Saturday, September 10, 2011

Recordings for Composers

I just read a great rant by young composer Nico Muhly about the problems of getting recordings of his own music for orchestra. From the sounds of it, things are worse now than they used to be. I never found it difficult to get a cassette copy of my performances (even with orchestra) from the CBC back when I was doing a lot of recording for them. But of course, the key words are "cassette copy". Everything is digital now so that every copy is the equivalent of a master, meaning that it can be re-copied indefinitely and broadcast over the internet in full fidelity. I can understand both the reluctance of orchestras to allow masters of their performances out of their hands and the burning need for composers (and performers) to have copies of their work for study. It's a dilemma. According to Nico Muhly, the orchestras are solving the dilemma by simply refusing copies to composers which seems manifestly unfair.

One commenter offers the solution of simply keeping everything in one's own hands as a composer. This is something impossible to do when working with a unionized orchestra so she just doesn't compose for orchestras. It seems to me that there needs to be some flexibility here. Composers ought to have some rights in recordings of their music. If they use an orchestral recording for commercial gain, then the orchestra should have a right to legal redress--but they have to prove their case. Simply refusing access to an existent recording of a composer's music sounds like prior restraint, which ought not to be possible in jurisdictions like the US.

Perhaps there could be a standard waiver that all parties sign beforehand that states that the composer will be granted a copy of the recording of the performance of their music on the condition that it not be broadcast or played back for commercial gain. Then the orchestra can have legal redress. Wouldn't that solve the problem?

Now let's listen to some of Nico Mulhy's music.

That's a pretty interesting piece with real focus.

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