Should Musicians be Paid?

Amanda-Palmer

Amanda Palmer

There’re a ton of interesting (and depressing) events happening on many different musical fronts.  The latest bit of news from the pop world is Amanda Palmer’s asking musicians (horns and string players) to play for free during her upcoming tour after she raised over a million dollars in support for marketing and producing the CD and help support the tour.

Amy Vaillancourt-Sals, a horn player in the bay area, writes an open letter chastising Palmer and Cellist Erica Mulkey, otherwise known as Unwoman, writes a why she’s fine with playing for Palmer for freeHere is Amanda Palmer‘s original blogpost shout-out for players.  Plenty of comments in all links debating both sides of the issue.

On another front, violinist Michelle Jones and former cellist-turned-author (and a long-time friend) David Beem have talk about all the things they see that is wrong with Classical Music and offer some advice to budding young classical musicians on how things can more smoothly be transitioned into a world which may have fewer Symphony Orchestras.  Florida State percussion instructor, John Parks, explains why he thinks this kind of viewpoint is a bit off.

Drew McManus (and in a comment on this post) and my former cello teacher and also longtime friend and colleague, Eric Edberg, talk about this issue from the side of contract negotiations and how there’s been a push for reduction of pay and benefits (in both Orchestras and Academia) by filling positions on a more temporary basis with subs and adjunct professors.  On the tail end of what’s happening with Orchestras in San Antonio, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and St. Paul things might seem pretty grim for many classical musicians.

On another note, I was mistaken about the lack of data about gate revenue as a proportion of total revenue by the last of the four major big US sports organizations (the National Hockey League).  That info was contained in one of the graphs though not mentioned in the piece itself which I came across as I re-read the piece.  And while earning 34% of total revenue through gate revenue puts it at the high end of the sports leagues (the NFL earns about 20% of total revenue through the gate) this is still on the low end of ticket revenue as a proportion of total revenue earned by Orchestras–the irony is the former (Sports) we talk about being profitable industries while the latter (Orchestras) are considered not so profitable.

6 thoughts on “Should Musicians be Paid?

  1. Minor comment: what’s printed on her shirt is just a teensy bit ironic (I’m using the polite word) considering the amount of frickin photoshopping that photo’s been subjected to.

    • Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I picked this press shot from her website. Given that one of her selling points and stances is to “rage against the machine” that is the recording music industry, this whole fiasco is more than a bit ironic!

      • It also reveals some of the problems of crowdsourcing one’s funding. The end result is that an artist who has to resort to kickstarter may end up with a whole lot of disillusioned ex-fans when it becomes clear to them that the $5 they gave to you doesn’t result in any real ownership of your project. Instead of having to satisfy one rich patron, you may end up having to satisfy thousands of more modest patrons, which of course cannot be done. There is just no making that many people happy. (My “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” model is starting to look better and better.)

      • This–yes–also applies to using members of an orchestra to market and do more extensive outreach–thus likely hitting a larger patron base than the few richer ones. While it could be a good trade off I’m not so sure it’s a model that’s well thought out yet.

      • I’m thinking now about how koi will only get as big as their environment lets them. You CAN’T grow a huge koi in a small pond, and if you try, the thing will die on you. Similarly, I’m thinking in evolutionary/ecological terms on this. I still have to work it out, so it’s not likely to be coherent quite yet. But … we’re looking for ways to grow traditionally Big Careers and support traditionally Big Organizations (orchestras) using the support systems that grow Small Careers and Small Organizations. I’m not sure that something like Kickstarter CAN be used to grow a millionaire successfully, forget whether or not it SHOULD. For a smaller career (of the sort that will fit into a DQYDJ model), it will likely be more successful.

        But to become a millionaire pop star with it? To fund a 100+ person orchestra with it? To try to give a “personal touch” and sense of ownership to the fans of a huge organization like that? No way. It’d be like trying to grow a full-sized oak tree in a bonsai pot. It is simply not going to happen. People who want the bling of yesteryear with the crowdfunded-DIY-cool of the new system are hankering for an impossibility.

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