Monday, February 16, 2015

Music Publishing Trends, Part Seven

In this series we've examined the old model of choral music publishing and also focused a lot on various  new and new-ish ventures in the choral music publishing business.

Part one examined traditional sheet music publication, including some fascinating videos on the laborious craft necessary to create music scores before the advent of music software

Part two was an in-depth exploration of both the artistic and financial issues today's composers face when they choose to publish through traditional companies.

Part three through five were guest blogs by some great folks creating companies which are blazing new, more composer-friendly, trails.

Part Three: Fahad Siadot (See-a-dot Music Publications)

Part Four: John Muehleisen, Karen P. Thomas, Reg Unterseher (Northwest Choral Publishers)

Part Five: Kurt Knecht (MusicSpoke)

Part Six featured Deborah Simpkin-King as guest blogger, sharing her amazing venture,

Today, let's trot on back to an issue I brought up in Part Two of this series (if you want to read that whole blog entry, click here):

Here is what I said:

Let's look at where each dollar of gross income goes from the sale of a typical music score. These are approximate figures.

In traditional publishing:

$1.00 is broken down this way:

90 cents to the publisher
10 cents royalty to the composer, who must sign over copyright ownership of the music to the publisher

If a living poet's copyrighted text is used here is the breakdown:

90 cents to the publisher
5 cents to the composer, who must sign over copyright ownership of the music to the publisher
5 cents to the author, who will  not be asked to sign over any copyright ownership

Here is a rough idea of how that 90 cents on the dollar that the publisher takes breaks down:

30-40 cents reserved for discounting to retailers
20-30 cents "engraving" and printing
20 cents publicity
20 cents profit

Here now, continuing, are my various thoughts:

Now as you recall I also have been pointing out the modern composer's significant role in score preparation, and the high visibility many composers now maintain. Composers should be rewarded for these things. Further, I have bemoaned that many publishers want quick, easy hits that may generate strong, money-making sales for one or two years. In other words, the old school model desires quick turnover of merchandise, yet most composers are trying to NOT compose throw-away music. I propose that publishers reward composers for creating music that sells well and amasses long term sales. Publishers could also help composers further their career and work together for mutual benefit. Thus, a further proposal- publishers would reward composers who have become identified as a quality "house brand" for that company.

So let's simply take that good ole 10% the composer's are usually given as a royalty and see if we can suggest bonuses the composers could and should be offered (and actually, publishers should first take the steps to license the right to sell music from composers, and STOP requiring that composers sell the copyright ownership to their creations).

Some bonus ideas:

an additional 5% royalty on each piece where the composer provides a professional electronic engraving of the score (requiring only very small tweaks by the publisher's staff). Publishers could easily provide the company score-layout template(s) to composers to work inside of- this is crazy easy to do (you might want to go back and read Part One of this series- the videos there are fascinating!).

an additional 5% royalty to a composer who is very visible promoting the music at conferences, publisher reading sessions, guest appearances as composer and /or conductor at large events, etc.

an additional 5% royalty which kicks in after a piece reaches 10,000 copies sold (or other figure the publisher decides to arrive at)

an additional 5% royalty for any composer who reaches 20 titles in the publisher's catalog

In other words, publishers would reward composers for writing quality music which sells well over the years, as well as rewarding composers for composer/publisher longevity/partnering over the years.

If we start at that paltry old 10%, and then add in all of the above, a composer, working in healthy partnership with a forward-looking publisher, could be rewarded at a rate as much as 30%. This seems high compared to 10%, but look at all the work required to kick in these bonuses. It's not a small task, but worth it for both the composer and the publisher- both parties would benefit.

This could also be added- for pieces sold directly to the public, without a retailer middleman, an additional 10% royalty on those particular sales.

If publishers started doing something along these lines, perhaps so many composers wouldn't be so quick to bolt and start self-publishing, start co-ops, and the like. Of course, I like the co-ops- I'm not saying they should go bye-bye.More and more co-ops re popping up all the time, with some great composers banding together to do so.  And of course, any of these various old or new models can work- I am just pointing out that the old model could be revised to become more realistic about how IT can survive in the face of all the new models out there.

What do you think? I'd like to hear feedback!

Let's also examine another reason composers choose to self-publish or start co-ops--it can be more than just the money. It can often simply be the fact that the composer maintains control over copyright, the actual piece, and promotion.

Example One:

ACDA's executive director Tim Sharp has published music with Hal Leonard and others. Yet he and musical partner Wes Ramsey especially chose to publish their very popular High Lonesome Mass by themselves. Tim tells me that it was about control of the product- they simply wanted to make all the decision themselves about the piece and how it got out into the world and not have someone else by given the power make those decisions. It appears to me that Tim and Wes have been really successful in this endeavour- they have had a lot of well-received performances of the piece all across the country. It's a great success story! Btw, if you would like to read my review of the piece you can click here.

And here is the FaceBook page for the piece:

Example Two:

A couple years ago Nancy Menk of the famous Saint Mary's College in Indiana commissioned me to compose or arrange some music for her women's choir annual holiday madrigal dinners. I wrote three of these for her and decided to just keep writing. The project grew to include 18 carols (some original, some arrangements) for women's voices. I made the conscious decision to control this collection of carols myself. Thus, I chose all the tunes, did all the composing, arranging without an editor looking over my shoulder, collaborated with a cover designer and printer and so on. The finished product has become very popular and sells very well. You can read a very positive review of the collection that was in the Choral Journal issue from August 2014 here.

Carols, distinctive arrangements for women's voices

My printing costs are quite low and I make a significant profit on the book and was even been able to scale down the original asking price of the book in order to make my customers happy. I sell the book myself through my website, Paypal,, I have one deal in place with the great folks at Musical Resources in Toledo, Ohio to sell the book there in the store or online, plus also handle any wholesale deals that come up. It is currently a featured item  on their website. I control everything about this book. It was a lot of work, but it was well-worth doing that way! And I should add, I had a bunch of great musical friends help edit it and cull out bad notations, etc- thanks to them all!!

So you see, when composers talk about publishing models of the past and the need to reinvent things, it isn't always just them griping about the usual old-school 10% royalty- there are other significant issues as well.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. Please share it with others and consider leaving a comment on any part of the series.

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