Another Superstar Wannabe

Despite never having tons of money, I’ve always valued fame over fortune. In so doing, I never developed serious business skills for what I do with my own music, instead seeking out any opportunity to get my music in front of an audience whether financially lucrative or not—in most cases not. It is the motus operandi of most “emerging” composers in our world, as well as that of aspirants in almost any genre. In fact, even as stylistic barriers erode all around us, it is probably the one piece of common ground between all of us, even if the economies that support the successful practitioners in each genre are so stark in their differences.

Last week I was in Hollywood to attend ASCAP’s I Create Music Expo, which billed itself as the first conference for music creators. While I was by no means an impartial observer—I moderated the session on jazz arranging and also served as a panelist to talk about the American Music Center along with composer colleagues from the American Composers Forum and Meet The Composer—I feel like I learned much more than I imparted.

For most of those whirlwind 72 hours, I was just one among hordes of superstar wannabes in genres ranging from hip-hop and country to jazz and our own defiantly nameless post-classical endeavors—ASCAP calls it concert music—packed into beyond-capacity sessions to hear expert advice on topics such as how to jumpstart and maintain a career as an indie, how to effectively use the Internet, and how to get your music placed in T.V., film, advertisements, and games.

Here are a few things I’ve been pondering since then:

According to Justin Goldberg, president of Indie911, 95 percent of albums made in any genre sell less than 3,000 copies. (Almost anything in the realms I gravitate most toward fall into this category.)

According to Dean Kay, who wrote the hit song “That’s Life,” the floor for commercial usage of a piece of music is between $150-200K and the royalties from the use of Rhapsody in Blue in an airline commercial top one million dollars a year. (The Grawemeyer Award, the highest cash award in our field, is $200K. The second highest, the Nemmers Prize—which was just awarded to Olly Knussen—is $100K. The Pulitzer Prize, which we’re all so busy debating every year, fetches only $10K.)

According to a group of commercial music supervisors, most people in the commercial music industry are unwilling to open an unsolicited recording sent to them because of potential plagiarism suits. It costs a mere $70 to file a suit and $30K to litigate even if you’re innocent; settlements begin at $10K (the same amount as the Pulitzer).

According to Chuck Creekmur, co-CEO of AllHipHop.com, there are 30 million songwriters in the United States and 10 million of them have earned money from their music. (As compared with Meet The Composer founder John Duffy’s remark that there are probably over 10,000 composers of concert music in the U.S.A.)

But perhaps the most poignant comment was made by one of the members of the DIY panel, whose name I unfortunately missed, arriving late to the spillover room where I watched the session on a widescreen TV: “Music—it’s not food, it’s not clothes, it’s not shelter; but everybody wants it, and everybody needs it.”

3 thoughts on “Another Superstar Wannabe

  1. vachon321

    “According to a group of commercial music supervisors, most people in the commercial music industry are unwilling to open an unsolicited recording sent to them because of potential plagiarism suits.”

    Perhaps, they should stop stealing people’s work and, instead, pay new composers for the music they write? Wouldn’t that be a kick?

    Reply
  2. sgordon

    I dunno, I’ve had pretty good experiences with writing for commercials – granted, it’s been pretty limited experience so far, only two of them and in a fairly small market. But I got paid well enough for them considering – I got a flat fee for producing them and then add’l royalties for each play (both radio ads) – something like 9 cents a play, doesn’t seem like much on the surface but it added up – 2 plays per hour, that’s 48 plays a day on 8 different stations, I cleared a little over a grand for each one over the course of the months they ran. If you can have four or five ads in circulation at any given time, that’s a pretty comfortable living – even in a small local market.

    Now, I know on a national level it’s very different. The big ad companies – for TV or Radio – have a lock on all the business, and they’re the ones clearing the royalties and whatnot, most of the actual jingle and copy writers are just getting a flat “work for hire” fee. But on a local level, it ain’t so bad. Hell, had I pursued it I’d probably be making a lot more money today.

    In comparison, the one film score I did I got a flat licensing fee, a credit, and bupkes after that – which is fairly standard. Actors, writers & directors can get “points” but generally the composer gets everything up front. And in my case, a direct-to-DVD number, that everything wasn’t much. Hell, they wouldn’t even send me a free copy – I had to go out and buy one. And I know they sold a fair number of discs. Oh well – that’s the contract, c’est la vie.

    Anyway. just sayin’ “here’s to commercials” – they done me good.

    Reply

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