March 30, 2005

Composers and P2P

For most composers, getting email, maybe even setting up a simple web page, counts as keeping up with the times. Some composers have even set up blogs to air their opinions, but few people have really taken advantage of the internet to distribute their music. It's possible to find some MP3s every now and then, but most composers only post a section or two from the whole piece. If you decide that you want to hear the whole thing, you have to track down a CD. Of course, the composer might not mention what record company released the CD, the CD might be out of print, you might have to special order it...before long, too many problems crop up. Unless the selection you heard was so astounding that you will stop at nothing to buy the CD, you may just give up and move on.

Even if a composer makes full pieces available for download, he's still putting himself at a little bit of a disadvantage. He has to pay hosting fees, design the web site (or pay someone else to), and encode his music. He also has to promote his work, let his audience know about the downloads he has available, and convince them to download them. The composer is responsible for just about everything; these things take time away from writing music and all the musical and extramusical issues associated with that.

CD Baby is a pretty good way to get your music out there. You have to provide them with a packaged CD, but they'll take care of distribution and promotion. However, you're still stuck with manufacturing the discs (either through paying to get some pressed or burning some CD-Rs) and the packaging. This may seem like a lot of work, especially if you don't have a clear sense of how many you'll actually sell. Internet radio is another direction to go in, but it prevents your music from moving beyond the radio station. People are still forced to look for recordings if they want their own copy.

What you really want is a way to distribute your music that doesn't require a lot of overhead, relieves some of the marketing work, and maybe even lets a little money slip back your way. What the classical world needs to discover is P2P. Peer-to-peer networks allow users to download content from each other instead of relying on a centralized server. This means that content creators don't have to maintain websites and find ways to drive people to them. Your audience does the distribution and marketing for you. If you want to release a new recording into the world, all you need to do is send it to a few friends. Eventually it will spread throughout the P2P network. Using P2P also gives you instant feedback on what your audience thinks. If people like your music, multiple sources for it will show in a search for it. Tools like Weed can help you get paid and provide encouragement for people to spread your music around.

Starting up a service like this is incredibly easy, something I would be willing to do myself. However, would other composers be interested in using it? What issues do people foresee in releasing their work like this? Drop by the comments and leave your feelings about this; maybe we can get something going.

March 28, 2005

Playing Nicely with Other People

“Process music” was among the many classifications first thrust upon what's now usually called minimalism. While not always applicable, a lot of early minimalism was based on the slow realization of a few simple instructions. Some music out of the New York School could be described in a similar way. One of the effects of this attitude is to shift listener attention away from a large-scale developmental thrust towards the beauty of individual moments.

Classical concerts don't engender a lot of social interaction during the concert because development-oriented music requires one's undivided attention. Music that flows between individual moments produces a different kind of relationship between the music and its audience. Since events aren't tied to a large scale trajectory, you can breath a little more while listening to process-oriented music. The experience can become more social. If you want to make a comment to someone you're sitting with, the rest of the piece won't become lost on you. In this way, process-oriented music has a lot in common with jazz and popular music. The larger structure (the band's set) has value as a totality, but its pieces (the songs) are worth something on their own.

It can be hard to get friends interested in a lot of the music I like, but I had a great time listening to Indeterminacy with someone. Its structure allowed us to comment on Cage's stories while we listened. We may have missed out on an entire piece every now and then, but the bits we did talk were absorbed that much more. Listening to the music became a positive shared experience, one centered around the music. Most composers would agree that getting their music entered into part of someone's life is a Good Thing. Writing “process music” is certainly not for everyone, but exploring different forms and how they relate to social experiences is one way to help your music to do this.

March 26, 2005


The distinction between form and content informs many discussions on music. Musicians throughout history can't seem to agree which is more important to music (if one should even be more important). Western art music's roots in the church among the so-called "quadrivium" of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy gave its early history a certain scientific slant.

Some remarks in the Guardian on Boulez's recent birthday show that this stance is still alive and kicking today. In fact, Oliver Knussen compares him to a "medieval monk." Among the respondants, no one contests his skill as a craftsman, but several find the content of his music sorely lacking. What's interesting isn't that Boulez polarizes audiences (this has been established for some time), but that the composers called upon mostly focused on either form or content as exclusive entities. Only Thomas Ad├Ęs really acknowledged that in art there is a dialogue between form and content. If this blog has a "mission," it is to be sensitive to how the two interact and balance each other.