Sorry, You Must Pay for That Recording

Twice in one week I was asked by individuals in different choruses to create an accompaniment track so they could rehearse a solo. The first expected it would cost something, but was shocked at the price I quoted for a 40-minute piece. The second seemed shocked I would charge anything at all. Both asked, “Can’t you just press record on your phone while practicing?”

Well, yes, I could. But I won’t. Not for free, anyway. And here’s the reason: this is my work, and this is my product. Like any service provider or shop owner, I don’t give my service or product away unless it is for a charitable purpose.

First of all, if the piece is not in public domain, making a recording of it is not legal and I’d be taking a big risk. If I know you personally, I would probably trust that you are not going to start passing it out to all your friends. But, it is not something I would be able to make commercially available without incurring many fees due to royalties and the like which I would owe. It automatically becomes a custom (and risky) job.

Even if a piece is in public domain, asking for a personal copy of an accompaniment that is not commercially available is a custom job. If I want to make an accompaniment track of a relatively popular piece of music and put it up for sale for digital download, I can charge less because I can expect more people to purchase it. But I have to charge a custom price for recording an uncommon piece of music that is for a single individual’s use.

The work I do is expensive; there’s no way around it. I may be an excellent sight-reader and learn music quickly, but that’s because I have been playing the piano for forty years. I still need to practice pieces to ensure I play them 100% accurately and smoothly. I can’t just “sit down and record while I practice” and expect it to come out good. At minimum, I would need a page turner or I would need to go back and edit a recording to eliminate those pauses, requiring more of my time. If you are depending on my recording for your own success, then I need to make it excellent, without idiosyncrasies that could trip up a performer .

I sometimes do recordings for the organizations that hire me, if it is part of my contract. But when it comes to individuals or time outside my contract, I have to charge. The ease of digital recording nowadays does not eliminate the need to pay for it.

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