Dear Hartford Wagner Festival,
I was hanging out on the corner of Facebook and Twitter, like I do, when I saw an interesting article by way of Jessica Rudman. Apparently, you have decided that you’re going to produce The Ring Cycle over the next four years, which is really great news! But you’ve also decided that hiring real, live musicians is kind of expensive. So, you’ve enlisted the help of a guy who’s painstakingly created a really fancy canned orchestra version of The Ring, for a fraction of what it would cost to hire actual musicians.
Now, I get it. As a composer who wants to write pieces for orchestras, nobody understands how difficult it is to scrounge up the cash to get 100+ masters of their craft into a room to do what they do best. And the canned version features the disembodied samples of The Vienna Philharmonic! Man, that’s some great brand alignment, right there! At least, that’s the way your awesome social media intern seems to be positioning it on Facebook:
I’ve got a theory that the person who made this decision, well, probably isn’t a musician. They’re probably a businessperson. And you know what, I’m not going to tell you how to run your business: I’m a broke composer, and the person who made this call is probably living it up at some mansion in Avon, judging by those cost-cutting skills. But I do wanna tell you something, just in case.
Someday, I may get wicked famous. Someday, you or whatever businessperson who you’ve got taking these shortcuts may end up wanting to perform a piece of mine down the road. And that’d be awesome! But, just to be 100% clear on the subject: if I’ve written a part for an instrument, I mean for the sound to come out of said instrument, played by a human being. And I expect that this instrument-playing human should be paid, unless they chose to volunteer. I didn’t think I should have to specify that sort of thing, but thanks to the incredible business acumen of whatever genius you’ve got working behind the scenes there, I thought I should take a moment and be specific.
(If you’re a composer, you should do the same thing. Tell the Hartford Wagner Ensemble how much it means to you that real people play the parts that you intended real people to play!)
Real orchestras do cost a lot of money, but I will always stand by having real orchestra musicians play orchestral music. I would happily use a VSL mockup to help people learn my music, or to convince a group how awesome a yet-to-be-performed piece is. But I would never write for VSL and try to pass it off as a product that’s close to the real thing. If that means that fewer audiences hear my music, than so be it. I don’t want to have to make that kind of compromise.