Please pirate my music! Why SOPA and PIPA are so, so wrong…

There’s just one thing that makes humans different from other animals. We can communicate ideas so easily.

We have language, and writing.

Better than both, we have music – something that transcends language and writing, and crosses cultural, age, and historical barriers.

Mozart’s voice comes down to us, as clear and sparkling and witty as if he’d written his music yesterday.

Beethoven’s beauty and majesty from two hundred years ago is shared with us and becomes our own. No matter what country we come from, or how much we earn, or where we live.

“Communication” is another word for sharing. And the more we do it, the stronger the ideas that we share become, and the more critical they become to the community that shared them.

Which is why SOPA and PIPA are so, so wrong. Ideas that are censored and under tight restriction have the guts pulled out of them, whether they know it or not. By restricting their ability to be shared, they are immediately devalued in a society of creatures whose development and intelligence is based on sharing.

SOPA and PIPA threaten to devalue the internet, because we absolutely need the creativity, innovation and the sharing of cultural wisdom that the internet can provide.

To threaten the openness of the net is to take a step backwards in human development.

Illegal to sing Christmas carols?

Imagine a world where it was illegal to sing Christmas carols. Imagine our kids not being able to sing “Away in a Manger” at their nativity play.

Imagine a Passover celebration without a family being able to sing “Dayenu”.


Dayenu – one of the songs we sing every Passover (although we sing it a lot faster).

Imagine not being able to sing “Happy Birthday” without fear of recrimination (oh wait…)

The point is, these songs became our culture because they could be expressed freely, and without recrimination. They “went viral” in our culture, and are now solid, core parts of what it means to be Christian, or Jewish, or just to have a birthday in a Western society.

(As for “Happy Birthday” – fancy going to jail? You just might, if you sing it next time your child has a birthday, if you record it on camera and upload it to Youtube for your overseas relatives to see.)

The internet – history’s greatest sharing device

And then along came the internet. It enabled people who could never communicate, from different social groups and different parts of the world to suddenly be able to talk to one another, as equals. Of course we shared ideas. Of course we shared our favourite music, and movies. That’s what people have always done (remember dubbing cassette to cassette? I do!). It’s just that now it was open, and visible, and trackable.

Of course a lot of our favourite content is created by the mass media. What else would you expect, when we’ve had TV and radio and movies and mass-produced and mass-marketed CDs shoved in our faces all our lives? If none of our favourite content were created by the “entertainment industry”, the industry would have died a long time ago.

That doesn’t mean people are criminals. It just means to a large extent we’re mirrors and products of our society and culture. We share what we like, we buy what we like, and we repeat to others what we like.

And now, if you think these new potential US laws will only affect the US, well, if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Oh, those poor, poor millionaires!

Is “piracy” such a huge problem? Really?

I’d argue no, but then, I’m a weirdo who offers her work freely, for no charge. I benefit from people sharing my music, because I can’t compete with the heavily advertised, heavily subsidized commercial industry. (I also can’t compete with Mozart and Beethoven, but that’s another story…)

My view is that piracy is simply the world telling Hollywood that their prices are too high, and they need to face up to reality. No movie star is worth $77 million a year (Leonardo DiCaprio’s reputed earnings for 2011). My husband and I paid $32 to go see “Mission Impossible” last night – and that was just for tickets. No popcorn or drinks. Affordable? Not really, if you’re on any sort of a budget (it was our anniversary).

By the way, the movie was rubbish. Don’t bother.

As for DVDs, they cost cents, not dollars to make, so a new release DVD should not be costing $36 in the shop. The industry is massively overcharging people (a.k.a. ripping us off). No wonder people download! If DVDs cost $5 instead of nearly $40, maybe piracy wouldn’t be a problem.

What you can do about it

If you don’t agree that the internet should be censored simply because a few companies who overcharge for their products and want even more control say it should be, you can learn more about this issue and take action here.

If, like most of the world, you’re not in the US, you can write to your local Department of Foreign Affairs and make your voice heard.

I wrote to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Here’s a link for my Kiwi readers: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

What else can you do?

If you’re a content creator, consider offering your material – or some of it – under a Creative Commons license. Visit the website, and you can learn anything you want to know about this worthwhile project: Creative Commons.

And share my music freely. Share your music freely. Create new content, and share it. Because great ideas are meant to be shared. It’s what we humans do best.

And Mozart and Beethoven would give you the big thumbs up.

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A Creative Commons Christmas

I’m currently busy on an SSATB a cappella composition with the working title of “Starlight”. No text for the piece as yet, but everything going well.

I should have some midi samples ready witihn a week or two, but it is Christmas, so things may slow down as eggnog making, gingerbread house construction, and building of various yummy salads all get in the way of things, as they tend to do at this time of the year.

In other news, I’m now a fully represented SOUNZ composer. They’ve received and approved my paperwork, so you’ll now start to be able to find my works at the SOUNZ website too, along with those of other New Zealand composers.

If you’re looking for new works to perform, go check out the website. It’s worth a look.

Sharing music at Christmas

Christmas is coming fast, and with it a fair number of performances of my works around the world. This week I was sent a copy of the flute line Mark at All Saints Edmonton in London has written for Mary Sings A Lullaby.

They’ll be performing his two voice plus flute arrangement of Mary on the 18th of December. I’ll be adding Mark’s score to this website with his permission, and to the Choral Public Domain Library, sometime fairly soon.

This is the beauty of Creative Commons release – it enables performers to add their own touches to the work, without fear of repercussion. It also provides new options for choirs and churches, free of charge, for their performances and services.

Copyright should end after 10 years

If I had my way, I’d make copyright end after 10 years. I think we need more free – and freely shared – music in the world. Right here, right now at Christmas, I am reminded how it is more important to give than to receive. Ten years would be enough for composers to earn fairly, then to share our music without fees attached.

After all, if we are able to write music it is not through anything we’ve done ourselves, but usually through lucky chance, and the gifts of others – music lessons as a child, music teachers who cared and worked hard themselves, mentors and friends, and others taking an interest in us, supporting us, and performing our music.

After ten years, I think it is high time to give something back.

Christmas performances – England, the USA and New Zealand

Just a quick mention of some more performances I’ve been contacted about recently.

Over in England, right near where my Dad grew up near Nottingham, Sing Christmas! is receiving another performance in the village of Burton Joyce, in the annual Christmas concerts there on the 17th and 19th.

And I was lucky to be able to attend a performance of Sing Christmas! here in my own home city of Dunedin, by the Southern Consort of Voices, performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It still feels off hearing my own works from my head, brought to life in front of me. I felt honoured and humbled to be present.

Another piece that received another outing recently was “Yule” from the Wheel of the Year. It was performed by the Timberlake High School Choir in Idaho on December 7th, which gave me an Idaho premiere – I’d never been performed there at all, to the best of my knowledge. I hope your concert went well over there!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It’s really starting to feel like Christmas here.

In the southern hemisphere, we have a summer Christmas instead of a winter one, but this time of year comes around, and I get all sentimental, reminded of trying to stay awake for Father Christmas hour after hour – and failing dismally! – as a kid.

Our Christmas tree is looking beautiful, with real bells on it that jingle when my children shake them. We have a star on top, and an assortment of home-made and collected decorations – everything from yoghurt pottles sprinkled with glitter glue and sparkle, made by my four year old daughter, through to hand-blown glass from Venice – a gift from my travelling parents.

It’s all equal in beauty to me, when it hangs on the tree – although maybe the handmade decorations by my kids come a little higher in importance 😉

This is probably my last post for the year. With so much to do, there’s likely not much time to post again before 2012. So all I can say is, thanks to everyone who has been reading, thanks especially to the choirs and musicians who have been performing my music – and I hope everyone has a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

What to do when your lyrics SUCK!

I’ve written about copyright before, and why it is a great move to use original text if you’re a composer.

But what do you do if your lyric-writing ability sucks? Here are some ideas on how to deal with the whole issue of finding lyrics for your work if you’re a musician – not a lyricist.

Before the money-grubbers got greedy…free stuff

There are several options.

Firstly, a lot of great poetry dates back to before copyright and can be used freely.

Examples include Shakespeare’s Sonnets and texts from his plays, poems by Wordsworth and Hopkins, and other great masters of the English language.

Many religious texts are also not copyright, and available for free use. The “Requiem” texts are a common theme for composers who write for choir:

Mozart’s Lacrimosa from his Requiem uses a freely available religious text.

The changing English language – and associated issues

However, society has changed, and meanings have changed with it, so sometimes out of copyright texts are not really ideal any more.

For example, the line “Taste my meat: / So I did sit and eat.” probably didn’t have dodgy connotations when Vaughan-Williams set George Herbert’s poem to music in his beautiful Five Mystical Songs. But few choristers can sing the line without a giggle these days!

The truth is a lot of traditional religious texts are pretty sucky too, when you translate them out of the Latin into English. This is probably one of the reasons why most composers choose to retain the original Latin, if they were being perfectly honest about it.

So – you can stick with Latin, or another language. But then you have issues related to meaning and communication. How well are your singers going to get intent across, if they don’t understand what they’re singing about?

Is audience enjoyment and appreciation lost or reduced when they don’t understand the content?

Is your audience honestly going to enjoy the music as much as a work written in a language they understand?

I know that Latin works are common for choirs, but maybe it is time to ask the question whether all that highbrow stuff is maybe keeping audience members away – particularly newer audience members not familiar with Latin, and unschooled in Church tradition.

Most schools no longer teach Latin, and a working knowledge of the language is becoming less common. Few musicians have a good grasp of that old, dead language – let alone regular audience members. And why should they? So why on earth is any composer still writing in Latin?

Dead, Dead, DEAD! Even in Italy they speak – you guessed it! – Italian! Not Latin!

If all else fails…make it up!

You could try adding lyrics in a made up language – Welsh Composer Karl Jenkins used this to great effect in his well-known choral work Adiemus:

La didly ya ya ya bay Ya didly ya ya ya bay! This is deep and meaningful stuff! But it is still a good piece.

Ok. But what if you’re more a modern music person? It can be really difficult, and most of the music that you’ll find on iTunes is under copyright, as is its lyrics. So you can’t borrow lyrics from other musicians – these days that’s going to get the copyright lawyers sending you nasty letters.

Finding a lyricist

One option is to find someone who writes lyrics – a lyricist.

I’ve written lyrics for a while now, sometimes for other people, because not every great musician writes terrific text. Music and and the ability to write well do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Finding a lyricist is all about finding someone with a background in language use. I’m comfortable writing my own lyrics because I have an English and professional writing background. So writing is my field. That doesn’t mean I don’t write bad stuff – but at least when I do, I can tell it’s bad!

If you are looking for a lyricist, a good place to start is finding a friend with a writing / English background. You’re probably aware of friends who write well – why not ask one of them to help you out, and collaborate on your next piece of music?

Give it a go, and see if things work out. If they do, you might develop an ongoing partnership. If not, it can be a “one off” and you can try someone different next time.

Accept the suck!

Of course, you can just accept that your lyrics suck, and figure that your music is good enough that the sucky lyrics won’t matter. Several minutes of “naa naa naas” at the end of The Beatles’ Hey Jude certainly didn’t stop an awesome song from becoming a classic.

Nor did the lines “Just like a Soldier needs a gun / Like a Hamburger needs A Bun” stop James Carr’s song ” A Man Needs A Women” from being great – although I cringe every time I hear the lines!

The lyrics suck, but frankly, James Carr could sing a “Little Donkey” and make it rock.

See – even great musicians can write suck! And suck can sound awesome. So maybe the answer is just to go with it!