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help me understand

Here’s a post that was put up by David Stabler on his blog today:

I understand why the musicians’ union exists, and I respect it. I really do. Over the years, I’ve had many dealings with it and while the general public has no idea what it does or why certain rules and restrictions apply, I generally get it.

But the local AF of M has put the kibosh on part of a story I wanted to do about Tomas Svoboda’s new symphony. I wanted to record how the piece came together, starting with individual Oregon Symphony musicians playing snippets of their parts. We would post their photos on our web site, so when you clicked on their photos, you’d hear the cello, say, or xylophone (which have significant solos in the piece).

Then, we’d record snippets of a symphony rehearsal, culminating in snippets of the first performance. The point was to hear how various parts came together.

Not so fast, the union said.

Turns out we can’t record the individual musicians unless the symphony — or the Oregonian — pays them. That’s because we’d be posting their playing on our web site, so they would need to meet recording terms AT $245 FOR A THREE-HOUR MINIMUM.

We were allowed to record principal trumpet Jeff Work talking about the piece and he could even HOLD his trumpet, but the minute he raised it to his lips and started playing anything from the Svoboda piece, the union considers that a recording session.

Here’s another restriction. We can record up to 15 minutes of a rehearsal or a performance, but we can air a maximum of only three minutes. But here’s the best part:

If it goes up on the web site within 48 hours of recording, the musicians consider it “news” footage and waive their contractual right to review the footage before it’s posted. But if it’s more than 48 hours, they view it as “promotional” and claim the right to review it, and recommend changes, before it’s posted.

Can you hear my editors howling with laughter?

and here’s what the Oregon Symphony’s director of marketing, Michael Granados added in the comments:

Dear David. I work for the Oregon Symphony. I’m the Director of Marketing. Thank you so much for your attempt to help promote this upcoming concert featuring local composer Tomas Svoboda. It’s really going to be a great concert. Your editors may be laughing but this just makes me want to cry or howl in frustration. These musicians give such engaging performances… I’m biased there, of course… How they can be so disengaged with the reality of recording just baffles me. Commercial classical recording doesn’t exist. Paid? For recording? What planet are you guys on! I’d love to hear from any of the OS musicians or the union defending this if they possible can. Of course it is promotional. Duh! So while the musicians are busy shooting themselves and making my job harder I’ll sneek [sic] this not in and hope that some folks reading this will buy tickets. Come on down!

I don’t know the whole story about this, but this seems like incredible stupidity on the part of us musicians.  I had heard nothing about this up to this point, so I can’t say that the musicians of the orchestra were consulted as a whole, either.

I suppose if I were to take it upon myself to write a letter to my colleagues who have a say in matters such as this, it would look a little like this:

I was highly disturbed, to say the least, by what I read on David Stabler’s blog today.  We have definitely missed a great opportunity to give people a view of what goes in to a major premiere of a new work with our outmoded rules concerning electronic media.  Was the LIOC contacted about this?  Why has nothing been said to the orchestra about any of this up to this point (or did I miss a meeting, entirely possible)?

I hope you hear the same sound I hear, it’s the boat pulling out of the harbor for the future while we’re stuck on the shore holding out for what we used to get under the old (and gone forever) media payment models.  We’re totally missing the boat with decisions such as this.  How are we to embrace the future of electronic distribution of music, if we keep holding out for session scale for stuff that will go out on a small market newspaper website?  This was a very short-sighted decision with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Soon there will be no recording labels in existence.  What are we holding out for then?  No one is making any money in classical recording any more, except for members of a few orchestras with very deep pockets (and believe me, those orchestras are throwing money down the drain simply for the prestige value of recording for Deutsche Grammophone or other soon-to-be dead labels).  Using recorded music as a marketing tool is the future, using it as a source of direct revenue is the past.

Can we get with the program?

4 replies on “help me understand”

As a long term member of the symphony I agree with you completely. Free promotion? Let’s take it.

This is ridiculous, and it seems a simple workaround should be obvious. Could it not be viewed as an educational donation?
But then, as a classical freelancer forced to pay for more than one local (totally a frightening percentage of my yearly gigs) even in a state as gig-starved as Oregon and even in years where there are no gigs, I may have a slightly bitter spin on things.

I have a different take here.
First, this seems to fall under a national recording agreement, and as such is beyond our local’s ability to even consider for a vote. For the same reason why we can’t hire out for film work, we can’t break a national recording agreement.
Second, I have a big problem with the way our management (marketing director) and my colleague (however Noble) have taken these strong positions in public. It’s soooo easy to blame the players for being unenlightened about the evolving state of our industry. I know, however, that we’ve been extremely accomodating when it comes to practically every single contract waiver we’ve been presented. I think our management, at least, ought to be a bit more careful with such public pronouncements of alleged musician obstinancy. As for my colleague(s), first try to get the facts straight, then consider keeping it in house. We’ll all be better served.

David – Thanks for bringing this issue to your blog. It is always interesting to read of events on the other side of the Pond.

I am horrified that such a brilliant idea about presenting new music in an innovative and accessible way which would certainly attract people to the exciting process of putting together a premiere performance, should be stopped by obstinate union members sticking to their obsolete rules like dying flies to a fly-paper.

They are the small-brained dinosaurs who will be first to become extinct and most to blame when orchestras suffer crippling deficits or go under because of (amongst other things) a total lack of understanding on how one has to “move with the times” in promoting classical music orchestral concerts…

I hope you and your more forward-thinking colleagues make a big issue about this in an effort to allow a modern approach to marketing your excellent concerts in the future. When one looks at promotion of other music genres, of theatre, visual arts etc – not to mention the sophisticated customer sales techniques of the advertising experts in business, industry and services – it makes one weep to see how antiquated our methods still are in promoting OUR art…

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