[Ed. Note -- Jeff Harrington has been doing the composer-promotion thing on the web just about as early as anyone could. Now working out of France, Jeff has written a bit about his own long experience, and wanted to share that with you all.]

Here’s a short article I wrote upon request from somebody teaching a course in Digital Musicianship.  I offer it as a way to encourage discussion about the costs and benefits of the free culture model.  Please pardon the informal nature of it…

My strategy… is basically to get my music into as many people’s hands as possible without expectations of renumeration. What happened to my wife and I in the early 80′s informed the process where I invented the free culture system.

We’d both had to drop out of college, me from Juilliard and Elsie from Pratt because of money problems. We were quite angry about this and started a street art project. This was 1982. At the same time we started showing Elsie’s paintings on the street in the West Village, right on Spring Street to be exact in the heart of Soho. We showed these huge paintings with a sign saying, “Not for Sale.”

This was pretty shocking to people and we started getting more and more interested in seeing where that could take us. We created series of non-destructive art works in chalk and with rubber stamps and displayed them all over NYC. Eventually, we became so famous (or infamous) that we started a whole mini-art movement in NYC and started receiving death threats… we ended up having to flee NYC, broke and regroup in New Orleans.

In New Orleans we continued giving our art away through the mail art networks. These were exchanges where you’d send a piece of art to somebody and then they’d send you something back. These turned into zines eventually, and from there into multiples and even gallery shows. When the computer networks started up in the early 80′s with BBS’s it was a natural progression to take our art give-away there.

I was probably the first serious artist to use the BBS system to distribute art, although I’m sure there were a few more; nobody at the time seemed to have come from the street art/mail art networks. I uploaded the score (as a set of GIF images) to my Variations for String Quartet onto a BBS in 1987 which is probably the earliest music give away. I started distributing MIDI files of my pieces around this time. It was very interesting to upload a MIDI file or a graphic and then watch it get uploaded by a fan to another site. At about the same time I started embedding my music into synthesizer patch downloads. I first distributed my Acid Bach series as a component of a synthesizer patch library I created for the purpose of having a compelling download. That is, I designed the patch library so that people would want it and coincidentally listen to my music. This way they’d have a high quality musical experience akin to the MP3 playback today through the use of the same synthesizer.

In the early 90′s I started using FTP sites to distribute Postscript files and MP2 and later MP3 files. The first IRCAM website actually distributed for a short time the MIDI file to my piano piece BlueStrider. In 1995, the LA Times, wrote an article saying that David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet had set up a website where he was engaging in guerrilla action to freely distribute contemporary music. I called them up and corrected them – it was me they were writing about and I was only distributing my music that way.

Since then, of course the whole music world is used to free downloads. My strategy has always been that I’d love to sell my music, but I’m more interested in getting new listeners than I am in making a few thousand dollars. I’ve told people that there is a greater risk that you’ll miss 1000 listeners by selling your work than there is a chance of you making $1,000.00. As far as my scores go, I have a few pieces that are published, but I am not that interested in pursuing publishers especially with the risk that they might stymie the discovery of my music or even have them get locked up in limbo. I distribute my PDF files at several different locations and get hundreds of downloads of them a day.

This has still been a fairly risky proposition, but in no way as risky as being unpublished, unheard and ignored. I have to constantly run searches on Google to find performances. I only recently learned of a premiere in New Jersey of my big piano piece BlueStrider last October. I find that some of my MP3 files have lost their indicators of authorship. My quartertone electronic piece, Acid Bach is found all over the web, and is often found without my name. People believe because you give your music away that they can perform it without notifying you.

I keep my music copyrighted with reserved rights and non-derivative rights because I don’t want my music to be used in commercials or in any commercial activities. I also sell my scores through Lulu.com and I accept donations. I believe it helps create a more professional appearance in that it suggests supporting the artist and slightly obviates the appearance of being a cultural anarchist.

When you look at the consequences of self-publishing the costs can be quite huge for a successful composer to give their pieces away. When I dropped out of college however, I effectively destroyed any hope of becoming a truly successful composer in America. Without the network of college affiliation, a composer is at a very serious disadvantage. In effect, my pricing is a discount into the advantage my competitors have, that is, I have to compete with well-networked, famous people, thus I have to discount my work in order to garner attention.

Regarding social networks, I was also the first composer to set up online communities in order to promote my new music in general and my work. I helped establish the newsgroup, rec.music.compose in 1991 and was the moderator for comp.music.research for its first 5 years. I established an online community for new music NetNewMusic in 1994, which was basically a links list with forums. I added news feeds and publishing in 2000 and it later became the hugely successful Ning group, NetNewMusic which I was forced to destroy because of trolling and harassment in 2010. I also set up the first websites for the American Music Center, and was webmaster of Sequenza21 between 2005-2009. I set up these networks and participated in them to draw attention to my music. My idea was that if you established yourself as an interesting or provocative person you could draw attention to your music. Today one can use Twitter or Facebook in the same manner.

In the end my philosophy is that my main problem is lack of exposure. I believe that if people knew my music that they’d like to play it. The biggest consequence now is something that everybody suffers from – the lack of both serious criticism and the lack of curation. I get performed between 20-60 times a year all over the world and composers much more famous than I get less performances and more exposure. The network which supports them either through academia or through affiliations with famous composers such as Philip Glass, etc. enable their careers to have a stronger referral and promotional network. It’s very hard to generate a ‘buzz’ without being mentioned in magazines or NPR. I don’t know what the answer is except more exposure.

I was lucky enough to get in on this early and make a certain reputation. I recently attended a workshop put on by the American Music Center where representatives from a well known orchestra gave a presentation about developing an online presence. They went on and on about having compelling graphics, about how to submit professional materials – it was all very ordinary and expected. Finally I raised my hands and asked them, “When was the last time your orchestra played a piece that was submitted by email or that you discovered through their website or through social networks?” They looked surprised and honestly confessed, “We have never played a piece that was submitted by email or that we discovered from a composer’s website.”

39 Responses to “My Music Distribution Strategy”
  1. I’ve just been asked via FB about what I say to folks who are losing sales because so many of us are giving away our music. Here’s my response, as an addendum.

    Yeah, I got into that last year with John Mackey, an extremely successful composer who claims that he’s increasingly being asked why should I rent your scores when I can get free music. I address that a bit in my essay (the cost of giving it away paragraph) but for me it comes down to music not really being a business. No serious artist goes into it for the sole purpose of making money. It’s got multiple purposes, self-satisfaction, aesthetic transmission, etc… and money is one of the least important of them – except for a very select and lucky few.

    And beyond the philosophy, my real problem is, as somebody who was forced to the bottom of the barrel by the 80′s economy, and by not having parents that would pay for my education, my discount (the discount being completely free) is my sole advantage (aside from my superior product).

    Now, if the folks who are making all the money would work with me and others to ensure that it was a fair and equitable music promotion network and not one based on connections, wealth, and school network advantages, then perhaps I wouldn’t have to discount my music! But that isn’t happening.

    For us to stop giving our music away and to play fair with everybody, everybody has to play fair with us who are giving it away. That is, we all have to work towards creating a musical world that fairly recognizes achievement, excellence, innovation, and emotional depth.

  2. Thanks, Jeff, for reminding of this pioneering approach — and for constantly keeping the online music community from becoming lazy.

    Back when we were doing Kalvos & Damian (begun in 1995 when RealAudio 1.0 was the only streaming software we could use), we connected via your website.

    I’d developed an ASCII musical language to give away my very short stuff back in 1981, using Compuserve’s old email gateway. It was short-lived but I learned that providing the music was more important than selling the music. As soon as I had a web server available, I started piling those PDFs (and later MP3s) for download.

    And congratulations again on winning the Calefax Competition. The recognition is slow in coming, but well deserved.


  3. Paul Muller says:

    Always good to hear from Jeff. A career devoted to the free distribution of one’s work is worth noting and Jeff’s strong commitment to this philosophy is inspiring. Music is not really a gift until you give it away.

  4. Thanks Dennis… ASCII music distro… I think Matt Fields came up with a notation system like that too at rec.music.compose I wish we’d known each other via Compuserve! I just noticed the other day that the bio at Werner Icking’s site had my old CS address.

    One of the big problems for everybody back then wasn’t just lack of vision, but the software and bandwidth just wasn’t ready. Werner refused to allow me to distribute PDF’s in the early 90′s because there was no Linux reader. So I had to use PS.GZ files… MP2 files had no players… Telling musicians how to look at or listen to the music was a never-ending task. I kept wanting to put up digital audio files, but over a 2400 modem you just couldn’t download them.

    BTW, the Calefax finally got me their studio recording of my piece, Ranae. Here it is, free of charge! http://harrington.lunarpages.com/mp3/Jeff-Harrington-Ranae_for_Reed_Quintet_Studio_Recording_by_Calefax_Reed_Quintet.mp3

  5. Jeff says:

    Thanks Dennis… ASCII music distro… I think Matt Fields came up with a notation system like that too at rec.music.compose I wish we’d known each other via Compuserve! I just noticed the other day that the bio at Werner Icking’s site had my old CS address.

    One of the big problems for everybody back then wasn’t just lack of vision, but the software and bandwidth just wasn’t ready. Werner refused to allow me to distribute PDF’s in the early 90′s because there was no Linux reader. So I had to use PS.GZ files… MP2 files had no players… Telling musicians how to look at or listen to the music was a never-ending task. I kept wanting to put up digital audio files, but over a 2400 modem you just couldn’t download them.

    BTW, the Calefax finally got me their studio recording of my piece, Ranae. It’s up at my site now…

  6. What a story! Good luck to you and your wife in the future.

  7. Jeff,

    I’m glad you posted this topic to the Composer Forum. I think it’s interesting to see the responses it’s had both here and over at NMB.

    When you compose “made to order” works, do you secure some kind of commitment to have the piece performed a certain amount of times and/or recorded?


  8. Jeff says:

    Thanks, Chris! I don’t use any contracts – it comes down to more of a feeling of trust. My music is pretty difficult, both rhythmically and technically, so I make sure they’re up to performing a new piece and I try to involve them with some of the more difficult material before the piece is final.

    In the past 4 or 5 years I’ve written about 15 pieces “made to order” and I’ve had only a few not get performed. In one case financial difficulties and a move were responsible, in another they over-estimated the rehearsal time and now the ensemble has changed. This seems pretty normal to me… One paid commission did fall through because of serious health problems, but the check had never been cut. In another, it was more of a “if you ever write a piece for such and such I’d like to see it” and they’ve rehearsed it (and a quite famous duo) and almost programmed it. In that case, I really needed a piece for that type of ensemble, so I just chanced it. But I usually don’t start a piece from that type of informal request.

    I didn’t write 2 requested pieces in the past year (which is new for me) because I just didn’t think they’d actually perform them. They were European groups with a history of performing primarily dense atonal or new complexity pieces and I just wasn’t sure they’d follow through. They had nothing similar to my music in their rep.

    The old saying that if you get paid you’ll get played has a certain amount of truth to it, but if you’re already friends with the musicians online or through social networks and you trust them I think it’s worth the risk. I write pretty fast now though, especially not having to work and composing 3-5 hours a day (France is super cheap – no health insurance, rents are ridiculously cheap) so I can take risks that other composers might not be able to.

  9. Chris Becker says:

    I think its unfair to pick on John Mackey for any degree of financial return he’s received as a result of writing for wind ensembles, mostly student ensembles. If he was, as you imply, in it for the money, wouldn’t he have chosen some other career path with a much greater financial return? If he knows how to compose, get paid, and is willing to share what he knows with the music community at large, shouldn’t we welcome his input? Even if our own aesthetics and musical philosophy is quite different?

  10. Jeff says:

    Chris, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. He mentioned my name on a thread here last year at S21 as a composer who gives it away and how we’d argued about it in the past. I consider John a friend, a composer who certainly deserves his success, and as an artist who I keep my eye on…

    How is saying this: “Yeah, I got into that last year with John Mackey, an extremely successful composer who claims that he’s increasingly being asked why should I rent your scores when I can get free music.”

    Picking on him? I suggest you re-read the context. And cheers!

  11. Chris Becker says:

    Well Jeff, maybe some of the responsibility here lies with you the writer? I personally found your article and some of your comments confusing. The tone is all over the place. I can’t tell when you’re joking around (“death threats”?, being self-pitying (we all have endured financial setbacks – I doubt your compositional career was derailed as a result of having to leave the conservatory) and definitely can’t determine the point you are trying to make.

  12. Jeff says:

    Chris, I’m sorry you found my article confusing; I did dash it off and I admit as much in the first paragraph! ;)

    The point I am trying to make is to describe the thinking and the events that led me to invent the Internet free content distribution model.

    Regarding the death threats I was not joking around, we fled for our lives… NYC in the early 80′s, especially the graffiti/street-art scene was an extremely interesting and scary place. We were threatened by other graffiti artists (including some of Keith Haring’s posse), by Iranian religious fanatics (who interpreted our use of the Saracen sword as a harbinger of the apocalypse, this was right after Khomeini’s rise) and finally by people, including some world famous musicians and celebrities, who formed an anti-cult against us.

    I’ve got plenty of stories, if you’re really interested… As an example of how provocative and how much were were pissing people off… I was working at the time at Liberty Music on Madison Ave. behind Saks. This was the same store that Moondog lived in front of, although he was now in Germany. I had a woman come in to the store and tell me, “I know what you’re doing with this street art and it won’t work. I’m on the board of directors of the New York Philharmonic and I will make sure you never get performed by them.” So far… she’s been very effective! ;) And I have no idea how she found out where I was working…

    Regarding your other points, I really have nothing to say… except cheers Chris, and please let’s stay positive. When did you leave New Orleans?

  13. Jeff says:

    Here’s an article I just came across where the author claims that the free content model (and piracy) is killing rock and roll: http://bit.ly/mOwdWB

  14. Paul Muller says:

    The article Jeff linked was very interesting – especially as it is from the perspective of popular music where there was real money to be made.

    The key phrase from the article is this:

    “When did we collectively arrive at the point at which art was determined to be worthless?”

    And here, reworded, is what, perhaps, Jeff has been saying:

    “When did we arrive at the point when the value of art was determined by what someone was willing to pay for it?”

    To redefine the value of art oustide the context of our capitalist idealogy is a revolutionary act – and the Internet has been the means to achieve this.

  15. Jeff says:

    Paul, you took the words right out of my mouth!!

  16. Jeff says:

    On a darker note here’s a very interesting article about how free content has destroyed journalism and is enouraging the MSM to become merely a corporate spokesperson (because it’s where the money comes from).


  17. Anonymous says:

    Just read your article and wanted to say that I
    really dig it. Thank you for putting that out there. It reminds me a
    bit of the book ‘Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices’. Maybe you
    should write a book on DIY, underground composing? You also remind me
    a bit of classical maverick Rick Sowash.

    I found your article helpful in this regards: At 34 I have realized
    that i want to make music. Its news to me as wel! As the grandchild
    of three musicians – including 2 who were associated with Glenn Miller
    - I had long loved music but had avoided it. While doing my MA thesis
    I needed a refuge from the stress, so I started recording sounds and
    editing them. I didn’t even know musique concrete/tape music was a
    ‘thing’ at the time. I am also playing around with Fluxus-inspired event scores.
    Now my wife and I are planning a move to Portland, Or so she can go to
    art school and I can build my studio and keep making music.

    Your article affirms that we should all do our art by our own rules.

    Anyway, a big ‘thank you’.


  18. Jason, that’s fantastic! Glad you found the article interesting…

  19. makara says:

    The text is great except that it doesn’t work.

    Only ONE thing is important: to have any kind of good connection.
    Everything else doesn’t work.
    There are so many well educated composers. So many can write music like Lindberg, and even better.
    If all composers put their PDFs, mp3s for free on the Internet – the network will be again overloaded and pointless.
    Even if you have been the first do promote on the internet for some 20 y ago, there were much less people connected and networked…

  20. makara you make connections, even long-lasting friendships with the discovery of online music, composers and performers… Research has shown that folks that use social networks and exchange emails regarding mutual interests are generally social folks themselves. The idea of giving music away is not a way to avoid human contact, instead it is a way to encourage human contact by making it easier to directly experience, without having to pay, the work of a composer.

    The problem of too much music you suggest is occurring, though. But there was a real glut of composers already before people started giving their music away. We desperately need professional curation and criticism for the online world and we need music critics to take the online music experience as seriously as the concert experience. Why don’t we see scores and MP3′s (especially MP3′s of live performances) reviewed?

  21. Jason says:

    I am really digging what you said here (as I said above). I wanted to share a link to my Piano Event #1: Ship To Shore. Its my first event score, as realized by pianist Gemlene Schaudies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFtpHtJ-aF4

    Thank You,

  22. Jeff’s last point is very well taken. I’ve resisted creating a CD since my only one in 1997 … good reviews, years to recoup the costs. It made no sense to issue something nobody wanted except the reviewers. But get performance MP3′s or scores reviewed? Apparently not. The mainstream especially (the ‘classical’ mainstream like NPR) doesn’t touch them. It’s always “a new album by…” (album?). S21 and NMBx deal with CDs and performance reviews and little else.

    Not having any luck with reviews of downloadable scores, I published on Lulu what I consider to be a beautiful set of scores, “Three Performance Pieces” … but apparently the only person to buy copies is me, to give away (Any interested reviewer can find it here.)

    I have no solution, but I do like Jeff’s idea of scores and performance MP3s being reviewed.


  23. Jason says:

    So Jeff and Dennis – you have identified a problem, the lack of curation for indie composers and the need for alternative forms of promotion. So are you guys going to come up with a solution? A website of reviews for and about indi composers, with a view towards curation and Mp3 reviews? Or putting on an online conference of indie composers?

  24. Jason, my job is over. :)

    Kalvos & Damian


  25. Paul Bailey says:

    I am running alt-classical.com, which is an website that curates free mp3′s of independent, DIY, art music. right now it’s stays away from reviews and just asks it’s curators to post art-music that they love.

    Its not the only way to do it, and a mp3 review site would be a welcome addition.

  26. Christian says:


    Methinks you doth protest too much.

    I write about mp3s all the time on
    my blog. True, we do have a dedicated CD review section on Sequenza 21, but writers talk about all sorts of media: vinyl, scores, books, websites, and even cassettes.

    So, send some files over!

  27. Steve Layton says:

    I’m also (slowly) putting together a post, of wonderful, creative albums from the last year, that basically only appear as downloads on places like Bandcamp, archive.org, or even just from the musician’s own site. It truly pains me to see composers/performers begging for donations totaling $6,000-10,000 to record & make some small run of glorified calling cards & coasters, all because “that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

  28. Steve, that’s how I feel about it.

    Christian, a dedicated CD review section is exactly the issue. It assigns a special value to the physical product, most of which consists of production expenses. I understand that the expense of producing a CD falls into the same category as entry fees for competitions — to make sure the artist is ‘serious’ enough to pay. Cash is still the determinant of seriousness, and it kinda makes me spit.

    As for sending files over, I announce & post links to every performance recording and new composition on Facebook and Twitter. I know you’re there. :)


  29. So I looked back. Other than the odd LP, all the reviews on S21 have been CDs since the Perich review last July 31. And all of them were commercial releases as a group (‘album’).

    Might be good to begin the process of reviewing individual ‘songs’ in iPod parlance — or a selected group, or even a recommended listening list from composers. (Of course I’ll volunteer to send a selection of mine…)

    What do you think?


  30. Hi Dennis. Thanks for this suggestion.

    Aaron Siegel’s (published this past week) was MP3s. And I often work from digital and videos on my blog (www.sequenza21.com/carey).

    I try not to make it difficult for DIY artists, especially those who aren’t releasing a recording with a label: they’re free to send me their music digitally. But it is nice, when they are available, to get a physical copy of the recording that you’re reviewing. And those artists who want me to check out their MySpace site or another stream only platform aren’t likely to get reviewed. I like to have something to work with away from the computer.

    Sounds like Steve Layton is working on a post in this vein too. I’m eager to see (and hear) the results!

  31. Christian,

    Siegel’s is also a download — not the same as only a download. And there are rarely reviews of live performances or individual pieces. Jeff’s Calefax-winning piece, for example, has been available for several weeks; what are the chances it will be reviewed (as opposed to being simply reported) on any of the major new music sites (not blogs which are, well, just blogs)? The mainstream media review concerts but rarely have time to reflect.

    Yes, I appreciate that S21 and other sites are labors of love. But even so, aren’t you sidestepping a little, especially with the slighting reference to “DIY artists” as those who don’t release plastic? So-called “labels” are everywhere (I have one, now unused). Commercial CDs are all about competitive packaging, little plastic art objects. I admit to mostly listening to music from streaming sites and YouTube.

    We’ve been concentrating on the audio side of things, which doesn’t even address reviewing scores, which have no place on any of the major new music sites nor in the new music print media (as they once did). Print media also concentrate on CD releases and occasional festival reviews. It suggests that the only real art has already been performed & recorded, doesn’t it?

    Okay, all for now. The new distribution strategy seems to work for generating excitement from performers and public, but not for interesting folks when they don their journalist hats. Time for a change? I reiterate Jeff’s original article: “The biggest consequence now is [...] the lack of both serious criticism and the lack of curation.”


  32. Steve Layton says:

    I will say, Dennis, that while we do have a limited number of both CD and concert reviews, S21 is *not* a review site. My own personal preference is, when possible, to leave it to the reader to seek out, listen, and use their own judgement. My own priority is to tell people what and who I’ve found (which just about by default means I’m partial to it) that I think are worth knowing about. Lead but not lecture… I also believe strongly in the power of the archive; people tend to want to tell them all about everyone right now, only to have 80% of it go right out of their brain the next week. I spent years here doing “click picks”, that directed people to online things I’ve found wonderful:


    It’s all still there, still valid; but I don’t want to regurgitate all this stuff, or feel the need to constantly lead and re-lead folk down these paths. The sign-posts are there, but the reader needs to step up do their part in the spelunking.

  33. Dennis,

    Given the size of our writing staff, who volunteer their time, I think that we cover a great deal of music. Having just seen two print outlets, to which I contributed for a decade, fold, I’m glad to see us still standing. We have Jerry and Steve to thank for that.

    I’ll speak for myself below with regards to what I’d like to write about. Perhaps other contributors are happy to abandon working with physical releases: I’m not.

    My response above wasn’t meant to be slighting DIY artists. It’s pragmatic. I listen to music on a sound system and don’t have my computer linked to it. When folks send me to streams, that means I can’t assess their music in the way that I’d prefer. I do sometimes write about web only media, but I don’t plan to have it replace my writing about CDs, vinyl, etc. anytime soon.

    When someone sends me MP3s, that means that I’m using hard drive space and spending time either making a CDR or putting it on an MP3 player. Given that this gig is, as you put it, a labor of love, all of that makes it less palatable: it’s costing me more resources and time. Those “bits of plastic” come in handy for me from a work perspective.

    I’d also love to see us reviewing more scores. That hat I usually wear when writing for academic journals, but I’d be glad to see us expand into that arena. So, those interested, by all means, send me scores. But I’m not working from PDFs or preview scans. I’m already in front of my computer far more than my eye doctor would like.


  34. Hey, I’m not picking on either of you guys specifically, just what it might signify! I do know what a long-term volunteer effort without staff means; some of your are old enough to remember K&D and Ought-One and Komposer Kombat, but are too young to remember the Trans/Media avant-garde festivals and concerts from the 1970s. (I was recently told to stop doing that stuff and concentrate on my own visibility as a composer, but that’s a bit too late, I suspect.)

    Christian, if you don’t want MP3s or PDFs, then there’s nothing to be said. I only make CDs for my mother (she’s 90 tomorrow; at least she doesn’t need cassettes anymore) and don’t print scores except for actual use in my own performances. I have a pretty strong reaction to rejecting PDFs, just as I did to the S21 score call that was only on paper (which I then ignored). It’s the 21st century and digital media are the format of transmission.

    A new distribution system means nothing if our own media leaders won’t actually use it, no?


  35. The duty of any serious cultural website is not merely to post articles about ‘what’s happening’ but to do what it can to make sure that today’s great composers aren’t over-looked. That was the heroic role of the artistic journalist in the past and it’s even more important now.

    Today, we seem to have a ‘laissez-faire approach’ where the powerful and well-connected, the ‘already made’ crew such as the Judd’s and the Missy’s and other New Yorkers are allowed to promote themselves almost endlessly at NMBX, S21 and NPR because they are clever enough to play these media outlets like a well-tuned fiddle. The folks that can afford to dish out $6,000.00 for an Innova CD, the folks that have the $$ to pay for NYC publicity, hire halls and musicians, are rewarded by the powerful accolade – NON-DIY. Haha… ;)

    With the size of our market – we’re all DIY, every one of us. If we’re not selling over 20K units a year – a purchase, a product is just noise. It’s a complete hoax – the CD. A tool to get a review that nobody will read. A CD becomes a carrier wave for hype/text/accolades.

    Watching the NYC scene unfold again from here in France, the hype, the incredible stultifying banality of the musical effort and the incredible accolades these NON-DIY composers get as they forge a newly-titled art movement (synthetists! – how apt, because their music is ultimately plastic-pop-syntheTIC) from their sheer hard work, and not their connections or the money, is a joy to behold…

    Not caring about watching great talents be ignored while you promote the same names over and over – is a sign of decadent corruption and an outrage. Not doing what you can to make sure the best gets out is letting the arts die out of sheer laziness. Because while the NON-DIY crowd is promoting itself there is a real danger, an ambient belief, thick and chewy, that there is a fair ‘discovery’ system out there for the arts. That today’s Nancarrow or Trimpin or Schoenberg isn’t going to have to wait until they’re 75 to be re-discovered. This laissez-faire approach, letting the rich and powerful control who gets promoted and reviewed and advocated for, actively promotes this idea.

    Get a GD MP3 player. Advocate for the composers you love, S21. Be repetitious, advocate, don’t play fair, advocate for the best, not just the well-connected. And this means looking for music on the net, reviewing MP3′s and curating the best so that people can find it and relish it. It has to be done! And it has to be a well-known website to do it.

    To do otherwise is to promote the rich and well-connected NON-DIY crowd once more until they are all we have… and that would be a tragedy today, when so much is possible, so much freedom, so much interest, so much potential.

  36. Steve,

    What a great statement about how Sequenza 21 works!


    I was using my MP3 player to review Aaron Siegel … last week.

    I think it’s great that you got this conversation going on the forum and I always value your insights.

    My one suggestion: let’s have some more! If you really think we’re reviewing the same folks over and over again, you’re welcome to add your own two cents. How about new reviews, articles, etc. about composers you feel are neglected? We could use the help!


    My hope has been to sort the polemical from the practical, but it seems that we’re at loggerheads about this issue.

    I’d be only too happy to work with PDFs, but my eyes won’t tolerate it. If the technology gave you eye strain, you might not choose to use it. Can you really study large format scores for an extended period of time on a computer screen? If so, maybe you’d consider reviewing PDFs of scores for the site.

    Best to all of you.


  37. I can chime in with perspective similar to Jeff’s – it’s absolutely about being heard and read. I used to make simple synthesizers and did some interesting directed circuit bending, but gave up the smell of solder rosin to write synthesizers as soon as the technology was cheap and useful enough. There were a few software publishing companies that could take on experimental works, but the market is tiny. Jeff – who I likely have never met in person – made a whole album using one of my programs that I put out on Compuserve. My spectral synthesis program RGS had fans all over the world (I requested postcards) and some Germans wrote a companion program to turn images into my spectral format.
    I really feel that the design of digital instruments blurs into the whole world of composition. For my realization of Tenney’s for ann (rising) in the late 80s , I never even saw the score , and the program I wrote was the composition, composer (in a sense), conductor, performer and it also had a video component . Nevertheless, I paid a performance fee!
    Not having to spend time appealing and being appealing to a publisher makes for a more direct art. The electronic technological price drop over the decades is having a good side effect on all the tedious parts of traditional arts. So,transposing and copying parts, tuning, and organizing and rehearsing, with designing and fabricating instruments, music is in good shape. Making a living from it is hard, but it’s bad all over, excepting of course for those who are too big to fail.

  38. Christian,

    Just FYI, I write my scores on the computer, no longer on paper (except for scores that don’t fit notation software). I’ve got a 2-monitor setup with a 22-inch vertical screen for scores, text and browsing, and a 22-inch horizontal screen for graphics and video. I don’t find any of it taxing, but that may be because I’ve been in front of one computer screen or another since 1978.


  39. I rely heavily on streaming music or downloads from composer and/or performer web sites in writing reviews, particularly for composers who aren’t represented at all on CD. While I don’t review the music I find on their sites, other than to point readers to music I find worthy of their attention, it is invaluable in forming an opinion on how a work I heard in concert fits in with the composer’s other works, and what general aesthetic/stylistic features the composer displays.

    In addition to composer/performer sites, radio stations sometimes retain archives of broadcast performances, and sites like Instant Encore allow listeners to play back entire concerts.

    The irony is that while it has never been easier for a reviewer to obtain scores and recordings of emerging composers, it has also never been more difficult to make a living as a reviewer.

    Thanks for sharing your history with us Jeff. This column bears comparison with this older manifesto by Bob Ostertag on giving away his music, that I stumbled upon last week: http://questioncopyright.org/bob_ostertag_speaks