I have the utmost respect for Eighth Blackbird as musicians and new music advocates. In fact one of my fondest dreams as a composer would be to have them perform my chamber Sextet. But I was very disappointed to learn that the ensemble’s new Call for Scores requires composers to pay a $50 application fee to have their scores considered. While, as one of my colleagues put it, this may convince composers to be ‘a bit self-selective’ in their submissions, it’s also a handy way to self-fund the commission of a new work for the ensemble.

As much as I’d like to have Eighth Blackbird consider my work, I don’t want to participate in a process that feels exploitative.

Thoughts on application fees? The comments section is open!

114 Responses to “20 composers X a $50 dollar application fee = a self-funded commission”
  1. I’ve never understood why composers find application fees exploitative. Organizing a competition is expensive and enormously time-consuming. How should an ensemble cover the costs? I don’t know of any grants they can apply for to support composition competitions. Asking the composers to help pay for the process seems as good as any other way I can think of. At least the composers can take a tax deduction for it. It’s not ideal, but nothing is. Maybe someone else knows a better way – please tell me, I’d love to hear it.

    Also, finding ways to reduce the number of submissions makes sense. Getting six musicians in a room together to listen to and discuss several hundred submissions steals precious time away from rehearsal. All ensembles have to be in the business of survival, now more than ever, and time is a very precious commodity.

    Those are my thoughts.

  2. Stanley Moon says:

    of course there are grants they can get for this! they should call it “the people’s commissioning fund #2″

  3. Please tell me what the grants are — seriously — I’d love to know!

    Thanks,
    L

  4. Anon says:

    i am choosing to post anonymously because complaining about 8bb could end up hurting me.

    $50 is too expensive, but what’s even worse than the expensive application fee is their appallingly low commission fee of $1000 + travel. really insulting. 8bb, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

  5. As a composer, the reason I find application fees exploitive, is that the ostensible purpose is to fund a new work. So wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that the funders could get it together to fund the selection process while they’re at it? Also, it seems that the amount is also especially high in this case. If there is truly such a glut of applicants, perhaps the selection crew could listen to some portion and select their top twenty favorites. Then get together for judgement day.
    But that’s not the way of the 21st century. Nor any other, come to think of it. At least if we are starving in obscurity, we can know we have the best of historical company – Bach, Mozart, Chopin, da-dah, da-dah, da-dah… If kings didn’t pay properly for commissions, why then must these mere citizens?

  6. Elaine Fine says:

    Why is it that I should feel happy to have my $50.00 application fee go to pay another composer who has written music considered by a group of people (who need to make their decision by instrumentally-biased consensus) “better” than my submission?

    Composition competitions are always a recipe for misery, not for exceptional music. Combine that with entry fees, and you can consider yourself an investor in someone’s misery (even if it isn’t your own). It is more ethical to pool resources from your ensemble (or from your ensemble’s patrons or subscribers) and ask someone who you all know to write something. That’s the way these things usually end up working anyway.

  7. My experience with 8bb is that they are six musicians who are ethically conscientious and genuinely concerned about fostering new music – as opposed to just scratching the backs that feed them. Without knowing the details behind how this particular competition was generated, I’d like to assume the best – that they are trying to find a way to get the maximum benefit for everyone involved. Despite the fact that many negative generalizations about composition competitions are valid, it’s not really fair to condemn everyone just for making this kind of effort. Just because there is no ideal way to do it doesn’t mean they should not even try.

  8. paul bailey says:

    at first glance this seems like a pretty bad idea, but after sitting with it for a bit why not? i think the problem overall is the current patronage/grants/commissions system. i’m sure we all understand the limitations of asking somebody else for permission to create and perform.

    the bottom line is that there has to be another way to acquire funding if 8bb wants to do it themselves by cutting out the middlemen than more power to them.

  9. Christian says:

    Lawrence,

    Remember that the only one from the applicant pool who benefits is the ‘winner.’

    As I said at the top of the piece, I have great respect for 8bb. I’m not suggesting they are being deliberately unethical. But I think that charging 50 dollars to consider a composer’s music is a misstep on their part.

    If they really want to ‘give back to the composers,’ as their call states, they should only allow one score per entrant and get rid of the application fee.

  10. Christian,
    I guess I don’t agree that only one applicant benefits — and I hasten to add that I don’t have anything I would send to 8bb (as much as I respect them, their musical interests are different from mine) — but any opportunity a composer has to have six outstanding musicians study their music is a huge benefit. I’m sure that $50 is too high a price for many composers, but getting that opportunity without having to pay something for it seems a bit much to expect.

  11. Steve Layton says:

    The problem with that, Lawrence, is that it doesn’t really sound like any of the ‘non-winning’ composers will be getting much in the way of feedback or critique. Which is fine; that isn’t what this seems to be about. What it ends up boiling down to is a bunch of composers buying one of their group a good performance, recording and possibly a place in 8bb’s repertory. What is 8bb putting in? I understand all of their effort and time to go through these all and work up the selected piece, but each of the composers has likely also put in more than their share of sweat on composing and readying their work, so that part’s pretty much even-Steven. And since there’s no real limit on how many scores (and their enclosed checks) will be accepted for review, the amount of money could be anything from adequate to an exceptionally tidy sum. There’s just some part of this equation/relationship that just doesn’t seem to balance out . I too think that 8bb are great and conscientious people and performers, but I also have to agree with those who think there’s a bit of a misstep here.

  12. This competition will undoubtedly receive hundreds of applicants, a great many by younger (bright-eyed) composers, that still do not have the skills (yet) to compete with their older more mature colleagues. This is why I feel its exploitive. I would urge my students not to enter. Me…. I’d rather spend my $50 having drinks with the performers who already support me.

  13. Stanley Moon says:

    Organizations through which performing ensembles can get money for commissioning: NEA, NYSCA, Rockefeller, Meet the Composer, ACF, just to name those that immediately come to mind.

  14. David says:

    I’ve had many opportunities to visit the 8bb studios over the years (they used to do readings of my students’ works) and was astonished at the sheet number of scores. Even early in the millennium, before their Grammy, they had several DOZEN large boxes filled with scores marked “Maybe” (and about 3X that many marked “No”). So I think that it’s great that they came up with a way to make sure that all the scores they get can have a hearing. That said, I won’t be entering myself since $50 is a bit steep for me. But I appreciate their efforts to widen their repertoire. (And, as I said to Christian earlier, I think that the price may be calculated to be self-selecting so that composers don’t take a flyer–a way of ensuring that all entrants have seriously considered whether they think that they are a good fit with the 8bb crew.)

  15. David says:

    Correction:
    ’ve had many opportunities to visit the 8bb studios over the years (they used to do readings of my students’ works) and was astonished at the sheer number of scores. Even early in the millennium, before their Grammy, they had several DOZEN large boxes filled with scores marked “Maybe” (and about 3X that many marked “No”). So I think that it’s great that they came up with a way to make sure that all the scores they get can have a hearing. That said, I won’t be entering myself since $50 is a bit steep for me. But I appreciate their efforts to widen their repertoire. (And, as I said to Christian earlier, I think that the price may be calculated to be self-selecting so that composers don’t take a flyer–a way of ensuring that all entrants have seriously considered whether they think that they are a good fit with the 8bb crew.)

  16. Stanley, I know about organizations that provide commissioning funds, but that’s not what this is about — this is about 8bb finding new composers they may not know yet. I still don’t know of any organizations that provide funding for competitions.

    Steve, I honestly hope that 8bb makes a tidy sum from this, because there aren’t that many ways for new music groups to survive, much less thrive in a way that is commensurate with the amount of work they do. There will probably be some people who will pay the $50 who shouldn’t be spending their money that way, and that’s a shame, but I’m guessing most people who submit works won’t be bankrupted by this competition. And I think keeping 8bb in business is a good thing for all of us, whether or not they play our music. Maybe this competition is a way for composers to help them out and possibly get a shot at a performance to boot.

    By the way, everyone, having entered a number of competitions over the years, I can honestly say (and I never would have believed this twenty years ago) that I have gotten more performances from competitions I didn’t win than from competitions I won. Not that I think that would be true with this competition — all competitions aren’t the same — but it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture for the immediate payoff.

  17. There is nothing that enrages me more than this behavior (and the increasing exploition, barrier-creation and discrimination that are treated as normal in the new nonpop world).

    The composer is the least powerful and most exploited of the new nonpop world. Any group with decent chops is going to get a lot of scores submitted, and performing groups hold the power over composers. This is ugly. This is not about auditioning, not about selecting, not about discovery, not about making composers think twice about submitting, not about any of the other excuses that groups offer.

    It is about the simple, pure, and unadulterated ability to demand free money and get it, while reducing their own efforts. I’m sorry, but this is pitiful behavior. This is one more group that I will never support in any way (not that they need me or will ever perform my stuff). If commissioning is that important, they should be really committed and take a tithe from their performance fees to sponsor the competition.

    I am stunned by the number of groups that are demanding handouts from the very people they profess to support. I’m disgusted by this behavior of offering high-sounding excuses for simple insult.

    Dennis

    Dennis

  18. Stanley Moon says:

    There are programs for varied and general funding for ensembles, aside from those for specific commissions. Not really the point, though. The point is that these guys are successful, fairly well-heeled, ambitious and, apparently, cheap. They are very well-publicized, and this is part of a publicity campaign, much like Bang on a Can’s PCF, except this one is a Composer’s Commissioning Fund. The losers are paying for the winner’s commission. Your experience notwithstanding, not that many losers of competitions see that as a form of winning, especially when, unlike a piano competition, there is no publicity or exposure for the also-rans. It seems like a rather tone-deaf move to me. It has changed my perception of 8bb for the worse.

  19. Looks like I’ve got a minority opinion here. Oh well, not the first, or I imagine the last, time.

  20. Amen, brother Dennis. So we should feel sorry because a successful group has to spend time looking through scores, but it’s ok for a composer who has spent hours writing a piece to pay someone to look at it? This sounds like self-hating taken to a high level.

  21. I’m back…

    As a new music presenter, I know that 8bb commands top dollar per performance (especially by new music standards) and they are presented regularly by most arts markets and many universities. This is a financially successful ensemble measured by any arts standard.

    The award fee is too paltry to attract a professionally successful composer from entering.
    You get one day (day?) to dress rehearse your work. The concert is being presented in a relatively low profile venue (guaranteed one performance). They specifically say that the recording is only for promotional use only.

    This competition (to me), is specifically geared at attracting as many inexperienced composers as possible to submit a $50 application.

    Madoff, AIG, 8bb….?

  22. Chris Auerbach-Brown says:

    Let’s break down the numbers here, shall we?

    In my experience, a competition by a high-profile ensemble like 8bb will probably get about 350 applicants from around the world. 350 X $50 apiece = $15,000 profit, minus $1500 for the winner’s fees. The rest goes directly into 8bb’s pockets and funds their needs.

    That being said, I have to agree with Elaine’s statement “Why is it that I should feel happy to have my $50.00 application fee go to pay another composer who has written music considered by a group of people (who need to make their decision by instrumentally-biased consensus) “better” than my submission?” Not only that, but since the entry process isn’t anonymous, and since 8bb will most likely act as judges, they are free to pick music written by someone with a political connection to their ensemble, either as a friend, student of a friend, friend of a friend, etc. etc. I’m not willing to help facilitate this process by sending them my $50 application fee.

  23. Paul Muller says:

    Without speculating on the motivations and intentions of 8bb – I assume these are honorable and they genuinely feel this is a valid way to introduce new music – this sort of competition represents one datum point in the wide imbalance between those writing new music and those who are capable of performing it. Many of us toiling away in the outer darkness, however, are under no illusions about the chances that our compositions will be performed, $50 fee or no.

    Galen Brown’s recent S21 article about Carolyn Yarnell’s piano piece The Same Sky should be required reading for upper-eschelon ensembles like 8bb. In a comment posted to the article there was a description of how the piece was recorded by pianist Kathleen Supové – it was a combination of synthetic realization and live performance. Why? According to Ms. Supové the piece would have required a dozen pianists to perform live. In other words, composers are writing pieces that are intended for listening, and not necessarily for performance.

    And why not? Any composer with $50 can distribute his work directly to a world-wide audience via the Internet. Local performing institutions such as symphony orchestras are under increasing stress from lack of public support. Sophisticated groups like 8bb and venues like Le Poisson Rouge may be the exception – for now. But extrapolate the trends: huge available audience reachable at almost no cost – or send in $50 to see if a group will possibly perform your piece – and it does not take a rocket scientist to see the direction in which new music will evolve.

  24. I might take issue with the amount they’re asking (I’d be curious to see an expense breakdown), but I think it’s excessively idealistic to ask six professionals to do something like this without an application fee. In a sense, since they’re putting this out there in addition to their regular duties, they’re taking on another job. Also, as a performer who has had to pay much higher entry fees for competitions, I don’t quite understand how it’s any different for a composer. Yes, $50 is a lot of money for a struggling musician–or even a successful musician who just doesn’t make a lot of money. But competitions like Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition (which takes place in a country far more supportive of the arts, financially and otherwise, and which is funded by a well-established music center) charge something like 30-40 Euro per entrant. The money, I imagine, goes toward administrative costs as well as augmenting the prize money. When six people are handling many of their own administrative duties in addition to an extremely rigorous rehearsal/performance schedule, and when there’s not much precedent for the number of scores they might receive, I think protecting themselves with an application fee is totally reasonable.

  25. Minority opinion here again: when I do the math (what is a decent annual income to support six people? And let’s not even think about any of them supporting a family. Now how much more when you include hotel rooms, airfares, cartage for roomfuls of percussion, and storage for what I read above as several hundred boxes of scores?) – I’m guessing that the “high fees” 8bb commands aren’t exactly providing a luxurious lifestyle. New music stars are not in the same financial category as film stars and sports stars, even though I think they should be.

    Now the $50 fee. Nobody is required to pay, and anyone can choose to pay. I figure most students will shy away, and most established professionals, as David L. points out, will find the reward not worth the cost. To me, this appears to be targeted at composers who are making a living but not getting the exposure they would like to have.

    That leaves the composers who are severely struggling, both financially and professionally (not necessarily the same thing). These composers have a right to be unhappy, and 8bb’s announcement makes things even worse.

    But I don’t see any reason why the people in the second paragraph (composers who are making a living, but not getting the exposure they’d like) should complain. For my part, I’ll complain till the polar ice caps melt about how much I have to pay for life’s basics – food, water, a roof, health care – things that should be guaranteed to every citizen — but I’ll never complain about putting money in a musician’s pocket.

  26. Stanley Moon says:

    One might complain about some musicians picking other musicians pockets! And, regardless of what category they belong to, I would think many musicians would be offended by something that just seems wrong.

  27. I’ve had my pocket picked. It’s not something one would volunteer for. It’s not only financially devastating, it’s emotionally traumatic. I don’t see the parallel.

    We are all entitled to our own moral compasses, and you are right that people will be offended by something they think is wrong. The majority of people here think what 8bb is doing is wrong. I don’t.

  28. zoomflute says:

    Ok, I need to comment on this thread, folks.

    Full disclosure: I’m a performing flutist.

    Every single competition I have ever entered or seen has had an application fee. Every competition I have organized through various organizations has had an application fee. Applying to festivals that require auditions (or submissions, my dear friends) have had application fees. Masterclasses often have application fees and require audition tapes or submissions usually…

    And so we’re clear. Yes, the fees are sometimes very expensive. I have seen them as high as $100 US, especially when the fees are required in Euros…

    Most of these competitions, festivals or classes select based on the audition tapes or submissions they receive. And then those people are invited to attend a course, perform in a festival, or compete in final rounds for prize money.

    Competitions are expensive to run. You have to pay the judges time to review submitted materials (recordings or scores) and then you usually have to pay prizes, composer’s airfare, performers, etc…Application fees help to offset these things.

    Competitions are in general a platform for showing off your skill in whatever discipline. So you either want to “buy a seat at the table” or you don’t for a given competition.

    And no, it’s really not different for performers or composers. Remember this, as performers when we go to competition, they don’t pay our airfare to come compete. They certainly do not pay for accompanists (typically), and once the performance is over…it’s over. It’s an intangible item. We could have played the best we ever played in our lives and no one will ever hear it outside that room in that moment. We may get some prize money and a warm fuzzy feeling, but we don’t get a score that will possibly be performed by dozens of other ensembles around the world.

    Competitions are basically a gambling game–poker anyone? You either buy into the game for that round or you choose not to, but don’t get upset at the necessity of fees to participate. That’s about as ridiculous as walking into a game in Vegas and getting upset b/c you have to kick in $$$ that you might lose to another player in the room…it’s all a game of chance.

    Personally I think everyone owes it to themselves to give yourself a chance in the game. Everyone has something to offer this world…

    this is all just my humble opinion…

  29. Eric L says:

    I have all sorts of conflicting feelings about this. On one hand, I don’t think the whole thing has been thoroughly thought out by 8bb, but I don’t think this project is meant to be exploitative.

    I do want to clarify one thing however. I know this is an emotional topic for composers, but even then, that’s not grounds for spreading mis-information. Someone above commented that the final choice could be political; on the official competition site, it states that scores will be evaluated anonymously.

    “Q: Will members of eighth blackbird know who is applying?
    A: No. Applications will not be processed by any members of eighth blackbird and compositions will be judged anonymously by the ensemble.”

    Again, feel free to dislike the way the competition is conducted, but don’t led your anger lead you to stating what is patently false.

  30. james says:

    great idea, too expensive… Drop it by 40 dollars + whatever mailing fee and there wouldn’t be a complaint – or at least there shouldn’t be.

  31. ogaguse says:

    Here is a look from an artist in a different discipline.

    I am an architect married to a performing musician and, contrary to what some people may think, architects do not make a lot of money. I know many musicians who make way more than me or my peers.

    You have to spend months working on every architectural competition out there while paying fees that are never less than $1,000. Then you have to fly to wherever the competition is being held to present it (of course, travel expenses are not reimbursed). If your entry is not selected you may use it in your portfolio but that’s it. You can’t do anything else with it. Dear composers, if your entry is not selected in a competition, you can turn around and submit it elsewhere. We can’t.

    So cry me a river (sorry to be so blunt). Competitions are expensive to run and you can’t expect music ensembles to fund themselves only through handouts from foundations and the government. They are a business and I commend 8bb on their creativity to find a way to cover the cost of running a competition.

    Provided the selection process is honest (btw: it is anonymous) I think this is a great way to showcase the work of the chosen composer while providing paid time to the judges. They should be compensated, right?

    Instead of just commissioning a piece by a particular composer, they chose to organize a competition. This is an opportunity for everyone that would not exist had they chosen to simply commission a particular composer. If you think $50 is too big to get in the competition, don’t submit.

  32. Zoomflute, the big difference is power. Performers hold power over composers. No matter how you justify it, you can play a composer if and when you feel like it, as well or badly as you choose. Composers have no power over you whatsoever. You don’t apply to them over and over to allow you to play. That’s the inescapable reality. You can have a full-blown career without ever going near a living composer.

    As for everybody paying fees, that’s a total red herring. One successful performer application and you have a contract, and can swing from contract to contract and ensemble to ensemble until you retire or die.

    On the other hand, one successful composer application gets you a one-time event. Then you get to do it all over again, week after week, month after month, year after year for a lifetime — and maybe, just maybe, you’ll stay hip or young or media-darlinged enough to keep performers interested.

    Dennis

  33. Looking for performers to play one’s music is part of the composer’s job description. In my experience, some composers are more skilled at the networking game than others: some are over-eager, some are not aggressive enough. It’s a finely tuned skill that, in some ways, is of equal importance to the music itself, whether you like it or not. A competition is perhaps a way of bypassing that game, being judged solely on the merits of one’s music. It’s like a blind audition.

    I completely agree a composer’s lot is not always fair, but nobody’s is. We all have parts of our jobs that frustrate us–one of mine is that the work is never done, and I sometimes feel my instrument staring at me from the other side of the room, even after a double rehearsal and teaching 6 lessons. As performers, as people, we have to set limits. Why should the performers have to stay up all night sifting through piles of submissions? Yes, we/they asked for it, but what they’re really asking for is, as Christian’s friend suggested, a bit of self-selection. 8bb is fortunate (and has worked extremely hard to get to this point) that many, many composers want to write for them. They know there will be a lot of submissions. Should they decide not to hold the competition because they’ll get too much music? Aren’t they entitled to be compensated for the work of listening to these pieces?

  34. Christian says:

    Wendy,

    Just a little reflection on your last point. As a writer, I get sent lots of materials to review. Should I be paid by those who submit recordings, scores, or books for my consideration? Of course not. That would be inherently unethical. I view it as an important part of my job, and a time-consuming one, to review submissions based on their merits, not on some kind of application fee or ad-based “pay for play.”

  35. James Holt says:

    there’s nothing quite like a discussion about competition fees to get everyone all worked up – it never fails. I feel like the fee in this case is a little high but they should be able to run the contest they want to run… and the composers should make an informed choice about whether to submit or not. best wishes to 8bb and good luck to those who submit. whoever mentioned gambling is right – if my piece is actually chosen would it be worth 50-bucks? Probably, yes. Are the odds of winning very high? Probably not.

  36. Good point, Christian. But when a writer receives materials to review, there’s no guarantee s/he will review them or even look at them. If you’re swamped, you pick and choose what to look at and ultimately write about, don’t you? An application fee (hopefully) guarantees everyone a chance at having their work listened to.

  37. Also, a [composer] friend just pointed out to me that submissions for this competition are electronic, thus drastically reducing time and money spent at copy shops and post offices.

  38. I’m still having a problem with the thinking that the instrumental professionals get more sympathy than the composer professionals, that their time is more important. A couple of hours looking at scores vs. maybe months of composition time. I also think the comparison to performer competitions is a red herring – very different situation.

    This is also assuming that the judging is open minded, that the compositions will get equal attention. That said, anyone who’s been on a panel knows that it’s usually pretty easy to cull the quality pieces and/or pieces that will work for you, so there’s less to look really hard at.

    My advice – save your fees, hire a few musicians, and release a recording on YouTube or itunes. (Or, make a good midi realization, like our pal Steve Layton.)

  39. Stanley Moon says:

    Hey, a composer friend of mine just pointed out that no matter how badly he is exploited, it’s OK if he can save copying costs!

  40. Stanley Moon says:

    But seriously…Mary Jane has it right on several counts. First, the comparisons are invalid, totally different protocols and customs for performers and composers. Chances are that if a composer writes a successful piece for a performer, the performer will eventually make more than ten times the amount the composer gets for writing it.

    But more importantly, most competitions sponsored by performers are a high effort/little return proposition. Now, more than ever, composers should challenge pre-existing hierarchies and business models. Make your own recordings, get them online, publish yourself, become a non-profit. Make your own commissioning opportunities, it’s not that hard! A brief survey of recently successful composers will show a lot of them have made their own way. There are a few more than eight ways of looking at a blackbird.

  41. Thanks all for your many thought provoking comments. As the administrative director for eighth blackbird, I take full responsibility for having determined the parameters of this contest, including the fee.

    Origin

    First, it should be worth noting that the contest emerged as a response to a single issue: a growing number of unsolicited submissions. As David wrote above, there is a large pile of scores and recordings in the studio. The group does not want to simply ignore the hard work of composers, and yet they simply do not have time to review them. The question became, ‘how do we rationally manage submissions?’ Having an annual contest provides just such a system. Now there is a simple and objective determination for whether a score is reviewed or not.

    Prior to this contest, I can safely say that it was very unlikely that any unsolicited submission was ever going to be reviewed. Now, ALL scores submitted as part of the contest will be reviewed. Any composer now has a way to guarantee that their work will be seriously considered by eighth blackbird. To my mind, that is a significant improvement.

    Fee

    Judging from most of the comments above, however, the main point of contention is the fee. First, whether there should be a fee at all, and secondly, what the amount of the fee should be.

    I argued very strongly there be a fee. I believe it encourages self-selection, and as has been repeated above, it just seems to be the standard model. I’m more familiar with the screenwriting world than that of composing, and I have never heard of a screenplay contest that didn’t have a fee. Further, we wanted there to be a significant prize, so the contest would have to pay for itself (getting support from a grant wasn’t an option for a host of other reasons).

    One post above speculated that we would receive 350 applications. Perhaps we’re naive, but we are anticipating about 35-50, which at $50 per application would be just enough to break even, with perhaps a little bit for our time if we’re lucky. I hope we’re wrong and you’re right. This is the first time we’ve done this, so we really have no idea.

    Award

    A few have said or implied that the award isn’t sufficient. I’m rather surprised by this contention. I truly thought being the sole winner of an annual contest personally judged by eighth blackbird, plus having the piece performed, plus travel and lodging, plus $1,000 cash, was rather significant.

    Ethics

    Chris Auerbach-Brown wrote: “since the entry process isn’t anonymous, and since 8bb will most likely act as judges, they are free to pick music written by someone with a political connection to their ensemble, either as a friend, student of a friend, friend of a friend, etc.” David Langella compared eighth blackbird to Madoff and AIG.

    Many of you know the musicians and therefore know how preposterous such ideas are. Laughable, actually. For those of you who don’t: rest assured we’ve done everything to ensure that no ensemble member will see the names of the composers, and that the whole process will be managed by our intern. The contest was intended to solve a problem, not make money.

    Again, in our discussions, we anticipated just enough submissions to break even, and even agreed it would be okay to lose a little money. Depending on how this goes, next year we can explore both lowering the fee and increasing the prize.

    Finally, I have to say that I fail to see anything exploitive about having a contest that no one has to enter. If guaranteeing your work is reviewed by eighth blackbird, the chance of winning and the award are worth $50, then participate. If not, then don’t.

    In the end, we’re all here because we support new music in some way. Several of you mentioned alternative ways to use $50. I’m all for there being as many opportunities as possible. This is just one more.

    Thank you all for your feedback. I can promise you it will all be taken into consideration for future events.

  42. Christian, I think it’s wonderful (and amazing) that you volunteer so much of your time to reviewing disks. In the bad old days before the internet, nobody did what you are doing for nothing – critics were paid a salary for their efforts. On the other hand, if you were awarding a $1000 to the top disk you review and promising to learn and perform the music, then maybe I’d recommend charging an application fee.

    Mary Jane, I don’t think there is a parallel between the composer’s work in writing the piece and the ensemble’s work in choosing a piece. The parallel is between the composer’s work in submitting the piece and the ensemble’s work in choosing it. The parallel with the composer’s work in writing the piece is the ensemble’s work in mastering their instruments, mastering their parts, then rehearsing and performing the piece. I don’t feel sorry for either side of that equation – we’re all doing it for love, after all.

    And everyone who suggests spending their money on homegrown production instead of competitions is absolutely right. That is, if that’s what you enjoy doing.

  43. No need to snark. My argument is that it’s NOT exploitative, so I stand by that comment.

  44. Stanley Moon says:

    Stand by all you want. It’s an insult, and your friend’s comment is like a sad joke on the whole thing.

  45. Christian says:

    I think what’s been really refreshing about the conversation today is that composers and performers have been sharing honestly about their perspectives on competitions and competition fees. I’ve learned a lot from the variety of perspectives offered.

  46. Brian S. says:

    I feel like I should disclose, before you read the rest of this post, that I plan on entering the competition. But just a couple thoughts as to a couple of the reasons why people are unhappy with 8bb’s decisions regarding this contest.

    First,while this hasn’t been the primary complaint (at least from what I can tell,) is the amount of money required to enter. $50. Now I used to work in “development” for my college (which is of course, a nice way to say i was a telemarketer for alumni,) and we would always ask for money, and typically $50 was the “oh man, let’s see if we can get them to at least give something” level. Now donating to your alma-matter and entering a contest are two very different things I realize, but we were trained to try to combat certain rejections, like “that’s too much money,” and what it really came down to was a twisted application of the law of opportunity cost.

    $50 is a lot for an entry, but consider your average weekend. Perhaps you go to out to eat, perhaps with your significant other. At most restaurants your looking at around $25-$30 for dinner for two. Maybe you wanna catch a movie so you can hear that new Hans Zimmer score. Tickets for one or two could range anywhere from $10-$20, plus popcorn, candy, drinks. What if instead of a movie you went to a ballgame? Or a play? Or (most hopefully) a symphony concert? The point we always tried to make to our alumni (or at least imply) is that a $50 donation was easy enough if most people traded in their normal weekend for one at home watching movies and eating leftovers. If they wanted too.

    Now, I’m certainly not trying to tell anyone what to do with their money, that’s not my place. But I know for myself personally that $50, or giving up one weekend this month, is worth it to me as the cost of entering this contest.

    Secondly, a thought that came up after reading recent posts dealing with administrative fees: how many people wouldn’t have a problem (or at least, less of a problem,) if there was an unnamed independent judging panel instead of 8bb themselves? I would think that most people are okay with their fees going to pay judges, but not if the judges are the same players posting the competition and asking for the fees.

    Just a few thoughts that come to mind.

  47. How I think the 8bb competition guidelines become more ethical with a $50 entrance fee.

    1. Anonymous submissions or a submission with a recommendation from an established
    composer.

    2. No one under the age of 18 should be required to pay the fee.

    3. Preliminary panel made up of 8bb members and other established composers (from varied aesthetic backgrounds) to decide top 50 applicants. 8bb makes final decisions.

    4. Top five compositions receive a performance.

    5. Top five composers receive a small travel stipend and a professional recording of the concert.

    6. One composer is chosen as the winner and receives additional performances and double the purse.

    This helps take the “greed” factor out of it for me, now off to a show….

  48. James Holt says:

    I just want to point out that Chris Richardson (administrative director for eighth blackbird) has offered their side of the story. His comments were held up in the system because of length – see comment #41.

  49. Michael B. says:

    Seems to me they should be paying me $50 to audition my piece.

  50. David says:

    To Chris Richardson:
    Thank you for commenting above (#41). Very helpful to hear word from someone behind the scenes. I am curious as to how many submissions you actually receive. I think that you may have underestimated the desperation of composers and the appeal of 8bb. My guess is that you’ll receive upwards of 100 submissions. If your fee were $25 I would venture that the number of submissions would triple. Just my guesses, but please do forward the final results.

  51. Corey Dargel says:

    I went to Meet The Composer’s website and consulted its publication “A Basic Guide to Commissioning Music.” According to that document, which was recently updated, an appropriate commissioning fee for a 10-minute piece for 6 players would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7500, and that’s the low end.

    But let’s assume that’s idealistic and impractical. Here are a composer’s monthly expenses (very conservatively estimated):

    Rent/Mortgage = $800
    Health Insurance = $300
    Food = $400
    Bills — Electric/Gas/Water/Internet/etc. = $250
    TOTAL = $1750

    This is just the bare minimum needed to have a functioning live/work space. This does not take ANY other expenses into account, so this is a composer who never goes to concerts that aren’t free, never buys alcohol, never pays for doctor visits or prescription drugs, and doesn’t own and maintain a car.

    8bb thinks that $1000 is a reasonable fee for composing a 5- to 15-minute work for six instruments. Let’s take the middle length and assume that it would take four weeks to compose a 10-minute piece. This is an unrealistic assumption in which the composer has no other obligations, never has a bad idea, and is untroubled by such things as lack of inspiration or the need to make revisions. But let’s make this unrealistic assumption for the sake of argument. 8bb’s fee does not even come close to covering the composer’s living/working expenses.

    So this suggests to me the following:

    1) 8bb assumes that all composers have other primary sources of income and that composing is really just a hobby, not a career.

    2) 8bb considers itself the provider of services to the composer and does not attach much value to the composer’s contribution to 8bb’s repertoire.

    There’s not even a sense of mutual respect or equal benefit. It’s a one-way street, made evident by Chris’s attempt to defend of the award fee: “I truly thought being the sole winner of an annual contest personally judged by eighth blackbird, plus having the piece performed, plus travel and lodging, plus $1,000 cash, was rather significant.” That’s not a defense at all. Apparently 8bb gets no satisfaction out of commissioning a new work and thinks it can justify paying a composer well below living wage by making the above assumptions.

    The argument that 8bb’s performers aren’t getting paid enough either skirts the issue or reinforces this assumption. We’re talking about the time it takes to compose the piece vs. a single day of rehearsing and a “studio concert.”

  52. Stanley Moon says:

    Chris. This is a corporate defense. It doesn’t come from the subjects themselves but from a spokesman, who out of hand dismisses all complaints. You say you want to hear what the public has to say, but make it clear if we don’t like it we can lump it. Rest assured that when you dismiss criticism as “laughable” that your critics are not laughing. You’ve made a mess of this. What might have, if it were handled much differently, seemed like a generous gesture of outreach now seems like a rather paltry “gift” indeed. And the real value of the prize, you tell us, is that some lucky person gets to bask in your brand for a day. Are we wrong to assume you will pay a publicist more than the prize money to get the best coverage for your generosity?

  53. Thank you Corey. Your message gives more validity to the argument that this competition is predatory towards younger composers and lowers the value of new compositions in general. Perhaps Chris should do some more research to why music larger organizations such as the American Composers Orchestra, Symphony in C and many other smaller ones do not charge application fees for their contests? Perhaps he should contact BMI and ASCAP and see how many young composers typically enter those award competitions (I know it’s a different scenario but its still a relevant point of reference).

    Perhaps 8bb should have had the foresight to try to partner with organizations like the American Composers Forum to off set costs and avoid an application fee.

    8bb did partner with the ACF in the past for a FREE composers competition open to Philadelphia area composers.

  54. Stanley Moon says:

    david’s suggestions are all good. other suggestions: have 3 (or more) winners, all of whom take part in open rehearsals and concerts. set limits such as no previous major awards or commissions, something to keep it to the emergent (rather than just calendar-young) composer.

  55. Corey, thank you for making concrete and informed points. I totally agree with you regarding the prize money, though I do think that’s somewhat peripheral to the original argument (if I’m reading correctly). It seems to me that the hubbub is more about the general nature of an application fee, rather than the specific dollar amount. However, if we’re getting into that, I definitely think it’s in bad taste to ask a relatively high individual application fee and offer such a low prize amount.

  56. Corey Dargel says:

    Wendy, I have no objection to the entry fee. I generally do not enter competitions with a fee, though I do sometimes apply for residencies that have an application fee. I personally think $50 is pretty steep. As you might guess, I will not be entering the competition.

    I don’t think the award amount is incidental; on the contrary, the commission fee is sort of the point of it all (at least for the entrant). So I was disappointed that Chris’s defense of the low commission fee was so anemic. $1000 would be a good amount to give as an honorarium to have a composer assist with the presentation of an already-written piece. But as a commissioning fee, it’s pretty sad.

  57. Interesting to compare it to a commissioning fee. I was comparing it to prize awards. $1000 plus a performance and recording by an outstanding ensemble compares favorably to me with the $10,000 offered by the Pulitzer Prize.

  58. Stanley Moon says:

    Ha, you’ve picked the most notoriously small cash prize among the more famous awards. Would you say the prestige of the Pulitzer is worth a bit more than the 8bb? Shall we compare their 1k to the amount awarded with the Grawemeyer?

  59. As an amateur composer who has never (and will never) applied for a commission, I get to speak my mind (not that I would not do so otherwise).

    I tend to agree that there is something questionable in the concept of a “self-funded commission.” Back in my preposthumous pecunious days, I once participated in the commissioning of a piece organized by one of the bassoon groups (I am also an amateur bassoonist). The way it worked was that someone (not the composer himself) sent out an email solicitation to people in that (and other) online wind groups. Those of us who said we were interested were later sent another email telling us what our shares would be. I believe my share was under a hundred dollars. All of the commissioners had their names on the score and received a CD. Because I am on the fringes of everything, for all I know this is a common practice. What I thought was fair about this approach was that people with an interest (professional and amateur wind players and fans of wind instruments) were the ones to finance the commission.

    One more comment: This particular “competition” reminds me of something you see in my former business, viz. advertisements reading “Have your screenplay read by top industry professionals” — for a fee of $200. Of course the readers are not actually “top industry professionals,” but scam artists. The concept in this case is more like, “for fifty bucks you can bring yourself and your work to the attention of this well-known musical group. It will do your career good — and much more if you win.” The Yucca Valley String Quartet could never get away with it. They wouldn’t receive a single submission — or a single entry fee.

  60. Well, Grawemeyer also has an application fee, Pulitzer doesn’t. But at least they are both prizes, as opposed to commissions, which tend to go to people the ensembles already know

    Hiring six top-notch musicians, a great recording engineer and renting a nice recording space for a day will start at about $5000.

  61.