The Banting diet is all the rage according to dinner party conversations.  It seems we are quite obsessed about what we put into our bodies and often make others feel guilty about what they eat too.

A few years ago I went to a restaurant with my brother, an accountant.  So when I ordered prawns, I presumed his disappointed shake of the head was either for a poor health choice or more likely, a poor financial decision.  It was only after he whipped out his SASSI card and educated me about unsustainable fishing practices that I realized you can feel guilty about food in non-health related ways as well.  It turns out some people are catching these creatures in a manner that makes them relatively cheap, but also destroys lots of marine life in the process (for every 1kg of prawns you eat, between 7-20kgs of unwanted marine creatures are tossed back…and usually not alive). But that doesn’t often cross the mind of the consumer, like me, when the yummy prawns are available right now.

So what do prawns have to do with a music library publisher?  Well, we aren’t working on a District 9 sequel…yet, so the link we are making is ‘uneducated consumption’.  When you use production music in an advert, film, online video etc, do you ever wonder how the music got to you and how it affects the people that created it, not to mention music in general?

There has been a recent trend where some library publishers are offering production music hard drives at “use as much as you like” yearly subscription fees.  This sounds great to the user as it means you can pay upfront and the more you use, the more you save.  Some post production studios may even continue to charge their clients the regular library rates and pocket the profit once the breakeven point of the cost of the drive has been passed.   Unfortunately, like with our tasty little crustacean friends, there is always someone that suffers.  By reducing the rate of music license fees it means that someone has to be earning less.  It’s definitely not going to be the business-savvy, bottom-line-aware publisher, which means the composer is the only one left to take the hit.  Some publishers are asking inexperienced, ill-informed or cash-strapped composers to sign away certain of their rights and take smaller upfront buyout fees instead of retaining their copyright and earning royalties for years to come.  You can ask some of our own composers that have earned hundreds of thousands of Rands over the 15 year (or longer) life of an album whether they would have preferred a R5,000 upfront payment. It is pretty clear they would tell you they made the right decision (even investing the R5,000 for 10 years with compound interest wouldn’t get them close to their current earnings!).

The truth is that only a few libraries can operate using the subscription model because if every publisher jumped on the bandwagon (restoring the idiom to its musical roots), it would be a race to the bottom as the price of the subscription fee would get driven down so drastically through competition that composers would end up earning next to nothing for albums that can take months to create.

The more sustainable method for composers and music in the long run is the model used by Mama Dance and many others libraries.   We have over 70 local composers and income is split 50/50 between the composer and the publisher.  The importance of which can be seen in cases like the musician Judah Brown who was killed in a hijacking in 2007 and whose wife, a farm labourer, still receives his royalties to this day.

Another added benefit of this model is that the composers (who usually work within the sound industry), use royalties to improve their equipment, instruments and knowledge which in turn increases the quality of music produced in this country and hence why the Mama Dance ! Music Library can stand head to head with international libraries and can be heard in productions everywhere from the USA to China.

Hope is at hand though because as my brother’s shake of the head educated me, it is my hope that reading this will educate composers and music users alike so that in 20 years we might still be able to order a guilt-free prawn cocktail and we might still have skilled composers making a living out of creating high quality music.  Please use composer-friendly music!