2008 November at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
  • New stuff for Fall 2014!
  • UTWE Tour : Shenzhen
  • Wine-Dark Sea – the video
  • Wine-Dark Sea – recording and score
  • “Wine-Dark Sea” – the program note
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  • Design: The Austin House, part 1
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  • November 26, 2008

    More House Work

    I’m selling my old TV.  If you live in Austin and are looking for a 60″ set, let me know.  The Craigslist posting is here.

    I’m also selling a full set of speakers — fronts, center, surrounds, and their stands. Info on that will be coming soon. (Those can be shipped; the TV, not so much.)

    What’s happening at MackeyHouse?  Why are we replacing stuff?  Well, we’re finally implementing AEJ’s interior design for the family room! Here’s how it looked about 10 days ago.

    Since then, we’ve changed that overhead light, finally installing the huge 30-arm black crystal chandelier I wrote about ages ago… (This is just a preview; it’s not quite this minimal.  I will say that wiring a 30-arm chandelier is a bitch.)

    … and we’re in the process of re-framing and re-facing the fireplace. It’s a totally new shape now, and we’re tiling it in marble and black glass. Totally pimpin’.

    The room is going to be rock-n-roll when it’s done. A big ol’ white box filled with shiny black things with just a touch of China.  The design goal for the room is “Elvis Goes to China.”  Imagine an Elvis movie in 1969, where Elvis goes to China, probably to drive racing boats and defeat communism.  Maybe it’s called, like, “Speedboat Shanghai.”  This would be Elvis’s “Hi-Fi” room, you know, where he takes the ladies to listen to music after winning the big race.  Or something.

    Stay tuned!


    November 15, 2008

    Triple Digits!

    Today, I sold the 100th copy of “Undertow.” This is completely crazy to me. The piece just premiered in May. I don’t quite understand how 100 copies moved so fast. 100 copies, I know, is not a huge number (Whitacre sold something like 500 copies of “Lux Aurumque” in the first month it was available), but to me, 100 copies is an astronomical amount. By comparison, I think Redline Tango has had something approaching 200 performances — and it’s almost five years old.

    In other good news, I finished and delivered the materials (score & parts) for “Asphalt Cocktail” last night. Man alive, what a relief. Next up is a piece for Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA. I already know what I want to do with the piece, so I’m excited to get to work on it.  I do need a short break first, though, so…

    This afternoon, we’re going with Steve and Verena to the outlet mall in San Marcos to celebrate. Verena finished her DMA comps yesterday, so it’s relief all around.

    While we’re there, maybe I’ll look for a new toy for Loki. Loki’s favorite toy right now is his laser pointer. He’ll actually find it and carry it to us, dropping it at our feet when he wants to play.  (I’m kind of impressed that a cat has figured out that the red dot he’s chasing around the room is coming from this little plastic stick.)  Sometimes he chases the laser, but sometimes he just likes watching it, like it’s some sort of show. Turn on your heartlight, Mr. Kitty.


    November 14, 2008

    People Suck

    For the fourth time this fall, I caught an organization using my music without a license.  So far, that’s two dance companies, and two high school marching bands. Please excuse me while I vent…

    For those who choose not to follow the ins-and-outs of copyright law (and man alive, I don’t blame you; it all kind of makes me nauseated), when an organization uses a piece of music for something, a license has to be obtained. When a college band performs a piece, they pay a license fee to ASCAP, and ASCAP pays the license fee to the composer and publisher. Same goes for an orchestra. When a bar plays music from a sound system, the bar has to obtain an ASCAP license. (The thinking goes that the bar wouldn’t be playing music if it wasn’t something that added to the value of the business, thus the creator of that music should be compensated.) ASCAP makes those things simple, but it doesn’t cover all kinds of music licensing. It doesn’t cover arranging licenses, or “Grand Rights” licenses.  All of these license fees — ASCAP, Grand Rights, sync (for video use), mechanical (for CDs), web streaming — are paid to the publisher.  They’re small individually, but they add up, and together, they’re a big reason why I can do this for a living, rather than having a real job.

    An arranging license is just that. When somebody wants to arrange, say, “You Light Up My Life” for their marching band show, they have to obtain an arranging license. This license grants them permission to create a derivative work — a new work based on the original source material by, in this case, Joseph Brooks. (Did you know Debby Boone only sang “You Light Up My Life” — she didn’t write it? I didn’t either, until I foolishly used that as my example, then had to go Googling and reading completely useless facts about the song. Things like, “Boone performed this at the Oscars with a group of children using sign language to translate the lyrics. Everyone thought the kids were deaf, but they weren’t.” Now I know — and so do you!)

    Anyway, when a marching band uses a song in their show, they have to get permission, and typically a license fee is paid to the publisher of the piece. (It’s the publisher who owns the copyright, not the composer, unless the composer is self-published, like I am, and most of my friends are.) I’ve found that marching bands generally do the right thing and obtain permission prior to using one of my pieces in their show. Almost everybody is on the up-and-up (and a tip-of-the-hat to you guys). But sometimes people try to get sneaky.

    How do I find out, since I don’t go to many marching competitions? Lots of ways. Google is a pretty good tool. I also read lots of marching band forums, looking for mentions of my music.  (I also read them for fun – I admit it.)  Several of my pieces are on YouTube, and I found one infringement by reading the comments on one piece and seeing, “my band is marching to this song this fall!” Then I contacted the student, asked where they went to school, saw that the school had no license, and: busted.

    One of my friends goes to a lot of marching shows, and he’ll often text me and tell me that X school is performing some piece of mine on the field. Sometimes it’s because it’s credited (which usually means it’s licensed), but recently, he was at a show, heard a piece of mine, didn’t see it credited, and asked me if I’d licensed it to this school, because it wasn’t credited anywhere. He just recognized it as my piece. It turned out that it wasn’t licensed. (Because it was neither licensed nor credited, the students in the band never even knew they were playing one of my pieces.) After much hassle, stress, and sending of angry emails, it’s licensed.

    Then there are the dance companies. They need what’s called a “Grand Rights” license, meaning a performance license for a medium that ASCAP doesn’t cover. In one case, I got an email from the sound tech of a dance company in Holland of all places, saying how much he liked a piece of mine that his company was using. It was a very nice email, but they didn’t have a license — and it turned out that they had scheduled 45 performances.

    My favorite was a dance company in NYC that used “Breakdown Tango” (the original source piece for Redline Tango). A dancer for Robert Battle, the choreographer for whom I’d written the piece, was in the audience for a performance by some random modern dance company and heard Robert’s score with new choreography. In that case, the company hadn’t even credited me as the composer. It said, “Music by Antares.” Antares is the performing ensemble; they didn’t write it. That’s like saying, “Music by the Cleveland Orchestra.” I’m willing to bet if you asked the Cleveland Orchestra to write a piece for you, you’d be disappointed with the result.

    Then there was the US Synchronized Swim Team, who performed “Damn” at the Olympics in 2004 — and I found out about it the day before the Olympics. That would have been legal — there’s some weird exemption for athletic competition — but they’d edited the hell out of the recording, creating a “derivative work,” and thus requiring, essentially, an arranging license. It’s confusing, and it’s why copyright attorneys exist.

    So far I’ve been lucky that when caught, everybody has obtained a retroactive license. I really don’t want to be “that guy who sues schools.” There are already a few composers like that out there, and I don’t blame them, but it doesn’t make you very popular. (And who doesn’t want to be popular?) In the case of the dance company in NYC, I think they were just clueless, but with these high school marching bands, I’m pretty sure they know that they need to license this stuff.  If they ask in advance, I almost always grant permission, and the fee isn’t that high.  When they’re caught after-the-fact, though, the license fee is much higher. Why risk it? (That’s another one that gets me — when I catch them infringing the copyright, and I send them a license, some people try to negotiate the license fee. You can’t negotiate the license fee if you already performed it. It’s like if I went to a store and stole a fancy Christmas sweater, and they caught me, and they were like, “hey, that sweater is $48,” and I was like, “I’ll give ya $15.”  Only my music may be tackier than that sweater.)

    Those are just the infringements that I know about this fall. With each one, when I learned of it, I felt physically sick. Yes, part of me feels like, “oh, I’ll make them sorry” — that’s the part of me that was picked on in high school, which makes me at least slightly Napoleonic now that it’s unlikely anybody is going to give me a wedgie if I complain. A bigger part of me, though, just feels like somebody stole my cat.

    That’s enough complaining for today. I’m going to go pet Mr. Kitty. (That is not a euphemism.)


    November 11, 2008

    Asphalt Cocktail: Drunken Relief

    I finished the final draft score of “Asphalt Cocktail” today.  Now I just need to generate the parts, which is usually a pain in the asphalt.  (HA!  I may be a little loopy…)

    If you’re curious to see the score, you can check out the PDF on the newly-added “Asphalt Cocktail” page.

    If you’re a horn, euphonium, or trumpet player, let me know how those parts look. There are some trumpet leaps that I haven’t tried before, the euphonium part is awfully high (and I’m worried it’s too high), and there are some nasty horn sounds that I’m hoping are possible (very low, brassy flutter-tongued stuff).

    I feel pretty good about the piece, but I’m way too close to really be able to tell anything about it anymore. The percussion section basically plays rock percussion for six minutes. The highlight, if it works the way I hope, is on page 37, where the groove finally settles into a trashy rock 4/4, complete with back-beats accentuated by the slamming of metal-filled steel trash cans into the floor. (A shout-out to Scott Harris at Stephen F. Austin State University for showing me that.) The trash can is small (only about 12″ tall), and it’s picked up and slammed by the lid handles (with the lids taped on like crazy), so it’s a controlled slam that should sound a little like an amplified set of chains.

    It’s kind of like the Mahler Hammer, but more white trash.


    November 8, 2008

    The Men in Jackets

    AEJ and I went to the UT – Baylor football game this afternoon here in Austin. Like a few weeks ago in Columbus, I was at the game as a guest of the band. (This is not a rough life.)

    The man to thank for the tickets today: Professor Jerry Junkin, Director of Bands at UT Austin. Yes, he always looks this cool.

    Junkin does it all.

    … father…

    … and golf cart chauffeur.

    It’s a lot of fun going to these games. Always lots to see — like the pre-game fly-over.

    And tubas.

    A lot of people don’t appreciate the burden of being a tuba player.  These are some serious guys.  The burdens of tuba are, indeed, heavy.

    Where do I get a “TUBA!” baseball hat?! Somebody? Come on, Christmas is coming!

    “Psst… You guys wanna buy some gasoline?”

    Here’s the UT mascot. What’s his name? It seems like I should know his name if I’m going to be a real UT fan.

    Some of the conductors unintentionally reenact the last scene of Oceans 11.

    The Scarlett Letter was nothing. Commit adultery in Waco, and this is your punishment.

    I didn’t have sideline access for this game (like I said, my life is really rough), but we had a great vantage point to take pictures of the guys conducting the marching band in the stands. Here’s Damon Talley, posing for his upcoming album cover, “Jazz Cats.”

    Rob Carnochan’s album cover is a bit more introspective.

    Cormac Cannon monitors band security during the game. Whenever they spot Junkin approaching, it’s always “Bertha is On Foot. I repeat, Bertha is On Foot.”

    Scott Hanna doesn’t take any shit from the clarinets. “Where does the music come from? It’d better F-ING come from RIGHT F-ING HERE.”

    I feel like this one should be the cover of an instructional video — something only available on VHS. “Do Re Mi Yi Haw: Teaching the Fundamentals of Texas Music.”

    Belt buckle not included.

    Oh — there was a football game, too. Well, of sorts. It was tied at one point, but when we left, I think it was 45-14.

    Victory is sweet.  Hanna gloats.

    It was a good time.  Hook ’em!