Thursday, May 6, 2010

selling out?

Back in March, there was a discussion on Sequenza21 about copyright, self-publishing, giving away scores, etc. I've been thinking about this kind of thing a lot. I give away tons of free media on my site, but I also released two albums for sale last year. I had no grand delusions of making millions of dollars off of those recordings, but of course was looking for a little pocket change for my efforts. After an extremely difficult year financially, I have started thinking more about trying to turn my music-making into a profitable business (again, no grand delusions here).

Two of the more active posters in this discussion were Jonathan Newman and John Mackey, two composers who have found great success composing for wind band and who compose full-time. Mackey notes on his great blog that he received at least 72 performances of his piece Asphalt Cocktail last year. With the score for sale at $60 a pop and parts for rent at $350, he made about $29,520 from that piece alone.

I played trombone in wind bands for a long time, but I never had much inspiration to write for it. I like to write (and listen to) chamber music and electroacoustic music. The money and performances are obviously in the band arena, though.

A few years ago, I made wind band arrangements of two old pieces of mine: Aggressor (originally trombone quartet) and Redwoods (originally bass guitar and piano). I think they are about a grade 2.5 (if you know wind band grades well, please take a look and let me know where they would fall). [Aggressor score] [MIDI rendition] [Redwoods score] [MIDI rendition]. I made these with the intent of marketing them to high school bands, which obviously I have yet to do.

Last year I thought about digging out my infamous Three Experiments for Brass and MC and arranging them for wind ensemble. Haven't gotten around to that, either. More recently I came up with an idea of doing an album of compositions for vintage keyboards (Hammond, Rhodes, Minimoog, etc.) and being the musical recycler I am, thought about taking elements of that piece, as well as some other half-finished works.

Now I am torn. Part of me says "arrange them for band - I could get a lot of performances, plus high schoolers would probably have a blast playing these pieces." Another part of me says "I could have fun playing this myself, and putting all of my work within an electronic/chamber context would be closer to my aesthetic taste."

I guess the overall question is "what kind of composer will I be?" Will I be one with a niche, or one who is eclectic? Can I maintain an experimental side and a more commercial side? What if my band music somehow becomes popular and that's what I am known for, even if I don't take it as seriously as my other work? I welcome your thoughts...


Anonymous said...

Money is money, and sometimes you have to put that above your own concepts of how life should be. Bills will pile up while you try to make it doing exactly what you want.

Darren Nelsen said...

Hey Adam,

You are such an eclectic composer, I don't think you could put pigeonhole yourself in a niche like band music.

That said, I say, sure, arrange for band if you have time to do so and see where it goes. Maybe it'll help fund other artistic endeavors.

I will also keep an eye and ear out for possible ways for you (and me) to make money with music.

Darren Nelsen said...

"Classical composer: one who is ahead of their time and behind on their rent."

Darren Nelsen said...

Have you checked out 1,000 True Fans theory?

Also, how is the iTunes distribution going? Any sales there?

Adam Scott Neal said...

Thanks to both! Darren - yep, I've read the 1K fans theory and it makes a lot of sense. This year I lost a lot of music time due to other responsibilities but I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things in the fall. iTunes is slowly trickling in - one friend bought both albums, then two anonymous people bought one track each.

I guess we can look at director John Sayles as an example - he makes his money writings scripts for 'classics' like Piranha and uses that money to fund his personal projects. Of course, a MacArthur 'genius' grant didn't hurt him, either...