Monday, July 13, 2009

Hot Topic: Live vs. Canned Music

A friend of mine (a music director, no less) recently pointed me towards this article, which he discovered via a tweet from @backstagejobs on Twitter:

Now, while I'm not sure that legal action was necessary, it did prove the disgruntled theatre-goer's point in a big way and got people talking about it.

In this current economic climate, theatres are suffering. Budget cuts have to be made and, in some of the worst cases, theatres are having to close their doors (North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA, was one of the closings that really made me sad). While we'd all like to think that these theatres (especially the non-profits) exist solely to promote the arts in our areas, the fact remains that, "at the end of the day," they are still businesses. And any business requires money management and a bottom line that remains in the black. It makes perfect, logical sense.

However, why should only the musicals suffer, while the stage plays get to keep all of the artistic integrity of their productions?

Should theatres try to find all-volunteer orchestras? I know for a fact that in an arts-heavy area such as the Dallas/Ft. Worth region, you're going to be hard-pressed to find musicians who will work for free when there is usually another paying gig they could accept instead.

Some publishing houses, such as Music Theatre International (MTI) for one, will offer electronic musical resources such as OrchEXTRA to supplement (read: not replace) a smaller orchestra -- but these resources are not free. They are paid for and licensed along with the rest of the materials needed to produce a show. I can't be sure on whether or not paying for these resources would actually save any money -- it would ultimately depend on the show and the orchestration required to perform the show as intended by the composers (and, ahem, the license).

What do you think? Is canned music here to stay, at least given the current economic situation in which we find ourselves?

Are you a musician? An actor? A director? A budget manager of a theatre? What do you think of this?


  1. As a musician, I am also dismayed to see canned music being used in musical theater. It implies that the only important thing is the acting - and while I think the actors are important, who's to say they're that much MORE important than the musicians? And where do we draw the line, anyway? How about I rent a theater, set up a screen, and show footage of the play, and set that to canned music? Of course, that would be silly!

  2. Seven Brides was the first production I've attended that used canned music. At first I was disappointed, but once the overture was over and the actors took the stage I was less distracted. As a musician I would prefer a live ensemble, but I understand today's economic constraints - you do what you have to do so the show will go on. It's unfortunate, but likely a reality.

  3. I don't do much theatre (although I will be a potential musical theatre writer?, but I for one prefer live over canned. Take a good look at Carnival Cruise Lines' shows - their live band accompanies their singers and dancers. It's also used in professional ballet, too! Urk...