Responding to the debate about composers and their fees

There is a lot of debate in the digiverse at the moment, following a survey reported in Sound and Music into the shockingly-low fees afforded to composers (read the Guardian digest here). I have engaged with a composer on Twitter about this, in the light of which I feel an important distinction needs to be made.

It is crucial, I think, to distinguish between those who consider themselves to be composers, and those who see composing as an adjunct to other activities they undertake – teaching, performing, lecturing – alongside their composing.

For the former, composing is their calling – what they do, what they have to do – and, because of the poor fees afforded by commissions for their work, they have to engage in other activities simply in order to make ends meet, and to sustain and support their first imperative: composing.

For the latter, activities such as teaching, performing and lecturing are equally as important as – or perhaps, in some cases, more important than – their composing. This isn’t a criticism, by any means; no-one who has seen the amount of administrative bureaucracy surrounding working in education can say otherwise. But it is important to establish the difference; supplementary activities supporting composing, or composing as one of several tasks.

For those for whom composing is a necessity, it is certainly true that it’s not possible to devote a life to writing music without considerable support from elsewhere; grants, family, etc. But for those who compose as an adjunct to, rather than in spite of, other tasks, it’s not quite the same thing. And those who do earn money around their composing aren’t quite in the same boat as those who strive to earn from their composing alone. The latter isn’t possible. Either you are a composer, or a lecturer/teacher/performer who also composes. Not both; it’s a question of priorities, of the imperative governing what you do.


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