Sunday, December 17, 2006

Boycott this competition!

Scott Spiegelberg has posted an annoucement for a composition competition conducted by the Music07 Festival and the eighth blackbird ensemble in Cincinnati. The entry fee for the competition is $25 and a single prize of $500 and a performance by eighth blackbird will be awarded, although there is the usual caveat: the competition reserves the right to not award any prizes.

Even a lowly composer with a California public school education can follow the money here. While I recognize that organizing and publicizing a competition has costs, and a professional rehearsal and performance have costs, and sometimes a mechanism is necessary to insure that the entries are both serious and of a manageable number, all of those costs can be held in check and other mechanisms can be devised to manage the pool of competitors without having to ask the competitors themselves to ante up. If the competition is well-advertised (which is cheap these days with web communications) and the applicant pool is similar to those found in other competitions, the organizers can easily expect 50 to 100 entries, thus ensuring that the competition will finance itself, if not make a profit, via the entry fees. That is obscene.

Competitions like this should be services to the community of musicians, with the prize, performance, and possible PR to the winning composer, the ensemble, and the organizing festival an added net benefit for all. This should be funded by a source external to these three interests. Instead, one of the parties, and that in the weakest position with regard to supply and demand for their work, is being asked to cover this net even though the relationship between aggregate cost to the composers entering the contest and the maximum possible rewards declines rapidly with the number of composers entering.

The fact that such a competition will probably get a sufficient number of entries to make the scam work is either further evidence of the desperate imbalances in the new music food chain, or, even worse, further confirmation that P.T. Barnum's wisdom still holds. Still thinking about entering? I hope not, and I hope that you'll spread the word.

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