Archive for the “The Business” Category

In anticipation of tonight’s debate, I’d like to discuss, from a non-partisan IP law perspective, something that came out of the first Presidential debate: the Big Bird ad.  I think the ad and the Sesame Street folks’ response raised some interesting questions of fair use, parody and first amendment rights that are applicable to composers and performers.

As we know, it started with a comment that Republican contender, Gov. Mitt Romney, made to the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS , about cutting federal funding for PBS programs, including Lehrer’s own NewsHour and Sesame Street. Mr. Romney specifically singled out Big Bird for the budget ax.  Thereafter, Big Bird, who claims he’s normally in bed well before 11:30 p.m., made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update to address the issue.  Being non-partisan, however, Mr. Bird declined to make any political pronouncements, stating, “No, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”

Unfortunately, he managed to do so, courtesy of a TV ad from President Obama’s campaign.  Prominently featuring Big Bird and the familiar green Sesame Street  sign, the ad has a satiric quality to it that one doesn’t typically see in Presidential campaign ads. It seemed, at least to me, more like one of the fake ads produced by Saturday Night Live. But it’s real and Sesame Workshop, the company that owns the rights to Sesame Street and its many characters, made it known that they are not amused.

Sesame Workshop’s demand that the Obama campaign cease using the Big Bird ad has been widely publicized.  But you might well ask, “doesn’t the President’s campaign have a First Amendment right to use Big Bird?” After all, “political speech” is the very core of our right to free speech.  And wouldn’t the use of Big Bird constitute “fair use” under copyright law? Wouldn’t it be considered a protected “parody”? Read the rest of this entry »

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Composers under 30, listen up - the world famous Kronos Quartet wants you.

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Updated : 9/6/12 with added thoughts from Laura Kaminsky.

Every so often we have a conversation that changes us for the better. Sometimes, we have this type of conversation with our mothers, our fathers, our close friends and allies, our colleagues, or with an artist. Last weekend I had a profound conversation with the latter, an artist named Laura Kaminsky.

Laura Kaminsky, composer, is also the artistic director of Symphony Space, the renowned performance venue in New York City. She has received commissions, fellowships, and awards as both a composer and presenter from over twenty organizations including the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and the Aaron Copland Fund. Ms. Kaminsky also plays a large role in the operation of many musical and arts organizations including Chamber Music America, and, in the past, New Music USA (formerly the American Music Center), and as a member of the Artistic Advisory Council of the New York Foundation for the Arts, among others. Laura Kaminsky is an important and influential voice in the arts world today. Having the chance to speak with her by phone, I first asked her about her musical upbringing.

Laura Kaminsky (LK): I grew up in New York City, and was surrounded by musicians, painters, writers, and actors. As a very young child I thought I was going to be a painter when I grew up. But I started taking those typical piano lessons at about age ten or eleven, and quickly decided that practicing wasn’t nearly as much fun as making up my own music. This led me to start trying to figure out how to write down that which I made up. So, I was composing at a very young age, untrained, just writing the things that occupied my imagination. Still, I just thought of it as a fun thing to do. [Around this time] I began tormenting my younger sisters because I used to create family musical evenings that I insisted they participate in. We would perform these programs on the weekend for our parents. I think this is probably where I got my passion for producing.

When I was about 13, it was that time in New York when, if you were a public school kid, you could test and audition to go to a special high school. I wanted to go to [LaGuardia High School of] Music and Art, and originally I thought I was going to audition with an art portfolio. As I got closer to the day of the testing, however, I realized I was more passionate about my time spent in music, and requested that I switch my art audition to a music audition. I got in not because I was a particularly good pianist or clarinetist (that was my second instrument) but I think because I presented music that I wrote, and performed one of my own compositions. My four years at M&A were profound and formative; many of my friends today still date from that time, and many are living active lives in the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

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TwtrSymphony is an intriguing ensemble of musicians connected via social networking. Instead of working together to simply promote and distribute news about contemporary music, TwtrSymphony is a fully functional new music ensemble in absentia. The individual members of this orchestra never meet and rehearse as a group. Instead, the performers record their parts in isolation from each other, in widely different settings, and Musical Director Chip Michael and his merry band of engineers then assemble these recordings into cohesive works all 140 seconds in duration. Right now, TwtrSymphony is working on Chip Michael’s Second Symphony, Birds of a Feather, and the first movement “The Hawk Goes Hunting” was released on July 17.

While their website has a wealth of information including a recording, video, and thorough blog, I sat down with Chip on Monday night and chatted with him about the ensemble. While I should have kept a certain journalistic verisimilitude and had the exchange via Twitter, we opted for a slightly longer format (Skype).

Jay C. Batzner: Let’s start with the basics: what do you do in your role as Musical Director? Who else is involved (other than performers)?

Chip Michael: My role of Music Director is very organizational, pointing TwtrSymphony in the direction I think it needs to head and keeping the focus on what we need to do to get where we’re going. I am also the composer as that is a good portion of why TwtrSymphony got started.

I was looking for an orchestra to play my music and some of my Twitter friends suggested I start my own – a Twitter Symphony… and TwtrSymphony was born.

But, I want TwtrSymphony to be more than just a show case for my music. It’s a great concept, musicians from all around the world playing together. Musicians who might never get to play with other musicians making music. That’s cool. So, while I’ve written the first piece that we’re doing, Symphony No. 2 “Birds of a Feather,” I imagine a future when other composers can avail themselves of our ensemble.

As Music Director, I’m thinking about how the process works (and what doesn’t), what it means to be a symphony orchestra and how to get the pieces to fit together… so, when the time comes for us to have other composers work with the ensemble, we have the tools and setup to make sure it works right for both the musicians and the composer.

Nothing would be worse than for us to invite a composer to write something and have the end result be a horrible failure. So, in essence we’re using my music to test the waters.

We’re also in the process of re-designing the organization of TwtrSymphony. There is nothing formal to announce at this point, but the way we do things now isn’t the best way. It makes getting recordings out time consuming and requires a lot of engineering effort. A simple re-org should help that. As MD, I’m thinking about what’s best for the music and ways we can achieve quality and still maintain our global nature

JCB: The idea behind TwtrSymphony, the idea of crowd-sourcing performers, is something that we’ve seen taking off recently. I think of Tan Dun’s and Eric Whitacre’s YouTube-based performances. This seems to be a logical technological outgrowth of the “write for your friends” mentality that a lot of composers use (and rightfully so).

CM: Yes… the concept of crowd-sourcing performers is nothing new. Neither is the idea of remote recording sessions to put together an ensemble. However, I’m not aware of any instrumental ensemble to the scale of TwtrSymphony that’s been done. 60+ musicians with 90+ tracks is a lot to manage when the recordings were done in different places, using different equipment…Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir comes the closest to what we’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »

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On July 22nd via his PostClassic blog, Kyle Gann published a post titled “One Less Critic,” more or less announcing his retirement from music criticism. Writing for nearly thirty years in a number of publications, notably the Village Voice and Chamber Music Magazine, Gann has been a thoughtful, often provoking, and even, occasionally, a polarizing figure in discourse about contemporary classical music. He’s also been active in a number of other activities, first and foremost as an imaginative composer, a professor at Bard College, and a musicologist who’s published articles and books on a wide range of composers, including minimalists, microtonalists, Conlon Nancarrow, and John Cage. His book on Robert Ashley will be published this fall.

In his blog post, Gann writes, “Criticism is a noble profession, or could be if we took it seriously enough and applied rigorous standards to it, but you get pigeonholed as a bystander, someone valued for your perspective on others rather than for your own potential contributions.”

He’s not the first composer/critic to voice these concerns. It’s fair to say that those who write about others’ music potentially imperil their own. One’s advancement in a career as a creative and/or performing artist often involves blunting their candor and, upon occasion, judiciously withholding their opinions, delicacies which a writer (at least, an honest writer) can ill afford.

Certainly, I haven’t always agreed with Gann’s assessment of the musical landscape. In 1997, I first read his essay on 12-tone composers in academia, in which he likened those in grad programs studying with Wuorinen and Carter to be a wasted generation of composers, like lemmings leaping to their (artistic) deaths. At that time, I was a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers: studying with Wuorinen and writing a dissertation on Carter! I didn’t transfer or change my topic.

That said, I respect Gann’s formidable intellect and, even when it stings a little, his candor.  I hope that during his “retirement” from criticism, he will find many new opportunities provided to him as a  composer. In the spirit of bygones being bygones, maybe some of them will be in collaboration with ensembles that, back in the day, got a rough review from him!

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Picture courtesy of Q2 Music

Sometimes, classical music gets a bad rap. To be perfectly honest, there is a chunk of the population that finds it to be synonymous with any number of derogatory terms: boring, annoying, or pompous.  Some classical music lovers and advocates will counter this popular belief with arguments that only go to further the opinion of the other side: “Some people want to listen to mindless music”, “Some people simply don’t have patience”, etc. These ridiculous arguments only go to further the stereotype that classical music lovers are all pompous windbags who believe themselves to be uniquely educated and informed.

How, then, do we get people to forget their misconception, and believe that EVERYONE can enjoy or even love classical music, regardless of education, socioeconomic standing, or profession?

It all comes down to how classical music is presented; and now, for a limited time,  you could join one organization that does it right.

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[Ed. note: Composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi  has this appreciation of Ralph Jackson, retiring after 10 years at the helm of music-rights organisation BMI.]

L to R: Ralph Jackson, Judah Adashi, bassoonist Peter Kolkay, and Concert Artists Guild President Richard Weinert

I met Ralph Jackson in June 2001, when I received a BMI Student Composer Award. As the head of BMI Classical (and later President of the BMI Foundation), Ralph knew this to be a momentous event in a young composer’s life, not least because he himself had been a two-time recipient of the prize. One of the memorable charms of that initial encounter, as the winning composers gathered for dinner on the eve of the awards ceremony, was listening to Ralph recount his experience as a starry-eyed winner 25 years earlier. After dinner, Ralph welcomed all of us into the BMI fold.

To my surprise, this was only the beginning. My interaction with Ralph goes far beyond work registrations and royalty checks, though he has patiently fielded even the most mundane questions about these and other practical matters (always with the caveat, “remember, I am not a lawyer”). Ralph is continually on the lookout for opportunities that would be a good fit for particular composers on the BMI roster. It was Ralph who connected me with the Arc Duo, an ensemble that went on to commission, perform and record my music. And after several invitations from Ralph to apply for the BMI Foundation’s Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, I was proud to accept the 2006 award from him.

The fact that countless BMI composers could have written the preceding paragraphs captures the essence of Ralph’s generosity: he is personally invested in each one of us. From time to time, in conversations with my parents, they ask whether I might do well to hire an agent. I tell them it isn’t something I need or want to do; and besides, for all intents and purposes, I have one: Ralph Jackson. Apart from my family, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking as deep and genuine an interest in my music as he has over the past eleven years. When I look at the framed BMI certificates in my studio, I am buoyed by the thought of someone who has consistently believed in and supported what I do.

June 29, 2012 was Ralph’s last day at BMI, after 32 years of devoted service. He has decided to retire, to pursue his gifts as a visual artist, explore new paths, and spend time with his husband David and their beloved dog, Ringo. BMI has named Deirdre Chadwick to succeed Ralph as head of classical music, and I feel that I can speak for my peers in saying that we are immensely excited to work with her. But Ralph will always occupy a singular place in my musical life, and in the lives of so many of my fellow composers. To borrow Kyle Gann’s characterization of John Cage, Ralph has been “a walking, one-man healthy climate for new music.” He is the quintessential musical citizen, a joyous spirit who has made the world of contemporary music a better place.

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This week, one of the topics being avidly discussed on the blogosphere is a  post written on the All Songs Considered blog by NPR intern Emily White (read here).  There have been a number of passionate replies to her suggestion that those in her age group simply are not buying music: they’re too accustomed to “appropriating” it. David Lowery (of the band Camper Van Beethoven) provided an in depth and thoughtful response (a must read at the Trichordist here).  One can also read Ben Sisario’s article for the NY Times here and Jonathan Coulton’s blog post here.

All caught up? Good.

I won’t go through all of the merits and moral quandaries associated with file-sharing and streaming services. Full disclosure: I use NML regularly in my work (we subscribe at Westminster Choir College) and also have a paid Spotify subscription. While I’m a big proponent of physical media, and also feel that streaming services must work to do a better job to compensate artists, I am pleased that these technological options are available, as they are invaluable references for scholars and music lovers.

Thus, I’m certainly not interested in piling on or, goodness forbid, admonishing Emily White. In some ways, I feel sorry for her: a DJ and station manager who doesn’t have a record collection strikes me as someone who’s missed out on a very fun part of that gig. Instead, let’s zero in on those records. In the various posts on the subject of apathetic interns there is an almost unmentioned other segment of the populace that should be introduced into this conversation about purchasing music: young people who, you know, purchase music.

I support lots of artists by buying their music, often in physical, sometimes esoteric, formats. I feel about LPs the way that former Senator Phil Gramm feels about firearms, about which he famously said, “I have more of ‘em than I need and less of ‘em than I want.”

But I’m not the only one with this penchant for owning a physical artifact instead of ripping a friend’s CD. Why is it whenever I go to a record store I’m surrounded by people, many approximately Emily White’s age, who are digging through the bins and buying vinyl? New vinyl – nice 180 gram pressings of current albums. That’s a lot of latte money!

Maybe, in the midst of all of the doom and gloom about the decline of CDs as a distribution model, we are overgeneralizing by taking the casual listener as the barometer for future music sales. The casual listener has long “stolen” or, at the very least, freely acquired, music: well before the advent of file sharing and mp3s. Mix tapes, listening to the radio in a restaurant that doesn’t pay royalties, borrowing music from libraries, friends, etc.

Yes, the arguments regarding “fair use” settled some of these issues, but it took lengthy court battles to do so. At the time, most teens remained blithely oblivious of the issues at hand, continuing to dupe their friends’ copies of whatever they couldn’t afford that week at Sam Goody. What’s sad is that Emily seems to fall into this group of casual consumers: one might hope that NPR would attract folks who get the point of supporting those who entertain, educate, and even move them.

Physical product continues to be viable in the digital age, even if it proves to be a more modest stream of revenue than it was for artists during the boom years of the CD era. The physical product that seems to be on the rise at the moment is the LP, with good reason: it’s a very fine artifact. The bigger format helps – you can actually read the liner notes and the artwork can better be appreciated. Many audiophiles (myself included) love ‘em.

That said, the industry should continue to explore other modes of distribution, new platforms that will help to keep them in business and recoup at least some of artists’ lost royalties. In no way am I suggesting that streaming media isn’t going to be the prevailing method of experiencing recorded music in the future. From an archival standpoint and one of accessibility, this is an exciting thing indeed. However, I can’t help but think that the lack of engagement with a record collection, except in the digital domain, divests the listening experience of some of its vitality.

Readers: what do you think? The comments section is open for civil discourse.

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Osvaldo Golijov working hard to meet his next commission deadline

Seems like it’s been a while since we had some Golijov bashing (and defending) on our site. What do you think about this story about a Eugene Symphony premiere, with its disturbing allegations of extended theft of another composer’s work?

The reporter doesn’t mention that Golijov’s m.o. these days is to collaborate with pop/folk musicians, making the question of authorship in works such as Ayre particularly murky. Nevertheless, if nearly 50% of the work is music by another composer, shouldn’t that composer get a conspicuous co-credit on the composition? Golijov does credit his collaborators, but you usually have to dig down into the program notes or CD credits to discover who else helped write the music on which Golijov’s name is so prominently displayed.

Read Bob Keefer’s story about the controversy here.

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Composers, performers, or music-lovers looking for an interesting day job: PostClassical Ensemble needs a manager for their group. Contact Joseph Horowitz at jh AT josephhorowitz DOT com for more information.

Here’s a brief job description:

Managing Director, PostClassical Ensemble. Cutting-edge, 8-year-old DC-based chamber orchestra seeks half-time administrative director. The director will work with Artistic Director (Joseph Horowitz) and Musical Director (Angel Gil-Ordonez). Wide-ranging responsibilities include: budgeting, contracts, web management, marketing, artistic/strategic planning, fund-raising, radio broadcasts (WFMT; Sirius XM), Naxos recordings and DVDs, touring, etc. Our thematic programming incorporates dance, theater, film. Close collaboration with National Gallery of Art, Georgetown University (our Educational Partner), Strathmore Music Center.

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