Check out the a really thought-provoking article on composer work habits at the New Music Box:

http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=4789

11 Responses to “Composer Metrics”
  1. sequenza21 says:

    Sorry. Somehow the comments got turned off on this one. It’s okay now.

  2. andrea says:

    thanks for turning them on, jerry. i read this article a few days ago. what i found interesting was that so many people said they needed time or money. but aren’t they really the same thing? the trick is finding a way to earn money that is less dependent on your time, like earning royalites or investing.

  3. Jay Batzner says:

    I think that there is a problem with the tone of the study. It seems to me to be saying “Composers aren’t producing enough.” And, if held to the standards of composers 200 years ago, that might be correct. Mozart had many fundamental stylistic decisions already made for him. Today we don’t have that same language background. Two pieces of mine might share some traits but the language can be radically different from one to the next. If Mozart had to reinvent his pitch language every time he sat down I bet he wouldn’t have written so much.

    Also, the majority of “professional composers” in the US are most likely holding faculty jobs. Composition makes up a smaller percentage of their time than teaching and administrivia. Add in the copying and marketing hours necessary in today’s musical climate and you have even fewer hours to write music. If Mozart had to teach full time, maintain a web site, oversee recordings of his music, as well as seek funding sources for his output, he might not have written so many operas.

    So, in a way I understand what the study is saying. On the other hand, though, we have a lot of additional responsibilities that cut into our time. While I don’t always get a chance to put something down on paper my brain is constantly composing. I think many others are the same way. We compose all the time.

  4. Steve Layton says:

    Well, don’t you think they’re a little different, Andrea? There’s the time spent on creative work, and the time spent to make money. If you can get the two to coincide, great. If not, you still want to maximize your purely creative time.

    One way is to create the maximum pool of money that will allow you to then be able shift your time spent to creative work. If you’re blessed with a bunch of money to start, that part’s already taken care of. If not, you can go one of two ways: give up large parts of your creative time while you build up some funds, and catch up creatively afterward, or keep your creative time by living with less money. That sounds more comfortable, but it can mean that you may never have the funds to realize your more ambitious work. (There is another option: try to maximally make money and maximally create in the same space of time. The rare, rare success in this can have a handsome payback, but it more often just leads to crappy art and life.)

  5. Jay: I agree with you that Dennis gives a slight impression of being a bit obsessed with productivity. As to Mozart I believe Mozart did not have a website, but he did have to spend a lot of time selling himself, and he did teach.

    Furthermore, I’m always skeptical about any ‘language’ argument, but that’s because I feel composers today too easily confuse the notions of language, vocabulary/”style” and structure/form. “Language” in music I think is largely a question of how you hear things less than of how you construct things. One doesn’t really with every work fundamentally re-design the way one might hear it, even if you do change, say, pitch structures, forms, or your gestural vocabulary. In that sense, I think it’s extremely rare for any composer to change language more than say four of five times in the course of a life. (I could say that Cage for example went from expressionist to percussive to neoclassical to pointilist to happenings to, er, OK, I’ll call the post-Cheap Imitation bit postmodern – his career in a mere five “to”s! oh drat, and then there’s those “new-age”-y number pieces. Six, then?)

    Then, it’s also a question of what level of musical you look at – the variety in the kinds of gesture, in “style”, you can find in Mozart, on just about every level, is incredible, and in many of his pieces hardly anything is quite done in some one-size-fits-all way. Think merely of the last 2 symphonies. At best you might put the whole thing together vaguely describing the language as “high classical style” or whatever.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Jay Batzner wrote:

    “… the majority of “professional composers” in the US are most likely holding faculty jobs”

    (a) The number of composers certainly dwarfs the number of teaching positions for available composers. (b) Ff the main source of your income is something other than composing, like teaching, then are you really a “professional composer”? (c) Given the negligible amount of money even potentially available to composers of serious music, is “professional” really a useful distinction?

  7. Correction:

    ” “Language” in music I think is largely a question of how you hear things less than of how you construct things.”

    makes no sense – should be “more than…” of course!

  8. Steve Layton says:

    Jay writes: Two pieces of mine might share some traits but the language can be radically different from one to the next. If Mozart had to reinvent his pitch language every time he sat down I bet he wouldn’t have written so much.

    I’m with Samuel when it comes to usuing “language”, but I get what you’re saying. The part that surprises me a little is that while you do say it “can” be different, you’re almost implying that it must be different. Jay, do you really feel compelled to re-examine your “language” down to the first nut and bolt every time you want to make a piece? I know there was a certain amount of this imperative floating around (though those who actually could accomplish it were/are almost nonexistent), but I thought we were long past that pretension as any kind of dominant trend.

  9. Rob Deemer says:

    Anonymous wrote:

    “(b) Ff the main source of your income is something other than composing, like teaching, then are you really a “professional composer”? (c) Given the negligible amount of money even potentially available to composers of serious music, is “professional” really a useful distinction?”

    I know many instrumentalists who perform in all sorts of ensembles but their main income comes from their teaching posts at a university – are you saying that they aren’t professional instrumentalists because they teach?

    I’m sure we could have a debate about what a professional composer is…someone told me once that if someone else wants to pay you for writing music for them (or pay you for music you’ve already written), then you’re a professsional composer. Sounds as good as anything else I’ve heard. In any case, how one brings in their income (or even how much that income is) shouldn’t matter squat. What do you have to say with your music? That might mean a bit more…

    BTW – Jerry’s already mentioned that he’d prefer to not have (intentionally) anonymous postings here.

  10. Hello everyone, first post here.

    Regarding Jay’s comment: Productivity is a temporary focus. Its source is my real obsession with the poor visibility of composers, and our self-destructive tendencies with respect to the larger (potential) listening public. I’ve been pursuing composer visibility since the first festival I directed in 1973. For ten years it was a composer radio show. This time around it’s exploring productivity and composers’ attitudes toward it.

    The “We Are All Mozart” project is an experiment in visibility. Those interested in composer-community visibility might like to read a summary of my presentation to the National Extension Tourism Conference two weeks ago. http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/waam-20060912.html

    Dennis

  11. kacattac says:

    I guess I’m in the minority. Composing for me, while I do take it “seriously,” is essentially a diversion from performing. Given unlimited time and money, I would probably produce the same amount of music and it would be of lesser quality.

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