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Forty Years in Perspective – The BIS Label’s Pianists

It is always a pleasure to congratulate a person who spent forty years in business, regardless of their trade. Therefor it was a very special moment for Piano Street when we got the chance to talk to Robert von Bahr, Founder of BIS Records, about the past, present and the future. Read more >>

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Author Topic: How much does a "classical" composer make (average or otherwise)?...  (Read 5275 times)
ahinton
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« on: February 12, 2009, 09:57:30 PM »

Discuss...

Best,

Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2009, 12:41:35 PM »

are you asking us?
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shortyshort
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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2009, 05:37:42 PM »

Too much, I'm sure.  Cry Lips Sealed
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pianisten1989
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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2009, 06:20:00 PM »

Probably nothing, kind of...
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thierry13
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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2009, 07:06:59 PM »

Shouldn't you be the one discussing ?
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communist
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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2009, 08:24:57 PM »

Shouldn't you be the one discussing ?

Hes better than average tho
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ahinton
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2009, 09:40:26 PM »

Too much, I'm sure.  Cry Lips Sealed
How much is or is not too much and for whom?

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Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2009, 10:37:09 PM »

Do you recall the anecdote about Gershwin?

 Gershwin was considering taking composition lessons from Ravel so he (Gershwin) could make his music more "classical".  Ravel asked Gershwin how much money he earned that year. When Ravel heard the amount he said "Maybe I should be taking lessons from you!"

I would think if one is Classical composer these days, the "Day Job" should not be given up.
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thalbergmad
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« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2009, 11:11:35 PM »

Enough to pay their wine merchants.

Thal
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Michael Britchfield
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2009, 12:23:41 AM »

The only composer I know also teaches classes in composition, gives elementary piano lessons, does a lot of arranging, and coaches numerous chamber music groups (that's the capacity in which I know him). He has a decently sized house (maybe slightly on the small side) and supports two children (on his own income). So my guess is that an "average" composer needs to have multiple sources of employment.
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It all happens on Discworld, where greed and ignorance influence human behavior... and perfectly ordinary people occasionally act like raving idiots.

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ahinton
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2009, 03:46:54 AM »

I would think if one is Classical composer these days, the "Day Job" should not be given up.
Assuming anyone actually to have such a thing - which is surely an increasingly unlikely assumption nowadays...

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Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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ahinton
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« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2009, 10:16:25 AM »

Thierry wonders (I think) whether I should be discussing this subject rather than merely initiating it, so I will respond to his invitation; although I am not about to answer the question, I can at least put forward some points that might be helpful.

The thread was, of course, started in response to a similar one about pianists' incomes.

The "day job" idea begs the question of the amount of time that anyone might reasonably expect a composer to devote to composition which, of course, involves not only writing time but thinking time. Of course some composers think and/or write faster than others, but the act of composition is always comparatively labour-intensive by most people's standards; just imagine, for example, how long it takes to think and notate a mere five seconds of music in a full orchestral score. If a composer has a full-time "day job", it might occupy some 10 hours daily, 5 or more days per week, including travelling and preparation time, so is the amount of time left over for compositional activity sufficient? Even composers have to have some kind of life outside of work!

Another factor is that performers' and composers' incomes are different, in favour of the composer (for once!). A performer simply gets a fee per appearance whereas, when a composer writes a piece, it's usually half fee up front and half on completion in the case of a commissioned work, but it doesn't end there, for the composer will also continue to receive royalties on certain public performances, broadcasts and recordings for the remainder of his/her life; even non-commissioned works still usually attract such royalty payments. In addition, the composer may derive an income stream from sales of scores, whether via a publisher (who takes a cut) or direct by self-publication and distribution (as in my case, which means that more of the proceeds end up in the composer's pocket than when a publisher is involved).

Obviously, composers' incomes vary widely just as performers' do, but I think that fewer people might expect the latter to have a "day job" than might expect the performer to have one.

The "day job" issue reveals another problem in that many such jobs involve teaching; might there not be cause to question the notion that composers teach students to do something from which they themselves will likely be unable to derive a living exclusively? - after all, this would presumably lead to ever-increasing numbers of composition teachers teaching ever-burgeoning numbers of composition students, thereby disadvantaging the future market by flooding it with composition teachers and composers whose "end-users" (the members of the listening public) simply cannot accordingly expand the amount of time and money that they have at their disposal to listen to and pay for ever-increasing quantities of music.

There's a few cents' worth thrown into the ring for discussion; I hope that's useful.

Best,

Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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« Reply #12 on: February 14, 2009, 03:04:19 PM »

In some cases, a few cents would be an appropriate income.

Thal
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Michael Britchfield
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ahinton
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« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2009, 04:20:42 PM »

In some cases, a few cents would be an appropriate income.

Thal
Neither I nor (I imagine) anyone else here would expect to ask you to elaborate on this statement by naming names, especially since such names would be mentioned only in the context of your own personal opinion which, as many of us here already know, is hardly well disposed to the majority of post-Brahms composers, but it should be said that the amount that each composer receives results from people being prepared to pay them for what they do, in the light of which it seems to me (at least) that your statement is intended to imply that you feel that some people waste inordinate amounts of money on some of this music and would be far better advised to spend it elsewhere. This being the case (if indeed it is - and I'm sure that you will duly correct me if I have misunderstood your intended meaning here), I should perhaps gently remind you that the thread topic very specifically includes the word "does", not the word "should"...

Best,

Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2009, 06:28:27 PM »

"Classical composer"?  That's a complicating restriction, to some degree, on this discussion.  For example, Paul McCartney, Andrew Lloyd What'sHisName and, yes, even George Gershwin began as popular composers and later fashioned "classical works."

They began by stooping, so to speak, and made fortunes in their culturally crouched positions.  With a big pile of cash, they ventured into more serious composing.

I think Alistair Hinton, a highly regarded composer and keeper of the Sorabji Flame, deserves a fortune.  He might, therefore, have to step away from his lofty musical conceptions just long enough to write a Fantasia on, say, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow  Polka Dot Bikini."  Maybe a set of variations ending in a mighty fugue (scored for a topless pianist and augmented with a banjo obbligato).

Merely a suggestion to enrich our esteemed Forum composer.  And no disrespect intended.   
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« Reply #15 on: February 14, 2009, 08:01:03 PM »

to write a Fantasia on, say, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow  Polka Dot Bikini."  Maybe a set of variations ending in a mighty fugue (scored for a topless pianist and augmented with a banjo obbligato).


oh rofl oh rofl  Grin Grin
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zheer
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« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2009, 08:22:00 PM »

  I'm sure some make a lot of money and others very little. For me and I'm sure many others on this forum music makes our lives a lot richer.
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ahinton
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« Reply #17 on: February 15, 2009, 10:29:29 PM »

I think Alistair Hinton, a highly regarded composer and keeper of the Sorabji Flame, deserves a fortune.  He might, therefore, have to step away from his lofty musical conceptions just long enough to write a Fantasia on, say, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow  Polka Dot Bikini."  Maybe a set of variations ending in a mighty fugue (scored for a topless pianist and augmented with a banjo obbligato).

Merely a suggestion to enrich our esteemed Forum composer.  And no disrespect intended.   
And none assumed (at least by me)! Thank you for your kind remarks. I think that I will pass on the suggestion of the Fantasia that you mention, even if only because
(a) I have already long since written a set of piano variations culminating in a fugue (next to be performed by Jřrgen Hald Nielsen at Bauer & Hieber, Gt. Marlborough St., London on 18 April)
(b) I could imagine a more amenable theme than the one you mention and
(c) because the prospect of a banjo obbligato is not one that has especial - no, ANY - appeal for me (sorry, Thal!).
If by gently declining I pass up on the opportunity of making enough to bale out yet another ailing British bank, then so be it, I guess.

Incidentally, a composer friend of mine has the name "Andrew Lloyd Loom" for the person whose full identity seemed to escape someone else here earlier...

Best,

Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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jamie0168
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« Reply #18 on: February 16, 2009, 06:31:13 PM »

The ones that I've known make almost zilch to nothing
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ahinton
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« Reply #19 on: February 16, 2009, 11:29:44 PM »

The ones that I've known make almost zilch to nothing
Not an especially wide differential, as you express it. Whether or not, or to what extent, the significance of your admission may relate specifically to your happening to know only a certain kind of composer could arguably be open to question, but it has to be said in any event that earning a living from composition is never easy for most composers and is not helped when some people think it's perfectly OK to steal their wares in some way, as happens rather more often nowadays than once it did as a direct consequence of the misuse of certain facilities provided by recently developed technology (which can on the other hand help the composer just as much if not more)...

Best,

Alistair
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Alistair Hinton
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