I’m a classically trained musician with a very unconventional approach, both as an artist and teacher. In the past, I have studied with notable teachers and won lots of awards but I just don’t fit the mould of a typical classical concert pianist. I play repertoire by the great composers with an unusually natural manner and a strong feeling of groove, I use modern technology and I also do unplanned improvisations – not the norm for a typical classical pianist in the 21st century. As a teacher, I champion real fluency in the language of music rather than designing interpretations based on academic theory. Also, I am not competitive. So I fully accept the reality that the corporate classical music industry of today does not serve me nor do I serve it.
So for some time, as an extremely independent artist, I have been sharing my honest work on YouTube. I discuss my teaching ideas and perform my own compositions and live improvisations and also classical pieces which are out of copyright and therefore free to use in the public domain. I do this to serve the music and any viewers who happen to enjoy my approach, and also to make a little money (I really do mean very little). I don’t do it for personal popularity: I don’t play the algorithm, I don’t use “viral” techniques to get attention. I just offer my music and ideas humbly, in a way that is unassuming and non-competitive.
Sadly, I have encountered something unpleasant quite a few times when I have included a piece of classical repertoire in my videos on YouTube. On several occasions, a recording label has issued a copyright claim against me for the performance rights. These claims are utterly absurd, as I am obviously sitting at the piano creating the performances – MY performances – in real time, live. Furthermore, the recorded performances that these labels claim to be the ones in my videos… presumably they must believe me to be an incredible finger-syncer – perhaps I should be flattered!… these performances sound nothing like mine. The fact that they are making a stupid mistake is therefore unambiguous and obvious, and so I have always disputed these ridiculous claims, completely confident that the labels would realise their error when pointed out and release their claim. And this is what has always happened, until last week, when a company called Believe Music rejected my dispute and upheld the validity of their bonkers claim that my live performance of the opening moments of Debussy’s Prelude “…Feuilles Mortes” was a different performance entirely by a different pianist and that they own the rights.
So this is new: this time, it is more than an irksome inconvenience. . If Believe Music wanted to, they could then issue YouTube with a takedown request, and YouTube would delete my video and issue a strike against my channel. To prevent this, I took the video down myself, as a pre-emptive measure. The video in question – released on Halloween, discussing and showcasing some examples of dark, scary classical piano music – bombed anyway! (Watch it here https://vimeo.com/883554735) Clearly YouTube’s algorithm deemed it irrelevant for some reason. Therefore the potential loss (or dare I say theft) of income is not an issue but the principle at stake here has implications for how confidently I can continue to play classical music live in my videos. So that’s why I’m speaking out. This is a blatant example of large corporate power crushing small, independent artists. And it’s just wrong!