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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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Paying for It - Vanity Project or Business as Usual?

It seems that the more I look at new music scene these days, the more I see, behind the scenes, composers paying for performances, paying for recordings, paying for promotion. I recently bought an Innova CD, John Howell Morrison Hard Weather Makes Good Wood, (excellent spooky string quartet) and was featuring the site's podcast at cacophonous.org when I noticed once again, that this label is also a (for lack of a better term, and using an older parlance) a 'vanity label'.

I've considered over the years, going the East European recording route, ala Vienna Modern Masters or the Mckinley family projects; I've even taken bids, but I just never seem to cut that check. It just seems, well, for lack of a better term, like 'paying for it'. Practically everybody I know that has a CD out, seems to have chipped in, a large percentage of the costs. I know people who have practically bankrupted their family to pay for a recording CD release. Is this the way to go now? If one could afford the $5000 or so for a East European chamber group recording of say 3 or 4 pieces and then build in the vacation, is that a good idea? I just can't see myself ever doing that, especially the way CD's are selling these days.

Randall Davidson, once told me that I endanger the new music scene by taking commissions for free; that it lowers the price that composers get when negotiating a fee for a commission. More and more groups seem to expect composers to give away their new pieces. I guess I've contributed to this by taking commissions for free?

As an unaffiliated composers, I have to work extra hard to get noticed, have to take whatever commissions I get, even if it's for an ensemble I don't really feel that excited about. I've always regretted passing up requests for scores when I feel there's a solid chance of repeat performances. I rarely, however, get money for these requests for scores. That, in itself, is another form of 'the composer paying for it.'

Is this the future then? Especially for the unaffiliated composer (I am not going to call myself a diminuitive term like 'floater') is the expectation that not only do we become new music entrepreneur, but that we become the new music bank?

 



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