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Archive for June, 2008

I read an post in a blog today that I felt compelled to respond to. Yet another person going on about how musicians don’t deserve to be paid for anything. I agree on some of the writer’s points, namely that current copyright laws are anachronistic given the advances in technology. The writer suggests that things return to the pre-classical era when the only people who had access to music and art were the rich. Yeah…very 21st century!

Here’s my response which actually I’m quite pleased with:

Hi there, interesting post. In many ways I agree with you too. However, I have just completed my tax return and it made for sobering reading.

I am a musician. I perform, teach and run workshops. I am trying to set up my own group which plays little known 18th century music. I work pretty much all hours of the day, not only at the coalface, but practicing and studying to maintain my skills, collecting resources and researching the 18th century music that we play. Having completed my accounts, I realised that, all in all I had made a not very handsome profit of £1,113 last year from music.

Your post implied that musicians (and other creative types) simply sit around waiting for the money from copyright royalties to roll in. As a musician, I can honestly say that to get paid performance opportunities when you have yet to establish yourself is VERY difficult (and nigh on impossible if you play original music, as I used to do.) The reason? People expect musicians to give their work for free on the live scene too, or even worse, pay for the privilege.

I have this argument time and time again with people that are not musicians. They cannot seem to understand that musicians are paid (when they get paid) appallingly given the time and effort required to perform to a goodl standard. The fees that people are prepared to pay in no way reflect the years of study and practice. It has taken me, personally, 4/5 years of hard, hard work to get to the stage where I can take my first tentative steps to singing classical music for a paying audience. That’s about the same as a doctor or lawyer. And should I continue singing, I will need to pay for regular coaching sessions throughout my career.

If a musician/artist is the position of collecting royalties in the first place, that position has most likely been won through years of sheer hard graft and living on the poverty line with no guarantee of anything to show for it. Don’t they deserve something for that? There is a place for tribute and covers bands, but do we really want all musicians to spend all of their time doing that to earn money, rather than writing new material?

In the past, new music only got written because it was funded by the aristocracy. Do we want that situation again, where professional musicians reflect the agenda of a social elite? Back in the day, the rich were the only people with access to art, and public concert halls only came into being when the publishing industry took off, in the 18th century.

Bodies such as the Arts Council were supposed to fill that gap, but again, will only fund the activities that suit their agenda. And they can have their funding cut on a whim if a government decides to bankroll an overpriced sports day (I am UK based in case you hadn’t guessed). I’m not a luddite, I love the internet, and I use it to promote our work. Much of our stuff is up there with a creative commons license. I don’t want to criminalise people for listening to us.

I agree that current business models of copyright have broken, and it would take a better person than myself to suggest an alternative, however, society does need to value the contribution that creatives make, there needs to be some mechanism by which we can make a living from our efforts someday and possible make up for the lean years. I didn’t get into music to make wads of cash, but as I said before, I do work very hard and for very little, because I have focused my time on producing something new and different. Surely, the prospect of a decent living at some point is not too much to ask for?

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Just reading through a couple of my latest posts, perhaps I should have called this blog “Abi’s rant blog” I must sound as though I moan all the time. But I don’t, no really. I am generally a very happy person. I live a very nice life. it’s just that…it could be nicer. Not just for me, for lots of other people. Take housing. I get a big bee in my bonnet about the current state of things, and no doubt I will write an enormous rant about that someday. It makes me so angry, the fact that a house has now become a commodity, an investment, rather than a somewhat necessary place to live.

In fact I own my own house, so I shouldn’t get so cross about it. (And before you get really sniffy with me, I only own it because my parents died when most of my friends were looking for their first full time job.) But that doesn’t stop me from being absolutely livid when I see what it is dong to our society. People’s parents shouldn’t have to die before they get a chance to get on the housing ladder.

Well, that’s just an example. Virginia Woolf wrote about the importance of a room of one’s own, ie, your own space and financial security, to creative thought. I may own my house, but in the normal day-to-day I’m only better off by a couple of thousand a year in purely financial terms. I live on a shoestring and I like it that way. But it’s more than that. The fact that I own my own place allows me the luxury of space to think about the world around me and see how it could be better. It allows me a certain mental freedom. And I’m painfully aware of just how lucky I am. Maybe that’s the point. Making a whole generation keep their noses to the grindstone, propping up the economy and benefitting the taxman and the banks, to buy the overpriced necessity repackaged as a luxury item, they’re hardly going to have time for challenging the status quo, are they?

But most of the time I’m a very happy bunny.

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I don’t know why, but since the government started lecturing and hectoring on the perils of too much alcohol, I’ve been drinking more than usual. Now, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but every time I see a public health ad about such a subject, all I can think aout is how much I’d love a glass of wine. Nu Labour is driving me to drink!!!

They really are upsetting me though right now, so maybe it’s a subconcious rebellion thing. “Fie upon you and your puritan ways! Dost thou think that because though art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

And don’t even get me started on cakes. I used to love fruit loops, that artificially primary coloured, sugar encrusted breakfast cereal. I always stashed a box somewhere, and it was my sugary snack treat. A handful or two in a bowl after a bad day and I was a happy girl. Now I may need to lose a few pounds, but I am sure as hell not blaming it on my once-a-week fruit loop fix.

But can I buy the things now? Nooooo! Not even the dodgy european versions that Lidl used to sell. Talk about tyranny. I can just hear the health and safety inspectors/risk assessors/food thought police now, examing a bowl of fruit loops under the glare of a high wattage lamp, clad head to toe in radiation suits “Oh, no, you can’t sell those now. What if some parent were to buy this box of pure sin for their child? What if they then ate it (gasp) and then liked it (GASP)? What if they then became obese, got heart disease and died? All for a bowl of fruit loops? THE KIDS MUST BE PROTECTED!!!”

Now, I actually believe in healthy eating. I think that most people take far better care of their cars than they take of themselves. We’d all be happier if we were healthier. probably less depression for a start. BUT… I am 30 years old. I grow oregano and listen to radio 4 and am not ashamed to admit it. Why the hell shouldn’t I eat some neon coloured cereal every now and again if I damn well want it? If some parent doesn’t care what their child eats, then there are far more sources of artery-clogging lard they can feed them. The “Aren’t you lucky, kids. Wholemeal breadsticks!” brigade won’t buy them. Banning fruit loops will not save a single innocent life.

But it does take some of the artifically enhanced colour from my somewhat simple life.

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