A Day Like Any Other

A Day Like Any Other

Something that caught my ear today: “There are plenty of composers in America making well north of six figures.” More on that in a moment.

The big news on Wednesday across the country was, of course, the Composer Institute. That and Klempke being elected Alderman. Today was a day for people in suits, and it was no exception in Minneapolis.

I think most of us were tired after staying up watching CNN, and a day of legal talk was just the ticket. To be honest, I had a class on business law as an undergraduate, and it was the most boring three hours of my week. But today I was truly riveted by nearly a full day of the legal aspects of music by Jim Kendrick. It helped that he peppered his talk with anecdotes such as:

  • The “world famous” composer who got so excited about setting a book as an opera that he forgot to get permission. He found out soon after that the author hated opera and refused to give permission. And there goes a year of his life.

  • Or the composer who did an arrangement of a chamber piece for his orchestral commission only to find out that major orchestras can turn out to be sticklers for what is actually on the printed contract.

But Jim also made me realize just how much money can be involved in this business. Major composers still make major money. This is probably a good thing, but just how much it influences the state of music, and whether that is a good thing, is an entirely different question.

I was also surprised to find out just how many situations had no clear legal answers. Is it sufficient to get the permission of the school to post a sample of a performance by a school choir? Or do you have to get the individual permission of every chorester? Don’t know. Just how official does documentation need to be when ammending a contract? Depends. The law is often pretty unclear, and to that extent, pretty scary.

On the other hand, most of the problems he discussed came with pretty big figure commissions. Sounds like problems we’d all like to have. But as Jim said, “There are still problems.”

We ended the day with a swanky dinner with board members, donars, and other people in clothing much nicer than ours. I have to say I was dazzled by their attention and devotion to new music. They weren’t there for the food, or even just the company. They were there to support us and to make sure new music keeps happening in their town. Wow.

I didn’t realize when I moved to Minnesota four years ago that I was landing in one of the epicenters of new music in America.

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One thought on “A Day Like Any Other

  1. Chris Becker

    Justin – Thanks for the great blogging. I don’t think you or Ted should worry too much about the peanut gallery here. But I do have a question for you (or for whoever you are quoting at the top of this post. Can you name a composer who is making “north” of six figures as an annual salary?

    Are you talking about composers who also teach in a University setting? Or perhaps film and television composers? Or instrumentalists who also compose?

    I know composing for wind ensembles and high school orchestras can be financially rewarding, for instance.

    I personally don’t know any composers making that much money. And I’d like to think I know a broad spectrum of composers – but maybe not!


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