It’s Time to Speak Out

By • July 1, 2008

In the United States, on July 4th, we’ll once again be celebrating the affirmation of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. I’ve linked in the Declaration of Independence for you to read because the time has come in our individual countries and within this industry to risk and speak out.

Risking is something composers don’t do because they’re afraid they might make someone mad. Composers also don’t do a very good job of cooperating with other composers to assure a better common good. The result of that in the United States is that composers, because of failed efforts to organize, have no bargaining chips.

At the performing rights society (PRO) level, what’s promoted is be happy, don’t rock the boat.

It strikes me, as I’m about to throw a chicken on the barbecue, that what PROs and many manufacturers want is for us to be that nice kid in the third grade, who sits in the back of the class, does his homework and rarely raises his hand unless he has to go to the restroom.

But how is that any different from being a dog who gets patted on the head for being, “a good doggie?”

Seriously. Think about it. In the world of composing, what’s the difference between being a “good boy” and a “good dog”?

I don’t think there’s a lot. I think the expectation when it comes to paying composers is that we should be happy for what we get. Of course, this isn’t helped by younger composers with no experience, who, to get the gig, will either do it for nothing, next to nothing, or in some cases, actually pay the producer to get the gig so a credit can be added to the resume.

Where has this, “I’m out for myself and screw you,” attitude lead us?

A partial list includes:

  • no bucks on downloaded TV episodes
  • no bucks or virtually no bucks on watching TV shows streamed on the Internet on sites like HULU.com
  • no bucks on smaller cable channel viewing
  • few if any medical insurance benefits

And the list goes on. In fact, please feel free to add to it.

On the Mac, there’s a long thread developing at VI-Control.net/forum regarding problems with Mac Pro’s, Soundflower, Leopard, et al. You should read it. Using a business term, I wonder how many man-hours are being lost trying to get these combinations to work, especially for those who bought into the promise of the new 8 Core Mac Pros?

I have two clients sequencing on the Mac. I’ve now made this suggestion. Don’t buy a new 8 Core. Too many hassles. Instead, get a good G5 2.7 GHz system, max it out with 8GB of RAM, and get two 64bit PCs to put your plug-ins on. Soundflower is a freeware program. And when your career is now being shaped by a freeware program, it’s time to send a message to Apple: WE’RE NOT BUYING UNTIL YOU FIX THIS. The best way to send that message is to buy a pre-owned G5 and PCs.

Bet you won’t see a PC/Mac commercial on that!

Then there’s the matter of VAT (Value Added Tax) that International customers must pay when ordering from the US. The requested solution from many international customers is: LIE! That’s right. Falsify the value on the shipping forms. Here’s how one company has responded on their web site under International Shipping:

Unfortunately declaring less than the true value is both a violation of American law and the laws of most other countries. In addition, we could lose the right to export to your country should it ever be discovered that we were misrepresenting the value. Also, we cannot insure the package for more than its declared value, which in cases of a mishandled package could end up costing you a lot more than you would save.

If you’re not happy with VAT issues in your country, is the right thing to do when ordering from the U.S.:

a. carp about VAT and ask a dealer to lie and potentially save you a few bucks while risking going out of business?

b. raise your voice with your local officials and explain why lowering the VAT on music software improves the economy?

In all three issues, the message from the Founders of the United States is, “get together and collectively speak out.”

The path of least resistance is to write lonnnnngggggg diatribes on the various forums as opposed to looking up who your local official is and sending them that letter. And maybe follow up with a phone call.

You can write many elected officials by e-mail.

So the same energy you put into a forum venting your spleen (as we say in the South), you can put into an e-mail that might do something.

Of course, this requires ending the passivity we are expected to continue. It means asking more questions, speaking out more, and speaking out to right the people.

What this really means is being responsible politically on those issues which so affect you, regardless of your country. One thing is certain. If you don’t speak out, no one will do it for you.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to turn the chicken before it burns.

Comments

By Piotrek Pawlak on July 1st, 2008 at 10:14 am

what do you mean “Don’t buy a new 8 Core. Too many hassles” ? where do you get your information from?! I honestly don’t agree with your note on this matter… Yes those machines are expensive but have proven to work the (8 core)… as a matter of fact it helps your studio to be more civilized, then those “farm of PC/MACs” now my friend THAT is a “hassle”

P.Pawlak

By Peter Alexander on July 1st, 2008 at 10:21 am

I gave you a link to a forum which outlined the issues. Did you read it?

By Chris on July 1st, 2008 at 11:57 am

Peter,

I hate to criticise as I am sure you are well intentioned-and please don’t contact me personally-I’m not interested in further debate. But, since you’re hanging your opinion out there allow me to add my spin. It would be great if we were able to stand together but that takes leadership. Something composers simply do not have. Using these various forums to whine and gripe about the injustices of this world be it professional or personal is just soooo old. I’ve been a professional composer for 15 years and I heard the same stuff back then just as I hear it now. What strikes me as “3rd grade” about the whole thing is all the whining and crying. For god sakes-life is too short to waste so much time talking about things and not doing anything. I think the rule should be-if you’re gonna gripe about it-you should have some practical notion on how to change things for the better. I have never heard any good, practical, real world solutions to any of the common issues that are so often raised in composing. Not from the SCL, not from the musicians union, not from the PRO’s and not here either. The film music site does a wonderful job communicating with composers about things that might interest our specific demographic but there is no leadership here either. Frankly, I don’t expect there to be I’m just pointing out that this forum is good at “talking” but that’s where it ends. I have no solutions. I do not want to devote my life to the betterment of composers and their working conditions. I want to WRITE MUSIC. I want to find gigs. I want to keep busy. I think most composers feel the same way and that’s why there is no leadership. I don’t feel like a cut throat. There are only so many gigs, and a lot of talented people up for the same jobs. This is the world of entertainment and you need to use all means necessary to get work. I don’t feel like a dog. I feel like a talented guy who has been lucky enough and good enough to make a living in one of the toughest businesses in entertainment. (It really is better than working at Wal-Mart!) There is always room for improvement. It would be great to have our cake and eat it to. But, it is simply too much work to take on the injustices you speak about and be a full time composer. If there are any composers (or non composers who love film music) who want to devote their lives to the cause please speak up, but rest assured it will be your full time, all encompassing, life long gig. So until we find this person, our “Cesar Chavez”-I think we should put a moratorium on the whining and the crying and shut up and get to work. So-please keep us informed about all the new cool toys-I love that. But save the workers of the world unite speech. I ain’t buying it-there are REAL injustices in the world and I’m afraid that everything you mentioned really seems like small potatos.

By Chris on July 1st, 2008 at 12:10 pm

pardon me “potatoes”.

By Peter Alexander on July 1st, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Hi Chris.

Any comments we make are done here on the site. Thanks for writing and sharing your opinion.

Peter Alexander

By David on July 1st, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Good composers work for the betterment of mankind. So do good auto mechanics. It’s about caring for something greater than your own short term gain. Not content with being just lucky enough for your own good.

Few are leaders, but everyone can move in the right direction. If we show support for people who speak about a fair wage or health benefits, we encourage them to show more leadership. That’s how composers can start cooperating. Specific plans are vital, but at least talk about what you want. Together.

There have been efforts to organize composers in the past, eventually this will succeed. Do you want to be replaced? By a young, organized team that plays just as hard as you, but together? Let’s be ahead, not behind the curve.

Making the system work means making improvements, not just dog eat dog forever. Peter has it right when he talks about the Founders. They took risks to better themselves and others. We have to make the effort to keep our freedom. Or earn a bit of freedom for the first time.

Perhaps by joining with an existing guild, or finding a way to qualify for our own group health plan. Any ideas on how to get group benifits for professionals?

The boat rocks when you change direction. That’s better than sailing in circles.

By Chris on July 2nd, 2008 at 1:37 pm

I think I was little reactionary in my original post-sorry Peter. What I was really trying to get across is the incredible effort it would take to make composers come together and have it be useful for anyone. Here are just a few things that would need to be addressed…What is a fair wage? is it the same for cable as for network? And think about all the hundreds of cable networks-would they all pay the same rate for music? What about film-what is the rate for an indie, what is the rate for a feature? What should the residual rate for downloads be? What about music libraries-are they going to be covered under any kind of composers guild? Video Games? Internet? Does a unionized group of composers need PRO’s? Even if there was to be a coming together, who is going to put in the real work of figuring out all the possible scenarious for payment, rights, credits. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of questions like these that would have to be addressed and agreed upon by composers before any kind of Guild or Union is to have any chance at success. Since no one has even come close to addressing these issues, I believe joining a group and talking about greener pastures is really just lip service. It sounds great, it makes us feel good but it really accomplishes little if anything. That’s why I made such a strong statement about the need for leadership. I also worry that any kind of guild would probably only be able to deal with the highest profile TV shows and movies. Those people doing those gigs are already very well compensated for the most part (and don’t forget about the big bump in residuals as well)-I’m not convinced they need or want the help of a guild. I think the people that need the most help would be mid to low level composers working on various cable and lower tier television and film. To the best of my knowledge, the WGA, DGA and SAG do not cover many of the shows on cable nor are they involved with some network shows (ie reality). A current real world example I thought of was the DGA’s original attempt to get some of the reality show writers included in their contract renegotiations with the hollywood producers and then gave up on that entirely when push came to shove. Hey at least they tried and I’m not faulting them, but the point to be made here is that an established Guild with real political power can only do so much to help their members. Another example-If you watch Discovery, Nat Geo, Bravo, A&E and many other cable networks of similar size you should know that about 80-90% of those programs are completely devoid of Guild involvement-WGA, SAG, DGA. (I’m guessing about numbers but I know a lot about productions on these networks from first hand experience. Should someone have more specific knowledge please advise.) If composers were to unionize in a similar fashion it would seem that the people that could use the help of a Guild or Union the most are the least likely to see any benefit. I think this point is very important for anyone seriously considering the benefits of organized labor as it applies to composing. I am not without hope, but it seems to me flowery words and talk of blue skies, fraternity and sail boats is why there is little chance for unionization to occur. It would take serious, real world, intelligent, hard ass people to make this happen. Where are these people?

By Chris on July 2nd, 2008 at 1:40 pm

sorry I re-read. I meant to say “real world example I thought of was the WGA’s original attempt…” not the DGA. Too many acronyms…

By Chris on July 2nd, 2008 at 2:36 pm

David,

Good composers and good auto mechanics do not necessarily do their work for the betterment of mankind. If YOU do, that’s nice for you. I applaud your values. However, I think you are mistaken to assume that others do it for the same reason you do. Personally, I do it because I love MUSIC. Not because I wish to further the cause of humanity. If that happens, that is wonderful but it is certainly not a prerequisite for me to continue composing. I think it much more likely people do it because they want to.

Here is a famous quote I found from Paul McCartney that I thought appropriate. “Somebody said to me, ‘But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.’ That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool.'” – Paul McCartney.

I personally prefer “Imagine” by John Lennon when it comes to messages, but here is another quote from Paul about why they started the Beatles “Not really. I mean, it’s a bit of an exaggeration. It was definitely quite decadent. The whole thing about getting into a band was to get girls, basically. Money and girls. Probably girls first.”

Apparently I am not the only one whose motives are not so grand…(and clearly I am procrastinating when I should be working…over and out!)

Peace

By Mark Northam on July 2nd, 2008 at 5:25 pm

While the solutions may currently elude us, I believe there is a lot to be gained in terms of education and knowledge by discussing the problems that exist in the industry – discussion, hopefully, will lead to an evolution of a workable solution.

Most composers are mercenaries by nature due to the highly competitive and solitary nature of the craft as it is today – hopefully there will be enough composers out there who start thinking about the industry rather than just themselves that we can start crafting some solutions to some of the more serious problems – problems that threaten the very viability of score composing as a career.

By Piotrek Pawlak on July 2nd, 2008 at 5:51 pm

This magazine is by far a True and to “the Point” instrument that allows any one with some education in Music to place their feet on the grown…. Chris, please try to make it short and to the point.. all I read is your EGO and of what you lack off, please be mature and process before posting thank you…( by the way I have never heard of you)

Mr. Alexander, I did read the link for the forum, maybe I am not reading correctly or need to research way more, but I still cant see why an dhow and where is the new 8 core failing, The Studio I work for ( I am just an instrumentalist) is armed with 4 new 8 core Macs, an everything is making our jobs way easier in every way of the word! can you please elaborate more on your poi tof view? many thanks

Thanks to your and Mr Northman’s columns I am becoming more educated…. many thanks for all the Education you provide in our Industry…

P.Pawlak

By Chris on July 3rd, 2008 at 8:48 am

Piotrek,

I appreciate your criticism-that’s what this board is for-communicating, BUT I think you are getting a little personal. If you disagree or think I’m long winded that’s OK with me, but your response about ego and “never having heard of me” is plain silly. I must admit I rarely post to these kinds of things, mostly because there is always a lot of this nonsense. I hope that my reply to David’s post does not come across like Piotreks. I genuinly appreciate his feelings about composing but simply disagree-I do not want that to come across as any kind of personal insult to him.

By Chris on July 3rd, 2008 at 9:00 am

Mark,

I agree with Piotrek about FilmMusicMag. It is a very good site for composers and I applaud you for your tenacity with this venture. I assume it’s been many many hours of hard work for a long time and you are helping a great deal. I’ve been reading since the early days of the magazine and have found a lot of useful info and opinion. Kudos.

By Peter Alexander on July 3rd, 2008 at 9:08 am

Piotrek – Since you read the link, what programs are you running on your 8-cores so we can better understand your comments.

By Rich T on July 8th, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Peter,

Well done. I agree with your points, but also with those of Chris. How come we don’t ‘attack’ ASCAP and BMI for those rediculous ‘background’ rates they pay us, compared to vocal performances. A quick glance through my cable channels reveals about 95% background music. It’s obvious those on the board of ASCAP don’t want to pay us.

Also, the tracking is horrible. My music is on many cable channels, and in one recent instance, was not tracked on a major cable network for 9 months because the Cue sheets had no ‘episode’ numbers on them, even though my name and publishing company could clearly be seen. Its taken me months of work and a dozen emails or more to clarify the situation, and I only discovered it because nothing showed up on my quarterly statements.

We deserve better from the PRO’s, and Im fighting the good fight to get every dollar owed me. Im curious why more composers don’t talk about these issues. Those other writers that I’ve disucssed it with also have horror stories, but feel the ‘closed doors’ (especially at ASCAP) will not open for us.

Time to go midieval and get out the hot oil and giant stones? You are in a position to light some fires…will you?

R

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