Brass Band Composing: A Lottery for the Unknowns

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by James McFadyen, Feb 12, 2004.

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  1. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Now, I don't know if anyone has noticed, but writing brass band music can be a a bit of a lottery can't it!

    You write a piece of music, put it out, and hey presto watch it bring in a lousey £500 a year, if that! there are one ot two pieces I have hardly shifted pieces like 'Distant Skies' and 'A Place Where Dreams Come True', 2 of which I projected good sales, but no, not many at all.

    In times of crisis marketing and promotion and sometimes a little bit of telesales can help, but let's face it, most bands only buy once a year (in the UK anyway) and they buy from 'names'. Even although I have a dedicated website and sound samples and sometimes scorch files are available, it doesn't make much of a difference.

    So, why do we do it: It's certainly not for the money, the majority of my business profits come from other sourses within my business (ie: not selling sheet music) But can we really do anything to improve matters. Probably not.

    Composing Brass Band music is an investment. You write music now, so it begins to take off in 2 or 3 years, not what I'd call sensible business - what about money now, investment is important, but how r u gonna get to the future without making money now.

    IMHO, I think we have to tackle it differently, it's no use putting out music and let it sell itself and if it doesn't sell, say 'oh well!' What can we do to make writing Brass Band music much more rewarding.

    The recent boom in competitions for new Brass Band works are certainly a step forward, allowing unknown composer to make thier mark.

    I think what a lot of bands forget is that the unknowns of today are the knowns and big names of tomorrow. Certainly, like i've said before, If bands and conductors give me a go in my early career, it will not go un-forgotten, as this shows true passion in music - to play and buy music from an unknown entity.

    Unknown does not mean they are not good, it just means they haven't had the commercial sucess yet.

    Indeed, If bands team up with an unknown, this could create that band with a sound of thier own, remember being an unknown means very little have heard or played your music, why not go to entertainment contests playing music no one has heard before? To me this seems like commonsence, but still bands buy 'Vitae Lux' etc and expect to do well in a contest after hearing it played by just about every band and recorded by several major brass bands, like YBS.

    My advice, go out on a limb, buy music no ones heard before and play it at a contest.

    The music is there, is just needs it shot in the spotlight for it to take off.

    Most bands don't like buying unknowns music, they say that they'd like to hear a band play it or record it, I find this deeply disturbing as it's this attitude that bring the whole thing crashing down. If every band had that attitude, we'd be [Keppler: Bleeped]
  2. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    ah, but james, that would involve change... no, much better to play a couple of marches from 1902...
  3. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member

    If people like your pieces, then you'll "win" the lottery.

    Our band buys music as and when we need it. Like, if we've heard of a good piece or need something new to put in a programme. Have you tried sending your music out to bands to "trial"? I know we've bought a few pieces of music recently this way.

    Weren't you just moaning about a lousy £500 a year?
    People will usually only do this if they've heard a piece or had a go at it first. Rarely will someone but a piece of music that they have no idea what it sounds like, simply because if it's rubbish, they're stuck with it! People buy pieces that they have heard and enjoyed, or played previously because they like them.

    Sorry but I don't know anyone who has money to waste on music they have no idea about. Descriptions are all very well, but it's the sound of the music that will matter. Send your work out to some bands on a trial and see if this method is more successful. Oh and don't be sending out that one with ffffff out either!
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I agree that it can be very dificult to get started, and sometimes the lucky breaks, and getting the right person interested in your music can make all the difference. With The Salvation Army producing music on a subsription basis, it does mean that,if a piece is chosen for publication, there is a fair chance that many bands across the country will at least run it through, even if it doesn't become part of their programme.

    You still have to get noticed initially, of course, and that can be where the "lucky breaks" can come in. A friend of mine was becoming somewhat disheartened at the number of pieces he had sent up for consideration which were being returned. In conversation with one of the leading bandmasters, he expressed an interest in seeing what was available, starting putting them on their programes, and all of a sudden he was in!

    Many aspiring composers and arrangers, disheartened at the lack of interest from publishers, (my dad included) have taken your route and published their own music, but even then chance plays its part. Like it or not it sometimes does take a "known" band to adopt a piece before things begin to take off. It is encouraging to see more bands appointing composers to the band in various capacities, including some relative unknowns, and hopefully that will continue.

    Today's unknowns "may or may not" be the knowns and big names of tomorrow. How many contemporaries of Mozart, say, were unknown in his day, and are still unknown, maybe because they were unlucky, or maybe because they were simply not good enough!
  5. yorkie19

    yorkie19 Active Member

    Well said Laura.

    James, instead of moaning about the current state of affairs, why don't you do something pro-active about it?

  6. cornetcheese

    cornetcheese Member

    I'm not sure I totally see where you're coming from on this - how do you view yourself as a composer? By that I mean, do you see composing as a method of personal fulfilment or purely a financial venture? I personally have only ever written through personal enjoyment and pleasure and of a piece gets repeat performances and generates some cash, all the better! If it is purely financial reasons you write, or exclusively "music for the masses" surely brass band music is not the most logical way to go? Surely writing songs or dance tracks in a popular idiom would be more profitable?

    The only true way I have found to truly generate decent money from pieces is through comissions. I usually write for orchestrally-based ensembles (because it gets more performances at college) and I have only written for brass band on 4 occasions, each of which have been paid comissions! Even if the pieces themselves don't generate a lot of cash (as not many pieces do!) at least you can relax in the knowledge that one of your works will get repeat performances, is recorded commercially by a band and got you a tidy sum of money from the comission fee in the first place!

    To be honest though, I don't worry too much about the revenue I gain from composing, I can generate that from conducting, which is a great deal more lucrative. As long as people enjoy playing my music and it gets performed at some point I'm happy!
  7. A J Foad

    A J Foad Member

    Unfortunately, most bands will not buy music 'on spec' i.e. just for the sheer hell of it - 'it may be good - let's give it a go!'

    Generally bands will buy music that has been recommended, or that they have heard performed in concerts etc... In my opinion, it is far too naiive to suggest that it is the fault of the bands for not trying new methods of shopping for their music. As a composer you need to get out and sell your music. I know it may go against the grain, but give some of it away. Sacrifice your revenue a little and get the music played. Organise a concert of your music - you never know who might be listening.

    I can't speak for your composing talents James, but I admire your shameless self-publicity! Put that effort in to publicising your work and you may well be rewarded...!
  8. Pete Meechan

    Pete Meechan Member

    What about trying to get some half decent recordings of your pieces, and then send them out to plenty of bands and people of influence? This way, if people like your music, then they can buy it?!

    Perhaps though, there is a slightly different issue here.

    Why do you write music? If it is because you have a genuine desire to compose or do you want to make money?

    If you want to compose then the answer is simple - compose!

    If you want to make money, then the answer isn't so simple, but try something other than composing (Maybe prospecting...)!

    If you have the geniune desire to compose and want to make money out of it - then I think patience is the key.

    If you are good enough, then this will also enhance your chances of sucess.

    It's rubbish really. But that is pretty much the way that it is (From what I can see anyway).
  9. bigcol

    bigcol Member

    Just as a general reply to this - it amazes me that more and more people are trying to gain a living through banding (composing, arranging, conducting, playing and to a lesser extent teaching) when the number of bands is dwindling. There is nothing to suggest that that is going to change in the future - in fact it is likely to be accelerated with there being a serious lack of musicians coming through from the next generation.

    Banding as a hobby is one thing, as a living is another.

    Just my opinion... :?
  10. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I don't know that very many are really aiming to make a living from composing and arranging, but rather see it as a side-line which gets their music known and supplements their income a little - with the help of an accountant, probably, who makes sure that all poosible expenses that can be claimed are offset against the costs of the venture.
  11. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Thanks for all ur comments so far and very valid they are.

    I think we must be careful, though not to treat the want for compose and the fiancial side differently. I like to think of myself as an idealist, but ur have to be a bit of a realist in some ways in this game. Money is the key issue - if we cannot earn from it, we cannot do it for a full time living and this is the sad part. You simply can't justify composition as merely being in love with writing music, indeed if you are serious about it, you will want to do it for a living becasue you love it so much. But you can't live on fresh air, so u have to make money out of your music or face the fact that you can't earn a living from composing.

    Anyway, financial matters aside, British banding can be very risky for composers. The Maple Leaf Brass Band in Canada have a gave me a fair chance, as have Tullis, playing my arr of Calon Lan at an entertainment programme. Certainly for the big project(s) I have planned, these among a few others will be the bands offered the opporunities. You scratch my back, i'll scratch urs.

    Bands need composers, without them, it's the end and some effort is being brought about to bring ppl into banding, not enough is being done promote new works. Fodens, Morcambe bad, etc, have all realised why new music from composers is important, espcially of the lesser known names, as this is an untapped resourse for bands. Tullis got to strut it's stuff when they played my arrangment, something nobody heard before, surely we want to promote this angle, to promote new music, all too often the same music features in all bands, nobody is doing anything different, nobody is being creative and I ask myself why? To me as a composer and indeed as a musician, this is our goal, to be different and creative.

    Brass Banding is becoming seperated from the philosophies of music. All the brass band hymns/chorales sound the same, everythings the same, it's all been done a million times before. Admittedly, this reflects my compositional style - I love to do things differently, I thrive on that, but most Brass Bands don't have the same opinion of music and I fail to understand why.

    Like Pete says, if you want to compose, compose - but one must be careful with statements like these as they pose a very naive perspective on the music industry. What a lot of bands seem to forget is that EVERYTHING costs money. Everytime I give a band a free set, they view it as something for nothing, but I had to shell the money to print it out, I had to pay for the paper. At the very least, you want to break-even and even then that's being under-ambitious.

    It's all very wel being at Uni or having another job and composing part time, the need to sell music doesn't become quite a serious issue, but what if it's a full time gig for you, freelancing as a composer, one would have to take ur head out of those clouds.

    Let's get real, let's talk real, Let's be real, if we do it that way surely we will have a clear level mind as to what music making is and means. If I'm wrong, prove it to me by all means.

    One must also be very wary of the theory of selling music!!!! Let me tell u what doesn't work: free copies, trial offers, free gifts, discounts. In my experience, in theory ppl say these things - try it - u'll soon see how different the real life pratice of this is. Although I would not dismiss any of the above and they should be encouraged, but to be realistic, don't put all ur eggs into that basket - put ur eggs into getting ppl to buy ur music. Again not as simple as it sounds, IMHO.

    To Quote A J Ford:I can't speak for your composing talents James, but I admire your shameless self-publicity! Put that effort in to publicising your work and you may well be rewarded...! (End quote)

    I agree with this!!! Self-publicity is a tricky thing. under-do it and u defeat the purpose of publicity, over-do it u can come off a bit pretensious. As anyone who knows me will tell u I'm actually quite modest about my music, but I've had to learn how publicise myslef through nessesity. I think also, one must bear in mind, one has to ruffle some feathers to make a noise is such a busy community as Brass Banding. It's only in the past year I have really realised that, again through nessesity. And I wont lie, ruffling feathers has made a big difference lately, if ppl wont buy ur music, ur need to rethink ur marketing strategy. Sometimes presence is all you need. Like I've said several times what may seem like bad publicity is actually a god send, some may feel I've burnt bridges along the way, maybe I have, but bridges are built everyday, u just need to learn to walk across them.

    Anyhoo, great points from u all so far!! :lol:
  12. impycornet

    impycornet Member

    I assume you have some facts to back this up ???

    What about new testpieces, or one's that don't happen to be in the band's library ? Are these all bought in one go ? I doubt it as for one they are not all announced at the same time.

    As other people have asked... Are you in this because you want to compose for Brass Bands, or because you want to make money ? If it's the latter then try something else. Bands, IMHO will buy music that they have heard good reports of, that they have heard other bands perform (live, radio or CD) or from established composers/arrangers. Not just because the composer is ranting on about how little he is selling :?

    If you want your music purchased, & it is of a good enough standard, then get it heard :- Send copies out to bands, Do what Faber Music did with Leyland and commission a full CD of your Music which can be sent out to prospective purchasers.

    Up to you.

    Just stop moaning please.
  13. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

  14. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member

    James, speak to Bruce Fraser.

    He writes for brass and wind band and loads of other mediums as well as teaching full time at Buckhaven High School. He is successful but I'm sure there will be very few composers who make enough money from writing music alone. Maybe you should consider a job which will allow you to make some £ so you can do your composing part time and not struggle financially. That's another way of getting your music heard/ played. Our school wind band used to play loads of his pieces in things like Fife Festival or National Wind Band Festival. He also wrote pieces for people (a way of getting them played). I do a county wind band down here and I felt dead proud when the music advisor said "we should get this piece by Bruce Fraser" that she'd heard in another wind band's concert.

    Get your music played but get a job which will help you do this like teaching or coaching. Then you might get some publicity as well.
  15. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Don't forget, James, that there are plenty of examples of major composers who were unable to support themselves solely through writing and selling music: just think of Holst teaching at Hammersmith, Borodin working as a chemist, Rimsky-Korsakov looking after the Czar's military musicians, and even Haydn, with his various positions as Kappelmeister.

    You mention the difficulties regarding self-promotion, and I agree it can be a dodgy line to tread. Equally, you say that free copies, discounts etc do not work, and yet you've made countless postings here offering those vey things!

    I wonder whether you need to step back and try to take a longer-term view. You've often posted bargain deals, but giving such a short time-scale that, even if a band were to consider making a purchase, they probably would not have time to discuss it with whoever holds the purse strings before the deadline passes.

    In the same way, there have been so many references to possible projects that people may be getting confused over what is or is not a genuine, on-going project.

    Finally, you say that no publicity is bad publicity but I would question that. If people begin to get fed up with what they see as persistent self-promoting postings in varous areas of a forum such as this, they are quite likely to be put off completely, and will simply stop looking at anything when they see your name.
  16. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member

    [quote="PeterBale]Finally, you say that no publicity is bad publicity but I would question that. If people begin to get fed up with what they see as persistent self-promoting postings in varous areas of a forum such as this, they are quite likely to be put off completely, and will simply stop looking at anything when they see your name.[/quote]

    Especially when you were considering an arangement of "The Cheeky Girls". :shock:
  17. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Because of recent price cuts, all deals are on a very tight deadline, often only 4 hours!!! I realise this is not much but I just cant afford to give too much music away music anymore, went way above quota last year and paying the price now. Sorry about that.

    Anyhow, on topic.......

    Indeed other sources of compisng.teching etc can help make a great living. My goal is to be a Film Composer. Brass Band composing was by accident, I was originally an Orchestral Composer. But I'm hooked on Brass Band writing and am eager to do some Brass Band work for a major hollywood movie......................mmm ya neva know.

    If ppl r put off by a composer for whatever reason, I think the composer will just need to deal with it whatever way he can. In terms of the big bucks, I personally just need to impress and bug the TV/Film execs!! :wink: :wink: since I want to be a Film Composer.

    Anyhow, what i'm discussing here is about giving brass band composers the break. Some great key issues are coming though here and it's good to see such activity in this thread.

    I apologise if I've made this thread a bit personal, my own 'product placement' techniques have found their way in here subconsiously!! oops! If we could try and direct all our posts to Brass Band composers in general, we will be able to deal with the key issues of the topic. Sorry, it's my fault, speaking too personally sometimes. :wink:
  18. impycornet

    impycornet Member

    Every band will take that view - face up to it. At up to £45 a set, bands are not going to pay out for something that they have not heard recorded/performed or even reviewed Especially if this is their first encounter with a composer/arranger.

    Or if they do .. and it's not as fantastic as all your publicity postings make out that it is... I can safely say they will never buy from you again.

    Anyway back to work :lol:
  19. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I have to agree wholeheartedly here. I can't speak as a composer as I'm no such thing, but I COULD have been a potential buyer. I've bought music from two of the publishers regularly advertised on here, as opposed to going to the 'big' brass band publishers, and very happy I am with what I've got from them. The websites concerned are compact, concise, lucid and concentrate on advertising their wares as opposed to 'achievement listing'. I'm all for supporting the smaller independent publisher, (after all, I'm hoping to become one myself soon!) but (please accept this as CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, James) your over-reliance on using these boards for self promotion has frankly, put me right off trying any of your music, because it smacks of desperation on occasions, (the URGENT MESSAGE a couple of weeks ago being a prime example!) which makes me wonder what your music is really like. Obviously I don't know, but presentation can and does create impressions, and you don't always do yourself favours in that department. Also, your recent inference on these boards that a composer's word is final and the conductor should bow and scrape to those demands don't help (I've heard composer/conductors in the past give several 'interpretations' of their own works!)

    I hope you take this in the spirit with which it is intended, i.e. constructive criticism, not an excuse to have a go or take the mick out of you. You may well consider my opinions to be crud, but so long as you thing it's at least attempted 'constructive' crud , then fine!

  20. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Sorry, James. I didn't see the request to direct this at brass band composers in general until after I posted my reply. But as you say, the main nub of your thread was largely about you, so I answered accordingly.

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