack and videogame recordings from Hollywood to Europe. London is the top venue, followed by Prague and Bratislava. I’m a little surprised that Munich didn’t make the list.

Variety blames the loss of work on hard-hat US unions. The union boss retorts: whatever else is changing, we ain’t.

Read it here.


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  1. After a less auspicious start in the late 80s and early 90s, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Nic Raine have made some amazing recordings of classic film scores. On a good day they even seem to rival the London Orchestras (who still are the benchmark).

    As admirable the musicians in Hollywood are, the unions are clearly harming the musicians and all lovers of music: The hurdles some lables have to overcome in order to publish old soundtracks (usually in limited numbers at an absurd price) are a point in case.

    Maybe cooler heads will prevail in the future.

  2. The union is shooting itself in the foot. The argument used to be “the best musicians are in LA” ! Not anymore, Bratislava now almost rivals London and in Bulgaria one can get a 70 member orchestra, including studio for 5,000 euros for a three hour session!

  3. And over the last ten years much of the work has shifted from London, in turn, to orchestras in Eastern Europe (particularly for lower-budget films, adverts, and the like).
    The MU in the UK began to wake up to this recently – only a decade too late – and they will get there eventually as membership demands it. But with much of the work already gone, will it ever come back?

  4. LA Musician says:

    I am a violinist in LA. The reason studios are moving to London other places to record music is mainly because that they don’t want to pay residual royalties.

    Although it would be great to have more work here, I am not sure if it would really have much economical value to local musicians if it is paid like per service as in other places.

    • I understand your point, but some valuable music stays unpublished or is lost forever because of overly strict regulations. The idea that old concert videos and broadcast were deleted in the presence of union representatives (e.g. Cleveland/Szell) to make sure the musicians don’t get “cheated” still makes me want to puke puke …

      • La Musician says:

        You are confusing unrelated issues together. We are discussing film scores, not symphony recordings, of which musicians in symphony orchestras are employed year round. It is just the nature of economy. If you allow cross border wage based competition, it is always race to the bottom.

        • oakmountain says:

          It is exactly the same with film scores. Ask the labels who try to publish (old) film score recordings.

          • LA Musician says:

            The difference is that s do not pay us a regular salary, unlike symphony orchestras. We earn from each movie. How many movies are produced a year? Do you want us, high caliber freelancer musicians, to get paid per-service and compete with musicians based on the cost of living in Eastern Europe?

          • To LA Musician. You ARE already competing with Eastern European musicians. But the residual issue is a producer issue. What producer in their right mind would want to keep the books of a past project open and invest the time and effort to sort out the payments when he is already working on another new project. Fine if it a big studio gig, they have the staff etc But if it’s an independent production!! The union should fight to a point, but at some stage it will be self defeating. The work will just leave!!!

    • LA Musician says:

      The film score work in LA is diminishing because 1) films use significantly less orchestral music, 2) availability of other orchestras worldwide that can compete artistically or cost-wise or both. I don’t get the feeling that my colleagues are bitter of it at all. This is an economical issue and really has nothing to do with union rigidity. It is really absurd for many who barely know the industry to claim so and sound as dumb as American teabag party members. The sole purpose of union is to preserve the dignity in life of being musicians. They are doing the job and I need it. I personally can’t see myself want to live as an orchestral musician under a model like that in Great Britain, even though I love London. I am not alone. There are many London transplant musicians in Socal. So, cool it, we are doing just fine!

      • I was referring to the problem that because of the cost and bother of administering re-usage fees, companies lose or destroy soundtrack recordings or let them rot in cellars while enterprising labels re-record them in Prague. How exactely does this help LA musicians or lovers of music?

        • LA Musician says:

          So, are those blaming union here suggesting we studio musicians in LA to accept similar pay like the examples Derek Gleeson made above? Are they serious? If they are arguing giving away free labor and service, why don’t they look in mirror themselves for a start. It is a free world, if a producer wants to record music elsewhere, for whatever artistic or economic reasons, we unionized musicians are not bitter or trying stopping it. Why are those mentioned above, who don’t even live and work in LA so worked up by union protecting musicians economic interests? Union is helping us, without it we would be doing a lot worse.

      • So you seem fine with the work leaving LA to go elsewhere.
        Would you prefer there to me more work in LA to employ more musicians, or are you happy because you & your colleagues have enough work, and that’s just fine and dandy?
        When there’s less work in LA and some musicians no longer earn from film, are you still fine with that if you and your colleagues still have the work?

        • LA Musician says:

          Why are you assuming I am fine with less work? If producers want to use Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, and other unionized orchestra, what right do I have to complain? If a composer does not want to use orchestral music, how can I force it?

          Union acts on behalf of musicians collective economic interest. I can’t speak for other musicians. I can only say I personally feel that it would be disastrous if musicians were forced to accept similar deals musicians in Eastern Europe get. We live in America and have to deal with “American” cost of living.

  5. Race to the bottom. Anyone who blames the unions only should think again.

    The day when we all make, what our Bulgarian or Moldovian equivalent makes, we will maybe all understand but then it will be too late.

    • John Parfrey says:

      Yes, I’m kind of curious what this might have to do with the shift against unions in the US and the notion of cheap labor trumping a fair wage. In the US, we’ve pretty much demonized unions and the union movement to extract more from workers for much less pay and benefits in favor of increased profits for companies, bigger paychecks for CEOs and higher return for shareholders. Sadly it seems that we’re returning to something akin to the plutocracy that existed before the rise of unions in the earlier part of the last century.

  6. What many of you are forgetting, however, is that a lot of composers (working in LA or not) want to work with London musicians because of the sound they make. Most film composers are extremely fussy about the kind of orchestra they want for each film and if the choice is there, budget allowing, then often they make the choice to record in London for musical reasons (or, indeed, elsewhere: John Williams recorded his latest score for Lincoln with the Chicago Symphony, because of the subject matter). It is misleading to suggest that they only come to London for budgetary considerations. Other reasons are that often there is UK money that has been put into the production, so some part of the production needs to be sourced in the UK – this is often the music. And, if time is tight (and it’s almost always tight these days!), London musicians are renowned for their quick work – another reason London is attractive to composers.

    I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who regards the Eastern European orchestras as equals to the London orchestras in soundtrack recordings – that move into Europe is nearly ALWAYS because of low budgets. And LA musicians are absolutely superb. To appreciate this, all you have to do is listen.

    As is so often the case in life, you get what you pay for.

    • I also like the LSO best, but if you listen to the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra / Nic Raine doing e.g. Rozsa’s Sherlock Holmes or the two conan soundtracks, you might agree that the US and the UK might have to wake up to the fact that there are excellent musicians elsewhere too and that the competition is much fiercer than it once was.

    • Anyway, many composers – like Mr Zimmer and all the people who sound similar – use fewer and fewer musicians and more and more computer samples anyway. More reason for the unions to be more pragmatic.

      • Actually, you’ve picked on the wrong guy: Hans Zimmer has consistently employs hundreds of musicians (usually in London) for his scores. He hires orchestral musicians, and pays them properly, for all his sample libraries (that is, computer libraries of real orchestral sounds that can be used when composing) on the understanding that when he records the live musicians for the actual score he will return to London to do it.

        His scores will invariably use huge orchestral forces (if you bother to listen to them, you might notice): to take some recent examples, Inception, both Sherlock Holmes films, The Dark Knight Rises all featured enormous brass and percussion sections (far too large to accommodate in live concert performance, sadly!), filled with the best players London has.

        It’s certainly true that SOME film composers use samples more than they used to (usually because of ridiculous budget constraints – so blame the producer not the composer). But do consider how those samples were created – by hiring and recording real musicians and paying them well.

        • I accept your higher authority and stand corrected. But I do bother to listen to his soundtracks and more and more of what I hear sounds like the same samples that I use at home, and a lot of his studio videos on you tube show small studios with a few musicians and lots of computers. But I am glad to hear that he pays properly.
          PS I am a brass player and hobby audio engineer. I hope I can still tell horn from keyboard ;-)

    • La Musician says:

      I hope I am not sounding bitter by saying British model of music is the worst. They pay musicians per-service and not great benefits. London is a great city, and yet, none of its orchestras are among the best in the world. I am OK with film music being recorded worldwide. But, it really has nothing to do with Union issues and it is really absurd for anyone to say so. The last time I checked, Chicago is an unionized orchestra.

      • Er, and what is wrong with paying people for the work they do?
        Most people get paid for the time they turn up and work – be that turning up to play a concert as a musician, or for a day at the surgery as a doctor, or for a day in the office.
        Why is that so wrong for your London-based colleagues?

        (I think it also fair to say that London orchestras DO represent the best in the world when it comes to film soundtracks; and the long list of Hollywood movies using London orchestras is a demonstration of that. I also take issue with your implication that the LSO, for example, is ‘not’ a world-class orchestra)

        • LA Musician says:

          Residual is essentially a performance based bonus pay. Many in entertainment get residual pay. Actors, Athletes, Writers, Singers, Composers, Lyricist…. I can also think of inventors, venture capitalists (Mitt Romney), CEOs…

          This situation is changing for orchestra based film music because changes in culture taste and global competition. However, there are still high budget project that producers don’t penny pinch….

          If you are appalled by people getting residual royalty, why don’t you petition against those I mentioned above? ;-)

  7. “London is a great city, and yet, none of its orchestras are among the best in the world.”

    A matter of opinion.

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