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Composer needing royalties advice

Hi there, would appreciate any help please. My wife has written a few compositions and is now being asked about the written music and also permissions for recording (from choirs). Having had a look at the copyright and publishing minefield it is all somewhat daunting. We have decided not to go down the get-a-publisher route. Can someone give a few simple answers to a couple of questions please?
Would someone who ordered sheet music be ok with Sibelius formatted sheets?
What might one charge (I know it's not much usually), and does one charge for each copy (eg if a choir of twenty are singing it)?
Is the pricing similar if we just sent a download option?
And finally, how might we charge a choir that wants to record a song? Let’s say they will make a thousand CDs.
Not looking for the finer details here really, but hoping for a few pointers from someone who has been round this block before.  Would be really appreciated. I should perhaps add that we are not looking to be too restrictive in terms of cost or permissions (as it obviously very nice to see other people using the stuff) but  at the same time we don't want to undervalue it by throwing it out too freely! We are in the UK. Any help really appreciated ;)
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on December 29, 2013 9:11am
Hi Rod,
These are wonderful questions that many of us self-published composers have dealt with in great detail. I'm thrilled for you and your wife as her music is gaining traction!
Most self-published composers format their music in 8.5x11 sizing (a default for Sibelius scores) and it makes life much easier for performers that are printing their music. I sell all of my music by digital download - the ensemble purchases the number of scores they will need to print (a 20 voice choir with conductor and pianist will need 22 copies) and then add a specific license on each page of the score; something like: This score has been licensed December 25, 2013 for the reproduction of 22 copies for the sole use of Joe Schmo, the Joe Schmo Singers, Anytown, Minnesota, USA. Further dissemination of this licensed and copyrighted score is illegal.
Take a look at websites like JW Pepper, Sheet Music Plus, and others to get an idea of what they charge for scores (usually generated by the number of pages/length of the work). This should give you a decent guide as to what you should charge. Also peruse some of the leading self-published composers' websites and prices: Abbie Betinis, Elizabeth Alexander, Stephen Paulus, Jake Runestad. There are also some companies like JW Pepper with their MyScore project and others like Score Street that help self-published composers to sell their music while allowing them to retain their copyright and offer a greater royalty than traditional publishers.
Information about mechanical (recording) rights can be found through the Harry Fox Agency. Click here for a general Q&A about this process, fees, etc. They have a specific formula to use when calculating what to charge for mechanical licensing.
I hope this is helpful to you and wish you the best in your self-publishing endeavors!
Jake Runestad, composer
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 29, 2013 11:06am
I'm a partner in a small choral music publishing business in the UK. Most of the users of this forum are in the USA, and you'll get excellent advice (like Jake's above) with an American tinge. If you allow for local differences, you can rely on what they tell you. The primary differences, I think are -
  • The laws of intellectual property are different here, but they generally have very similar effects. For instance, copyright is a more limited concept here, applying only to things that can be physically copied. US copyright law seems to cover many other aspects of intellectual property, which, in Europe, are protected by other names than copyright. In any case, any realistic business plan must recognise that you can't hope to enforce your rights either in Europe or in America. You rely on the goodwill and moral sense of your customers (and we have found that sufficient).
  • The equivalent of the Harry Fox agency here is the Performing Right Society.
  • The common paper size here is, of course, A4 rather than 8.5x11 inches. People who publish electronically/internationally often use a notional paper size which is the intersection of A4 and American letter sizes, i.e., 21cm x 28cm.
If you explore Canasg's web site, you'll find our pricing and a description of how we sell music and what deal we offer to composers. You might find some of that helpful.
And finally (before I'm recalled to the ongoing Christmas festivities) I'll wish you every success and good fortune in 2014.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on December 30, 2014 3:09am
~~Hi folks, thank you for your superb and helpful replies. (a)John Wexler – I really like your site. Can I ask for your advice on the issue of mechanical licensing? In my view, the PRS rates are prohibitively high, especially if the CD was for charitable purposes etc. (I thought the same a few years ago when I myself made a CD for charity and paid PRS for the use of one song – which I ended up not using anyway!). But one advantage of registering one’s music with PRS (have I got this right?) is that it is probably the only realistic way of receiving any performance royalties? Or is it feasible to manage that oneself? Or if a composer was registered with you, would you do that somehow? And if, or if not, could you suggest a reasonable fee for such things? Main reason for asking is that one of my wife’s songs was recently played on the radio (recorded by an excellent local choir with which she is involved) and as a result a couple of people, representing choirs, have emailed saying they would like to record it too. I’m asking a lot of things here, I know, but I thought I’d push the boat out! Thank you very much for any advice. And thank you for interrupting your Christmas festivities!
on December 31, 2014 5:59am
Wonderful questions and advice. One thing to consider in your price point for digital download: Yes, consider the going price for traditional printed music, but remember that your target customer is going to have some cost in printing. Often times I've passed on purchasing a 12 page score for $2.50 solely because I will still need to pay an additional $.60-$1.20 per copy to duplicate. 
Granted self publishers will have the same overhead as publishing firms (website, marketing, etc.), but just remember that in an era of shrinking budgets for the arts, conductors still have to print the music. And, just like the cost of printed music has gone up, so has the cost of copying music. 
Thank you!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 2, 2014 6:58am
[Apologies to American readers, for whom the technicalities of UK copyright are unlikely to be of any interest ...]
PRS rates for using other people's music: my (limited) experience is different from yours. I've made several CDs on minimal budgets, and I did follow the licensing process through PRS, and I didn't find the fees particularly daunting. They seem to calculate them based partly on the price at which you propose to sell the disc, and they allow for discs that you plan to give away rather than sell, and there may be other concessions for charitable purposes.
PRS for collecting royalties for your own music: I don't know of a better way to do it. It costs a lump of money to register yourself as a composer, but you don't have to renew your registration annually. Once you're on their books, you stay there. When you're registered, it doesn't cost anything to register your individual works. If we publish a composer's music, we like the composer to be registered with PRS. If they aren't, there's no way we can help them to get what's due to them except by registering ourselves as the copyright holder for their music - which would be a lie, since our composers retain the copyright of the music that we sell for them.
In short, I recommend registering with PRS. It won't make you a fortune in royalties, but it will save you weeks of hassle and frustration.
on January 2, 2014 9:59am
Hi all, many thanks for the superb replies. Theye have been most helpful.
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