Monday, October 27, 2014

Music Publishing Trends, Part Three

Greetings from Chicago where it is a balmy 74 degrees- Hurray! My son has fallen in love with porcupines and he has a home-made porcupine costume for Halloween. Very furry and with home-made quills- it's awesome. Right now we are glad to see that it will only be 50 degrees Friday, otherwise he would melt inside that thing!

This would be my choice in porcupines!

In parts one and two of this gabfest I talked about the unfortunate disconnect between a lot of today's quality choral composers (young and old, new and established) and the large, older traditional publishers, especially in regard to contract structure and sharing of sales proceeds. I will get back to that later, but now for the main event: I am going to feature offerings especially prepared by new or
new-ish publishers who are doing things quite differently as well as offerings from some great composer cooperatives. I am also going to feature Deborah Simpkin-King's Project Encore, which needs more visibility in our choral community.

I hope you will enjoy what each of these guest bloggers have to say and that you will appreciate their effort to put something together for this series. And of course I hope you will visit their websites!

Today I am featuring See-a-Dot Music Publications. This publisher, operated by Fahad Siadat (get the company name now?), is just about a year old now and already has a great stable of gifted composers: Toby Twining, Jonathan David, Martha Sullivan, Robinson McClellan, and more. The website is crisp and clean. They offer quality scores in both printed and electronic version. I also like the fact that Fahad does want to grow composer's careers- remember I mentioned that issue earlier? But enough from me, here is an article Fahad wrote for you to read:

Creating Partnerships: Music Publishing in the 21st Century 
by Fahad Siadat

A few years back I was talking with my friend the composer Jonathan David about how much I loved his setting of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal (which you must check out even though it’s published by Oxford and not by me). He mentioned the piece isn’t performed very often, and believes it’s a result of little promotion on the part of the publisher, an issue I’ve heard about from dozens of other composers. This turned into a discussion about publishing arrangements in general, how he gave up 100% of his copyright for the piece, and only receives 10% of sales for a score he basically promotes by himself. While he appreciates the boost having Oxford University Press on his resume offers, it begs the question of what part publishers play in the modern industry.

I recently wrote an article discussing how I believe publishers can still be an important resource for both composers and conductors if they are willing to adapt to the needs of the 21st century. The reason I started See-A-Dot Music Publishing was because I saw a need for a different kind of publisher, one who partners with an artist to help their career grow and provides a well curated resource of quality music to ensemble leaders.

It’s important to understand publishers don’t serve composers, we serve conductors. For us, it’s the unique relationships we build with clients which is the stand out feature of our organization. They know we are intimately familiar with each piece because we have an in-house ensemble to perform them, and conductors trust us to make recommendations for their groups because we take the time to learn about their ensembles and audiences. That trust is core to our business model. Conductors often send me their program themes to see if I have an appropriate piece in the catalog. I love these conversations and think they're the best part about being a publisher.

Fahad Siadat

Our relationship to composers is just as personal, but in a completely different way. Rather than a service relationship, we are investors in an artist’s career. I see the modern publisher’s role as similar to that of a record label. When I ‘sign’ an artist, I’m offering more than marketing and business infrastructure; part of our job is helping polish and develop a composer’s work and help prepare it for public consumption. Sometimes this is addressing complicated engraving issues (not uncommon for contemporary work), other times it’s editing pieces for content and form, which can develop into a mentor/composition instructor relationship with those in the early parts of their artistic careers.

Those are the intangible features that differentiate us the most, but there are some concrete aspects of how work differently as well. Transparency is a big value for us, so I’ve listed below highlights of the contracts we have with composers (including percentage splits) and how they reflect a spirit of partnership and mutual support that makes sense in the modern day music industry.

First, we split the Copyright of the piece 50/50 with our composers. This arrangement gives the composer a say in how their music is used and adapted, and it ensures a continued legacy of their work. As a publisher, maintaining the legacy of our composers is one of our most intimate responsibilities, and having a percentage of the copyright allows us to continue that work un-hindered.

We also include a Right of Reversion which allows the composer to get all the rights of their music back if it’s not selling. This is a key element of our business relationship and keeps us accountable for the promise we make to be untiring advocates of our artist’s music. As a composer myself, I wouldn’t want my music lost in a back catalog. This seemed to best way to address what has become a common issue.

Our contracts include a  Right of First Refusal which states that if a composer is interested in publishing a new work that we get first dibs. It doesn’t mean exclusivity! We have a period of time to say yes or no, and if we don’t want to publish the piece then they can take it anywhere they like. As I said, this is a partnership, one where we mutually invest in each other’s well being and future success.

Jonathan David's Stabat Mater 

How we divide Sales and Royalty Splits is a little better than the standard. Generally, we offer 10-20% for what we sell on behalf of the composer. The variation depends on how established the composer is and can grow as their career progresses. Any kind of licensing fee or passive royalty (mechanical, synchronization, performance, etc) is split 50/50.

Ultimately, our goal as a publisher is to help our composers build a strong reputation and gain wide exposure. A symptom of that goal is selling scores, but the end result is a growing career for our composers. Even in a tightly curated catalog like the one we maintain, not every piece is a success (though they all deserve to be!), but part of the publishing game consists of the most popular works ‘paying’ for those that don’t sell hundred of copies. This is how we are able to offer more opportunities to those composers just getting started.

Of course, no single contract meets everybody’s needs, and many composers are happy to deal with their own publishing, marketing, and self-promotion. For those who want to focus their time and energy on composing, however, the right publisher can be a good route to pursue. 

Fahad is the director of See-A-Dot Music Publishing, Inc., a company devoted to the advocacy of new choral works and emerging composers. He is a conductor with C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective and of the Columbia University Glee Club, and voice faculty at the Peridance Institute. He works as a chorister and soloist in New York specializing in new music, particularly improvisation and the use of extended vocal techniques. As a composer, he focuses on music for the voice, but has written for theater, film, and classical ensembles such as the California EAR unit and the TOCCATA Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at
Fahad Siadat
Director, See-A-Dot Music Publishing

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