General Question

submariner's avatar

Did Bach get royalties?

Asked by submariner (4160points) January 20th, 2011

Would it be correct to say that J.S. Bach made his living from patrons or from a salary, and did not get paid royalties for his compositions?

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29 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

No royalties. There was no royalty system in place at the time. Composers were supported by patrons, by compensation from works composed on commission: Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor was a commissioned work, for example, (but he died before it was finished), and I believe they received at least some compensation upon the sale of a copy or copies of their compositions. Hopefully someone who knows more about this than I can answer more fully, but no, no royalties. I would think much of how these composers managed to support themselves depended on the period and the composer.

Austinlad's avatar

Not then—no royalty system—but if he were alive today, he’d surely be entitled to some kind of bachpay..

john65pennington's avatar

Honestly, who would know the answer to this question?

GracieT's avatar

@Austinlad, that was very bad. (rolls eyes!) But also extremely funny! :o)

Austinlad's avatar

Thanks, @GracieT! I kinda giggled at it, myself.

marinelife's avatar

@Austinlad Groan! Good one.

Austinlad's avatar

Thanks, @Marinelife. I groaned at myself.

theichibun's avatar

Musicians back then got paid to write the piece and for performances. A lot also got money as teachers.

submariner's avatar

Thanks, all. You’ve confirmed what I thought. Kind of makes one wonder about the usual rationale for copyright, doesn’t it? (At least as it applies to music.)

SavoirFaire's avatar

@john65pennington Any decent music historian would know. Or any music student who payed even a tiny bit of attention in music history class. Plus anyone who knows how and when the royalty system came about. This is not an era lost to the mists of time.

lillycoyote's avatar

@john65pennington The answer to this question is a matter of historical record.

@submariner And no, it does not make me wonder about the usual rationale for copyrights. Not everyone was a Bach. Not then and not now. Why shouldn’t people reap the fruits of their labors and talents? Bus drivers and factory workers are expected to be paid for what they do, why shouldn’t artists, musicians, writers and inventors be compensated fairly for what they do? Copyrights and intellectual property laws ensure that.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lillycoyote Your original answer is correct as far as I understand it. Composers sometimes received money for the rights to publish their music, but not royalties.

@submariner The rationale for copyright laws has always been to promote distribution. People are wary of making things public when they can be stolen right out from under them. When the patronage system died, musicians needed to find other ways to thrive. Extending copyright law to music was part of that. It may be unfortunate that the term of copyright can now be extended far beyond the death of the composer, but that is a separate issue.

lillycoyote's avatar

@SavoirFaire It should be made clear also that it is not necessarily the music, the score itself that remains under copyright “far beyond death” of the composer but a particular arrangement or performance of that piece of music that is protected by copyright and/or subject to royalty payments. I’m not saying you, but many people don’t understand the difference. Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor itself may be in the public domain but any particular orchestra’s recorded performance of it or a particular publisher’s edition of the sheet music, for example, isn’t going to be in public domain.

submariner's avatar

I had thought that the rationale for copyright was the same a the rationale for patents, i.e., that it encouraged the creation of the works in the first place, rather than the distribution.

No one denies that artists should get paid. The question is how they should get paid (and maybe how much, and maybe also how many middlemen should get a piece of the action). But perhaps all that deserves a thread of its own.

lillycoyote's avatar

@submariner Copyrights aren’t just about distribution, or even primarily, about distribution. And about how and how much they get paid? Who exactly gets to decide that? Should we make laws limiting the compensation of CEOs of financial institutions, manufacturing companies, etc.? I think so, but a whole hell of a lot of people would disagree with me. We restrict how much money the record and film industry, for example, can make but not restrict the amount of money the auto industry and oil companies are allowed to make? How do you figure that? How do you justify that?

submariner's avatar

@lillycoyote I wasn’t talking about salary caps, or any explicit restrictions on pay. But if we were to, say, allow unrestricted copying of and sharing of music, that would take a big chunk out of some musicians’ incomes. That’s what I was alluding to when I said “how much”.

lillycoyote's avatar

@submariner I’m a little confused now. Are we on the same side here? Yes, if we were to allow “allow unrestricted copying of and sharing of music” that certainly “would take a big chunk out of some musicians’ incomes.” Out of all musicians incomes.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lillycoyote Yes, that is a good point about particular performances. I did know that, but it’s good to mention it here.

@submariner Things are created all the time, and nothing will stop it. While encouraging creativity is certainly part of it, the rationale was primarily about encouraging distribution. This isn’t to say that copyright itself is all about distribution—though distribution rights are central to copyright laws. But that is where a key part of the origin lies.

(Or so says the woman who taught one of the seminars I took on copyright law. However, I’m neither a lawyer nor a legal historian.)

lillycoyote's avatar

@SavoirFaire I’m not an attorney and certainly not an expert on copyrights and Constitutional law but according to Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution, the purpose of copyright is to: “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” That is, to promote science, creativity and invention; to promote knowledge. And, as I said, I am not an attorney and no expert on the constitution but the implication there, to me at least, is that the incentive is that people will be able to reap the rewards, at least for a while, of the fruits of their labor.

Ms. Loren, in this seems to imply that this is a misconception but I think she has an agenda, to be honest, or at least I disagree with her, perhaps ignorantly so, but I still disagree. I think that the implication in the copyright provision is very much about protecting “authors against those who would steal the fruits of their labor.” What other incentive does the provision provide to promote the creation and dissemination of the knowledge and the arts but by providing the artists, scientists and inventors some protection that allows them to make a living doing what they do?

And yes, people, human beings are incredibly creative and nothing will stop it, at least not entirely, but not being able to ever quit your day job or not being able to maybe even dream of quitting your day job will most certainly slow it down in my opinion.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lillycoyote I don’t understand your objection. Reaping the rewards of one’s labor requires distributing its fruits. That’s the point. Copyright encourages distribution by making it such that people do not hoard their ideas for fear of them being stolen. The exclusive rights cited in the U.S. Constitution, after all, are mostly distribution rights (including copying rights).

submariner's avatar

It seems we agree that people will create with or without copyright protection.

Thanks for the Loren link; I agree with her completely.

I also agree that competent musicians ought to be able to quit their day jobs and live off of their music-making alone. But (1) musicians made their living for centuries without the royalty system—they got paid to actually perform, or taught, or had salaries, (2) even today, many musicians make their living in those ways, and (3) anyway, the royalty system mostly rewards middlemen, not the artists themselves.

I don’t illegally download stuff myself. But I’m not too worried about that kind of thing. It’s the record companies that are threatened by it, not musicians. Musicians who are really good have more to gain from the exposure they get from the internet than they have to lose from downloading and file sharing. But they will have to get up in front of people and play to make a living, not just sit back and wait for royalties to flow in.

Technology giveth and technology taketh away. Technological innovation made the recording industry possible; new technology may kill it. But musicians will continue to compose and perform. (And teach, I hope—failure to fund musical education in schools worries me more than illegal downloading—but I digress.)

Now, the role of copyright in the efforts of novelists, filmmakers, cartoonists, and game designers—those may be different questions, though I think Loren’s argument applies to their cases too. But maybe we should stick to music on this thread.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@submariner With all due respect, you seem to be taking a very small percentage of the music industry as representative of the whole. You are also assuming that the state of the industry today is comparable to the state of the industry in the 18th century. Both of these things will mislead you.

Consider a professional composer writing what is sometimes called, despite the obvious oxymoron, “contemporary classical” music. Since his degree is in composition rather than performance, his opportunities to make money playing music are limited. Most play in some ensemble or another, but they rarely make their living off of it. He might have a job teaching at university, but he’ll get paid no more than half as much for lessons at a university as on the open market (and often must give up the right to teach privately). This is still an improvement, however, because it is unlikely that he would be able to make enough money teaching only private lessons. He also gets a salary, but it is often reduced on the grounds that he is bringing money in from the lessons. Finally, he will get money through ASCAP or BMI for each reported performance of his work.

These are all sources of money, but none of them are sufficient on their own. It is the combination that allows the professional composer to survive. Royalties are a sort of distributed version of the patronage system. Since we no longer have patrons for individual composers, we have royalties to make up the difference. Moreover, royalties are often paid to both the songwriter(s) and the publisher(s). It is only in a small percentage of cases that the royalties go entirely to middlemen (though they are the high-profile cases). Many low-profile musicians act as their own publisher, collecting all of the royalties.

Here is an article explaining a little bit about how the system works.

submariner's avatar

@SavoirFaire I don’t think I’m making those assumptions, though I certainly don’t know all the ins and outs of every corner of the music industry.

On the contrary, I’m trying to look at the “big picture” here, not a small sample, and I’m looking at the ramifications of 21st century technology, not 18th century conditions. You say that copyright is supposed to promote distribution—but it is clearly being used to suppress distribution. With the internet, there would be more distribution if copyright protection were weakened, not less. Heck, never mind the internet, this is true even of photocopy machines, CDs, even cassette tapes. These technologies have put distribution within reach of individual consumers, but the recording and publishing industries—the corporate profiteers, not the creators—have acted aggressively over the years to expand copyright monopoly power and suppress these new avenues of distribution.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a working musician, classical or otherwise, but I do know a bit about academe. As far as I know, music faculty who have tenure track jobs get a deal similar to other tenure track faculty, i.e., if they do satisfactory work in the areas of teaching, service, and production of original work, they get job security and a respectable salary, and likewise, music faculty who are adjuncts get the same sh!tty deal that adjuncts in other fields get.

By the way, I also support increased public funding for the arts. If cities can find the funds to pay for stadiums, they ought to be able to support their local symphony orchestra.

Thank you for the PRO link. It dovetailed neatly with this piece I recently came across in a local entertainment monthly, West Michigan Noise!. A certain Dwayne Hoover, in his regular column called “Rant—100% Rage”, offers an entry entitled “This crap we call ASCAP”. (Yes, it’s all a bit juvenile, but this fellow is a working musician in addition to being a columnist, so I think his views are relevant.) Here’s a summary:

Thinking of joining a [PRO] like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC [. . .] ? Before you cut that check, be sure you’re not sending it to a greedy, corporate tool factory that won’t pay you a dime.

[A brief explanation of how the system works follows. He acknowledges that it is a “sweet deal” for big-name acts like Metallica of Katy Perry.]

But let’s take a look at blanket licensing schemes and how they affect your band, as well as local venues and other businesses.

[He points out that ASCAP threats have led local venues to institute “no covers” policies and discontinue karaoke or open mic nights, and says that in 1996, ASCAP even threatened to sue the Girl Scouts for singing ASCAP-registered songs at their camps.]

[He enumerates how PRO has tried to broaden the definition of “public performance” to increase its reach: background music, music on hold, and (unsuccessfully) ringtones.]

[He notes the disparity between what the PROs collect from local music scenes and what they give back to it, and suggests that many lesser known bands get nothing from registering their music.]

[He does not say musicians should not register their music with a PRO, but encourages them to understand what kind of organizations they are, and encourages them to consider alternatives such as Creative Commons.]

As for me? Thanks, but no thanks, Corporate America. I prefer my music scene without your [...] greed [...] [(he uses a graphic metaphor to make his point here).]

Holy crap, now I’m editing some rock musician / journalist. Fluther is too much like work sometimes.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@submariner I am no longer a working musician, but I used to be. I am a classically trained composer and a member of BMI. I am also quite familiar with how academic musicians get paid, as I spent four years discussing the ins and outs of academic musicianship with my professors. My father, meanwhile, is a working musician (in a non-academic capacity) and has been since the age of 17. So I understand a bit about the industry from that side as well.

Perhaps Mr. Hoover’s assessment of ASCAP is accurate. I do not know, as I am not a member of that organization and I cannot find the full article (thus I can only go on what you’ve provided, which is not enough to fact check). All I can say is that BMI works in the way I have described. Indeed, it is a better deal for me than it is for big-name acts (though big-name acts still get more money in terms of absolute numbers because they generate more money).

While it sometimes looks like this is a case of millionaires fighting billionaires, many of these laws—unnecessary as they might be for those who have already become successful—do protect musicians at the lower levels. It protects them from record stores burning a copy of their albums and selling duplicates rather than the originals produced by the artist, for example, or from those who would use their recordings in lieu of actually hiring them.

As for copyright, it encourages distribution by helping to ensure that a creator’s work is not stolen once made public. So yes, it obviously must have the effect of suppressing illegal distribution of that work. That’s the trade-off. I think you may misunderstand me, however. I agree completely that the business types in the music industry have been foolish in their reactions to thinks like cassette tapes and the internet. I am also very supportive of musicians like Trent Reznor who willingly give their music away and live off of performance income (now that he’s made enough money to be able to do so for the foreseeable future).

The key word here, however, is “willingly.” Reznor is only able to do what he does because he owns the copyrights to his own music. If you look at artists who live the life you are advocating here, you will see that there problem is with the business executives and not with the laws. Thus it isn’t the royalty or copyright systems that you should be complaining about, but rather the corruption of the industry. And that, you may notice, is not something that either @lillycoyote or I have disputed. We have defended the rights of artists to make a living in the ways they see fit, not the rights of business men to lead lives of unscrupulousness.

lillycoyote's avatar

@submariner I can’t speak with any more eloquence, speak more to the truth, to facts or more persuasively than @SavoirFaire has. If you are not willing to listen to or be persuaded by @SavoirFaire‘s arguments then you will not be willing to listen to mine. You have not ever tried to make a living as a musician and I can’t see that could possibly have ever even known anyone who has actually tried or been able to make a living as a musician. The people who you see who have actually been able to do it, support themselves let alone actually support a family doing it are the best of the best. The rock stars, they are a minute percentage of musicians. The first chairs in the major orchestras are the kings and queens, anyone actually making a living playing a violin in an orchestra is prince or princess, tenured professors of Music at Universities? Counts and Countesses. Your average middle school or high school music teacher? Somebody who was good enough and caught enough of a break and is lucky enough to earn a living doing something he or she loves. For every musician who earns a living in music there are ten or twenty, maybe thirty talented people who simply gave up on the dream because it such a damn hard row to hoe; they have families to feed and support too. And god bless them. I come from a family of musicians, though I never really had the talent or discipline to follow … but those who dream of being writers, those who dream of being actors, those who dream of being doctors? When they don’t succeed a lot of them give up and move on, but I have never, ever seen a musician who failed to make a living at it ever give up music, ever.

And one thing I would like to ask you @submariner, you said:

“Now, the role of copyright in the efforts of novelists, filmmakers, cartoonists, and game designers—those may be different questions..”

Why might those, why do you feel those might be “different questions?” Why do you think that the creative work of novelist, filmmakers, cartoonists, game designers, etc. is different and might belong in a separate category than the work of musicians? Really, I would like to know.

mattbrowne's avatar

No, a regular salary.

lillycoyote's avatar

@mattbrowne Yes, back to Bach and the answer to the actual question. Yes, Bach earned salaries but even Bach had to scrounge to make a living and support his family, like most working musicians, and most musicians, as good as they might be, are not Bach.

submariner's avatar

Deadline pressure on other projects and eye fatigue have prevented me from responding sooner.

@lillycoyote First of all, there’s no need for personal attacks. If you really have the truth, you shouldn’t need to resort to such tactics. I do have close friends, acquaintances, and family members who are or have been or have tried to be working musicians, but that’s neither here nor there. You also underestimate the portion of the music industry that I’m looking at. I’m interested in all of it. The guy who has made a living playing in bars for 20 years looms larger in my thinking than the first chair of a major orchestra.

You asked whose side I’m on. That’s a counterproductive way of looking at things. I don’t see why this has to be a zero-sum game. But I will say that I agree with the Framers: the purpose of copyright protection is to encourage progress in the arts and sciences, not extend corporate monopoly power or provide a welfare system for one-hit wonders. I’m in favor of artists being able to make a living and I’m against a system that makes the little fish fight each other over crumbs while the big fish swallow them up. I hope that puts us on the same side.

I get what you mean by your analogy to nobility, but I’m not sure it’s the best comparison. Unlike hereditary nobility, musicians who make it do so on the basis of merit (real musicians, not pop stars). At least, that’s how it ought to work.

As why musicians are different from the other artists I mentioned—that’s simple. The others can’t realistically perform their works. A novelist can’t make a living reading his work to an audience, for example (is a classical composer more like a novelist than a singer-songwriter? I’m not sure about that…). Filmmakers have the added difference in that their art requires more complicated collaboration and more up-front financial backing. But I think the role of copyright in those other arts also deserves scrutiny. Certainly there are parallels. Prints are to painter what recordings are to musician (well, not exactly). As with music, technology is changing the way films are made, who makes them, and how profits are made from them.

@SavoirFaire That article I summarized is not online (that’s why I went to the trouble of summarizing it), but you can find the story about ASCAP vs. the Girl Scouts if you search. I’m less sure of what he says about karaoke and open mic—those are available seven nights a week in my small city, so the charges must not be too onerous.

It may be simply a matter of fixing what is broken in the current system rather than doing away with it, as you seem to suggest. But, if only as an intellectual exercise, I think it is useful to imagine alternatives to existing systems. My views on copyright are tied in with issues that go beyond intellectual property—technology and society, and big fish vs. little fish again—but I’ll have to save all that for another day.

mattbrowne's avatar

@lillycoyote – Thanks for the clarification.

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