You don’t feel love like you used to… Why @urthboy is wrong about classical music funding #ausmusic #auspol

Over on the Twitters, the Herd’s Urthboy wrote:

This is the music industry’s version of middle class welfare [Source]

Apparently, the Government has given $7.25 million dollars since 2004 (that is, an average of $906,250 per year over 8 years; a bit less if the calculation includes 2012) to Melba Recordings.  Melba Recordings:

was established to promote Australia’s finest classical musicians and artists in the national and international music world.

The appointed role of the foundation is to help the best contemporary Australian musicians, the Nellie Melbas and Joan Sutherlands of today, develop a profile and continue to build musical careers on an international stage.

The Melba Foundation was established in 2001, with founding benefactor Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and patrons Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge.

The Melba Foundation funds the fine music label, Melba Recordings, to produce and distribute recordings that have earned accolades around the world.Highly regarded music producer, Maria Vandamme, is CEO of Melba Foundation and managing director of Melba Recordings.

During its first ten years Melba Recordings has supported and recorded several established Australian artists – including the conductors Richard Bonynge and Simone Young, and singers Cheryl Barker and Stuart Skelton – as well as an increasing number of emerging talents like tenor Steve Davislim, violinist Ray Chen, cellists Pei-Jee and Pei-San Ng, and many others. [Source]

Less than a million dollars a year to promote Australian classical musicians?  How on Earth could anybody think this was middle class welfare?  Nevertheless, Urthboy is incensed:

@clothedvillainy@jamesbrann Nothing against classical music. All about the grossly imbalanced distribution of arts budget. [Source]

@clothedvillainy this is about investing in creative, original talent. i’ll say it again, we like your music. this is about fairness. [Source]

So Urthboy’s complaint is that there is an imbalanced distribution of the arts budget because less than $1m per year going to support Australian classical musicians is not investing in creative, original talent.  Sucks to be you, Australian classical musicians and your uncreative unoriginal talent.

Let’s be incredibly clear here.  I can create hip hop music in my bedroom.  I get a machine and a computer and I can pump something out fairly cheaply.  If I want to produce an album of orchestral music, I’m going to need an orchestra.  That means instruments and people to play them.

Classical music in Australia is under severe threat because the invisible hand of the market doesn’t support it.  It is expensive and the audience is tiny.  At the same time, we feel that it is culturally important to provide outlets for classical musicians.  Melba Records plays a role in commercialising classical music in an environment where the industry is unsustainable.  The sort of record sales classical music gets in comparison to the sort of sales Australian hip hop gets is laughably small.  If we don’t want the industry to die, it needs to be supported.

So when Urthboy uses the word ‘fair’, he means ‘Hip hop should get more of the pie even though hip hop doesn’t cost as much to produce’.  Or ‘Even though hip hop will outsell classical music to the point where the classical music sales are statistically insignificant, we want more taxpayer funds.’  What he doesn’t mean is ‘fair’.

In the universe next door UrthboyPrime is arguing that there should be a fairer distribution of insulin because the government isn’t giving it to non-diabetics.  In the universe across the street, MirrorUrthboy is arguing that subsidised ritalin for ADHD kids is middle class welfare for parents with bratty kids and that there should be a fairer distribution of ADHD subsidies.

In other words, Urthboy’s ‘fair’ has no correlation to the ordinary understanding of the word ‘need’.  When he says classical musicians are unoriginal and uncreative  (by virtue of investment in them being at odds with investing in ‘creative, original talent’), he is saying that, regardless of need, other musicians are entitled to classical music’s slice of the tiny pie.

The part that should have tipped off every right-thinking person that something was amiss with Urthboy’s comments were the lack of details about the total funds distributed by the Australia Council:

The Australia Council supports Australian music-making through the Music Board, Major Performing Arts Board, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, Community Partnerships and Market Development sections. In 2010 –11, we invested $12.3 million in Australian music-making (excluding orchestras and opera), of which $5.7 million was distributed via the Music Board. This support took the form of grants to individual artists and groups, financial and operational support to music organisations, market and audience development initiatives and strategic initiatives to build capacity across the sector. [Source]

What’s that?  $12.3 million goes to music, excluding orchestras and opera?  Whatty what?  It might be my crazy maths intuition, but isn’t $12.3 larger than less than $1?  I’m pretty sure it is.

So that leaves us in an awkward position assessing Urthboy’s outburst.  Is it anti-elitist?  Is this a fair use of the phrase ‘class warfare’?  What sort of reasoning goes through a person’s head when the group with the majority of the funding looks at the smaller distribution of another and says: ‘It’s unfair that they get so much!’?

How Urthboy can be jealous of the pittance that goes to classical music beggars belief.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

One thought on “You don’t feel love like you used to… Why @urthboy is wrong about classical music funding #ausmusic #auspol”

  1. Everyone is entitled to everything that anybody else has, obviously.

    I mean, I shouldn’t have to practice for 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of an instrument (and that’s just mastery, not virtuosity) because I’m entitled to be brilliant no matter how little practice I actually do.

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