Hey Orpheus, Show Me the Money!

Hey Orpheus, Show Me the Money!

“It is nearly impossible to make a living exclusively as a serious composer,” wrote financially successful William Bolcom in the March 1990 issue of Musical America. Not long after that, John Corigliano told a magazine interviewer that the first thing he asks students is, “Are you rich? Then we have no problems. Composing is like a giant hobby.” Arthur Honegger in his book Je Suis Compositeur (almost impossible to find but worth the effort) noted that it was just assumed that his coffee-importer father would have to support him in order for him to sustain a career as a composer.

In his calligraphed Music Primer (C.F. Peters, 1971) Lou Harrison writes, “The composer himself subsidizes the art of music….We must then get our life means by other methods—either from by-products like teaching, copying, arranging, etc.—or by completely other means…” Including, according to Harrison, getting “kept,” if possible. They don’t teach you this in music school.

In a conversation I had with fellow composer/critic Robert Carl last week, he aphoristically quipped that Elliott Carter’s is music of a rich man; Cage, music of a poor man. Rude, candid, but how true. Who can afford to be a practitioner of that most labor-intensive, under-compensated, high-overhead of art forms, art music composition, unless you live in music-crazed Finland. We all know that Carter has had a comfortable private income for decades, but so did Charles Jones (along with a lovely townhouse on East 58th Street), who, though less famous, composed prolifically and taught at Juilliard, Mannes, and Aspen. The composer and critic Sorabji lived frugally off an annuity amounting to about $35,000 in 2007 US dollars. He lived to 96 and wrote whatever he damn pleased, both compositionally and journalistically. So what Virgil Thomson wrote in The State of Music (1939, rev. 1962) about the cause-and-effect between how a composer eats and what he writes is still all too true.

Money’s role in making composing possible is the most scandalously undercovered topic in all of musicology. Many otherwise probing composer biographies are strikingly deficient in their documentation of composers’ financial day-to-day lives. Jan Swafford’s Charles Ives: A Life with Music and Eric Gordon’s Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein are notable exceptions, strong in their documentation of the quotidian dollars and cents. Why is a composer’s sex life open to inquiry and his money life not? In an article printed in the February 1, 1970, Sunday New York Times, Harold Schonberg cited as history’s five richest classical composers Rossini, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss, all opera guys. Wonder if that would still be the list in 2007.

Composers’ financial lives can be fascinating and full of deception. According to Schoenberg scholar Sabine Feisst (whose book Schoenberg in America will soon be published), for much of his time in America Schoenberg was not only solvent but flush, despite all his poor-mouthing protestations to the contrary. Gail Kubik, recipient of the 1952 Pulitzer Prize in music and a film and radio composer (but not an academic until late in life), earned much of his income as a real estate landlord, primarily from rental of a 20-room house in Venasque, France. You couldn’t have a cup of coffee with Kubik without his getting a receipt for his tax preparer (he was perennially audited). Between 1919 and 1923 alone, Ives spent the contemporary equivalent of at least $60,000 merely printing and distributing his works, writes Swafford. He paid $15,000 (in modern dollars) to finance Slonimsky’s performance of Three Places in New England in Town Hall in 1931. How many composers today could afford to do this? Some who could are surprises. The late Meyer Kupferman, who taught at Sarah Lawrence for 40 years and had many commissions and private students, quietly built his assets so astutely that by the 1990s he could single-handedly afford to record and retail some 30-odd CDs of his enormous output, including many large orchestra works—a venture surely costing well into six figures (even with cheap eastern European orchestras), maybe more. A recording producer who worked with him on his Soundspells recordings told me privately that Meyer “always paid his bills on time.”

Ives was a millionaire, and the dollars he threw at musicians just to read through his music were no small factor in the arrival of Charles Ives. The prohibitive overhead of American orchestra hire has itself resulted in a different kind of musical literature than might otherwise have been created by our native composers of late. It’s high time to acknowledge that the leverage of money in our art is no less fateful, if different, than in painting and theater. “Patronage remains largely ignored by scholars and others because of…a ‘worshipful attitude toward works of the classical canon’….mention of money distracts (or even detracts) from the cherished qualities of the object of their veneration,” writes software engineer turned musicologist Paula J. Bishop in “The Patronage of Composers in the United States“, a 2005 masters thesis that should be required reading for all in our field. Another interesting account of pecuniary matters is provided by Barry Drogin in his essay “Follow the Money: An Update to Virgil Thomson’s The State of Music.”

Actually there are now more big accolade payouts than ever before: the Grawemeyer, the Charles Ives Living Award, the MacArthur. Yeah. Try and get one. Maybe it’s easier to get kept.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

76 thoughts on “Hey Orpheus, Show Me the Money!

  1. rtanaka

    I’d also like to see more research done on this. I think the American mythology of the “artist as an individual” tends to cloud a lot of realities involved in how people made a living, and people seem to be uncomfortable talking about maybe, just maybe, economic advantages had something to do with certain composers coming into prominence. It’s rather interesting when you compare these things to jazz practices in the United States, because for the most part, African-Americans were denied access to the system of patronage of the “high” arts so they were forced to resort to capitalism in order to survive. Why did jazz migrate to Chicago? It really had nothing to do with idealistic notions of an artist’s retreat, but it was a move purely out of necessity, due to higher earning wages. Adorno would obviously not approve of such things.

    I don’t know if I’d agree with your assessment on Cage though, since in my experience people who like that sort of thing tend to be very wealthy. Wasn’t he born into a very wealthy family as well? Sitting around and listening to a bunch of nothing really seems like a luxury to me, anyway.

  2. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Damn, no wonder nobody likes me. :)

    I’m not afraid to talk about money, and never have been. Maybe it’s just third parties that don’t talk, but it’s a big public topic among composers — maybe not for radio, but off-mic it has been.

    My experiment with We Are All Mozart is not only productivity, but the perceived value of one-to-one commissioning by performers and other interested individuals. The great commission is a rarity anyway, so what about these specially written pieces? How has it been going?

    I didn’t fill the calendar, but I’m closing in on 100 commissions. That sounds like a windfall, doesn’t it? Maybe not so much. Here it is so far… Commissions paid, 56, $8338. Commissions unpaid, 23, $3830. Commissions expected, $2150. That’s $14,318 plus those last couple I still hope to get, assuming those who’ve received their pieces eventually pay up.

    So whaddya think? Less than $15,000 for about 100 compositions, from solo through orchestral, including things I had to study about first (ukulele, mandocello, accordion, natural horn, tenor guitar, clavichord…)? I get some royalties and an annual award, so this year, for the first time in 40 years of composing, I’ll have paid most of the bill through music.

    Not so hot, is it? Doesn’t leave much for hiring one of those bargain-basement orchestras or traveling to performances, does it? Or upgrading equipment and software? Sending review copies? Maintaining a website? And I’m not a performer, or never one that has been paid, so making a living that way is out. I’ve got no association with academia. These days I write, edit, and do a lovely job on setting difficult scores for other folks.

    The thing I share most with Cage isn’t my approach to music — it’s being broke most of the time. I’d never give up composing, but I’d love more money. Got’ny?


  3. dalgas

    poor Cage
    Cage’s dad was an inventor/engineer, but with seemingly modest income. Cage himself was close to broke for at least half his life. He told Mary Emma Harris in 1974: “[In the 1960s] I needed the large income that all these fellowships and residencies gave me, because I became in their late life the sole support of my mother and father. So that I was obliged to make a great deal of money, whereas up until 1958, I never knew where the next dollar was coming from. And it was in ’58 that I won the TV quiz show in Italy. That was the first sizable income that I’d had, and I spent most of it to buy a Volkswagen bus for the dance company so we could tour.” (in Kostelanetz, Conversing with Cage)

  4. rtanaka

    Ah thanks, maybe I misheard something about Cage somewhere.

    The way musicians earn their living are always pretty interesting…thanks for the patron article, by the way. It’s long, but I think I might read it.

  5. Somebody

    Well great gobs of glory! Mr. Grant wrote an excellent report about something they don’t teach you at music school. Keep up the good work. Good job!

  6. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Still all that stuff going on in new-vs.-not-new, experimentation scientific or artistic, etc., thread. The easy thread, as it were…

    But it’s pretty quiet here. So how about it? Anybody else gonna show the money? Really curious what any of you other folks are making from your composition, and it might put some real perspective into the discussion, since we aren’t the famous Carters and Iveses and Cages.

    Anybody else? Mark, Ryan, Craig, Steve, and the other posters elsewhere? Frank? William? Jennifer? Vladimir? Gilbert? PG? Colin? Phil? Alex? David? Anybody?


  7. philmusic

    Mark, I a little disappointed in your blog post. At first you get our hopes up with some interesting information about composers financial lives, only to revert to the same old stereotypes and half truths so common today:

    Schoenberg –Bad– and a liar to boot! Uh-uh?

    Cage good– because poor people love him? Sure thing fella.

    Carter- rich!!! uptown snobs only! –please!

    I object to you giving information about some composers than speculating and inferring about others. Perhaps those are the composers who don’t fit into your tidy thesis.

    Phil’s Page

  8. Colin Holter

    I make less than $10 annually in royalties, and I’ve never gotten a paid commission. However, if I could afford to hire orchestras and chamber groups to play my music, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s one thing to criticize Ives for buying his way into the canon, in so many words, but if you had the means to disseminate your work as he did, wouldn’t you?

  9. Somebody

    I don’t have one copper penny from anything I have written. But, as the New-Old thread goes, it is because I am a very bad composer :>)).

  10. rtanaka

    The post didn’t seem like a criticism to me — Ives was a complex character who understood the musical world and the reality of the business world as well, and I think this adds something to his music. He is, in a lot of ways, emblematic of the American Dream, no?I can at least respect him because he was very good at what he did. (Wrote an influential book on insurance, in fact.)

    But nonetheless, I think we need to be more honest about ourselves about how the economics of these things work. I mean, brilliant artists get ignored all the time, and I’m sure its safe to say that there were a lot of great things that happened in the past that simply just disappeared. Money does matter.

  11. philmusic

    I object to you giving information about some composers then speculating and inferring about others. Perhaps those are the composers who don’t fit into a tidy thesis.

    Phil’s Fried

    P.S. most composers tend to make more money from composition after they are successful.

  12. rtanaka

    Oh, to answer Dennis’ question, I’m primarily making a living as a librarian at this point. It’s a nice job that I enjoy doing, especially since it deals with education. I make a few bucks here and there doing improvised performances, sometimes doing concert work but sometimes accompanying dance, theater, poetry sessions, etc. It’s nice extra cash and it’s always a lot of fun, but not enough to make a living. Then again, I’ve only been out of school for 6 months.

    I’m debating right now whether or not to do music as a hobby for now, since in a lot of ways it feels a lot more pure when I’m doing it away from school. I’ll probably do my doctorate eventually, but the library career looks very appealing at this point, unless classical music instutions start becoming more receptive to improvised practices. There are a few signs toward this change so I’m optimistic, but I’m really not holding my breath. Meanwhile, I need to eat.

  13. dalgas

    [You know most of this, Dennis]. Since I don’t do traditional scores anymore (not since about 1987 or so), and I’m not a live-performance musician (since about 1990), and since I stayed completely out of teaching, standard commercial work, etc., most of the traditional “ASCAP approved” ways to make money are out.

    After the university and a stint in the Air Force, I spent 14 years working at a big photofinishing plant, all the while creating whatever I could create on my own. That meant synths and tape, later supplemented by sequencers and midi, and for the last 10 years adding the computer into the mix. I bailed out of my job around 2000, with my profit-share money and my wife’s excellent paycheck :-), and basically have kept making what I’ve always been making ever since. I share a large number of my recordings, but also sell another group of them on CDs and downloads through the internet; a few hundred dollars a year, enough to cover the production.

    My main priority has always been to not just write down some piece but to get it BORN, in sound, from my own fingers. The electronic or “virtual” ensemble makes that happen pretty well. That it’s somehow “less” or “compromised” has always seemed a rather laughable argument. Some are purely electronic, and could be nothing but, yet many are perfectly realizable in the “real” world. It just so happens that my own “composer” versions are all electronic, but the template is there if someone wants to make it happen.

    But for me to do that would take away precious time that I can use to get a piece out of my head and fixed in some fashion; to have to make that detour means that something important may never get the chance to “get out”.

    Of course, it means almost none of my music happens in the concert hall. Instead, with the web, my “hall” has become as big as the world, with an audience that drops in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from all over the globe. And a piece that’s just finished can be getting heard literally a couple hours after the digital “ink” is dry. I’ll pass up the official imprint of a single place with 50 people in the seats, for this diffuse space with several thousand taking in a work over time.

    That’s my compromise, and one I’m perfectly happy with.

    Steve Layton

  14. Chris Becker

    Steve, I enjoyed your post.

    I decided a few years ago – coinciding with the time I met and began working closely with a dance company here in NYC – that I had to figure out some way to perform my music live in front of people. I love the studio and consider it an instrument. But recently, the technology to realize studio realized work as a live performance has become cheaper, stabler and more user friendly. I’m thinking specifically of Ableton Live, M-Audio’s controllers as well as the Kaoss Pad.

    I guess I figured if noone was buying CDs anymore, it might be worthwhile to develop some kind of live presentation of my work! Again, working with dancers really pushed me in this direction. And the difference between creating a prerecorded score for dancers as opposed to composing one on the spot over the course of a rehearsal period with the laptop and guest musicians…well, you can’t go back. The dancers love it and so do I.

    But that is not to say I don’t LOVE recorded music (I develop all of my live material – samples and the like – in the studio) or respect what Steve or my friend James Ross do where the Internet is their concert hall. That’s righteous. Saturday night my friend Helga Davis played my entire Saints & Devils CD on WNYC a little after midnight. It’s a prerecorded work – totally an FM thang – and it was a treat to sit in the kitchen and hear it on my Grandfather’s radio…But I also do the live thing – whether it be for six people for a couple thousand – and it is satisfying me on a deep level.

    I have been able to fund much of my work in the past three years with grants, commissions and the occasional commercial gig. I also try very hard to pay the musicians I work with union scale. I know I’m the exception with that – especially in the realm of so-called “new music” but I’ve heard so much under rehearsed music played with a half assed attitude..again, I can’t go back. That said, the musicians I work with are friends – people I’ve known for a long time. I don’t hire and can’t work with people I don’t have a personal connection to. That friendship translates into what is a long term investment in the work…

  15. philmusic

    I’m not afraid to talk about money,…Really curious what any of you other folks are making from your composition, and it might put some real perspective into the discussion, since we aren’t the famous Carters and Iveses and Cages.

    Anybody else? Mark, Ryan, Craig, Steve, and the other posters elsewhere? Frank? William? Jennifer? Vladimir? Gilbert? PG? Colin? Phil? Alex? David? Anybody?

    Dennis? Are you trying “peer group pressure” on us? You Devil!

    Phil Fried

  16. pgblu

    I have also never had a paid commission. I earn my living and support a wife and newborn on a visiting professor’s salary. My compositions pay for themselves (the paper they’re written on and the ink), but not for the shipping of scores and/or parts.

  17. dalgas

    Chris, great post also, and a perfectly cool path to be following (I’ve also worked a ton with dancers over the years, and love the experience). And Phil, Ryan, Dennis, all making our way however we can, because… we just have to, damn it. (Though Ryan, just because you might end up in a library, you don’t ever have to automatically consign your music to the “hobby” category! Music has its own career, and great music can be made by any musician regradless of their day job. Hey, Borodin was a chemist!) The truly important thing is that we’re still fully engaged and creating. You don’t need a tux & greenroom, Deutsche Grammophon release and a professorial appointment to make it “real”; it is every bit as real. Maybe even more real, more truly in-and-of the world.

    Steve Layton

  18. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Peer pressure? Maybe, Phil. Very quietly, anyway. :)

    …though you’ve managed to be elusive once again…

    The discussion seems significant, or am I wrong? I made a particular effort to earn a living wage from composition in just one year of my life, since first having identified myself as a composer in 1964 — just one single year of my life! Think about what other field could see one’s life’s work simply insufficient to survive in a massive culture, nation or economy.

    Yet with a year-long announcement phase and after ten-plus months of composing those pieces, the composing has come in 32 cents short of Vermont’s hourly minimum wage — assuming I worked 40 hours a week without a vacation. Of course it was much longer work, even to produce just 100 compositions.

    But I and all the commissioners knew this was a one-year project. The rest of the time it’s just a long haul. Yes, I’ve received commissions, sold CDs, gotten royalties, sold sheet music, and had utility music purchased. I very rarely apply for grants and almost never compete for prizes and contests. The creation of music is my obsession, and as with most of us, the ‘outside world’ knows two things: that we’ll probably do it anyway, money or not; and that we do not participate meaningfully either in their lives or in the economy.

    The patronage paper that Mark recommended is well worth the read, if only to reinforce the state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Especially discouraging is how the tax laws have removed the incentive for patrons to take any risk, irrespective of whatever meaning it might bring to their own lives. Patronage is all quite sanitary today.

    (Which makes it all the more of a privilege that I’ve been personally entrusted with the creation of 100 compositions by individuals, not foundations.)


  19. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Our posts were 58 seconds apart, Steve, and lots of similar thoughts.

    Isn’t it fascinating how many different ways and places we have invented for our work, despite the few people who will show us their money?

    Which reminds me… I have to go back to doing some of that work.

    Good night,

  20. rtanaka

    Philosophy majors make good candidates for law school, I hear.

    Aside from a few frustrations, I’m pretty content with the way things are going right now. I like my job, I have good friends, and I have an outlet for my works. How many people can say that? I am very lucky. I’ll probably do the doctorate thing some time in the future, do all the artistic things I wanted to do, then see what happens.

    I really don’t have any idea how to make art music composition pay. The ASCAP thing is pretty nebulous and it takes forever for them to process the information (year and a half?) for it to really be any source of real income. Commissions I’ve been getting are from mostly friends who also have no money. It’s an investment, I suppose…

  21. William Osborne

    My career has been strongly shaped by decisions my wife and I made, starting when we got married 33 years ago. First, we decided we would move around to follow Abbie’s career. I could compose anywhere, but as a trombonist, she needed an orchestra job (which is what she wanted to do back then.) Second, I wanted to avoid the new music world as much as possible, because it seems to lead to composers writing for other composers. I feel composers should form their closest working relationships with performers, who then take their music to publics. Third, we decided to try to devote ourselves to chamber music theater. The works we ended up creating were so unique, and required so many integrated musical and theatrical skills, that Abbie is one of the few people on earth who can perform them. (Or at least, she is one of the few who would dedicate herself to the long process of developing the necessary inter-media proficiency.) Fourth, we decided to move to Europe where the arts are better funded. And fifth, we eventually decided to use electronics to accompany Abbie, thus allowing us present one-woman shows that are economical to produce and travel with.

    By good fortune and talent, Abbie became one of the world’s most famous classical trombonists. Abbie’s eventual fame allowed us to perform our works in over 140 cities since she left the Munich Philharmonic. (The actual number of different cities is slightly smaller because we visited some twice.) They are listed here:


    Interestingly, it was Abbie’s very unusual work in music theater that increased her profile, especially among her colleagues. New music actually helped us build our reputation.

    Most of our performances have been in American university music departments. We have very few performances in Germany where we live, because we are strongly ostracized due to our direct opposition to sexism in German-speaking orchestras. Our work is also feminist, and postmodern, which does not fit well in the German scene, and exacerbates the problems we already face.

    When we perform at American universities we ask for $1000 – which is dirt cheap. We usually visit from about 12 to 16 cities per American tour. We thus take in quite a bit of money, but with the costs of flying overseas, staying in hotels, and eating out for about six weeks we usually break about even. When we add in the costs of keeping a van, a six hundred pound quadraphonic sound system, props, and video equipment in the States, as well as a second complete set in a van here in Europe, we lose money.

    Due to Europe’s extensive system of public funding, gigs here in Germany generally pay much better than in the States, but as I said, that door is largely closed to us. (The URL listing our performances shows that we were active in Europe in the 80s before we went public with our resistance to the sexism Abbie faced in the Munich Philharmonic.)

    I gave up going to Eastman for my Masters and went to the Manhattan School instead so that Abbie could go to Juilliard. And I gave up a Doctoral Fellowship to Columbia with full-tuition and a monthly stipend with no work requirements, so that Abbie could accept a position as first trombone in the Royal Opera of Turin. (Nothing beats living in Italy anyway.) All of these things have paid off wonderfully. I have been able to compose fulltime and write long theater works that would have been impossible if I had followed the professor route. And I ended up with a famous performer who has been able to take our work to many places. (On the negative side, we had to live in Munich for 13 years – a place with a truly dark side and history that was a living hell for us.)

    These do-it-yourself approaches will never substitute for an adequate system of public funding. Public funding, even here in Europe, seldom gives composer’s money directly, but it creates a deep infrastructure of state orchestras, state operas, music festivals, state radios, and a wide appreciation for classical music that makes life much easier for them than their American colleagues.

    Ironically, it is exactly this European infrastructure that built the careers of people like Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kiaja Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Wolfgang Rihm, Osmo Vanska, Helmut Lachenmann, Tristan Murail, Christian Eschenbach, and many others who are active in the States. The poverty of American classical music cheats American composers and conductors out of the ability to build profile and careers. The better supported and more experienced Europeans are thus in a position to take our places, even in our own country.

    William Osborne

  22. bdrogin


    Thanks for the citation. Rereading my essay, written in 2003, I found a little typo I’ll fix tonight, and a non-sentence that needs a complete re-write.

    It’s certainly curious and worth mentioning that both Ms. Bishop and I cite the Thomson piece in our opening paragraph, but it’s just as significant that Ms. Bishop thinks the Thomson “still rings true.” Although her formidable research of the past is impressive (I’m not arguing she doesn’t deserve to get her master’s degree), her confusion of market-speak for the facts on the ground is a significant flaw. The question is not whether there are opportunities to get paid; the question is whether the annual amount of payment, through the 40+ years of a composer’s work life, is sufficient to provide for the bare necessities of food, shelter and clothing. As Dennis points out in his posting, and as any examination of the dollar amounts of the grants she cites and the number of times one can receive them (once) proves, it has become completely impossible for a new music composer to survive as a composer.

    A “dole,” by the way, is a government handout. In the twenty-first century, that means unemployment insurance, which lasts all of 6 months, or welfare and food stamps, which have been under enormous attack by the Republicans. Thomson is referring to the Great Depression and the phrase “on the public dole.”

    Ms. Bishop believes that composers can survive by, my words, playing all of the angles. As a “for-profit” composer my entire career, I believe my insight is more useful: those composers who have become financially successful have invented new business models – they have most decidedly not relied upon the common competitions, grants and awards. When Phil Glass refused to publish his music and insisted that, if you wanted to hear his music live, you had to come to a Philip Glass Ensemble concert, he was creating a new business model that was rejected by everyone else at the time – to everyone else’s detriment. Similarly, the Bang On A Can business model was a radical departure – Lang continuously was telling others to start their own Bang On A Can-style festivals, but most wouldn’t listen.

    I am often asked by colleagues about various opportunities that work in the non-new music world, but are doubtful in the new music world. Since that 2003 essay, I have written about related matters, such as “Live” is a Subset of “Event”, People Who Liked This Opera Also Liked…”, and Rampant Copyright Violations. But a reading list doesn’t pay the rent. Sorry.

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

  23. minacciosa

    Virgil again dryly observes…
    The quote about “…rich man’s music…” was first attributed to Virgil Thompson, writtenin reference to John Alden Carpenter, who was the scion of a family in the mill and lumber business.

  24. carl

    I’ve just had a lesson in the laws of the blogosphere, as a comment made innocently over dinner last week worked its way into Mark’s column. This is a not a problem, as we had a great evening of conversation and cuisine. But I guess, like politicians who speak of being quoted out of context, I need to amplify just a little:

    1) My remark about Carter isn’t original. It comes from a dear friend and colleague who has always been very attuned to the sociological subtleties of our field. In fact, this composer was a friend of Virgil Thomson’s, so its provenance is clear, as pointed out in minacciosa’s post.

    2) And while I agree with its substance, I feel compelled to say it makes no indication of my feelings for Carter’s music. If anyone still reads Fanfare, where I hold forth, they will probably know I’ve been a fan of his work for years, especially in this extraordinary “late period” where his music is becoming more youthful than ever in spirit.

    3) I don’t know the exact circumstances of the composer’s finances, and don’t want to, even though it is common knowledge he is well off. But there’s no doubt Carter took a big leap in becoming a composer, as he himself has said his father discouraged the choice and kept him on a tight leash in his youth as a result. Carter also has consistently taught, which I suspect he’s not needed to do, but rather from a sense of duty to the cause. So there was an element of risk in his chosen path.

    4) So the remark about Carter and Cage is an observation, not a judgement. Both composers are visionary, but in different ways conditioned by their circumstances. Carter has had the luxury to explore technically demanding music, for both performers and audiences, and he has probably not had to worry about how this would affect the food on his table. Cage always faced a more hardscrabble existence, and thus drew on his father’s legacy as an inventor, cobbling together whatever would work to give him a satisfying result (go to hardware store; buy nuts, bolts, and rubber; insert in piano; perform on homemade orchestra).

    5) Lastly, this whole issue really is the unspoken one, far more than peccadillos such as drugs and sex. In America we speak routinely now of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexuality, but class is still taboo—look how hard it is for any progressive candidate to bring up economic issues without being tarred with the “class war” brush.

    I constantly urge students to read Virgil Thomson’s The State of Music, as it is as fresh today as it was almost seventy years ago at its publication…and alas, very little has changed since he set his gimlet eye on the field. What it all comes down to is understanding clearly the social pressures we all face, and developing strategies to face them successfully. I don’t think that having some source of support to feed the composer’s creative habit (beyond his/her own music) is anything shameful. Rather, what it comes down to is how we all deal with the hand we’re dealt. (Robert Carl)

  25. William Osborne

    Barry, I am not sure I understand your post. Do you think that if composers exclusively performed their own music like Glass, or that if they form their own festivals like Bang On A Can, they could make livings? Or was there more to the success of Glass and BOAC than that? Did it also have something to do with Glass’ particular style of music, and the cross-genre type of BOAC programming, that appealed to a wider public oriented in pop music?

    It there good contemporary classical (for lack of a better term) that would not sell even if composers performed their own music or organized their own festivals? And what about the works of Glass that he is not in a position to perform himself?

    William Osborne

  26. Garth Trinkl

    I received a commission of $500 (in three installments) to provide a 75′ flexible, acoustic percussion/electronic music score for New Playwrights’ Theater in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980s.
    I was also required to coach the costumed solo instrumentalist (who I chose, in consultation with the artistic director), and the four actors. It was a very professional and positive experience.

    In the following year, I received $1000 for about 14 months work as the part-time new music curator for the Washington Project for the Arts. (A fair amount of that money had to be ploughed-back into the expenses of the under-funded program set up by the largely experimental visual arts center.)

    After that, I almost (maybe) got a full-time, on-site music curating/opera development position with OPERA America; but they chose Joe Banno who had theatrical directing experience. I also think that they thought — based upon my work at WPA — that I was too avant-garde (even though OA had approached me about applying for the position).

    In lieu of these new music curating experiences and efforts (and pro-bono classical music and cultural advising), I wish that I had, starting in the 1970s, pursued greater training and experience in conducting. Maybe I still will in a year or two, if my health holds out.


    I also worked at a record and bookstore on Capitol Hill, after working, for my room and a bit of board, for an under-funded international human rights organization.

  27. William Osborne

    Thank you for your interesting comments, Karl. Things are getting so extreme in America that I think more debate about class dichotomies is resurfacing.

    Bill Maher recently gave a very funny and pointed monolog on his show “Real Time” taking aim “at the über-rich, as well as the disadvantaged who vote against their own economic self-interests, because ‘In America it’s not the haves and have nots, it’s the haves and been hads.’” You can watch it on-line here:


    I think America’s artists have “been had” too.


  28. William Osborne

    My apologies. That is Robert (Bob), not “Karl” (And even that is a misspelling.) I didn’t see the signature.


  29. philmusic

    As you point out that you were merely repeating the comments of “someone else” and any number of folks might have said the same thing.

    I will quote Emily Lettella—“never mind.”

    But Please consider this;

    “…In America we speak routinely now of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexuality, but class is still taboo—“

    “Position” is also a component of “class.” As in; who is in a “position” to be “our” spokespeople and whether or not we can accept the “spin” they chose to give our artistic lives.

    Phil Fried

  30. lawrence

    When I was in my twenties, I made a few hundred dollars from my music.

    When I was in my thirties, I made a few thousand.

    Now, in my forties, I’m up to five figures – spread out over 10 years, of course.

    Can’t wait till the millions start pouring in once I’ve hit my sixties.

  31. justjonathan

    Interesting conversation and one that should be introduced more. Economics always play a role in the arts. My last teacher, the late Lucky Mosko at CalArts told me at my last composition lesson in 2002 – “Well, you’ve done very well here, the only thing missing is that you don’t come from a wealthy family…”

  32. bdrogin

    Not sure why Bill isn’t writing to me privately, as he most certainly has my e-mail address, but in case others are confused, the business models that Glass and Lang (sorry, don’t mean to leave out the other two, and, for that matter, Reich adopted it as well) created were new AT THE TIME THEY CREATED THEM. I’m not saying that you’ve got to get a gimmick, because these business models were not gimmicks – they were very astute responses to the economic realities of their times. People who jump on bandwagons – oh, if I create a MySpace page, I will finally be able to make a living – don’t succeed, unless they just happen to be the first to do it, or do it in a way that maximizes the business side of their music. Having 5,000 friends on MySpace is meaningless; having 5,000 friends who buy your latest CD and attend your concerts is very meaningful. And so on and so on.

    I have always been interested in discovering new business models, which is why my business has changed focus so many times over these past 24 years or so. One of the truths of my early years was to make friends with as many performers as I could in the hopes that one would become successful and I’d become successful, too (that’s what happened to Del Tredici). Unfortunately, my performer friends all moved off to other musical fields (children’s music, pop music, teaching, the cantorate) and, in my 40’s, I found myself having to make all NEW performer friends. I think they’re really fantastic performers, and I’m excited to be working with them, but one does get weary, and I have promised myself that if I start looking pathetic, I’ll give up.

    (That some of you may already consider me pathetic is not surprising to me.)

    Bill, if you have any more questions, you’ve got my e-mail address.

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

  33. MarkNGrant

    Let’s not forget the lacunae in scholarly treatment of composers’ monies
    I just want to remind everyone that an equal part of my initial premise was that the coverage of many aspects of money in too many music histories, composer biographies, and encyclopedias can be appallingly nonchalant and deficient. It’s tricky to generalize because there are worthy exceptions like the Swafford and Gordon bios I mentioned above, and Howard Pollack’s book on Copland is also good on the accounting ledger, and others I don’t have room to name. But all too often even conscientious scholars and biographers give the reader the idea that the composer’s inspiration devolved onto the printed page by some kind of immaculate conception. Who paid the armies of copyists who prepared the parts for Mozart’s and Bellini’s and Donizetti’s speed-composed operas, for instance? And what did they pay them? What was Berlioz’s income as a music critic? Schumann’s (in modern adjusted American dollars)? How many composers besides Sibelius benefited from a lifetime state stipend (once commonly awarded to artists in Scandinavian countries– Henrik Ibsen also enjoyed one)? What about the fact that for all its terrors, Stalin’s Russia paid for the complete engraving of all full scores and parts of every composer’s work, including Miaskovsky’s 27 symphonies? Not even the WPA of the New Deal did that. Have you ever read a net worth statement in any (rich and famous) composer’s biography, with the assets and liabilities itemized? These kinds of specifics are enumerated all the time in biographies of great writers, like Richard Ellman’s James Joyce or the multi-volume Hemingway bio by Michael Reynolds. What’s the matter with scholarship on composers of music?

  34. Colin Holter

    I would actually be very interested to read such an account of composers’ financial means. Somebody should get on that!

  35. Garth Trinkl

    “How many composers besides Sibelius benefited from a lifetime state stipend (once commonly awarded to artists in Scandinavian countries ) … ” (mg)

    If my memory serves me, I believe that Einojuhani Rautavaara has enjoyed one of these lifetime state stipends for some time (one which, I believe, that Allan Pettersson failed to obtain; although his music might have been strengthened by not receiving one, and by his recurrent ill health and deep bitterness).

    I recall that Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, Erkki-Sven Tuur (?), and other members of their “Open Ears” Group protested the awarding of state, lifetime stipends to artists such as Rautavaara. (Whereas I don’t see many members of the American artistic and composing communities protesting the awarding of MacArthur five-year stipends; or the multi-million dollar annual contracts for part-time work awarded to conductors, or conductor-composers, such as Leonard Slatkin or Loren Maazel.)


    P.S. I recall that Kristof Penderecki was, at one time, reportedly the richest man in Communist-era Poland, based largely upon his international commissions and conducting fees (and following his teaching stints at Yale University) . I did see one book showing pictures of his homes outside Krakow and in Switzerland; as well as an apartment, I believe, somewhere in Scandinavia.

  36. bdrogin

    Mark, you have to start by acknowledging that comparing the situation in Europe to that in America is unfair, and, to the America Music Center audience, irrelevant. Although some European administrations are considering emulating the US, financial support in all of Europe is still vastly superior to the system we are left with in the US. Talk of Ives and the WPA is nice, but we live in post-NEA times – and your observation about getting the big awards, paired with my comment about looking at it from a working career perspective, makes the situation, in real dollars, look even more pathetic.

    The fact is, even the biggest names, who everyone may be envious and jealous of, end up struggling to stay above water their entire lives. Adams mentioned this in an interview, and its apparent to anyone that Glass never says no to anyone. Meet the Composer has been the only organization to directly talk about money, and that’s in terms of commissions from patrons. Thomson wrote that theatre and film were the only fields in which a composer could make a living as a composer, and, at least about that, he is still completely correct. The media can be expanded – to television, video games, and the like – but surviving financially in “pure” music in the US is reserved to just a handful, and they struggle for every commission, too.

    As to what biographers write after you’re dead (and how music can become profitable after you’re dead), the economic policies change so much from generation to generation that I don’t think it’s worth considering for living composers.

    Add to that the class issues – that in order to get patronage, you have to have access to patronage, which means getting invited to the right cocktail parties, which is totally a class issue – and the discussion starts getting futile, no?

    Unless, of course, the AMC wants to start a discussion about elitist institutions, how they treat American iconoclast composers, which is opening a very large can of worms…

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

  37. vladimir smirnov

    Anyone ever consider composing specifically for the educational or non-professional ensembles (i.e. bands and choirs) to make a living? I hear there is a lot of them and they like to do new music. Would that compromise artistic integrity?

  38. rtanaka

    Anyone ever consider composing specifically for the educational or non-professional ensembles (i.e. bands and choirs) to make a living?

    I’d be up for doing something like that if the opportunity would present itself…I don’t mind writing simpler things and I think it would be rewarding. Are there any existing programs in that area?

  39. bdrogin

    I have frequently composed for educational and non-professional ensembles. When you write for horn, you don’t use techniques that will only work on a violin. Similarly, when you write for an amateur or youth performer, you write within the confines of the capabilities of the performer. (I was once at a summer retreat with a badly deteriorated piano, which had a limited number of good, playable notes, randomly dispersed throughout the range of the keyboard, and so I wrote a piece for “half a piano,” which made the piano sound great!).

    The purpose of writing music is to give someone something to play. All other approaches – the performance as object, the score as object, the composer as genius – are myths, belief systems that lead to a dead end. One writes good pieces, bad pieces, original pieces, derivative pieces – if you think too much about it, you’ll write no pieces at all!

  40. Scott Michal

    Composing for money
    I have had quite a few “commissions” but they rarely pay enough to even bother, as for royalties, one year I made $6000 and thought I had arrived! Unfortunately, most years I made about enough to take the kids and my wife out to dinner. I jokingly tell people that I make twelve cents an hour as a composer, but that is really pretty optimistic, so I play in part time orchestras, teach, work as an adjunct at the local college, and I built our house (My most profitable venture by far, having no mortgage makes a huge difference) and learned how to live on almost nothing. All for the sake of art!

  41. toddtarantino

    Mark Grant wrote:
    Who paid the armies of copyists who prepared the parts for Mozart’s and Bellini’s and Donizetti’s speed-composed operas, for instance? And what did they pay them? What was Berlioz’s income as a music critic?

    For the uber-curious see Julia Moore’s 1989 article: “Mozart in the Market-Place” in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association Vol. 114, no. 1: p. 18-42. It does a rather solid job, through comparison of wills and Mozart’s known earnings, of telling you just how much old Wolfgang made. A particularly telling chart looks at the estate inventories of famous composers – compare the clothes left by Beethoven and Schubert; who knew Mozart left only one night-cap!

  42. bdrogin

    I’ll try to keep the intro short, but it’s necessary:

    For years, I thought of myself as a composer. I wrote about music, I performed, I helped organize music events, but I was a composer. That is how I marketed myself, represented myself. When I became a self-publisher, identifying myself as a “Sole Proprietor” of my music business only confused people.

    Then, one day, standing in the street talking with a colleague (I’m setting the scene), I had a revelation. I wasn’t a composer. I was a musician. I totally redesigned my website to reflect this fact. Perhaps I’d get more income from writing about music, or performing it, or organizing music events. It didn’t matter.

    Now, here’s the reason for that intro: I thought, maybe this is getting to be too much work, and professional arts management would help me move to the next level. I approached someone I had long known and respected and been friends with. He told me, “You have to be one thing. I represent composers who also perform, conductors who also compose, and so on, but I can’t market someone who is everything.”

    Now, I’ve written an article for NewMusicBox about the composer-performer. I know many, many, many, many, many composer-performers. They usually give master classes and teach, as well (a few composers I know write, but there are less of them).

    So I was thinking about it this morning, in the context of this blog, and realized – What gives? During their lifetimes, Bach and Mozart weren’t known as composers. Oh, Beethoven became that Romantic ideal of the composer, but, in reality, he conducted and performed and wrote diatribes and was political and gave lessons – the whole shebang. When a poster (I’m not being disrespectful, just lazy about opening multiple windows) asks, “should I compose for amateurs?”, what little sealed-off corner have we painted ourselves into, here?

    Bernstein was tortured by this – he was a spectacular conductor, teacher, pianist, but, no, he had to be a composer (and he wasn’t very bad at that). The recent Fine biography is imbued throughout with this notion (Fine was a spectacular college administrator – what’s so wrong with that?).

    But, to focus in a little, why can’t a composer-performer market him/herself as such? Certainly the rest of the music profession has no problem whatsoever with the singer/songwriter concept (or bandleader/arranger, and so on).

    Everytime we pay lip service to this ridiculous – what is it, snobbery? – notion, when we buy into the language of the Music Appreciation Racket and invoke Bach, Beethoven and Brahms as composers or as music itself (!!), we support this lie, which has brought us nothing but grief. Stick with it, and you’ll be on your deathbed, regretfully admitting to yourself that your music (as if that was something that existed apart from youself) wasn’t good enough.

    Okay, philosophy lesson (ignored by the new improved 2007 NewMusicBox Gang of the Usual Suspects) over. And out.

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

  43. pgblu

    I have another source of revenue for you Scott — you should teach other artists how to build a house!

    I think I would pay for lessons!

  44. pgblu

    Barry, do you really think we all find composing “on the side” some sort of shameful compromise? The members of this discussion board are nowhere near as delusional as you think! I myself juggle ideals and reality all the time; just this morning I started the day playing with rattles instead of starting the day composing. If circumstances were to prevent me for composing for the rest of my life, I’d still regard myself as a composer. That doesn’t mean putting myself in some lineage of genius, just a self-definition like any other.

    Or perhaps I’ve missed your point.

  45. bdrogin

    pgbluster, you totally missed my point, which had to do with specialization and deification of one aspect of music-making away from others. Music is a “performing art,” and, to paraphrase from theatre, a score is what’s left over after an act of musicking has occurred.

    I pay the bills from non-music related activity (although I think being a musician helps me be a better employee), but even my music-related work is not strictly composition, and I am much more interested in collaboration and the success of the performance than in the “integrity of my vision,” whatever that may be (considering I’ve performed my own scores in wildly diverse ways, I, myself, couldn’t tell you what I originally envisioned!).

    So, since I was writing about the marketing of multiple musical activities, I don’t think you got my point, but please try again.

  46. madamecynthia

    My two cents
    Since I worked for two publishers – and unlike to the former East block publishers work on economic terms, a composer has to “pay off”. Now a concept of a composer on the free market is something moderatly new, before him composers were employees (either thorugh Church or Court). And in Europe where one would think this kind of attitude towards “composer-Gods” would be the strongest one sees clearly that almost all major composers make their living either through teaching, conducting, managing festivals, working as researchers for IRCAM, and so on and so forth. Although Europe has a fairly large amount of composer-residencies, they are not the primary source of income for European composers. Why do we Americans try to succeed on the free market? And doesn’t this attitude fatally diminish the locus of US-composition with it’s market-dictated composing? After all embracing Baroque productivity yet asking for an post-Enlightment recognition of an Artist is schizofrenic in itself. Would somebody care to contemplate on this?

  47. rtanaka

    p>But, to focus in a little, why can’t a composer-performer market him/herself as such?

    This is sort of a problem I’ve been dealing with myself as well. I received my master’s degree at CalArts as a composer/performer. The program allowed me to take lessons in both with relative ease, and I feel like I got a lot out of it.

    Doesn’t it just make a whole lotta sense? The people I know who are most artistically active (whether they decide to focus more on composition or performance) can do both on some level, because they simply have the practical skills available to them to present their work to the public, whatever form that might be.

    But it turns out that my degree is somewhat of an oddity, because when I started looking into doctorate programs there really wasn’t any real equivalent of what I did at my masters. There are a few programs opening up here and there (UCSD’s CS/EP program, NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation program) but for the most part they are treated as being separate.

    People who study jazz and world musics are usually required to study both by default, because they don’t see the two acts as being separate things. As far as I know, this “separation” only exists (and at times, encouraged) in classical music. But as a number of people’s experiences show, even in classical music the practice of it doesn’t quite reflect this separation, because musicians are often required to do both out of pure necessity. The history of is quite interesting, because Barry mentioned something about the “romantic ideal” of the composer — the decline in improvisation in classical music as a common performance-practice happens in parallel with that movement.

  48. philmusic

    I think I would like to hear from the performers on this subject–how do they work their commissions?

    Madame–how about a real name, and the publishers you work for? What do they pay composers?

    Phil Fried

  49. madamecynthia

    Ricordi and Peters. Name is not important, now I am anyway only a wife, and not working anymore.
    Publishers do not pay anything “to” composers nowadays. They are trying to promote somebodies work vividly so it results in performance material rentals, recordings, and the famous 60% of copyright fees for each broadcast/performance. Mind you most publishers are challenged by the ascension of computer generated scores and distribution through internet. The only thing publishers still have in their hand is their marketing and promotional machinery.

  50. rtanaka

    Performers usually make money through teaching and gigging for the most part. If you play one gig and do an OK job then word gets around and they might call you for another. If you can manage to get a decent reputation among a number of people, then it’s possible to string enough of them together and make a pretty decent living.

    Performers don’t have the luxury to be too picky, so they go where the money goes. But if going the commercial route isn’t acceptable, one great way to make a living is to play for weddings or parties for rich people. Hey, and if they like you, maybe they’ll call you back over and over, and you can be their “court musician”. Have things changed all that much, really?

  51. philmusic

    “…Performers usually make money…”

    Ryan…I did not ask how performers make money,I think that many of us know that. I asked if they (performers) would share how they commission composers–anyway that’s what I thought I did!

    Phil Fried

    A wife with no name-do I feel a song coming on?

  52. rtanaka

    Oh, sorry. I misread your post.

    Why do performers commission works? Umm, isn’t it because they like so-and-so’s music?

    If you want to look at it more cynically, reputation is something that also plays a big factor. Being able to say that you premiered a work by a well-known composer looks very good in your bio, and I’ve known some people who went this route and seems to have capitalized on it pretty well. Hopefully the music will still be good.

    If you have no real reputation (like the rest of us) then you’ll have to write something that someone might actually want to play. That’s why it helps to be in dialogue with performers all the time if you want more performances of your work. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be worth your time in terms of $$$, but if the composer is on the same page as the performer, then they’ll probably gladly perform your stuff. Common sense, I think?

  53. philmusic

    I…”asked if they (performers) would share how they commission composers–anyway that’s what I thought I did!…”

    “Oh, sorry. I misread your post.

    Why do performers commission works?”

    Nope–we are not on the same page yet Ryan.

    I said How and you said Why and now you’ve gone and made me cry!

    Phil Fried

  54. rtanaka

    Um, the procedure itself isn’t too complicated…

    Performer: I need a piece by (date).

    Composer: OK

    Piece is handed to the performer by (date), although sometimes. Sometimes the composer is given a check for their efforts. What more is there to know?

  55. rtanaka

    Meant to say above that sometimes composers can be pretty delinquent in meeting deadlines. Even fairly reputable ones have been known to skimp out or ask extensions.

    Most it just boils down to the idea that a if bunch of people like your stuff, they will play it. The rest are just variables based on reputation and amount of funding each organization might have.

  56. philmusic

    Its gotten very quiet again-is Ryan the only performer who is willing to tell us how much they pay a composer to write music for them?
    well actually Ryan didn’t tell anything us he only speculated about others. One last time

    Ryan-have “you” every commissioned a musical work–yes or no

    If yes–did you pay the composer?

    Phil Fried

    Oh it occurs to me that a composers ability to manage their money is a factor in their financial health, as would be the “in kind” non-cash payments that a composer working in a dictatorship.

  57. philmusic

    “..composers can be pretty delinquent in meeting deadlines. Even fairly reputable ones have been known to skimp out or ask extensions…”

    Composers–such bad people.

    It seems that you don’t like composers very much Ryan. Oh dear. Well, I will have to keep that in mind from now on.

    Phil Fried

  58. rtanaka

    Hey now, I’m just saying things that actually happen in real life. Most composers meet deadlines, some don’t. Sometimes things happen, and it’s not the composer’s fault. Sometimes it is.

    I’ve been commissioned a few of times and the process is always the same. Someone asks me to write a piece, then I say yes or no depending. Sometimes there is a due date, sometimes not. I’ve gotten like 20 bucks, a dinner, but most of the time I’ve gotten nothing because it’s always just been amongst friends.

    I’m really not sure what kind of answer you’re looking for — I always thought the process itself was pretty straightforward…what could there possibly be more to it than that?

  59. MarkNGrant

    Why do we Americans try to succeed on the free market? And doesn’t this attitude fatally diminish the locus of US-composition with it’s market-dictated composing? After all embracing Baroque productivity yet asking for an post-Enlightment recognition of an Artist is schizofrenic in itself. Would somebody care to contemplate on this?

    While the vast majority of American art music composers aren’t recipients of munificent commission fees, a handful are, regularly. Disney paid the composer it commissioned to compose a work for the opening of the redesigned Planetarium in New York City $75,000. Metropolitan Opera commission fees for new operas are in six figures. As one wag said, the only real way for an artist to make a living at his/her art in America is to become a star. Or perhaps the reverse phrasing says it better: the very definition of stardom in the arts in America is that you ARE able to make a living directly from the sale of your art products. The composers getting the Disney and Met commissions are the rarefied few “stars” of our profession. We all know who they are. What’s really enviable is not so much their money as the marketplace’s assurance that their brainchildren will always be realized, in a continual stream of performances. An artist has to produce continually to grow as an artist. It’s difficult to keep producing when there’s no demand for your work.

    Personal disclosure: one of the several ways I earn my own livelihood is tutoring high school students in better English. May I venture the following comment with the greatest respect and reverence: if I judge correctly, you are not a native speaker. If, however, you are, your obviously intelligent posts would be more becoming and effective if you undertook a little remedial work on your grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. Clarity of expression enhances clarity of thought.

  60. philmusic

    -have “you” every commissioned a musical work–yes or no

    -have “you” “ever” commissioned a musical work–yes or no

    It seems that you have not.

    its late and I been orchestrating too long

    anyone else?

    Phil Fried

  61. bdrogin

    When I was young and still in college I got some big commissions. I met a copyist who was a very good composer and an excellent pianist, and both became close friends. Then I graduated college and was somewhat flush with money. I had no time to write a piece for the pianist, and found out that the copyist/composer whose work I adored had never received a commission. He was falling on hard times financially, so I commissioned him to write a piece for my pianist friend, which he did wonderfully (the piece enjoyed performances in Boston and New York – is it possible for a piece to enjoy anything…?).

    Later, I was eating dinner with a young Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, and a third composer with synesthesia whose name alludes me at present (had many orchestral commissions with titles like “Blue” and such). I found out they had learned about my largesse (I think Aaron heard about it through his former roommate Michael Barrett) and that their invitation to dinner had much to do with testing the waters for obtaining commissions for themselves, and little to do with any regard for me as a composer.

    Twist ending is that now the pianist is a composer with many commissions.

    Meet the Composer publishes a booklet with guidelines for commission prices. Of course, we all know the famous Thomson story – when interviewed to create a film score, he was the only composer who did not talk aesthetics but merely asked “How much money do you have?” He got the gig and won a Pulitzer for the score.

    I got big bucks for a commission because my lawyer/agent, when asked by the producer how much money I wanted, replied, “A million dollars. How much are you willing to pay?”

    Value your time, effort and work and others will as well. Be bold, don’t be afraid to ask for too much (and then bring your price down), and don’t become “the guy/gal who writes music for us for free.”

  62. bdrogin

    It is very true that there is a Catch 22 when it comes to commissions and performances. Performers want to perform new music by people who are already famous. The same is true of work in media – directors want film scores from composers who already have written film scores.

    I lost out on a NFJC grant to John Harbison, flush from his Met commission. I realized the NFJC was more interested in publicizing the NFJC than in helping a worthy deserving emerging composer with a spectacular proposal get his project off of the ground.

    Similarly, the odds that Mark N Grant can get his next book project published (and land writing gigs at NewMusicBox) are many times stronger than my odds – even though he’d rather be composing.

    This has nothing to do with worthiness or unworthiness – people with repeat business do good work (partly from gaining experience from the repeat work) – but many who never “break in” do good work, too, and are ignored. That was my point, not to belittle or question the success of anyone.

    If you’re in NYC tonight, check out my business model – I’m using a free Parks lecture as a CD release party. I got the idea when a lecturer last year used the same lecture series as a book signing event. Details at http://www.notnicemusic.com. CD will be for sale thereafter at the same website – no CDBaby or other such service, just PayPal. Hope, in context, this isn’t considered a violation of NewMusicBox posting rules – we’re talking about money and how to make it, and I’m providing an example. Becoming famous by posting in NewMusicBox is another marketing strategy…


  63. philmusic

    “Why do we Americans try to succeed on the free market?”

    Two things:

    1) Many composers don’t.

    2) Since we live in a capitalist country we are obliged to compete in it if we want to or not. Actually are markets are not really free.

    Of the composers who do try, there are;

    The composers who are simpatico with the public, everyone wins.

    The composers who try to pander to the public- this doesn’t work.

    The composers who work a particular “niche”, most of us I think.

    The composers who are chosen by the gatekeepers – not always for what they do-but for what they don’t do.

    Phil Fried

  64. bdrogin

    “The composers who are chosen by the gatekeepers – not always for what they do-but for what they don’t do.”

    Astute observation, Phil, you may quote me on that!

  65. madamecynthia

    Ah, the language problem. I come from a binational marriage, and since my mother did not come to terms with the American way of life, my parents moved back to Europe when I was still a child, and thereof I have not lived in the US except to visit family. I will try to be somewhat more grammar-concious. ( but be patient)
    Now I would have to disagree that musician or composer competition is something that is inherent to capitalism (one only has to think of the composers struggling for the clemency of Church or the Court, not to mention the competition in the Soviet Union), but I would certainly have to agree that a free-market society agitates the attention race for artists in an almost unnatural way. That is why I find the micro-economy of arts still to be a valuable corrective source to the “indicative value” as an outside force of aesthetic correction preventing the stomping down of artistic quality through marketing. Of course this is always a biased-still that looks to me as the smaller evil.
    Now two of the most stellar European composing careers iof the 90’s , that of Thomas Ades and Matthias Pintscher, are a product of ingenious marketing on one side (both got publishers very young who prometed them relentlessly) and mighty mentors ( Knussen, Rattle, BBC and London Sinfonietta promoted Ades and Henze, Eschenbach, Ensemble Modern and Salzburg Festival promoted Pintscher). Whatever we thought of them as composers it is most probable that we will all find certain intrinsic qualities in their work that obviously impressed others. Everything else was a lucky constelation of stars.

  66. schimmel

    i figure:

    if you lament the fact that you aren’t paid much to express yourself artistically, then you probably were never very needy, and you should count yourself lucky.

    composing “art music” is about the least practical thing around, and in some cases a pretty selfish thing too. as a member of the dwindling “middle class,” i’m grateful to have the resources to do it, whether people appreciate it enough to pay me or not.

    anyone hear about the 200,000 homeless vets in america?

    — composer seeking gainful employment….

  67. bdrogin

    The world’s peoples have many value systems, some monetary in nature, some not, and none can really be compared (the price of a ticket to a music lover vs. the price of a meal to a gourmand vs. the price of a box seat to a sport aficionado vs. the price of a bed at night to someone on the street vs. etc., etc., etc.).

    But I think, amongst people who profess to love and value music, there is some wiggle room to at least complain about where money is directed and where it isn’t. The pleasure a composer gets from the act of creating, the pleasure a performer gets from the act of performing, the pleasure the audience gets from the act of listening, monetary values can’t really be placed on that, but the millions that are given by patrons to support dead forms that are not relevant to the world we live in, I feel there is a moral problem in that. Don’t criticize the creator for expecting to be paid for his creation, criticize the benefactor who gives millions to promote and enable the performance of dead music – or at least ask the benefactor why that money isn’t going to homeless vets, not the composer!

  68. schimmel

    if people are playing it and listening to it (and spending a lot of money on it, and enjoying it) it’s not dead music.

    beethoven can’t help it that he’s dead, let’s cut him and the other dead dudes some slack.

    would that more still-breathing composers wrote music that is as alive as that of mozart or mahler or lutoslawski.

    if monetary “value” doesn’t necessarily imply value to society, it does at least imply a perceived value to society — if this is the case, it might behoove us all to think about why society deems our music to be relatively worthless (your word “relevant” might be important to consider here…).

    or, you can be like me and just do your thing.

    rock on, y’all —

  69. William Osborne

    It’s true that we members of the white middle class can usually find a way to indulge in our artistic endeavors. (And is that especially true for those who end up at ritzy schools for white folks like Duke?) Perhaps a better reason to advocate increased arts funding is so that classical music be brought to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Americans who have little connection to it. This would require a long-term commitment to music education, and the creation of local performing arts organizations that would give people access to live performance. I feel this can only be achieved through a greater commitment to public arts funding. A greater appreciation for classical music would inevitably help composers, even if they were not funded directly.

    William Osborne

  70. schimmel

    but of course i’m all for better education in this country.

    also, check out this related article, it’s dead-on and touches on some issues of classical music (if not contemporary classical music per se) in a free market economy:

    Taruskin in the New Republic

    actually grad composers at ritzy schools like duke (and harvard and princeton etc.) are probably more likely to have underprivileged composers than, say, Juilliard or Eastman, since they do provide their grad student composers with full scholarships and stipends.

    but in general, yes, we blue devil comp folks are white/asian and indulgent.

  71. bdrogin

    Thank G-d for the WayBackMachine, otherwise I don’t know how long it would take me to dig out an extensive study I did on the NEA’s 2001 1st quarter funding, and posted to the old NewMusicBox forum (follow this link and use your browser’s Find facility to look for “The Drogin Report”). I was looking for the final paragraph, which reads:

    The deal for artists is even worse. In order to receive governmental funds for their experimental work, they must spend precious time grant-writing, fundraising, and obtaining institutional support. Mozart, Shakespeare and Rembrandt, on the other hand, get larger grants obtained by institutional professional staff on their behalf without having to spend any time on non-artistic matters, which is convenient, since they are dead.

    (The discussion – led off by Greg Sandow – is of particular note to this discussion, although it was about the financial situation of the entire classical music business, not just contemporary composers. The discussion itself was in June of 2003, prior to NewMusicBox’s long-needed Terms of Service, and shows the Forum at its rowdiest. The odd long posting of Copland’s HUAC testimony by an anonymous poster notwithstanding, I particularly enjoy the little mini-dialogue between “Art,” “Craft,” and “Muse.”)

    Sandow was a real statesman and tried to restore order by devoting his next column to a summary of the postings, respecting the best in everyone (problem with NewMusicBox’s reformatting is that Sandow’s own link-backs to the discussion are dead, which is where the WayBackMachine came to the rescue).

    When you pair the statistical analysis I did carefully enumerating the inequities in government funding (let alone private funding) of dead art vs. live art with the added knowledge of how often the monetary value and popularity of someone’s work increases suddenly after his/her death (Morton Feldman was a particularly striking recent example), the natural resentment, if not righteous indignation, is quite justified.

    But as a salve, I offer this contemplation of the separation of the two cultures, Comfort and Curiosity: A Consideration of the Audience’s Primal Needs, an important essay published a few months before September 11, when its truths became very real and personal, as I reported in Fallout.

    Well, I see I am dragged back in…

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

  72. bdrogin

    Talking to Myself
    I’ve recovered the text, corrected the single and double quotation marks, added a single “the” and three bracketed notes, and posted it permanently here – although I have no evidence that anyone follows any of these links.

  73. bdrogin

    I actually do follow links, and it is a complete misreading (or rather, a projection or extension) to call Taruskin’s article a study of new music in a “free market economy.” The annoying reference to that stupid Joshua Bell stunt notwithstanding, he quite clearly postulates that the respect given to the Beatles, and Rorem’s resentment of the 12-tone clique, started a trend that we know now has led to the complete marginilization of new music by the media and intellectuals. In my New York-centric opinion, the final nail-in-the-coffin has been The Village Voice‘s almost total banishment of new music reviews from its pages. This has been followed by the recent defunding of New Music Connoisseur, the last vestige of new music criticism left in the US (Modern Music, Ear, and 20th Century Music all having long since bit the dust). Alex Ross in The New Yorker can be compared to Stephen Sondheim and Broadway (“You Can’t Bring It Back. It’s Gone.” was a March 12, 2000 cover story in the Sunday New York Times magazine section).

    I wouldn’t call the Internet activity (Sandow and Gann on ArtsJournal, Sequenza21, the transition from Kalvos & Damian to Noizepunk & [Das] Krooner, and NewMusicBox itself) as much of a presence as far as the general public is concerned – out of sight, out of mind. When even the alternative newspapers ignore you, you know the battle has been lost. But, although the topic has been raised, I don’t want to shift us over to a debate on what is meant by “relevance”. Suffice it to say that it is debatable whether new music will be considered in the future as “music of our time.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.