Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Major/Minor Dilemma (Part 2)

About a year ago, after receiving my annual royalty statement, I posted some musings about my top-selling compositions - specifically, I noticed that a lot of the better-selling pieces are in minor keys. This led me to wonder if maybe I should just focus on minor-key music when writing for student orchestras.

Well, it wasn't long before I received an e-mail from someone who had read the post and had a different theory:

Of the 5 compositions you posted, the top 4, besides being in minor keys, have really "cool" titles.
I know this seems arbitrary, and it is, but I think we underestimate the value of the titles of our art.

He has an interesting point. I'm always trying to pin down what it is about certain music that appeals to people and maybe an evocative title can set expectations. Titles have always been tough for me and I frequently put off titling my pieces until days before sending them off to my publisher for consideration. So I wrote back:

I wonder if you'd be willing to help me put your theory to a test? My three newest pieces this year
are "Quicksilver," "A Hero's Welcome," and "Porcupine Pantomime." All three are in major keys.
If you'll make a prediction of which of the three will be the best seller, I'll check it against the results
when I receive next year's sales report.

The challenge was taken up:

I'm going to guess "A Hero's Welcome" will be the highest selling. This guess is somewhat arbitrary,
but my rationale is as follows: kids will like the title "Quicksilver" and adults will like the "Porcupine
Pantomime." A Hero's Welcome has universal appeal between the age groups. That's my best guess.
Hope they all do well for you, though.

That makes sense to me. So the sales numbers are finally in and the rankings for the newest pieces are

1. Quicksilver
2. Porcupine Pantomime
3. A Hero's Welcome

Obviously, there are a lot more factors at play than tonality and title. First: exposure. Quicksilver was
performed at last year's Midwest Music Conference, which features huge audiences of music-buyers. Second: Tempo.  In my experience, fast music is more popular than slow music and A Hero's Welcome is a lyrical moderate-tempo piece.  Third: Degree of difficulty.  Beginner orchestras are always larger than intermediate and advanced groups, so there's usually a higher demand for beginner-level music. Porcupine Pantomime was the only early-level piece of the three. I suppose the moral of the story is that the appeal of a piece of music doesn't rest on anything as simple as tonality and title. 

So I'll put it to you, reader. I invite you to predict which of this years pieces will be the top sellers:

• Star of Valor:
A medium-to-advanced concert overture with fast, heroic melodies, a little bit of shifting, and a fast tempo.

• Storm Trail: A fast, minor-key, intermediate-level piece in 12/8 time.

• Sneaking Suspicion: An all-pizzicato, minor-key piece for beginners with a moderate tempo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

storm trail, all the way!!!! i actually bought star of valor and storm trail and think their great pieces, but storm trail is my favorite!!!! your awesome doug spata!!!!