One of the running themes here at my blog is how we talk about Classical Music and how that inflects what we know about the field as a whole. This goes back to what’s known as a prototype theory of language first articulated by Psychologiest, Eleanor Rosch, back in 1973 as a way to understand how we formulate categories. Each individual will have their own prototypical understanding of, say, Classical Music and that will influence how the whole field is understood and how it can be manipulated as a mental category. This in turn influences what we can see as the range of possibilities for actual members of the categories in the real world.
Soundpainting is a kind of live composing sign language created by New York composer Walter Thompson in 1974. Designed for musicians, dancers, actors, poets, and visual artists, the Soundpainting language consists of roughly 1200 gestures that are signed by the composer/director who is known as the Soundpainter. Soundpainting differs from the late Butch Morris’ Conduction (created roughly around the same time) in that the gestural language of Soundpainting is more general and is designed to be used by non-musicians.
In my previous post I talked about the minuscule returns that live audience ticket revenue gives for the total operating budget of movies. I’m going to divide this post into two parts as the first has gotten rather lengthy.
In this post I’ve summarized some of the things I brought up in the previous one, “Live audiences for Movies matter less than for Classical Music.” Then I’ll take a look at how and why Hollywood studios focus on the live audience demographic that it does and relate that to what seems to be a “holy grail” for Classical Music Crisis folks: the mythical younger audience. I’ll look at audience-creation that has become the primary marketing model for contemporary Hollywood studios after the precipitous decline in regular weekly movie-goers and how that relates to single-ticket marketing that’s becoming more prominent in the Classical Music field. The post ends with a discussion of the social costs that accompany some of this marketing strategy and its focus on younger audiences and how that relates to a lack of critical inquiry/reflection in the push to bring Classical Music into a “wider and more contemporary culture” (setting aside what’s problematic about saying that the field doesn’t already exist in it).
So, one of my birthday gifts was a copy of Edward Jay Epstein’s “The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies.” The book opens with this snippet in the intro.
There was a time around the middle of the twentieth century, when the box office numbers that were reported in newspapers were relevant to the fortunes of Hollywood: studios owned the major theater chains and made virtually all their profits from their theater ticket sales. This was a time before television sets became ubiquitous in American homes, and before movies could be made digital for DVDs and downloads.
Today, Hollywood studios are in a very different business: creating rights that can be licensed, sold, and leveraged over different platforms, including television, DVD, and video games. Box office sales no longer play nearly as important a role. And yet newspapers, as if unable to comprehend the change, continue to breathlessly report these numbers every week, often on their front pages. With few exceptions, this anachronistic ritual is what passes for reporting on the business of Hollywood.
To begin with, these numbers are misleading when used to describe what a film of studio earns. At best, they represent gross income from theater chains’ ticket sales. These chains eventually rebate about 50 percent of the sales to a distributor, which also deducts its outlay for prints and advertising (P&A). In 2007, the most recent year for which the studios have released their budget figures, P&A averaged about $40 million per title–more than was typically received from American theaters for a film in that year. The distributors also deducts a distribution fee, usually between 15 and 33 percent of the total theater receipts. Therefore, no matter how well a movie appears to fare in the box office race reported by the media, it is usually in the red at this point.
So where does the money that sustains Hollywood come from? In 2007, the major studios had combined revenues of $42.3 billion, of which about one-tenth came from American theaters; the rest came from the so-called backend, which includes DVD sales, multi-picture output deals with foreign distributors, pay-TV, and network television licensing.
So, why aren’t you in a band anyway? One of the things I think all Classical Music students (especially performers) should be required to do is play in a band. No, this doesn’t mean they should take up a guitar, bass, drums, or sing. What this does mean is that it should become an integral part of the performing experience–even if for just a semester. Learning the ropes on how to put together a set, getting booked, and dealing with a non concert hall type of venue would do more for teaching kids about the business of music than a class would, I’d think. Along the way, students would also be able to dispel a lot of myths about the Pop Music scene that we romanticize as a result of media representation or unrealistic portrayals of the industry through engagement with big name Pop Superstars.