Until relatively recently the only way for most performing musicians to make and sell audio recordings of their performances was through the sponsorship of a small number of (mostly large international) record companies. The company would make the recording, edit and transfer it to LP or CD and deal with the marketing and distribution to brick and mortar stores. Publishing books or sheet music worked on a similar basis. There were considerable expenses involved in this process, and the companies assumed the expenses and any commercial risks. The musicians were paid a percentage of the sales income according to an agreed formula. The wherewithal for the musicians or writers to handle the business themselves was not available to them.
Nowadays, decent recording equipment is available to all and the operations necessary to produce an audio file that can be played at home do not any more form a major exercise. The only thing lacking in many cases is the expertise needed to capture the sound in a musical manner.
On the other hand, in most cases, today’s much lower costs of distribution are not reflected in the price of e-books or soundfiles. In the case of soundfiles, even the big companies do not always offer any higher quality than that of the CD (16-bit/44.1kHz) and have not invested in making higher resolution transfers. Even famous pop musicians are complaining of the derisory returns that they receive from streaming companies like Spotify and others. It seems that the “middle people” are still taking the same cut as they used to, and it is for this reason that I do not participate as a customer of in for-profit streamed music. It is also not apparent that the costs of printing, warehousing and transporting sheet music has been deducted from the prices charged for e-scores.
In a related matter, the “old” EMI classical catalog now belongs to Warner Classics, and the latter market the recordings as if they made them themselves, often without proper documentation. A case in point is a CD I bought recently of Handel’s Fireworks Music. The only performing credits are Yehudi Menuhin/Menuhin Festival Orchestra. There are no liner notes, apart from “Remastered in 1989” – 33 years ago! – but credits are given for “product development, design concept and booklet editing [sic]”. A note on the back says “Let yourself be seduced [sic] by magnificent performances of stars from the Warner Classics and Erato catalogues – be inspired!” and “Inspiration for glanzvolle Feste, die Silvesterparty, dazzling parties, New Year’s Eve”.
I have put a copy of the rear of the original LP sleeve here. From it one learns that Valda Aveling was the harpsichordist and Leslie Pearson the organist on the sessions. The notes were written by Neville D. Boyling, who not only edited the music, but was the excellent recording engineer. A brief extract on the same page will demonstrate how natural the stereo orchestral sound is. (As was always the case in those days, the sound of the harpsichord is discreet! It and the organ can be heard slightly louder in the slow movements of the concerto.)
Sic transit gloria EMI.
One does not need the brain of an Einstein to realise that a new model is needed for the business of recording and distributing music, one that values the creative musicians and rewards them appropriately. This is even more important in a time when live performances and the international movement of performers have been considerably reduced, making recordings more important than before.
Unless this inequity is dealt with, more and more performing musicians will leave the profession for jobs that pay a living wage.