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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  • 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?

  • I had listened to a Dave Pensado vlog/interview with an industry professional film scorer whom said he is paid 100k per 3 hours. His words, not mine. I do think you should consider all the work you do on your compositions and then add a dollar amount per hour and have that as your price. Then market to the right clients.

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