Saturday, September 06, 2014

Day 59 - New Music Scotland

Today, I drove over to Glasgow for the New Music Scotland day. I have lots of thoughts about what I heard, but at the moment only a few coherent ones to share.

The theory behind NMS is that it is an organisation for the benefit of its members - composers and performers active in new music in Scotland. For me, the day threw up some fascinating questions, for instance, is there such a thing as a New Music Industry? Terms like 'commercially viable' raised their head and then disappeared again, and the discussion on commissions missed what, for me, was an important point (but not one I'm going to talk about tonight - it's too late and I want to get up earlyish). Economics and new music are not good bedfellows for obvious reasons, and I believe that much of what we produce as composers and performers actually defies straightforward commodification. When we actively conspire to produce a commodity, I'm not sure I really know what we're doing any more.

Thankfully, most of the discussion avoided this and we talked about building audiences, and Graham McKenzie (of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) spoke about (at least this was my take on it) building international audiences while building an international network of co-funders to remove the burden of commodification from the shoulders of the performers, the composers, and the audience. This brought home to me again the importance of having someone financially literate on any team that is involved in anything where currency exchanges hands - not just because they will be better at this sort of thing, but it means that the artists aren't allowing the money to dictate the music.

So I'm an idealist. So shoot me.

In this field, what is the role of the university composer? If I am commissioned to write a piece, what happens to my fee? Do I use university time to write the piece but pocket the cash? Do I pay the university to buy out my time, or take unpaid leave? Does this piece then not count towards my research outputs for the REF because the university wasn't paying for my time?
I don't have any answers. I only know that it's a problematic area and a very grey area. I don't want to imply that I'm judging any practice, just that, at some point, we in the industry may have to think about this seriously. Because if we don't, someone in charge of a university's commercialisation and intellectual property will, and then where will we be?

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