Archives for the Month of March 2008 on Jeffrey Quick's Blog

James MacMillan on the Left

From one of England's Scotland's brightest composers, a brilliant rant on why he is not "a liberal left-winger"-- one I wish I had written myself:

Even today, I manage to survive trendy dinner parties by keeping my mouth shut, nodding at the received wisdom of the bien-pensant, and avoiding nasty and surprising arguments. Anything for a quiet life. But the political education I received from old Catholics like my grandfather and even from old Marxists I met at Communist party meetings in the 1970s has made me contemptuous of the simplistic banalities of the modern progressive élites. They lack intellectual rigour and ethical integrity, their politics are bland and sentimental, their hatred of Christianity is fundamentalist.

Or this:

What passes in Britain for an intelligentsia has appropriated the Arts for their own designs — a recent debate at the South Bank proclaimed ‘All Modern Art Is Left Wing’. No dissent from the party line goes unpunished. What we are seeing here is a cultural regime which adjudicates artists and their work on the basis of how they contribute to the remodelling, indeed the overthrow of society’s core institutions and ethics

Before the performance of one of my orchestral works in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I gave a short introductory talk and quoted the philosopher Roger Scruton. The Guardian review denounced this as ‘perilous’. What or who was perilous? Were Scruton’s ideas perilous? Was my public association with him perilous? And, if so, for whom? For me? Was this a threat?

Trivial analytical insight

Gliere's Russian Sailors' Dance ain't nothin' but a gussied-up descending Aolian scale.

Shut up the print music stores, now.

I used to be in print music retail, and I can tell you just why the bricks-n-mortar paradigm has no place for contemporary music -- which is horrible, because more than other kinds of concert music, you need to be able to examine the score before buying. To the extent that it has existed at all, it's because of cross-subsidy by other forms of print, primarily method books and popular music, and people who care enough that they forgo the extra buck to keep an item on a shelf for a year or two.

We've known that print music has been ailing for some time. There has been consolidation in the industry, with companies merging with those companies whose order fulfillment is quick, accurate, and high-discount (in short, as much like online as possible). We've been told that the photocopier is the culprit. But to photocopy an item, somebody somewhere has to buy it sometime.

Now, I've been doing a sort of public service librarian gig at Yahoo Answers. And one of the most frequently-asked questions is, "Where can I download [piece of usually-copyright print music] for free?" Some of us have answered, "You can't; it's under copyright".

That's just not true.

I was a bit horrified when I started exploring some of these sites. I knew somebody once whose computer crashed while they were in an AOL chat room, and when they logged back on, their screen name was stuck in a kiddie porn trading room. It wasn't quite that horrifying; I don't go all moralistic on people about illegal downloads. But I could see where the economics were going. You can get just about anything in popular music, for free. Some sites are members-only trading, but at some of them, a pdf download was just a click away. I tried one download, of an item I used to sell (and no, I have no use for this except for research, and will be deleting the file). No, it wasn't a copy of the original. Rather, the original had been imported into a notation program. It appeared to be relatively accurate and literate, but nothing fancy (no dynamics, for instance).

Here's the problem: consider that RIAA has been suing the pants off anyone they can, and have accomplished little except to make themselves unpopular. MPA doesn't have those kind of deep pockets. And there is no more that can be done about print music downloads than audio downloads. Even in a secure online sales system like Sunhawk, there is nothing to keep the end-user from scanning the print, changing the format, and putting it up as a .pdf somewhere.

What this means is that the price of popular print music will tend towards zero. All published print can add is nicer paper and better accuracy, vs. a price and massive inconvenience in getting it. Legal downloads won't even have the nice paper. Classical print will end up like classical music, with the big players exiting the scene, to be taken over by niche marketers. I don't know if Subito will be the Naxos of classical print, but parallels could be drawn.

Where does that leave me? I'd planned on a big push this year to make as much of my music as possible available in print. I'm still going to do that, but even niche publishers have a limited future. I've been resistant to doing the self-publish thing, but ultimately, it may be my only choice.