Maria Schneider is widely considered one of the finest contemporary band leaders, composers, and arrangers. For two decades, The Maria Schneider Orchestra has generated excitement and sometimes surprise, at club dates, concerts, and festivals and with GRAMMY-winning records on the ArtistShare label, where Schneider pioneered in the process of commissioning recordings by giving subscribers an inside look at the creative process. Recently, her venture into classical music with the recording, Winter Morning Walks
(ArtistShare, 2013), featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Australian and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, won three Grammy Awards, including "best contemporary classical composition."
Scbneider learned from the best. She honed her composing, arranging, and band leading skills at the University of Minnesota, the University of Miami, and The Eastman School of Music, and then worked closely with Gil Evans
and studied intensively with Bob Brookmeyer
. But she wasn't satisfied to become a disciple of her mentors. Instead, in 1992, she formed her own big band, which for over two decades has incorporated her own unique style while giving full expression to the cutting edge musicians in the group.
Maria Schneider possesses deep and inexhaustible inner sources of inspiration that attract the best musicians to work with her. She doesn't follow the crowd but instinctively does what feels right to her. She goes her own way and pursues an ideal of musical beauty. In this interview, she talks about her early influences, education, working with Evans and Brookmeyer, her band, the album Winter Morning Walks
, and her upcoming projects. She also takes up a topic of passionate interest to her and for which she has become a strong advocate: protecting the rights of composers and musicians from internet piracy that violates copyright laws and proper reimbursements. AAJ:
For a warm-up, we'll start out with the infamous desert island question. Which recordingsof any genre would you take to that desert island? MS:
One would definitely be Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G Major," especially for the middle movement. I would probably bring the Bach Cello Suites
(EMI, 1997) played by Pablo Casals. I would bring some Brazilian music, including Joao Gilberto
(Warner Bros., 1976) with the Claus Ogermann
string arrangements, and Egberto Gismonti
's "Infancia." Can I bring a couple of my own albums? AAJ:
I would probably bring Concert in the Garden
(ArtistShare, 2004) and Winter Morning Walks
. To go to an island without bringing a few of my "babies" would be really sad. There's so much other music. I would bring Gil Evans
for sure, although which one to choose is difficult. I'd probably bring his recording of Porgy and Bess
(Columbia, 1959) with Miles Davis
. And maybe The Individualism of Gil Evans
(Verve, 1964). I'd also bring recordings of some singers such as Kate McGarry
and Luciana Souza
, Early Life and Musical Influences: A Teacher to Remember. AAJ:
You grew up in a small town, Windom, Minnesota, in the farm country? MS:
It's prairie that's mostly been turned into farms. AAJ:
Were your parents farmers? MS:
No, but my father was in the agricultural field. He was in the flax business. He ran a big flax plant in Windom, and he was an engineer who designed machinery. He was brilliant. AAJ:
What was your early musical exposure? MS:
My mother had a record collection. She loved classical music. She loved Chopin, so we had Vladimir Horowitz playing the "Polonaises" and Arthur Rubinstein playing the "Ballades." She had Debussy, Stravinsky, Bach. And then she did have some Teddy Wilson
and Artie Shaw
. There was no record store in Windom; the records were sold in the clothing store. So we would get the pop music of the day: Tijuana Brass, Fifth Dimension, "Hey, There, Georgie Girl," the Seekers. To this day, I still love that music. I would say a lot in praise of Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, the people who were writing for the Fifth Dimension, those folks, and the arrangers, like Bill Holman
, who arranged a lot of that pop music. The pop music of the Sixties was fantastic: Simon and Garfunkel, of course, and The Beatles.
My piano teacher Evelyn Butler was a huge influence. She was not only a great classical pianist, but a terrific stride pianist as well. She was a complete anomaly in Windom. She had had quite a career in Chicago, and the only reason she ended up in Windom was because her husband and son both died of cancer within a month of each other. Through desperation, she came to live with her daughter in Windom, where she decided to teach lessons. She knew a lot of theory and was a good improviser, a really good stride pianist. Her second husband was Kendrah Butler
, who played with the Glenn Miller
band. She was a phenom of a pianist, very much like Dorothy Donegan
She started teaching me theory from my very first piano lesson. I was a little kid, so she would put words to the notes. Major triad: Bright-the-Day [Schneider sings the notes]; Minor triad: Dark- the-Night. She would explain that music has a feeling, and everything comes from theory. Similarly, she would attach words to the I-IV-V chord progression, the first inversion, and so on, to give tangible meaning to the theory. She had a way of teaching children theory in a way they could understand and enjoy, sort of as if they were watching a puppet show, and then above the stage, they could see the puppeteers moving. So they're enjoying the show, but also watching how it's happening. They could grasp technically what's making it happen, making it so lifelike. She taught music like that. AAJ:
Evelyn Butler wasn't intimidating like we know some teachers can be. MS:
She was the opposite of intimidating. She was a big presence, with bright red hair and already quite old. She had a big laugh, wore a lot of makeup, and might be seen wearing a purple moo moo and green satin slippers and rhinestone studded glasses. She drove way too fast. She was constantly arrested for driving too fast! [Laughter.] She was a crazy lady, and everybody loved her because she was just such a flash of color in this little town. She was like an alien coming into Windom and giving so much life to it. She was amazing, really a blessing to all of us. All this despite the hell she'd been through in her personal life. AAJ:
She sounds like a wonderful person. So then at what point did you start seriously getting interested in jazz? MS:
That came much later. But early on she taught me to start playing stride. We would take standard tunes and dress them up with little stride arrangements. I loved it. And she gave equal attention to that as to Mozart. Every Christmas, my mom would give me a book of Cole Porter
or Rogers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin
, and so on. So I loved standards, and I always lamented that I was born too late. I'd wish I was born when Mrs. Butler was born, when that music was alive. Because in the 1970s, what we were hearing on the radio in Windom, like "Havin' My Baby" or "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," it wasn't quite the same to say the least! Acquiring Jazz and Composing Skills: Minnesota, Miami, and Eastman MS:
So at that time, I didn't realize anything about the evolution of jazz. I knew nothing about small group jazz, nothing about the evolution of jazz until I went to college at the University of Minnesota. Then I started listening to public radio, and some jazz records. I had an old Ellington album from the 1930s. I thought that music was long since dead, but then this guy heard me playing it, and he invited me to come listen to all his jazz records in his room, and gave me a few to borrow. There was Herbie Hancock
's Head Hunters
(Columbia, 1973), and then there was a McCoy Tyner
with John Coltrane
. My mind was boggled by the harmony McCoy Tyner played, the left hand, the quartal voicings, the slippery harmony that was completely different from stride. And I started hearing pianist Bill Evans
on the radio. And then I went to the record store and started buying things voraciously. And it was then that I discovered Gil Evansbecause it was next to Bill Evans in the record store! AAJ:
You serendipitously came across Gil Evans' records, a chance occurrence that would later affect your whole life, as when you worked closely with him, and he had such a major impact on you. MS:
It did, but at the University of Minnesota, there was no jazz program. I started there as a music theory major. Then I added composition, a discipline which during that time in the early 1980s was totally into atonality and serial music, which wasn't so much my cup of tea as a means of musical expression. I enjoyed doing it in theory class, but it didn't speak to me in terms of my own personal expression.
My composition teacher, Paul Fetler, was a student of Hindemith. Fetler was a great teacher. Two of the best classes I ever took were at Minnesota. His was advanced counterpoint, where we spent a whole semester studying every piece from Bach's "Art of the Fugue." We had to write a fugue every week, utilizing the technique Bach exploited in each subsequent fugue we studied. It was very difficult. And I also had an incredible orchestration class with Dominick Argento, who was a quite famous classical composer. I regret that I didn't also get to study composition with him at some point as well.
Anyway, Paul Fetler realized how much my music was influenced by jazz, and he suggested I write for the big band at the school. So I started watching them rehearse, and that's when I got the bug! I started writing for them. I took lessons with a fellow student, Bob Parsons, who was writing for the band. And then I started taking piano lessons in the community with Manfredo Fest
, the great Brazilian pianist. And I had another teacher, Lance Strickland
. And I bought books and studied on my own. I got a book by Rayburn Wright, who taught at Eastman. I studied a book by George Russell
about the Lydian Chromatic Concept. I would say that, although I took some lessons, I was largely self- taught. I studied scores, and I watched the band rehearse. To this day, I think that's the best way to learn, because if you have somebody spoon-feed you"here's step one, step two"you're never going to discover what your own unorthodox path would be. It's much better to do it yourself and find your own way, stumbling a bit on the way. That's how you find a voice that's unique. AAJ:
I'm very moved by how original your music is, how much it reflects your own approach rather than being a conglomeration of what others have done. MS:
Something like that develops over time, but it helps if you're not a pack animal. You have to take responsibility for your own education. If you get lazy, and expect to be taught, you're only going to become a follower. Of course, people taught me, and I learned. I soaked up everything. One time Dave Liebman
taught a clinic in Minnesota, and he gave me just a short little lesson. But what he taught me in that lesson I never forgot. Up to that point, I thought everybody had to just solo on the changes of the tune. He showed me how I could extract something that would really open it up, and boy, it was really freeing. Just in that little lesson, he had a huge influence on me. Years later, there were a couple of times I got him to play on my music. The energy he puts through the horn, his innovativeness, and never losing the sense of humanity. It's startling. I think he is one of the most unappreciated undecorated heroes of the music there are. He's phenomenal. I love Dave Liebman. His energy is wonderful. I love to be around that, because I feel like that myself. He's got such a fire. It's amazing! AAJ:
So what happened after the University of Minnesota? MS:
I went to the University of Miami. I had applied to Eastman, but I didn't get in, which was understandable. I was very raw. I didn't really know what I was doing, and I had huge holes in my experience. Rayburn Wright from Eastman wrote to me and said, "I think you have talent, but you don't have much experience." He invited me to come out to a summer session they had. I had applied to Berklee, and even though they didn't have a masters program, I was sure they could help further my knowledge and experience. So then I went to the summer session at Eastman, and it was incredible. They had a studio orchestra, a big band, great teachers, and I was around incredibly talented people writing music. When you're around students writing at such a high level, it lifts you! It was a three-week intensive, and I had to turn out a lot of music. I got to write for studio orchestra, for several big bands, and got my music recorded. At the end, Ray told me he was very impressed by me and couldn't believe how much I had developed. I was over the moon!
I felt good about that experience, and after the summer session at Eastman, I was heading directly to find an apartment in Boston to begin school at Berklee, but there was a guy, Joel McNeely, at Eastman, who is now a phenomenal film scorer in Los Angeles. (I'd been thinking of going into film scoring, and Eastman has produced some great film scorers, like Jeff Beal, who is writing the fantastic music for House of Cards
on Netflix.) It was Joel McNeely who suggested I go to the University of Miami, and study with Gary Lindsay
. Joel said the band down there was just amazing. So I went to Boston as I intended, but I Fedexed my scores down to Miami for them to see, and they accepted me a week before classes began! I decided to go there on a dime, because I couldn't get a masters degree at Berkelee and Miami seemed to really want me there. So I went down there, and they were great to me and I continue to be close to the teachers there to this day. But after one semester, Eastman invited me to join their masters program, as one of their writers left the program to go on the road with Maynard Ferguson
, so they had an opening for me. At that time, they had a great film scoring program at Eastman, and I had also studied Ray Wright
's book for years. Also, Eastman emphasized the history and the foundations, and I needed to fill that hole in my education. Miami and Eastman it's like comparing gold to gold, but I decided to go up to Eastman to complete my degree. If I'd had the funds, I'd have completed degrees at both schools! Working with Gil Evans and Studying with Bob Brookmeyer AAJ:
So Miami and Eastman jump-started your composing and arranging in an exciting way. And then you came in contact with the great Gil Evans. MS:
Shortly after Eastman, I moved to New York City, and started working at a music copying house. I was very good as a pen and ink copyist. One day, a guy named Tom Pierson
came in to have a score Xeroxed and we got into a conversation. We went out for a coffee, and he asked me about my favorite writers, and I spoke about Gil Evans at length. Tom just listened, not saying so much back about Gil. But he called me that night and told me Gil Evans was a close friend and that he had called Gil after our meeting and mentioned me to him. Gil needed an assistant, and asked to meet me. So it was completely by chance that I started working with Gil.
At around the same time, I had applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant to study with Bob Brookmeyer. So, it ended up I was working with Gil, studying with Bob, and working as a music copyist all at the same time! AAJ:
Do you know if Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer had any interaction? MS:
They had only occasional interaction, but they would often talk about each other to me. Gil would talk about Bob in a very deferential way. He held Bob's musical intelligence in the highest regard. At the same time, Bob held Gil in the highest regard as well. I think they admired each other and were slightly intimidated by each other. They both had points of brilliance that were different from each other. For me, it's Gil's orchestration and the linearity of his music, the fine detail and the transparency. You go inside his music and it's just this quantum world of every little idea connecting. It's intricate, and everything connected. It's like if you looked inside a watch, every gear is connected, no space is wasted. Brookmeyer's music is more about the big idea, the big sweep, with these incredibly inventive long forms. He's almost like those abstract artists with their big strokes and large installations. AAJ:
That's interesting, because we often think of Gil Evans as an impressionist, with his music flowing, while Brookmeyer's valve trombone playing is so intricate and detailed. Almost the opposite of what you're suggesting. MS:
You're probably right. Brookmeyer's music has the motivic development. So it's got that cellular structure. But those little cells somehow enabled him to build those long expanses. Gil wasn't into the cells as such, but yet his music had do much intricacy, all the minute details. Even copying their music, I could see the difference. Bob's music didn't have all the little stuff over it. More parts are combining together into the big ideas. Bob had that motivic intricacy, but I think the overall effect is one of a bigger sweep.
Both men were incredibly brilliant, and both men deeply respected one another. But I think they were very much different animals. AAJ:
And you derived a lot from both of them. MS:
Definitely. I studied with Bob. Gil wasn't one to expound on how he did things. He was more of a closed book. AAJ:
Some have said that he was a mystery man, almost like a shaman or mystic. The Maria Schneider Orchestra AAJ:
So, you had extensive exposure to two jazz icons. But then you went your own way and started your own ensemble. The Maria Schneider Orchestra is considered one of the great all time bands, and you've focused your activity on it for over twenty years. What prompted you to start your own jazz orchestra? MS:
Being around Gil and Bob, I found that I wanted to express my own individuality in my music. And you can't do that if you're always writing for others' groups. AAJ:
One of the things that impresses me about your orchestra is how every musician has his own personality and way of making music, yet, under your leadership, these very individualistic players all come together as an ensemble in a highly co-ordinated way. MS:
There's something about this combination of these distinctive people coming together and interacting soloistically and in ensemble that's so terrific. And I like bringing in music that's partly unformed, and they bring it all together. They make it whole with their expression, and then the music belongs to all of us. And every time it's different. It's a wonderful experience. AAJ:
When you're composing, are you thinking of the specific musicians in your group? MS:
It's automatic to do that. Working with some of these musicians for over twenty years, as I have, I can't help it. These players and their voices and the way they play, it's embedded in me. But that being said, they often surprise me with what they do, and I realize I can't type cast them. AAJ:
The musicians in your band are innovators themselves. Winter Morning Walks AAJ:
Recently, you took up a totally different project, the highly regarded classical album, Winter Morning Walks, which garnered a few GRAMMY Awards. How did that project come about? MS:
I was approached by Dawn Upshaw about writing something for her with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. At first, I hesitated. I've always been a little nervous about classical music ventures because, going back to my student days, the modern composers were so much into serialism and atonality. I was never into those approaches, and I know that many of their proponents don't really respect tonality as something valid anymore. So I really didn't know how I would write in a classical context and find my own voice and make something that sounds like me. I'm so used to writing for rhythm sections and improvisers, and I worried that I'd just write something not like me, and I'd be miserable writing it. Also, I'd only occasionally written for a vocalist, like Nora York, but nothing to this degree.
But Dawn and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra pushed me, and I finally decided to say yes. And then I found this Brazilian poetry and wrote one of the two compositions on the album, "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories." AAJ:
Not everyone realizes that piece is on the album, which in fact contains two works involving two orchestras. I was wondering if the title composition, "Winter Morning Walks" bears any connection to American post- romantic tonal music such as that of Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, and others. MS:
No, I really wouldn't say so, because when I was writing it, I wasn't listening to anything, or thinking about influences. That was way out of my head. All I was thinking after I wrote the "Drummond," was to write something that had improvisation in it. In writing my first classical work, I found that I missed the improvisational aspect, that aspect that creates malleability in the music. So the day after we finished the third performance of the "Drummond," Dawn and I were having breakfast with Tom Morris, who runs the Ojai Festival in California. When they asked if I might want to do another commission mentioning they could get the Australian Chamber Orchestra for it, I said, "Yes, but I'd like to add three guys from my band." And they said, "Fantastic! We'll bring your whole band out here and let them perform too!" That cinched the deal for me.
I loved the poetry of Ted Kooser and especially his book Winter Morning Walks
(Carnegie Mellon, 2001). The subject matter was very intense. He wrote these poems when he was recovering from cancer, and would go on walks each day. The poems are reflections that he would write after his walks. He would send each poem on a postcard to his friend, Jim Harrison. The book is comprised of these one hundred poems. I looked at these poems, and all I was concerned about was trying to do something that would give life to these poems, that wouldn't feel dour. I was imagining the sound of Dawn's voice, imagining the landscape. I wasn't thinking about style or influences at all. There are some who say, "It reminds me of Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915." I gotta tell ya I really didn't know "Knoxville" as much as I probably shouldn't admit that! One reviewer said it sounded too much like "Knoxville." If so, that was an accident, because it wouldn't even have been a possibility. I know that Dawn recorded Knoxville, and later, I heard Renee Fleming sing it, live. For me, there's nothing in the music that sounds like "Knoxville." But maybe it has that sense of the melodic, and the musical landscape may be somewhat similar. AAJ:
I agree with you. I think the parallel, if any, has to do with the common characteristics of American song. MS:
Yes. The music I wrote feels American somehow, and it has the classic sense of melody. I don't write music for people to analyze. The reason I write music is that I want people to get lost in the beauty of it. I like beauty. After I went to Brazil for the first time, I realized how much I missed beauty in music. I started listening to a lot of Brazilian music. They seemed so unafraid of being beautiful. Their music has such beautiful harmonies, very intricate. Like Antonio Carlos Jobim
, moving all over the place. Wonderful movement. And then I thought, you know what, I want that in my music. I don't want my music to be all about "muscle," I don't feel like I need to do that anymore. It's not to say there's anything wrong with it. But I don't feel I need to be ashamed about writing beauty. There are too many composers on this planet who somehow feel they can't or won't write with beauty. That's too bad. I miss beautiful melody. AAJ:
Brazilian music does embody beautiful melody. And I believe that Samuel Barber also said something similar about his love of beauty in response to critics who preferred more dissonant music. MS:
Really? I'll have to look for that. To me, it's foolish to take a line of words and just completely deconstruct it, with skips all over and gaps in between, to where it suddenly becomes like puzzle pieces thrown on the floor and no longer has the words the way someone would speak it. Ted Kooser observed that when some composers write music to poetry, it's so deconstructed that the words aren't even intelligible. I wanted to respect the meaning of his poetry. And Dawn is so incredible at delivering a lyric. She's so expressive. And I wanted her to be able to do that with a melody that felt similar to the way you would say the words. AAJ:
I think you achieved that in a wonderful way with "Winter Morning Walks." ArtistShare AAJ:
Tell us about your experience with ArtistShare, an innovative way to commission works and produce recordings in which you've played a very important role. MS:
First of all, the last three records I've made have been through ArtistShare, which has been such a game changer and life saver for me. ArtistShare allows listeners to come on board the creative process and participate at various levels. They commission the work and contribute financially in varying degrees to the project. In turn, I try to give people a real sense of what goes inside the process, even exposing the confusion along the way. To give an example, recently I did a free project where I'm writing a piece called "A Potter's Song" for the great trumpeter Laurie Frink. She was in my band since 1992 and died this past summer. Laurie was such a magnificent trumpet player and such a wonderful teacher and amazing friend, such a great musician in the band, such a magnificent person. On top of all that, she was really a great potter! So I wrote a piece for her called "The Potter's Song" and documented my process of writing the piece through my website. I made it a project that anyone can follow. There was no price attached to it. After I premiered and played it with the band on several occasions, I went back to the drawing board and completely reworked it! I haven't even told the subscribers that I've done that yet. I have to tell them. I think so many people think music just comes out ready-formed. It doesn't. It's a slow and grueling process. Anyone following this project will see just how long it took me to finish a five minute piece!. I'll be recording that in August on my next record.
The process of writing music is not a straight line. I could even write a piece, toss it out, and start over again. I did that in one of the ArtistShare commissions. I wrote a whole piece and then set it aside and wrote another, as I just didn't like the first one enough. Later I came back and decided I really DO like it! Oh dear! So, in the end, those commissions got two pieces in their name! Maybe people who sign on have come to except my nuttiness.. ArtistShare subscribers can follow all this insanity in my life, and, to make a long story short, what's great is that it's enabled me to support these projects through a community of people who are helping me do that. And hopefully, they too are feeling like they are really a part of it. And the email feedback I get definitely expresses that. So it's a two way street with mutually satisfied parties on both ends. When people join a project, whether it be a new recording or a commission, I want them to really love the experience, to feel they are learning something, and getting an experience they wouldn't have otherwise. I do my best to have satisfied customers, as I appreciate these people more than you can imagine!
I funded Winter Morning Walks
through ArtistShare, and it went quite well. However, I will say I still owe a lot of money for making this extremely expensive record. It will take time to pay it off. I hope it will happen. It's getting harder and harder. A Quick Take on Spirituality and Upcoming Projects AAJ:
John Coltrane said that his music is his spirituality. What's your own sense of the spiritual side? MS:
I'll say how I think music relates to my life. I really believe that when you go to that deep concentrated place when you're playing or writing music or creating anythingwhen you go that deep, deep place, you're going to your "center," but it's not only your center, it's everything, it's the real reality. And the reason that music can be so moving is that if you're centered in that place when you create, then when people listen, your work speaks to them of that commonality that we all have that is our spiritual center. AAJ:
A propos of the way the music comes into your mind, some people have creative dreams. Do you ever dream the music in your sleep? MS:
Not very often. But sometimes if I'm really struggling with some problem with the music, I wake up in the middle of the night and the solution comes to me. My mind must be working while I'm asleep. It has happened that I thought I dreamt this incredible music, and it turns out to be something that already exists! Dreams can fool you. AAJ:
What projects do you have coming up? MS:
I'm recording the Maria Schneider Orchestra again this summer. We haven't recorded since we made "Sky Blue." So I'll be doing another big ArtistShare project with the band. It's been a long time, so I'm really looking forward to it.
Also, "Winter Morning Walks" is going to be done at Tanglewood and Ravinia this summer too. My band is also playing Tanglewood. I also just did a re- orchestration of the Drummond songs for Dawn to perform at a festival in Napa Valley in August. The train doesn't stop. A Deep Concern about Internet Piracy of Music AAJ:
Earlier, you referred to the financial difficulties you as a composer and band leader face trying to make ends meet. It really surprises me that someone as successful as yourself has difficulty making a livelihood, although I do know that many jazz musicians, past and present, have struggled to survive financially. MS:
That brings me to another matter that is close to my heart. The thing most disconcerting to me is how my music is all over the Internet for free. One can very easily upload my music to many companies' sites for free download or streaming. All you have to do is check a box saying you're the copyright holder, even though you're not. And usually, the box you check has some illegible mumbo-jumbo in tiny print about legalities that no one reads, and the companies purposely bury. There's something called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). With that, I can write to the company saying my work has been illegally posted, and by law the website has to take it down. I have to sign a penalty of perjury statement. The problem is, the next day someone can put it up again. You can go through this rigmarole hundreds of times and still be at square one. The DMCA doesn't even remotely achieve its purpose of preventing piracy. What the DMCA does do, is protect offending companies. Under the law, they get to operate under The Safe Harbor (protecting them from being liable for copyright infringement). The creator isn't protected at all, as there's no possible way to keep up with the Whack-A-Mole game [a popular arcade game in which the player has to keep hitting "moles" that pop up at random everywhere.Eds]. But the words, DMCA, and complying with the take- down notices give these companies a free pass. It does put the uploader at legal risk, but after what happened to Metallica, everyone knows artists are scared to sue. Furthermore, who has the resources if they did muster up the guts? So the whole system is stacked to protect Google (YouTube), and the Groovesharks of the world. AAJ:
Is your ultimate concern that the musician doesn't have control of his product? MS:
Yes. These companies are running on a platform of basically stolen goods, and they pretend to be ignorant. "We didn't know it; it's not our responsibility; the site users put the music up there."
Congress is going to be looking at copyright law this year. Thankfully, we have a great new U.S. Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante. She's passionate about addressing this problem, and she's going around the country talking to musicians, and this year, she's going to make recommendations to Congress. But it'll be hard to make changes in DMCA. Some people believe everything on the Internet should be free, and government seems to protect all these companies. But no one seems to look at the huge community of musicians like myself. Forgetting the big stars like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars, most of us musicians are funding our own records now, and we're being told by the public at large that we should accept all this theft, and that we should just shut-up and make our money doing concerts, but not every composer or songwriter is a performer. Additionally, you can't book concerts without generating new recordings to drum up interest from promoters and fan, and then it ends up that the money from the concert goes into trying to pay off the record! It's completely unsustainable! How the heck are we supposed to live, let alone continue making records? Why should the law allow wiggle room for theft of creative work, when clearly, lawmakers wouldn't allow theft of their own paychecks. It's no different.
So then, everybody says, the future is streaming. Spotify? You have to have 4.5 million hits on Spotify in order to make one month's minimum wage! And with that you're supposed to pay for your recording?!! What a joke. In my case of "Winter Morning Walks" using two full orchestras, it cost $200,000. And in the case of Pandora Pandora pays money to Sound Exchange, which goes to performers. But the amount that goes to composers or songwriters is pennies! It's absolutely pitiful. And then if you ask them to take your music off Pandora, they refuse and say that by law they can have any music they want! And YouTube touts monetization of videos. To pay for a $20,000 jazz record (and that's about as cheap as you can get) you would have to have over 3 million views. Good luck with that. AAJ:
This is an incredibly important concern you're raising. Do you have any suggestions for changing the law? MS:
Well, I just testified before Congress. I presented three very common sense solutions:
First, the burden of proof for putting the music on the internet should be on the person putting it up, not taking it down. The rights holder has to sign perjury statements and scan them in, and jump through various hoops to get their music down (and then for probably only a couple of days). At very least, sites should require that the uploader go through a sequence of steps that address the question of ownership. Most people don't even realize that what they are doing is illegalthat Copyright is a Constitutional right! I can only imagine that if the person putting up on the web has to sign a perjury statement and scan it in, stating that if this music isn't owned by you, you will be accountable by law by the copyright holder, I don't think so many people would upload music so easily without getting consent!
Second, if an artist like myself tells a company that something has to be taken down, it should not go up again! It's not rocket science, or beyond the technology to have that piece flagged so that it can never go up again. What we said in the hearing was, "Take- down" should mean "Stay
Third, is that creators of content should be able to prevent unauthorized uploading before infringement occurs. We know it's technologically possible for companies to block unauthorized works, as YouTube already does this through its Content ID program. But every artist should be entitled to this service, to register their music once and for all. Just like the successful "do not call" list, creators should be able to say, "do not upload." If filtering technology can be used to monetize content, it can also be used to protect it.
But these are tough battles, because all these companies need a mass quantity of content, because they're selling advertising and big data, so they need tons and tons of music to attract tons of eyeballs. Certainly Google collects all sorts of information on the billions of users going through all these pirating sites all over the world. Of course they don't want to fix this. Their whole business model depends on stolen goods. That's the big elephant in the room. And the DMCA gives them some anemic thing to give the illusion that they're trying to fight piracy. It's pathetic.
Also, there's a matter of privacy. Do you know what YouTube does to someone who exercises their Constitutional right and does a DMCA take-down? They post a page with a frown face that says in my case, "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Maria Schneider." Now mind you, the person uploading can hide behind some username. Their identity is not exposed, but mine is. They are obviously trying to create animosity towards those taking their music down. Privacy is a two-way street. But not on YouTube I guess. They're making a mockery of the DMCA and a mockery of my Constitutional right.
Music is still generating BILLIONS! People are listening to more music than ever. But starting with Google, and continuing with the rest, Spotify... you name it, they all have convinced people that they should get music for free and that people are getting music for free. But guess what, it's not for free. The money is now just diverted to them in a different form. Firstly, we consumers are paying a lot in bandwidth with Internet providers. Secondly, through all the data collected on us by Google and various companies, we are being precision targeted with ads. Those ads know right where your consumer vulnerability lies. If you're a sucker and go for it, guess who's paying for the ad? You. The price of the ad is figured into the cost of what you bought. In the end, maybe we'd all spend far less if we were walking to the store buying a CD. It's like our money is being siphoned right out of our bank accounts. I imagine if the same thing was happening to Congress' pension accounts, they wouldn't sit around waiting for industry to fix it. They'd have government step in faster than you can snap your fingers. Congress wants industry to fix this. Can you imagine industry fixing this? At the hearing, I sat next to the general counsel of Google, and even as I kept making all these points, she just kept saying how DMCA is working. Oh my Lord! Yeah, working for her
Hopefully, musicians are finally saying, "Enough! I can't pay for my life anymore!" It's so sick, it's gone so far, and it's got to change. I want musicians to band together. I tell students, "Don't give yourself away." They try to convince us that all this exposure on the internet is free publicity. But it doesn't work that way. If people can get the music for free, why should they pay for it? This idea that exposure is good has completely diluted us. People can go to this link and learn about some of the issues: Issues
If they want to witness the hearing, they can go to the following link. Be aware that it cuts off at a certain point: Hearing
I'm part of a growing group of composers and songwriters called the Council of Music Creators of New York. We post relevant articles and news. Our Facebook page is located at: Make company with CMCNY
People should follow the news on this and be vocal. We need every musician (and listeners) to actively speak out. We can't sit back and just wait for things to change. They're changing, and it's not good!