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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Music Industrial Complex

Believe it or not, music fuels the economy - even in nasty recessions like the one we are currently experiencing.

Generally, I would not consider composers to be on the list of high-wage earners or among those at the top income bracket, but there is a Trickle-down effect from the works that they create. It's a larger economy that you might think. I'd go so far as to coin the term "Music Industrial Complex."

Does this make any sense? How can it be that I have never earned a single penny in a four-decade career of composing, but consider myself to be a tiny cog within the larger economic machinery of a highly profitable global business? Here's an example....

In 2006 I composed a piano piece for the occasion of Milton Babbitt's 90th Birthday. It was titled BoogieWoogie . Although the work has never been performed, a score and mp3 recording of a midi version have been available on my personal webpage for some time. From what I can gather, my piece has become a popular download item - particularly in China where thousands of consumers have found it via the search engine and mp3 music service Baidu. It was downloaded 5,613 times in the month of October. Recently I discovered that my Boogie Woogie is for sale as a Ringtone. I'm not sure what kind of revenue this piece is generating, but I'm glad that someone is enjoying the music and making a profit.

I've blogged before about what musicians and composers earn in the United States...

It's pretty obvious that the revenue-generating side of the business is not on the creative end. Composers are stuck over on the "overhead" side of the accounting ledger. But clearly, someone is making money.

On October 28th, the New York Times published an article about the salaries earned by the stage crew at Carnegie Hall. These are the people who work hard behind the curtains to make sure the concerts go on without a glitch. The are carpenters, electricians, and stagehands. Classical music satirist PDQ Bach has poked fun at these lovable characters, who obsess about their well-defined task of setting up music stands and insuring that the program starts on time. But the job is real, and it turns out to pay pretty well.

The Properties Manager at Carnegie Hall earned $422,599 base pay, with an additional $107,445 in benefits and deferred compensation during the 2007-08 season. The building's electrician earned $327,257 base pay, and $76,459 in additional benefits. Not bad at all.

Their salaries are higher than what the average stagehand earns up the street at Avery Fisher and Alice Tully halls at Lincoln Center. According to the NY Times, those stagehands earn $290,000 per year.

The chief executive and artistic director at Carnegie Hall is not concerned about the high salary expense. He believes he is getting value for the dollar. His own salary and benefits were $946,581 for the 2007-08 season.

It's the Trickle-down effect. Composers write the music, and that act ultimately feeds product to the Music Industrial Complex, which intern fuels the general economy. There is a viable and strong market for music. No government bailouts were needed in the music biz. There were people who were quite willing to pay $154 dollars last season for the privilege of sitting in a subsidized seat at Carnegie Hall to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiere William Bolcom's Symphony No. 8 for chorus and orchestra.

Tickle-down is how the economic system works. Living in NY is expensive, and professionals working behind the scenes on stage crews deserve to earn a fair wage. But let's not forget that composers are professionals too. They create the product that musicians rely on. Music inspires the public to open their wallets and fork over excessive amounts of hard earned cash.

The Music Industrial Complex would wither to nothing if composers disappeared from the equation. Therefore, I declare November to be "Hug a Composer" month.