The $99 Orchestra: Keeping Orchestral Music Accessible And Relevant
If you’re a music student, seasoned composer, or audio professional than surely you have an idea of the high costs in putting together an orchestra for a recording session. Musician fees, studio rental, knowledgable engineers, the hours of organization, etc…
Enter André Miranda, a film composer and creative entrepreneur who has developed a solution to these problems with his start up The $99 Orchestra. Developed at the MusEdLab at New York University Steinhardt, The $99 Orchestra aims to make orchestral recording available as a consumer service, broadening the range of people that are able to access a real orchestra to record their music:
Hollagully: Briefly introduce yourself, your professional background, and the $99 Orchestra.
$99: My name is André Miranda, I was born in Lisbon in late 1989 and I always liked music. I started studying violin when I was 11 years old and continued my studies in the field of music until 2015, when I graduated from a pre-doctoral degree New York University. My college education taught me how to compose music for concert, film and how music can intercept other fields like medicine or the entertainment industry. During my last year at NYU I worked with Prof. Alex Ruthmann every week one on one for the purpose of training the creative muscle. Basically, we engaged in a year long brainstorm with the goal of producing new ideas that would make music intercept other fields. I had many ideas, some of them great, some of them really terrible and some of them of difficult or easy execution. The $99 Orchestra was one of the ideas and I decided to implement it right after I finished my education.
Hollagully: The $99 Orchestra feels like such a fitting solution to the problems of many composers and recording artists. How did it start? What was the tipping point that made you begin?
$99: The tipping point was a particular day in Denmark, at the Creative Business Cup, where I was representing Portugal and New York University. I talked to a Google executive that introduced me to their 10x factor, which basically stands for making incremental improvements by a factor of 10, like making something 10 times faster or 10 times smaller. My idea was to make an orchestra at least 10 times cheaper than it was before, so it was accessible to a whole lot more people and turning it into an actual service rather than just an expensive and rare privilege for some. The 10x concept excited me and it pushed me into action.
Hollagully: Between the costs of renting a recording studio and hiring an orchestra, what fraction of the cost is the $99 Orchestra compared to recording an orchestra through the traditional route for a composer?
$99: Recording with the $99 Orchestra is orders of magnitude cheaper than with a regular orchestra because with us you can get a short recording session for $99. It’s a short session, but it’s enough to record a 1 minute piece with an orchestra. That’s at least 10x cheaper than anything else I’ve ever seen and if you compare it to hiring an orchestra on your own, it makes orchestral recording possible for less than a hundredth of a cost.
Hollagully: In a nutshell, what is the process between a composer completing a score and receiving a finished recording from the $99 Orchestra?
$99: The composer writes his piece normally and can receive some assistance from us if necessary, than submits his score via e-mail and then we record it in the studio and the composer watches his session live. Then we deliver the audio files over the internet.
Hollagully: You just recently finished your third crowdfunding campaign. Your first on Kickstarter, then your second and third on Indiegogo. What do you like about Indiegogo and have you developed any “best practices” for a successful campaign?
$99: We have raised more than $100,000 so far and now we’re gradually becoming more independent from crowdfunding campaigns, channeling all previously acquired traffic directly through our own channels and making the campaigns only for marketing purposes.
Hollagully: How do you reach your target audience aside from Indiegogo?
$99: Growing this kind of business is challenging because it’s a niche service for a very thinly spread out audience and alone it’s sometimes difficult to reach as many people as we would like. We are working on game-changing partnerships for us that will help us reach more people.
Hollagully: I see that your website is powered by Shopify. How does this facilitate the operations of your business and how do you feel about it so far?
$99: Shopify is great for our growth stage now. However, as we expand this year we may feel the need to upgrade our backoffice.
Hollagully: I assume that you are a musician / composer yourself. What practices have you found effective for balancing a highly musical and entrepreneurial life?
$99: I’m a film composer! I’ve been dedicating 100% of my time to the $99 Orchestra and WESO projects, which are basically orchestral music production companies that I created for totally different purposes. It has been very exciting to create a new musical tool like the $99 Orchestra and work with students, kids and hobby composers and at the same time working on very serious industrial music producing at WESO.
Hollagully: You have managed to leverage technology and the internet to make orchestral music more accessible and an affordable component to modern music creation. This will hopefully in turn preserve its relevance in the years to come. Do you have any thoughts to share for artists adapting their craft to a rapidly evolving landscape?
$99: Yes, I’m sure that making services and products ever more accessible both in terms of price and location is the way to go. The art itself doesn’t need to play by any external rules, it should live independently from the technological environment. I still believe that good music, distributed correctly turns into a success no matter what… It’s all about craft. However, in terms of coming up with new ways to promote music I think that there is a bright future for merging art and technology in ways that were impossible during the 20th Century, but that are possible now. For example, merging music with medicine, which is something I’m working on now as well.