Monday, September 22, 2014

Iowa ACDA creates new R and S position for self-published and independent published music

Thanks to my friend Sean Burton, I have been made aware that Iowa ACDA (a very large, forward-thinking and successful ACDA chapter) has created a new Repertoire and Standards position. Connor Koppin, a promising young composer/conductor, has been named as R and S for self-published and independently published music. This is further proof that ACDA is moving more and more toward supporting independent composers and broadcasting awareness of the gradual tilting away from the ancient, traditional publishing model in this country for music. I've written about this quite a bit (in this blog form as well as in give and take on Choralnet) and hosted a very successful interest session on the topic at the national  ACDA conference in Dallas about eighteen months ago. In case you missed it, my panel members were Reg Unterseher, Abbie Betinis, Joan Szymko, Buddy James, and Deborah Simpkin-King. Most of our audience stayed a full hour after the session ended (pretty much unheard of at an ACDA conference since there are so many other activities you can trot off to) to ask questions and kick around new ideas- it was a great day!

For Iowa ACDA  Connor will be focusing on composers who are obviously self-publishing in a professional manner (well-run websites, aiming for healthy relationships and visibility in the choral community, etc) and smallish publishers who are moving away from the old model. These publishers (would they be called niche publishers or not?) are especially becoming more aware of composer copyright issues, new distribution models, more awareness of the need to publicize the "back catalog" and not just hype new releases, and more. Here are a few of the new small, independent, forward-thinking organizations: Independent Music Publishers (or IMP, a great acronym!) which is home to Betinis, Szymko, Davd Moore, and a number of other quality composers, mostly from Minnesota, has already become quite successful. A new organization, Musicspoke, started by Kurt Knecht and Jennifer Rosenblatt, is also arriving on the scene with a great flurry of activity and attracting great attention from quality composers (Coppin himself, Andrea Ramsey, yours truly, and others). Musicspoke especially is on the forefront in regard to copyright issues- they facilitate composer/conductor relations and sell music without taking away the composers' copyright. Bravo to Musispoke for that stance.

Also up and coming is Northwest Choral Publishers which is the music of Reg Unterseher, John Muelheisen, and Karen P. Thomas. And there is also See a Dot- a new publisher in NY.

As composers and small publishers get together and discuss issues today (see below for some of Connor's thoughts) there is a wide variety of opinion about what is happening now. I think most independent composers truly dislike the old model (sign away your copyright, earn only 10%, have no say on how your music is publicized and what happens to your older pieces) but we accept the fact that the large, older companies who are in business have the right to run their companies any way they like.  A number of them are barely staying alive, for one reason or another (the sale price of a typical choral octavo has in no way kept pace with inflation over the last fifty years) and we all are music lovers- I myself have somewhat mellowed out about my feelings toward these larger companies, mostly due to my growing feebleness in old age (haha).

We also have a great champion of self-published/niche published music as our executive director of ACDA on the national level- Tim Sharp, whose own recent work Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Bluegrass Mass is published and distributed by his composing partner Wes Ramsey.

Here is the full Iowa ACDA announcement. Hey, if you are a state ACDA leadership person maybe your state should be thinking about all this!


Connor Koppin

My name is Connor Koppin and I have been selected to represent ICDA as the R&S Chair for Self/Independent Published works. I am so thrilled to be chairing this entirely new R&S position for ICDA. For so long, composers have turned to traditional publishers and distributors as a means to sell music. We have now come to a turning point in the world of choral publications in which some of these publishers are failing to meet the needs of composers, conductors, and educators; thus, composers are turning toward alternative means of publication, i.e. self publishing and independent publishers.
Some of the issues that are associated with using traditional publishers consist of the following:

-- Composers often only receive anywhere from 8-10% of profits from each sale, a very small amount. One could imagine it would be nearly impossible to make a living off of such wages.

-- When a composer agrees to publish a piece through an outside company, they are fully surrendering all rights to a piece of music; thus, allowing a company to make choices that may not be in said pieces best interest.

-- More often than not, publishers and distributors arrive at decisions with solely a monetarily profitable mindset, and no other factors. Therefore, regardless of how brilliant a piece of music may be, if a company decides that it won't sell 5,000 copies a year, they will refuse to publish it. This could ultimately lead to the disintegration of some of the greatest contemporary works, a lack of ability to get the piece "out there".

-- Compositions may often be accepted for publication, and then never actually made available for purchase until a significant amount time has passed. For instance, should a publisher find another piece worthy of publication, it will alter it's publication schedule, and suspend publication of another composer's work until a more "convenient" time.

These are just a few of the many problems that living composers face when they are contemplating the outcome of a piece.

Supporting living composers is one of our most important roles as music educators and in order to do so we must make an effort to turn away from our standard process of selecting repertoire and look toward a new way of buying music.

Self and independent publication are methods which better meets the needs of BOTH composers and conductors. However, it is both my fear as well as the organization's, that we as conductors suffer from a lack of knowledge regarding this new age of selling and buying music. This R&S position has been created to enlighten ICDA and its members in regards to directly supporting composers in their efforts to create a more healthy method of business. I am so proud of our ACDA chapter for recognizing the much needed attention to this area of choral music. I am excited to bring some valuable information to you all and hopefully better inform ICDA; keeping us forward-looking and a leading state chapter of ACDA.
Connor Koppin
Self Publishing R & S Chair
Connor Koppin (b.1991) is an award-winning composer and conductor of choral music. In 2013 he completed his bachelor of music education degree at Wartburg College where he studied conducting with Lee Nelson. His pieces have been performed across the United States by numerous choral ensembles in collegiate, high school, and liturgical settings. He has had pieces selected for a number of all-state festivals in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and currently has music published with both Morning Star Music and ECS publishing. He is currently working at Roland-Story High School in Story City, IA as a Choral Director and serves as the R&S Chair for Self Publishing for ICDA.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this announcement a few days ago and it's been sticking in my head. I initially felt pleased to know a special spotlight was being shown on lesser known publishers and composer collectives (and to receive a shout out for See-A-Dot Music in the article!).

    Upon further reflection, however, I am a little concerned about the separation of self-published composers from the rest of the Repertoire and Standards. As it is, these chairs are divided in their research responsibilities by choir type (community, high school, Men's, Women's, etc.) not by musical era, genre, or publisher. There are, after all, no limitations on the type of choir for which a self-published might write!

    It seems to me it is incumbent upon all R&S chairs to exercise due diligence in their research. These lists are a vital resource for both conductors and composers, especially since inclusion on such a list can significantly boost or launch the career of an otherwise unknown but worthy artist.

    While I think it's great there is at least one person out there making a point to seek out these very talented, but less visible, composers, I hope it does not remove the responsibility all R&S chairs have to offer a selection of music from a widely represented variety of sources.

    Director, See-A-Dot Music Publishing