Composer wins competition, gets billed for $19,000

Composer wins competition, gets billed for $19,000


norman lebrecht

February 07, 2017

The Russian composer Nikita Suhih, a musician at the Bolshoi Theatre, put in for a competition organised by the Australian label, Ablaze. The winner’s prize was to get his work recorded.

Nikita came top of a field of 27 international composers, he was told.

Then he was informed he would have to pay $19,000 ‘towards the cost of the recording’.

He is ever so slightly conflicted….

Well, what would you do?


  • Sixtus says:

    He’s lucky that the entry rules at the link provided didn’t require him to sign away beforehand any rights to his piece nor do they forbid him to use his winning the “prize” for publicity furthering his career. He can take his music and walk. Depending on the forces required he could probably get a CD made for much less. An online-only download would be cheaper still.

  • Bruce says:

    Oh, I see (having read the link). The prize is that the costs of recording are offered at a discount.

    “ABLAZE will extend to all winners a subsidized rate for the recording. This means that usual costs for final recorded music will be subsidized by ABLAZE so that we can offer to the winners a place on this disc at very competitive rates. This is ABLAZE’s commitment to new music and we are very excited to hear/see your submissions.”

    If the link provided was accurate at the time of submitting his piece, then it may just be a question of “always be sure to read the fine print.” If they failed to provide this information at first, then changed their story, then that’s dishonest (obviously).

    What would I do? Well, if I had that much money to spare, I’d decide if getting my piece recorded was worth it (don’t know how much it would cost if not subsidized). If I went ahead with it, I would get a signed contract saying the charges would not go over the amount specified. Otherwise, walk away.

    • jaxon says:

      The Northeast Podunk High School choir can have a whole concert to itself at Carnegie Hall if they want to pay the booking fee. This is not a new approach in the classical music world. It would be absurd if the context didn’t fully publicize the rules, and it would be absurd if the people who enter didn’t read all the rules. The latter absurdity seems the more likely to me.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Since in Russia they still have not quite come around to write proper letters, it may have been a reading calamity.

  • Anonymous IV says:

    perhaps conductor Mikel Toms could write in his explanation?
    My first instincts when I read this was the idea to propose that this composer record with an orchestra I recently have recorded with where we can promise excellent standards or professional recording for about 30-40% of that fee (also with same number of musicians). I then clicked on the Ablaze link to read that the recording is planned with conductor Mikel Toms and the same orchestra I would have suggested. It seems that at least half or more of that money is going to other costs outside of the orchestra. But it does say that they are offering much promotion on radio and distribution which may explain all those extra fees, but this is in no way “offered at a discount”.

    • Graham Fiske says:

      I’m confused as to how anyone can make any comparisons as to price and whether this is a good or bad deal, as nowhere in this post have we been told what piece would be recorded, how long it is, and how many musicians would be hired. I think that is crucial information to have before jumping to conclusions.

      • Anonymous IV says:

        Dear Graham,
        I understand you would be confused if you have not those details. Clicking on the link to Ablaze site, you will read all details, which orchestra is recording, number of players, limitations (no soloists), and that this $19,000 is for 1 of other pieces on same CD (so not entire disc). From experiences of making larger recordings with similar orchestras in region and also with same orchestra, we professionals can read that this is charging too large budget for project.

      • Robert von Bahr says:

        Dear Graham,
        that is because you don’t know how much a recording costs. I do. We make about 60 recordings yearly and have done so for decades. Given the restrictions apparent in the description (nothing special, just an ordinary orchestra of 70 people, no soloists, because that takes more recording time etc), given the fact that the disc is being shared with other composers, also having to pay (the label’s previous similar records have contained at least 8 different composers), and given the incredible price tag, which, to add insult to injury, is proclaimed to be subsidized, well, here I have to restrain myself again from saying what I feel, as I am not about to be drawn into a legal fight.
        But, if the label does get punters at this level, it is a printing press for the green stuff.


        • Graham Fiske says:

          Dear Anonymous and Robert,

          Because you both have much more experience on this subject than I, and I am eager and curious to learn more about how much recording costs, let me ask a question. Suppose it is the 42-minute string orchestra symphony of Suhih that has been shared in the other comments that happens to the be work in question (which is plausible as they have recorded a 20+ minute symphony on one of their previous orchestra compilation CDs). Such a rate would be $452 US dollars per minute of recorded music. Would that be a reasonable rate for recording and editing with a Czech orchestra, especially considering it seems that manufacturing/mastering/distributing and other costs are covered by the label and not the composer? Or is the label still unfairly profiting on behalf of the composer?


          • Robert von Bahr says:

            Answers respectively:

            no and yes, grotesquely.

            As I said, I could write a novel about this, telling exactly why, analyzing the scheme, but I feel I have said enough.
            And I don’t believe in your assumed fact. If it had been that symphony, the whole CD would then be totally slanted, more like a monography. Wouldn’t work for anyone else, and therefore defeating the purpose.


  • John Borstlap says:

    obvioulsy, this composer is being exploited by the label – finally they have found a really gifted composer with whom they can make bigmmoney, because the music appears to be both accessible, musically sophisticated ( no kitsch), and then they first want to get money out of HIM.

    Suhih is a very gifted composer:

    I think this a truly beautiful piece, and inspired – a most rare quality nowadays. He deserves a much better label.

  • Scott Fields says:

    Not only is the “prize” a discount, but there is an entry fee. This is the ugliest kind of scam.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is a way of getting money out of young musicians desperate to get something off the ground in music life. There are ‘agents’ who organize auditions in Vienna or London for young performers, against quite a fee they have to pay in advance, and then no audition is forthcoming.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    A discount off retail price. I imagine they are not actually losing any money on that.

  • recording contractor says:

    (my comments on this have twice been deleted today) Can conductor Mikel Toms maybe comment about this? You ask at the end “Well, what would you do?” and I wanted to suggest another orchestra which I know can make same conditions of recording for 40% of there cost. My surprise was then reading the Ablaze link that shows conductor Mikel Toms with the same orchestra I know can record for so much less. Maybe it is that they offer radio promotions, but possibly organizers taking more than half of budget or twice what orchestra and recording team making?

  • Robert von Bahr says:

    So he needs to pay $19’000 for PART OF a CD, containing several works of disjointed music by unrelated composers, played by a hired band, after having given away the first-recording and international distribution rights, thereby letting the label make a huge upfront profit.
    Like WOW!

    I could write a novel about this, but libel laws make me abstain.

    Ouch!!! This is what puts part of the music industry in such a disrepute, and deservedly so.

    Robert von Bahr, CEO, BIS Records, Sweden

  • David Osborne says:

    Fake orchestras, competitions that are bare faced scams and this sort of thing becoming increasingly prevalent:
    Tell me people please, where are we now?

    On a happier note, agree with JB, this composer is one out of the box. My advice to him would be to ‘tell them they’re dreaming’ asking for 19K, and seek opportunities elsewhere. He writes really exceptional music.

  • Stephen says:

    It’s NOT a discount either…no ways. You can record in Prague a single piece for considerably less than $19,000 AUS which is $15k US or almost £12k . Especially if you’re recording in the crappy acoustics of Smecky or something like that….a location record somewhere else might be even less, because it’s not like it’s a super high-end engineering crew in Prague, or the greatest gear/microphones.

    On the UK MU music recording rate with a nice studio to record it in I can’t imagine it would be much more than 12k UK pounds with a top flight session orch for a 3 hour session to put it down in, and it’d sound infinitely better – film combined rate is about 180 quid per musician for a 3 hour session, and I think the CD recording rate is quite a bit less. I bet he could record it with a fine orchestra in their hall anywhere in the world other than perhaps LSO or LA Phil for about that or not much more.

  • Paul Mauffray says:

    This is an interesting post. Although David Osborne might be correct that some out there are offering “fake orchestras”, I am sure you can all see that the Brno Philharmonic is actually a very prestigious orchestra with a long history of excellent recordings.
    Regarding another question here about the price of recording a 42 minute string symphony, that would depend on a number of variables: how many string players ( or or which can all be significantly different costs), how much rehearsal and recording session time would be reserved (1, 2, or 3 sessions of 2 or 3 hours can make a big difference), and equally important which orchestra would be recording (price differences vary for instance between Prague, Brno, and other Czech cities). I would be happy to help facilitate a recording, and I would suggest Czeching out our recently recorded Tabasco opera (and watch in HD with headphones):

    • Paul Mauffray says:

      I meant of course, but the point is that the number of players influences the bottom line. If you have a great sound engineer you can work wonders even with a smaller orchestra, and I doubt you can guess how many strings are performing in this Rimsky-Korsakov Aria from Prague: