Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.


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Thursday, February 24, 2005
Music and the Market

Just so we're clear, I don't think all academics are bad, nor do I think all pop stars are good.

But music is, more often than not, written for a market, either cultural or commercial. (These are not mutually exclusive, by the way). And this generates a great deal of questionable art, both on the university stage as well as on pop radio. Thatís okay too. Though we are not always successful, perhaps the nobility is in the attempt.

Composers in the academy usually write for each other. This provides entry into their particular market segment, and we all hope to find acceptance there. Fast travel and communications, as well as the leveling effects of the market, have resulted in some composers in California that sound just like some composers in New York. Occasionally, the original voice pops up, but it's unpredictable just when, how, and where this occurs. If we hear about a trend or a composer, it's often because, beyond the musical craft itself, marketing forces align to make something happen.

Britney Spears, for example, is an entertainer, and a marketing construct of remarkable proportions. (I mean commercially, not physically....) Her appeal is carefully researched, segmented, and targeted with as much craft and knowledge as can be brought to bear--though the discipline is different, and less musically than economically driven. What she sings, what she wears, how she walks, are carefully crafted, and reactions and sales are carefully charted in search of (please pardon the expression) a great bottom line.

And though Britney may lack the depth of Igor, in terms of her popular market and commercial power, she's wildly successful in terms of how our society rewards its most prized citizens: $$$.

It's dangerous to make judgments about what people actually think, but I doubt Ms. Spears thinks deeply about her art--her marketers to do that. I wonder if art music composers consider "depth and meaning" too. The American trend seems to be a quest for new sounds, new methods, and a show of facility in developing and exploring musical material that might result in big prizes--and that's all wonderful. We need these explorations and acknowledgements. But to paraphrase Corigliano, if composers speak in secret languages and join secret clubs, then we shouldn't be surprised if no one understands or cares if we exist.

For many "outsider" artists, their target is only themselves, so they are less invested in what an outside market can do for them. This may result in some of the most interesting work, if we ever actually hear of it. But if it has merit or at least interest, such work might then be co-opted by the mainstream. Minimalism, atonality, impressionism all started on the edges as a reaction to something.

Okay, gotta go finish a commission and write a grant, or I don't get paid.
I'll try to infuse them with some meaning along the way.

Meaning is hot right now.

 



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