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Maria Schneider: A Tale of Two Worlds

On her latest orchestral masterwork, the composer and bandleader worked to dramatize humanity’s (and her own) struggle between nature and technology

Maria Schneider (photo: Briene Lermitte)
Maria Schneider (photo: Briene Lermitte)
Maria Schneider (photo: Briene Lermitte)
Maria Schneider (photo: Briene Lermitte)

When you started working with ArtistShare for Concert in the Garden, did you think of the internet as a friend—not yet your enemy?

I’m going to admit something: I was one of those people who said, “Who would ever want to buy anything on the internet?” I was not a forward thinker. But I could see there was no other way to finance my records and actually make money. When we started going over numbers, what it could mean selling directly, I decided to take the plunge.

Have your ArtistShare releases been profitable?

The Thompson Fields is about even because I went way over budget. But I’ll tell you, each record is getting harder. And who do I blame? YouTube. When Concert in the Garden came out, not many people knew me. I never had a website. People had dial-up modems. That record was expensive to make, about $130,000. And I made a profit, way beyond what I paid on it. Sky Blue [2007] did very well. But YouTube was taking off, and I found my music being shared on sites. The problem is we’re not allowed to protect our music proactively, from being uploaded. The music is priced at zero, and everybody accepts it.

Given that descending arc in profit from your records—and Data Lords is a double album—where does that leave your music as a livelihood?

We’ll see. I spent $200,000-plus on this record. I don’t know where I’ll come out. I was never making huge amounts of money touring my band either. The odd thing is I used to do to gigs to sell records. My gigs don’t make money. I make money signing CDs. Not having these gigs now, after making this record, is a huge problem.

Can the Maria Schneider Orchestra survive this crisis?

I have to believe we’re going to get past this, rehearsing again and being around each other. Some of my guys, they teach. I know some of them felt teaching online was quite effective. What’s hardest is the players that were depending on Broadway income, little bits of studio work—this can’t be helping them.

But some of the people I was scared to talk to, that I thought would be breaking down in tears—they were saying, “Wow, it’s really nice to be home.” So there’s two sides to it. People are freaking out about money. But I think some musicians are assessing their lives. I know a lot of them are practicing like crazy and creating music. I am sure there are a lot of musicians who will have huge creative output as a result of this thing, to have that time to be home and introspective. And when it does open up, it will be explosive—and maybe good for the music.

Learn more about Data Lords on Amazon!

Originally Published

David Fricke

David Fricke has written about music for more than four decades for publications including Rolling Stone, MOJO, the late great British weekly Melody Maker and now JazzTimes. He is a DJ at Sirius XM Radio, a Grammy-nominated writer of album liner notes and a three-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism.