Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Music for a Rainy Day and the Creative Commons Conundrum

New Piano Album
As I mentioned recently, I just finished editing and mastering Music for a Rainy Day, my first album of piano music. It's practical, "useful" music in that each track is meant as an accompaniment to a specific part of the day: "Music for Waking," "Music for Sitting," "Music for Driving," etc.

I improvised these recordings months ago, but never got around to completing the project. It comes out to 14 tracks and nearly one hour of perfectly enjoyable music! I haven't yet decided what to do with the CD. Should I put it on iTunes/CD Baby? Post excerpts on my website? Offer it all as a free download?

Creative Commons
I've been thinking a lot lately about the business and culture of music creation and consumption, especially the Creative Commons movement. Through a Creative Commons license, an individual work is made freely available, with optional restrictions such as requiring source attribution, disallowing remixes (derivative works), and/or disallowing reusing for commercial profits. This model fits well with my gut feeling that art must be shared, passed around, and participated in as widely as possible. However, not yet having crossed the elusive (mythical?) threshold after which my art begins to turn a profit, I realize I am particularly susceptible to making the foolish mistake of signing away my money-making rights on my work.

After all, giving away music is the opposite of How Composers Make a Living (WNYC radio episode). My good friend Candace Bilyk once told me so. Frank Ticheli suggests trying film and video games, but doesn't mention Creative Commons. Composer Alex Shapiro, who regularly lectures on the business of composition, has forged an impressively successful online presence under the traditional copyright model.

Some successful composers do distribute their scores and/or recordings using Creative Commons licenses, but not most. There is a lot already written (or spoken) on the subject. In particular, check out the thoughts of one of CC's most well-known classical proponents, Kyle Gann.

For those of us still awaiting that first professional recording or commission, I can't help but wonder if limited use of this "free advertising" could be an important catalyst in forging a professional career. (By the time my annual score sales exceed $50, maybe I'll reconsider.) So I concocted an experiment to test this.

The Experiment
I've decided to write a set of chamber miniatures - companions to my Miniature Symphony No. 1. Each work will be released under a Creative Commons license, meaning performers may download, perform, and record the score at no cost. My goal is to get the works played in 22 different states over 22 weeks, with a quality recording required of each performance.

Why 22 weeks?
I'll receive my doctorate in Composition this weeked, May 14. A mere 22 weeks later is the College Music Society's National Conference. While there, I hope to present a five-minute talk on new music, copyright issues, and Creative Commons. Hopefully by then, I'll have greatly increased my music's exposure and recording volume through the use of Creative Commons. Maybe this CC project will even inspire a commission or two!

But, as for my recent piano album and future (more significant/lucrative) works, I'm still undecided. Any sage advice out there from those who are a little further down this path?...

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