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Every so often I toy with the idea of starting a Go Fund Me page for raising money for classical compositions.

At the top of the list of reasons I don't is that I haven't the faintest idea how much music is actually worth.

For example, a 40-minute composition like Also Sprach Zarathustra took Dick Strauss a year to write. If he had kept of log of the actual time spent working on the composition, it would be feasible to work out some sort of pay schedule. I guess you'd call it a form of "piece work". 

Compositions-wise, what I've always had in mind is an ongoing series of exciting overtures aimed at the general public, each composition being an average 20 minutes in length. This, in response to the ongoing complaint that modern composers aren't turning out crowd-pleasing barn-burners like they did in the ol' daize.

But what is a composition like, say, Often Bach's Orpheus in Haiti's Overture or Rose Weenie's William Tell Offerture worth? How much should these composters have been paid for these works? What would be a fair wage?

Your thoughts?

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I mean figuring out how much to pay a composer for a 20 minute work, using Go Fund Me to pay for the music and the performances, ordering a bunch of overtures from a selection of composers, and going right to it.

None of the usual nonsense. The modern orchestra has been stuck in an unproductive rut since ca 1960. I wouldn't touch that route with a barge pole.

The demand is there, just as it has always been. It's that all the infrastructure has completely crapped out since the early 1960's.

In the early 20th century, the well-to-do prized education above all and supported the arts. Today's ilk are louts that think Bruce Springsteen is high art. In 1960, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Messiaen, Stokowsky, Ligeti Spaghetti, Hindemith, etc., were still alive. Most FM radio stations were playing classical music. The greater percentage of the world's orchestras were full-time professional organisations, not weekend warriors who play for a stipend.

Today's methods are the very definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

It is and always has been about the money and who has it. If you have the money in place, you simply pay to have music performed. The audiences will attend.

The Winnipeg New Music Festival is a good example. They put the Festival on, people come.

If you put ads on radio and television touting a concert lineup of a dozen exciting new overtures, performed by blah, blah, blah, under maestro whoozits, you'll get a sell-out crowd, guaranteed.

The difference is the audience knowing what they're getting ahead of time, with short examples in the ads.

Bob- You wrote "About the only way to get the general public to listen to an orchestra is to write film score."

Celebrity status would work too. If Bieber conducted an orchestra people would come and the concert would be televised worldwide (regardless of the program). Cameron Carpenter (http://www.cameroncarpenter.com/) knows the importance of the "personality". People come listen to him play Bach on the organ because they love Cameron. If Cameron took up the banjo people would go to his banjo shows. 

Heh- well that is a tub of bung Bologna, and no mistake.

Yes, composers did crank out barn-burners for public consumption. You must've missed the chapters on von Suppe, Rossini, Dick Strauss, and all those other composters who aimed for popularity. What do you think all those stand-alone overtures were all about? You should read up on what amounted to pops concerts back in the 19th century. They were very well-attended, from Moscow to Paris to New Orleans. Arthur Fiedler was squarely part of that tradition.

Bob Porter said:

The problem is that classical composers never have turned out barn-burners for the "general public."There is an audience for classical music, but it is not the general public, and never has been. I think Dave is right. About the only way to get the general public to listen to an orchestra is to write film score. 

Well, that's bung Bologna too, because it's a matter of conflating one particular tradition (movie music concerts go back to the 1910's and the days of silent movies) with marketing.

I worked in advertising for many years, and put together commercials now and then for non-standard concerts showcasing unique international performers. Didn't matter if it was a Ukrainian dance troupe or a Russian or Eastern European ballet company or a group singing and playing ethnic instruments or a virtuoso banyan player from Russia. Every concert, not only sold out, but in many cases was held over.

Seems like the marketing skills of modern people involved in classical music is either non-existent or counterproductive.

Joseph Harry said:

Bob- You wrote "About the only way to get the general public to listen to an orchestra is to write film score."

Celebrity status would work too. If Bieber conducted an orchestra people would come and the concert would be televised worldwide (regardless of the program). Cameron Carpenter (http://www.cameroncarpenter.com/) knows the importance of the "personality". People come listen to him play Bach on the organ because they love Cameron. If Cameron took up the banjo people would go to his banjo shows. 

Too funny! Yes, we composers are gluttons for punishment. That said, for all the years I worked in commercial advertising, I was able to make a living from writing classical music. Indirectly, yes, but don't forget all the young guys out there writing some pretty darned good music for video games.  I'm sure if you were to put on a concert of video game music, you could pack a auditorium.

Ray said:

Hey Greg, don't come down too hard on Mr Porter just because he likes short words and short sentences as do many of us plebs.

Your question is ridiculous for someone supposedly well studied.

Performers get paid, composers do it for the aggravation.

Greg Monks said:

Heh- well that is a tub of bung Bologna, and no mistake.

Yes, composers did crank out barn-burners for public consumption. You must've missed the chapters on von Suppe, Rossini, Dick Strauss, and all those other composters who aimed for popularity. What do you think all those stand-alone overtures were all about? You should read up on what amounted to pops concerts back in the 19th century. They were very well-attended, from Moscow to Paris to New Orleans. Arthur Fiedler was squarely part of that tradition.

Bob Porter said:

The problem is that classical composers never have turned out barn-burners for the "general public."There is an audience for classical music, but it is not the general public, and never has been. I think Dave is right. About the only way to get the general public to listen to an orchestra is to write film score. 

Well, despite all the music I've written over the years, and been paid for, I do not have the first clue what the music is/was inherently worth. I know how much one gets paid for writing jingles, as does anyone in the business of making commercials. I've also watched highly talented people write great music, for no pay, had their piece performed once or twice, and was left wondering what just happened.

If Dick Strauss were still alive, he'd have gotten rich long ago from all the advertisers using the first few bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Those first few bars constitute a jingle, and if you look at his entire body of work, those few bars have generated many times what he earned in his lifetime. The first two bars of Ludwig Van's 5th of a symphony also fall into that category.

A commercial composer like Ferde Grofe was well-aware of the sales & marketing end of writing music. Bits of his Grand Canyon Suite were used in commercial advertising in his lifetime. And this was a guy who was in the business of writing commercial music.

My opinion is that a composer should be paid part of a year's wages for a composition like Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. $20,000, maybe? That would come to $100,000 for 5 pieces, or a 1 hr and 40 min concert. If the concert managed to run for three days, that would go a long way to covering expenses.

Could something like this become self-sustaining? I'm guessing the only way to answer that question is to do it and see what happens.

Dave Dexter said:

I'm forming the impression you're here, not for advice or feedback, but to talk about your own expertise, views and successes. I mean you've taken every opportunity to bemoan the state of the industry or knock aside the perspective of others or champion your own abilities. If you really have no idea what your music is worth - and from context I think you have a very good idea what you think it's worth - then we still have something to discuss. You're not the only person here to have considered this problem.





Greg Monks said:

Well, that's bung Bologna too, because it's a matter of conflating one particular tradition (movie music concerts go back to the 1910's and the days of silent movies) with marketing.

I worked in advertising for many years, and put together commercials now and then for non-standard concerts showcasing unique international performers. Didn't matter if it was a Ukrainian dance troupe or a Russian or Eastern European ballet company or a group singing and playing ethnic instruments or a virtuoso banyan player from Russia. Every concert, not only sold out, but in many cases was held over.

Seems like the marketing skills of modern people involved in classical music is either non-existent or counterproductive.

Joseph Harry said:

Bob- You wrote "About the only way to get the general public to listen to an orchestra is to write film score."

Celebrity status would work too. If Bieber conducted an orchestra people would come and the concert would be televised worldwide (regardless of the program). Cameron Carpenter (http://www.cameroncarpenter.com/) knows the importance of the "personality". People come listen to him play Bach on the organ because they love Cameron. If Cameron took up the banjo people would go to his banjo shows. 

Well, where composition and sweat is concerned, the numbers never do add up, do they?

I'm not sure what else Dicky Strauss was working on when he wrote Zarathustra. I used to know in detail, but that was many years ago. Keep in mind that he was a busy family man and a conductor. I've seen old film of him conducting. He spent half the time glancing at his watch, because he apparently was keen on getting out of there. If I'm remembering correctly, he was losing precious card-playing time by being inconvenienced with having to conduct an orchestra.


Hi Greg,

People will only part with their money if the quality and/or celebrity is there. Not that these 2 criteria together guarantee value for money, but it's all in the marketing.

How do you choose who writes what, are you thinking about starting a posh music house to produce works for the concert Hall instead of the goggle box? Would any prospective composer need a showreel of concert works?Also, would you expect to be briefed from a donor who just paid in 20K and then go through a revision process that ended with you calling him a popular (in these parts) four letter word beginning with a capital C? I too have a jingles background and can see where you are coming from, but that is utility music and written to help corporations take over the world, hence the dosh.

Sad to say that the likes of me would not get a job in this fantasy of yours because I (like the majority of composers) am unknown and of undetermined quality. But we can all dream eh...

Mike.

Greg Monks said:

My opinion is that a composer should be paid part of a year's wages for a composition like Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. $20,000, maybe? That would come to $100,000 for 5 pieces, or a 1 hr and 40 min concert. If the concert managed to run for three days, that would go a long way to covering expenses.

Could something like this become self-sustaining? I'm guessing the only way to answer that question is to do it and see what happens. 

Well, the writing part always gets me reflecting on how the composition world was, back in the day. On the one hand, the station in life you were born into was a determining factor. Connections were a big deal. On the other hand, in Beethoven's time, it was like the 1930's jazz scene in the US, with cutting contests. Of the literally tens of thousands of pianists duking it out in his neck of the woods, he was among the top few that dominated the scene. It was the same when Strauss Sr and Jr were making music for the dance scene. Strauss Sr was referred to as the waltz king because he beat out the competition.

New, young composers often got their start by being promoted by their teachers and peers. "Ya gotta hear this kid!" Shades of a bespectacled young druggist, Billy Strayhorn, when discovered by Ellington.

But there is no scene to speak of at the moment, so you have to fall back on what works- contests, and putting up prize money. Contests in themselves create demand for the music. And the public loves cutting contests. Always has. Cutting contests draw crowds and crowds self-generate markets. Need proof? The Idol shows, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.

An overture contest would be a huge draw. All you have to advertise is "exciting new overtures", and people will show up.

Or bareknuckle music brawls. That would do it.

Well, you can make even a very dull process seem exciting, with editing and television legerdemain.

For example, if you show a person standing in front of a blank manuscript with an ink pen, you cut away to something else- a clown juggling cats, a tuba-throwing contest, anything but the sight of a person applying pen and ink to paper.

By the time you cut back to the composer, the makeup artists have had their fun, and there stands your composer with a finished work, with ink-stained hands and face, dishevelled hair, the whole nine yards. And then, right away, your composer goes to a podium and directs the piece. Voilà.

To get into the actual details, you have an after-show, with very good explainers who can put a complex process into the simplest possible terms.

Something like that?

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