What began as a reaction to the futility of singing contemporary music which few people wanted to hear, became an on-going project in search of modern songs, which would appeal to a normal audience.
Pop songs or art songs?
It is a peculiarity of organizing and performing programs of modern songs in Germany, that GEMA gets to decide what sort of music it is, that you put on. When you submit your program to their royalties department, they send you a bill for what they think your music is. I have known that they classify my programs as popular music (Unterhaltungsmusik), but I have never worried about it, because they never charged me more than € 107 (USD 124.91 at today’s rate) for a performance.
The bill for my most recent program, "What It Is", however was for € 703,08 (USD 820.75). Although stylistically no different, than the programs I have been putting on for the past twenty years, that program was classified as serious music (Ernste Musik), for which they charge much more.
I was then confronted with a dilemma. Should I be grateful that GEMA finally gave the composers on my programs the recognition that they deserve, or should I complain that they put them in a more expensive category?
I admit that I have always sought out songs on the accessible side of modern. (Whether or not they sound ‚modern‘ is another can of worms.) But accessible is not the same thing as popular. I’m convinced that there must be a gray area between pop songs and modern classical songs.
But not for GEMA. For them, there are only pop songs and art songs.
I hate to admit it, but I couldn‘t afford to stand up for my principles on this issue. I have nothing against composers collecting royalties for the performance of their works. But putting on concerts of modern songs is a losing proposition. It is only justifiable when your losses stay within bounds. When the royalties fee is higher than the cost for renting the hall, then that is, for me, just too much to ask.
I complained. To my great relief, GEMA changed their mind and reclassified my last program as popular music. The new fee was €35,19 (USD 41.08).