A few weeks ago, and during the International Sound and Film Music Festival – ISFMF 2018 celebrated in Pula (Croatia), Gorka Oteiza from SoundTrackFest had the opportunity to interview Alfons Karabuda, composer and president of ECSA (European Composer & Songwriter Alliance).
Here you have the full interview, where they talked about the main goal and current projects of ECSA, how to be a member of ECSA, the lines of work the organization is pursuing at the moment, and why not, also about Alfons Karabuda as a composer himself!
Good morning Alfons and thank you for taking some time to chat with SoundTrackFest. Could you explain for people that don’t know about it, what’s ECSA and what’s its main goal? What does ECSA do?
Absolutely. So, ECSA, the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance, very simply are colleagues, music creators, authors of music, and lyricists, that came together in Europe. We’re talking all genres. We, of course, have the film music composers, but also contemporary music composers and songwriters in every field. We have come together to give one unified voice when advocating for our musical rights, our author’s rights, and also, of course, coming together and networking.
We are creating new opportunities for collaborations. But mostly, it is about giving a clear voice on the needs of an author, and also being an active part in actually providing expertise in our field. So, this is what we’ve done with the latest copyright reform that has now been a very big process, of course, in Europe. ECSA has been instrumental in this. We’ve actually been part in writing three of the paragraphs that we hope now will also come as finalized. There was a vote in the European Parliament on the 12th of September.
And this was very positive. It also came up that there was a first vote in June, that didn’t come up so well. We worked very hard this summer, in showing that the critics to this copyright reform were actually automized campaigning by a very big company by the US, among others. And when you put $3.5 billion into campaigning of that sort, well, you get an impact. But I’m very glad to say that when authors around Europe honestly are able to put forward how their professional life looks like to the politicians, then it makes a difference, and I’m very proud of that.
That’s nice. So, that’s the main goal for ECSA as an organization, but… How old is ECSA? How long has ECSA been doing that job?
ECSA is now formally ten years. We worked a couple of years before that as well, so we’re a pretty young organization. But when I see other organizations of authors that we’ve been able to also bring into our umbrellas – the umbrella network called The Author’s Group, where we have the journalists, the writers, the scriptwriters, and the directors of Europe – when we did that, we actually saw that maybe it was a good thing being a young organization as well, because we didn’t have that kind of history, that also, sometimes, can be an obstacle.
That’s true. Sometimes your past can limit your future actions…
Absolutely. So, we have a clear view on what we wanted to do, and I think that we’re on our way. We’re not there yet, and I think we never will, (*laughs*), but as long as some good things come along the way, then we’re happy.
The last letter of ECSA means “Alliance”. So… how can somebody be part of ECSA? Do you have to do something special? Do you have to sign up? How’s the process? Imagine I’m a young composer and I want to be part of the ESCA family… How do I proceed?
What you do is that you become a member of your national author organization and they are members in their term.
Any kind of composer can be part of ECSA? It doesn’t matter if you’re a composer of country music, rock music, film music…
Everything. Everything. Actually, in film music, you have all the genres.
That’s true, but when go to a shop to buy a CD, you have all those sections and categories, and soundtracks, are usually on the back of the shop close to classical music… (*laughs*)
(*laughs*)… Absolutely… Which is very strange. We also work with education, and film music is the one thing, well, film and gaming, that actually reach a new generation, an audience of young people, that maybe would never listen to that kind of music. But with this, they do, so it’s a very important cultural tool.
Indeed it is! Let’s talk about you a little bit. You as the President of ECSA. What is your main duty or goal? Are some kind of an ambassador?
Well, first of all, I have to say that I am a composer. I am one of the colleagues. We’re a democratic organization where I am elected by my fellow colleagues to represent them for a while. This is what I do now. So you could say that I’m a bit of a spokesperson in this. I’m leading the board and the general assemblies, and I’m very active in also meeting policymakers and whoever. I’m not just a title in that. I’m actually working quite a lot as our colleagues’ representative.
And continuing with yourself, as you said, you’re also a composer, so here comes a compulsory question… Why did you decide to become a composer? Was there a moment you said, “Oh God, I want to do this. I want to compose for the movies. I think it’s perfect.” Or you started with music and then you ended being a Film/TV composer?
That’s a good question. I come from a family where everyone is in culture, but no one was in music, so I kind of got my space. I just loved music. We had a broken piano that was in a hallway in our mother’s and father’s apartment. As a child, I used to go to the piano, and I heard what was on the TV, so I started playing, trying to imitate the music on TV. Then, after a while, I got a bit bolder, so I just thought that, “Maybe I can do that a bit better.” So I started composing my own tunes, too. “Maybe I can tweak this a bit.”
But to me, it’s always been music. I did my first music score for a TV drama series, for the National TV of Sweden, when I was 15.
Wow! That’s very young.
(*laughs*) Yes, it was very young. Then for BBC, for the Danish TV… I’m actually not very good at composing just for myself. I thought that I was, sometimes, that I’ve had some time off. I said, “Now I’ll go into my studio and I’ll just compose” and not much comes out of it. So I kind of like…
… the inspiration of the image to get somewhere?
Well, inspiration and also maybe limits, in a way. You have a director telling you “This is 1562 in Naples. You are going to do this.” And you research, and you do it. I think for me personally, that is so fantastic. I also love the fact that you collaborate in something where the film is so much more important than yourself. It’s more important than the music, it’s more important than whatever. It’s added to the film, but together, hopefully, there can be some magic.
Yeah, that’s the point of the film, is a creative process but also a collective process.
Absolutely. And I have to add something. I love films. All my life! Just being able to come into another world like that, with every new film or work…It’s brilliant!
Does your actual work in ECSA leave you time to compose?
Not too much, actually. Recently, since I do this and I have some other positions as well, I’m chairman of also a prize, for the Poland Music Prize and also Vice President of the International Music Council, a global music organization, among others. So I don’t have much time, but I do compose sometimes for the theater. It tends to be a bit more… It doesn’t take that much time. When I say that, it’s not that it isn’t difficult, but you don’t have the post-production and you don’t have the hundreds of people involved. I have been working for the National Theater and the City Theater in Stockholm, also.
Okay, so you get some time to do some small things…
Yes, I’ve done some plays. It’s nice to do something really depressing, and then you can…
Are you talking about ECSA? (*laughs*) – Just joking!
(*laughs*) Nooo!! I’m talking about a play I did and its music (*laughs*) Actually… As many composers, I love to compose depressing music.
Well, that’s one of the benefits of film music, that you can compose many kinds of music, nearly anything you want with every new project! So, Alfons, let’s go with the final question. ECSA is fighting for European copyright laws now, but I suppose that you also have other kinds of problems on the table right waiting. What other initiatives or lines of work do you see in the future? What other problems do you see that are arising and that ESCA should be addressing?
A lot of things. I really want people and us to see ECSA as someone, something working for opportunities. We’re not saying “No” to things. We’re actually building. We’re working for opportunities for professional authors. In this, there has to be structures where the authors have say, where authors are in the core of governance, where authors do use their expertise and actually do this building.
This is why we also work hard for the collective rights management system, because this is also, as opposed to commercial systems where we don’t have the transparency and the say that we need, where we can handle our rights in an effective way, and where we are on the boards. This is very important for us as well.
Besides that, we work of course also in cultural projects, and making it possible to find new collaboration models. We work with tech industries to see what is the technique that is both being used for handling rights but also in composing. Artificial intelligence for example, or whatever. There are a lot of interesting things happening that we need to address. And we don’t want to be bystanders. We want to be part of any progress.
Okay, that’s very nice! So composers should feel proud that you are trying to make their way easier into the future.
Absolutely. But they should also see this as an opportunity where they can actively be involved. This is an organization…
They can be part of the change.
Of course! They can be part! They can be on the board of this organization, or president of this organization, if their colleagues feel that they have their trust. So being actively involved is something that I really would urge my colleagues to be.
Well, there it goes! That’s the call for all the composers to approach their local organization and try to be part of the change. Don’t just wait for change to happen!
That’s perfect, Alfons. So, thank you very much and I think you gave us a lot of valuable information, that maybe even composers were not aware of.
Thanks to you for this interview and for helping us to spread the word and the value of ECSA. I have really enjoyed talking about all of this!
Interview by Gorka Oteiza