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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Happy New Year – the apprenticeship continues…

2011 has been a good year for me, composition-wise. So I thought I’d write about what happened, where I currently stand, and what my goals for 2012 are.

2011 – my first year apprenticeship!

Firstly, I’ve been accepted as a fully represented SOUNZ composer, which is wonderful news. More info on that to come: my forms have only just gone in.

To be a fully represented composer, I needed to have had 7 performances, plus international performances, prizes and recordings. I’ve done all that, thanks to so much support from people all around the world who have loved and shared my music, so everything I’m starting to achieve right now is due to you all, and your decisions to perform and record my music, as much as anything I’ve done.

Thanks in particular to RMIT Occasional Choral Society in Melbourne, Australia, and to Grupo Talliesin in Brazil, who have been there from the beginning. Both groups have been incredibly supportive not just of me, but of other aspiring musicians and composers. We need more awesome people like you in the world, willing to take a chance on those of us who are still building our name and credentials.

This year, I’ve written and published about a dozen pieces of music. I’ve had over 60 performances around the globe, more than one a week, and everywhere from Brazil to London to Pennsyvania to Shanghai!

Every performance I hear of is a thrill to me – it’s wonderful to know that my music is being performed and enjoyed around the world. It’s also very humbling to receive so many emails from so many lovely people.

Thankyou thankyou thankyou!

Some of the places I’ve been performed I’ve had to look up on Google, so it has been an education in other ways besides music, because I’ve learned more about where people live. Every city and town I’ve heard from I’ve looked up on Google Earth, and learned a bit more about it. The world really is a village now, and we can connect with one another through music.

When I began 2011, I thought of this year as my “first year of apprenticeship”, learning to write music as a composer.

There is so much to learn, and the more I learn, the more I realise I’ve a lot of growing to do. But I do feel like I’ve learned a huge amount, and that I am growing and developing my skills. Pieces are happening more quickly and naturally now, and the flow is easier.

Overall, I do feel like I’ve learned as much as any music student would have, by doing my own “private apprenticeship” at home.

If I can write music at home, anyone can. If you’re reading this, and you’ve ever wanted to write music, don’t let anyone or anything stop you. You can do it!

So let your music ring out and light the world up!

Goals for 2012

2012 will be my second year of my “apprenticeship”.

I’ll continue to study scores by the “Great Composers”: everything from Mozart to McCartney.

I’ve been starting to get more interested in the Russian dudes – Russian church music is so beautiful. And in early music. Plus anything from anywhere I happen to think is good. Lady Gaga, for instance, is a master of the ear worm, and I’m starting to take her music to pieces, and see how it operates: there really is a calculation and method to it all.

That’s the beauty of studying and learning by myself – I can pick and choose what I want to learn from! I don’t know of any course that compares Wagner to Gaga – but they should! The two have a lot of similarities in how they “hook” your ear, and it is interesting to compare methods and techniques in the writing styles.

Goals for 2012 include finishing a Christmas Song Cycle which I have already started. I’m planning for it to run between 15 and 20 minutes in length, and be set for full choir plus piano. As far as I know, no New Zealand composer has ever written anything like this, so I guess it’s up to me 🙂 Yee haw!

That’s my major goal. I’m also planning to write a few solo pieces, and start writing instrumental works. A big part of the plans involves setting up a recording studio here at home, and organising a group of singers and instrumentalists to do some recordings. I just have to find some talented people who are interested.

Another goal is to try writing some children’s music. I’d like to write some nursery rhymes, and have had some ideas jotted down for a while now, but haven’t got around to filling them out. They’d be in unison with piano, with maybe a few simple splits here and there.

That’s probably enough for 2012. If I achieve all that I’ll be doing really well.

So here’s to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May 2012 be peaceful, joyful, and filled with music for everyone 🙂

Every single human being is musical

There. I said it. A blanket satement: “Every single human being is musical.”

It isn’t so long ago I didn’t believe that.

For instance, I remember being singled out for orchestra in primary school, over thirty years ago now (in Ye Darke Ages!).

Our whole year level was given a hearing test, where they beeped these notes at us, and we had to say which ones were the same and which were different.

I must have done well in that whacked-out test, because next thing I knew, I was selected to play the violin in the school orchestra. One of only half a dozen kids in the year level.

Then I noticed, once I’d joined the orchestra, how many family members there were: the Tickle sisters, the Beard brothers (all four of them!), and now the Veitch siblings – my older brother and me.

My brother and I with our instruments: him with his 'cello, and me with my violin

It looked like musicality ran in families, and since I first noticed it, all those years ago, I’ve never disputed that some families were “more equal than others” when it came to music.

And somehow or other, despite never having being taught or trained, my brother and I seemed to have this knack for music that was in us, right from the beginning – born inside our genetic shells, where no-one could take it away, or even really see what it was or where it came from.

Questioning the God-given, self-acknowledged superiority of The Musician

But now I’m not so sure.

I think maybe there’s a big problem with our musical culture, and how we judge music, and very much with how we train and teach music.

We musical types are so convinced we have something special, we’ve hardly stopped to question whether that’s actually true or not – or whether we’ve just rigged the playing field to suit us, and paid off the referee.

I mean, what about that kid that can’t hold a tune, but has an incredible sense of rhythm? They would never have been picked for orchestra, but that same orchestra might have just missed out on the best percussionist it would ever have got. Are they musical? I’d think so.

And what about the kid who can dance like you’ve never seen, but sings like a cat on steroids? Their whole fricking body is registering the music and responding to it – not just their fingers or their vocal chords! Yet if we heard them sing, we’d never call them a musician.

But I would.

Music doesn’t stop with the throat and hands!

And then there’s the issue of hand-eye co-ordination. I’ve lost track of the number of musicians I know who can sing well but are an embarrasement on the dance floor (hi honey!).

A choir I used to be involved with tried just a few simple steps (like – really, REALLY simple!) to some African music they sang a couple of years ago, and I swear most of the choir members couldn’t tell their left foot from their right. Just as well, really, as I think most of the men, at least, had two left feet!

This might seem irrelevant, but in a lot of cultures, singing and dancing are intertwined, inseparable. Would these “special needs” dancers have been stopped from singing because they couldn’t dance?

Maybe…I guess that means my husband’s career in music would have been doomed too! Which shows how judging according to one particular view of what it means to be musical can be so wrong – and so limiting.

What I’m saying here is that we judge people as musical or not, in our society, according to a very small set of metrics that totally ignore whole facets of what it means to be musical, and to have the music in you.

We tell a person they can’t sing if their voice is rough, despite the fact they have perfect pitch – then they go away and never sing again, convinced they’re a failure in the musical world.

Or we stop someone from joining a choir because they’re too loud, too tall, too whatever – and prevent someone from sharing the music that is in them and of them, because of our own shallow and petty perspectives about the world.

Music is transformative

Every single human being is musical. I’m convinced of it. My son, who is autistic, used to bellow out songs so badly you’d want to block your ears – tuneless and loud, and totally awful in every respect.

But recently his understanding of music (he’s only six) has transformed, and suddenly we’re finding he’s got great pitch, and sounds nice to listen to, and he’s in time with the music better than most kids his age. He clearly just needed to grow into the music – and to be given a chance to shine.

Transformation can happen, if we give it a chance. And maybe his transformation is happening because we always encouraged him and told him he could, instead of telling him to stop, and making him believe that he couldn’t.

Dreaming a musical dream…

If I could have a dream project, it would be to gather together a whole stack of people who believe they can’t sing, who have been told they can’t sing, who have been encouraged to never sing, and who have been dumped from choirs and glee clubs around the world. And I’d get them to make music that would get the world dancing.

Because I believe that every single human being is musical. It is in us, and of us, and nothing can ever take it away. And if this is a rant, so be it, but it is what I believe, and that’s the end of this post.