Tag: music industry

How the New Music Community is Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

As a safety precaution against further spread of COVID-19, American Composers Orchestra under the direction of George Manahan performs to a nearly empty house consisting of just the six composers whose music is being featured, composer mentors, and ACO staff in Aaron Davis Hall at City College on March 12, 2020. (Photo by Ed Yim, courtesy ACO.)

Like everyone else, we have been trying as best as possible to carefully monitor the spread of the Coronavirus worldwide and, as you can imagine from our vantage point at New Music USA, paying particular attention to what its impact has been on the new music community (e.g. the cancellation of concerts/conferences, the closure of schools and a switch to online distance learning where possible, and on and on, aside from the health and safety fears that everyone in the world is currently facing) and how we can best be of help. To that end, we thought it would be helpful to offer observations and constructive ideas of people from a variety of vantage points within our sector in NewMusicBox in the hopes that it can lead us toward a consensus about what might be best practices for how to deal with this extraordinary and unprecedented situation moving forward.

To that end, we posed a series of seven questions to: producer and marketing/PR consultant Alanna Maharajh Stone; composer Katherine Balch; Andrew Bliss, Artistic Director of Nief-Norf; improvising vocalist, composer/lyricist, and teacher Fay Victor; Opera Omaha’s General Director Roger Weitz; Kate Nordstrum, founder, curator, and producer of the Liquid Music Series and executive and artistic director of The Great Northern; David Skidmore of Third Coast Percussion; and Ashley Bathgate, cello soloist and member of the Bang on a Can All Stars.

In addition, we’ve also featured photos here from American Composers Orchestra’s 2020 Underwood New Music Readings held on March 12 and 13 in Aaron Davis Hall at The City College of New York taken by ACO’s President and CEO Edward Yim. Closed to the public due to the growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the readings were limited to orchestra musicians, the six composers featured, the mentor composers for the program, and ACO staff, but the event was recorded for a future stream available to the ACO’s audience. Unfortunately the deepening of the crisis in the days since then has meant that even this small a gathering is no longer possible, making any kind of orchestra performance unlikely for the foreseeable future. But video footage from the readings is currently being edited and ACO plans to post an online stream sometime next week. To be notified, please sign up to be added to an email list at the following URL: https://mailchi.mp/americancomposers/subscribe.

As a safety precaution against further spread of COVID-19, American Composers Orchestra under the direction of George Manahan performs to a nearly empty house consisting of just the six composers whose music is being featured, composer mentors, and ACO staff in Aaron Davis Hall at City College on March 12, 2020. (Photo by Stephanie Polonio, courtesy ACO.)

As a safety precaution against further spread of COVID-19, American Composers Orchestra under the direction of George Manahan performed to a nearly empty house consisting of just the six composers whose music is being featured, composer mentors, and ACO staff in Aaron Davis Hall at City College on March 12, 2020. (ACO photos by Stephanie Polonio, courtesy ACO.)

We remain eager to hear from more people in the community to hear about your concerns as well as creative solutions for how to cope in these extraordinary times. Please add your thoughts in our Comments section below and stay safe and well.

1. How have the recent concerns over the spread of COVID-19 affected your activities as a musician/composer/presenter/etc.?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: Thanks so much for the opportunity to weigh in on these existentially trying times. I have had two concerts recently cancelled. It’s of course disappointing for everyone involved but given the circumstances of our public health crisis, it must be done.

Katherine Balch: Like everyone else right now, as far as I know, pretty much every concert scheduled for me between last week and the end of April has been cancelled. Hopefully, postponed. While some of these cancellations are very disappointing, I am more concerned for my performing freelance friends.

“I didn’t think it would impact the musical communities I interact with because our audiences and spaces are on the smaller side.”

Andrew Bliss: Like many of us, COVID-19 has been at the heart of discussion now since for several weeks. I’ve been anticipating cancellations (which have occurred, one by one) and have had all professional work halt since early March until at least the end of May at this point. For me, this has included festivals in the U.S. and abroad, educational residencies, university teaching, plus student activities and performances. Most notably here in Knoxville, the Big Ears Festival was canceled, which was both very disappointing and, of course, very necessary.

Fay Victor: As serious as I took the news, I didn’t think it would impact the musical communities I interact with because our audiences and spaces are on the smaller side. So up until last week, I was out attending events as normal. This past week there has been a sharp shift toward cancellations with venues looking out for the safety of their employees and patrons and lest we not forget that we live in a litigious society as well.

Unfortunately this has impacted me greatly. I’ve lost a week at the Stone (it would have been my first residency there for my own work); a CD release at Joe’s Pub, 4 days of shows in Chicago and more. Some venues have offered to reschedule immediately, one offered payment anyway and the others – well, I’m waiting to hear what will happen.

Roger Weitz: On March 12, Opera Omaha made the decision to postpone its third annual ONE Festival (https://onefestivalomaha.org/) with performances and events stretching March 20-April 5. We sent the communication below to our artists and within 36 hours of this communication, venues in Omaha began shutting down.

From: Roger Weitz

Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2020 1:53 PM

To: All Opera Omaha

Subject: a message from Roger Weitz and James Darrah

Dear Festival Family,

The strength of Opera Omaha and the ONE Festival is you: the artists, staff, and crew that create exceptional work unlike any other company in the world. We put the health and safety of all of you and your families first and foremost. While the individual risk to you in Omaha remains low, the systemic risk is nationally high and growing locally.

As we have been monitoring the scope of this pandemic, relying on factual and scientific information, we have decided that the most responsible way to honor that commitment to you is to cease our current work and explore the possibility of rescheduling/postponing the Festival’s offerings. We do not want to contribute to this pandemic in any way, but more importantly are taking this proactive decision in the interest of your safety.

Even though our time is cut short, and we will explore options to bring these projects to fruition at a later date, Opera Omaha will fulfill its entire current contractual commitment to you. We will be in touch with you or your manager as appropriate. For those of you from outside of Omaha, we are currently preparing a plan for your travel and will reach out to you directly to discuss those arrangements shortly.

If you have any questions beyond travel logistics, please contact one of us or Kurt.

On a more personal note, we are extremely proud that you are a part of this Festival and thank you for all of the time, energy, and artistry that you have already contributed.

With respect and admiration,

Roger and James

Kate Nordstrum: As of January 2020, Liquid Music is an independent LLC, owned by me. It was launched at The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2012. This spring we had a number of projects lined up with The Kennedy Center, Big Ears Music Festival, and National Gallery of Art. My role was producer of 1 0 0 1 (Dustin O’Halloran, Fukiko Takase, Bryan Senti & Yaron Abulafia) at The Kennedy Center (part of the Direct Current festival, a 2019 SPCO Liquid Music commission), producer of Dust (Valgeir Sigurdsson and Daniel Piorro) at Big Ears and National Sawdust, and guest artistic director for The National Gallery (illuminating the exhibit “True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe 1780-1870” with a program featuring works by contemporary composers inspired by nature, performed by yMusic). The National Gallery hasn’t formally cancelled yet, but I expect this to happen at any moment… The others are cancelled.

Beyond the spring cancellations, it is impossible to know when things will start back up again. This uncertainty makes postponement tricky.

I have another job now too: Executive & Artistic Director of The Great Northern—a 10-day festival that celebrates winter in Minneapolis and Saint Paul in an era of climate change. I’ve been actively working on fundraising and programming for Jan 28-Feb 7 activity, and wonder how/if I’ll be able to sustain the necessary momentum on both fronts.

David Skidmore: To create something positive in this uncertain and often frightening environment, we have decided to live stream a concert from our rehearsal studio in Chicago for each of our concerts that cancel. Similarly we will offer educational content online in lieu of our cancelled educational activities. It won’t replace in-person visits to these communities we were scheduled to visit in the U.S. and beyond, but we plan to leverage the technology we have at our disposal to make some really cool and fun musical experiences for all those folks around the world who are stuck at home.

We are speaking with some concert presenters about partnering with us on this project. Please contact me if you’d like to speak about it: [email protected].

Ashley Bathgate: Activities have ceased. Everything I have planned on the calendar from now through the summer is up in the air right now. If the projections are accurate, I may not be performing or working until late summer or fall. It’s a wait and see approach for all of us.

Life as a freelancer is already touch and go. We can’t really count on work to begin with, we don’t know what our schedules will be more than 3-6 months in advance, there’s always the risk of something falling through at the last minute, and there is no safety net. Yet there’s some strange consistency in that. You know how it goes and what to expect and you know you have some control over what you do and don’t do. In this instance, we are totally unprepared and without control. I quickly realized that the things I would normally do when a gig gets cancelled wouldn’t serve me here. I have to accept it and move forward with what is available to me at this moment, not yesterday or tomorrow or six months from now. Everything is uncertain, and that is the only thing that is certain.

Top row: Fay Victor (photo by Kyra Kverno), Andrew Bliss, and Katherine Balch; Bottom row: Roger Weitz, Ashley Bathgate (photo by Bill Wadman), Kate Nordstrum (photo by Cameron Wittig), Alanna Maharajh Stone, and David Skidmore.

Top row: Fay Victor (photo by Kyra Kverno), Andrew Bliss (photo by Evan Chapman), and Katherine Balch; Bottom row: Roger Weitz, Ashley Bathgate (photo by Bill Wadman), Kate Nordstrum (photo by Cameron Wittig), Alanna Maharajh Stone, and David Skidmore.

2. How have cancellations of events affected your income at this point (payment for performances/talks, etc., performing rights fees for performances of your music, etc.)?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: The cancellations have certainly impacted my income but I have a little savings so I am alright for the time being. I’m very worried about everyone in the music community and our wider communities at large about the impact of the cancellations and closings. It’s the right thing to do for sure as this virus must be mitigated. I think we all need to be especially kind and look out for each other to get through this and we shall get through together. We’re all interdependent to make a vibrant, flourishing, creative world.

“We’re all interdependent to make a vibrant, flourishing, creative world.”

Katherine Balch: I am definitely losing performing rights fees, but those are not a substantial part of my income. So far, I am missing the second installment of a commission fee as a result of a postponed performance. I am very fortunate to be a graduate student with a stipend from my university.

Andrew Bliss: My wife and I have repeatedly confessed how grateful we are to have salaried positions at major universities, which have allowed for a constant sense of security in our lives. With that in mind, we do keep a to-the-dollar budget each month, and have had to make a number of changes as all of our other income has slowly evaporated due to cancellations.

Fay Victor: The impact is significant but is survivable so far. If this is a temporary situation, I should be OK. We’ll just have to see.

Roger Weitz: It is still too early to know all of the financial ramifications of this decision.

Kate Nordstrum: I am fortunate to have a stable salary via The Great Northern. The Liquid Music performances that were cancelled mean no income for myself or the artists, even though months of work have gone into project development, rehearsals, and business administration leading to the events. I am still waiting to see if the flights I purchased will be reimbursed by the airlines.

David Skidmore: Third Coast Percussion has seen several cancellations of scheduled concerts and educational activities, and we expect we might see more still. We are fortunate to a certain degree because over the years we have made a point of setting aside money in the event of an unexpected budget shortfall. That said, this unprecedented situation presents an existential threat to all arts organizations, and Third Coast is not immune to that. We stand to lose an extraordinary amount of money (by our standards at least) should our performance fees for the rest of this concert season not come through. We have salaried employees with health benefits through TCP, there are contractors who rely on us for their livelihood, and there are composers and guest artists who rely on the commission fees and performance fees that we offer for their work.

“This unprecedented situation presents an existential threat to all arts organizations.”

Ashley Bathgate: Right now, I am in danger of losing about 1/3 of my income for the year. My gigs this month were cancelled. I will almost certainly lose all of April’s income and it’s looking more and more likely that May will fall apart as well. At that point, I will be in the position of not being able to pay my bills or my debt obligations, like student loan, vehicle loan, instrument loan, etc. I will have to dip into savings that were put aside for my future, specifically a retirement fund, because as a freelancer, I don’t have a pension to speak of. These cancellations have the potential to ruin a lot of people’s lives, or at the very least, leave a significant dent.

That said, I am heartened and inspired to see people rallying. Funds are being established for relief, people are sharing information on what’s already out there, they are asking each other if they need help and sending messages to cheer you up and let you know: you are not alone. I saw one person on Facebook offer up two beds in his apartment today to anyone who needs it.

We are continuing to perform (and some venues are allowing us to continue to perform) without a live audience so that we can still be paid and so that people can hear/see our work by watching a live stream of the show. Audiences are donating their tickets back to the venue instead of getting a refund. I am seeing presenters promise to fulfill their agreements and to pay artists regardless of whether the concert happens or not. It’s clear that everyone: artists, venues, presenters, and audiences alike want to help find a solution.

3. What kind of arrangements have been / should be in place for you to ensure a fair balance for these cancellations? (There are clearly multiple sides to this, among them the artists’ side and the venue’s side and we’d like to offer both perspectives in order to arrive at something approximating a possible best practice.)

Alanna Maharajh Stone: On a personal note, one of the cancelled concerts will turn into an album release campaign project at a later point so I’m very thankful for that.

I would ask arts organizations presenters to pay their scheduled artists their fees even if the institutions have to cancel their performances due to Coronavirus precautions. Freelancers all depend on the work they have planned and scheduled. Things can get rescheduled and the artists will appreciate the care, thought, and respect they are displaying, not to mention the ability to afford to survive. Arts orgs have annual budgets assigned already. This would not be hard to do and go a long way towards easing the financial pain I’m seeing in my colleagues’ social media feeds. I know smaller presenters will find this very hard to do but I applaud ones such as Hotel Elefant and HERE Arts Center for doing this as much as they can. Time In is also finding ways to employ their artists remotely. Tech and social media are key tools in bringing us together and helping ease the feeling of isolation. Alternatively, venues can also stream the performances to global audiences without having an in-house audience present. This way the show can go on such as with Miller Theatre with a recent concert. Several other venues are doing this as well.

For artists having gigs cancelled on them, I would recommend trying to negotiate retaining part or all of their fees in exchange for a new performance date. For future projects, build a deposit into your contracts that is non-refundable so there is some cushion should things not work out as planned through no fault of yours. Do not be afraid to negotiate and ask for what you want – this is your livelihood.

Katherine Balch: I think it’s really complicated because a lot of presenting institutions are also operating on bootstraps budgets. I do wish there were some sort of insurance in place for performers who have spent time and energy into learning a (often very demanding) new piece of music only to find out they won’t be paid the days leading up to the performance. Composers are often paid 50% fee at the signing of a contract and 50% upon delivery of the score or the premiere performance. I wonder if such a policy could be in place for freelancers for emergency circumstances like these.

Andrew Bliss: My feelings are often divided on this topic, because I work both as a performer/educator, and I also run the contemporary music organization Nief-Norf. So I can easily see and empathize with the challenges that presenters face. Up to this point, all of my cancellations have simply been offered to be rescheduled for the future.

That said, this current crisis has prompted a great deal of thinking about the future. I wonder what types of safeguards we can implement in the future to mitigate some of the difficult decisions we are facing today. In my time in academia and the non-profit sector, I’ve hosted dozens of artists and ensembles, while actively touring as a soloist and chamber performer myself. I’ve seen artist fees and artists’ contractual rigor range widely during this time. I have concluded over the years that almost all musicians have a “portfolio” career, with income coming from various sources and those obligations representing various percentages of their time obligations. I mention this, because the percentage that residencies/appearances/performances play in an artists’ overall portfolio, seems to have a strong influence on their approach to fees and contracts.

Many musicians are very strict about receiving and adhering to contracts, including price guarantees, though I think we’ve learned this is probably a topic we need to re-visit. Earlier in my career, I might have considered that position to be too strict and inflexible. From personal experience, however, I realized how critically important these contracts are to a musician’s livelihood. Flexibility is vital, of course, whenever possible. But it’s also important to write that flexibility into a written agreement or contract, rather than having to decide just-how-flexible you can afford to be in an ad-hoc way. I doubt that anyone’s contracts had a “pandemic clause” beyond force majeure, however, so we are all on shaky ground at this point.

Fay Victor: Fortunately, I have other work as an educator that balances out my income. Some venues can afford to pay out for the shows (I mentioned one is doing so in my case). I understand through that a small venue simply may not have the money to pay out to everyone. I’m not sure how best to handle it. Everyone has been kind and accommodating as much as they can be. The communities I work in all understand how precarious this situation is for everyone.

Roger Weitz: Most of our contracts have cancellation clauses and/or force majeure clauses built in. In most cases we are choosing to ignore those clauses and will pay the artists their full fee. The artists committed to us and we committed to the artists. The contracts required the artists to hold the festival time period for us and we know that it would be virtually impossible for them now to secure new engagements to replace the ones that we have postponed.

“In most cases we are choosing to ignore force majeure clauses and will pay the artists their full fee.”

Kate Nordstrum: I think artistic teams should be able to keep project deposits. There should be a recognition that this down payment goes toward development of the work — it is not held in a safe until the performance premieres. Presenters who do not do deposits should reconsider, as it can be a hardship on artists. Presenters should also take responsibility for flight purchases or reimbursements if an artist fronts this expense. My experience is primarily from the presenter side, and I still agree with all of the above! As a presenter, I do sympathize greatly with the stress that arts organizations are under, but they are in a better position than individual artists to find a way to recover costs.

There are more protections from institutions around commissioned work, which is a good thing.

David Skidmore: All of our performance contracts have what’s called a force majeure clause, which I like to lovingly think of as the oh shit clause. In the event of something catastrophic and out of the control of the artist and venue, what do we do? These contract clauses can provide some helpful guidance in situations like this.

That said: the performing arts world, and the new music world as a subset of the performing arts world, is a relatively small community of people who are in this because they love this art and they believe in it. I sincerely hope that everyone is doing their part to both take care of themselves and their loved ones, but also to think of the larger communities that they are a part of. Think of those who are more vulnerable than you are, and do everything you can to help them.

“I sincerely hope that everyone is doing their part to both take care of themselves and their loved ones, but also to think of the larger communities that they are a part of.”

Ashley Bathgate: I can’t speak to the presenting side, but I think we need to be having this conversation more openly and more often. Over the past few days I’ve gotten a clearer picture of what everyone is going through. That makes me more informed, more empathetic and more generous. I believe in transparency. There can always be more of this in life and certainly in the art world. We need to vocalize more and we need to put our heads together. In this instance, it’s on a case by case basis. Bill Bragin said it in a nutshell: it is a question of who can bear the loss.

From my perspective, if we had a clearer protocol to begin with, this wouldn’t be as much of a gray area for someone like me. If I had contracts for every gig I played, with an agreed upon language, including the language of the force majeure clause, a deposit up front and a cancellation fee in place, I’d at least have somewhere to start. If that was my standard, I would not feel so disempowered at this moment. Right now, I am at someone else’s mercy. That person is also at someone else’s mercy. Though, one can argue that contracts are meaningless if the people behind them don’t respect or are subsequently unable to honor the agreement.

When that happens, are we legally protected?

I don’t know too many freelance artists with lawyers on retainer. I don’t know too many of us (myself included) who even understand the law when it comes to things like this, or copyright, or intellectual property, etc. What about insurance? What’s that, does that even exist for us? Gig insurance? It is becoming less and less feasible in our DIY, click of a button stream-culture, to have a team around you who can look out for you in these ways. I cannot afford to have management on retainer. I cannot afford to hire a publicist, which costs per month what I would pay in rent. I cannot afford to pay a record label to release my album, which I spent thousands of dollars on and which might sell 500 copies, if I am lucky. I can’t afford to hire a development director to fundraise for my next project. So we are learning to do all of these things ourselves, on the fly, while making art, while taking care of families. I spend most of my “work” day on a lap top, not my cello. The system is becoming harder and harder for artists like me, who were told in school to just practice their instrument, be great at what you do and you will get a job. It’s not that world anymore and we aren’t preparing the younger generation for the world we exist in. It’s another form of preparation in which we are behind.

For the moment, I would say priority number one is a little extra sensitivity and kindness, all around. Number two is that if a venue or a presenter is able to cover half or the whole of a musician’s fee for the work they are cancelling, they should, as long as it does not put them in danger of going out of business themselves. If that is not possible, I think every effort should be made to honor the agreement and reschedule the concert or work as soon as possible. Outside of that, there are relief funds we can apply for and I don’t think we should be afraid to ask for help, whether that’s in the form of money, housing, food, child care, really anything. Ask for help. People want to help if they can.

Once we get through this crisis, I think there are some harder conversations to have. It’s not just about how we can help during this difficult time or how we plug the dam, it’s about a bigger picture and, hey now, “a greater coming together”.

I think artists like myself would do well to vocalize the things they want and need more often and to just walk away when it feels wrong for them. There will be other opportunities and there are lots of human beings to collaborate with in the world. The number one thing I come up against is my own fear. I fear quoting too high a price for my work because: x, y, z. I fear being disagreeable because I will not get the gig, it will go to the person who is agreeable or more “grateful”. I fear suggesting alterations in the language of the contract because it will create tension or delay going forward. I fear speaking up because most people around me don’t speak up. No one wants to rock the boat. No one wants to lose work they have by asking for more. No one wants to be disliked or to have a reputation for being difficult. Presenters and contractors are Gods in this business, they can make or break our year, sometimes our career. And for presenters and contractors, well, there are Gods in their world too. Beth Morrison described it as a food chain, we are all part of the same food chain. It’s true, we are part of the same ecosystem. We’re also part of the same species, so, let’s try to communicate more instead of fighting for our own survival, because we can.

“I think artists like myself would do well to vocalize the things they want and need more often and to just walk away when it feels wrong for them.”

When I think about it, I fear most everything about my job, except for the part where I make music. This comes from my experience. This comes from hearing things like, “that’s just the way it is” and “well, you’d do it for free, right?” and “this is the life you chose”. This comes from getting offered gigs with no mention of the pay or terms, only “do you have these dates free?”. This comes from receiving offers that are basically “take it or leave it” with no room for negotiating and a built in protection for the other party, not me. This is from going into temporary credit card debt to pay for flights that a presenting organization will not book themselves or reimburse up front, based on “policy” because it’s too big a risk for them?! This is from playing show after show, where despite having an agreement in place and going through every hoop imaginable to make it operate smoothly, the end result is me spending extra hours (unpaid) emailing and phoning to figure out why my payment is still being withheld, months later.

Saying these things out loud leaves me feeling bit vulnerable, but I know I am not alone in my experiences. I know we talk about it among ourselves, within our close circle, but we won’t make a habit of talking to those outside our point of view, or collectively. If we could all be so forthcoming and generous on a regular basis the way that I am seeing right now, we’d be better off. So please, let’s continue these conversations, let’s have more webinars and town halls and group chats. Let’s all make ourselves more aware of each other’s perspectives so that we can emerge from this crisis more informed, more empathetic and more generous going forward.

4. What precautions have you been taking personally to ensure your safety as well as that of your family and the artistic collaborators with whom you most frequently work?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: Usually I work from home anyway so it’s not hard for me to isolate from others communicating by phone or email. I really think it’s integral for everyone to heed the social distancing and isolate as much as possible. This seems very counterintuitive to hear myself say that as I much prefer face-to-face meetings but we are living in extraordinary times. We must flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus so the US does not end up in a worse situation than Italy and China. And it is crucial to support capable politicians who are looking out for everyone and taking active measures to help communities affected by this. Health care is a human right. Testing and care for coronavirus should be free and easily accessible throughout the nation. This whole crisis has illustrated why we need Medicare for all.

Katherine Balch: Aside from the CDC recommendations, in terms of my financial well-being, I’m budgeting and have made a spending plan for the next few months. I’m also researching where is best to make (modest) donation(s) to support relief for freelance artists. In terms of mental health, I’m trying to come up with a daily schedule, getting dressed instead of staying in my PJ’s, those kinds of things. It helps to be teaching online, actually.

“I’m budgeting and have made a spending plan for the next few months. I’m also researching where is best to make (modest) donation(s) to support relief for freelance artists.”

Andrew Bliss: I’ve been working from home since basically March 1 and we’ve moved all Nief-Norf meetings to online conferencing. Everyone is working from home. My wife and I have made rigorous spreadsheet schedules for ourselves and our two young children to try and find a balance between giving them varied activities and attention, and continuing to have time to ourselves for various work-related activities. We stopped leaving the house over a week ago for anything that is not strictly necessary. At work, we had made preparations for how we might substitute players who weren’t comfortable or couldn’t attend our performances at the Big Ears Festival, which ended up being cancelled anyway. We are now looking ahead to the Nief-Norf Summer Festival (nnSF) in June and making plans A, B, and C, keeping in mind how we can best (and most safely) serve the community that we have built for the last 10 years at nnSF.

Fay Victor: We’re beginning at home to plan for being there more! Stocking up on necessities just in case I or my husband become ill. I’m washing my hands as much as possible, keeping surfaces clean and eating healthy. I found an incredible TedTalk about the virus that I’ve referenced back to a few times: https://youtu.be/Fqw-9yMV0sI.

Roger Weitz: We stopped all rehearsals and planned activities in an effort to lower the transmission of the virus, to help “flatten the curve.” Within one business day of postponing the festival and sending guest artists back to their homes, we closed Opera Omaha’s administrative offices and the staff are working from home to the extent that their job duties will enable them.

Kate Nordstrum: We are all at home… texting, Skyping, creatively plotting, encouraging each other, organizing, cooking, reading, tending to family. I don’t know anyone taking their chances with regard to personal health and safety. I am on the lookout for artist and arts org resources to share.

David Skidmore: Washing our hands like a maniacs more than we ever have, being especially mindful of our bodies and germs should we find ourselves in contact with anyone who we perceive as possibly at risk, and meanwhile erring on the side of caution and assuming that anyone might be a person at risk who does not outwardly present as such. It’s worth remembering that losing a paycheck, or a month’s paycheck, or several months’ paychecks is a tremendous burden, but losing a loved one does not even compare.

Ashley Bathgate: I am staying home right now as much as possible. Trying to keep stress and anxiety to a minimum. Less risk taking, more healthy choices. I am driving more, avoiding public transportation. I am sacrificing things I would consider normal in terms of socializing or self-maintaining, trying to do more of those at home, which also saves money. I am intending to follow through with concerts that have not been cancelled yet. I am a bit nervous about it but I think we should try to go about our life as we normally would. Realistically, I need to work to make some money. So there will be some risk taking.

Then there are all the little things which you never think about like washing your hands more, touching your face, touching other people, disinfecting things, cleaning up more. It doesn’t feel great to be checking yourself or obsessing over it, but I am trying to remember it’s either something that will be temporary or something that will become a good habit that I won’t think so much about eventually. This has also triggered me to get in the habit of not wasting things. Don’t waste time, don’t waste energy, don’t waste food, re-use, recycle, up-cycle, less is more, keep your carbon footprint low. There’s time to pay more attention to that.

5. What are your biggest concerns/fears about the uncertain landscape we are currently in?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: First and foremost, that family, friends, colleagues – all of us – are at great risk. I fear that people won’t take this seriously and understand the gravity of the situation – the importance of isolation; that the economic impact of this wide spread shutdown will hurt us all ultimately. I want to do as much as possible to help others as I know many colleagues are already feeling the pressure of how to afford to survive. I know we will all make it through together. And I encourage people to ask their networks for help when it is needed.

It is heartening to see the real sense of community we have and active measures being taken to assist each other. I am especially grateful to Equal Sound for starting a Corona Relief Fund for artists who have had their gigs cancelled. They are raising money to help artists in urgently need. In a couple of days, they have already received $50,000 in funding requests. We need to help get the word out about this fund on both the donor side and the artist side so they will be able to assist as many artists as possible.


New Focus Recordings is also waiving the label’s share of sales from their recordings on Bandcamp through April so their artists can receive the full amount of sales from their work. I would heartily encourage everyone to buy some new music to support these and other independent artists on this label and beyond.


And I would also encourage donors to generously support our arts organizations through these difficult times. It is really vital to help keep everyone afloat.

Katherine Balch: My concerns are that my friends will suffer massively emotionally and financially with all these cancellations, and that collaborations and engagements I’m looking forward to will be cancelled or postponed. I’m concerned that the organizations that are the bedrock of new music, which tend to have more modest budgets and infrastructure, will suffer irreparably. I’m also concerned for my students, many of them are feeling a lot of anxiety about the situation, and worried about my own limitations and shortcomings as an educator during this period.

Andrew Bliss: Amidst the current chaos, it’s difficult to find a signal in the noise. It’s hard to focus on things like “work” or music making when there are threats to our basic health and safety. Typically this time of year, I would be finalizing the 2020-21 season, but discussing those possibilities with presenters right now somehow feels a little tone deaf. I’m worried about the disruptions artists will face into Spring 2021 for this reason. As a teacher, I imagine there will be similar regrouping that must occur in the Fall term, and that’s assuming that COVID-19 has abated by then.

“Typically this time of year, I would be finalizing the 2020-21 season, but discussing those possibilities with presenters right now somehow feels a little tone deaf.”

Fay Victor: Right now, I’m just processing the loss and the work to recoup costs i.e. flights, hotels, etc. I feel that our community of musicians will figure out performance alternatives. There’s already the technology to support streamed performances – that may be the way of the future for now.

Roger Weitz: If we cannot serve our community by creating art then there is little reason for the community to support us. We must find new ways to serve the community and new means by which we deliver our art. We are currently brainstorming and mapping out new creative content that we will share on line.

Kate Nordstrum: I’m concerned that arts funders (individual and corporate in particular) will fully pull away until the COVID-19 dust settles. No one knows when that will be. But we’ll need the arts and cultural sector to be stronger than ever when we emerge from this separation.

David Skidmore: We sincerely believe that the extreme measures we are taking as a society, though indescribably difficult in the short term, will prevent the worst case scenarios. We are concerned for the health and safety of everyone, and we are concerned about the hardships faced by so many of our colleagues and friends in the United States who have no financial protection against cancelled work, and a weak and ill-equipped social safety net to fall back on.

Ashley Bathgate: This virus is a pandemic, it’s global. Seems huge, right? It’s also small. This isn’t the end of the world. We will get through this. My fear is that we might not learn from our mistakes. We might say we’re going to take things more seriously from now on, things like climate change or preparation for another disaster like this one. Once the panic is over, will we forget this terror and motivation we are feeling and just allow things to go back to normal? If this virus brought anything up for me, it’s that I keep complaining about things that are broken or things that are unfair, but I don’t do enough to enact change. I mean change from within as much as change from without. My fear is that I will not act enough. I want to do the things that I keep saying I will do, and that includes thought toward the ways in which we value ourselves and those around us.

6. How do you see the current situation affecting your artistic practice?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: It’s a time for more creativity, ingenuity, and solidarity than ever before. Good to see artists going online to do FB live broadcasts of home performances. Perhaps they can also include details to donate so people can help support them directly. I myself plan to do a bit more with my own creative work as a photographer and a director in addition to my music marketing and publicity projects. I’m currently working on some album release campaigns and a video premiere campaign for clients so the timing actually works out for me not being out and about thankfully.

Katherine Balch: As a composer with a slightly slower creative metabolism than my performing colleagues, I think the answer to that question will emerge in the coming months or beyond.

Andrew Bliss: It has slowed it down considerably. I am on professional development leave (i.e. sabbatical) from the University of Tennessee at the moment, and now have a 7 and a 2-year old home, likely for weeks, if not months. We have no family anywhere nearby so it’s the four of us in the house until further notice. Anyone who has read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” knows – the only “deep work” happening these days is with Lego in hand. I don’t see a clear way to complete my proposed projects for the university in this environment, but sometimes that is not the most important thing. As I mentioned, my wife and I have carved out personal time each day, and are handling things the best we can while focusing on our family.

We make allowances for our students every semester due to outside circumstances, and have to remember as professionals that we can do that for ourselves as well. I’m enjoying time at home with my kids, trying to get to those projects around the house (work-related and otherwise) that I normally can’t get to, and making the best of the new circumstances of working 100% remotely. I may not have as much practice time, but every situation provides some opportunity. So I’m clearing some clutter, organizing some projects and plans, and clarifying pathways for future months and years. I’m lucky to be able to “focus on the bright side” at this point, and I’m grateful that our inconveniences, thus far, are mostly just being housebound with a family I love.

“Online learning might offer students more autonomy and greater accessibility. That said, it’s hard to learn anything amidst a public health crisis.”

I’m also curious to see how this situation impacts a younger generation. Specifically, as a professor, I’m curious to see what giving our students almost all of their time back, does for their learning. There are obvious downsides to the situation we are in, but there are potentially some positives as well, since online learning might offer students more autonomy and greater accessibility. That said, it’s hard to learn anything amidst a public health crisis, so I think professors and students will be learning as we go together.

Fay Victor: More free time in the short term will be enriching for my artistic practice! I can practice, compose and write more and I plan on doing just that. Also, if some musicians are willing, a great time to get together and work out ideas.

Roger Weitz: The vast majority of our artistic practice calls for artists and audiences/participants to gather in the same physical space: performances, workshops, masterclasses, events, etc. We are exploring new ways to document and share the work of our artists and will plan to use our website and social media channels to deliver that content and engage with our audience.

Kate Nordstrum: This is as a great time for project concepting and organizing. I see my responsibility as pulling together teams to do incredible work in 2021 and beyond. As an Executive Director as well as Artistic Director, ED duties usually take up more time than I’d like. This is an opportunity to lean into the creative producer side of my work more.

I also need to continue to be an advocate for artists and new projects to potential funders, making the case that post-pandemic, the hunger for new art and cultural events will be insatiable. We need to continue to invest now for the work of tomorrow.

David Skidmore: Too early to tell, but I’m hopeful this will be a time that reminds everyone how precious live performance is, and how easy it is to take it for granted.

“I’m hopeful this will be a time that reminds everyone how precious live performance is, and how easy it is to take it for granted.”

Ashley Bathgate: If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that during these times we find every reason to focus on our craft, whether it’s to send a message of hope, to shed light on what needs improvement, to bring people together, or to find time to one’s self. These events give us more purpose and drive. They cause us to reflect and to think on our toes. As awful as it is for everyone, I know I am not alone in saying that I have already thought of so many things I can do with this time. I can read, research, make plans, make art, think, relax, cook, be with my family, and reconnect with friends. I can be a sponge. I can be a leader. I can be a better human being. I want to perform and to work, don’t get me wrong. I’d go crazy if I couldn’t perform anymore. But this “free” time is exactly what we are always wishing we had more of. So I am going to fill it with everything I haven’t had time to do, and that includes making music.

7. What are some alternatives that can ensure that we can continue to advocate for our own artistic work and that of others during this extremely uncertain time? What kind of support would enable you to do that?

Alanna Maharajh Stone: I will always advocate for the artistic work of colleagues and community as well as encouraging others to do so. I think what will help artists the most right now is Emergency relief funds without a long processing time; they are really critical at this point. Perhaps New Music USA can aid with this as well as the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and other funding sources? New Music USA can also appeal to local and national politicians to push for more emergency aid for the creative community. Here are some other resources that may be useful as well.

NYC Covid-19 Musician Resources and Support


Online Music Lessons and Teachers (NY Metro Area)


Covid-19 Freelance Artist Resources


Katherine Balch: Government support for the arts. Some type of insurance plan for the gig-economy. In our own lives, finding ways to connect and engage with music making though tuning into livestreams, facetiming with colleagues, donating to arts relief funds if within ones means to do so.

Andrew Bliss: I think we need to offer (and ask for) as much support as possible. A few things I’ve tried to do: Make a phone call to a friend or collaborator and check in on how they are doing. Schedule a video conference with a fellow musician and scheme up some future projects. Support online initiatives that you think offer value and are perhaps, even breaking new ground that we might be able to incorporate into our in-person practice when COVID-19 seems to have slowed down.

I think many of us are aching for live, in-person collaboration during this time, but deep, meaningful, one-on-one or group conversations, meetups, and projects, though happening remotely, can offer friendship, artistic support, and creation that could last far beyond 2020’s quarantine.

Fay Victor: There’s much to think about regarding advocacy for our work as artists in this shifting climate. For now, perhaps its a good idea to wait it out for a bit. What we can all do now is support artists by purchasing any product they have. Support artists that give shows over the internet or have small musical gatherings. We’re thinking of having small house concerts that we can stream from our living room. These are scary times yet the ability to be creative means we’ll make the best of the situation. We’ll figure it out, perhaps creating innovations that will carry us even further. I understand that pandemics such as what we’re experiencing now with Covid-19 will be in our future more. It is better we learn now how to adapt to our present and for what’s coming. This gives me great hope.

“These are scary times yet the ability to be creative means we’ll make the best of the situation.”

Roger Weitz: Our alternatives are to bring more of our community online, so building the platforms and interconnectivity would be our first challenge.

Maybe virtual convening through New Music USA, and paying performers for salon concerts? If not directly, perhaps New Music USA could publish some “best practices” for companies seeking to engage in this way and how to direct donations from on-line viewers directly to artists?

Kate Nordstrum: Seeing, and hearing from, art institutions/individuals/sponsors who are able to continue to plan and invest in the future would help producers and artists know it’s okay to invest their time right now too. I certainly understand that is difficult in the immediate moment. We should all remind ourselves and our loved ones daily to take a breath… These days of confinement and restriction will feel long, and we are going to need patience (and more time) to see clearly how to navigate. Everyone’s lives are on hold right now — the preciousness of our days is hitting us hard.

David Skidmore: For now we’re very focused on providing as many meaningful musical experiences online as we can. This will include at least TCP performing, perhaps with some of our guest artists as well, and we will be performing a wide range of music from a wide range of composers. It’s way too early to tell how it will work or how successful it will be, but at least it will be us doing what we do best and putting it out there for the world to experience. As always, we hope people will watch and listen, and we hope people who believe in what we’re doing will support this work that we believe in so much.

Supporting artists in any way that you can is always important and rewarding. Given the current state of things, mutual support is now vital to the survival of all artists.

“Mutual support is now vital to the survival of all artists.”

Ashley Bathgate: I have more questions than answers to this one. It’s all about online I think. We’re headed that way already: Patreon, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, YouTube, social media platforms, live streams, online performances, living room concerts, VR, Twitch. My question is: are we ready for monetized streaming of live performances? Is there a market for that within crisis-mode? Is there a market for that beyond crisis-mode?

Patreon is probably a good place to start because it is in favor of the artist, it is exclusive and it is ongoing. Create your site, invite your followers and supporters to subscribe and pay what they wish, monthly. If I have 100 people who will pay $10/month to hear me speak, sing, play the cello, or other, then that is $1000 of income I did not have before. It’s tough to build a following, and you have to generate content more frequently, but I think it’s a great way to maintain control of your work and it functions for people who don’t want to or can’t be on the road all the time. During this particular time, I would feel the most comfortable asking for help this way where there is an exchange of some sort. I want to give back as much as I want to receive help.

We can continue to cultivate donors and presenters who are willing to take more risks. New music is not a proven commodity. There is more hesitation both in programming it and funding it. Because it’s not something tangible that you can hang on your wall or bring home, that makes it harder as well. How and where can we find patrons who are willing to underwrite entire new music festivals, who will fund larger commissions, records and concerts the same way that they do for pop or classical music?

Videos and albums: how do we take control of our content so that we can actually profit from streams and downloads as opposed to making fractions of a penny?

If we move to teaching online, what is a setup and connection that can function? That’s one of the questions circulating the most right now. What’s the best technology both available and affordable for teachers and students to conduct a lesson successfully this way?

Aside from funding, I think we benefit tremendously from community building. In a big city like New York, it’s hard to feel community sometimes. Nobody has time for you, you don’t have time for them, we’re all “so busy”. Freelancers are on the road all the time trying to make rent for a home we are never in. It’s bonkers.

What’s ironic is that I have connected (and reconnected) with more people over the past week than I have in the last year altogether. Aside from wanting more of that in general, I kept thinking what if there was website or forum where we could pool our talents, beyond this crisis? Here’s a site with artists, sound engineers, filmmakers, stage managers, presenters, producers, development directors, entertainment lawyers and anyone else you could think of. You would receive a private message setting up a time to speak. Whether it’s donated time or the barter system or a small fee per hour, this is now an online community designed to help each other. We’re not on retainer for hundreds and thousands of dollars a month, we are there to answer a question, look over a contract, write a letter, pitch an idea to, read through a composition, listen to a speech, guide you through a Pro-Tools conundrum, help you start a website, or a 501(c)(3). All of these things I can research online or guess at, occasionally I have a friend to help. In this scenario, I can be as much helpful as I am being helped, while being a part of my community, as opposed to desperately trying to catch up to it or squeeze it in through the cracks.

“We need more access to each other.”

I feel we need more access to each other, the barriers have to come down; we need fluidity and openness in a time like this. If I must be a cog in the wheel, I want to know what the wheel looks like, what the car looks like, the road, the total landscape. If we remain satisfied with partial views, we are never going to move the vehicle forward.

John Nuechterlein to Retire as President/CEO of American Composers Forum

John Nuechterlein has announced that he will retire as President/CEO of the American Composers Forum effective December 31, 2018. He shared the news recently with Forum board and staff, noting the decision to move on came slowly over the past few months. “The Forum is an extraordinary ecosystem of creative, imaginative people,” Nuechterlein says. “I feel privileged to have been part of that for twenty years, and I will miss it deeply.”

John Nuechterlein (photo by Nancy Hauck, courtesy American Composers Forum)

John Nuechterlein (photo by Nancy Hauck, courtesy American Composers Forum)

While John is retiring from his leadership role at ACF, he has no shortage of plans for the future. “I’ve listened to a lot of new music in my career at the expense of seeing new theater, watching new film, and exploring the work of visual artists,” he says. “I have a long list of places to visit for the first time, but I also look forward to discovering more of the rich tapestry of what is right here in Minnesota.”

John became President in 2003 after serving as its managing director for the previous five years. The breadth of programming has grown during his 15-year tenure through several new initiatives, most notably the NextNotes® High School Composition Awards and the national ACF CONNECT program. Especially meaningful to him was the recent launch of In Common, a collaborative artist residency program that gives communities an opportunity to explore their own diversity by sharing stories through the creation of new music. “The Forum has a long history of finding new ways to both support composers and integrate them meaningfully into our culture,” Nuechterlein explained. During his tenure the innova® Recordings label also experienced exponential growth–it’s now one of the most successful new music labels in the country with over 600 titles in its catalog. Its contribution to the contemporary music scene is internationally recognized.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors and the community of composers around the country”, says Board Chair Mary Ellen Childs, “I’d like to thank John for his excellent leadership over many years. He leaves ACF in superb shape, with a strong staff, secure financial footing, and an exciting new strategic plan on the horizon to guide the organization going forward. While we’re sad to see him go, we’re thrilled for him and all that is next in his life.”

The Forum’s board of directors will be conducting a national search to fill the position.

from the press release

Decolonizing Our Music

During one of the breaks at the COMTA conference at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan, a group performed Andean traditional music on double bass, harp, guitars, panpipes, and percussion.
Ed. Note: The essay below was presented, in a slightly different form, as the final keynote address at the “Decolonizing Music” conference presented by the Music Council of the Three Americas (Consejo de la música de las Tres Americas – COMTA) at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan.—FJO

Colonization rears its ugly head whenever there is “globalization.” In the 1500s, several European nations were aggressively globalizing, especially Spain, and especially in the Americas. At the time of Christopher Columbus’s westward wanderings, the Americas already had strong indigenous cultures. There was a great fondness for music and dancing, especially for rituals and celebrations.

Alongside the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors came the arrival of Catholic missionaries. The militaries with their governments and the churches with their faith began the process of colonization and, with it, they brought Western music and culture. While indigenous music and Western music have coexisted for sure, Western music became preeminent as the government and the church often imposed a rigid adoption of Western ways, much to the detriment of indigenous music.

Companies with the financial resources and the political clout often impose a uniformity on the consumption of the music they believe is popular and therefore profitable.

The same is true today with digital colonization. The companies with the financial resources and the political clout often impose a uniformity on the consumption of the music they believe is popular and therefore profitable. Given the ubiquity of their total command of the internet, the “world” becomes their colony and the “popular” tastes rule, again to the detriment of the indigenous music, but also to art music and to any other music with a limited audience and appeal.

This scenario has forced indigenous music and even our beloved “classical” music into competing with everything—sports, popular music, even each other.  Unfortunately, indigenous music and classical music were never intended to compete.  In an April 4, 2003 London Financial Times article entitled “Out of Tune,” music critic Andrew Clark postulated that, throughout most of its history, classical music had been able to flourish through a mixture of patronage (government, corporations, private philanthropy) and paternal influence on public policy (e.g. “classical music is good for you”).  Now, neither patronage nor paternalism is certain or sufficient.  Today, corporate, private, and governmental philanthropy continues to decline.  And no one can stand before a Board of Education and use the argument that music must be in the curriculum because it’s good for us.  So now we as supporters of indigenous and classical music are trying to compete where we were never intended to compete in the first place—in the sphere of popular culture.  Add to that mix what Clark describes as “the overwhelming evidence that classical music spent most of the past century in creative implosion, and there seem justifiable grounds for panic.” We face quite a challenge. But back to decolonization.

The common thread of colonization, whether it’s the old kind of colonization or the new, is an “either/or” mentality. One music reigns supreme, while the other is neglected at best or dies away at worst. The either/or colonial approach is not healthy or even desirable for a flourishing culture. Thus, the necessity to “decolonize” our music.

Decolonizing music involves a conscious decision to move away from an “either/or” “colonial” mentality to a “both/and” “decolonized” mentality.

Decolonizing music involves a conscious decision to move away from an “either/or” “colonial” mentality to a “both/and” “decolonized” mentality. Decolonizing music, however, is not about replacing one style or genre with another. Replacing colonial music with indigenous music only perpetuates the either/or mentality that has always been destructive to music, just with a different style becoming preeminent. We must be open and accepting of new music as well as old, of classical music as well as popular, improvised as well as notated, and on it goes.

The great music historian Donald J. Grout, in his magnum opus A History of Western Music, framed this concept in very vivid terms. He observed that “reconciliation of the new with the traditional is the task that confronts every artist in his own generation, and one that can be avoided only at the price of artistic suicide.” Grout’s comments are directed at purely musical issues during the transition between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque. However, the parallels to the issue of “decolonization” are unmistakable.

In order to adequately and effectively “decolonize” music, we must become “reconcilers” or, to use a musical term, “harmonizers.” We must reconcile the new with the traditional, affirming the “both/and” and dismissing the “either/or.” We should not let our traditions swallow up the new, but we should not allow the new to swallow up our traditions. Both the new and the traditional are vital to a healthy state of musical and cultural affairs. We must maintain a creative tension between our traditions on the one hand, and the new on the other.

Our greatest and most immediate challenge will be how we deal with technology. As we all know, the digital age is upon us, utterly transforming all of society with a new cyber-reality.

One of the gurus of contemporary thought is Nicholas Negroponte, a professor and founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Negroponte describes the technological revolution in terms of a shift from atoms to bits; that is, a shift from the importance of material objects to the supremacy of digital information. All of life, music included, is in the process of digital transformation. Hence, the description by Swedish composer and acting CEO of the Swedish performing rights society Alfons Karabuda of the newest form of conquering “space.” Not the kind of “space” associated with Star Trek and its motto “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” but the infinite space of the internet and, as Alfons described it, “digital colonization.” The conquering of digital space has shifted colonization from countries to companies. In the past, it was countries like Britain, France, and Spain who amassed land colonies across the world. Today it is companies like Apple, Google, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) who are the great colonizers of digital space, especially in music.

In the past, it was countries like Britain, France, and Spain who amassed land colonies across the world. Today it is companies like Apple, Google, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) who are the great colonizers of digital space, especially in music.

Yes, technology is the driving force today. Technological innovations have changed the way we work and live and think. We cannot imagine our lives without computers or the internet. But neither can we imagine life, especially musical life, without personal interactions, human conversation, or, for that matter and very important for me, music studios without a living, breathing teacher.

Prominent technology essayist and literary critic Sven Birkerts warns, “I would urge that we not fall all over ourselves in our haste to filter all of our experiences through circuitry.” Otherwise, he says, the end result of cyber-reality may well be loss of meaning under a tide of endless information and computer bytes.

I know this was a long diversion into technology. But I believe it is central to our ability to be reconcilers. Technology and the internet open up all sorts of possibilities for “decolonized” indigenous music to be heard, experienced, and enjoyed by more people than ever thought possible. But at the same time, it presents a potent tool for “digital colonization” by the companies who control who and what gets heard and whose only motive is profit from the popular.

So, what is the point of all of this talk of decolonization and reconciliation? The point is that it is up to each of us individually and all of us collectively to ensure that both indigenous music as well as popular music flourishes. As individuals, we must adopt the decolonized reconciler mindset. More importantly, we must unify our message through the music organizations that represent us in each of our own countries, as well as around the world.

The central reason for all of our associations, societies, and councils is empowerment. As members of groups like these, we are able to exert an influence on these companies that control who and what gets heard in the media. This is not possible by individuals acting alone. To use a musical metaphor, organizations like the Music Council of the Three Americas and the International Music Council represent a unified voice, rather than several voices singing their own tunes. Individuals who act independently can become just noise that can be dismissed or played against each other by the companies and policy makers. A unified voice gets heard. And good things happen when groups of people are empowered to speak with one voice.

We must use the empowerment and collective strength of all of us who are committed to “decolonizing” music, to reconciling the new with the traditional, to changing the paradigm from “either/or” to “both/and,” and to ensuring the viability and availability of all music to all people.

Photo of Gary Ingle

Gary Ingle. (Photo courtesy of MTNA)

Gary Ingle is the executive director and CEO of Music Teachers National Association in the United States, as well as the president of the National Music Council of the U.S. and a vice president of COMTA.

Common Ground

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been chairing my institution’s University Senate. In addition to being able to help enact change at a high level there, it also gives me the opportunity to see the entire community from a vantage point that most faculty rarely experience. Recently we’ve been revising our general education curriculum, which has forced all the departments to compare and contrast their own ways of doing business both in their major and non-major courses. The result of this endeavor is that what one might perceive from the outside as a singular bloc of like-minded entities (all encapsulated under the moniker “academia”) is really an extremely rich and diverse confederation of factions, each having as many if not more differences than similarities. The commonalities that bind them—teaching and research are the two big ones—are geared with an inward focus such that it is easy for everyone within their own group to imagine that everyone else sees the world from their perspective, and it is only through exercises that force everyone’s views and procedures out into the open that the vast differences become apparent.

These ideas were echoed with immense resonance earlier this week when I brought the recent essay “Audience Cultivation in American New Music” by Sam Hillmer into my beginning composition course for an in-class discussion. Most of my students had not imagined that there could be interaction or an overlap between Hillmer’s worlds of “concerts” vs. “shows” and “bands” vs. “ensembles” (even though they all had experiences in both of those scenes), and the ensuing discussion explored what those various concepts entailed and what options they presented for themselves as burgeoning creators.

As we talked through the various issues, I began to think about how deeply this “same but different” phenomenon runs throughout the music industry as a whole and the new music community in particular. From a certain distance, an objective observer could see the entire world of those who create music as one interrelated bloc; from the other end of the spectrum, each creator can easily be distinguished from all others by the individuality of their work. It is between these two boundaries that our various and fluid musical factions begin and grow.

One prevalent trope from decades past suggests that musical factions within the new music community were in constant strife, while the current environment suggests a shift towards a more communal, “all styles are welcome” concept. Both of these ideas are, I imagine, a bit too simplistic, as things were not quite so black and white decades ago and the idea of today’s new music scene as being bereft of distinct factions is more than a little optimistic. Hillmer’s DIY genre, for instance, could be seen as a progenitor of the elusive “indie-” or “alt-” labels that get thrown about from time to time to describe a wide array of artists (very few of whom actually agree or appreciate the gesture), but one would have a very difficult time conflating the two completely.
Where the new music community and composers specifically do well these days, from my perspective, is in keeping an open line of communication and a relatively open mind to new ideas. Taste and individual interests will always drive us to those composers and performers that resonate with us, but I think we have found common ground from which to propel our artistic dialogue into the future.

Blogging MIDEM 2013: Part 2 – From Ghanaian to Korean Hip-Hop & More

The second day of MIDEM got off to an early start for me. I woke up quite early in order to upload the photos and video that appear in my report on Saturday’s events, but there wasn’t sufficient time to finish writing up the report before I needed to dash out of my hotel room and run to the Palais in order to catch the Legal Update for Entertainment and Technology, a panel of entertainment lawyers from all over the globe. The session was somewhat overwhelming and I unfortunately missed the beginning of it (video takes a very long time to upload on internet connections here), but the portion I did manage to attend was extremely informative.

It was particularly fascinating to learn from German lawyer Eberhard Kromer that, despite its geographical size relative to other countries in the world, Germany remains the world’s third largest music market. It was also very interesting to learn from Nikhil Krishnamurthy about the evolving situation of composers rights in India where the music industry was initially created as a subsidiary of the film industry and, as a result, film producers initially were the exclusive holders of copyrights for music and composers recouped no royalties for their work. In 1993, a so-called “encouragement fee” was introduced as an attempt to address the need for composer remuneration but it was taken away in 2003 which prompted an extensive lobbying efforts to the Indian government on behalf of artists’ rights. Just last year (2012), new laws were introduced that finally recognize the right of composers to accrue royalties from their music. But how this will play out both for Indian composers and the composers abroad whose music is performed in India remains to be seen. Joep Maddens from the Netherlands addressed some interesting Dutch legal cases in which web portals might be potentially held liable to pay royalties on content that appears on their sites even if it is not directly hosted by them. If content from another site is embedded directly into a site, the argument goes, it is ultimately a part of the website even if the content embedded is hosted elsewhere. A more extreme example of this line of thinking is a case involving a legal suit requesting remuneration as a result of a hyperlink since the link for the content was deeply buried within another site and had not been easy to access. MusicStrat’s Deborah Newman gave a brief update from the United States, referencing the direct licenses that DMX (a competitor of Muzak) has obtained from individual publishers, bypassing ASCAP and BMI which are now both now in litigation against DMX since DMX wants to have its blanket licensing fees reduced to carve out the portion that they now have negotiated with individual publishers. This is quite similar to a deal that Clear Channel recently made with Big Machine (which represents Taylor Swift among others). Clear Channel bypassed Sound Exchange and negotiated a reduced digital licensing fee from Big Machine in an exchange for granting the first-ever U.S. terrestrial radio broadcast fee for performers, presumably working under the assumption that the digital realm fee reduction will ultimately trump fees being paid to the allegedly dying medium of terrestrial radio. Are you still with me?

German Networking

In all three years that I have attended MIDEM, Germany has had a bigger presence than any other country. Here is a photo of some networking in their section of the exhibition rooms. Might this be why Germany is the third largest music market in the world?

Following that session I attended a press conference about the United States Department of Commerce’s export project with the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM). This is the first ever music-related project funded under the Obama Administration’s Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP). According to Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale, assistant secretary for manufacturing and services at the United States Department of Commerce’s International Trade Adminstration, the department is “looking for business plans that show you can help to assist export in new markets.” They are interested in “making sure that IPR [intellectual property rights] is protected” and want to “create new evangelists so that exports continue to grow.” MDCP’s Project Leader and Senior Media and Entertainment Analyst Andrea DaSilva admitted that “in dealing with the music industry” they “had to learn a whole new vocabulary.”


A2IM President Rich Bengloff, Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale and Andrea DaSilva from the US Dept of Commerce talk music export.

A2IM President Rich Bengloff noted that one of the key areas in which the music industry differs from other forms of business is that “it’s harder to show results up front.” Lamb-Hale was happy to learn that “independent music is particularly competitive” and Bengloff spoke about how campaigns in East Asia were designed specifically to promote jazz and classical music since they are both predominantly instrumental genres and therefore can bypass language barriers. It was great to learn that American jazz musicians will be getting this support but I hope that the classical music being exported includes music created by American composers and is not just American orchestras and other ensembles performing Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Bengloff was unable to provide specific information about repertoire when I asked him after the session. This could be an extraordinary opportunity for American composers so I hope to continue this conversation with all parties involved.


The Texas Music Office has more of a presence at MIDEM than many other countries; But where are our other 49 states?

Filled with excitement about the possibilities of viable music export for the new music community, I wandered the exhibition rooms where elaborate displays of various countries’ musical offerings were on display, often through the support of their governments. There is no such exhibition for the United States, although as I have pointed out in my coverage of MIDEM in previous years, the very independent-minded state of Texas always has a presence here. In fact, Andrea DaSilva stated during the U.S. Department of Commerce press conference that the Texas Music Office is an initiative directly funded by the state of Texas since Texas governor Rick Perry is “very interested in the music industry.” Perhaps if we can’t have an official United States presence at MIDEM and other significant music export convenings abroad we can eventually have representation from all 50 states individually–imagine that.

Ghana at MIDEM

Henry Holbrook-Smith and Kofi Amoakohene from the Ghana-based music company Scratch

Meanwhile, the entire continent of Africa, which has over 50 independent countries, has traditionally been poorly represented at MIDEM. As I mentioned yesterday, I was very excited to see that representatives from Ghana, Senegal, and Congo were listed as exhibitioners. Unfortunately, the Senegal and Congo booths remain empty thus far. I learned that the delegations from those countries were unable to secure visas to enter France. I did however have an opportunity to speak with Kofi Amoakohene, the CEO of Scratch which is a Ghana-based private recording and recording distribution company that also publishes a music magazine which is available both in hard copy and online. They are the defacto music information and advocacy center for Ghana. I was proud to tell Amoakohene that back in 2001 we featured Ghana-born, Portland OR-based composer and master drummer Obo Addy on these pages and then we proceeded to talk about how to foster stronger musical relations between Ghana and the United States. Ghana, of course, has been an important source of inspiration for composers ranging from Steve Reich (Drumming) to Wynton Marsalis. (Marsalis’s Congo Square features Obo Addy’s brother Mustapha Teddy Addy who is still based in Ghaha). He also told me about Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, whom he claimed was doing hip-hop before anyone else in the world. But you should hear about Ghanian music and its impact on the United States as well as what it means to be at MIDEM directly from Amoakohene…

Argentina Pours

Argentina pours the malbec.

After that very interesting talk, I was hoping to have a similar conversation with the delegation from Argentina, but the representatives unfortunately weren’t around when I passed by even though there were a group of waiters pouring malbec, one of which was from Colombia (which is not otherwise represented here). So I drank a glass and we got into a brief conversation about cumbia, vallenato, and salsa colombiana.

I eventually found my way to a panel about sound quality in the era of mp3s back at the Classical Discussion Lounge. Philip Hobbs, the chief classical producer for Linn Recordings in the U.K. adamantly declared that “audio quality affects attention spans” as do the ubiquitous shuffling functions on all playback equipment. He bemoaned that nowadays people have music playing from an iPod cradle with a TV playing at the same time: “No one’s enjoying anything; they’re just cluttering their brains with noise. Years ago we used to say that if you could read a book while listening to your hi-fi system, your hi-fi did not sound good enough.” Steve Long, managing director for U.K.-based Signum Records, however, was not dismayed by the current listening malaise: “It doesn’t matter what people are listening to now, but what people will listen to in the future.” The moderator, BBC Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor, added some levity to the discussion when he opined, “The only thing that bothers me about listening to LPs is getting up after 20 minutes to turn the damn thing over.” The discussion took a more serious turn when Hobbs acknowledged that the biggest problem is that creative artists and their representatives ultimately have less control over digital aggregators.



Before the Q&A period was over I scurried over to a panel on hip-hop with Kaylee Maize, whose showcase I heard last night, and a group of American-born Korean rappers who are huge stars in Korea. Drunken Tiger, originally from Los Angeles, is now a superstar in South Korea, as is his wife T Yoon Mirae. Drunken Tiger explained the attraction of hip-hiop as a young Asian American growing up in California, “Asian wasn’t even a minority but Wu Tang Clan made Asians cool. I knew we made it when these guys came up to me and said, ‘You’re not Chinese, you’re not Japanese, you must be muthafuckin’ Korean!”

Hip Hop Panel

The hip-hop panel (pictured left to right): moderator Emily Gonneau (Unicum Management, France), Keelee Maize, Drunken Tiger, T Yoon Mirae and Bizzy.

Drunken Tiger’s showcase later that evening at the Magic Mirrors was a performance highlight for me. He, his wife, and a third Korean rapper whose name I didn’t catch rapped almost exclusively in Korean but they completely engaged the audience even though alnmost no one there understood a word they were saying. Drunken Tiger challenged the audience to “open your mind up, let us in” and they did. Contemporary American composers could learn a valuable lesson from this, I think.

Korean Hip Hop

Korean Hip Hop showcase at Magic Mirrors

The last panel I attended on Sunday was about exporting music to China which focused on a collaboration between French synth legend Jean-Michel Jarre, the first artist to perform in mainland China, and Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai.

Jean Michel Jarre etc.

Jean Michel Jarre (center) talks about performing music for audiences in China.

Then it was showcase time. I already mentioned Drunken Tiger whose showcase was revelatory. I also attended some of the “Malaysian Supernova” but nothing particularly resonated with me. I hope to return to some of this music in the future, however, since a less than extraordinary first encounter with something should not be a barrier for future exploration. Unfortunately I never found my way to the jazz showcase which was a bit of a trek from the Palais; there is just too much going on here. I also missed C2C, the turntable quartet which was the closing act at Magic Mirrors that I later heard was amazing; phooey, I was just too tired at that point. To be continued…

A Big Tent

One of Ellen McSweeney’s observations from her adventures at the Chamber Music America conference was that the national new music community needs a professional conference of its own:

Imagine a conference as lively and vibrant as CMA, but more centered on performance and ideas than on a marketplace of acts for sale. By day, the conference could host amazing panel discussions on a range of important issues in the field: perhaps Claire Chase lecturing on new ensemble models, Alex Ross chairing a panel on music writing, Marcos Balter speaking on commission etiquette, or Third Coast Percussion talking about the way they divide organizational work.

This got me thinking about how such an endeavor could actually work—who would be the intended audience, would it be a yearly or biennial event, what umbrella organization would or could provide logistical support, and so on. But as I imagined what such a conference would look like, I began to wonder if an all-inclusive conference that brought performers and composers from throughout the new music community together would be feasible or even effective. I’m not saying it couldn’t work—I think it would be awesome if it did and I’ve got half a mind to talk to someone at New Music USA about spearheading such an event—but there are several issues that would need to be addressed (in my humble opinion) before such a project was put into place.

1) The focus should be balanced between composers and performers. I’m in complete agreement with Ellen that such a conference not be geared towards enticing management and presenting organizations; something that brings composers and performers together on an equitable standing so the performers aren’t there simply to play on concerts (as is the case with composer-centric events) and the composers aren’t there just to sell their music or negotiate a commission. To have everyone there with the intent for interaction and dialogue would be a very good thing; I have seen examples of this in action several times and it always works out well on both sides.

2) There should not be an aesthetic/stylistic/regional/alumnal bias in the programming of the music or the guests. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating connections between artists, it’s too easy for such gatherings to be pre-connected—those who aren’t already in circles can’t find opportunities to break the ice and those who already know each other simply reinforce those relationships that already exist. There are already more than a few festivals that become echo chambers along a distinct stylistic bent and while it’s helpful and healthy for those like-minded musicians to explore and validate their own musical niches, there are very few opportunities for those various camps/tribes/whatever to interact on an equal footing with each other. Finally, there could be mechanisms set in place to ensure that a certain number of participants came from outside of the top new music markets and were distributed as evenly as possible from around the country and elsewhere.

3) There should be a balance between internal interaction between the participants (both directed and casual) through workshops and discussions and external interaction with the general public through concerts and other public events. While concerts themselves are a great way for us to communicate with each other musically (as well as with a general audience), opportunities for performers, composers, or both (depending on the topic) to explore and debate amongst one another in a safe environment is healthy, necessary, and all too rare.

I have no idea if this is feasible, but I think any opportunity for the entire new music community (both here and abroad) to come together should be explored, and if done, then done right.

After While, Crocodile!

It’s been almost a week since NARAS, or The Recording Academy, announced the winners of the Grammy Awards for 2012. That the 23-year-old Ms. Adele Laurie Blue Adkins of London, England, would walk away with six awards: Record, Album, and Song of the Year; Best Pop Solo Performance and Pop Vocal Album; as well as Best Short Form Music Video was no surprise. Mainstream media news had been “predicting” (as if newspersons have no inside track on a major media event like the Grammy Awards) that she would be taking away the largest amount of statuary in her purse. I figure that the Best Pop Instrumental award going to the 67-year-old Booker T. Jones (Booker T. and the MGs) and the Best Pop Duo/Group award going to 85-year-old Tony Bennett with the late Amy Winehouse is an indication of the kind of balance such Spring/Winter polarities represent to the American Culture Machine. That both of the female artists mentioned hail from England, while not pertinent in any musical sense, piqued my interest, too. The next biggest sweep was pulled off by the Foo Fighters (Best Long Form Video, Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance and Best Rock Performance, Song and Album), an “alternative” group (according to Wikipedia) founded and led by David Grohl of the iconic grunge band, Nirvana. The Best Alternative Music Album award went to Bon Iver, a folk band (as per Wiki). The Foo Fighters weren’t nominated for an alternative music award. The next biggest take-home tally went to Kayne West with four: Best Rap Album, Performance, Song, and Sung/Collaboration. To be clear, he shared the spotlight on the last three of these awards with: Jay Z; Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie; and Jeff Bhashker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones and Warren Trotter, respectively.

Now that NARAS only recognizes 78 categories worth bestowing the coveted Grammy Award on (down from 109), I’d like to look at some of the remaining 63. Besides Tony Bennett receiving another award, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album (his fifth in that category to go with his six Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance awards, a Best Solo Vocal Performance (Male), a Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and a Lifetime Achievement Award—16 in all, when you count this year’s pop-duo award), several other artists received two golden gramophones. Someone I’d never heard of, Skrillex, was awarded a Grammy for Best Dance Recording and Best Dance/Electronica Album. I went online and learned the work he was recognized for forward and backward, but I’m not sure I’m “down with it” yet. It’s full of heavily processed samples that I really want to analyze. Since I don’t dance very much anymore, I really try to listen as deeply as possible to a piece until I’m sure I have an understanding of it. Taylor Swift also got two: Best Country Song and Solo Performance and Barton Hollow took the Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album (folk is the alternative country?).

I was totally “forgetted up” by Cee Lo Green’s Best Traditional R&B Performance, as well as Best R&B Song Awards. As much as he’s a great singer, even in R&B, traditional doesn’t really do him justice and I thought that Rapheal Saadiq’s “Good Man” and Marsha Ambrosius’s “Far Away” really should have been the takers. But their messages, over-representation of black men in prison and anti-gay violence, were possibly too gritty for the Academy this year. In fact, all the choices for R&B didn’t make much sense to me. While Corinne Bailey Rae can carry a tune, her breathy and somewhat head-voicey delivery is reminiscent of Nora Jones and seems to totally miss the chest-voiced tabernacle technique associated with R&B. I thought Kelly Price’s “Not My Daddy” was a better model, but it’s important to note that these awards are voted for by the rank and file of NARAS and their criteria for picking awardees are not mine. Besides, I’m no expert on R&B, although I grew up playing it and, on occasion, still do. And I’m only slightly better versed in opera, but it was nice to see that the topic of religious hypocrisy—Elmer Gantry by Robert Aldridge and Hershel Garfein—inspired two Grammys: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, as well as Best Engineered Album. What I am well-versed in, though, is jazz and Chick Corea was a two Grammy winner for Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Instrumental Jazz Album.

This category, jazz, is where the “restructuring” of the Grammy Awards really became confusing. Just the idea of recognizing a best improvised jazz solo without recognizing a non-improvised one makes my fingernails itch. While guitarist Pat Metheny’s “What’s It All About” took the Best New Age Album award, his performance on the CD, which was fantastic, is really coming out of the jazz-based sensibilities his entire career is steeped in. I can hear almost no resemblance in his playing to George Winston, but I definitely can hear a resemblance to that of Fred Hersch, a runner-up to Corea. Possibly the most damning example of this confusion is found in the absence of the “Best Jazz Vocal Duo/Group Album” award (while the distinction of “vocal duo/group” is offered in other categories). The result this year was that a drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington, took the Best Jazz Vocal Album award over veteran vocalists Karrin Allyson, Kurt Elling, Tierney Sutton, and Roseanna Vitro. While Carrington’s album, The Mosaic Project, features excellent singers—Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Helen Sung, Tineke Postma, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Ingrid Jensen, Sheila E., and Gretchen Parlato—none are mentioned in the award itself, which reads: “Terri Lyne Carrington & Various Artists.” This is not to take away from the musical integrity of Carrington’s project, but the individuality of the jazz vocalist is obscured and even divorced from the final product vis-à-vis musical industry recognition, which is highly questionable and a direct result of the Grammy Awards categories’ restructuring.

To be brief, the elimination of the Vocal Performance Male, Female, and Duo/Group categories and the Jazz Fusion Performance, Original Jazz Composition, Latin Jazz Album, and Contemporary Album categories will only help to mislead mainstream perceptions of American music, just as the elimination of Best Latin Recording and individual Best Latin Pop, Latin Rock/Alternative or Urban, Regional Mexican, Mexican/Mexican-American, Banda, Norteño, Tejano, Latin Urban, Merengue, Salsa, and Salsa/Merengue Album categories will. On Monday’s Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Oscar Hernández and Roberto Lovato, who discussed this as well as the current protest and lawsuit spearheaded by composer/drummer/bandleader/educator Bobby Sanabria. In solidarity with his efforts, I did not watch the Grammy Awards ceremony on television.

While I was composing this blog entry, I took a break for dinner with the Mrs. (among her many talents, she cooks great Alsatian spareribs!) and we saw a special on an underwater archaeological project in the Bahamas. One of the fossils they found was a 1,000-year-old skull of a caiman-like animal that hasn’t been alive there for centuries. One of the theories presented to explain the animal’s extinction from the islands was that the indigenous human population that arrived there 800 or so years ago brought domesticated hunting animals that decimated the population until it died off. When I saw that, I immediately thought of the Grammy Awards categories being decimated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (especially the Native American category). I also thought about a book mentioned by William Jefferson Clinton as being his inspiration when he was first elected to the presidency of the United States called Leadership Jazz by Max DePree. Depree described leading a group, especially in business, as being more analogous to playing jazz, where one is constantly improvising according to what’s going on in the moment, rather than playing in groups where all the notes are arranged beforehand. It struck me as peculiar that the corporate arm of the music industry would be restructuring the music it offers to the American public in a way that whittles away at how improvisation is included in that musical offering by eliminating those categories where it is most prevalent. Leaving jazz as the sole vehicle for improvisation makes me nervously think of the case of the hunting dogs of the Lucayan Indians. This might be something to keep in mind as we negotiate our various ways through the maze of the mainstream musical milieu we know and love. It’s a jungle out there!

Later, alligator.

Blogging MIDEM 2012: Toward a Single Global Market

This year for the very first time, MIDEM hosted its own music festival featuring a wide range of bands for three nights in a row, in essence morphing into something of a European SXSW. But they are still competing with a longstanding MIDEM tradition: concurrent showcases in local Cannes clubs presented by the various countries in attendance here and which continue to attract large audiences. While Singapore deserves acknowledgement for their auspicious debut showcase, which has already been described herein, a special mention must also be made about the 2012 showcases presented by Canada, which seemed to dwarf those of any other country this year. Canadian bands played to fire hazard-sized crowds for three nights in a row at Morrison’s Irish Pub. I considered attending MIDEM’s own event each of the nights, but after needing to satiate my curiosity about the showcase presented by the performing rights society-averse web portal Jamendo on Saturday and checking out Singapore on Sunday, I felt obliged to check out bands from my northern neighbor.


Toronto-based singer-songwriter Emma-Lee brought a little country to the South of France.

I caught most of the set of an alt country-tinged Toronto-based band led by singer-songwriter Emma-Lee which completely delighted the international audience. Next came Alyssa Reid, whose music seemed a bit too mainstream for me to stay completely focused amidst the din. But I should try again at some point; I’ve long believed that personal taste can be a barrier to experiencing music, and I know all too well that a loud, overpopulated bar is not the ideal place to hear something I haven’t heard before. However, the evening’s concluding act, the Hamilton-based power duo P.S. I Love You, seemed capable of grabbing anyone’s attention in any venue. Their set was a relentless series of extreme electric guitar distortion, uninhibited caterwauling (the guitarist doubled as the band’s vocalist), and pulverizing drumming—I loved it.

PS I Love You

The Kingston-based PS I Love You skronked out Morrison’s Pub while the ghost of James Joyce (painted on the wall behind them) connected them to the experimental tradition.

However, I’m not sure—just as I wasn’t in the case of the Singaporian showcase on Sunday night—if there was anything that belied a specific national identity in the music played by any of these Canadians on Monday night. I’ve certainly heard groups based due south of the Great Lakes that sounded similar to the three Canadian acts I checked out. Of course, the internet has even further accelerated the erosion of regional musical differences that had already begun to deteriorate with the advent of recorded sound, radio, and television during the 20th century. In the 21st century, we are moving more and more toward global music identities, and indeed such music has been the ideal soundtrack to compliment the numerous discussions here on Monday and Tuesday about an emerging single global market for music.

Early on Monday morning, the CEOs of the German and Swedish performing rights societies, Harald Heker of GEMA and Kenth Muldin of STIM, participated in a panel about the future of collective rights management in the European Union moderated by Musikwoche‘s Editor-in-Chief Mandfred Gillig-Degrave, and which also included Swedish composer Alfons Karabuda and two politicians, German Bundestag member Ansgar Heveling and Kerstin Jorna, the deputy head of cabinet for European Commissioner Michel Barnier in Belgium. Heker spoke to the difficulties in harmonizing licensing agreements among the 27 E.U. member countries, but acknowledged that it was a necessity in the current marketplace. Muldin added that music and audiovisual work ultimately have no borders. Heveling went further saying, “The time is gone for collection laws to be based on national legislation.” But everyone agreed that there needed to be rules in order to ensure fair competition. While the internet has certainly created a marketplace that is no longer circumscribed by geopolitical realities, it was interesting to learn that, according to Muldin, 60% of the total world income derived from the usage of creative work comes from Europe. Whatever collaborative initiatives that the performing rights societies will strive toward in the future, Karabuda urged everyone to secure a place for composers who operate at the edges of the marketplace, otherwise there is no guarantee of musical diversity.

Indie Music Manifesto

Participants in the discussions about establishing an Indie Music Manifesto: (L to R, back row) Jonas Sjostrom, Portia Sabin, Rich Benglott, Nick O’Byrne; (middle row) Mark Chung, Charlie Phillips; (front row) Alison Wenham, Helen Smith

Sustaining musical diversity was also a key agenda item for a group of representatives of independent music companies from around the world who met to establish a Global Indie Manifesto. “Plurality is the best driver of creativity,” is how UK-based Alison Wenham, chairman of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), put it. Wenham, who led the discussion, also pointed out that 80% of new music releases are on independent labels and that independents employ 80% of the people who work in the music sector. She spoke passionately about the need for the independent sector to reframe the copyright argument, which has become a debate between large entertainment companies and the now even larger technology industry. As she put it, “It is people who make music, so it is people’s rights that have been hijacked in the debate about copyright.” Kill Rock Stars’ Portia Sabin, whose business card gives her official job title as “Label Dude,” didn’t mince words when describing Google and other powerful technology players’ claims that the music industry is not in step with the direction music has gone in, “We’ve heard the music industry doesn’t get it mostly from companies whose business models don’t include paying for music.”

Germany at MIDEM

A small portion of the German area of the MIDEM Exhibition Hall.

After that discussion, I was hoping to hear a panel about artists rights but the session was exclusively in French and this time there were no headphones offering instantaneous translation. I barely understand all the ramifications of these discussions when they are in English, so I wandered back to the exhibition hall. The exhibition booths in the halls still clearly show the disparity between various countries’ music industries, despite all the talk about our moving closer and closer toward a single global music economy. Germany, just as they had last year, had the largest presence of any country at MIDEM, even bigger than France, the country which hosts this event. But others, including Iran and Chile and even smaller countries like Macedonia and Cyprus, want to be part of the action, so they find a way to be here. But this year there was not a single exhibition booth from the entire continent of Africa. Will geographical diversity be sustainable as we move further into a global marketplace? And if it isn’t, who will be calling the shots?

Macedonia at MIDEM

The Macedonian music booth at MIDEM

The largest auditorium at the Palais de Conferences was given over to a series of technology-themed talks called Visionary Monday that occurred through the entire day. Each talk rushed by at warp speed, some lasting only 10 minutes. I caught about an hour’s worth of them before getting a little bit car sick from the information overflow. In a mere ten minutes, UK-based music analyst Mark Mulligan (who blogs at musicindustryblog.wordpress.com) described a future based on fan-fuelled creativity and urged us that “music needs to be free of the stasis of formats.” Will Sansom, a writer and consultant for the UK-based Contagious Communications, described Singapore’s StarHub musical fitting rooms where people try on clothing to a specific soundtrack that is targeted to them based on what they are trying on. The folks in the tryout room are then solicited to by the music via proximity SMS text messages and there has been a staggeringly high 84% click-through rate. Christoph Bornschein demonstrated his midemlab award-winning Vodafone app Mein Tweet als Lied (#tweetlied) which showed how fast Vodafone’s phone lines are through tweets that were turned into a song by a band in 15 minutes. After a short break, Dan Rose, Facebook’s VP for Partnerships, talked about how social media has the ability to finally make “music online the way it was meant to be.” He described the sharing of songs online as analogous to giving mixtapes to friends of songs recorded off the radio (something he did 20 years ago), only now it is “at scale.” In the last four months, according to him, 5 billion songs were shared across 50 countries via Facebook.

This morning’s talks began with a heated discussion about licensing “the cloud” in which participating panelists could not agree on exactly what the cloud is. Mitch Rubin, the head of music publishing business affairs for Nokia, stated that the cloud “is a marketing term; it is not legally defined.” But Richard Conlon, the senior vice president for corporate strategy, communications and new media at BMI, warned that it was erroneous to describe the cloud as merely a locker where you can store things:

If its just storage then it’s not commercial, but that’s a bunch of baloney and we have to be very vigilant about that. […] There is not a whole lot of love for the creative community in Silicon Valley.

One of the problems, as AMV Talpa GmbH’s Managing Director Jens-Markus Wegener pointed out, is that there is no way to stop illegal content from being on cloud-based services. But he was also clear that he does not want to impede progress: “Nobody is hindering good business models. If the model only works if you don’t pay for all the services [e.g. the music], then it’s not a good business model.” SACEM’s Thierry Desurmont hit the nail on the head of what the chief problem is with the new paradigms for the music business, “It’s not easy to obtain fair remuneration from the service providers.”

Cloud Panel

Participants in a highly-charged MIDEM panel The Cloud – Is it Just a Licensing Issue? (L to R): UK-based journalist Emmanuel Legrand (moderator); Rdio’s Head of Strategic Partnerships Scott Bagby (UK); Richard Conlon, BMI’s SVP, Corporate Strategy, Communications and New Media (USA); Thierry Desurmont, SACEM’s VP for Legal and International Affairs (France); Charlie Lexton, Head of Business Affairs and Legal Councel for Merlin (UK); PRS for Music’s Director of Online Licensing Ben McEwan (UK); Nokia’s Head of Music Publishing Business Affairs Mitch Rubin; and Jens-Makus Wegener, Managing Director of AMV Talpa GmbH (Germany).

The final discussion I attended on Tuesday was a lively debate about the Global Repertoire Database that pitted various publishers and managers from performing rights societies against representatives from Omniphone and Google. This was much more engaging than the talk I attended on this same subject last year in which the voices of individual artists or their representatives seemed conspicuously absent. The publishers now seem completely behind the idea of establishing this single database which would have detailed information on all licensable music in order to be a one-stop resource for everyone. However, Ralph Peer II, chairman and CEO of peermusic, who suggested that “we need to treat GRD as a Wiki-type project” also stressed that “it must have the cooperation from all sectors in order to be effective.” Sami Valkonen, who is the head of international music licensing for Google, bemoaned how long it has taken to establish a Global Music Database:

These talks started in 2008. It’s now 2012. Talking about this at MIDEM is like a carousel. If we have the data there’s a way to make this work. […]Google holds the view that the GRD is a public good. We should not be focused on who owns it; it should not be proprietary. […] There are people here who might not like this, but it is a fact that we are moving toward a global licensing system.

Jane Dyball from Warner/Chappell gave some details about an even more all-encompassing database than the GRD called the International Music Registry (IMR) that deals with all recorded performances (audio and video) as well as compositions, which is all that GRD is concerned with. Karen Buse, from PRS for Music in the UK, suggested that the next step should be a database for all audiovisual work. During the question and answer period, someone claimed that smaller independent publishers might see a global database as a threat, since it could make them less competitive in a global market. But according to Jez Bell, director of licensing for Omniphone, “This levels the playing field for smaller publishers.”

Indeed it still could be a brave new world, but now I have to brave the real world. It’s pouring rain in Cannes today, and rumor has it that it will turn to snow and flights will be cancelled. I am still planning to return to New York City tomorrow, but I might be stuck here. The all-powerful internet has yet to feature a viable means of teleportation.

Blogging MIDEM 2012: Cannes We Keep It Going?


I’ve been a bit distracted by what has been happening in the outside world.

There’s lots to report on from my trips to Paris and Nice. I’ve been so busy, I apparently didn’t even notice an earthquake in Italy whose tremors were felt throughout southern France. But that will have to wait for a later date, as I am now in Cannes in the midst of the hurly-burly that is MIDEM. When I attended this mega music trade show for the first time last year and kept telling veteran attendees how amazed I was by the breadth and depth of it all, most of them sighed and bemoaned that what I was experiencing paled in comparison with what MIDEM used to be. It’s now a year later, and I’ve become one of those veteran attendees. I was told that a lot of people might not arrive yesterday when it all began, but it’s now the beginning of the second day and it still seems much quieter than last year.

But while there are fewer exhibitioners and fewer attendees overall, there are still so many sessions and other activities that it’s nearly impossible to soak it all in. Soak is perhaps an apt metaphor—it was raining when I arrived yesterday and never completely let up, although once at the Palais des Conference I was pretty much indoors until I ventured out on the streets of Cannes to have dinner and attend one of the myriad MIDEM showcase performances happening in local venues.

New Crowd at MIDEM

Among the attendees of MIDEM 2012 some musicians are clearly visible.

One thing that is significantly different about MIDEM this year is that there is now a lower artist rate for attending, so there are more individual musicians and bands here than before. It’s a welcome demographic shift which, as a result, has attracted a new kind of exhibitor, like the company Tonara which has developed software that enables your tablet to become an interactive digital sheet music reader that can follow you as you perform a score that is loaded on it, eliminating things like page turns (not even a pedal is needed). It can presumably understand when you are making a mistake, but they have yet to figure out how to receive input from percussion instruments or even from an accordion, and all the music that is available for it is standard notated public domain music. They’ve yet to negotiate deals with living composers and publishers of works still protected by copyright. It would be interesting to see if they could ever get this program to work with a John Cage score.

Another shift is that there is far more of an emphasis on live performances. MIDEM has created its own three-day music festival which takes place on three consecutive nights but, as before, there are many off-shoot showcase concerts in local venues presented by various exhibitors based in countries around the world. Of course, there are still tons of sessions. The first one I attended yesterday was a talk about using social media to promote music given by a fellow New Yorker, Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR. I learned some useful statistics like 71% of all companies now have a Facebook presence and 59% are on Twitter, yet Twitter and Facebook combined only account for 3% of the revenue artists accrue from the promotion of their music online. Emailing newsletters directly to fans still yields the greatest draw: 30%. I also learned that the person who writes Britney Spears’s tweets is a friend of Ariel’s named Cassie. So much for the transparency of the new media paradigms.

YouTube Panel at MIDEM

There were a lot of references to 50s television in the YouTube panel at MIDEM. Well, like one of the classic TV shows from that era, The Outer Limits, YouTube now controls the horizontal and the vertical.

Then I attended a session sponsored by YouTube, which this year has an even bigger presence at MIDEM than last year. Patrick Walker, who is YouTube’s senior director of music for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, gave a very slick presentation overall although there was something somehow ironic in his not being able to get a YouTube video to load after several attempts. To this day, every time I see a presentation involving technology there’s always some kind of glitch. Yet in a world where Google (which owns YouTube) has greater annual profits than the four top record companies combined, a very successful technology company that seems to have a virtual monopoly on several key aspects of web browsing has become the music industry’s new gatekeeper. Some more stats: YouTube has 4 billion views per day, and 800 million unique users per month; of those, 500 million views are on mobile devices. (That number tripled in 2011.) San Francisco-based Chris LaRoca, YouTube’s project manager for music, talked about how individual artists and record labels could track their content on YouTube via their custom designed app Audio ID and Content ID, which should enable them to actually receive payment from the usage of their intellectual property. I’m curious to learn more about how this works in real life.

Sake Party

The various drinking parties at exhibitions at MIDEM bring people with all different agendas together.

After that it was free sake time at the Japan exhibition booth. Even with fewer attendees, the parties still go on. The last of the sessions I attended yesterday was a panel of intellectual property lawyers talking about termination rights. There is currently legislation under consideration in the United States that will revert the rights on sound recordings from the record labels to the recording artists who made the recording, effective January 1, 2013, for recordings released in 1978. However, it has yet to be determined who all the rights holders are: the producer of a recording in many cases has as much of a claim to ownership as the principal performer, and then there are sidemen who are not always identified who can be entitled to up to 20% of the revenue. Since the rule will only apply to the United States, it is possible that many recordings will be controlled by different stakeholders in the USA and abroad. Such a potential licensing quagmire should prove an even greater challenge in a world which the internet has been making into more and more of a single territory, but that wasn’t discussed.

I ended the evening by attending part of a showcase presented by Jamendo, a web business offering totally free legal downloads from artists from all over the world by circumventing one of the key licensing protocols: none of the groups whose music is featured there are allowed to belong to a performing right’s society. The band I heard was a Swedish indie rock group named Emerald Park, who were somewhat reminiscent of Athens, Georgia, bands. While a violinist conjured the folk incursions of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, a backing female singer added a B52 Kate Pierson touch to the vocals, although Emerald Park’s singer was not quite Michael Stipe or Fred Schneider. Everyone there seemed to be having a great time, but after hearing four of their songs in a very loud and extremely crowded club where beers were 8 euros each, it was time to finally check into my hotel and call it a night.

Emerald Park

The Swedish band Emerald Park was the headliner at Jamendo’s Showcase of bands unrepresented by performing rights societies.

More about today’s activities later. Now it’s time to head back to a session.