The barter economy of a British composer

The barter economy of a British composer


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2021

Anna Clyne, who just featured as the Lebrecht Album of the Week, found a 19th century violin for £5.99 ($7) in an Oxford charity shop.

But she needed to have it restored.

Which costs a fortune.

So Anna discovered that there are other ways to obtain musical services.





  • Patricia says:

    It has a wonderfully carved head, rather like the viola da gamba. I wonder when makers stopped doing that?

    • Terence says:

      I asked a luthier the same question.

      Two main reasons:

      It’s a lot more work and so expensive.

      The scrolls in the past were often made by apprentices and figurehead scrolls require reasonable expertise.

      (Now the scrolls are probably bought from China even for so-called ‘hand made by master’ violins.)

      The luthier, semi-retired, did say he wanted to carve some interesting scrolls himself as one of his teachers had done so.

    • violin accordion says:


  • RW2013 says:

    Waited in vain for 2:40 to hear her play 🙁

  • JussiB says:

    I’m getting bra ads on my SD page. Norman what’s going on?

  • JBL says:

    Indeed. And then you get the publishing business, where companies go out of their way to make sure they get everything they can from authors while spending no money. It doesn’t matter if the composer cannot make a living!

    For instance, Universal Edition Just launched Scodo. Basically it is a subscription scheme where composers pay Universal €12 – 65 per month, plus a initiation fee of €49 and 30% and of all sales, rentals and licensing for having their works on their website as print on demand. All printing/binding and agency costs are paid from the composer’s share. So, basically, it is a risk-free business for Universal Edition, as it moves all risk and financial burden to the author.

    I will not buy, rent or program any work from Universal Edition, because they do not respect the essence the of their business (the composers)

    • Bill says:

      You would prefer they stick to only selling the work of composers they are certain will recoup their costs and some profit? You think UE is better suited to decide if some piece is of merit than the person who wants to program or perform it?

  • SVM says:

    “A currency for musicians”… interesting idea, but what is the exchange rate between different services/products, and how is it calculated?

    The “violin lessons for a composition” example could, theoretically, avoid any reference to fiat money, since the principal ‘cost’ for both parties is overwhelmingly “time and skill”. But how does one reasonably compare the ‘going rate’ for each of these services? For most composers, the monetary commission fee (if any) is pretty minimal for the amount of work actually undertaken — the hourly rate for a composition commission usually works out as less than the minimum wage (in just about any jurisdiction). Certainly, the hourly ‘going rate’ for composing is a *lot* lower than the hourly ‘going rate’ for teaching (even if one takes into account the non-billable hours a music teacher spends on “planning and preparation”, “continuing professional development”, and “studio admin”). But is it reasonable to replicate this state of affairs (driven as it is by the ‘supply and demand’ dynamics occasioned by the pragmatics of ‘exposure’ and by a large body of consumers who are not music/music-related professionals) in the context of a barter economy between two musicians (of course, given that the total number of hours is rarely counted, perhaps it would be more reasonable to calculate an exchange rate in terms of “hours of lesson time per minute of composed music”)?

    And if we take the “composition lessons for a violin repair” example, one cannot avoid conversion to actual money,
    since a non-trivial proportion of the cost of a violin repair (especially if the instrument lacks a bridge and strings) is the cost of the materials (to state the most obvious one, wood of appropriate type and quality) that are consumed by that specific job (of course, this is not entirely absent from the “violin lessons for a composition” example, since composing does generally require some physical consumables — pencil lead, ink, appropriate paper, and such like — but the extent there is probably smaller).