As we move forward into the New Year, we should set forth goals to strive for as a society, much in the same way we do in our own lives. Regretfully, the older one gets the faster the days go, each month becoming a shorter percentage of one’s life than the month before. My beloved teacher, Albert Harris demanded that I project into the future, maybe five years and state what and where I wanted to be. Strangely enough, that conversation was thirty years ago. Nevertheless, I still have goals, and I know how fast five years will fly by now. As your president, I follow in the footsteps of a person that had more goals and aspirations for this organization than I can count. Ray Colcord is still impassioned about seeing the SCL gain more respect within the industry. I too have dreams of what we can do and our vast potential, but it will take the combined energies of all of us to achieve our mutual goals.
Since I began my tenure, two years ago, several concerns have come to the forefront of the work place that need to be addressed. How to best solve problems such as erosion of performing rights and advancements in technology that make composing music easier for the neophyte are never easy to resolve, but nevertheless they are topics that need to be reckoned with. It should be a personal goal for each of us to do what we can to make ours a stronger and more regarded profession as we navigate issues such as these.
One area that requires the most attention is the subject of performing rights. My president’s article of a year ago spelled out the risks in direct licensing your compositions. No one can put a value on your work when it comes to buying out future performances. You most likely will settle for far less than you would ultimately receive, and you could even be giving away a fortune, as was demonstrated to those of you who attended our membership meeting last spring. Even more onerous are the companies that would demand that you assign away your rights for no compensation, as a condition of employment, as it were. Unfortunately, as much as we would like for these issues to go away, we are hearing reports that composers and songwriters are being pressed for their compliance in these areas on a continuum.
Most of you are cognizant of the fact that this organization, through the valiant efforts of many of our most celebrated colleagues has fought for unionization at two different times in the past, most recently about twenty years ago. A great deal of time and money was expended by our membership to little avail. Ultimately, we were deemed independent contractors, not employees. Whereas other guilds such as the actors and directors are protected by collective bargaining, as a result of this decision, we unfortunately are relegated to fend for ourselves. The good news is that I have received numerous positive reports from rank and file members regarding perpetuating the integrity of our profession. Several composers have refused the deal when it came to giving up their rights, and ended up getting the job despite it all.
There is one basic fact to consider here. It is nothing less than immoral in our current situation to be asked to settle for signing away our rights. We have historically been paid far less than other crafts for our contribution, the main argument from the company’s stand point being that we received generous back end compensation for our work. If this in fact is their argument, then under no condition is it acceptable to sign away our rights. It must be our responsibility to stand up as a community and refuse to be unfairly treated in these areas. Those of you who have read my previous messages know that it should be always handled tactfully, but in the end you are representing not only yourself, but also our profession as a whole. If we accept these conditions, it will certainly work to diminish our respect within the larger community.
You should be aware that as an organization we are working to put into place a larger presence in Washington. A group of us met in November with Congressmen Howard Berman and Adam Schiff, and Congresswoman, Linda Sanchez. We are striving to create our own unique identity, apart from songwriters within Congress, as the legislators can become valued partners as we move forward, even in introducing bills that could aid us in dealing with a myriad of creative rights issues. Our valued supporters, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are committed to helping us in this endeavor as well.
With your input, we are striving to extend the influence of the SCL into other locales such as New York City. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of talented composers and songwriters while in New York in June, and there appears to be a significant base of interest in the SCL, not just from the film music community, but from the theatre composers and lyricists as well. Not only do they contend with a number of the challenges that we share in common, but they are faced with copyright ownership issues, that left unchecked could erode a long standing way of doing business that could have detrimental effects on their livelihood.
As we continue to grow, our numbers will aid us in increasing our respect within the larger entertainment industry. We have seen a significant increase in membership over the past few years and I would hope that it would be a personal goal of yours to enlist your colleagues in our cause so that our numbers continue to grow.
It has been a goal of mine to instill a sense of comradeship within our profession. Although we compete for many of the same jobs, we share a common bond in the ability to create wonderful words and music. Therefore, as a member of this extended family we should strive to enhance the work environment that great composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin put in place for us. The joy that Michael Kamen and Michel Colombier exuded was magnetic. Think of how they would have liked their legacy to be perpetuated.
Each of us will face challenges in the coming year, both personal and professional; it’s simply a part of life. It’s how we cope with these challenges, as an individual and in a larger sense, as a community that will determine if we can continue to move forward. Forward to make our profession more respected and viable and in turn, making our lives more enriched, more productive, and more fulfilled.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number One, Spring 2005]