Classical Music Composers Debating The Value Of Free Too

from the free-it-up dept

scott mc laughlin alerts us to an interesting blog post from the composer Kyle Gann, discussing his feelings on posting musical scores as free PDFs online. Gann does this happily, but a publisher he was speaking with was upset that this created “unfair competition.” Gann doesn’t find the argument convincing in the slightest, and explains why he feels that having his scores available for free online greatly outweighs any money he might make from having them professionally published by a publisher:

For me, trying to make money off of scores is just a dubious proposition. The amount I might make seems trivial compared to the wider distribution I get from having interested musicians be able to check out my works whenever they want. There’s also a certain resentment of the music publishing industry involved, since no publisher is likely to accept any music as commercially unprofitable as mine, and my understanding (from Philip Glass and many others) is that, even if a publisher takes your work, the most likely result is that they will print a few copies, keep them in boxes in warehouses as a tax write-off, tie up the copyright, and make your music more difficult to obtain even for those willing to buy it. Of all the friends whose music I write about, the few whose music is officially published are the ones whose scores I have a devil of a time trying to get. When the scores are available for perusal only, I sometimes can’t get access to them at all. I’m also conditioned by my score-starved youth: so many of the scores I desperately needed to see when I was a young, studying composer couldn’t be had under any circumstances. If young composers are burning with interest to see how my music works, I’m happy to satisfy them, and without giving them the hurdle of having to contact me personally. I wish Boulez, Pousseur, Glass, and co. had done the same for me. I bought a ton of scores and would have bought many more i was curious about, but many were impossible to get. I’m just not convinced that the music publishing industry, in its current form, deserves to survive.

The full post goes into a lot more detail about the way Gann views this issue, and is a worthwhile read. Either way, it’s interesting to see these same debates taking place in so many different parts of the creative industries of the world — with people in all parts recognizing that there are benefits to free content and free access over hoarding information and setting up tollbooths for access.

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Comments on “Classical Music Composers Debating The Value Of Free Too”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I’m just not convinced that the music publishing industry, in its current form, deserves to survive.”

This is the sentiment echoed by so many Americans (and others worldwide) that the RIAAs and BPIs just don’t get: We KNOW we’re stealing from the recording industry. We just don’t care because we don’t think it’s wrong to steal from criminals!

Yes, we know you screw your artists at every turn, so we don’t feel a bit bad about screwing you! You don’t get to go around bullying kids and then scream “foul” when someone takes your sucker! When you do, no one cares!

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“This is the sentiment echoed by so many Americans (and others worldwide) that the RIAAs and BPIs just don’t get: We KNOW we’re stealing from the recording industry. We just don’t care because we don’t think it’s wrong to steal from criminals!”

Kinda like Robin Hood? Well, except for the differing uses of the word steal.

Evostick says:

No money

“I bought a ton of scores and would have bought many more I was curious about, but many were impossible to get.”

But now he is giving away the scores. From this point of view it’s better to receive some money than no money.

Where is his source of income? From the article:

“The scores I haven’t made available [are those] which I imagine that I could eventually make a considerable amount of money. The only score that falls into this category so far is Transcendental Sonnets, of which I post the orchestral score but not the vocal score or the two-piano performance version. Choral pieces have the potential of selling a tremendous number of vocal scores because so many singers are involved, and so I have thought it unwise to send vocal scores out into the world for free – although I have done that with My father moved through dooms of love, which has no score other than the full score”

The argument is inconsistent. Why are some infinity reproducible goods free and others pay for?

If he gets paid every time someone performs his work then this approach has a definite logic, but then that business model is no different from people demanding money every time a song is played (or mp3 is copied).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: He Teaches.

andif he wants to give his work away for free I say there is nothing wrong with such charity. If the full time composer can’t compete with the part time composer then the full time composer should go out of business because clearly the market, who is best able to decide what’s in its own best interest than government ever can be, is benefiting from the part time composer more than they benefit from the full time composer. and the whole purpose of having an economy and such should be to serve what’s best for the market and to increase aggregate output and CONSUMER surplus (improving consumer surplus is the purpose of innovation). and the CONSUMER is better able to decide what increases consumer surplus better than any government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Quarter Notes and Bank Notes

Interested readers might want to track down a copy of F. M. Scherer’s quite readable Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Princeton University Press, 2004.)

Though not about copyright per se, there’s quite a bit about the different methods of (economically) rewarding music composition in the book.

For a reasonably useful book review see

senshikaze (profile) says:

See, this is how it should work. what if Mozart or Beethoven had wrapped their music up in modern day copyright? Our music culture would not only suck, it wouldn’t have evolved the same way at all.
This also is a problem with jazz musicians. I know a few that hate that their record holds the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. Jazz has always been an open culture, and locking it up under fascist copyright regimes is retarded.
Life is about sharing.
There should be alot more sharing.

That is what we were told as children, what the hell happened?

herodotus (profile) says:

Most of the significant composers of the past 100 years had to teach, or do concerts of other people’s music, or do hack work, or find a patron to survive. Direct sales of scores added up to very little for most of them.

And what he said about not being able to find certain scores at any price is quite true. Anton Webern was perhaps the most cited and influential composer of his age, and yet I have never seen more than a handful of his scores for sale in my lifetime.

Wesley Parish says:


That I suppose says it all. the only profitable classical (ie, massive orchestra with classically trained musicians, etc) music is for films and the like. If you’re writing for yourself, your friends, or for a group you know and belong to, eg, the local chamber music group, or orchestra, then you’re not going to be profitable to the music publishers. Period. Full stop. So giving your music the widest possible distribution by not playing silly b[e]ggers with a dysfunctional distribution system – ie, the music publishing industry – makes perfect sense.

On a parallel note, I’d like to point out that in spite of the wide distribution of both classical and popular music, there is a major barrier between the two – a classical composer can’t adapt a piece of popular music to the classical repertoire these days, without jumping through a set of horrendously expensive legal hoops. Consequently, we have “two cultures” situation, which isn’t very useful, let alone democratic.

Old Grouch (user link) says:

Trading exposure for cash

“‘I bought a ton of scores and would have bought many more I was curious about, but many were impossible to get.’

But now he is giving away the scores. From this point of view it’s better to receive some money than no money.”

Gann is actually talking about two different aspects of music circulation, which may be confusing if you’re not in the business. Composers have two potential income streams: Royalties from the physical publication of the music (just like a writer), and other royalties from commercial public performances (including broadcasts and recordings). The publisher (usually) only profits from the publication stream, which makes for a conflict of interest.

Also, term of art: By “Score” Gann means what’s usually called a “conductor’s score,” one that lays out all the instrumental lines in parallel. Performance parts are often something different. See Wikipedia.

If you’re a composer whose name isn’t “John Williams,” your foremost problem is to get someone interested enough in your music to perform or record it. Which isn’t helped if your publisher makes it difficult/expensive for potential performers to get copies of your music.

When Gann says “bought a bunch of scores,” he’s talking about being a student… he wanted to take other people’s music apart to see what they did, “view the source,” as it were. But many publishers don’t make any distinction between Joe Student and the New York Philharmonic when it comes to price.

Gann has his stuff up as Creative Commons/Noncommercial; he’s decided to trade whatever minuscule royalties he might get from the students or curious amateurs for wider exposure of his music, while reserving the right to make some money should the New York Philharmonic happen to decide to perform it. Makes sense to me

Nigel Curtis says:

".. many scores were impossible to get.."

As a student I was reduced to STEALING the score of Boulez’ “Le Marteau sans Maitre” from Foyles in London. I got Boulez to sign the score (in his minute handwriting) so it was like he was almost an accessory to the crime. Haha Foyles and the publishers, Universal Edition.

best, Nigel

ronald (user link) says:

universal design plans

Some call them barrier free plans, universal design plans, lifestyle homes, wheelchair plans, aging in place home plans, or accessible home plans. Whatever you call it, they all fall under the same specifications set forth by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University. For questions or comments, contact us at

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