ASCAP’s latest PR event “Why Concert Composers Should Write For Film”, a seminar featuring concert and film composer Paul Chihara, urges concert composers to become film composers. As if there aren’t enough issues with existing, experienced film composers trying to scratch out a living in a marketplace completely over-saturated with actual film composers not to mention songwriters and others calling themselves “composers”, the last thing we need is the organization that we pay to collect and pay us our royalties to be encouraging more people from other musical areas to become film composers when the marketplace for existing film composers is in such bad shape.
First, they encourage songwriters to “become” composers, and now it’s concert composers. This, from the organization that values a one-minute score cue in television or film at only 20% of what a one-minute song cue is paid. Thanks, ASCAP – it’s bad enough that you and your ruling songwriter cabal devalue our music, but now you want to encourage more people from other musical areas to enter the disastrously overcrowded film composer marketplace? I wonder how Paul Chihara and his concert composer colleagues would react if the massive numbers of unemployed and under-employed film composers decided to enter the concert music marketplace and compete for the limited number of grants and giveaways that fund those projects!
I don’t want to sound like a protectionist here, and don’t want to overlook the benefit of more orchestrally-trained composers existing in a marketplace where formal instrumental writing skills, and even being able to read music, have ceased to be requirements for being a film composer (even an A-list composer!), but there are some simple economics to be considered that affect every film composer working or trying to work today.
Simply put, we already have too many people competing as composers in this marketplace, and libraries continue to eat up an increasing portion of the instrumental score market. Colleges are dumping hundreds of film scoring graduates every year into a marketplace where most don’t stand a chance of earning a decent full-time living from film scoring for many years, a fact that often comes as a big shock to the graduates after they arrive in Los Angeles full of composing skills and student loans but utterly lacking in real-world “finding work” skills and unaware of the terrible condition of the marketplace for composers today – something I hold the music schools directly responsible for.
Economics dictates that whenever there is an oversupply (more suppliers than jobs or demand for product), prices will fall, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen over the last 15 years or so. Composer fees have dropped substantially, licensing fees are zero in many cases thanks to libraries dumping thousands of free tracks onto the marketplace, and score composers are having serious issues surviving, not to mention trying to make a decent living as a composer. And with ASCAP”s massive devaluation of score music, it only makes things that more difficult for score composers and their families to survive.
Here’s a message for the good folks at ASCAP, including new President (songwriter) Paul Williams and our score composer board members Doug Wood, Bruce Broughton, Dan Foliart and Richard Bellis: If you want to encourage more musicians from other areas to compete with film composers with events like this, fine, but at least stop devaluing score music and reform the weighting formula so music is paid based on usage, not on whether it’s a song or not. A one-minute background vocal cue on television or in film should be paid the same as a one-minute background instrumental (score) cue – it’s the same usage – background – so the pay should be the same. Is that simple, fair concept so difficult for you folks to understand and implement?
And will ASCAP’s current financial penalties in the royalty payment formulas aimed at score composers be featured, or even mentioned at Mr. Chihara’s seminar? I think we can all guess the answer to that question…