Digitilization, Sampling, Outsourcing: where the gigs went and are!

This article appeared largely from The NewYork Times. I have added commentary as to the overwhelming cause of this musically suicidal  problem.

We have done it to ourselves.

Let me go back a few years, perhaps a few more than that. There used to be only one recording of large symphonic works. That has increased exponentially.Recording technics have also improved exponentially. Early on, it was found that any error could be repaired  first with a piece of tape, then digitalization. All of this without an extra take. Then, helping along with this real mass suicide came listening to recordings. In the comfort of your living room, the clarinet solo from any orchestral work sounds nothing short of terrific. When you go to the concert hall, and listen to the same work, the clarinet solo sounds less present, softer, even more difficult to hear. It is within your sphere of hearing that the competition has taken place. You choose the recorded version electronically enhanced, and you save gas,and parking.

But, you have lost your right to hear  purity. And that has cost us all

“In New York’s classical-music world most of the attention falls on the big boys: the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the major international orchestras that pass through Carnegie Hall, the glamorous soloists who can earn tens of thousands of dollars an appearance.
But night after night highly trained players traipse from Washington Heights or the Upper West Side or northern New Jersey or Long Island to play church jobs and weddings, Lincoln Center and Broadway summer festivals and fill-in jobs at the Met and the Philharmonic. They occupy the ranks of a dozen freelance orchestras, put the music in Broadway musicals and provide soundtracks — or at least they used to — for Hollywood and Madison Avenue. They form the bedrock of musical life in a great cultural capital.

It was a good living. But the New York freelance musician — a bright thread in the fabric of the city — is dying out. In an age of sampling, digitization and outsourcing,(sampling: when you, as a professional musician, are asked to record perhaps a scale or a few notes.You get paid. This sample(s) is then used to re-record all kinds of other music, and it’s all you New York’s soundtrack and advertising-jingle recording industry has essentially collapsed because of this digital simulation. Broadway jobs are in decline. Dance companies rely increasingly on recorded music. And many freelance orchestras, among the last steady deals, are cutting back on their seasons, sometimes to nothingness.”

Fairly recently Barbra Streisand appeared to a sold out audience in Central Park. Her accompaniment consisted of only  5 players. By the time it was simulated digitized and otherwise electronically reproduced, it sound like an entire orchestra.

At what point are we musicians actually stealing from each other?

“Contracts for most of the freelance orchestras expired in September, and the players face the likelihood of further cuts in pay, or at least a freeze. All these orchestras rely on donations and, to a small extent, government grants. The Great Recession has taken its toll, putting a number of them under severe financial pressure.” The recession is not the culprit, at least mainly; it is sampling, digitalization ans simulation.

“This is first time that there are quite a few managements coming to us and saying, ‘We just don’t have money,’ ” said Eugene Moye Jr., a veteran cellist who serves on the players committees in several orchestras. “Our community is under a lot of pressure. Our jobs are melting away. We have a lot of people who are right on the edge.”

The Brooklyn Philharmonic, founded in 1954, has essentially stopped performing as an orchestra. The Long Island Philharmonic has only one concert scheduled this season — a Broadway medley — because of financial problems, although it is continuing its education programs. The Opera Orchestra of New York, which canceled its season last year, has come back with two concerts this year. The American Composers Orchestra is down to three concerts a year in the smaller Zankel Hall instead of five in Carnegie Hall’s main auditorium less than a decade ago.

The Queens Symphony, which is supported mainly by the state and the city, has reduced its size to anywhere from 17 to 36 players from around 65, which means presenting smaller-scale programming. The Westchester Philharmonic, despite the star power of its music director, Itzhak Perlman, has $385,000 of debt and has had trouble paying its musicians. The American Symphony Orchestra has run $300,000 to $400,000 deficits a season for the last several years, with the gaps covered at the last minute by donors.

In the face of such problems the American Symphony is seeking a novel solution. It has proposed a contract that would provide a regular paycheck to its players in exchange for their commitment to play more concerts and the option to carry out nonperforming work, like teaching, coaching or benefit concerts.

The freelance system as it now stands cannot support the musicians, especially with Broadway work drying up for them,” said Lynne Meloccaro, the ensemble’s executive director. Orchestra officials hope the arrangement will solidify the roster, improving quality and making the orchestra more attractive to donors.

“We want this to work,” said Mr. Moye, the chairman of the players committee. But he added, “We will not be made into a group of indentured servants.” But with sampling, which we originally record ourselves, we create the electronic competition with which we self destruct. And the proof can be seen above.

The freelance life has always been fraught with uncertainty. But many musicians say they relish the variety and spontaneity.

“I have always been so thrilled and grateful for the music I get to play,” said Elizabeth Mann, a flutist who performs with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, two of the elite ensembles. “The lack of stability is something you have to reckon with.

(Did this musician ever make a sample?) (Have you?)

Other freelance orchestras include the New York Pops, the Riverside Symphony, the Bronx Arts Ensemble and the Little Orchestra Society, along with the Mostly Mozart and American Ballet Theater orchestras. Some 520 musicians populate the rosters of freelance ensembles, said Jay Blumenthal, the official in charge of freelance contracts for Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. Mr. Blumenthal said the orchestra musicians generally earn $252 a performance, and $50 an hour for rehearsal.

Clay Ruede, 55, typified the freelance life that once was. Soon after he arrived in New York with his cello in 1977, music making filled his days and evenings. He crisscrossed the city for recording sessions, Broadway shows, substitute jobs at the Metropolitan Opera, gigs at the Mostly Mozart Festival and rehearsals with his Arden Trio.

He played his last Broadway show, “The Color Purple,” in February 2008. He hasn’t recorded a movie soundtrack in eight years. With his income down from six figures to about $30,000 this year, Mr. Ruede (pronounced REE-dee) has sold his spare cello and bow, put a playlist from a gig with Bjork on eBay and plans to short-sell his house in Englewood, N.J., to make ends meet. It didn’t help that a divorce from the Arden Trio’s violinist led to the group’s breakup.

“The last three years I’ve just been barely making it,” he said. “I’ve done stuff I haven’t done since I was a teenager: playing weddings for cash, cocktail parties, things I never would have deigned to do. But you do what you have to.” His next steady engagement is not until March.0

As early as 1963, when a clinician for Selmer, I was in Paris, at the Selmer showroom. I heard coming from the back a tenor saxophone playing a scale. Then it changed in mid-scale to a clarinet, and then many more. The sounds were far from perfect. They were totally simulated. But then, sampling came in, and it paid you to record  let’s say, a chromatic scale.. But it paid a mllion times over for the reproducers.And it took away your own work

Please keep practicing, sound as good as you can, always.

stay well, sherman


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