What’s the Value of Music?
As a choir leader or committee member, what percentage of your overall costs do you budget for the music you use and perform? This is a question that I’ve been able to ask quite a number of times over the last couple of years (we also ran a survey asking this very question before we launched ChoirCommunity) and the answer has often been quite interesting, if sometimes a little questionable.
…Because the answer is quite often a variation of either “I don’t know”, or “as little as possible” or even “we don’t really have a budget for music”.
It was clear when we set up ChoirCommunity that obtaining choral music was often a challenge for community and leisure-time choirs. Understandably, the budget for music is often tight and some of the more established online sources charge a very high unit price for copies of even quite simple songs (without necessarily a high degree of evidence that the quality is all that high, or the arrangement suitable). If the ‘correct’ number of copies were bought from some of these sites, at the standard price of around £3 a copy then a choir of 50 is looking at £150 for a single piece of music, possible lasting 3 minutes or so.
So it makes total sense that a culture has grown up of choir leaders arranging their own music and teaching it by ear so that no actual hard copies of the music exist, with an accompanying belief that this somehow avoids a copyright issue. The big problem occurs when these pieces are swapped or passed around for nominal fees, with no reference to the ownership of the music, which should be 100% with the writer/publisher.
However we don’t believe that this happens dishonestly. What has been proved countless times in both the music and film industry is that as long as the product on offer provides demonstrable value for money then people are generally always happy to pay for it. All the draconian measures which these industries tried to impose in the nineties and early noughties have largely been done away with. Yes, there still is a level of piracy and fraud – there always will be in any business of this sort – but this exists in a context where more music, film and TV is being consumed than ever before and the complexities involved in distributing royalties (eg via Spotify and You Tube) are still being worked out.
We believe the same thing applies to choir music. Yes, everyone could swap and photocopy arrangements which have been downloaded for free, but if provided with a good service guaranteeing a consistent quality of music at a fair price, then most choirs will always choose to obtain their music from a source where they know it is properly licensed and the artists are getting recognition and reward for their work.
What are the real costs of running your choir? You pay a hire fee for a venue (£15 per hour seems to be the average, unless of course you live in London where prices seem to rise to £50 or more!), you pay your director hopefully a decent wage for their work, so where does the music fit in?
We would be fascinated to find out more about the answers to these questions, indeed our future depends on knowing your situation and adapting to it, so if you have comments to make please feel free to add them below. And we will aim to feature a growing library of great community choir friendly arrangements of copyright cleared titles at affordable prices!