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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Most Music Publishing Gets it Wrong

It has been a pretty long time since I last blogged about the music publishing industry.  I have been frustrated with their paper-based economic business plan for sometime now and have blogged about it here, here, and here.
The music publishing is far too entrenched in the Gutenberg model and relies solely on the economics of paper, printing, and postage.
We choral directors are the ones paying the price for their entrenchment, whenever we:
  • order a piece of music
  • pay for postage/shipping
  • have a work is back-ordered
  • find out that a work is "permanently out of print" 
  • have to wait for a piece to be delivered.
I wonder about how much better it could be every time I:
  • have to provide my own translation
  • have to find an expert to make a recording of a language pronunciation
  • have to provide my own IPA transcription to a piece of music
I am reminded of how inefficient a system we have every time I:
  • instantly download a book from Kindle or Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  • instantly download a recording from iTunes
  • instantly download a video online
Where is the music publisher of the twenty-first century?  
Where is the publisher that provides bonus supplemental material to aid in my teaching?  
Who will be the first music publisher that *really* gets it right?
on September 17, 2010 4:27am
You might want to consider the many self-published composers and other independent music publishers who do provide the option to purchase downloadable sheet music and/or pdfs with a license for you to make your own copies, as well as full score information, score samples and audio files available on their websites.  Robert Wendel has started a webpage listing some of them (Independent Classical Music Publishers), including my own Burke & Bagley.  Another great new music distributing source is Art of Sound Music, although so far they have little choral music.
on September 17, 2010 5:08am
When I put my choral conductor's hat on, I could not agree more. A great opportunity awaits the company who can provide a user-friendly, full-service product with educational bonus materials, and can provide it digitally and instantly. What if that company created a blog where the publisher, composer, and directors could have a clearinghouse of teaching, resource, and performance ideas for its anthems? What if that company linked its product to ChoralNet, ACDA, YouTube, Twitter, etc.?
Also, the more I enter this world as a customer, the more pressure I am placing on our copy machine and office infrastructure. (BTW, our office uses a really fancy, sophisticated color/BW copier that staples, punches, duplexes, and makes PDFs, FAXs, emails, booklets, coffee, and omelettes. But the parameters for making customized copies do not accommodate anthem-sized paper!)  Is the day here when notation can displayed digitally? "Singers, turn on your iPads, and open "Glory to God." I'm ready. And, while we're there, have the notation application help singers to learn their parts outside rehearsal.
When I don my publisher's hat, the pictures changes some. I was once a president of a little company that sold downloadable children's anthems. Sales reports indicated that 75% of purchases were for one copy of a title, indicating most directors bought the one copy, displayed the text, and taught the music by rote, rather than buying a copy for every singer.  The composers received little royalty, and the company did not survive. (Of course, SATB music can't be taught by rote so easily, but this experience could represent the fear of many traditional publishing companies). Still, one wonders IF the digital company had been supported with honesty by its customers, it might have flurished and pressured the Gutenbergists to adapt and compete.
In spite of this and other issues, we all need to move forward. So, I join you, Philip, in a challenge to publishers, composers, and choral directors to bravely enter this new digital world with a commitment to honesty and integrity, and envision and embrace the potential it holds for our children, youth, and adult singers and institutions.
on September 17, 2010 6:28am
Amen, brother!
My 2 cents: Folks out there should know that many of us not-yet-dead composers are promoting our new music through our websites, and usually provide a pdf file for the purchaser to copy- saving instantly on postage and time. We also help ourselves survive since we then don't give up 90% of our earnings to a publisher on these"self-published " pieces, many of which are far more interesitng than the pieces that are accepted for publication by the usual publishers.In addiiton, we're very easy to work with regarding performance rights, mechanical licenses, etc. We're trying to get new music out there in the world and are thrilled when we hear directly from choral directors.
The next problem to solve is this-- getting convention/conference organizers to stop looking down on self-published" or manuscript pieces. Currenty it is very difficult, even for a top name clinician who has chosen such a piece for one of their guest gigs, to get such music into the hands of conference attendees. There is a large disconnect when the sheet music retailer comes into play. They want the ease of  placing large orders with traditional print companies, not have to deal with the details of working with self-published composers. Hopefully we can change peoples minds abou this, but currently it is a problem. I would guess that Tim Sharp and the new energy at ACDA will lead the way in most of this!
Paul Carey
on September 17, 2010 6:57am
I would endorse what Greg Bartholomew writes: many of us independent publishers are trying to develop better ways to do on-line sheet music publishing. We have diverse ideas about how to do that, but we are all trying to improve on the old printed-paper system with all its annoyances and frustrations. We think we can give you a better deal than the traditional publishers, and we'd love to sell to you. However, as yet, none of us is Big and Famous, so you don't know where to look to find us. Here's a clue: (and a little searching on the web will easily yield more ideas).
There is, of course, one overriding issue: you buy the music that you like, from whoever publishes it, regardless of their business model. If the piece you plan to perform comes from a crusty, awkward, disobliging and expensive publisher ... you just have to pay the money and bear the grief. But, if you take a look at our list, you may find that we too have pieces that you'd like to do. If you don't take a look, then you'll never know.
John Wexler
Partner, Canasg Music
Edinburgh, Scotland
on September 17, 2010 7:22am
Slightly related, I found there are music stands that are digital screens you can work with - the picture came in a lifeway box. But I think it's orchestra/instrumentalist specific. Can't recall any other details.
on September 17, 2010 7:27am
My "new" publishing choral company does just that. The site is in french for now, and when time allows, an english version will come (and more titles too). Many audio examples are available, many downlable samples too. No shipping or duties to pay, and when I have the music on hand, the files get emailed within 24 to 48 hours. What the choir is purchasing is a license, not paper.
I do have to rely on their honesty not to give away the files or lend or resell them... FYI, the site is
on September 17, 2010 7:35am
Dear Philip,
I'm one of the self-published whom Greg references. To get my music out to the wonderful universe of choirs (I have over 60 titles for chorus--catalog list available upon request!), I provide free perusal .pdfs of scores to conductors on request. I simply put an Adobe watermark on them, "NOT FOR PERFORMANCE OR PHOTOCOPY USE." I also provide live or demo MP3s on request for those that I have. My updated website (ETA November) will provide these downloads directly to the visitor. And then if they like a work, they can pay for a cheap photocopy license (no charge for cppying covers and back-page catalog lists) and I email the master .pdf *without the watermark, and they pay me for the number of copies they need to make.
As for Parts Predominant/Practice music files, those are a little labor intensive to make, but I have done so on request. I am still waiting for the MIDI industry to create a MIDI mapping/reader for syllables/vowels/consonants/formants from text underlay in MIDI lines set to a vocal sound (remember MacinTalk?). There is a program that captures these as digital sound bites (recorded by the Seattle Symphonic Choir, I believe, and I hope they get royalties for all the work they and other choirs might as a result lose for commercial work in future), but you have to play them in in real-time on a keyboard using their proprietary program, which is not set up for counterpoint or different words in different voices at the same time, best for homophony but astonishinly realistic; not mapped to MIDI yet). And I have some moral qualms about using such a thing anyhow, since I am a firm proponent of Live Music Always and Everywhere. (Another thread for another day . . . )
But about the .pdf route, let me make this point: Such is my respect for the culture and community of choral musicians, that it has NEVER occurred to me to worry for a moment that anyone would abuse this arrangement (pay for one copy, make 30; or sell them to someone else, etc.) I still sing as a section leader and soloist in local concert choirs, and I have more than once sung in a choral rehearsal where we were handedout xerox copies and one of the old-timers has politely asked the choral conductor "Did we pay for this one?" Etc. So I am happy with how this works, so far, and conductors seem happy with the less expensive option. And I don't spend hours slaving over a hot Xerox machine (I don't sell 1000s of anything--yet!--so I don't do print runs, mostly just-in-time.) (I spend enough time and/or money on engraving already. The fun part is making up the new music!)
My one problem: Perfectionism about physical production of parts/scores. I find that most performing groups (also instrumental) either don't know how or don't have the patience to make 11 x 17 booklets, two-sided, as photocopy masters for nice folded 8 1/2 x 11 booklets on sturdy (Staples Premium) paper--(or even--my own invention--the folded legal-size sheet, which makes a decent small-type 7 x 8 "mocktavo"). They typically just copy the pages backed up on the cheapest letter-size paper and staple them at the side, which makes for an awkward edge-folding problem for the singer. But I have decided, if they are content, I can let that be.
(And of course the related issue with bands and orchestras is that their librarians really want 9 x 12 page sizes, which unfortunately means expensive custom-cut paper etc. That's been a thread on the OrchestraLIst a dozen times. I deal with that by trying to use slightly larger music font settings and wider vertical spacing/fewer staves per page on letter paper.)
We do what we can to make it easy for our wonderful music to get out there to you and be sung and heard and enjoyed!
Best regards,
David Avshalomov
on September 17, 2010 7:55am
Its coming! There are several publishers that are picking it up, like plum publishing (focusing on sacred, church-choir like music) and several composers are putting together their own websites and self-publishing their music exactly that way. I have entire set of bookmarks dedicated to composers who self-publish so I can keep track of their music.
Other evidence that we are "getting there" is that several publishers (Walton, Colla Voce, etc.) are FINALLY posting PDF samples of their scores with audio samples. Now I don't have to order every song that looks interesting to decide whether or not I like it or subscribe to the new publications...they're getting there.
on September 17, 2010 9:44am
Great discussion!  As a self-publisher myself (selling between 4-5 thousand scores a year) I'm finding my business is still too small to make much profit but just big enough to be taking up all my time.  That said, I really enjoy the job!
So far I'm dealing primarily with printed and bound sheet music, shipping rates, inventory, and all that goes with it.  But with such a high overhead, and a seemingly-endless demand for the music, I'm currently scheming about ways to go digital.
What I worry most about is related to Terry Taylor's point (above):
Sales reports indicated that 75% of purchases were for one copy of a title, indicating most directors bought the one copy, displayed the text, and taught the music by rote, rather than buying a copy for every singer.  The composers received little royalty, and the company did not survive.
While most of my music would be difficult to teach by rote, I do worry about ensembles buying one copy and photocopying it.  It has happened a few times to me, where I've found out through a friend-of-a-friend, etc, that a group is performing my music without having purchased the scores.  And that kind of disregard feels very personal to me -- makes my stomach turn, as if having put my whole heart and soul into writing the music is still not enough.
One solution:  I love love love Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory's new publishing model (, stamping a personalized license on each PDF copy that identifies the buyer and how many copies they are licensed to make.
The biggest question to me is:  How much security is necessary for downloadable PDF choral scores?  To conductors:  Does a license like Caldwell & Ivory's encourage honesty? -- or are you tempted to buy one copy and run eagerly to the photocopier? 
What about international buyers, where I'm told illegal PDF sharing is more rampant? 
The radio show "Marketplace" on American Public Media recently ran a show about audio downloads and piracy.  It was interesting to me because they deduced that most people who pirated digital goods (software, mp3s, etc) did so because they truly thought their measly payment wouldn't make a difference, would never get to the [artist, singer, software designer], and stole it as an attempt to "stick it to big business."  So I'm curious about this:  If ensembles knew they were supporting an artist directly with each sale, would that encourage honesty in digital download sales?  Or is there so much disillusionment with the music publishing industry now that consumers feel they deserve a break?
Thank you Philip, and everyone here, for having this discussion!
Abbie Betinis
on September 19, 2010 8:50am
I placed an order for music this very morning, and "WILL BACKORDER" appeared on 3 of the 4 titles. Ridiculous.
I wrote an article for the Northwest ACDA web site on this subject last year, kind of a "future history" of the transition away from the traditional paper publishing model. I think it is coming faster than we think.
Reginald Unterseher
on September 19, 2010 3:38pm
Mr. Unterseher you are a hero to me!  I read your article last spring when it was linked to a different ChoralNet posting on the subject.  I've shared it with many people through the link on your website.  I love especially how optimistic and positive your writing is -- it really makes this shift seem possible.  Would love to speak with you more about it if you're up for it.  (Or any of you for that matter!)
Abbie Betinis
on September 20, 2010 8:42am
Just one story, related to this topic. My choir, Anuna, recorded a new piece of mine last week, and one of the singers insisted on using his iPad, or iPork as we call it unaffectionately.
He stood for 5 hours holding this in his hand. I suspect that he was making a point, but considering that the item is
1. Silent
2. Scrollable
3. Backlit
4. Portable [well, sort of, and he is around 6 foot 1, and a marathon runner]
then this is something we should all sit up and acknowledge for the future. Digital paper is that future...
Michael McGlynn