Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC

Reflections of a Music Publisher

by ERNST ROTH

3. ORGANIZATION

It takes many brains and many hands to carry music to the masses. Music must be composed, or adapted; someone has to choose the works which are to be performed, recorded on disc and tape or synchronized with films. Somebody has to engage the performers, for the big symphony orchestras and opera-houses, from the famous stars down to the cabaret and night-club singers. Somebody has to build transmitters and turntables, pay fees and salaries, print and sell tickets, put advertisements in papers and paste posters on hoardings. Somebody even has to print music, collect royalties, performing and mechanical fees and account for them-there is no end to what has to be done if music is to be available like drinking-water in a large city, and its material usefulness ensured.

The laws plot only the boundaries of the territory upon which the great spectacle of present-day musical life is to unfold. It is for the interested parties themselves to establish the necessary organization. In this thoroughly organized world two groups are almost automatically forming which set the industry in motion and keep it going: the creators or producers on the one hand and the group of users or consumers on the other. The public, standing between them, plays no part in the organization: but it buys or rejects the goods offered, and in its hands the ultimate success or failure of the other two lies.

It cannot be said that the two groups of 'producers' and 'consumers' are living together in harmony. They probably never do in any field, but when the 'product' is an art their differences can be sharp and distasteful. Although music has become the subject of regular trade certain factors of general commercial practice are still inapplicable to it. First and foremost, it has no accepted price, as have other goods in daily demand. Differences in quality are quite conspicuous, but differences in price are difficult to assess. In the practical world of commerce a cheaper, inferior product has a legitimate place-margarine instead of butter, the bicycle instead of the motor car. True, this applies also to performers and places of performance. But who would buy or perform a piece of music which is worse than another simply because it is cheaper? Every work, rightly or wrongly, has to aim at being thought excellent of its kind-whether it is serious or popular or simply background music. This unavoidable state of affairs invalidates the normal usages of commerce. The services rendered to music, the fees payable for the performance, have no accepted material level. The users demand as much as they dare and the public resists as much as it can, and this creates the shifting ground upon which our musical life rests.

The composers, from whom all the power and influence should derive, are only loosely organized. In almost every country there are composers' guilds or associations but they recruit their members mainly from the ranks of the disappointed. More ruthlessly than any other vocation, art separates the qualified from the unqualified. If the captain of industry has some difficulty in sympathizing with the troubles of the one-man firm, genius has nothing in common with mediocrity. Neither Igor Stravinsky nor Richard Rodgers can fit into a professional organization, for their ambitions are fulfilled and the complaints of the smaller fry are not their complaints. Thus the absence of all the most prominent figures robs composers' associations of any real influence.

However, authors and composers-and publishers-do have organizations for the protection of their material interests, and these have achieved a high degree of efficiency. Starting modestly enough as a Societe Dramatique or an Agence Centrale they have become great powers. There is now a society of this kind in every civilized country, its presence and purpose almost unknown to the millions of music consumers. These societies are not merely social or debating clubs dealing with the art of music: they are the organizations which had to be created if the rights conferred upon composers and their paroliers or song-writers were to be operated and enforced-the right to authorize public performances, broadcasts and mechanical reproductions and, more important still, to establish scales of payments for all such authorizations, to collect them and to distribute them.

This is no small undertaking-too big, at any rate, for the individual composer. Capable organizers were needed to distil the 'esprit des affaires' from the 'amour des lettres'. Forced by the boom in all things musical like plants in a hothouse, these societies have united into a world-wide organization which disciplines the whole of musical life. The PRS (Performing Right Society) in Britain, the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) in the USA, the SACEM (Societe des auteurs, compositeurs et editeurs de musique) in France, and so on, are the bodies which control public performances. Other, similar organizations control mechanical reproduction, and every country has its societies and every society its acrostic. Whoever performs or reproduces music-broadcasting organizations, orchestras, dance-bands, the solitary pianist in a bar-has to submit his programme to his national society, obtain a licence and pay for it. A vast network of 'supervisors', or snoopers, sees to it that only the smallest fish escape. The national societies are united in an international confederation, and treaties of affiliation provide a world-wide exchange of programmes, controls and money, so that, for example, the British composer receives his performing and mechanical rights from the Argentine, the American composer his from Italy.

Any composer or song-writer with a number of published works to his credit is admitted to the membership of his national society; he assigns his performing and mechanical rights to it and the society then exercises them as his representative. Enormous card indexes have been set up, listing hundreds of thousands of titles and thousands of names, and these are exchanged between all the societies. This requires a large personnel, extensive premises, directors and managers and a great deal of money, which is readily available. Regular mass consumers, such as the broadcasting and television organizations, pay yearly sums, running into millions. Record-manufacturers have to pay a percentage of the selling-price of every disc as a royalty; concert-promoters pay for every protected work according to the size of the hall. Those who do not pay are automatically delivered into the hands of justice. In this way these societies have become the heavily armed and highly mobile international police of musical life. An enormous stream of money flows through their tills, and even though administration costs are high a sizeable sum remains for composers and publishers.

In all this the art itself is but a secondary issue. For the societies music exists only as a record of names, titles and duration of performance. It is true that most performing-right-as opposed to 'mechanical' societies make certain concessions to serious music* by granting a higher reimbursement to the playing-time of, say, a symphony than to the playing-time of a popular song, and some societies have even recognized a secondary category of serious music, namely 'distinguished entertainment' music, which is cheaper than serious music proper but more expensive than popular music, a distinction which introduces an element of 'expensive' and 'cheap'. However, this is of no concern to the promoters, being a matter of internal accounting between the societies and their members. As the adaptor or arranger of unprotected music, whose contribution is protected, has a claim to performing and mechanical fees for his protected version smaller than those of a genuine composer the societies have set up committees of musicians whose task it is to assign the works declared by members to their respective categories. (Many years ago I had an ill-tempered argument with one such committee which refused to accord the status of 'original compositions? to the folk-song arrangements of Bela Bartók.)

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* It will be noticed here and thoughout this book that I do not adopt the deplorable habit of calling all serious music "classical" as distinct from "popular".

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However, duration of performance remains the yardstick, and here the system does not do justice to the composer's labours. A symphonic work for large orchestra has the same 'point value' as a solo sonata for flute of similar duration, whereas, though the original conception of those two works may take the same time, the physical writing of a full score of, say, a hundred pages is a much more slow and laborious task. But the administration of a world repertoire is too complicated to allow for further itemization. Eschewing preference for the good and aversion to the bad, the societies register success but not its reasons. Despite this aloofness they present themselves as guardians of the art. Composers must live if they are to compose, and no other institution in our musical life supplies them with the means as bountifully and regularly as the societies.

Perhaps the greatest blessing of the whole system is that all patronage is banned. The composers receive no more than is due to them, but payment of what is due-and it is a good deal-can be enforced without their incurring the displeasure of a patron, as happened to Beethoven. However, nothing remains for the beginner. Some societies have a pension fund for their old members but the encouragement of the young, of the new and unproven, has no place in their statutes. It is left to the care of others-the music-publishers.

I am always trying to find the beating heart of the living music beneath the hard armour of organizational endeavours and legal and financial operations. There is something more than a shrewd business sense in this protection of the performance and mechanical reproduction of a musical work. A breath of the 'amour des lettres', however faint, clings to all these carefully guarded material interests. Music will be actively re-created. It cannot become completely detached from its creator, like a poem or a picture; his shadow follows it as the ghost of Hamlet's father dogs the wavering son. Even without the interference of the law the purchaser of sheet music acquires only the shell of a hypothetical content. He normally overlooks the threats and warnings in small print: Performing rights reserved or even, all rights reserved. These are no product of commercial acumen but a somewhat bizarre expression of the greater mystery that unites the creator with his work.

Among the consumers broadcasting and television take first place. Even those who may never have thought about it must have some vague idea of the size of an organization which every day, from early morning till late at night, educates, informs and-especially with music entertains hundreds of millions of listeners and viewers. This is, in fact, a heavy industry of the immaterial, having no other purpose but the hope of a better, happier, more educated society. In many countries broadcasting is nationalized, because the improvement of men's minds is an obligation upon governments rather than upon individuals. The farther west one travels, the more the grip of the state loosens, both on broadcasting and on the individual. In France the Organisation de Radiodiffusion et Television Francaise (ORTF) is still a department of the Ministry of Communications, but the moment we cross the Channel we find broadcasting and television independent and the state exercising only a peripheral control. Farther west again, in the Western Hemisphere, broadcasting is left to private enterprise. In North, Central and South America there are hundreds of private broadcasting organizations, and anybody who understands the business can start and operate a transmitter or a network. Some clever people have even discovered that the freedom of the high seas has preserved some of the romance of the old days of piracy and have established commercial stations on old ships and forts outside territorial waters and official control.

One cannot repress a slight shudder when one reads the statistics of sound and television broadcasting. Reliable figures are available only for Europe-excluding Russia and a few other communist countries. The number of listeners and viewers in North and South America cannot be ascertained, as no licence-fees are payable. We must therefore confine ourselves to the figures as published by the European Broadcasting Union, for all Europe with the exceptions mentioned above. The number of licences for sound broadcasting rose from 31,000,000 in 1950 to 60,000,000 in 1955, to 71,000,000 in 1960 and to 84,000,000 in 1965, while television licences increased during the same period from 285,000 to 4,500,000, to 18,500,000 and finally to 44,000,000. Experts deny that saturation point has been reached; in a world of insatiable need for noise that may never happen. But the figures give a good idea of the gigantic scope of the new means of communication. European broadcasting and television organizations employ some 100,000 people, from directors general down to doorkeepers. They engage thousands of performers of every type and standard every year; and music is the commonest of all the forms of entertainment they project into the ether, to be caught by those millions of receivers.

In Europe all this began rather pompously, with lofty cultural ambitions. Until quite recently an inherent respect prevented the desecration of art and culture at the profane hands of commerce. Sound and television broadcasting, it was felt, should be financed out of licence-fees collected by the agencies of the state, and these fees are not a selling-price but a tax. A comparatively small amount pays for an enormous volume of information and entertainment. But in the United States broadcasting was designed for profit from the very beginning. Education, information and pleasure are free, and this is a laudable ideal. Yet the broadcasting organizations, deriving their revenue from advertisements, are commercial, which hardly seems compatible with such idealism. The revenue is quite fabulous; so is the value of the advertisements, which can recommend all types of goods much more persuasively than printed notices in newspapers.

This American example, like others, was bound in the end to undermine stubborn European morale. For many years commercialism prowled round European broadcasting and television like a hungry wolf round the sheepfold. Only a few small countries, such as Luxembourg or Andorra, let it in, leaving the responsibility for art and culture to their more affluent neighbours. Eventually the temptation became too great for the big countries and for their state-owned or state-controlled organizations, and the wolf was ceremoniously received at the front door.

It may be some time yet before Europeans rid themselves altogether of a nagging feeling of impropriety. The method of 'sponsored programmes', so well established in the Americas, is not admitted in Europe: in the United States General Motors or Camel cigarettes can engage the New York Philharmonic, book time on sound radio or television and enliven a one-hour concert of sterling music under a sterling conductor of their own choice with their own advertisements. In Europe the advertiser is firmly excluded from any interference with the programme, and art and commerce are carefully separated. This, quite bluntly, is sheer hypocrisy. The advertiser pays a very high price for his spot, and will do so only if he can be assured that the programmes preceding and following it are so popular that millions of listeners will endure his advertisement. Hypocrisy has always been an excellent sedative for a troubled conscience.

So in Europe, too, commercial broadcasting and commercial television established themselves-causing, incidentally, a bloody massacre in the world of illustrated journals and magazines. As was to be expected, commercialism avoids art as best it can. In T the undignified disguise of the 'jingle', music becomes the salesman | of a multitude of goods, and clever composers who could perhaps produce something better but certainly nothing more remunerative - are making considerable fortunes by providing the right noise t for the right article.

Cosmopolitanism was not, at first, one of the visible preoccupations of broadcasting, but since the Second World War it has become its proudest achievement. Performances from the Salzburg Festival can be heard throughout the world, either by direct transmission or on tape-recordings; programmes are being ex- changed; the communications satellite has even overcome the curvature of our planet. This has so increased organizational and legal problems that not only do broadcasters run their own legal departments but the European (with some non-European) organizations have formed the European Broadcasting Union to take care of such common technical problems as how they should avoid each other in the ether, and to steer them through the treacherous waters of international copyright.

The other great power in our musical life is the record industry - as it is honest enough to call itself. It has become a heavy industry. It is estimated that sales, excluding Russia and Japan, amount to 500,000,000 records annually, which is no mean achievement considering that more than one-third of the world's population has not yet arrived at the stage of buying records. But the record manufacturers are no music-promoters in the ordinary sense. Recording sessions take place behind closed doors, and what is eventually sold to the public is often the result of much trial and error. This accounts in no small measure for its undoubted technical excellence. Also, manufacturers secure the exclusive services of prominent performers and popular stars, and often first-recording rights of important composers; all this, of course, against payment of substantial fees and with an eye more on their competitors than on the art itself Sound broadcasting and television have clear-if rarely fulfilled-cultural obligations; record-manufacturers have none. Broadcasting is quite frequently criticized on artistic grounds by the Press or by Parliament because of its programme policy, and the public follows such activities with suspicion. But record manufacturers, who are likewise mass distributors of cultural goods, are immune to any criticism. One regularly reads about their new issues and the technical quality of their products, but their artistic policy is not a subject of public discussion. The words 'manufacturers' and 'industry' distinguish them from all other servants or patrons of the art. The manufacture of records is 'business', pure and unashamed, and not a particularly risky business at that. In a few countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, this has even aroused the sympathies of the legislators, and a legal and compulsory licence limits the sacred prerogatives of composers by declaring that a work, once recorded, may further be recorded by any other manufacturer without the composer's prior consent, though not without payment of the usual or statutory royalties.

All this stirs up considerable resentment among composers, publishers and performers, but the power of the manufacturer and the possibilities he offers are so great that few would be brave enough to invite his wrath. One day, perhaps, some independent spirit may measure the enormous influence of the mass distribution of records on the whole existence of music and may discover that, overwhelmed as it is by public taste, it tends to vitiate the efforts of many serious promoters and distributors. The young composer, the unfulfilled promise, can expect nothing from the gramophone industry. It is for others to take risks and the industry to pick the plums; for others to encourage budding talent and the industry to exploit success. But the gramophone record has fantastically increased the commercial potential of music, and for this achievement alone has secured a place of honour in the annals of the art. Being international, and in almost constant conflict with the artists' and performers' rights, the industry has established an international federation for the world-wide protection of its interests.

This, then, is the formidable array of forces which has ringed Apollo's grove with a series of fortified camps. Great battles are fought behind the scenes between producers (the artists' societies) and consumers (broadcasters, record-manufacturers and concert promoters), with ever-rising costs of living on the one hand and ever-increasing demands on the other to ensure that there should be no lasting peace.

Mention must also be made here of the army of performers, though more will have to be said about them in their proper place. They include all those who perform music professionally: star conductors, singers, instrumentalists, down to the humblest musicians in the humblest dance-band.

Although the individual star performer has a fairly long and distinguished pedigree, the respectable orchestra musician is a product of more recent times. While music remained an aristocratic pastime the ordinary musician was a proletarian, badly educated and badly paid. There was nothing exceptional about the Salzburg Court Orchestra as described by Mozart in 1778: 'One of the main reasons why I hate Salzburg is the rude, wretched and disorderly behaviour of the court musicians. No honest, well-behaved man can live with them. Instead of taking their part one has to be ashamed of them.' Twenty years later Carl Maria von Weber confirmed Mozart's verdict: 'There is no lack of personalities, but they all are disorderly drunkards.' Conditions were to change profoundly before the rank and file of professional musicians could rise to the commanding position they now hold in the musical hierarchy. Growing professionalism and, in its train, growing perfection have given them a sense of purpose and pride such as they never knew before. Without them our whole musical life would come to a standstill.

In the face of technological progress there grew up in some quarters the fear that the live musician might eventually become dispensable, but the very opposite has happened: there are more professional musicians than ever before, they are more urgently needed and they are more proficient. Their strength had only to be co-ordinated to make itself felt. In most countries performers are organized in trade unions, demanding fixed minimum wages and maximum working-hours; they strike to enforce their demands and generally like to emulate other workers in other industries. This attitude has a peculiar flavour when applied to an art, which, apart from talent, requires enthusiasm. Enthusiasm should be above timetables and collective bargaining. But this is just one more case of the 'amour des lettres' and the 'esprit des affaires' entering into an uneasy partnership. A performance is no longer aimed at a comparatively small audience: its preservability and portability make it available to millions, a development which, theoretically at least, deprives the performer of many of his opportunities.

Confronted by the powerful consumer organizations, he would be crushed if he did not have the strength to resist. The performer's new status, his powers and rights, have played an important part in the development of musical life over the last fifty years, and we shall meet him again when we come to consider the fundamental change that has occurred in the art itself.

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