Topic: Music Performance Fund in Peril
Music Performance Fund in Peril
The music fund has for 60 years paid musicians to perform free concerts. But in the age of downloads, the fund is minuscule, and officials differ on what to do about it.
By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 14, 2008
For 60 years, the Music Performance Fund, an unsung charity financed by a small fraction of record company sales, has paid the piper -- and just about every other kind of musician -- by helping to bankroll thousands of free concerts annually all over North America.
They have included Metropolitan Opera performances in New York's Central Park and a quartet led by a bassoonist who forged through icy waters in a small boat to play for Canadian villagers above the Arctic Circle.
Now, though, the popularity of music downloads and file-sharing via the Internet has eaten away at record company revenues. And as the industry has dwindled, so has the performance fund's ability to underwrite pro bono shows.
" 'Dwindled' is an easy way of saying it's gone to pot," said John Hall, the trustee who has managed the Music Performance Fund for most of the last 18 years.
At its peak in the early 1980s, Hall said, the fund got more than $20 million a year from record companies. Last year, the figure was $3.4 million. In 1984, the fund helped pay musicians' salaries for 55,000 free performances. Last year, there were 9,060. The organization's staff is down from 36 to eight.
Income from paid downloads, growing but still relatively small, is the music industry's hope for the future. But Web-generated sales are not in the agreement that governs the fund, negotiated between the American Federation of Musicians and the record companies.
Locally, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission has ended a partnership with the fund that dated back decades. Commission officials decided that the money, which comes with some bureaucratic strings and loss of hiring flexibility, had grown so scant that it no longer was worth