Archive for the ‘When It Comes to Recording’ Category

The Road to a Grammy Nomination

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Gloria Cheng has always impressed me as someone with very high standards, impeccable taste, and an unerring sense of how to do something correctly. Add to those qualities brilliant artistry, keen intelligence, an inquisitive mind, and a soft-spoken endearing presence coupled with steely determination, and one begins to understand how this artist has won a Grammy (Best Instrumental Soloist Performance, 2009) and been nominated for another (Best Classical Instrumental Solo, 2013) without the benefit of a manager or being signed to a record label. Heartened by this realization, I asked Gloria if she would walk me through the process of creating her latest Grammy-nominated disc, The Edge of Light, from its conceptualization through its release. It is my hope that sharing what I learned will give encouragement to young musicians who would benefit from making recordings but who are still waiting for someone else to take the first step.

My first question to Gloria was why she chose to record music of Kaija Saariaho and Olivier Messiaen. She told me that when she was an orchestral substitute with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and appeared regularly on their Green Umbrella series, Ms. Saariaho was a frequent visitor, as works of hers were held in high regard and performed by the orchestra and its music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Gloria was intrigued by the composer and made a point of getting to know her and her music, in particular, her electronic music which she found bold and daring. She began to wonder how she might write for solo piano. A compelling example materialized in the form of a ballade, commissioned in 2005 by Emanuel Ax as part of his larger exploration of this musical form. This Ballade and Ms. Saariaho’s Prelude, written a year later, received their first recorded performances on Gloria’s disc. She is particularly honored that the composer chose to attend the recording sessions. Messiaen is a composer who has figured frequently in Gloria’s concert programs over the years. She saw a kinship in the thinking of these two composers and when she approached Ms. Saariaho to ask about it, she in fact confirmed that Messiaen had been one of her major inspirations. The idea of pairing these two composers now became a plan, with the eight Messiaen preludes (1929) joining the repertoire to be recorded. There was one small challenge still to overcome – the imbalance of 35 minutes of music by Messiaen and only a little over eleven minutes of Saariaho. Knowing that Messiaen had written a work for piano and string quartet (1991) and that Kaija Saariaho had written Je Sens un deuxième Coeur for piano, viola and cello, she invited her good friends and frequent collaborators, The Calder Quartet, to join her in recording these works.

Gloria has never been interested in producing and packaging her own albums. Her earlier recordings were produced and released by Telarc, which had largely wound down its classical recording activities. She knew of Robina Young, Vice President/Artistic Director and legendary producer of Harmonia Mundi USA, through a mutual friend who was happy to assist with an introduction. Although Gloria must have felt nervous walking into the meeting, she was put at ease when Ms. Young said that she had been following her recordings over the years. Gloria appears to have been beautifully prepared for the meeting. She came armed with all of the timings for the music to be recorded and was bolstered by having Kaija Saariaho’s blessing to record her works. She knew that she had a valid concept for the recording and that her most important role was “to speak of the project with love.” She also guessed correctly that the involvement of the excellent Calder Quartet would be a plus. Ms. Young agreed to the proposal, but with the proviso that Gloria would deliver a finished master to Harmonia Mundi, a condition that has become quite common in the recording world today. Gloria quickly proceeded to secure the services of the highly acclaimed recording engineer, Judith Sherman. An additional touch of class was lent to the album when Harmonia Mundi agreed to Gloria’s choice of Peter Sellars to write the liner notes. Her relationship with him also dated from her days as a performer with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and as he had directed operas by both composers, she knew he was the perfect choice. It was actually Mr. Sellars who came up with the title of the album after Gloria told him that it seemed to her as if the music was transforming in some way from sound into color and light.

Gloria devised a budget for the entire album and it came to $15,000 (including hall rental, piano moving and tuning, guest artist fees and expenses, engineering and editing costs, and production of the master). She didn’t feel comfortable mounting a Kickstarter campaign and chose instead to tap into her network of friends and supporters who had come to her concerts over the years, or given donations to organizations with whom she appeared regularly. Knowing that tax deductions could be a significant incentive to donors, she arranged to have Piano Spheres (of whom she has been a performing member for 20 years) act as fiscal sponsor, with the understanding that they would receive a cut from the funds raised. Her next step was to approach dear friends to see if they would host a concert in support of her recording. They had just built a beautiful home and Gloria had helped them choose a Steinway piano. They immediately said yes. The cost of admission was set at $200. One guest contributed $5000. The Calder Quartet graciously agreed to participate and the concert was a complete success. All contributors received thank you notes and, subsequent to the record release, were sent signed cd’s. Following the concert, Gloria was only $1500 short of her financial goal. She secured a small grant from UCLA (where she is on the faculty) and contributed the remainder herself. Gloria was deeply touched by the generosity of her supporters, some of whom she didn’t know personally, and wrote an additional round of thank you notes when the recording was nominated for a Grammy.

I asked René Goiffon, president of Harmonia Mundi USA, about the elements of Gloria’s proposal that had been compelling to them and that had engendered the trust they felt in entering into a special arrangement with her. Apart from citing her wonderful artistry, he said: “Gloria is a good example of an artist who has her stuff together. She is very thorough and driven, and brought in the Calder Quartet (a hot property now), as well as Peter Sellars to write the liner notes. She was able to organize a fundraising party, hosted by an attorney with access to many people of means who are interested in the arts. The whole package was there and it was very well formed.”

My last question of Harmonia Mundi concerned the process by which Gloria’s recording of rather esoteric repertoire succeeded in attracting enough attention to capture a Grammy nomination. I suggested that maybe the label’s superlative reputation for top quality could have been a factor. While he didn’t deny that, both Mr. Goiffon and Robina Young commented that as a past Grammy Award winner, Gloria already had a boost in visibility among the voting members of The Recording Academy. It is standard procedure for a recording company to submit their recordings to the Academy for initial consideration. In addition, Harmonia Mundi makes the music available for streaming and features the release in their newsletter. It is then in the hands of the Academy’s voting members to determine the short list of nominations. That is where all of Gloria’s hard work during the course of her career to date paid off. Thankfully, it would appear that the votes are being cast by an increasingly knowledgeable and discerning group of advocates for top quality performances of a wide variety of repertoire, regardless of its general popularity. This bodes well for the future and should give hope to present and future recording artists that there is a level playing field, and that the results of their efforts stand an equitable chance of receiving this important form of industry recognition.

© Edna Landau 2014



A Most Unusual Recording

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

One morning last week, while waking up to radio station WQXR, I heard the announcer introduce a nocturne by Ottorino Respighi, which he said was part of their featured album of the week. I had never heard it before and was spellbound by the beautiful playing. The pianist was Michael Landrum, also totally unknown to me. I decided I needed to know more about the two-cd set entitled Nocturnes and, a few hours later, began to research the recording. I learned that it contained 32 nocturnes by 31 different composers, among them two women – Clara Wieck-Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. I also learned that the pianist is Professor of Music at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, and that he has long been fascinated by nocturnes and the way different composers have approached them. I decided to call Dr. Landrum in hopes of finding out more about the evolution of this project, what drove him to make the recording, and what effect it has had on his professional career. It was quite easy to get through to him via the school’s music department and after leaving a message, my call was returned later the same day. The conversation proved every bit as rewarding as listening to his wonderful recording (which I bought the same day). Having assumed that he made the recording to get his name out to a broader musical community, I learned that his motivation was not that at all. He made the recording because he loved the music and realized that so much of it is unknown (e.g., nocturnes by Griffes and Tcherepnin). He felt that he would be making a contribution in his own small way by sharing it with a larger audience.

Since I know how difficult it is for performers to find time to research unusual repertoire, I asked Dr. Landrum how he succeeded in assembling such a rich and varied collection of nocturnes. He told me that he hadn’t set out to compile such a collection but “it just snuck up on him”. Having always been inspired by Chopin’s nocturnes, one of which he worked on while a freshman at Oberlin, he later was scavenging around for teaching materials for his undergraduate students and came across some nocturnes by John Field, which were totally new to him. A search through the stacks at Eastman’s Sibley Library yielded the nocturnes by Cyril Scott and Alec Rowley that are on the recording. A music dealer in Atlanta, Hutchins and Rea, have been wonderful about collecting nocturnes for him during their international travels. Actually, each nocturne has its own story. But how did they make their way onto a very distinctive recording?

Dr. Landrum met his record producer, David Frost, at the Taubman Institute, and they became good friends. They set about to record the nocturnes at Roberts Wesleyan College already in the year 2000. Dr. Landrum paid for the engineering and production, program notes and photography. Like many labors of love, nothing happened immediately, but it was David Frost who introduced him to Sono Luminus, the distinguished label who released the recording. He originally gave them enough material for one disc, thinking they would find the repertoire too cumbersome. They insisted on having two. Enjoying my little nocturne adventure so much, I asked Dr. Landrum for contact information for the Managing Director of Sono Luminus. I reached Daniel Shores on the first try. When I asked how he makes decisions about which albums to release, he said that their primary focus is on the highest quality of performance and sound. In the case of the nocturnes, it was the beautiful sound achieved by David Frost and the captivating performances of Michael Landrum. He said he could hear the passion in his music making and felt it needed to be heard. Sono Luminus benefited from receiving a fully prepared recording but they did the final packaging and undertook a substantial promotional campaign which led to WQXR receiving the set and ultimately featuring it on the air.

I have often been asked by young artists: How can I stand out from the pack? What does it take to get noticed? Clearly a recording can be a very valuable tool. But what kind of recording? Something that truly touches the artist and brings out their unique gifts. If the repertoire turns out to be unusual and the recording has a unifying theme, that can prove to be a plus. The chosen works should feel like intimate friends, especially since they will undoubtedly be performed often, in preparation for the recording and later, in promoting it. Michael Landrum did not undertake his recording project to advance his career; however, he has found the nocturnes to be a perfect vehicle for a lecture recital format, which he greatly enjoys presenting both in Rochester and in guest engagements when his schedule allows. In wrapping up our conversation, he told me that “he is stunned that people seem to be interested in his little project”. I told him that I was touched by his humility, dedication and patience in bringing such a special project to light and that I was sure others would be too.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

Getting Airplay for your CD

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

I would like to express my thanks to my good friend and colleague, Gail Wein, a former NPR producer and currently a communications consultant and publicist in New York City, who provided the information that is the basis for my column below.

Dear Edna:

What is the best way for an unknown artist to get airplay for a CD (say, NPR in particular)? —Patricia Goodson

Dear Patricia:

Thank you very much for your question, which I am sure will be of interest to many of our readers. Like so many aspects of career building today, success in getting airplay for a cd is largely dependent on its special appeal and the excellence of the performer(s) involved. It is unlikely that NPR would feature a recording of standard repertoire by an unknown artist unless there were an unusual story surrounding that artist or they were brought to their attention by several individuals whose opinion they highly respected. If the repertoire is unusual, the chances are greater. For example, I recently met a gifted saxophonist, Christopher Brellochs, who had access to the unpublished manuscript of Aaron Copland’s original version of music for  Quiet City, which was written for chamber ensemble. He adapted it for concert purposes, making a few small orchestration changes, and with the blessing of the Aaron Copland Estate and Copland’s publisher, Boosey and Hawkes, made the world premiere recording.  This recording, rounded out with music by other American composers, was featured by both American Public Media and National Public Radio (Performance Today and Weekend Edition), alongside interviews with Mr. Brellochs. It is not hard to see why it captured their attention.

In attempting to get airplay for a cd, you can work at both the local and national level but the objectives will be somewhat different. A local station (which may be a member station of NPR) might play your cd as a stand-alone item, perhaps with a little introductory explanation that could include information about a related performance in the area. An approach to NPR in Washington, D.C., would be made in hopes that the recording would interest them enough to produce a feature story about it or invite you to be interviewed. There is also the possibility that you could be asked to do a live, in studio performance.  In approaching a local classical station, you would begin by going on the radio station’s website and looking for the name of the Music Director. If that is not apparent, the next choice would be the Program Director. The third choice would be the individual host of a specific show. The next step would be to send the cd by mail to the particular individual with a short bio of the artist(s), a press release about the cd, if you have one, and a cover note that explains why you think that it is of particular interest. If you are based in the area or have performed there, it would be wise to point that out. It is advisable to simultaneously send an e-mail to this person with the same basic content and also alerting them that you are sending a cd to them and would be most grateful for their consideration.  It may be a bit challenging to get the e-mail address but you should call the station and if you are not successful in getting through to anyone, ask for the membership department, which almost always answers. Be aware that these stations probably get dozens of cd’s a week and, therefore, they are not likely to respond to you. However, it is fine for you to follow up with another e-mail or phone call, saying that you hope they received your cd and will consider it for airplay. You can leave your phone number in case they have any questions. It is not advisable to approach everyone whose name you come up with because they are likely to be in close communication and feel as if they have been bombarded by you. If you already know someone at the station, albeit not in one of the above three categories, feel free to send them your cd and ask if they can shepherd it along. Ms. Wein advises me that even though press kits and performances are often shared digitally, some media outlets prefer to receive cd’s. Therefore, it is probably safest to go that route, unless the station’s website advises otherwise.

If you are seeking national exposure on shows such as NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition or Weekend Edition, it will be all the more crucial that your cd has a story associated with it that would justify national exposure (premiere recording of certain repertoire, unjustly neglected composer, newly formed ensemble of great interest, etc.) You can indicate your availability for a live interview or studio performance, should they be interested. You will want to go on the NPR website and follow their instructions in the section called “How do I submit materials (cd’s, books…) to NPR for possible review”. Please note that they ask you not to contact them for follow-up as they will contact you if they have any questions.

I wish you the best of luck in gaining wider exposure for your recorded performances.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

The Destiny of Your Master

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

By Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of thanks to you for writing this column, and also submit a question.

I am making the first-ever recording of the complete works of an obscure Romantic composer. Grants will cover all of the cost of recording (no fee for myself), and some of the costs of artwork, printing and manufacturing, as well as the mechanical royalties, as the music is still under copyright. The recording is a labor of love, but will also be a promotional tool for me – something to sell at concerts, give to promoters, etc. I offered it to some cd companies and one fairly large one would like to take it on. The contract, however, will require negotiation. They want sole ownership of the master recording in perpetuity and the right to exploit it in any way or media. They offer to manufacture, sell, distribute and promote the cd. In return, I get 50 copies and the right to purchase more at about two dollars a pop. They have not offered any sort of royalty for sales above a certain amount. It’s so breathtakingly one-sided that I wonder if anyone ever signs such a thing.

The main thing that draws me to the label is the prestige. Do you think a company’s expertise and/or clout in distribution and marketing would be more useful than trying to do it on my own and retaining control of the project? With delivery media changing constantly, it would seem prudent to keep the rights. I would like to be able to offer downloads from my website, or through Amazon, and offer “coupon downloads” to audiences. I’m not a young artist striving to get ahead. I am a middle-aged one doing reasonably well and would just like to know what is reasonable to ask for in such a situation.  —B.V.

Dear B.V.:

Your question is an excellent one that I suspect is on the minds of a good number of our readers. As you will have seen me say before, this is not a black and white situation. The answer might be slightly different for you than for others, depending on the particular record label involved and the role of the recording in the furtherance of an individual career.

In the days when giant record companies dominated the scene, most, if not all, of the artists who wanted to be on their rosters had to give up ownership of their masters in exchange for major publicity and promotional campaigns, as well as global distribution. There was no Facebook, CD Baby, or, so artists didn’t even consider the alternative of going it alone. You are right to ask whether it makes sense to give up ownership of your performance in perpetuity and agree to no financial return, in exchange for a company manufacturing, distributing, and promoting your recording, especially if you funded it yourself. The answer is no, unless you have no other alternative. It’s good that you acknowledge that the proposed contract requires negotiation. You also need to get as much information as possible about the company. You certainly want to know the scope and effectiveness of their distribution and what they are prepared to do in the area of promotion. It would also be advisable for you to ensure that if the record company goes out of business, the rights to your master will revert back to you. (You should try to achieve this even if the recording is simply deleted from their catalogue.) If you can gain access to other artists who have recorded for the label, ask them about their impression of the label’s effectiveness and their level of satisfaction with the working relationship.

While it is certainly possible to manufacture, promote, and distribute your own CD, as well as offer it for download on your website, you are limited by the size of your network of friends and fans and distribution outlets known and accessible to you. It is also a very labor-intensive undertaking. Happily, there has been a proliferation of independent classical labels over the past ten years such as Onyx and Avie, which operate on the premise that you retain ownership of your performance.  You either license it to them or work in a partnership with them on mutually agreeable terms. Either all or part of the cost of the recording is assumed by you but you also receive a portion of profit from the sales. (Note that in some countries such as the U.K., it is imperative for the record company to cover costs relating to copyright.)  Decisions regarding the packaging and design of the CD are made together with you and it should be possible to offer your recording for sale on your website through a direct link to the company’s website. These independent classical labels do indeed have much greater clout and reach than you do. They have developed strong relationships with the media and with distribution outlets, so they are likely to get maximum exposure for your recording. Not every one of them, however, will enter into a relationship with an artist for a one-off project unless it has major and broad appeal. Naxos is known to welcome recordings of composers who are new to their catalogue but I don’t believe they offer the type of partnership described above. Other companies may only want to do multiple projects with artists who have a very active touring schedule since this helps to drive sales of the recording, especially if the artist features the recorded repertoire in their program.

Since you already have an established and reputable company interested in your project and there is no guarantee that you will find another option, I would suggest that you try to negotiate with them and see if you can achieve more favorable terms. It would be advisable to secure advice from an attorney with experience in this area. You can always return to the idea of issuing the recording yourself, especially since your primary interest seems to be supplying it to promoters and selling it at concerts. If you should decide to seek another label, I suggest that you approach them in the context of potential ongoing projects with specific repertoire that you are prepared to offer in your concert programs. If you can obtain a copy of Gramophone magazine, you should be able to compile a pretty good list of independent companies that could potentially be interested. Some additional research on the web will further enlighten you as to the suitability of those companies for the projects you have in mind. Good luck!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011


Whose Rights Are They Anyway?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

by Edna Landau

I was fortunate to have as a guest lecturer in my class at the Colburn School earlier this week the noted entertainment lawyer, Don Franzen. He gave a wonderful presentation entitled “Overview of Entertainment Law for Musicians,” which assisted me greatly in answering the following questions.

Dear Edna:

I am a flutist and am interested in producing my own CD. I am wondering if there are legal issues that I need to address as I start this process. Do I need rights to record works for sale? From whom would I get them? Some of the works are older (J.S. Bach), some newer (Ravel, Shostakovich), and some very new. I’m guessing that the process might be different for each.  —Flutist

Dear Flutist:

Your guess is excellent and correct! According to copyright law, you are required to pay a royalty to a composer whose music is not in the public domain (i.e., it is still protected by copyright) if you record their music. You are free and clear in the case of J.S. Bach but in the case of Ravel, some music could still be under copyright protection, depending on when it was written. The music of Shostakovich and  younger composers is definitely not in the public domain. In order to record it, you must obtain a mechanical license. You can accomplish this quite easily through the Harry Fox Agency ( Note that the procedure will differ according to how many units you intend to produce. It also bears mentioning that this procedure would apply even if you intend to distribute the recordings for free. You can find more detailed and helpful information about this on the Harry Fox Agency website and in Angela Myles Beeching’s excellent book Beyond Talent. (See the section entitled “Licensing Issues.”) In that book she explains that if the work you are recording has never been recorded before, rather than pursuing a mechanical license, you must get permission from the composer or his/her publisher. Ms. Beeching also gives the following guidelines regarding works under copyright protection: “As of this writing, copyright protection is good for the life of the composer plus seventy years if the work was composed on or after January 1, 1978. For works composed before that date, it’s the life of the composer plus renewable terms totaling ninety-five years. If the copyright on a work has expired, it falls into the ‘public domain’ and can be recorded without a mechanical license.”


Dear Edna:

 I’ve had cases where composers have asked me via e-mail to perform their compositions and I or the concert presenter was still charged for performing a contemporary work. I do want to promote contemporary works and young composers but this is discouraging. Does it make a difference what sort of venue you perform in?  —adventurous pianist

Dear adventurous pianist:

It is great that you are eager to champion young composers. Please don’t get discouraged! Undoubtedly, you recognize and understand that composers need to be paid for their works just as you expect to receive a fee for your performances. In the majority of cases, performers don’t need to concern themselves about paying rights fees because they play in halls that have blanket agreements with performing rights societies such as ASCAP and BMI and the costs are assumed by the concert presenter. The proliferation of smaller, more informal venues as popular performance spaces is a relatively recent development and those venues are not likely to have such agreements. In such a circumstance, you have a few choices: a) find out the cost in advance and ask the venue if they will take care of it b) assume the cost yourself as part of your overall expenses relating to the concert, if you are presenting it, and hopefully you will be reimbursed through ticket sales or donations c) choose not to play contemporary music on the program (a shame) d) ask the composer who wrote to you personally and seems eager for exposure if they would waive their rights in this particular instance. Hopefully, as time goes on, you will become so comfortable with this matter that you will be able to address if up front with any venue in which you are thinking of performing, and your excitement about performing new music and attracting a potentially new and young audience will inspire them to pay the performance royalty as just a part of doing business.


Dear Edna:

I have recently been asked to appear on local television in brief interview and performance formats. Can you tell me who owns the rights to what they decide to air? If I were to want to put it on YouTube, would there be a problem? —TV novice

Dear TV novice:

Your question is an important one and it is not asked often enough. If a video recording is made of you by a second party, they retain the rights and you must request permission for further use of it. What you do own are your spoken words and therefore you could publish a transcript of what you said without cause for concern. People are amazingly casual when they upload to YouTube but in truth, the use of any performance footage should be cleared with the source of the footage including, by way of example, a presenter, venue, competition or media entity.

© Edna Landau 2011

DYI Recordings and Commissions

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

by Edna Landau

Welcome to the inaugural installment of “Ask Edna.” It has been heartening to see the immediate response to this new blog and I thank all those who have already written in with their questions and kind words of praise and enthusiasm. Please note that we welcome your questions not only about the life of a performing artist but also about arts administration and the music industry in general.

Today’s column and the launch of this new venture are dedicated to my late father, Dr. Eric Offenbacher, a dentist by profession who spent the majority of his free time immersed in the music of Mozart. In the thirty years following his retirement, he achieved recognition as one of the world’s foremost Mozart scholars. A strong influence in my pursuit of a career in music, it seems fitting to honor him with Opus 1 of “Ask Edna,” appearing on January 27, Mozart’s birthday.


Dear Edna:

I think of myself as an adventurous wind player and would like to know how to go about commissioning new music, both for myself and my trio. We are in the very early stages of our careers. Are there any ways to not have to pay a large sum of money?

Dear adventurous wind player:

It is wonderful to know of your interest in commissioning new music. By doing so you will undoubtedly enrich your own life and the life of so many others.

Your best source of information for learning the “nuts and bolts” of commissioning new music is the website of Meet the Composer ( Be sure to download “Commissioning Music: A Basic Guide” which includes the cost of various types of commissions and is likely to answer all of your questions. On the website you will also find information about funding sources, but they more typically support individuals and ensembles who are a little further along in their careers.

Many young ambitious performers are finding the answer in, which is an interactive fundraising site that meshes beautifully with an artist’s social media network. You should definitely explore this route. In addition, you and your ensemble should take careful stock of everyone you know who has a personal interest in seeing you succeed. If you approach a young, not yet well-known composer and ask them to write for you, the fee is likely to be very reasonable and the amount might be rather easily raised through a personal note-writing campaign to those people, perhaps enhanced by a fundraising concert. If you are able to connect with a legally recognized fiscal sponsor, it is possible that individual contributions may be tax-deductible. (I encourage you to visit the website of Fractured Atlas,, which explains fiscal sponsorship and the services that organization offers.) If you are successful in securing funding for a commission from an individual patron or small group of patrons, be sure to offer to credit them in your concert programs and ask the composer to credit them in their score of the composition.

Another way to secure new pieces for your ensemble might be to organize a Young Composer Competition. Fifth House Ensemble ( has done this for several years. The grand prize winner receives $500 and a performance on their subscription series in downtown Chicago.

Some composers are willing to write pieces for little or no money in exchange for the prospect of gaining exposure through multiple performances and maybe even a recording (which can be self-produced). With hard work and energetic networking, everyone in such a collaboration stands to benefit. I wish you much luck and hope that your future successes will generate more interesting questions for our readers!


Dear Edna:

I am a young pianist that has been concertizing for several years. A while back, I produced my first CD to sell at my concerts. It turned out to be very lucrative and also good for promotion, with the cd’s being available for purchase and download on sites like and iTunes. The only times I wish I had a label is when an interested customer asks what label I record for. Are labels good for anything else these days? And if one were to get a label, is it true that it ends up being very costly for the artists?

Dear Pianist:

I applaud you for having already become a successful entrepreneur with regard to producing your own recording. Having seen the benefits of going that route, I don’t know why you would pay too much heed to an individual asking what label you record for. In such a situation, you should explain (without a hint of defensiveness) that in these times, only a very small number of artists have a relationship with a particular label (artists with significant name recognition) and that you are proud to be producing your own recordings and making more money that way.

There are two areas in which labels can be more effective than your own independent efforts – marketing and distribution. As a young artist, you are probably not a candidate for an association with a “mega-company” but if you think creatively about repertoire and develop a project that might be new to a label such as Naxos, you should remain open to working with them on a one-off basis and taking advantage of their huge network of distribution. You will make little or no money but your name will become better known, thereby enhancing your career profile and potential concert engagements. The best approach might be to develop a discography that is a mix of self-produced recordings and others released on an established reputable label (even if you have to invest some of your own money), according to the nature of the project. Think of a label name that you like for your self-produced recordings and use it consistently. It helps to build up your brand. Today, everyone knows of Canary Classics, founded by Gil Shaham and Oxingale, founded by Matt Haimovitz with Luna Pearl Woolf. Your ultimate goal should be to make every recording distinctive and to evaluate on a case by case basis the best way to bring it to the attention of your fans and the broader public that has yet to discover you. And then, when you are least expecting it, a label may ask to bring you into their family and you will be faced with a very interesting decision!

A Note From Edna
Please submit your questions to We encourage you to use your real name and e-mail address when submitting your questions in order for them to be addressed in the most meaningful fashion. This information will be kept confidential. I will respond on the website to whatever pseudonym or other identification you designate for that purpose. Please be patient if your question isn’t answered right away. It is my intention to answer a broad variety of questions that I believe could have maximum significance to our readers. All questions will be archived and could be answered at any time.

I look forward to hearing from you soon! — Edna Landau