Monday, November 3, 2014

Music Publishing Trends, Part Four

Today in Part Four of my blog about current choral music publishing trends, we hear from Northwest Choral Publishers, a four person venture based in Washington state. This is a great group of very talented composers/conductors. Here's their story:

The idea for Northwest Choral Publishers was hatched in conversations between Karen Thomas, John Muehleisen, and Reginald Unterseher at conferences and concerts around the Northwest. Reg had written an article in 2010 for the NW ACDA newsletter called “Enhanced Music Scores: More Than Notes On Paper Could Ever Be” just before the first iPad was announced. (Here is the article—you have to scroll down a bit.)The article imagined a future where the buying and selling of music was a transaction directly between composers and performers, among other things. Over a few years of discussions, it seemed to us that group efforts could be more efficient for composers and for the conductors and performers we wanted to reach. Other groups of composers were forming, and we decided that being physically located close to each other and having a regional identity was useful, as was the idea of keeping it small to start with and expanding from there if it worked for us.

John Muehleisen
In our conversations, we all felt that we independent composer-publishers are nearly invisible to conductors, especially outside our own regions. Even traditional publishers rarely market and advertise composers and their compositions unless they have already established name recognition. Most tend to be in the same large, murky catalog pool, with little done by the publishers to distinguish one composer from another. The bottom line is that for composers who mostly publish through traditional publishers, and for all of the composers who have pieces with traditional publishers, their works are no more visible in the marketplace than those of composers who self-publish.

We looked at the variety of ways others were addressing these challenges, spoke with our composer colleagues around the country, gratefully incorporated ideas that seemed like they would work for us, and looked for our own way in other areas. The essence of our collaboration was finding the areas where we could be better together and still maintain our financial and artistic independence. We realized that together we could afford channels of visibility, marketing, and advertising that would be too expensive for each of us individually. We decided to have a joint web site with a joint catalog and links to our individual web sites, all tied together with a unified visual style. Purchases are done on our individual web sites, which makes our financial arrangements easier to handle than having a joint business model.

Together, we are purchasing ads in major choral publications and on websites, sponsoring a conference reception, and splitting the cost for web hosting and site design/development. We have already reaped considerable savings, and we foresee additional savings in the future. More importantly, distributing the cost burden enables us to pursue more extensive marketing and advertising strategies than we could do on our own.

An aspect that is harder to quantify is the effect this new publishing model has on our writing. In important ways, we feel that giving our artistic vision precedence over traditional publishers’ sales models makes for better music.
We have had some encouraging results already. Karen's "Lux Lucis" for women's choir has not been picked up by traditional publishers, due to the challenging nature of the music. The launch of has tremendously boosted sales of this piece in the past year - there are dozens of 2014 performances in the US and Canada, including touring performances.

Karen P. Thomas

So far, Reg’s best selling work  is “The Steady Light,” which has versions for accompanied and unaccompanied choruses. It has been featured in reading sessions around the country, and performed at ACDA and NAFME conferences in a variety of forms. With a piece that has many voicing and accompaniment options, a traditional publisher would not realistically be able to make them all available. From a web site, though, we fill the orders to the specification of the conductors.

Reg Unterseher
Last year, we had conversations with composer Brian Galante, who we knew was a natural fit with the group. His new web site just went live a few weeks ago, and he is now part of the catalog. We have an ad in an upcoming Choral Journal, we have joined ACDA as business members, and we plan some activities at the upcoming ACDA National conference as well as state and regional conferences. We look forward to what the future brings, and feel that our arrangement puts us in a great position to change as the music publishing and distribution model changes.

Brian Galante

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