Creator Spotlight with Composer/Musician Ernie Mansfield

Ernie Mansfield playing the saxophone on stage with his keyboardist in the background

This week we would like to introduce you to Composer and Musician Ernie Mansfield.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

My mother was a classically trained musician and pianist. She was my inspiration. She told me I could be a professional musician. I was around 12 years old, and at that moment I decided that is what I wanted to be, I never looked back!

I was composing my own music, starting around age 12 or 13. Later, around age 14, I attended Interlochen Music Camp and received an award for my composition from Dr. Doy Baker. Later, he became my teacher and mentor; there were many other teachers who followed as well, particularly my mentors at the School of Music, University of Illinois. Also, there was a strong pop/jazz culture that sprung up in that area as well.

What I enjoy most about the creative process is the spiritual feeling I get when I come up with a song or composition that just feels right. 

Can you talk through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?

I studied music composition in high school (Interlochen Arts Academy) and also at the University of Illinois. I was also heavily influenced by my bandleader Jim Cuomo after college, and really, by the teachings of many other composers. Basically, with training, one learns to be disciplined, to sketch out one’s ideas, to experiment, but also to make deadlines and structures, to create a piece of music. There is a creative side, and also a “craft” side. To create music, one needs to set time limits. The answer to “how long does it take” really depends on setting a deadline (it may be set by a producer or publisher). I always have musical ideas floating around in my head, but not all of them get written down into a song. Some of them may float around for years and then suddenly become a song. Some ideas may just pop up suddenly.

Does everything you produce make money? No, of course not! However, I have been a professional musician/composer for a long time, so many of my compositions/songs/arrangements have actually been commissions, where I was paid something for them. The “something” I was paid was usually a modest sum to cover my time and expenses, not a huge amount.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

Well, it always bothers me that the media—and especially movies—seems to portray composers and musicians in general as seemingly unstable, crazed, flamboyant, drug-addicted, eccentric weirdos. I know that makes “a good story,” but I think it is unfair in general. I have been working in the pro music field for decades, and during that time, I have actually spent more (paid) time working as an assistant to other, more established, composers. Many of the composers who are writing music for film and Broadway shows are actually very mild-mannered and work extremely well under pressure.

If you are asking, have I not been properly credited, or paid, for music I have written, the answer is yes, definitely! Many times! There was one time that a producer would not credit me as composer on an album, even though I clearly was. I also produced some albums where I never received my appropriate royalties because (A) the U.S. distributor would not pay them; and (B) a foreign country would not pay them. And the worst part is that this is the accepted norm in the music business for those of us who are “not famous.” With royalty rates being as low as they are, and with the rights collections being as they are, it is very difficult to enforce any royalty claims, as it is usually not worth the time and effort, for the little money it would bring in. That’s why so many musicians like me are pleased to see both the Music Modernization Act (to help us get paid royalties more fairly) and the CASE Act (which will provide us with a means of enforcing our rights should they be infringed) become law.

As to how this has affected me personally and financially: I have never relied on royalties for income, so this has not affected my income that drastically. Personally, however, I had to place my writing career on the back burner for many years because I had to focus on making a living.

What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?

I always suggest that fellow musicians learn how to market their music, and that they negotiate for increases in royalties when possible. It’s also very important to work with a professional organization that collects and distributes global royalties when music is sold or streamed, as well as with a PRO. Lastly, it’s essential to stay apprised of new developments at the U.S. Copyright Office that have made it much easier to copyright collected works. Just recently (June 2021) they allow one to register an entire album (up to 20 songs) with one form. And, as previously mentioned, the Office is also setting up a Copyright Small Claims to handle small infringement cases less expensively via the CASE Act. These are huge pluses!

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