I wrote and posted this blog entry for the Music Collective…but believe so strongly that we need this discussion that I’m re-posting here!

I’m very pro-composer. I founded a national arts organization, the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, to provide composers with the opportunity for exposure. But I am not a composer. I have no skills to write original melodies. I am an instrumentalist. And sometimes I wonder if we’re on the same team.

I’ve worked with a lot of composers performing new works. It seems like there are two types of composers in the world: those that want fees for their work and those that would like fees but are willing to write if you give them performances. Though I totally understand wanting a fee for my services, I wonder if these composers are missing the boat on great opportunities for future income.

For example, for a recent tour to five cities I commissioned four new works from different composers. I didn’t pay a dime to composers to write the works. But I paid all tour costs for myself, I hired the other instrumentalists, I rented the halls, I paid a videographer to record the performances. All in all the tour cost me ~$3,000. I made nothing on the performances, they in fact cost me money. (Thankfully universities along the way paid me to guest lecture while I was in the area so I could afford this venture.) The composers weren’t paid to write the works, true. But they had their works performed in five locations to a few hundred people. They also received video, audio, programs, and pictures from the performances for their own websites and publicity. Some of the works were reviewed so they now have the press clippings. And most importantly, I had the program notes list bios and contact information for the composers. A few months post tour I am pleased to report that many of the works I commissioned have now been purchased and played elsewhere by someone who heard me. This is exciting to me as a instrumentalist. And means the composer, hopefully, was paid for the subsequent performance.

So my question is, can’t we work together? Without the instrumentalist, how would the composer have their work played? Without the composer, what would the instrumentalist play? We need each other! Yet it seems like so much of the time we look at short term financial gain instead of the long term picture. The business of music is a great deal more far reaching than this month. If we go by copyright as any indication, composers are expected to profit off of their works for their entire life time plus 70 years after. So I would suggest composers be smart when working with instrumentalists and find ways to find beneficial arrangements.

A colleague of mine, who I didn’t ask if I could quote so will remain anonymous, plays a lot of new music. When I was lamenting to him about the costs I incurred on a recent performance, that I burdened alone, he said that when he commissions new works he sets up joint allotment of costs. How? He performs the work twice, once where he sets up the performance in his area and once where the composer has to set up a performance in theirs. What a great idea! Now the works is heard twice in two different locations. The instrumentalist and composer both benefit from exposure and both share in the stress and time of planning the performances. Yes, the composer still has to take the time to write the work. Yes, the instrumentalist still has to take the time to learn the work to performance standard. So to me, this is a very sensible business arrangement where both parties benefit.

Does anyone else have ideas on how to have composer and instrumentalist work together? How can we unite the two sides of our field to make a more profitable business?

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