Friday, July 30, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Right around Christmas time, 2009, I got a call to come in as a composer and arranger on a new musical. My friend Cheri Steinkellner (with whom I was writing "Mosaic" at the time) had a working draft of a show that used a bunch of Tin-Pan Alley era songs as the score for a fast-paced and funny story about kids in the early days of the sheet-music publishing industry. Because of our collaboration on the other project, I had heard Cheri talking about "HELLO! MY BABY" and it sounded exciting. She did a reading of the piece on the east coast and was told (by Alan Menken, among others) that the thing that would take the show to the next level was making the music drive the score, and in order to do that, she needed a composer to overhaul the music. Michael Kosarin (Alan Menken's music director and arranger, among other things), suggested to Cheri that maybe I was the gal for the job.
Only problem: they were doing a reading of the show in NYC in March. I had three months to write the entire score. And we had our production of "Mosaic" rehearsing at Primary Stages in the meantime.
Daunting though it was, it's not every day that someone plops a great script for musical into my lap, so I figured it would be three months of hell and at the end of it I would have two shows. And that's pretty much what happened.
While in New York City for the month of March, I camped out at my friend Sam Davis's apartment for several hours a day because he was out on the road conducting Dreamgirls. And, honestly, much of the score was written on his piano. (So, thanks, Sam!) The score has 21 songs in it. We did a reading of "Hello! My Baby" at CAP 21 on March 29 and then opened "Mosaic" four days later. I did not accomplish a whole lot in the month of April.
So now "Hello! My Baby" is getting its first production at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, CA, as part of their fantastic Youth Theatre Program. It's amazing to watch the kids (ages 14-22) claim these songs that were written 100 years ago as their own. The arrangements are new, the context is new, but the songs are chestnuts, and it's my hope that audiences young and old will be thrilled to hear them. Performances start August 6th and ticket info is here. Hope you can make it!
Monday, July 05, 2010
One of the most important factors in the fight against copyright infringement is making sure that the people who do legally want to buy sheet music know where to find it. Since I started talking about this issue, two fantastic new sites have appeared and I want to make sure you all know about them.
Originally created by Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan as a way to launch their own self-published sheet music, this site is blowing up to include a huge database of musical theater material written in the last few years by a number of young (or not-so-young, like me), up-and-coming songwriters, and they're adding more songs and more writers on a regular basis. The site is great and has several search features (genre, voice type, style) and many links to YouTube videos so you can hear and see the song being performed before you purchase. It's my belief that the music available here is among the most prevalent on the "trade" sites, so if you're looking for something REALLY REALLY CONTEMPORARY, this is where you should go first. (Determining which are the good songs and which are not is up to you.)
I just found out about this site today, and I'm pretty sure it's brand new. One of the things we writers have said we need is a centralized "clearing house" site that helps potential sheet music consumers figure out where to go to purchase sheet music or read bios or watch videos for their favorite composers. And here it is -- a way to navigate through all of the information and browse the websites of theatrical composers, both contemporary and classic. If I taught a class in musical theater, this would be my number one digital resource.
You all know that I love www.musicnotes.com but I'm aware of several other sites out there, including www.sheetmusicplus.com and www.sheetmusicdirect.com and www.freehand.com. What others do you use? And how about those of you who aren't in America? Anything to add?
Friday, July 02, 2010
A little over a year ago I posted this blog entry about the rampant abuse of sheet music trading online and how it was affecting me personally. It's an issue that has had me riled up, and if you've encountered me in the last year (in a master class or concert, anywhere I've been given a microphone and an audience) you've likely heard me talk about why it's important to download music legally instead of stealing it.
Then a few days ago, my husband wrote this blog, called "Fighting With Teenagers: A Copyright Story." It's a very real conversation he had with a very real teenager after he asked her directly please to stop giving away his music. It's a fascinating narrative, but even more enthralling is the number of passionate comments it has generated. If you're interested in this issue, I encourage you to read through the sea of comments in both locations (his and mine). People gots some opinions, y'all.
So it's clear: artists, publishers, lawyers, writers and musicians all seem to believe copyright law is in place for a reason. Tekkies, teenagers and philosophers seem to think "information should be free." Obviously I'm making a generalization but I have been shocked at the number of people who are not just misinformed but feel extremely entitled to a product they had nothing to do with generating.
Quoting one of my own comments this morning: "Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right, or even legal. When the law changes to agree with you I will give up my rant. Until then, consider also the law of supply and demand. If demand for a product disappears, said product will cease to exist. If no one wants to buy music, how will anyone ever be able to afford to make music? There has been lots of talk about "giving it away for free" or that "information wants to be free." When you can convince my copyists, musicians, actors, directors, orchestrators, record producers, graphic designers, photographers, managers, lawyers and music publishers to work for free, let me know. Until then, it takes money to run my business because I have to hire people to participate in generating the product."
If you don't WANT the product, that's a different issue, and I'll go back to college and learn how to do something else for a living. But that's not the issue, is it? The demand is there, just not the willingness to pay.
So fine, we disagree. We will always disagree. That's why there are laws in place. If everyone agreed, we wouldn't need any system of arbitration. But for those of you who are on my side, I'm moving on to the next question.
It's so obvious that we need an "iTunes" for sheet music. I've got my music listed in two locations. 1. Musicnotes.com (which is a huge distributor of digital sheet music including millions of titles in a vast number of genres) and 2. Newmusicaltheatre.com (which is a boutique seller of digital sheet music geared towards people seeking titles from the next generation of musical theater songwriters). Both have their merits, but neither is (yet?) as global in scope as we all want it to be.
Here are my questions, and I'm specifically interested in hearing from The Dramatists Guild, the Music Publishers Association, ASCAP, BMI, MTI, Hal Leonard, and other organizations as to how they're addressing the problems at hand. I know they're trying, as I've heard from several of them directly. But I'm looking for progress, people. The scary thing for me is when an entire industry gets fired up and then nothing comes of it but talk.
Could iTunes carry a sheet music division? Who's got a connection there and can start THAT conversation?
What is the ideal price point for a piece of sheet music? Most people don't think twice about paying $.99 to iTunes for an mp3 of a song, yet sheet music is priced anywhere from $4 to $15. Would more people be inclined to participate in the process if we weren't pricing ourselves out of the market?
Aside from printing those nearly invisible notices on each piece of music (mine all say ©Geocate Music (ASCAP), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED), what can be done to educate our market about copyright and its laws?
Worth noting: Fair Use allows that yes, you can photocopy that music out of the songbook and use it in your class, in your talent show, in your voice lesson, in your audition, in your home. It may even be okay to photocopy a song and give it to your friend, though I'll leave that one up to the lawyers to debate. But it is absolutely not okay when you make something available online for either one or one thousand strangers to devour. It's different. That's no longer "fair use," legally or morally. How do morals guide people when they're alone in their homes and there is little possibility that they'll be busted for bad behavior? To what lengths are we willing to go to enforce the law? (Consider Napster.) And if we're talking about litigation, who's paying for that?
Has no one been able to take down pianofiles.com? Don't we all agree that that's the place to begin? I know there are a gazillion sites like this, but taking down the worst offender is perhaps one way to start.
Thanks for engaging in the debate.