The Music Industry: A Proposal for Change

October 31, 1999

Can those of us in the music field create more of an audience for classical and other noncommercial music? Can we influence the music business so that it provides more opportunities and financial rewards for performers, composers, and authors? I believe we can, but to accomplish these goals, we need to solicit the participation of your colleges and universities.

This article is about how classical and other noncommercial music is marketed. These ideas can apply to recordings, sheet music, books, videosvirtually anything that is a product for sale. However, since my experience is in the performing and recording field, I will use recordings as my focal point.

Recordings are the single most effective way to get one's music known through broadcasts, sales, promotional copies, and reviews. CDs are a tool to get performances, music commissions, and grants. However, a limited number of people will hear the recordings, and CD production will continue to cost a fortune for arts groups, performers, composers, and universities, who usually contribute substantially to themunless there is a better distribution mechanism. Factors hindering the marketing and distribution of classical and other noncommercial music include the following:

Presently, CD retail stores in the largest cities that have the most extensive classical selections order only one or two copies of a new classical release unless the artist has an international reputation, the composers are well-known, and the recording is on a major record label.

Only a handful of foundations support recordings

Very few corporations contribute to the funding of recordings, since their contributions are geared towards image advertising (they prefer to give to major arts institutions, the radio and television media, and to local charities where they have employees).

Most radio stations have no budgets for recordings or use their limited budgets for CD subscriptions to SONY and BMG.

Recording companies and musicians receive no broadcast royalties, since royalties go to music publishers, composers, and lyricists for intellectual property, not to performance.

What can be done? The problem is that people usually buy only what they know, and with federal funding for radio reduced 50% since the mid-eighties, most radio stations send a steady stream of background music to their listeners. Many play little or no vocal music or contemporary music. Classical formats and classical shows are disappearing at an alarming rate.

In order to turn the music business around, there needs to be a cooperative structure developed by colleges and universities to host music samples on Internet web sites, with a link to a place that handles customer orders. The order site (a web database and shopping cart order form) could list all the products available and provide links to the various colleges and universities, enabling people to sample the music. People could search by composer, performer, genre, state, or whatever.

Since ASCAP and BMI charge each Internet site a fee for streaming live audio or sending downloadable music, we might want to designate a few sites to handle the music samples, or even become a separate Internet service provider at some point. However, I would think that some sort of concession could be made if people sell their own music. Could we persuade ASCAP and BMI to consider the cooperative's classical and other noncommercial music samples "fair use"? As for music publishers who hold copyrights and whose consent is presently needed for many music sound samples, perhaps we could act as one of their distributors, with some of our mark-up going to the creators and performers of the music. We can also offer the music publishers our music samples for use at their own web sites.

Once we can fill customer orders, there is no reason not to become a distributor to on-line music retailers and retail stores. It will be necessary to have exclusive distribution for many titles for a country or area to become a vendor to retail chains, but independent classical distributorships have been started in home basements. It should not be that hard to recruit people who can provide space and shipping if they are reimbursed their costs and paid a commission.

Many of you have compositions or performances on various record labels. We could distribute those recordings, whether it be on a limited basis (mail order and libraries) for labels with a retail store distributor, or we could provide full distribution for ones that don't, which would also encompass wholesale sales to CD retail outlets.

This plan has numerous advantages. First of all, it will encourage composers to self-publish. Publishers prefer rentals, and many turn down fine chamber and solo works. While there are some very good people in the music publishing field, and some of them are successful in getting performances for composers, the composers who typeset their own music and give publishers the publisher share of their ASCAP and BMI royalties from broadcasts and performances and their mechanical royalties from recordings are subsidizing the publishers. So, publishing is not unlike the recording business.

If we set up this new distribution mechanism, more works will get published and distributed. Symphony orchestras, individual artists, other arts groups, and academic authors in our field could likewise self-publish. Book publishers presently pay a tiny fraction of the actual cost of recording production to license music for use with textbooks. Record companies and other owners of the recorded music either need to be paid a fair share for such use or to publish the accompanying CDs themselves. Additionally, libraries, faculty members, students, and the public would have an excellent resource in the database and access to music samples.

It should be possible to raise major funding for an endeavor such as this, but in order to do so, we need colleges and universities to respond, stating that this is important to the future of music and for the preservation of music in this country, and that their college or university music school or department has a vested interest in exploring and participating in this cooperative effort.

Please ask the appropriate people at your school if they would lend their name for a fundraising proposal for this project. Any suggestions, comments, or assistance would also be welcome. Respond to Marnie Hall, 808 West End Ave., #508, New York, NY 10025-5305. Telephone: (212) 666-7697; Facsimile: (212) 662-0210; E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

3341 Last modified on May 1, 2013
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