Composers Are Not Recession Proof

The graphic in this article (courtesy is how the stock market ended the day on Monday, September 22, 2008 following disclosure that the U.S. Congress is still waffling over the details of the biggest financial bail-out, literally, in the history of the world. In case you weren’t aware, the bail-out on the low side is worth about $700 Billion and could climb to $1 Trillion or more, which potentially includes the USA propping some foreign banks as well.

Retail stores and sample developers are telling FMM their numbers are down. When you peruse the various web sites looking for comments on new products like Symphobia and Omnisphere, you’re seeing more and more requests for demos first before anyone buys. Then when someone announces they’ve made a purchase, user questions immediately que up.

Few are rushing to buy even with huge discounts being offered like buy 1/get 1 free from one company and another knocking off $1000 their flagship orchestral library.

For years, maybe a decade or more, the music technology side of the music industry has operated in a vacuum assuming that the crown royalty of the music business, A and B list composers for film and TV, are recession proof and will always buy whatever is new just because it’s new. One developer called this segment of the market, the low hanging fruit, because they were the easiest sales.

Now, the easiest sales aren’t so easy anymore, especially in Los Angeles, where housing values have dropped enormously and the cost of upgrading to a new Mac Pro is handily $7500 if you want a 16GB system maxed out with four one terabyte hard drives.

In the past year there’s been the writer’s strike, actor’s strike and now, The Bail Out of Wall Street.

Advance fees aren’t as plenipotentious as they used to be. At one time, for score only, an L.A. Composer could get $25,000 just for the score of an hour TV show or a made for TV movie. Today, you can now compete on Craig’s List to do a feature length score for a total project fee of $3500.

As we’ve consistently warned about in these pages, print and electronic, little of the music used on TV programs being rebroadcast on network web sites (,, and newer sites like HULU and Fancast aren’t paying broadcast royalties unless they’ve worked out a deal with ASCAP, from whom the composer doesn’t know the exact amount being earned for downloaded or streamed webvision.

The late Henry Mancini made additional money from his TV themes for programs like Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky because the themes were melodic with no ambient sounds in them. This lead to songbooks, marching band arrangements, concert band arrangements and other opportunities lost today where scores are non-thematic and many have melodic fragments with ambient textures.

Mancini also had album spinoffs as in this Peter Gunn example.

And who can forget the albums from Lalo Schifrin for Mission: Impossible and Mannix?

Then there were themes picked up for “jingles” like Mancini’s The Pink Panther for Owens-Corning.

What Mancini and others understood is that a finished piece of music is a financial instrument which, when properly marketed, generates rights income.

Fees + rights income = the money to buy computers, sample libraries and mixing boards.

When fees and rights income shrink, the disposable income needed after living expenses to buy this equipment and software also shrinks.

This means that composers aren’t recession proof and that for the foreseeable future, last year’s sounds may have to do.

1 Comment

  • James McLean
    December 9, 2008 @ 11:09 am

    Regarding Henry Mancini, you leave out one important point: Maestro Mancini was also a great businessman, having negotiated ownership of most of his popular themes. Would he (and the themes themself) have done anything like as well as they did had he not?

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