Who pays the songwriter?

2 Jul

Audra McDonald sings “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s musical, Songs for a New World

Jason Robert Brown: taking on the sheet music file sharers

A singer is largely defined by her repertoire, whether she writes it herself or – as is the case for most people – digs into the great treasure chest of work produced, and constantly added to, by a myriad talented songwriters. Their product becomes a vital part of her currency, so forking out a very little for the sheet music that will allow her to study the song, learn the notes and words, come up with an arrangement that suits, give a professional-looking audition, sounds like a no-brainer. Just so the talent on which she is building her own gets a little payback.

Not quite, it would seem. Jason Robert Brown has been having  a fascinating and lively exchange of views on this subject with an ambitious young performer on his excellent blog.

Brown is one of the finest modern American writers of musicals. His complex, profoundly human, songs rightly feature in many an audition repertoire.

In what sounds almost like an idle moment of curiosity, he decided to investigate the extent to which the sheet music for his own songs were being ‘shared’ online, and as the scale of the situation became clear, he began politely requesting on file sharers’ posts that they didn’t do it with his songs any more. After all, $3.99 isn’t a whole lot to spend on something so important to your progress and if you really can’t afford it, the library will help. Either way, the songwriter gets his or her (modest) royalty, and that seems like a good deal.

Many responded respectfully, although with sometimes staggering naivete that they were doing anything dubious. But one feisty correspondent took him on. His patience and reasoning are as impressive as her articulate but way-off-the-mark argument is staggering. This is a hitherto overlooked but very important element of the whole music file sharing debate – and one which all aspiring singers should study.

One Response to “Who pays the songwriter?”


  1. CD Review – Julie Atherton: No Space for Air « The Art of the Torch Singer - November 16, 2010

    […] I saw her in their production of Jason Robert Brown’s chamber piece The Last Five Years last summer, it was clear that she was the genuine article: an […]

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