The $99 Orchestra People Keep Telling Me About

Ever since I’ve finished my dissertation, a 12.5 minute orchestra piece, I’ve been desperately looking for places to get it read, performed, or even just looked at by a conductor with some clout…or even no clout at all.  It’s really tough to get done — there are only a handful of opportunities out there, and they usually fall to students at the same five universities (I promise not to get started on this!)

Anyway, I woke up this morning to Judah Adashi mentioning me on my Twitter:

I’ve been threatening to take a stab at solving this problem of not-enough-orchestras-for-composers for years — from the look of this link, someone has up and solved the problem for me!

I’ve seen this Kickstarter for The $99 Orchestra around the Internet for a little while now.  Of course, I was immediately interested!  For those of you who haven’t tried to hire an orchestra, $99 is an absurdly low price.  I wanted to know what $99 bought.  That price buys you a 7-minute chunk of studio time with the orchestra, to produce 30-90 seconds of music.  And the orchestra is an orchestra, technically, but…

...I'm glad we're counting the conductor in there!
…I’m glad we’re counting the conductor in there!

…there’s going to need to be some management of people’s expectations.  For most people who’ve written an orchestra piece, this won’t cut it.  This is like walking into Macy’s and saying, “I need a shirt to go with my suit,” and being told by the sales attendant, “Cool, man! I’ve got some sweet tanks that’ll look great!”

PERFECT for interviews and funerals!

It could work out great, but it just may not be for everyone.

…Except that, according to their website, The $99 Orchestra is for everyone!  It says so at the top of their webpage. I think that could use a little editing.


I’m not trying to shit all over what I think is a actually a great piece of creative and (aw, c’mon…don’t make me say it) entrepreneurial thinking (ugh, I feel like I need a shower now!).  The people for whom the project is intended to reach (indie game developers, film scorers, etc.) could really use this service.  If anything, this makes me wonder how someone could translate this for concert composers.

The big issue is that the people who are talented enough to play the music cost too much for one person to hire, even for a limited amount of time.  One solution would be to gather a consortium of composers who are each in charge of independently raising a share of the funds necessary to hire out an orchestra for x number of hours.  Presumably, if the cost of the orchestra stays the same no matter how many pieces they look at in that time period, you can cut cost at the sacrifice of time spent rehearsing your particular piece.

The other way to go would be to find an orchestra that will work for next to nothing, essentially outsourcing the labor to a place that will perform the skilled task for the cheapest.

Business Degree, Schmusiness Degree!

Okay, so I don’t know if something like this would even work, but even if it did, the notion of outsourcing an orchestra to cut costs feels gross to me.  Not to mention, I feel like it would undercut any sort of relationship that I would be trying to build with American musicians.


I’ve still got a lot of thinking to do as to how to fix this problem.  I hope I can come up with something where everyone gets paid what their worth, but is ultimately affordable enough to do in the first place!

  4 comments for “The $99 Orchestra People Keep Telling Me About

  1. 03/05/2015 at 1:39 pm

    Are you being purposefully inflammatory? The fact that you act as if an available conductor is not a mentionable asset makes you sound completely ignorant and it would astonish me if you had actually received any higher education degree.

  2. Isabella
    03/05/2015 at 2:15 pm

    It saddens me that you don’t realize how much of a privilege it is to have something read by live musicians, no matter the size of the ensemble. As composers, musicians owe us nothing; WE owe THEM good music. Please introspect and reassess the way you think of what constitutes an orchestra. A dissertation doesn’t entitle you to anything besides a degree.

  3. 03/05/2015 at 5:53 pm

    So far, the comments are coming from some toxic places and people that really don’t understand the structural problem here. I’ll let you address those how you may, despite the fact that I want to shut down the trolls.

    This kind of sounds like a commission in reverse… When you get commission as a composer, you get the value of your work up front (they’re choosing you) and then they tell you their capabilities and inatrumentation. At that point, you’re in it together with your patron, making the institution look good through your composition. If someone approaches me with 6 instruments and asks me to do something, I do my damnedest to make it something worth them playing, fitting the context of their production, and not giving them something that looks like Xenakis if they can’t do it… Nobody would benefit and that organization would never hire me again.

    But, it is not a wonderful miracle to have someone tell you that you can have 90 seconds of music recorded, and that the instrumentation is limited. Writing for limited instrumentation is totally fine… Every composer can still have a voice with even a solo instrument, obviously. As a utility, though, this arrangement just falls well short of what a composer can deal with, unless they intend, from the onset of their composing, to write for this ensemble and their restrictions. My major question (as opposed to my minor question of the competence of the players) is: why isn’t this scalable? Does it mean that I can have that ensemble rehearse a 10 minute piece for an hour for $1000?

  4. Kendra Hawley
    03/06/2015 at 10:08 am

    Jason, I’m with you on this. As you know, I’m a lover of new music and I think your idea is a good one. I also agree that the first couple of comments are coming from a negative p.o.v.

    Its tough to find an affordable way to realize your work if you don’t have the talent you need, and that kind of talent does not come cheap.

    Perhaps, with some more helpful conversation, we can come up with a plan and perhaps a donor base for an affordable way for developing composers to bring their music to life.

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