01 April 2014

Thank you all!

What words of encouragement or advice can I offer, from my privileged vantage as a reasonably famous composer, and celebrated by peers the world over? First off, it's absolutely true, what you've heard all this time: music is a business, one more of a number of industries, and your work will mean nothing if you cannot create music with a market; your greatest priority is to learn to market yourself, no other skill really matters. One used to hear objections on the order of "but music is an art"; the bottom line, though, is that art is goods, and goods can be marketed and sold. If the art is not goods, what good can it be? "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," wrote Samuel Johnson, and Lord knows he was paid to write it.

Knowing that the saleability of your music is its raison d'être, for what higher inspiration could the composer ask than the check? Well, perhaps an even higher inspiration in our days of more advanced technology: the direct deposit! A more satisfying reason to get writing could not be desired.

Some envious souls have criticized my music for (as in the darkness of their minds they are fond to snipe) supposed limitations of expression, for using and re-using a handful of musical devices. The first answer to this is: if it is good enough for the institutions who repeatedly commission me to write the music, isn't their money endorsement enough? The second answer is a related point: the audience bought 300,000 copies of the compact disc with the first piece, so we know those musical ideas sell, there is a market! I am proud to say that, having found a sound with a ready market of CD-buyers, and therefore a marketing agent who sees the opportunity to furnish more iterations of similar product, because its marketability is proven. I am gratified to observe simply that, if anyone cavils that twenty notes in my latest piece are pretty much the same 20 notes as can be found in another piece or two from earlier seasons, they sell no less well, because the listeners know they are notes they like.

There are set-backs, to be sure. Soon after his appointment here at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, maestro Andris Nelsons contacted me, eager to commission a new work. "Andris-baby," I firmly insisted, "you know my terms: if you cannot guarantee me at least three sarrusophones, and a section of handcrafted Malawi nose-flutes played by properly trained players, you deny me the most basic of compositional freedoms. Get back to me when you're ready to talk nose-flute."

What of the future? Now that the ballet White Nights has at last been finished, dance companies in New York, Chicago, Lyons, Genoa, Karachi and St Petersburg are eager to mount productions, and the question really is, which of them is hungry enough for the honor of the première?

2 comments:

Paul Cienniwa said...

And I thank you for all of the performance royalties!

Karl Henning said...

Indeed!