Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Group Therapy at NewMusicBox

I have the composer site NewMusicBox saved in my music links, but I find it a bit depressing going there. It always feels like a post-traumatic group therapy session because most articles, like this one, are laments about the difficult situation musicians are in these days. The article is illustrated with this revealing graphic:

For the first half of your career, when you can still be called "young", everyone is always suggesting that you play for free for "exposure". The problem with this is that this will work out well for a small minority of musicians, those who are playing just the repertoire people want to hear in the just the way they want to hear it. But for another small minority, perhaps the most creative ones, the exposure will not help much because it will merely reveal that most people don't want to hear their music. And, of course, it won't help the majority because they are mediocre musicians.

Here is another article on the site that talks about a British survey of composer's commissions:
• 66% of the 466 composers who responded stated they do not find commissions to be a significant proportion of their income. Given that the respondents had an average of 2.65 commissions in 2013 with an average fee per commission of £1,392 it’s easy to see why.
• 74% of composers received the same amount or more commissions in 2013 than in 2012 but only 15% earned more income. We also discovered that those who had been undertaking commissions for more than five years were likely to win more commissions but get paid less per commission.
• There are significant variances in income: the best paid 1% of composers received over 25% of all commission income captured by our survey. Once we excluded them from our sample, average annual commission income fell from £3,689 to £2,717.
Based on this, I think it is safe to say that music composition in Great Britain, except for a very small group, is an amateur activity. If you are making less than $5000 a year from your work, you are not a professional, or only a very part-time one.

I was having lunch with couple of Canadians the other day, one a composer, and someone accused me of being a snob. I quickly said that I wasn't. What I am is an elitist, there is a difference! I think that great music is fairly rare and what I strive to do personally is to get as close to writing great music as I can. Whether it is possible or not is perhaps a judgement that only posterity can make, so I don't trouble myself about it. I just try and write music as well as I can and leave it at that. To this end, I see myself as a non-commercial musician. That is, I have next to no interest in making money from music. I have an occupation that does not take up an excessive amount of time, and that provides me with sufficient income. Therefore, I can devote a significant part of my energies to the creation of music and I can do so without worrying about any non-musical concerns like commissions or sales. I am concerned about performances, but I have a strategy for that, too.

So, unlike many of the contributors at NewMusicBox, I am not depressed about music. I used to be, about career matters at least, but that is why I retired as a professional musician. If people like my music, then I am thrilled. But I am not writing particularly for short term approval. I am writing music of a certain kind because I can and perhaps one day this music will find an audience. I don't really know any other way of going about it. Frankly, I just can't see myself attempting to craft a composition to appeal to a competition jury or commissioning organization or the mass media. It seems to me that that leads you down the wrong path. One day you wake up and find yourself a mere hack. And as those numbers above show, you are a mere hack with a pathetically small income!! Years ago I mentioned in conversation to someone that there were lots of classical musicians ready to "sell out", but that nobody was buying!!

As kind of a metaphor for that, when I was packing up to leave Montreal quite a few years ago, I found myself with several musical instruments that I couldn't take with me and several computers as well. The musical instruments included a Roland keyboard and several violins. The computers were all second-hand Macs and PCs. After placing an ad in the paper, I sold all the computers in a week. There were no buyers whatsoever for the musical instruments so I finally donated them to the university music department.

My personal solution is to make money by offering people a service that they seem to have great need of, while pursuing my musical activities free of the need for income. This seems for me to be a happier solution than the depressing one of trying to survive in this current musical scene dominated by sheer commercialism.

Hmm, what will we listen to today. Ah, how about the Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Brahms:

No comments: