Just after I uploaded the last entry, there was a flurry of Facebook posts, mostly from one person complaining about the price of The Great Learning, and suggesting a price point of £3-5, especially because it is now in PDF format. These have been removed and forwarded to the people in charge of pricing where they will be considered properly. But it does raise a question: what constitute the value of a musical work? We’ve just added a couple of Michael Parsons’ pieces and John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine to our Freebies page with the composers’ permission. You can also get pretty much all of Chris Hobbs’ text pieces on that page. All for free. Other pieces cost money.
How does the EMC price music? It depends upon the situation: whether we have control over the item or not. It may reflect the work that went into the composition or the production of the item. It may reflect the composer’s idea of where value lies. Chris Hobbs, for example, lowers his prices dramatically if he can send the customer a PDF, because it means that he doesn’t have to wrap up the item, address it and schlep down to the post office. Other composers prefer to create their own material; if so, they price it, we take a bit off the top, which is ploughed back into the EMC. The money pays for our domain name and host — after using free internet sites from supermarkets and the like, we’ve got something more stable, and more pricy —and for the cost of printing real pieces and other projects.
As we can see, some of the EMC composers put their value into other areas than price, at least on some of their pieces. But composers actually produce a product, and they sell it at the price they set to reflect not only its intrinsic value, but also the hours spent in crafting it. Cardew spent over three years on The Great Learning. It’s an orchestra piece in all senses of the word, except for its instrumentation. It’s incredibly carefully crafted and artistically beautiful, both in the physical notation of the score itself and in the artistry of the music that results from its performance. The Great Learning is certainly comparable to orchestra pieces by Stockhausen, whose current pdf price list can be found here: http://www.stockhausen.org/pricelist_scores_books_2013.pdf . Here you can see that most of Stockhausen’s orchestral pdfs are priced in three figures.
So here’s the thing, as they used to say on Buffy. Here’s a point that should include all music of all kinds, but I’ll limit it to Cardew and Stockhausen for simplicity’s sake. Is it legitimate to protest the price of Cardew scores and Stockhausen scores? Of course it is: it’s an argument about price point and accessibility. However, protesting the price of Cardew scores and not protesting the price of Stockhausen scores (or vice versa) is an argument about value: you ask for Cardew to be cheaper, but not Stockhausen (or vice versa) only if you think Stockhausen is greater than Cardew (or vice versa).
If you’d like to comment on and debate this issue, please reply below.