Return to Polemic




Friday 23 September 1988, 3.00pm

Composer Survival I: How does APRA work?

Editor's note: This session, on the workings of the Australasian Performing Right Association, began with a film which presented a general overview of APRA and its functions on behalf of Australian writers. Glenda Callaghan, company secretary of APRA, then answered questions on the film and on APRA generally from the floor.

GLENDA CALLAGHAN: Because it is recent, we would like some genuine criticism, to see if in fact we've done the right or the wrong thing in this film.

DEREK STRAHAN: I don't wish in any way to undervalue the work done by APRA in collecting royalties for composers, but I must say that I was absolutely appalled at the statement, early in that film, suggesting that it is common practice for composers to undertake writing music without payment. I think that is a most extraordinary and disgraceful statement. And then to throw up pictures of Beethoven and Mozart, as if to suggest that things were different in their day, when we know that Mozart was inadequately paid and then mostly as a performer rather than as a composer, and that he died a premature death of stress and overwork. I really think it's disgraceful, and I think the statement should be withdrawn.

GLENDA CALLAGHAN: I would say that composers generally, unless they've been specifically commissioned, in fact do write music without payment. They write music on the basis that they hope it will be performed or broadcast, and it is after that performance or broadcast that APRA comes in, and gives them some payment for that.

DEREK STRAHAN: That may be the case in pop music, where the performers are also the composers, but it is certainly not the case with composers of concert music. We know very well the dangers of writing a work of concert music on spec in the hope that it might be performed. We know how difficult it is to get any work performea for which there is not a prior agreement written into the commission for performance. And any composer who undertakes to organise his life as you suggest is an idiot. I don't think there are too many idiots in this room, and I don't think that we should be insulted by a statement like that.

GLENDA CALLAGHAN: Well, that is a view, but it's my understanding that even regardless of those composers who do receive commissions, there are a lot of composers that write music for the sake of it, in the hope of getting a performance, and production is not confinet specifically to commissions. If you're of the view that composers will only write this type of concert music on the basis of commission, your comment's quite valid. But it's my understanding that there's a lot who do it for the love of it, but I may be wrong.

DEREK STRAHAN: I really protest against this myth that we write music for the love of it and don't expect payment. I object to that being put about as an acceptable attitude. The public should not be encouraged to think that composers are content to do that.

GLENDA CALLAGHAN: It's not a matter of being content to do it. I agree with you that this is not the case. But if you look at APRA's income, most of it in fact does relate to pop music, having regard to the fact of the licence fees paid to us, by music users who are using pop music, and for the most part pop composers don't get paid for it in the first instance. Thank you for your comment.

MALCOLM FOX: For the record, it is my recollection that the statement in the film was not that all composers write music on spec, but the majority do. Just a question to Dick Letts: can the Australian Music Centre tell us at the moment what proportion of the works lodged with the AMC, for example, have been commissioned and what proportion haven't.

RICHARD LETTS: No, we can't.

The topic of payment for composers was again raised in the final session of the Conference.

DEREK STRAHAN: I'm delighted that my colleague from Leura raised the taboo subject of composers getting paid for composing, and I would like to make the statement here that I am a professional composer who composes when I am offered money to do so. Now, in that context, I would just like to say that this conference has been extremely valuable, but the emphasis has been on the dissemination of works which already exist, and there has not been very much attention paid to the mechanism necessary for bringing works into existence. The only reference to that was in that rather nasty little film that we had from APRA which suggested that composers are quite happy working without payment, and that APRA comes to the rescue with its annual crumbs-off-the-table Christmas present in the form of an APRA cheque, which is always of a quite mysterious amount ... you're never quite sure how that amount has been arrived at.

Now, I would suggest that in the matter of being paid we have a very strange situation in Australia which has a very strong, militant union tradition, of workers being paid for the work that they do, but it doesn't seem to have filtered down in the public consciousness that composers are workers. While I think that composers provide an enormous resource for the music industry.

If we think of all composers as being part of a solidarity, then we have to include in that composers alive and dead. When I hear music by Schubert and Mozart on the radio, I am hurt by the fact that they weren't paid enough. They worked under extreme stress and they died prematurely. And that hurts me as much as not getting enough commissions as I would like.

I've made a short list here of those people in the community who derive a living, a full-time living - very often a salaried full-time living - exploiting the works of composers. Musicologists are paid to write about the works of composers.

Musicologists are paid to write about the works of composers. Performers, players and singers and paid to perform the works of composers. Music administrators, concert managements, are paid to perform the works of composers. Music librarians stock and make lists of the works of composers. Music publishers publish the works of composers. Music critics write about them. Music journalists write about them. Music biographers write lives of composers, and all of these people are paid for their work, while we are expected to do it for love.

I repeat that point, with great indignation. Music and medicine are a healing arts. No doubt doctors love doing operations, but are they expected to do it for nothing, just because they love the work? Absolute nonsense, of course. Music educators also are paid to educate about music. Radio programmers, radio presenters and record manufacturers, mostly of course are putting out the work of dead composers who don't have to be paid copyright.

And on top of that we are the victims of automation. We are one of the first victims of automation and one of the last to organise ourselves in any sort of form of militant solidarity in defence of our cause. So, I think that it's a great idea to introduce quotas which create a demand. Then we have to organise ourselves in order to establish mechanisms to supply that demand.

Two years ago, through the Australian Music Centre, an organisation called the Band Association of New South Wales set up a seminar. They wanted some new works written for various strata of performance in bands, concert band, brass band, down to solo works, And various composers accepted the invitation, we went out to Bankstown and the band played for us, and we had Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch, and various composers and administrators told us what they wanted, and we all submitted and some of us got commissions out of that. Now I think that's a wonderful mechanism and I would recommend that the ABC, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Australian Opera, and The Australian Ballet think in terms of setting up such seminars and inviting composers to them, telling us what they would like, and then it's up to us to compete in the usual shit fight to try to get the commission.

CHRISTOPHER LAWRENCE: I work for the ABC in the humble capacity of a producer, and given that the ABC's name has been invoked several times during the course of this session (which, I think by the way, has been far too short, and one of the most valuable sessions so far) I thought that I might just contribute a few little additions between the lines of Roger Grant's massive expose last night. Firstly the ABC is still often invoked as a large grey eminence, which probes, or should probe into all aspects of Australian music making. The fact is we're talking about a very streamlined area now, which is not much bigger than the Australian Music Centre. And just as Richard Letts said that you couldn't expect the AMC to solve all of the problems, neither car the ABC any more, in that the streamlining of the Corporation - contingent upon the cutback of funding in real terms - was borne largely by the arts and cultural affairs production areas within the Corporation. In Sydney there are never any more than 10 producers on the ground at any one time. And of course part of their responsibility is to service the on-going on-air commitments of the Corporation. So to engage in extensive entrepreneurial activity as far as radio is concerned is always difficult. But, the commitment is there, and I would hope that the composers, who are here and with whom the production area has worked recently, will testify to that.


(Post Script. 1998)

Re: the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). At the time of this conference Music was administratively divided into Concert Music and Broadcast Music. I, personally, have always found ABC Broadcast Music to be very supportive of composers in encouraging recordings of new chamber works and broadcasting of same. Concert Music, which managed the Sydney Symphony orchestra, was under separate control and its workings (and in particular its commissioning policy - or lack of it) became the subject of public enquiry and open meetings in 1993/94. Finally the Sydney Symphony Orchestra became autonomous in 1997, and now operates independently of but in conjunction with the ABC. It is possible to endorse Christopher Lawrence's remarks above as they applied to Broadcast Music.

Derek Strahan

Return to Polemic