Q&A: Philip Glass On The Economics of Art And Music

"Make a note!" Glass in an old, rare endorsement for...Cutty Sark?
Every day this month, in conjunction with our Feb. 1 cover story "Philip Glass, An East Village Voice," Sound of the City will post excepts of interviews with Glass and his collaborators, as well as reviews of several concerts celebrating his 75th birthday.

In this segment of our interview, we discuss the intersection of economics, art and music. As we noted in our cover story, Glass started his recording company with a $1,000 loan from the Hebrew Loan Society. The landscape for such sources of capital has changed drastically since Glass first arrived in the city, and the reality of digital downloads (something Glass has largely accepted) has dried up many sources of revenue.

So how else is the artist to get paid for their work—especially in New York City? Glass says this if his music is used commercially:

...I expect them to honor the commercial conventions, whatever they are. We've lost a lot of ground with that, with free downloads and all of what's happening. My feeling about that is, when it comes to intellectual property, I am my own publisher, I own all of my publishing. I'm very careful about that. On the other hand, I am also trying be on the realistic side with a fait accompli—which is that the music is out there.

My ten-year-old, who likes to make little videos on his laptop wanted some music for one, and said, "Dad, can I go on the internet and get your music?" And I said, "Sure you can." He came back about 20 minutes later and said, "Dad, I just downloaded your whole catalogue." [Laughs]

He's ten years old. He's ten years old! I said, "Really? What did that cost you?" He said, "It's free!" And what can I say? There's a, that conversation is never going to happen, about what we're going to do about it already, because it already happened.

Now, what we have to do, and this is a whole different conversation and an interesting one, is how are the arts going to be able to take care of the creators of the work? How is that going to happen? It's not been completely settled yet. And yet if we're going to have a vital—if America is going to maintain its position as a real site of creativity with the arts, we're going to have to figure that out. It may be in your lifetime, but it might not be in mine. But you can't fight it—it's happened!

So, if they hear my music on NBC on a basketball game, then I want to make sure the commercial people who use it have to pay for it, and they do. That much we can take care of. And we have performances, and we still play. The marketplace has changed tremendously, as you know. It's changed for journalists, too. It's changed for everybody, and we're all trying to play catch up right now.

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