New York musicians' woes reach new lows as work disappears  

Miriam Kreinin Souccar, Crain's New York Business, 4/1/12  

The story of the struggling musician is nothing new, but with smaller orchestras scaling back, and musicals and dance productions using fewer players or none at all, professional musicians are facing an increasingly tough time. They are being forced to piece together bits of freelance work, take on heavy teaching schedules or leave the business altogether. Over the past decade, the number of members of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802 has shrunk to 8,500 from about 15,000. Brian Doherty, a drummer who played with the band They Might Be Giants for many years before moving on to Broadway shows, has basically given up trying to survive as a professional musician. He is now the music teacher at C.S. 66 in the South Bronx. "People aren't really looking to live music anymore -- you can hire a second keyboard player to activate a percussion sequence, so you don't need a percussion player," Mr. Doherty said. Arts presenters and Broadway producers of all stripes contend that they have no choice but to cut musicians amid shrinking budgets. John Tomlinson, executive director of Paul Taylor, said it would have cost the company an extra $450,000 to $500,000 to use live musicians for its three-week season [at Lincoln Center], and that he wasn't able to raise that much money in a difficult economic climate. Musicians who remain active in the industry are more fired up than ever about protecting their turf. Since 2003, when Broadway musicians went on strike over producers' attempts to do away with a minimum number of players in the pit, Local 802 has aggressively gone after productions with recorded music and worked hard to educate audiences on its grievances. The union's "Save Live Music on Broadway" campaign, which launched a year and a half ago, has 20,000 "Likes" on Facebook.


What happens when a musical's orchestra is removed from the orchestra pit?

Patrick Healy, The New York Times, 3/24/12

Music by remote control: an orchestra playing not from the traditional pit wedged between audience and stage, but from a distant room or a separate building. It's an approach that appeals to some producers because it allows them to sell high-priced tickets to more seats, or use the old pit space for bigger stage sets -- and because technology means they can. Critics and audience members have not made a fuss over piped-in music, but the musicians' union is sharply negative. "There is no way the quality of the sound is as good over amplification speakers," said Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802. "By not seeing a conductor's head in the pit, or a pit itself, theatergoers may also be left wondering if the music is even live or whether it's simply recorded." [However] the musicians for "Carrie" and "Spider-Man" [two shows with orchestras playing from remote rooms] rejected the notion that piped-in music could be confused with recorded music, let alone ever replaced by it. If music was recorded, they said, an actor could never make a mistake onstage without its being recognized, and the instrumentals would not keep pace if performers -- or their understudies adjusting to the roles -- sped up or slowed down. Some directors have tried separating orchestras from stage performers before, including Michael Bennett with "A Chorus Line", and Trevor Nunn with "Cats" and "Starlight Express". But they did not go so far as to put bands in storage rooms, and the practice never spread after critics tended to mock the muddiness of piped-in music. Today's sound-mixing and amplification is more sophisticated; many producers believe audiences won't notice a difference in quality between an orchestra in a pit and one farther away.


A study of what an symphony musician spent and earned between 2000 and 2011

Drew McManus, Adaptistration blog, 4/2/12

There's a fascinating report from the Future of Music Coalition called Artist Revenue Streams, which they describe as "a multi-stage research project to assess whether and how musicians' revenue streams are changing in this new music landscape." They recently released an installment which focuses on an orchestra musician's income/expense structure during the period 2000-2011 and the results are intriguing. The study isn't designed to be all-encompassing, it only covers a single musician; but the comprehensive depth used when tracking data is a terrific starting place for additional study. Although they provide a terrific breakdown of the subject's income during each year of the study, they don't provide the same detail for expenses; at the same time, they do provide a good cumulative overview of expenses over the ten year period. With regard to those figures, the study divides business expenses into eight categories: Musical Equipment; Education; Travel Expense; Rehearsal Expenses; Performance Expenses; Other players/accompanists; Member Dues: AFM; and Overhead. I'm particularly interested in the Musical Equipment component as the study does not drill down into the division between purchase and upkeep, and since I recently completed a comprehensive research project on the cost of ownership for orchestra string musicians.


Are musicians benefitting from the impact of technology?

Kristin Thomson, Future of Music Coalition's website, 2/23/12

On February 13 [at] the MusicTech Summit, we presented  data about the impact of technologies on musicians' careers and their earning capacity. [Our] research involves three data collection methods: in-person interviews with about 80 different musicians and composers, financial case studies based on verifiable bookkeeping data, and a widely distributed online survey. We focused on three key findings. Note: this is a tiny sliver of the information we've been collecting. [View more here.]

1. Emerging technologies have had a significant impact on their careers as musicians and composers. Revenue generation aside, technology has made them more self-sufficient, given them the ability to connect directly with fans and peers, and leveled the playing field in general. But technology also brings new challenges; some musicians and managers we spoke with found navigating this new landscape exhausting, and the new responsibilities and opportunities distracted them from their core work creating or performing.

2. Overall, digital technologies seem to be having a positive impact on earning capacity. iTunes is the digital store that most musicians and managers we interviewed mentioned as being the most impactful, and digital sales/downloads in general is the activity most acknowledged by our survey respondents. A strong caveat [is] this only impacts musicians who have the opportunity to make money off of recordings.

3. Streaming services are not a significant revenue stream for musicians....yet. We are at the cusp of a new wave of revenue from millions of subscription service plays. There certainly was hope for that expressed by some of our interviewees. But many artists are either not seeing the money yet or, if they are, it's not enough for it to make a dent in their pocketbook.


Can a musician make a living with the support of "1,000 True Fans"?

Jen Dziura,, 3/30/12

Musician Kim Boekbinder made news last June when she announced her new business model:

"The problem, as I see it, is...we're still acting like it's the 1990s... I'm a modern musician with modern tools trying to navigate an old broken system; a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label which would either make or destroy them; a system which drove a wedge between fans and their music, musicians and their audiences; a system that forgot that the entire reason it existed was to facilitate the experience of art."

Having funded her first album via Kickstarter, Boekbinder decided to apply the same model to touring.

"...I pre-sold my album to fund the recording and now I'm pre-selling shows before I even book them so that I can come and play for my fans wherever they want me to play."

I have long been interested in the 1,000 True Fans theory - the idea that "a creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living." Boekbinder, who rose to indie fame after her former band opened for Amanda Palmer, has an ardent fan base. But according to the 1,000 True Fans theory, a True Fan is "someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce." That's a high bar. So, I was intrigued when I got an email from Boekbinder about her new program, Mission Control, in which she asked fans to support the creation of her new album by pledging financial support every month, in increments as small as $10. These backers are rewarded with various levels of goodies, from access to a private blog up to the writing of a custom song and the performing of that song via Skype concert. I asked Kim if she'd be willing to be interviewed, with the caveat that a Bullish column is going to have to contain details and real numbers. She was game. [You can read the interview with Ms. Boekbinder here.]

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