In reaction to a roundtable discussion on the subject of copyright on The Hooded Utilitarian blog, NYC composer Jonathan Newman hits several nails squarely on the head:

I realize how mercenary this sounds, but how about making art AND money? Ultimately I’m unclear how copyleft (or free culture in general) can maintain my middle class income. As far as I can tell, the current copyright laws are what do that.

All that being said, I’m actually a fan of Free. I give away content like crazy on my website…mp3 downloads…score of the pieces as PDFs I released on KDP, etc. I give away CDs, even commercial ones, like candy. I give away many (expensive to produce) printed scores. Because I do believe that giving away significant content–not just useless crap, but stuff people can use–in many ways does help create that “fan base” one hears the astute bands and rock stars talk about … those fans that downloaded the album for free, but who later on shell out 300 bucks to go to the tour show and buy the $25 t-shirts. Which right there crystallizes the line for the Free argument. You don’t see “Pay what you want” Radiohead (I’m a fan) letting their devoted following into the show for free. (Or do you? I don’t really know.)

So among this noise, some content is always controlled by the owner. It’s not all free, it’s just a question of what content is deemed not free. For me, it’s the performance materials. That’s the paper (maybe someday it won’t be, I’m looking at you iPads) musicians rehearse and perform from. I rent it, I sell it, I control it. Nothing drives me more bat-shit crazy than seeing other composers give away their stuff. A website full of scores and parts… “Come play my music! I won’t charge! I just want you to play it to Get My Name Out There!” Well, a) I hope you have another job, b) you just made mine a lot harder, and c) the end user (who, sure, now knows your name) thinks your stuff isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on.

Check out the entire post here.

52 thoughts on “Copyright vs. Copyleft”
  1. Composers should be paid for their work, it’s true. I get royalties for performances of my music. I get paid to perform, sometimes. Sometimes I get paid just for personal appearances. I get a little bit of money from CD sales. I get invited to festivals and conferences, and often paid to come; at least I sometimes get some free travel to nice locations. I get offered commissions, occasionally quite handsome ones, to write new pieces. And the scores are what I send out into the world for free to generate all the above income. If I didn’t make that first step of posting my scores (and the PDFs themselves cost me nothing), much of that other income would wither away. I am not a sufficiently famous composer for income from score sales to offset what I would lose by withholding my scores to publish or sell them. I believe, given my situation and our culture, that what I am doing maximizes my profit on my music as much as can be expected under the circumstances.

  2. Responding to Christian’s question about determining fair commissioning fees, my observation is that this end of our business remains largely in a “what the market will bear” mode. Each of us is at a different point in our careers and so the fee that we request (and get!) will reflect that. As I’ve posted on S21 recently, Meet the Composer offers a very helpful guideline offering an acceptable range of fees for various projects:

    Of course, MTC’s list is just a point of departure, in both directions. If a composer who’s starting out has only written three notable pieces, while he or she should never be discouraged from asking for top professional fees, it’s a little less likely that those numbers will reflect the reality of the first handful of catalog-establishing commissions. But as we all know, once things really get cooking in a career, the numbers can be whatever one declares they should be.

    Particularly in commercial music, the fact that composers have no union representation and thus no protective bottom line for fees has been, to say the least, less than ideal. This is why I believe it’s so important to create some semblance of a self-regulating community among working composers. Sharing information with our friendly colleagues about what the going rates are for various projects is one significant way we can accomplish this sort of protection.

  3. So, in this economy, how do we measure fair commissioning fees for composers? Do we use the ‘standby’ yardsticks or do we need to find new standards by which to measure?

  4. Ooh, Sparky wins the prize! Thanks, David, for your kind comment, and thanks also to Rob D. who just gave me a sweet shout out on Facebook. Now, everybody play nice and no more sniping about the size of anyone’s member, unless we venture from ob-gyns to urologists in this discussion. 🙂

  5. Alex, had I only known, those theory classes could have been quite unusual.

    You’re totally correct as usual, especially about this discussion being on a silly scale. I think it’s silly season in the new music world. Who’da guessed it? Thanks for chiming in with your usual wisdom and common sense.

  6. It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping! Stop! You’re both right!
    (ok, a prize goes to the fellow middle-aged fart who knows what I’m quoting from).

    Listen, we all know that it’s just fine if people choose not to make money, much less a living, from their art. And we all know that it’s just fine if people choose to make money and yes, even a living, from their art. For creators, copyright can protect those who choose to benefit from it. And if there are creators who choose to ignore those benefits, that’s fine too. It’s their choice.

    Although tagged for game play in this round a few posts back by my old Juilliard Pre-College schoolmate David Toub (betcha none of you knew that conservatories were such great training grounds for ob-gyns, huh? Heck, I coulda gotten a Pap smear along with my species counterpoint lessons), as he knows, my own art/professional leanings are slanted toward commerce. I like Jonathan Newman’s approach of selling his wares but using some of them as loss leaders, the way other businesses give something away to entice more traffic. An oldie but goodie. As Newman explains, it’s a matter of defining what it is that we’re willing to think of as promotional expenses rather than remunerated work. This concept is a little challenging for composers still mired in precious 19th-century arteeste-mentality, but that’s rapidly changing and most of us know that– if we do wish to make money from our art– we are in fact running an art business. There is nothing wrong with that: neither art, nor music, nor money are four-letter words. 

    For those of you who have tuned into Kyle Gann’s recent post on the subject ( ), I agree with his point, echoed by David, that in the case of score purchases and performances, it’s highly unlikely that professional ensembles are making their programming choices based on whether they’re out $35 bucks for the score and parts or can snag them for free. It’s all chump change. The reason each of us is an art music composer is because if we’re any good at it, we all sound unique. Our music is usually chosen because it speaks to the condition of the musicians, not because it’s a bargain. So I don’t believe that composers like me who earn money from our scores are in any way undercut by those like Kyle and David whose equally viable scores are offered for free.

    That being said, I want to point out two things. First: this discussion is on a very small, niche, micro, introverted, self-referential, and frankly silly scale: no one makes a notable income from the sale of three contrabass clarinet sonatas. Sorry to burst that bubble. No, we make it from the sale of hundreds, or thousands of them. Volume! That’s why distribution deals are important for independent publishers like many of us. So in the concert music world, and specifically the small ensemble corner of it, there is little real loss in giving a score away here and there, and probably much to be gained in terms of promotion, should the piece get recorded well. But as Kyle notes, he hangs on to a score that does indeed have potential in terms of volume– a choral work. Same thing would go for a wind band piece, as John Mackey illustrates above. It’s important to be aware of the distinctions.

    Second: the concept of undercutting is more of a threat when it telegraphs the philosophy of our business to others. A problem that I do deem to be real, is when professional composers at a viable point in their career do not ask for a decent commission fee. Not unlike the damage that has been done in the world of mid-level scoring work in Hollywood, if we agree to compose a significant work for little or no remuneration for a gig on which everyone else is being paid, then not only are we cheating ourselves, but we are telling the benefactors of this new work that a composer’s time, much less his or her output, is not worth anything. Our behavior does indeed have a ripple effect on the perception of our art and our business. Beware. We should be good musical citizens and realize that each of us has the power to be a standard bearer, and to improve conditions for our peers.

    Some of you may have seen an article I wrote in January for NewMusicBox titled “The Economy of Exposure,” in which I explored the unsettling concepts of our new digital reality as it pertains to copyright ( ). See what you think. I’m just a messenger…

  7. John, Yeah I mean that the law is ultimately a subsidy. The business of mass producing music would be less profitable if the costs of protecting the mass produced items were taken on by the producers and consumers of those items. So the government is using the law to lower the price of those goods. Forget personal and anecdotal information for a second and really think about the fundamental issue: do we want to use government resources to encourage or discourage the creation of certain kinds of music?

    I don’t, and I’ll vote against it every time. Music has always and will always be just fine.

  8. Evan, what if what many of us do is thought of as “volunteer” rather than as a “hobby” that is mistakenly thought of as competing for revenue? No one would argue that a doctor volunteering his or her time is taking away from a colleague’s income, right? If a plumber does a freebie, does that hurt other plumbers? Maybe it’s a bad analogy, since volunteer work isn’t always continuous (although there are many volunteers who do so chronically). But I think there’s room for both, as there is software that is free and also that costs big bucks.

  9. Per the hobbyist thing, I don’t know if you’re arguing with or against me. Every composer you mention would have been considered a “hobbyist” at some point in their career. Good lord, Ives was probably the ultimate “hobbyist composer,” in addition to having the greatest personal wealth. As for the list of composers who *are* hobbyist composers, you’re pushing it there. They all certainly were, but no longer are. Once you receive over $50K for a single piece, you aren’t a hobbyist. I’m looking at you, Kernis. And Tower. And others. And I never made any claim that the lack of financial reward for composing means you aren’t writing great music. I think that was Newman’s original point — that the goal is to create art and still be compensated.

    I would argue that EVERY composer was a “hobbyist” at some point, and plenty remain that way for their entire lives. I certainly was until around the time I turned 30 and started writing for college bands. Before that, I had a full time day job, and I was making some money writing music, but it was less than I was taking in tax deductions for it. In fact, it was my accountant who made the “hobbyist” distinction. I had taken “business” (I use that loosely) losses two years in a row as a composer, and I asked my accountant if that was going to be a problem with the IRS. He said, “you can take a business loss as a composer for a few years, but not indefinitely. If you never make any profit at it, it’s not a business; it’s a hobby. You can’t take tax deductions for a hobby.”

    His point — and the IRS’s point — was it’s one or the other. If it’s not a business, it’s a hobby. If it’s a business, does that mean that you spend the majority of your day emailing invoices instead of actually composing music? Yes. Does that mean you have to consider future earning potential of a piece before you accept a commission to compose it? Yes. (I can’t afford to write a piece for viola and piccolo, since it’ll take me two months and never sell a single copy. Plus, I’m reasonably sure that piece would suck.) But once you start writing a piece, are you thinking, “this is a job?” Hopefully not. Do you think, “if I put in fewer mixed-meters and just made this all a little easier, I’d sell more?” If so, you’re leaning further from art and closer to strictly commerce.

    The last thing I’ll say about all of this free vs. profit thing is that no, of course it doesn’t hurt my revenue if another composer gives away their music — unless you write some monster hit for college band, and you give THAT away. If you write a band piece and it gets 200 performances from college bands — and it’s a free piece — that’s apples to apples, because your free piece is competing directly with my music for that place on the program, and you’re establishing that a good college-level band piece might be free, and your piece is ending up on a concert where my (not free) piece could have been. Budgets are tight, even at the college level, so if a school could play a truly good piece for free, rather than deal with the expense and hassle of a rental, there is a real chance they’d pick your piece over my piece.

    But if you make a conscious decision to give away a college-level band piece for $0 a pop when another composer would rent it for $300+ per performance, I’ll give you credit for sticking by your beliefs, but I will also think you are “bat-shit crazy.” 😉

  10. What people “should” do with their work – sell it, give it away – is completely irrelevant. The reality of the situation is that an increasing amount of composers are giving away their music. This will never stop because of some perceived morality on the subject – i.e. whether it hurts or helps other composers. All that matters is that giving music away helps many composers’ careers, and the probability of these composers rejecting this tactic en masse is so unlikely as to make it a moot point. Classical musicians desperately need to eradicate the word “should” from their vocabulary. You cannot rely on people to buy music, attend concerts, or donate because of some sense of “should”. We need to learn about “want”.

  11. Jonathan Newman and John Mackey have real concerns and solutions, I think — for their particular niche. Both seem to have concentrated on works targeted towards mostly school ensembles. Which happen to be the biggest renters/purchasers of scores and parts. There’s nothing wrong with that gig, and bravo to them for working it. I do have a feeling though, that if what either really wanted to write were chamber pieces for just-tuned ensemble and laptop processing, or hour-long quasi-improvisatory string quartets, that their more protective attitude towards their printed material would be a little more free.

    For 99% of composers who don’t “work to specs”, the revenue streams directly from their compositions are pretty clear-cut:

    1. Royalties from concert performances and broadcasts.
    2. Commissions.
    3. Grants and other awards.
    4. Sales of recordings
    5. Direct box-office (for those with ensembles or other performing exp.)
    6. Sales of printed material.

    For some the order of these is rearranged, and for others in more ‘esoteric’ pursuits some of the streams barely exist.

    While one or the other might assume some importance, for most the amount of direct $$ from their own work won’t pay their cost of living, hence the life of a teacher, copyist, player, doctor, cook & bottle-washer, etc. — none of which have any bearing in my own judgment about the quality, commitment or professionalism of the composer and their music.

  12. I would go so far to suggest that a “professional” composer’s work are probably most relevant to new music when written in off hours as hobby time anyway. Personally, if I was going to purchase, say, a John Williams’ CD, I’m going to look for something he wrote for himself, not Steven Speilberg. Maybe that’s a bad example.

    As Dave W. stated, music is a business and, unfortunately, as a business not the most inspired. Anyone with a job can relate to that.

  13. Re. Mr. Newman and Mr. Mackey’s Professional Insights I offer:

    A brief history of musical hobbyists:

    What was his name? Arnold something? Starts with an S? Had a teaching job at UCLA. I hear he wrote some music in his spare time – little hobby projects like Moses and Aaron, Pierrot Lunaire, Ewartung.

    Then there was this French guy who had a job at the Paris Conservatoire and a side gig as a church organist his entire adult life. His hobbies included macramé, quilting, and little music things like Saint Francis d’ Assisi, Turangalila Symphony, Catalogue d’oiseaux, Des canyons aux étoiles. Messi-something?

    I also heard about this guy whose hobby was writing music while on summer vacations from his straight job as a conductor. Some character named Mahler.

    Consider the esteemed hobbyist Hans Werner Henze: ballet director at Wiesbaden State Theatre, conducted, taught at Salzburg, Dartmouth, Hamburg, Cologne. He often unwound after work by doing model railroading, scrapbooking, beadwork, and writing music before eventually being able to retire to pursue his hobbies full time.

    Posthumous hobbyist awards go to Roger Sessions (Princeton), Morton Feldman (SUNY Buffalo after being a full-time employee of his family’s textile business), Luciano Berio (Mills College, Julliard, IRCAM), Gyorgy Ligeti (Franz Liszt Academy, Stanford, Stockholm Academy of Music, Hamburg Musikhochschule), Charles Ives (Do I have to explain?).

    All testament to the wisdom of that old adage – ‘If you’re so smart how come you’re not rich?’

    Feel free to add to the above list.

    P.S. Please, somebody tell Lee Hyla, Wolfgang Rihm, Sofia Gubaidulina, Beat Furrer, David Lang, Joan Tower, Aaron Jay Kernis, John Harbison, Sebastian Currier, Julia Wolfe, and anybody else you can think of that they are hobbyists. Be gentle.

  14. As David mentioned earlier, there was a discussion on just this topic last week on Kyle Gann’s PostClassic blog ( that folks who are interested should check out. Based on the reactions I’ve been reading in both discussions, I’m wondering if there is a difference between the consumer/constituent bases between composers here to the point that we’re really talking apples & oranges here.

  15. Dave (???any relation to Steve Wozniak?-sorry, had to ask), one can choose to monetize one’s art. Or not. We probably would all love to think we “deserve” serious bucks for our wonderful music. But that would be delusional. Very, very few new music composers can earn sufficient revenue to finance their art and also live reasonably well. I’m not among them (have you heard my stuff? Popular it will never be, and that’s fine with me).

    Again, I have nothing against anyone who feels composition is a business and composers should even expect remuneration. But please, please don’t spout this “if we don’t all demand money, no one will pay composers and performers well in the future.” That’s the same logic that the NYPD made in the 70’s about taking bribes-anyone who didn’t made those who did look bad, so those who didn’t were treated like enemies of the people.

    I know you probably mean well, but please don’t tell me what I “deserve.” I compose because I want to, and don’t feel I “deserve” anything but the personal satisfaction I derive from what I choose to compose. No one’s making money off of me. If any performer is paid for recording or performing my music, great for him or her. I know someone who can readily attest that I have declined to accept any revenues from two albums he produced. That just isn’t my interest. Curious about my music? Go to and feel free to download it, scores and audio files. My scores are also given away on the IMSLP site. That’s my choice, and I’m fine with it. Mr. Newman sells his scores, and that’s fine as well. I don’t feel threatened by those who charge, and they shouldn’t feel threatened by me.

    Look at open-source software. It hasn’t made Apple or Microsoft go away in terms of paid, commercial software. Adobe isn’t going away either. But it does mean that we have choices, and that’s a great thing. Well, my music is available for free, and perhaps the fact that many of us do so (examples: Galen Brown, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Kyle Gann and even Leo Ornstein) might make new music more readily available and increase the interest in new music in general. Even if not, it hardly affects the demand for scores that require payment.

    But I do think we’re in a new era with new paradigms. And ultimately, one has to evolve or die. The standard paradigm of the academic composer earning a living through his compositions by charging for them, and publishers who earn even more by charging princely sums for the privilege of owning one of these scores, is on life support, and not because of those of us who provide our works for free. Society itself has evolved, and just isn’t willing to pay tons of money for new music.

  16. Like it or not, music is a business. Composers deserve (should even expect) to be paid for their hard work – the performers certainly aren’t giving their services away. I am a performer, not a composer, so I believe I have a slightly different perspective on this issue. The one mantra I have heard from many of my former teachers many times is “never play for free.” There are three reasons why – 1) you’ve worked hard and deserve it, 2) the place you’re playing (concert hall, bar, restaurant, etc.) is making money off of you, and 3) it makes businesses and halls more reluctant to pay future ensembles a fair wage.

  17. Technology.

    Every way you look at it from film, music, books, we are rapidly moving toward a free system. I don’t know what it means for society, but there is no reversing this. Perhaps there are greater implications – could this be leading to a new system? Sharing.

    To the point, I agree that Creative Commons works pretty well to sort things out.

  18. jonathan,

    i’m sorry that my previous comments were snarky and i can understand your frustation, but you seem to using a rather wide brush in your comments.

    i think its easy to see here that we are all talking about apples and oranges. those of you who depend on commissions and rental fees have every right to charge for your music, but i can’t speak for anybody else, but my “business model” is quite different.

    i’m not a work for hire composer and have a day job that is an intentionally strong firewall between paying my bills and composing and performing. i’m not saying this is better, but it’s what i’m comfortable with.

    when i was younger i worked as a full-time union musician at disney for three years and i decided then that i would never be told when, how, what and where i would play. i realized that what the marketplace was willing to pay me didn’t have anything to do with what i was artistically interested in. i decided that i would never again be in a position to have my income tied to my music. i have been a teaching for the last 15 years and in the last 5 years have especially enjoyed the flexibility of teaching part-time in higher ed so that i could have more time to do all the things artists need to do.

    since i write, perform and record my own music i don’t have to worry about any of the funding to put on a show. i am lucky to work with what is now become a 2nd generation of southern california musicians who have been doing this for the last 20-30 years. i also own all of publishing rights when my music is played on the radio i make a decent amount of money that helps pay for all the drinks. meals, and gas money i provide to help keep this show going. unfortunately as many of you know ASCAP’s sampling is pretty spotty and the relationship between my quarterly checks doesn’t really match up to the airplay i know i’m getting.

    of course your mention of video game/tv/film music is probably the most tragic part of the “freemium” problem. i see young composers every day get sucked into theme songs or incidental music “writing for spec”. on the other hand my music has appeared in a few independent and short films under a tiered contract where i’m paid a flat fee based on the type of distribution film gets. i have been happy to let filmakers to cut my music into their film and get paid a decent sum of money once it “got picked up”. that had led to a few relationships with filmakers that are interested in collaboration (paying me to be me) and i can see that being an artistic and financially beneficial endeavor in the future.

    at the end of the day i don’t have a business plan but an well thought out artistic plan which will allow me to continue to write and perform for whatever i’m interested in while i’m paying the bills and having a very satisfying career in music education. whether you want to be a work for hire composer or composer/performing artist (or some combination of both) i wish you all the best.

  19. Perhaps Alex Shapiro might chime in as well. She’s been involved in a lot of the business of music, and many of us respect her a great deal. I’ll also say that she has never ever indicated that free new music scores have cut into her margins.

    Ultimately, the issue is whether copyright helps or hurts a niche like new music. I think the more open we make access, the more it helps everyone down the line. Many classical composers and musicians sneer at “pop” music because of its commerciality, yet it seems that being concerned about one’s composition IP protections is not a whole lot different from Metallica bitching about iTunes and P2P.

  20. I would like to hear from composers for wind bands, marching bands and other high school and college aged ensembles about this issue, as well as composers for television. Not so that they can respond to David’s repeated question, but so that they could tell us a little bit about how the current copyright model helps or hurts their creative livelihood.

  21. As stated by others, I think if someone is going to make comments in a blog post about how posting one’s music scores for free drives him “bat-shit crazy,” this will engender a lot of passionate conversation. My comment to which Mr. Newman took offense was: “If that’s a threat to someone’s economic model, I’m either really onto something or else someone has low self esteem and/or a really really small part of his anatomy. I mean, c’mon; folks like me are a threat to professional composers everywhere? Really?”

    I stand by my comment. Obviously this isn’t an indictment of anyone’s personal attributes. My point is that it’s ludicrous to think those of us who post our music for free are undercutting someone’s revenue generator. That’s just not based in reality and is so ridiculous you’d have to be crazy to think it. Perhaps I’d have been better sticking with “crazy,” although that could certainly have impugned someone’s mental health and offended Mr. Newman just as much.

    BTW, I have been to Mr. Newman’s site and while his PDFs are not printable, many of them are complete scores free for downloading. And given that the momentum is towards PDFs or some other electronic format, the lack of printability is hardly a guarantee against someone doing to his scores what they’re welcome to do with mine. So if at least some of Mr. Newman’s scores are freely downloadable, even if not printable, I’m confused-how is it that some of us are undercutting his economic model?

  22. Jonathan – Hang on. Not everyone on this thread is ignoring what you are saying and/or refusing to listen to your point of view. I missed the “member” comment (???) – and I’d like to apologize if someone here was snarky or rude to you. However, nearly everyone here on this thread has offered either their support or a more nuanced perspective on their differing views on the issue of copyright. I am sorry if the tone of this thread discouraged you from engaging in more dialogue about the topic. That can happen in the world of blogs.

  23. Well, let’s look at it another way, shall we? Let’s accept your proposition that unintended or not, some of us are “undercutting” composers who desire to be paid for their works. I can tell you that no one has ever, ever performed my music because it is royalty-free. No one. Years ago I even suggested to some performers that they might consider performing my stuff because it’s free. That lead nowhere.

    Music gets performed because it appeals to someone and because it’s genuine, regardless of whether it’s free or revenue-generating. People shell out a lot of money for a score by Steve Reich that, in the case of his early process music, probably doesn’t even require a score. And people download other folks’ music, like mine, because of their own interests, not because it’s free. But I’m quite sure few would grab it if it cost. That’s just reality. And rather than decry this reality, I think it should be respected, if not embraced. I don’t care if folks charge for their musical works. But they also shouldn’t care if I don’t charge for mine.

  24. Considering that this has devolved into comments about the size of my member, I think I’m probably done here. But just to catch up, a thought:

    I love composers. All composers. I care not a whit whether they have other jobs or not. I respect what we all do, because I know, intimately, how hellishly difficult it is to write music, whether or not $ is involved. And I, too, I have had lots of jobs to support myself while I tried to build a career writing. We all do. It was absolutely my choice to do it professionally, and expect no one else to do the same. But I’ll reiterate that I believe that what we do is important enough to get paid for it, and I am lucky enough to have eventually found a way to do that (mostly …. some months are better than others). My post tried to talk about how, with my current situation, existing copyright laws allow me to do exactly that.

    My best to all!

  25. I had an inkling that this post might generate some discussion…one of the things I try to do as a pedagogue is to point out to my students that there are many different ways to “be” a composer in this world of ours and this seems to have brought that to the surface (not that I’m tryin’ to teach here, of course…’tis just part of me nature 🙂

    To be honest, I’m a fence-sitter on this one…while for the most part I do sell my scores & parts (I self-publish with the exception of one band piece that is published through C. Alan), I will still give my sheet music to friends and ensembles that I know will generate interest in the work and who will most likely end up commissioning a new work in the future. I’m not in the same boat as John M. & Jonathan N. here – I do teach and getting performances of my work irrespective of financial gains is an important part of my tenure process, so there’s that wrinkle as well.

    I do know that it can be a very difficult shift to go from a non-professional composer (student or otherwise) who’s writing works for the love of it to a professional composer who has to balance the business aspects with the creative aspects…and there is room for all of these models within the myriadic world of composition. The folks in this discussion – all serious and successful in their own ways – are all testaments to that.

  26. Chris, I certainly can place myself in someone else’s shoes. But the reality is that the world is changing, and the availability of the Internet is a disruptive technology that levels the playing field. Ultimately that’s a good thing. But one has to evolve or die, and for those who don’t want to evolve change is indeed scary.

    Look, as I said, I have nothing against anyone charging for their music. Go right ahead. But in this case, we’re talking about new music, which is a really small niche within a small niche (classical music). Rather than look upon those of us who provide our music for free as some sort of competitors or usurpers (and truth be told, we probably are usurpers), how about considering the fact that anything that might increase interest in new music is a good thing that helps all of us? People download my music all the time. Do they perform it? Not so much. But they are at least made more aware of what’s out there, and that fosters a community and an environment more conducive to new music.

    And why should anyone feel threatened by my stuff or Harrington’s or anyone else’s stuff that’s out there for free? If your music is worthwhile, Mr. Newman, I’m sure it will find its audience if it hasn’t done so already. Why should you care what some unknown, nonprofessional composer like me does in his spare time at night in a Palo Alto hotel during work trips to the West Coast? I compose my music in a hotel room and get it on my Web site that has a very small following. If that’s a threat to someone’s economic model, I’m either really onto something or else someone has low self esteem and/or a really really small part of his anatomy. I mean, c’mon; folks like me are a threat to professional composers everywhere? Really?

  27. I do know from friends who have or currently write music for television (and I’ve done this as well…) that big corporate media entities have made every effort to cut down on the amount of money they are willing to shell out to composers because of the availability of license free music. Their attitude is: “Look, we can get this music for free OR my kid can spit it out using a loop CD, so YOU punk ass composer should be grateful we’re even considering funding a day of recording sessions…”

    In a way, it’s kind of amazing someone like Jim Foetus can create a career writing for Adult Swim, but perhaps that shows you that there are creative people in that world who are willing to fight for the rights of someone who has a unique and twisted vision for television music?

    David, you might want to imagine yourself in John or Jonathan’s shoes. Your points make sense, but I don’t think your situation is at all the same as what John and Jonathan deal with day to day as composers.

    Maybe we could hear more from people who write for high school and/or college aged ensembles? Marching bands? And maybe cable TV? I’d welcome some more perspective, whether or not its ultimately applicable to my own personal career decisions.

  28. BTW, copyright has, overall, probably been more destructive than having no intellectual property protection. That’s why something like Creative Commons, which is what governs my works, makes more sense.

    John, sure, if you charge higher prices there is an aura of being “better” and perhaps higher consumer expectations. I am very aware of business realities, perceptions, etc. I just don’t want stuff like that intruding into my musical world.

  29. A couple of points, since I seem to have stirred things up a bit:

    1. What Paul and I said: how is my providing my scores and MP3 files for free online hurting you economically, Mr. Newman, aside from the (highly) theoretical “Giving away your parts, in a tiny, fractionally, and incremental way, bolsters an expectation that composer’s (hard) work doesn’t deserve monetary compensation?”

    2. I could care less if someone charges for his or her music. We all make choices. I have no interest in making $ from my art, but have nothing but respect for those who do. But I don’t. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    3. Most of my music will probably never ever be performed during our lifetimes, Mr. Newman, so I really don’t think my freebies will hurt anyone. Unless they listen to my stuff and develop some horrible mental disorder as a result (which is quite possible).

    4. I personally have an issue with art as a business. I realize it is for many people, and again, I respect that, different strokes, etc. But I made a decision many decades ago that I would never compose for a living. I really like what I do in terms of music, and if I had to depend on that for my living, it would be a job, and that would no longer make it as pleasurable. I compose because I like to, because I feel compelled to, etc. But not because I need to eat and pay rent. As a result, I can write whatever I want, for whatever instrumental grouping I choose, etc. If someone performs it, I’m quite happy and honored that someone would take the time to perform a work of mine. Similarly if someone has listened to my music, I’m also touched. But I write because I want to. I keep my work and music separately, so music is not my business but my passion. Whether it’s a “hobby” is debatable. I describe it as such, but of course it is much more than a hobby.

    4. Have you seen Kyle Gann’s blog post on a very similar topic? Kyle and I are of the same opinion here, so it’s not just my delusion that my “freebies” are not hurting anyone but those who persist in listening to my music.



  30. Traditional score-based concert music is a little different from the more ‘unique’ arts, Noah. Unlike the theoretically ‘unique’ painting or sculpture, the ‘plan’, the score for the piece *is* unique as thought but physically perfectly reproducible; the ‘piece’ itself, the performance has to be recreated each time. In that sense the score is very much like the script for a play. I personally think that nowadays, aside from a few niches, it’s more limiting to hold out for money for the score, as opposed to aiming for the money from the performance royalties.

  31. It works the same way it works if you’re in any other business; if you’re a carpenter, you want to charge, say $1000 to fix a table. If the guy down the street is charging nothing to fix the table, that’s going to hurt your business. And you may well wonder how it’s going to be possible for you to make a living fixing tables if folks keep charging nothing to do it.

    Art’s somewhat different, since each thing created is unique — if someone wants a Jonathan Newman composition, they may want a Jonathan Newman composition, and somebody else’s, no matter how cheap, just won’t do. So you can argue whether the analogy works or not. But the general logic is fairly straightforward.

    This is why unions exist, at least in theory. And this:

    “I have to do what I have to do. I’ve had to work twice as hard as most of you guys just to even get a tenth of the recognition I should be getting.”

    is why creating a union is often quite difficult. There’s a very strong impetus for “every man for himself!” in capitalism. Especially in art.

  32. I give my music away because I have to. It’s just a fact. If I didn’t, if I charged for it, I would get virtually no performances at all. Now, you’re all going to tell me, how do you know that?

    And the answer is you guys are missing a real economic point here and that is the ‘added value’ of your advocacy network. You guys are making a living with tools that I do not have. It’s like you’re a contractor, but you have the extra heavy duty tool set that I can’t afford. You have advocates and performers that have grown up with you and who have been told by master composers that you studied with that you’re the guy to play.

    When I ran out of money in grad school and dropped out of Juilliard, I lost all my contacts. Every performer I’d met, or group that had played my music, either forgot about me, or soon realized that I was now a nobody. I had to move back to New Orleans broke. I’ve rebuilt my career because I started giving my music away back in 1991 (and was probably the first composer to do this). Even now that I’m back getting performed, my old Juilliard friends are not that interested in playing my music. Why? I’m still kind of a loser! Without the network of advocacy I am really nothing. No matter how good my music is! You guys don’t want to talk about that, I bet! 😉

    I’ve been told by big names (guys at publishing houses, well known composers) that what I’m doing is destroying the contemporary music scene. All I can say to that is I’m sorry, but may the best composer win. It’s about the music. I have to do what I have to do. I’ve had to work twice as hard as most of you guys just to even get a tenth of the recognition I should be getting. It’s a screwed up world and I am competing in the only way I can. Sorry.

  33. Well…I’d qualify your last statement John by saying the some composers write music that isn’t really designed to be rented and performed by other people. There’s a rich American history of the avant-garde producing work that did not support the creators monetarily, but instead contributed to the development of art in all of its diverse and messy glory.

    The minimalist techniques I’ve heard in some of your pieces came from the work of composers who decided that money (or rather, the lack of it) would not prevent them from exploring a way of making music that inspired people to throw vegetables at their performers.

    I have a day job and compose. But man, music is in no way a “hobby.”

  34. Chris, you’re totally right. There are two different things happening here, and it’s really a little silly to consider them the same way. Writing and self-publishing my music is my full-time job (same with Jonathan), and part of that “job” is protecting our copyright, and determining the best way to earn income from those copyrights. To me, copyright is critical, or I’d have to, you know, get a real job. And I’m a lazy bastard, so that ain’t happening.

    Other composers are writing not for a job, but for a hobby — just because they love doing it. (I don’t mean “hobby” to sound like it’s not serious, only that it’s done for free and personal enjoyment.) Still, I think if a hobbyist has the opportunity to make a few bucks, that’s a good thing!

  35. I think Chris is right that there needn’t be an either/or.

    I wish I could have Jonathan’s purity about my work’s value being tied to whether I sell performance materials or charge commission fees. To be honest, I also wish I could have a bit more tenacity in that regard: I give away my work too easily. Most of my commissions are unpaid, and a lot of my pieces during the past two years have been donated to artist benefits or performing organizations. Yes, I do have a day job to subsidize my music, but of course I’d like to be better compensated for my creative work.

    That said, there’s also a part of me that feels uncomfortable charging performers, or insisting they find commissioners, when they are making a genuine effort to get my work out into the world. I appreciate my advocates and know that they’re frequently subsidizing their performances of my music with work-a-day gigs themselves. It’s a complex, and very personal, choice how to proceed as a composer in the current economic/cultural climate.

  36. Yeah, not surprisingly, Newman said it better than my attempt. The goal here is for everybody to earn something through their music.

    I’m also of the belief that your potential performer, like any person, has a mindset that you get what you pay for. If you don’t believe enough in your music to feel you should be compensated for it, how good is your potential performer going to think it is when they happen upon it online? If you, literally, can’t even GIVE it away, why would somebody think it was going to be good enough to take the time to even listen to the MP3 or look at the free score? It goes to something Eric Whitacre said once, and I’m going to get the quote wrong, but it was essentially, “nobody wants a free futon from Craigslist, but a whole lot of people would pay $50 for that same futon on Craigslist.” (I think his quote was actually more along the lines of “nobody will pay $10 for a futon, but everybody will pay $100 for a futon,” but the point is the same.) Charge something for it — and that’s a right that copyright law provides — and suddenly it’s “worth” something. A free futon is just gross.

  37. Are there really two polar extremes here? The Creative Commons license seems to be a nice practical hybrid of law and reality that empowers composers (composers as different as David Toub and John Mackey) to determine how their work will (legally) be used.

    There is such variety to the garden of composers out there – even the names mentioned in just a handful of posts here – that it seems to me a “one size fits all” attitude toward copyright – be you pro or con – is self-defeating.

    I completely empathize with John and Jonathan’s points. But I also know and understand where David and Jeff are coming from. Why does this have to be an either or scenario?

  38. Who’s “we”, Paul? If by “we” you are including yourself as a composer who will give away his music (whether that’s performance materials, or subsidiary licenses, or whatnot) without expectation of $ in return, well, then yeah, kind of. But, really, truly, I’d like ALL of us to be compensated for our work. Not just me.

    And by the way, I’m not selling or renting paper — I’m selling or renting the music on the paper. Or in the pdf. If it’s a pdf, there’s still an invoice.

    By the way, Mackey and I must have been writing at the same time. I didn’t see his before I wrote mine … I might not have said anything… 😉

  39. are you really making the argument that you would like to make a living as a composer and we are all screwing it up for you? can you give some examples?

    on the other hand if somebody wants to pay for a professionally prepared score and parts (besides the freely available pdf’s) than more power to them. (isn’t that the argument for public domain?)

    it’s all about access to information and those who hide their content behind a paywall makes it much easier ignore.

  40. “In all honesty, I’ve never heard of this Jonathan Newman…”

    Well, maybe he’s never heard of you, either. 😉

    “And yes, I do have a day job that pays the rent.”

    Right. That was my point.

    “The fact that I, for example, post all my scores and all my music on my music site is never going to make this guy’s job “harder.””

    But it does. Giving away your parts, in a tiny, fractionally, and incremental way, bolsters an expectation that composer’s (hard) work doesn’t deserve monetary compensation.

    I don’t think that anyone would NOT play my music because I charge for it. But I do think that your free parts might create an expectation that mine should be.

  41. I don’t think I’m understanding the objection, Lisa. What is the “huge bureaucracy” that we’re all supporting? The law itself? I don’t understand how you’re forced to support any organization that helps me to earn income from my copyrights. You certainly aren’t supporting my income, unless you direct a college band, and it’s not like the general population is forced to join ASCAP or BMI or Harry Fox in order to subsidize those earnings or the protection those agencies provide. I do know that without copyright protection, I’d have no income (since I don’t have any other job).

    David – I had a similar argument with Jeff Harrington a while back because I said essentially the same thing that Jonathan said — that if one composer charges $0, it lowers the perceived value of music in general. I argued that point badly, and pissed off Jeff in the process, so I won’t make another attempt at it, but I do agree with Jonathan that it doesn’t help the composition community if music is given away.

  42. People should do what they want with their work. Sell it, trade it, give it, burn it, whatever. It is really none of my business and is out of my hands. The problem with copyright law is that it forces me to support a huge bureaucracy that protects people who are in the business of selling ideas. I’m not against selling ideas or anything else. I just think people who are rich enough to sell ideas (and yes just about everyone who earns money from selling ideas has to be considered ultra rich) aught to take on all the costs of protecting those ideas. Of course you’ll say that we all benefit immensely from many of those ideas and we should all be forced to subsidize those ideas. That is a reasonable argument but it is not the kind of government I prefer. I think it just comes down to a matter of taste. So for now I’ll continue subsidizing other people’s ideas. Lets just hope they are good ones!

  43. With all due respect, some of these points are, frankly, ludicrous. The fact that I, for example, post all my scores and all my music on my music site is never going to make this guy’s job “harder.” Does he honestly, truly believe that performers will prefer my music to his because it’s available for free? Does he really think someone would avoid his music because he might charge for the score? Perhaps someone might avoid his music for other reasons, but my having made my stuff freely available has nothing whatsoever to do with it. So if it drives him “bat-shit crazy,” so be it.

    In all honesty, I’ve never heard of this Jonathan Newman, so perhaps he’s diminishing awareness of his music by restricting some of it to pay-only?

    Anyway, I’m not losing sleep over it. And yes, I do have a day job that pays the rent. Most of us do. BFD.

  44. I read through the comments on the source post – very well stated and thoughtful.

    Jon Newman states: “For me, it’s the performance materials. That’s the paper (maybe someday it won’t be, I’m looking at you iPads) musicians rehearse and perform from. I rent it, I sell it, I control it.”

    Trying to control the paper scores and the live performances would seem to be fighting the last war. Even with all the laws on the side of the publisher/copyright holder/artist, the fact is that attendence at live performances is decreasing – and not just for classical music. Even sporting events are down. Greg Sandow has all the statistics, but it would seem the publish and perform paradigm is giving way to something else.

    I’m no expert, but every day I see hundreds of people on my commuter train wearing ear buds. iTunes has sold something like $1 billion worth of mp3 files in a little over a year. Ring tones, for cryin out loud, sell for several dollars each.

    Composers would be wise to follow where people are putting their ears. And in 2010 that looks more like the Internet than it does the performance hall.

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