Feb 11, 2012

Whose music is it anyway?

Speaking of policies, when I was still taking kids to competition, I had very clear requirements for music.

I get to choose it.

Yes, I got arguments, but I nipped them in the bud with the ole economic hammer. If you use music from my library, no charge. If you insist on your own music, I must do the edit (okay, my musician husband must do the edit) at a charge of $35 to $50 depending on the complexity of the edit.

Everyone used our music (we have a library of several dozen, at all levels, due to the skating daughter).

Because our music was chosen by a grownup for the most part, and because of the superior editing, it was highly coveted. I know this because I would often walk into the rink and hear DD's music. I'd think, weird, I didn't think she was skating to that anymore. 

Lo and behold, it was someone else, whose coach or parent had snagged the CD and pirated it.

A reader emailed me about a similar situation, in which she worked long and hard to edit music, and discovered someone from her rink had copied it. She believes that the parents were charged an editing fee. She can prove it's hers, because she's got the original copy. She wrote asking what to do about it--talk to the Club president? the family involved? her coach? the other coach? She doesn't really care that the student is using the music, but is annoyed that she did all the work, and the coach charged the parents as though it was his.

Most rinks just have a basket of CDs on the counter; kids don't retrieve them after every practice. Some have everyone's music in MP3 files now. It's easy to pick up someone else's CD. If a CD is missing, the owner just thinks it's "lost" (of course, if your music is the one that's constantly being "lost" you start to get suspicious). But even if you religiously retrieve your music at the rink, it can be copied by the monitor right there in the booth, or uploaded to a player.  It can be picked up at any competition by anyone--it's usually just laying on a table (very few competitions make you sign for your music when you pick  it up.)

It violates professional courtesy to deliberately use a rink mate's music, let alone their edit, without their knowledge or permission, especially if both skaters are competing in the same level. Taking someone's property without their knowledge or permission (i.e. "borrowing" the CD to copy it) is theft. Period. And it's not like the injured party isn't going to notice. I still hear DD's cuts of Claire du Lune, Danse Macabre, and West Side Story, and the really distinctive blend of Take Five/A La Turk that was her Senior long,  at her old rink.

Sadly, while this is nasty and unprofessional, it isn't illegal. You cannot copyright, i.e. "own" an edit of someone else's music. (This came up at the Ice Rink of the Damned, when someone used their copy of the ice show music and the music guy went ballistic because "he owns that edit." Sorry, no. The royalty, if it's still under copyright, goes to the composer no matter what the edit is, via the rink's blanket license with ASCAP and BMI). And if it's public domain? Nobody "owns" it. To be upright, they should have asked the rink's permission. If the rink has a policy about not using show music for personal use, it should be in writing.)

As for competitive skating, well, if you're on Twitter, I'm the originator of the #bannedforeverlist. The top five offenders? Requiem for a Dream, Tosca, Carmen, and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber but especially Les Miz and Phantom.

The stupid thing is that all those people who are using DD's music? I would gladly have just given it to them if they'd asked.

How do you choose your music? Does your coach have veto power? Do you have a personal #bannedforeverlist?



28 comments:

  1. "The royalty, if it's still under copyright, goes to the composer no matter what the edit is"

    Most recordings are subject to contracts between the composer, publisher, recording studio, etc. which lead to a complicated legal situation. Probably the artists are not getting a very big share.

    There are hardly any public domain recordings because recordings of public domain scores can be copyrighted.

    Edited music could be copyright protected if it is substantially different from the original.

    But rather than worrying about the law, people should be busy picking out tasteful and original music. If someone ever starts that degree program in figure skating you have suggested, it should require music history and theory.

    And then there are the coaches that give all their students the same music.

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    1. The point is not how the legalities of copyright work. The point is that someone editing any work, whether copyrighted or not, does not somehow "own" that edit. It's not a concept that exists legally.

      However, it does exist morally. If you take someone else's edit without their permission, the issue is not that they own the music, but that they did the work without an acknowledgement. And like I said, most people are happy to share music they are no longer using.

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    2. Legally, the edit may be your work product. Since you're an independent contractor, and you've contracted with the parent (or skater) for the music, you may retain rights (not copyright) to the edit. If the parent wants to keep the edit as theirs exclusively, you can charge them a surcharge.
      IANAL. YMMV
      The coaches who use your edit and charge for it are committing some kind of fraud against their client. If I found my coach was doing that to me, I'd be on the look out for a new coach. One small fraud leads to another.

      Fortunately, this doesn't apply to compulsory dance.

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    3. Excellent clarification. Thank you.

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  2. I have always picked my own music, but I did my first program at age 14 so I've always been old enough to have a say. The first time, my coach edited my music. The second, my dad did it. Since then, I have picked and edited my own music using Audacity. I have had many years of musical training so I'm usually able to tell what sounds good and what doesn't. I usually have someone unfamiliar with the music listen to it before I put it onto a CD; if they can't tell where the cuts are, I know I've done a good job.

    I pick obscure music on purpose to be different; I hate skating to songs everyone else has done. My coach usually loves what I have picked out, although he occasionally makes suggestions pertaining to my edit (i.e. amplify the first 10 seconds, cut out some of the slow part, make the ending smoother, etc.). If he had a problem with a song I would probably change it, but that has never happened.

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    1. I've often had kids choose their music, but I retain veto power because younger kids in particular seem to have two criteria-- it's the most popular piece in their set (think "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, then play it 14 times in the same competition), or it's wildly inappropriate for their age (think "Single Ladies for an 8 year old).

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  3. I've only had 3 programs, and I picked all the music in conjunction with my coach. The first one she cut for me. The 2nd one was cut by someone she referred me to (he's awesome) because she'd decided to concentrate her time on coaching and not doing stuff like that.

    The 3rd one was a piece that was perfect (including length!) and didn't need cutting at all.

    For my next one I'll probably have the same guy cut it as did my 2nd one.

    I don't know why you would require that all your music be cut by you. I can understand the desire for quality (coach should have veto power) but that seems a bit much.

    As for the list of never again... wow, it's pretty long. Carmen. Tosca. Disney. And though I know they now allow lyrics for some lower level freeskates, I still don't like it.

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    1. We had so many issues with terrible edits, incorrect lengths, inappropriate music etc that I put my foot down. And many families were happy, and understanding, about paying the fee.

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  4. I like my daughter's coach's attitude - " have her pick her own music and have it be something she loves. This is supposed to be fun and its supposed to be about her" Probably not the best plan if you are preparing for nationals, but for basic skill comps, it should be about what the kid wants and likes, even if its defying gravity, again.

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  5. Skating costs too much to just be about skating. I look at it as also being music education. My daughter listens to a variety of music and Classic Music for Kids (a podcast/radio show) for ideas. We talk about - if I was skating this, I would do x here. Or... this music makes me feel... Or if she loves a piece she learns if she likes other music from the same composer. When she has a list I send it to her coach who then makes more suggestions and finally cuts it. I am glad her coach is so flexible! She seems to enjoy the process as well. ~Meg

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  6. My coach picked my music when I was about 10 and then once I got into competing I always picked out my music. I was dismayed when people would ask for it or want to exactly copy it. Of course at this time it was more difficult to copy with cassette tapes and I would never give anyone my music to copy. It would have made me furious to hear my exact program and it did surprise me that someone would even want it. I guess it is just laziness, but I always took great pains to put together the perfect unique program. I understand the need to have veto power over little kids with inappropriate choices and bad edits, but thankfully no one ever tried to veto my choices because I would not have listened. It seems a little draconian to make the blanket statement even though in some instances it is necessary

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  7. My daughter started skating in group numbers in shows and that's how we fell into competing. Her coach does not choreograph, so we had the choreographer from the group numbers choose the music and she had someone cut it. It was fine for the first one (we were clearly using someone's "old" music, we even bought her old costume!) but when she was working on the second program, we chose the piece and gave it to the choreographer's friend to cut so we were VERY surprised when we heard someone else at the rink with the same exact edit. The choreographer's "friend" decided it was better to be paid twice for his work, than once... That was the last time we let that choreographer be responsible for the music. These days the choice of music is made between DD and her coach, with input from the current choreographer who cuts the music herself. I did try cutting music myself for awhile but ultimately, the coach and the choreographer really know what kinds of music the program needs - the correct mix of slow and fast, the right sort of music for the footwork, a build through the program... But I DO think it's important that the skater loves the piece... The season can seem VERY long if you don't like your music.

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  8. Sometimes I wish DD's coach would choose the music! It can be a difficult process, but the coach works with us to find something that my 10 year old loves, suits DD's skating, and isn't overused. Coach obviously has veto power--I can't imagine choosing something she didn't like.

    Except for the very first program, I've always cut the music. As a musician (DD is too), we hate badly cut music. I'm always open to suggestions or direction from the coach, but so far she's liked everything. I would definitely be annoyed if anyone used one of my cuts without asking, but it hasn't happened yet. Most skaters seem to want to use the same old stuff anyway. I don't think I'd ban anything for life, but a few years break from some pieces would be nice.

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  9. Hey, excellent post. Back when my daughter was competing, she selected the music along with her coach: it was a joint decision based upon novelty, style, and timings to the moves in her program. Then her coach would work with a musician friend who was a capable editor.

    The onus for music ethics should be on the coach. It sure would be nice if there were an accrediting Figure Skating Coach Association to enforce these things, LOL.

    Jeff (LA Skatedad)

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    1. Jeff, omg, laughing so hard.

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  10. My daughter's coach selected her music and handed us the CD. We pay for two copies of the CD - about $50-60 at our rink. When I loaded it to my car stereo to listen to on the way home, I could see the track listing as DD's name slash random other kid's old.

    I have no issue with recycling a piece (we're talking about a 1:30 program at the lowest competitive level), but I wonder how many parents will be charged for the same edit over the years.

    Is this typical cost? I can't tell how much is an editing charge and how much is the charge for burning the CD's.

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    1. $50-$60 does not seem out of line for a new edit, depending on the complexity. Charging more than the cost of the CD for a re-use is outrageous. I do not charge my students if they use music from my library, or music, like Gordon's, that does not need editing.

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    2. The guy I use charges $60, but as far as I know/can tell he doesn't reuse anything. He also provides two CDs with really nice artwork :-).

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  11. The music that my daughter skates to is a joint decision between her and her coach. My daughter is 6 so for most of her music her coach has suggested it and my daughter has liked it. When my daughter wanted a Hannah Montana song, they went through the album together and picked a song. I have a thought on what I would like to see her skate to for her next music but give the coach 100% veto power.

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  12. My current coach gave me a CD of five songs he liked for me. I picked one, my husband cut it. This reminds me, however, that I left my music at the rink on Saturday. oops.

    My previous coaches left all music choices up to me. One would cut it for $50, but my husband does a great job on Audacity, and it took him less than 20 minutes, so glad I saved the money.

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  13. DS is not allowed to skate to anything that is "overused" or too familiar. This frustrates him at times (he'd really love to skate to Robin Hood or Carmen sometime), but really, it is a great policy because he (and other kids from his coach) are unique and interesting to watch.

    It's a long process, we hit You Tube and iTunes and try to find interesting songs. He usually knows what type of song he wants to do, a Latin or Spanish flavor or a Show Tune or a Sound Track.

    When he finds something he takes it in to his coach and she listens to it and says yea or nay. It has gotten easier over the years because his abilities have grown, and he knows not to ask about any song that "everyone" is using this year or in years past. She once vetoed Star Wars because he was too old for it, some other great Western song because it was too fast for him.

    I cut the music, though DS could do it too. I just like to do it, and he really doesn't have much time. We talk about what parts he wants and what he doesn't and go from there.

    Coach usually fits the choreography to the music and we haven't had to change it once it's done, but I could do it if needed. Once had to take out a part of a song because it was annoying his primary coach (too much rock guitars). :)

    We use Garage Band. He is Novice Level.

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    1. I used Garage Band for years and finally shelled out the money to get Adobe Audition. SO worth it. Much easier to use than Garageband. :)

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  14. I've had two programs, one I picked the music, the other coach picked and made sure I was happy with it. She's edited both without charging me (I offered to pay for her time, but she said it's part of her job). My first program was Baker Street and it's quite unusual choice, but I loved it, and it's something I always knew I wanted to skate to. My second was a piece I didn't know, but I do like it, and I really like the choereography that my coach has done for it :-)

    I hate when Skater A is given the exact same cut of music that Skater B JUST finished with last week, and Skater B has the cut Skater C had until yesterday.

    I'm not saying coaches need to have an entirely new music choice for every beginner level skater. But have enough that you can wait a year or two before recycling it!

    I've not known my coach to recycle music, all her skaters are different, we all have our own tastes, style and ability, and she's fab at picking music that suits us :-)

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  15. I've had years of musical training and I cut music for my sorority when they did dance contests for four years so I've become really good at cutting my own music. I also am able to find music that will challenge me but is also appropriate for my level. I usually give my coach a cd of 3-4 songs I'd love to skate to and have her choose based on how she sees the choreography panning out and if the music fits my level. When she learned I know how to cut music (and cut it well if I do say so myself) she had me start cutting the music for her other students. She always offers to pay, but instead she and I exchange extra help outside of my weekly lesson for music edits. It's a fair deal in my opinion because she helps me a lot and takes time to help me correct things. The skating director at my rink will be having me cut his music as well now (he was shocked that I knew how to cut music... apparently it's not an easy skill?) and a few other coaches have me cut their music as well. For me it's fun and rewarding to have a successful music cut so it's all worthwhile. :)

    I'm constantly doing music cuts in my head though, too, so it's sort of a fun obsession for me. :)

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  16. Xan

    Sorry to come to this late...would you consider letting us know which music you have cuts of so that if we want to use it we could buy it from you remotely? I'm sure it would be really useful to skaters from other rinks (countries) to have a source of good music! Also are you willing to cut music for us?

    Cheers

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    1. What an idea! Why don't I think of these things. I'll figure out a way to put them on the blog. I don't actually cut the music--DH does it (he's really good at it, being a pro musician and all!), but I'm sure he'd be happy to!

      On the to-do list! You're brilliant!

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