Three wins at this year’s Grammy Awards continue to reinforce composer-bandleader Maria Schneider’s faith in crowdfunding for music. She is about to embark on her next project, a jazz composition dedicated to her late bandmate Laurie Frink that she plans to record at Avatar Studios in New York at the end of August.
“I’m going to need about $160,000, $170,000. It’s a lot,” says Schneider, who will again use ArtistShare to raise money and release the album. “These records really cost a lot of money, but I prefer doing it this way. I love running my own ship and I much prefer it to just selling CDs. It’s much, much more personal and meaningful. I like feeling that it’s my own butt on the line.”
Schneider’s last work “Winter Morning Walks,” a classical piece with singer Dawn Upshaw, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, was named best contemporary classical composition, best classical vocal solo and best engineered album, classical.
Costs for the album totaled about $200,000. Commissions covered the writing, orchestrating and copying; the ArtistShare campaign of more than $100,000 covered recording, equipment rental, musicians, production and engineering and evencatering. Schneider and all ArtistShare musicians document their process and share their experiences with their financial backers.
“Developing relationships with fans is hugely important,” says Schneider, who started recording with her Jazz Orchestra in the mid-1990s. “If they really feel that they’re needed and appreciated and that you’re giving something that’s much more than they would otherwise get, then you’re going to hang onto them. I don’t think there’s another way.”
Schneider was not alone in the winners’ circle at the Grammy when it comes to fan-funded projects. Brad Wells and Roomful Of Teeth received the Grammy for chamber music/small ensemble performance for "Roomful Of Teeth," and the Pacific Mambo Orchestra took home the trophy for tropical Latin album. Both of them used Kickstarter.
Pacific Mambo Orchestra co-founder and pianist Christian Tumalan raised $11,000 through Kickstarter for their self-titled release on Tumalanmusic/Stefrecords. Their win was considered an upset, which Tumalan attributes to reaching out to Grammy voters online. “We went to conferences, we talked to people, we reached out to people on Facebook and Twitter,” he says. “It was a lot of conscious work.”
After sending 116 digital copies to their Kickstarter backers, Tumalan says they have sold about 6,000 at shows. Soundscan has reported fewer than 400 albums sold.
“Winter Morning Walks” has sold 3,000, according to Soundscan reports, which is down from Schneider’s jazz recordings. Her albums from the mid-90s, “Evanescence” and “Coming About,” were her career peaks with 9,000 copies of each sold.
“Since I normally do jazz projects I was coming to an audience that was funding classical records,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s a sign of the music business or what happens when you move from one style to another, but these records are always a huge financial risk.
“The public at large does not realize that the vast majority of artists are paying for their own projects. You’re going into debt to make a record and then going out to do concerts and you’re lucky if you can pay for a record, let alone buy health insurance or send your kid to college.”
With her Jazz Orchestra, which is celebrating its 20 anniversary this year, Schneider has performed in more than 35 countries and released six albums prior to “Winter Morning Walks.” She and the orchestra have gigs March 14 and 15 at Jazz at Lincoln Center and will be performing “Winter Morning Walks” this summer at Tanglewood.
The direct involvement in the business side of music has also frustrated the composer, specifically the policing of the Internet to insure that her music is not being misappropriated. As a one-person show, she finds she spends inordinate amounts of time filing notices to have her work removed from websites.
“It’s insulting and it’s angering,” she says of filing takedown notices in accordance the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. “In order for the copyright holder to get a piece taken down, you have to actually sign something that says you’re not perjuring yourself, sendin the links, scan in forms. It’s such a pain in the butt. [Website owners] aren’t required to keep track of who they get these notices from -- there’s no culpability.
“I’m hopeful that Congress next year will be looking to make changes in copyright. Do we really want composers and musicians living off government programs and grants? Let’s wake up and fix this problem. It’s fixable, just a matter of Congress choosing to do so.”
Additional reporting by Judy Cantor-Navas