why I don’t charge for my compositions

Two recent postings on the Internet got me thinking once again about why I don’t charge for my music:

I don’t want to rehash all my arguments I made in response to composer Jonathan Newman’s original post, but let’s just say I don’t have any intention of charging folks to download and print my scores or listen to my audio files. The essence of my argument is this:

  • Just because others charge for their music doesn’t mean I have to charge for mine
  • The assertion that my giving away my music somehow undermines the ability of other composers to make a living is so ridiculous that when I first read it I nearly burst out laughing
  • Whether someone feels he or she deserves to be paid for composing new music has nothing to do with whether or not I deserve payment myself. That’s an individual choice. I mean, I think my music is halfway decent and all that, but composing is not how I ever chose to earn a living for me and my family.
  • Using a Creative Commons license is an approach that works well for me. It might not be for everyone, and that’s fine. But it’s what I prefer, given that I think that copyright protection has done more to hurt innovation and collaboration than to help.

Many years ago, probably around the mid-90’s, I occasionally would go on Usenet and post something on “alt-rec-classical” to the effect that I’m a new music composer looking for performers and what’s more, my music has no royalties attached. That sort of approach produced zero takers. No one cared to play my music just because it was free. The reality is that performers will play what they want to play. For the most part, all of my music performances happened because of a personal connection. So the idea that those of us who don’t charge for the “privilege” of looking at our scores and listening to our audio files are somehow undermining the entire economic underpinnings of contemporary music is completely divorced from reality.

So here’s a quick list of just a few of the many composers who, like me, give away their music, at least to a good degree:

So right-all of us are causing anarchy and rips in the time-space continuum by allowing people to download our music.

None of this hurts composers. None of it hurts anyone. But I’ll tell you, what does hurt is when academic composers cast aspersions at us nonacademics. We’re always viewed as outsiders, as inferiors, as the barbarians at the gates. Perhaps we’re all of that except inferior. What I think is going on is that the people invested in the status quo are having a tougher and tougher time maintaining that status quo. It depends so much on a traditional model that says that if you’re a composer, you do it full-time for a salary and/or commissions, no one can listen to your music without paying up front, no one can download your scores unless they pay up front, etc. That model is dying, if not already dead. The composer Jonathan Newman allows downloading of his scores but they can’t be printed, so that in his view, the composer (him) is still in control. Well, hate to break it to you, Jonathan, but no one really needs to print anything these days when one can peruse a score on a computer. I can even look at scores on my iPhone. Sure, Mr. Newman would argue that performers would generally want to print out the scores to practice and perform them. Tell that to my friend the pianist Hugh Sung, who has a company (Air Turn) that promotes the use of tablets and other technologies to enable musicians to perform without printed music. So folks like Mr. Newman will be in the position of having to either cripple their downloads even more, or embrace the new paradigm.

I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t or can’t charge for his or her work. That’s a personal choice, and I made my choice long ago. But to disparage those of us who don’t charge as if we’re ruining it for everyone else is wrong.

So why don’t I charge? A large part of it is that composing is something I do because I want to, and because I really am passionate about it. Call it a “hobby” or whatever, but it’s what I enjoy doing, and once you start monetizing that, I think it becomes more of a job than something you do as an escape. Don’t get me wrong-I like my day job, I like being a physician, etc. But you can like your job and still get paid for it. For me (and I stress, this is just what works for me), charging for my music is not something I’m interested in. I’d feel like a prostitute. We don’t parent for money, right? I also don’t compose for money. QED.