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Questions for Published Composers

Hey all,
Lately I've been weighing the options of how to best move forward in my composing career.  One of the things I've been pondering is whether to continue strictly self-publishing all of my work or whether to try and get a piece or two published.  I've always been a very strong advocate for self-publishing and do plan to continue to self-publish music, but with the way my schedule has shaped up over the past year or two, I'm beginning to wonder if it would be beneficial for me to try and get a work or two published to help get my name out there a little more.  Because of my curiosity, I have a couple of questions for composers in this forum who have works published by traditional publishing houses.
First off, do you find that your works that have been published by a traditional publisher are your most performed, highest selling works?
Did you notice an overall increase in business and opportunities once you had a piece published?
Has being published led more people to your personal website, and have you sold more of your self-published music as a result?
I know what the 'common sense' answer to these questions is, but I'd really like to know what some individuals have actually experienced!  
Dustin Oldenburg
Replies (7): Threaded | Chronological
on June 12, 2013 7:52am
Hi Dustin,
1. The works that I have through a traditional publisher have had varying degrees of success in the field. Generally, if there is someone behind the piece, performing it, recording it, taking it to festivals and All-States, the piece has done well. Others have seemed to fade into the background. A piece of mine was on the Texas and Florida  All State programs a few years back. I got a lot of sales because of that, but then the sales dropped after those events.
2. For the pieces that have gotten out there through a traditional publisher, I've experienced more name recognition, but no more "opportunities " (commissions, clinics, etc.) than normal.
3. For most of the music that I sell, whether it's through a traditional publisher, my own company ( or through the independent publishing company that I co-run (, it's because I'm out there promoting it. A traditional publisher has x amount of hours and dollars to spend on each piece they pick up. I feel like once that is spent, it's hard for them to continue to promote it because there are more new pieces coming in. I think whichever direction you go, the more you are promoting your work, the more it will get seen, heard, performed, etc.

I don't think there's any drawback to having a couple of your pieces published through a traditional model, except that you lose your copyright ownership (except with a few companies). The drawback to publishing independently is that there's a lot of work involved. The plus is that the rules are changing for reading sessions at conventions and R&S articles in favor of independent publishers. 

Does that help?

Timothy C. Takach
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 12, 2013 8:23am
Thanks for your input.  I believe we exchanged emails not long ago in regards to my interest in Graphite Publishing!  Side note - I've listened to some of the works that you have on your website and enjoy your writing very much.
Your response is very helpful.  Knowing that certain pieces get somewhat 'buried' even when made available through a publisher is one of the things that concerns me about pitching music to a publisher.  If I have to work hard to promote the piece- even if a publisher has it- then I'd rather be able to keep my copyrights!  However, the thing that gets lost in self-publishing seems to be the ability for someone to kind of 'stumble' across my work.  I do a great deal of promoting in the little time that I have to do it, but it still takes someone intentionally coming to my website in order to purchase my music.
Thanks again!
on June 12, 2013 8:21am
Hi Dustin,
Good question! Wish I knew the answer....
i started off down the 'must try and get it published' road.  I was lucky with the first piece I submitted to OUP, In that they decided to take it.  I was fortunate in that it had had some well received performances, and I didn't hesitate in signing up with them.  I'm sure this opened up some doors for me - not least that it led to some performances in the US and elsewhere, and I was able to follow some of these up via the Internet. I also discovered that a choir in Norway had recorded the piece, and this led to new friendships and requests for further compositions. I'm sure that none of this would have happened if the piece hadn't been published.
There is, however, a downside to being published. Of course the publisher receives most of the income from any performances - but this is counteracted if, like OUP, they have a very good promotions department, which will enable performances far and wide.  If you write any orchestral music, I should think twice about having it published. The current practice (in the UK at least) is that publishers will only hire out sets of parts. This may put the piece beyond the range of many amateur orchestras. I've been told more than once that budgets won't stretch to the hire fees charged by publishers. That's a pity, because I'd like to get my piece performed as widely as possible. Having said that, at least one performance of my Christmas overture probably wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been taken by Faber.
On balance I think it would be worthwhile getting a publisher interested, particularly if you've had some good performances of your works (which I know you have!). But be prepared for the heartache of getting stuff rejected. I'm sure it happens to most people, but that doesn't make it any easier!  But if you've got a good self- publishing outlet, it's important to keep that going, as that's probably where you'll sell most of your stuff.
Hope that helps - but I'll be interested to see what others say.
on June 12, 2013 8:27am
You've offered up some very good information here!  Thank you!
By the way, I bet you didn't know that I'm the licensing administrator for Oxford University Press in the United States.  If I ever see a request for any of your works come across my desk, I'll be sure to jack up the price a little bit!...haha!  Just kiddng.
on June 12, 2013 9:25am
Hello Dustin,
Darn good questions!
First of all, "YES" to all three questions: (Though with a caveat*)
Do you find that your works that have been published by a traditional publisher are your most performed, highest selling works?
Did you notice an overall increase in business and opportunities once you had a piece published?
Has being published led more people to your personal website, and have you sold more of your self-published music as a result?
I sympathize with your situation. Even after fifty years experience with both self and traditional publishing, I am still asking myself the same questions!
I have just a little bit to add to the excellent responses you have received so far. *This, the 'caveat', concerns the SIZE and FOCUS of the traditional publisher.
In general, the smaller the publisher, and the more 'niche' the publisher, the more that publisher will tend to promote its composers. Also, smaller publishers sometimes can afford (or at least pay out) somewhat higher royalties than the larger ones. If one tends to write extensively for a niche market – for example 'Religious' music – it is possibly better to find a truly sympathetic publisher – one who really believes in the product (and maybe God, in this case!)  – than a large 'multipurpose' publisher. Over a period of time it is beneficial, even easier, to cultivate a relationship with a smaller company which works extensively with a niche market. You can get buried in the catalogue of a large, even well known publisher, and after the initial promotion and flurry of activity suffer considerable disappointment.
Don't forget that publishing is a business, and like many businesses publishers like bringing out 'new' products as often as is feasible. Smaller publishers tend to have relationships with not only their composers, but with their clientel– their customers. They believe as much in their composers, their customers and their music as much as they believe in their 'business'. This is the kind of company I try to publish with, and on the whole it has been very successful.
on June 12, 2013 9:33am
Most publishers are ONLY interested in making money, not being ethical.  That is why, at the top of nearly every contract, there will be a "legaleze" statement that makes you agree to allow anything that doesn't sell hundreds of copies, in the first printing, to go into the publisher's POP file (permanently out of print).  When that happens, and it frequently does, you must hire a good lawyer to get your compositions back, i.e., if s/he can. 
If you have a piece accepted by a publisher, s/he is free to sell his/her whole business to another publisher without letting you know.  If you have pieces in the POP file of the initial publisher, MANY letters from a lawyer will be required to trace your works; each letter will cost LOTS of money; an old adage, "The law is only for the rich," possesses considerable truth.
After having lost many of my choral works, I KNOW, first hand what I'm saying here; so my advice is for you to concentrate on promoting your works to performers; having a good web site will also help.  If you make a change in a publisher's contract, stating that your work MUST be returned to you in the event that the music doesn't sell, the publisher MAY renig; but wouldn't that better than forever losing your intellectual property?
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 14, 2013 12:32pm
Hi Dustin:
I have enjoyed reading the responces from the fine composers belore.  There is not much I can add, but echo Timothy's comment:  "whichever direction you go, the more you are promoting your work, the more it will get seen, heard, performed, etc."
I represent the older composer who did not have the advantage of self-publishing.  Plus the fact, that I got into composing  as a second career after 35+ years of HS and Church directing.  I belong to the  "all music is  with a publisher" group.  However, there are some advantanges to that. 
I have a new piece with Concordia Publishing House.  They mail out packets of new music to directors on their subscription list.  I could never do that.  There are other major publishers  that do the same.  I see some sacred titles on your website.
Many pubishers send packets of new music to groups like Texas Choral Directors Association for their summer reading sessions.  I have had many pieces read at such meetings.
I have lots of service music that I make available for the United Methodist Musicians as free down loads.  GBOD  You may not want to give away music, but I have had directors who later purchased  published music. 
But, like everyone has said, it's that self-promtion that is the key.  Build that email list of directors. (I'm still working on that)  Find those choral directors who like your work and ask for recordings.  I see a Matthew Curtis on your site.  All it takes some time is that one big hit.  Best of luck.
Tom Council
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