In this era of COVID-19, during which there are almost no concerts, many musicians and indeed large musical institutions are placing content for free on the internet. Barring a massive rethinking of the economy and society, I definitely agree that musicians should be paid — and are reasonably expecting to be paid — to the same degree as any other highly trained professional. Musicians as a rule should not give away anything for free to the general public, excepting for a charitable cause or event.
Nevertheless, I made the decision to give away some of my own work for free, and thought it might be worth sharing why.
First of all, ideally, sharing what one has is a great gift. In an ideal society, where the basic needs of every human would be guaranteed, I think sharing music, art, and really almost every kind of capital at the highest level would be a wonderful thing. We are admittedly very far from that.
I love performing on the bassoon. I love making beautiful sounds, and I love sharing those with the audience. Right now, I cannot do that in person; there are no concerts, and there won’t be for months to come. The great joy I earn for myself by playing concerts is denied by circumstances; and that really hurts, as I have come to count on it.
Another factor is that concerts provide motivation to practice. To maintain a minimum professional level of performance, I have to practice a lot; we all do. For me, it is very difficult to find motivation in practicing only for myself without any concerts on the horizon, as that provides so much less joy than playing for others.
Therefore, I made the decision, as many others did, to make recordings and provide them for free to the public. First of all, working up music to the quality I demand of myself in order to make a recording gives me strong motivation to practice. Second, while I don’t reach nearly the size of audience I would in live concerts, the positive reactions I receive help me get back a little of that joy I am missing.
And last, but definitely not least, I do indeed see this as valid charitable work. We are all suffering in this pandemic. I need music myself and am as grateful as anyone for the charity shown by others in providing some limited, free content. Giving away at least a small amount of my own work to the world seems like the least I can do.
I will say this: To anyone who can afford to pay for music, you should continue doing so, by donations, by commissioning new compositions, recordings or videos, by purchasing recordings, or by some other means I haven’t thought of. Paying someone else to make art for you is an amazing thing! Even small sums can make a gigantic difference to ensure there will be music in the future.
• Ryan M. Hare is the Yakima Symphony Orchestra principal bassoon. Learn more about the symphony at www.ysomusic.org.