One week after returning from the ASCAP I Create Music Expo, I’m still imagining finding a way to actually make serious money off my own music without having to go through a lobotomy to readjust my weirdo stylistic proclivities. Inevitably, when I posited the idea of 36-tone commercial jingles, the head of one of the nation’s top commercial music libraries didn’t seem particularly thrilled with the idea. But I think it could work. What about 48-tone ringtones? Definitely an attention grabber.
However, part of the problem with my entering the commercial or ringtone markets is that I have almost no sense of how music actually functions in these settings. I don’t really watch T.V. I finally bought one that’s larger than my laptop screen and I just had cable installed. I’ve listened to a bunch of the samples on the commercial library site OmniMusic, and I’ve been systematically listening to music on the Weather Channel and CNN Headline News. While granted, there’s nothing in 36-tone or 48-tone or any other systemic non-12, there does seem to be some leverage for a little experimentation if it’s fast and the context is appropriate. Maybe an announcement of some real inclement weather could use my fantasy microtonal underscoring.
Then there’s the whole ringtone phenom. I pretty much keep my cellphone on vibrate except for when it accidently slips back to ring mode and plays the default—I’ve never figured out how to reprogram it—which is an awful MIDI version of the Latin-tinged theme music from Sex and the City. This always seems to happen at the most inappropriate moments, like when I greeted Charles Wuorinen before a panel we were both on last week. But still. All these other avant-garders are getting into the ringtone scene. Take a look at the list of luminaries who contributed unique ringtones to the American Composers Orchestra auction: Michael Gordon, Meredith Monk, etc. The Philip Glass ringtone is currently going for $450 and by the time you read this it will probably go even higher. So there are people out there who will pay for this sort of thing.
Now, mind you, the ACO’s ringtone auction is for one-of-a-kind sonic ownership, like buying your own Rothko painting. This is something quite alien to the always-replicable world of music. So only one person, who will pay $450 or more, will get to have this Philip Glass ringtone on his or her phone. And Glass is just about the most famous guy who does what we do. But imagine charging only ten bucks for a freaky 48-tone ringtone. Any “other music” fan would have to have it, right? Let’s say I can get 100 folks to buy it, which is very few people in the ultimate scheme of things and still fewer than the unfortunate 300 unit sales figure for many contemporary music CDs. That’s one thousand dollars for 30 seconds of music—twice the price of a low-end commission for 30 seconds of orchestral music and a lot less work.
But then again, how would I feel if I was at a concert and a cellphone went off, as they always do, and the music was interrupted by something I had composed? I’m probably better off sticking with just the T.V. commercial idea. But then again, isn’t it worse to have people run to the bathroom while your music is played?