If You Play Something, Say Something

The seeds for some interesting discussion were planted over the weekend when I mentioned to a couple of composers that I had heard their works performed on a concert in California. They were surprised because they hadn’t been notified about the performances! This happens more often than one might think; I know I occasionally find out about performances after the fact, and sometimes not until I receive a royalty statement months later that lists the concert. While some consider this a good problem to have, it makes others wonder how much they aren’t collecting in performance royalties.

While a scenario like this might be different for large pieces that include rental agreements—indeed the whole point of a rental is to keep track of performances—when it comes to smaller works, the reality is that once someone has ordered a score, it’s not possible to keep tabs on it at all times. When I receive a score order, I do request that I be notified in advance of all future performances of the work, and in many cases the musicians purchasing the score follow through. In addition, I do routine checks and searches, especially when I’m in “performance reporting” mode for ASCAP, and occasionally find out about “surprise” performances. Both ASCAP and BMI are also very good at catching performances that might have slipped through the cracks.

Another related issue is when scores change hands without being purchased, resulting in a different sort of “surprise” performance. When I sell a score it is made crystal clear to the performer(s) that the copy in their hands is for them and only them (it is possible to do this in many ways, such as user agreements), and if others express interest in the music they should be given my contact information so they too can place an order.

All that said, it does seem like a basic courtesy for a musician, ensemble, or presenter to inform composers about performances of their music. While many do, there are plenty who don’t. Often it is a simple oversight, or maybe they don’t even realize that it would be important to some composers to have this information. Letting the composer know that they will have a work performed can be helpful in that the composer is likely to inform friends in that town or city about the show, which means a potentially larger audience.

Composers, what methods do you use to keep track of your performances? Performers, do you inform composers that you are performing their work? Why or why not?

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