I got a call at about 9:30 on a Thursday night a couple of weeks ago. The caller was a local middle school music teacher whom I have never met. She had a job that she needed done. She wanted someone, me or someone I might know, to record the piano accompaniment for the performance of her upcoming show. The songs, she says, are pretty easy and, while she can't spend a lot of money, she would be willing to pay about $100 for the service.
Silence on my end.
"I might be able to raise that to $150", she says.
"umm...." on my end.
"If that's too insulting, then I can keep calling around."
At this point, I already know that my answer is NO. But, I decide to probe a bit further anyway.
"Where do you teach?", I ask. She tells me, and I make a mental note of it. I don't think I have any piano students who currently attend her school.
"What show is it?" She replies with the name of a piece of fluff: it's kiddie theatre that I recognize. I'm thinking to myself that there is probably a CD available that she can get from the publisher. I'm also thinking that what she is asking me to do is probably illegal.
"If it is too insult..."
I interrupt, "Well, let's think about it for a second. How long is the show?"
"Between 45 minutes and an hour, but there is quite a bit of dialogue"
"O.K., then how many songs are there?"
"Um...there are 12 songs".
"So, you want someone to make a performance quality recording of your show for a little more than $8 a song?
"Yeah, I guess that's about right."
"You know, that is more than a little insulting. First of all, just to get the piano tuned for your recording might cost $100."
"Yeah.." Nervous laughter.
"No, really! Not only do you have to have an instrument that is going to sound half-way decent on a recording, but it should probably be tuned. That eats up your $100 and then some right there. Plus you either have to have recording equipment and know how to edit audio, or hire a recording engineer. You might also need to rent a space to do the recording. Then, aside from all of that, you are expecting me to record and prepare your tracks for a CD that you can play at a public performance, all for $100? Yeah, that is really insulting."
"Well, I thought maybe a student would want to do it."
In an attempt to end the conversation gracefully, I told her that I would think about it, and if anyone came to mind I would give her a call, but that I wouldn't call her back if I couldn't think of anyone. I tried to smooth things over a bit by acknowledging that it must be difficult to put together a show on a limited budget. She replied by saying that we are all in the same boat, and we musicians need to help each other out. That made me really angry, but I let it go and hung up. Rest assured, she hasn't heard back from me.
After hanging up the phone, I looked up the name of the publisher, and her school's performance was listed under "upcoming performances". (Usually, when you do shows like this, you don't purchase the music, you rent it, and pay a royalty. Any recordings of the show are usually strictly prohibited in the licensing agreement.) On further investigation, I noticed that there was an accompaniment CD available for rehearsals and performances. Somehow, I didn't feel obliged to call her back to let her know.