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Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to burn $100,000.00

Imagine a pile of a thousand $100 bills sitting on a table in front of you.Now imagine crumpling them up, and setting fire to the entire stack.

In a nutshell, that's what it's like to be a composer.

Let me explain....

Since 1985 I have "invested" several thousand dollars per year in support of my side-career as a composer. Because none of it would have been tax-deductible, I have not kept detailed records of my expenses, but I know roughly what I've spent.

The annual sound of money being sucked out of my wallet has varied. Some years have hemorrhaged the bank account more than others. But I estimate that over the past quarter century my annual expense is has averaged around $4,000 per year. And that's a rather conservative estimate.

Where did that $100,000.00 go?

The most costly outlay has been related to self-publishing my printed music and postage fees for mailing it. It's been my habit every time I finish a new work to bring it to the copy shop and order bound scores for distribution. While there have been other expenses along the line related to actually paying musicians, paying the associated costs of a vanity concerts or recording sessions, demo CDs, or other career-related expenses (such as application fees for competitions, grants, and awards) - printing and postage have been the primary budget killer.

Generally, a score will cost around $20 to photocopy and professionally bind. Some scores cost more, some cost less. I usually order between 50 and a 100 copies of a score at a time.

Just as expensive as copy costs are the associated postal fees when I mail out a package of music en masse to prospective music ensembles and assorted musicians. These postal fees vary, but rates have risen dramatically over the past years, and rates for international mail have spiked the most.

Together, the self-publishing and postage fees easily average $4 thousand dollars per year. Over a period of 25 years, that amounts to $100,000.00.

I know what your going to ask next... What are the dividends? Where's the return on my investment?

Warren Buffett I am not. I don't need to be reminded that had I wisely invested that $100K over the past two and a half decades, the value of my investment would have grown significantly. Potentially, it could have resulted in a financial nest egg that would have come in handy for retirement, or even paying college tuition for my son. But tell that to an "emerging composer" eager for a performance.

Where did all of that music end up?

That's a good question, and it's still a somewhat of a mystery to me. I suspect that most of my scores ended up in the circular file cabinet, also known as the proverbial recycling bin. That's the same place a lot of my resumes end up too.

Perhaps web-based score distribution is the way to go. I'm publishing all of my music in PDF format and FTP-ing it up to the Cloud.

But since I like the feel and smell of paper scores, I will probably continue to mail out a few printed scores to highly select musicians and conductors, and hope for the best. But in the end, when you look at the numbers, scattering hard-copy printed music out to the winds pays fewer dividends than investing in lottery tickets.