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

excess rental fees

My New Ark Chorale will be performing Karl Jenkin's "The Peacemakers" this April.  I was just informed that Boosey and Hawkes will charge us $1011.00 to rent the conductor's score and parts for one performance.  I believe these types of fees are quite excessive and put a tremendous strain on budgets, especially community based choral organizations.  It also means that many great choral works simply might not be performed or even worse that parts might be copied and unethetically passed around.  We will of course pay to rent the parts, but "it  hurts."
As a disclaimer, as a published composer I make money when my scores are sold, or at times rented.....but over 1000.00 for one performance is crazy and I would hope that publishers, and it certainly isn't just B & H, would reconsider and lower these rental fees.
Replies (17): Threaded | Chronological
on January 15, 2014 8:32am
Agree. Everytime somebody whines that choirs do too much Bach and Beethoven and other old stuff, I point out this is one reason why. You pay literally ten times as much for modern pieces than for comparable pieces in public domain, and like as not the parts will be hand-written, full of mistakes, and covered with prior users' markings. Your only recourse is to find out the cost of renting parts before committing to programming a piece, and just replace it with some nice Mozart or something if it's too expensive.
on January 16, 2014 5:47am
I would agree - but the solution lies in the hands of several sets of people.  Obviously, in the free-market capitalist economy of this country, the publisher will charge what "the market will bear" - and that's understandable, if of dubious moral value.  The other solutions, however, are in the hands of composers AND users.  It is not enough for users (such as your group) to complain, vociferously and bitterly, to B&H - but it also requires composers such as Mr. Jenkins to stand up and tell the publishers that this is unconscionable, and that it acts against the true interests of the composers (whom the publishers are supposed to represent) as well as the publishing company itself.  If, in the end, no one uses/rents the work, it just collects dust on a shelf and takes up space.  This is the aspect of American music publishing that has always thrown me - but it's understandable in the light of "make money today and to h*ll with tomorrow and the day after."  The only way a work becomes a "classic" and takes its place among the other classics and standards is if it's heard and performed - and this seems to argue against that.  I know that it costs to edit, prepare, print parts for a substantive work - but tell me, just HOW much does it REALLY cost?  Any publishers out there that can answer this sort of question?  
Chantez bien!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 16, 2014 11:57am
Well, in this modern age, the publisher's main ambition (and to some extent the composer's too) is for the work to make some money, not for it to become a classic. The only way it's going to produce a good return is through recordings and performance royalties - not through occasional performances by local choral groups. While the chance remains of getting professional groups to perform and record it, that's what B&H will be aiming at.
In their minds, a flood of amateur performances will take the shine off the work, making it more ordinary and less exciting. Until they've squeezed the big profits from it, they don't want audiences to hear less-than-perfect performances, and they definitely don't want potential listeners saying "The Peacemakers? Oh, yes, I heard that last year. It was OK." So they take the line that "if you can't afford it, then you're probably not going to give a good enough performance to a big enough audience of important enough people". Brutal, but understandable, if you can follow the logic of "grand rights" for stage works.
It should go without saying that, if New Ark Chorale do in the end sing The Peacemakers, you will do it far better than B&H fear, and you will not hurt their prospects in any way. If anybody is going to campaign on this issue, that's the line which publishers might find persuasive. In fact, if you can convince them that you will do it really well, you might ask them to sponsor you by reducing the fee to something affordable.
Disclaimer 1: I'm writing from the UK. Music publishing in the US may, for all I know, be a more altruistic business.
Disclaimer 2: I'm a partner in a small music publishing business, but I've never been in a position to charge anybody $1011 for the sale or hire of a single piece. I wish!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 17, 2014 1:57am
In this case, of course, both the composer and the publisher are British.
on January 16, 2014 9:48am
Has anyone thought to ask Karl Jenkins- or any other composer whose rental fees are very high- what they think about it all? If you get an answer from them, please share it with us.
Tom Seniow
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 17, 2014 7:11am
I find John's answer fascinating - truly so.  Talk about "lifting the veil" off the business side of publishing (and, to a certain extent, composing, "in this modern age").  In the end, the argument is:  we want to make as much "filthy luchre" as possible, but in the name of having profitable and valid performances.  You know how those sad little volunteer choruses would do such a miserable job of things that we wouldn't end up making as much money if they were to do so; so, we will charge all outdoors to make sure that these miserable excuses for musical organizations would NEVER be able to afford to do our work, AND only those who have both the money AND the musical "chops" are the only ones who can.  (Talk about snobbery....)
Does anyone hear the "clunk" in that line of thinking?  I'm not blaming John; he's been honest with us, and I think he truly has caught the essence of what music publishers are after - at least the big ones.  It may very well be that a composer doesn't expect his/her work to become a "classic," but many of the composers I HAVE spoken with and heard from all seem to be driven by the idea of having their work heard - and the more so, the better.  Yes; they would clearly prefer that their work be treated musically in such a way that honors their effort in composing the work; but they're real people, too.  They know that exposure will give their work, not just the one currently in the choir's hands, but the next work, and the next, a greater chance of performance and a greater opportunity, perhaps, for commissioning a work.  There's a local composer here in N. Virginia who I will not name only because I don't want to embarrass him - but he is very popular in this area.  It's not unusual to find the community and high school choruses performing at least one of his works.  Now, does this gentleman think that each and every one of these performances came up to scratch?  I don't think so - but, he understands that if his works attract such attention, and people hear his name, they will NOT NECESSARILY go "Oh, yeah; heard that; enh."  So the high school choir who performs his most-often performed work may not be the Washington Performing Arts Society or the Washington Bach Consort - but the immediacy and approachability of his work will get people's attention.  So, will it become a "classic?"  Dunno; check in about 50 years from now and see.  But in the meantime, he has enjoyed not only the relatively frequent performance of this work, but commissioning for at least two other works from a local community chorus.  Oh, and did I mention?  He's self-published.  Interesting, that.  Wonder if that should also tell us something.
So what the big publishers do is "valid," in the sense that it's their choice and right to pursue a particular business model.  But should we, the purchasers (incidentally, the most important persons in the transaction after the composer - after all, he could distribute manuscript copies - with today's copying capabilities, it wouldn't be difficult to get enough copies into the hands of singers, thus cutting out the middleman who makes the most money in the operation - hmmmmm, again, an interesting sidebar) endorse such economic "terrorism?"  "OOOOOO, the publishers won't publish music if we weren't to buy it at their ridiculously inflated prices."  Ahem:  ladies and gentlemen, my point, exactly.  Wonder what would happen if this model changed under the publishers' feet, because people would go - "Y'know, this is too much.  We need to look elsewhere."
So, Michael, perhaps Tom Seniow's question is absolutely on the mark - what DOES Karl Jenkins think of this?  Is this "model" that John shared with us what Karl is after?  I know it's a dog-eat-dog world out there - but does that have to be?  This thread may turn out to be one of the better ones lately....
Chantez bien!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 17, 2014 11:22am
Thank you, Ron, you clearly see this the same way that I do: "Y'know, this is too much.  We need to look elsewhere." Your local composer is self-published. So are lots of other excellent composers. And (if I may be excused an advertising plug) Canasg Music tries to publish good music by interesting composers at prices that are absolutely affordable; and, of course, there are many others. If choral directors want to loosen the grip of the Big Publishers, one approach is to explore all that independently published music, and program it in concerts.
I do realilze that you can't do that all the time. For some occasions, you simply have to present a Big Work by a Famous Composer. Often, too, you don't have time to explore the web and evaluate music that you've never come across before, so you just have to resort to a reliable catalog of known names. But, when you have the option, please take a look at the wider pool of music, and give a chance to a host of aspiring composers and hopeful small publishers. They're not all amateurs and a waste of time: that would be the flip side of the Big Publishers' assumption about choirs.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 18, 2014 6:45am
Bingo, John!  Well-said, particularly the second paragraph.  The "Big Publishers" have become so in part because they've been successful in convincing the "consumers" (we, the conductors and programmers of musical events) that their catalogue has the "best."  Piffle.  Thank heavens most of my programming is for church, and I have a couple of reliables (and outliers) that I look to for music, and the prices are generally pretty sane.  I pity the folks that have to program for public concerts.  But John's thoughts may require some work - but maybe it's work that'll do all of us a lot of good!
on January 18, 2014 9:19am
The original question had to do with orchestrally-accompanied works, since it was the rental cost of the instrumental parts causing the outrage. Most self-published and independent publishers do primarily church anthems or small keyboard-accompanied (or a cappella) works, where the pricing discrepancy isn't so great. A quick persusal of Canasg's site didn't turn up anything accompanied by orchestra. I'm all in favor of giving independent publishers a chance, but that's not much of a solution in this case.
on January 19, 2014 5:00am
Very valid point, Allen - and perhaps it points in the direction I suggest at the end of my last little comment, though it was not in mind.  Thanks for keeping us on point.  I wonder if the orchestra/band accompaniment aspect of the music composing/publishing business (because of the sheer volume of effort involved in editing and producing the scores) has ended up in the hands of the Big Publishers because they're the only ones that can afford that.  Good point.  However, there's a challenge for the "independent" composers and publishers out there.  Understanding that there's a great deal of up-front financing required to set and print works, I have to wonder if, with all the computer-driven products out there and the means to reproduce, if it wouldn't be cost-effective to look at different ways of producing such accompaniments, as opposed to "printing" them.  Also, and here I reveal ignorance, are the Big Publishers actually "printing" anything anymore, or is it all done digitally/electronically?  If the former, I can understand the costs (though wonder at the method); if the latter, how does that compare price-wise?  I would think that the biggest single price is the human factor of editing; after that, it ought to be less person-intensive and more mechanical - but I simply don't know.  This becomes an issue if the Big Publishers argue that the man-hours are so intensive that that is their justification for such prices.
on January 19, 2014 9:16am
Lots of composers are perfectly capable of typesetting their own music, and most typesetting software allows for the automatic creation of instrumental parts. Like anything else, it requires some editorial judgment to do well, which some composers have more of than others, but there's no technical reason independent publishers or self-published composers can't provide orchestral works. It's just a specialized market, I think, and not all composers are comfortable writing for orchestra.
I feel confident that all typesetting at conventional publishers is now done electronically. The "hand-written" parts I disparaged in my first reply above referred to mid-20th-century music, such as Vaughan Williams or Duruflé, which publishers have on their shelves and continue to use to gouge musicians.
on January 19, 2014 10:44am
What you say is true, Allen, but thanks for taking a look at our site anyway. I confess that I had wandered away from the original poster's point, and I'm sorry if it looked as if I was claiming that Canasg could solve Michael Larkin's problem. If we actually had something in our list that could substitute for The Peacemakers, I would probably have mentioned it!
on January 19, 2014 6:33am
I (and my community choirs) am a happy Canasg customer; other composrers/arrangers are following that modl, and cutting out the inflated middle man. Everyone gets enough. Hurrah!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 22, 2014 4:32am
Hi all,
A very interesting discussion! As a composer who loves writing for chorus, with some published music that is quite reasonable for purchase (EC Schirmer and Colla Voce), and some self published (Wendigo Music) , I agree with you that there is  price gouging going on here, and it's also often true for chamber and orchestral music. What would be useful is if the publishers had rental fees that were titrated to the budgets of organizations, so that whoever wanted to perform music would be able to do so, just as publishers titrate what they pay in royalties depending on the type of venue, organization etc.
It seems to noone's advantage for music to remain unknown. Another instance of this is the number of pieces (of all genres) that are only available on rental, so that if, for instance, one wants to study them in a course, they are not available. Yes, occasionally the publisher will allow a library to purchase a score for study purposes that is typically available only for rental, but again this a big disservice to the dissemination of contemporary music.
On the flip side, as discussed here before, many choruses borrow or rent from other organizations, cutting the composer out of the picture. So, often composers will grant limited licesnses for performance.  And whether the composer does her own typesetting, or hires a copyist, there is a lot of work/time/cost involved.  Time for an overhaul...
All Best,
Judith Shatin
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor
McIntire Department of Music
University of Virginia
on January 23, 2014 11:06am
Hello all,
We might want to factor in a few facts about this work, some of which have been mentioned, though not all have been taken together as a whole.
I am certainly not an apologist for music publishers in general, let alone Boosey and Hawkes in particular, but some perspective is needed here, I think.
The Peacemakers is a very recent work; it is a big work, and not likely to be performed by a lot of community choirs generally. And this has nothing to do with ‘snobbism’! The Peacemakers is a long and very timely work, being one hour and twelve minutes, and so – with an intermission – can make up an entire program, perhaps with a couple of 'openers', though hopefully not 'closers'. I have not seen the score, but I have looked at YouTube performances of excerpts. Two orchestras and two choirs, for a start.
Please correct me if I am wrong on this, but I presume the rental fee is for orchestral and choral parts. I suspect that each of the two choirs would contain 40 to 50 performers absolute minimum, (personally, I would want at least 200 total in the choirs) and of course the orchestras must be proportionally sizeable. I believe Mr. Jenkins had 1000 performers in mind when he wrote it! It is a big work in every way, and not for the faint-hearted.
Now, what would it cost to purchase vocal scores for a one-hour plus score? Let me guess- $40 - 50 each? Multiply that by even 100! A somewhat similar situation pertains with respect to the instrumental parts. And who’s to say that Boosey and Hawkes would get their investment back on that? (Answer follows*…)
There is an interesting ChoralNet thread that deals with some parallel issues around mostly US and Canadian performances of Jenkins’ The Armed Man at  *One of the more telling questions was from someone asking to rent or borrow scores from a choir that had performed the work. *You’ll get my point! (Whoever performs either of these two works, beware of possibly being ‘forced’ to perform a reduced version, as was Leonard Ratzlaff in the case of The Armed Man!) The thread makes for interesting reflection.
But what does it cost to rent a Broadway musical? Have I ever seen similar objections? Somehow, high fees are acceptable when the product is ‘commercial’, but highly suspect when it is not. Is this in part what is operating here?
Anyway, just some observations, a few facts, and questions… but all that being said, I personally think the fee is reasonable.  I believe that with the choral involvement that must occur with such a topical and magnificent work there would be a sufficiently large audience of choir and fine-music supporters to fill a spacious venue, and the fee – proportional to ticket sales – will be just about the same as for a smaller concert with less expensive music. 
Please let us know where and when it is being performed!
on January 23, 2014 12:23pm
Actually the rental fee of over 1011.00 was only for the conductors's score and orchestral parts.  We necessarily had to purchase the choral scores separately at 17.95 a score, which is not a complaint, it is a big score.    The argument that the large fee would offset buying the scores does not work in this case.  This has been a most interesting string.  For what it is worth, I did purchase the parts and plan to do the work in April because I really wanted to do the work, and hence, had no choice.  Snobbery or not though, these types of fees will probably prevent me, and I am sure, many other conductors from doing some contemporary large choral works in future programming.  Remember the 1011.00 fee was for just one performance.  At one time I thought about two concerts....but it would had cost me an additional 900.00 to do a second concert.  I'm sorry, that is not right.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 25, 2014 9:13am
Points well taken, Michael, especially with some clarification. I will admit the 'second-night' fee is high– in fact, a well-aimed shot at their own feet!
Now, where and when is the singular performance?!!!
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.