What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die (and What You Can Do About It)

What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die (and What You Can Do About It)

The Electronic Music Foundation seems a natural fit for establishing a type of hybrid archival/advocacy/default custodial program, perhaps in direct collaboration with one of the organizations that already has a custodial program in place, since it can effectively deal with the problem of creative formats that are virtually outside the realm of the other programs — formats such as CD-ROM, other multimedia, video, etc. It also has a history and reputation in complex web information distribution technology and programs. Whether or not this actually comes to fruition will depend on a number of factors, including the response to readers of this article (emails to me are welcome). Ideally, a prominent composer organization could take on the administration of the program, with EMF being contracted to implement the various components. The broad outlines of this very tentative proposal are as follows…

Primary Goal: To ensure that the composer’s output, research materials, history and biography be readily available to the future public. All other goals, such as financially serving the composers estate, shall be secondary insofar as they conflict with the primary goal (note: this would be a complement to the exactly opposite ACA approach). In other words, this is primarily an archival approach, and only secondarily as a default publishing approach, with the primary goal of aiding future students, researchers and devotees in the process of obtaining a comprehensive picture of where the composer’s materials may be found and accessed.

Primary strategy: To act as a composer-driven central clearinghouse, linking various sources of the composer’s music, bios, written materials, archives, etc. To implement this strategy, it would be important to encourage the member to, before formally joining the program, ensure that her/his physical works and documents (scores, CDs, letters, contracts, other papers, etc.) are deposited in one principal archival institution, and also available in as many libraries as possible (and/or be a member of the ACA custodial program and the AMC program as well). EMFCAAMP would then ideally link up to these sources rather than store the materials itself. EMFCAAMP would, however, serve as a publisher of last resort in the event of a CD or score being out of print, or the publishing/record company ceasing to exist.

It should be emphasized that, unlike most institutional archival programs, this would be totally composer-driven, in terms of the nature of its Web site, the creative output to be serviced, etc. This would come at a cost steeper than that charged by an institutionally-driven program. This cost should in large part be borne by the composer member, as the price to pay for the ability to shape the future of his artistic oeuvre.

Services Provided by EMFCAAMP:

Maintain Web site of a composer, and update into new digital formats. Periodically scan Internet, prominent doctoral dissertation archives, publications, performance venues, and find new research concerning composers’ works. Integrate any new articles, research into site with links or direct posting.

Part of this Web site would establish a list of “core” libraries. These would be large, well-known libraries which have a database of holdings searchable from the Internet (a feature which is increasingly becoming available). Incidentally, although it’s possible to log onto a particular library of this nature and search its holdings, these holding usually will NOT appear in a general Web search (say, a search under a composer’s name). That is why this service would be so important. For each custodial member, list all of his/her holdings at the core libraries in this Web site. Supplement this with a list of additional libraries that the member him/herself designates, along with its holdings of his works, this supplemental list to be provided by the member. This feature would encourage members to work with their local and regional libraries to provide as much storage and archival services away from the EMF site as possible. ACA might be one such primary source to which the database could refer.

Maintain an online (streaming or download) archive of all music, video, software with development and implementation notes, media materials the composer releases to EMFCAAMP. This material must be capable of being easily digitized and must be able to be read on standard, currently available end user formats. Regarding music requiring non-standard means of technical realization (such as MAX/MSP or C language software), the primary goal shall NOT be to be able to realize a composition in live performance at a date far into the future, but rather to aid research into how the composer constructed the work. EMFCAAMP shall stay clear of archiving hardware associated with a particular performance realization, or any other type of software or hardware that required specialized maintenance skills, apart from those of maintaining and updating media in standardized formats readily playable on current technology platforms. EMFCAAMP has the sole option of accepting or rejecting any part or all of a composer’s submission of output, based on the selection criteria established above.

One aspect of this digital archive would be to make available all CDs that have gone out of print, along with other files the composer may designate (rehearsal tapes, performances, work tapes, etc.). Before death, the composer would deposit two copies of each CD to be maintained, along with a nonexclusive distribution agreement signed by the current publisher and composer, or a copy of the contract between composer and publisher which states that the composer has these rights and can release them to EMFCAAMP pending demise of the publisher or the CD going out of print.

Maintain presence of composer in the CD catalogs (equivalent of Schwann).

Develop an on-line mailing list of performers, libraries, composers, music departments, institutions, etc. Periodically send them a newsletter on-line, apprising them of the existence of each member’s work, research about her, and the availability of her work. This will keep the member’s name in front of the public. It will also serve to advertise the existence of the program, and will attract new members.

In the event of a CD (or video) company ceasing to distribute a composer’s work, the EMFCAAMP, according to a legal document set up originally between the composer, record/media company and EMFCAAMP, shall make the CD or video with liner notes and graphics available, either through the streaming/download archive, or manually via analog copy sent through mail. This would potentially mean that the copyright on the recording might revert to EMFCAAMP, and all monies accruing as the result of distribution and performance of the work would go to EMFCAAMP. (This clause inserted not to enhance EMF’s coffers, but rather to spare the EMFCAAMP from the time-consuming task of setting up a royalty distribution system to pay the estates of the composers sums which would be rather inconsequential anyway). In order to implement this particular feature, the composer would, at the time of initial commitment, need to pay an additional fee to cover the costs of a potential additional administrative burden on EMF. This fee might be on a sliding scale — sort of an insurance policy against obsolescence. It would be solely based on the potential expenses incurred by EMFCAAMP in implementing the service.

(In researching this point, all composers contacted said that they were far more interested in the ability of their work to exist and be available in perpetuity than they were in maintaining copyright protection which would only net a very small sum to their heirs and may very well complicate the process to the point of their work’s continuation being unaffordable).

Maintain an archive of paper scores either in PDF or microfilm format with digitized audio files (CD/DVD) for purposes of research and limited performance. In instances where an organization will want to perform the work and it is unavailable from the publisher (who may have ceased to exist or to publish the work), EMFCAAMP shall make it available on rental to that organization, provided the organization provide the full cost, including labor, materials, mailing, overhead, etc.). Thus, if the EMFCAAMP had in its possession a work which required an outdated hardware or software component, or extensive research into its realization, the requesting organization’s budget would be the factor determining whether or not the EMFCAAMP would make the work available. Additionally, the composer herself has the ultimate say as to whether or not her work in a non-standardized format will be performed in the future, by allocating an additional sum consonant with the complexity of maintaining any additional hardware or software necessary for the future realization of the work.

In the event a composer’s publisher of scores (and scores plus tapes) shall cease to exist, or shall return the work to the composer’s estate, EMFCAAMP shall serve as de facto publisher, maintaining this work in the archive as stated above, according to prior agreement between the composer, publisher, and EMFCAAMP. EMFCAAMP would then own the copyright, and all royalties accruing from the performance would go to EMFCAAMP.

The EMFCAAMP would take out BMI, ASCAP, SESAC licenses as copyright owner and as publisher, and would receive royalties thereof, which would go toward operating expenses of the program.

EMFCAAMP shall monitor the public domain status of all composers’ materials and as soon as a work becomes public domain, EMFCAAMP shall so clearly indicate in a prominent area on the composer’s Web site.

In the event of termination of EMFCAAMP, ownership of all materials deposited, and all digitized material related to the composer’s output, with all rights thereof, shall revert to the composer members’ heirs, as specified in the original agreement.

Before I recommend that the Electronic Music Foundation explore relationships with other composer organizations to implement some or all of these tasks, we should await ongoing developments, particularly those at AMC. It may very well be that AMC would in fact assume many of these tasks as the broad outlines of its NewMusicJukeBox jell into reality.

From What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die and What You Can Do About It
by Barton McLean
© 2001 NewMusicBox

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.