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Swirly Music is a non-profit distribution venue for self-publishing composers

In the spirit of the various posts here about the various interesting and promising new venues for self-publishing composers to make their work available, I would like to let you know about Swirly Music, which operates as a de facto non-profit through fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas.
Swirly Music’s mission is to provide the underserved community of self-publishing “classical” composers with a user-friendly place on the web to make their music available in print to performers who are seeking new, interesting repertoire. There are no editorial value judgments based upon aesthetics, style or perceived profitability. Any participating composer’s music is welcome even if it never sells a single copy.
(It is also not a strictly choral site, and we already have a fairly varied catalogue of different kinds instrumental works.)  
For an example of how work is presented, please have a look at this lovely piece by Mark Templeton.  Each listing has a place for embedded performance audio (ideally from SoundCloud or some similar service) and/or video from YouTube.  There is also the "View the Score Up Close" link, which offers a full-screen perusal score viewer.  (The score cannot be downloaded or printed from there.)
For more information and a better overview of the services offered by Swirly Music, I invite you to come by and poke around:
Many thanks for having a look!
Michael Kaulkin
Founder, Swirly Music
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on August 26, 2014 10:03am
I would greatly welcome any questions about this service.  I just received a private reply asking if there are any exclusivity requirements, and the answer is no.  Swirly Music is offered as a service to anyone who wishes to take advantage.
I would also like to add -- if this does not go without saying -- that composers retain their own copyrights.  This is not to be confused with traditional "publishing" in any way.
There is a "Question and Answers" page on the site that I hope addresses most of the big questions, but I'm happy to drill down here on any questions or concerns.
Many thanks again,
on August 26, 2014 2:03pm
Hi Michael, thanks for posting.  I gave it the 15 minute look-over.  Printing fo your scores looks pretty good with poptions for paper size, that seems unusually good.  The profit sharing is 40/60 for composer/company but the printing comes out of the company's portion so more like 50/50.  
Michael, to save our members a bit of time and to open a discussion, what would make us want to use Swirly over Sheet Music Plus which has a similar profit sharing and much larger distributorship?  I'm trying to give you an opening here, don't take offense. 
Jack Senzig
Composers of Choral Music Community
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 26, 2014 2:40pm
Thanks for spending the time to take a look and for the opportunity to answer some questions. 
Sheet Music Plus is a vast enterprise and does a great job of serving the needs of a wide variety of musical interests.  The downside of that is that one has to work pretty hard there to find anything specific.  As a shopper there, I can browse by intstrument or genre, but there's no way to say "show me stuff by living, self-publishing composers".  On a given listing page for a score, I can sometimes see the first page of the score, but not the whole thing.  The examples I just looked at had MIDI recordings instead of performances.
Swirly Music is serving a more narrow and focused niche.  I hope it will become a destination for musicians who are actively seeking interesting new repertoire, but its main purpose is for composers to have a home for their music where visitors can listen to their music and peruse their scores without the high-pressure environment of an ecommerce powerhouse.  The main selling point, I think, is the user experience for the shopper: the full-screen score viewer, the embedded performance audio, as well as a generally clean, clear and well-executed web site.
I give a lot of personal time and attention to each work that is contributed, hoping to present it in the best possible way. I pay a lot of attention to quality control and I help composers recognize and fix potential problems with their scores, covers and front matter, recordings, etc.  It's possible Sheet Music Plus does that as well, but I'm assuming they do not.
I hope that anyone considering Swirly Music will look at lots of different pieces on the site to get a feel for how the work is presented.  I think this is the main feature of the site that makes it unparalleled (so far) among sites that offer this service.  
Sheet Music Plus is a well-established company and may very well be the right solution for a lot of composers, but I hope I've explained a little bit about how Swirly Music is different.
Thanks again for the opportunity!
Michael Kaulkin
on August 26, 2014 3:27pm
Sorry, but something additional has occurred to me regarding comparison between Swirly Music and Sheet Music Plus.  There is a very substantial difference in the product that is delivered. 
I didn't realize this until now, but apparently Sheet Music Plus' model is to deliver a PDF file that can be printed but not downloaded. It does not deliver a printed score to the customer.  (Someone please correct me if I'm misinterpreting their FAQ page.)  So, it's up to the buyer to deal with organizing and binding the materials, and it would not feel like a published product.
Swirly Music is different in that the customer receives a professionally printed and bound score (usually saddle stitch, but it depends on the material) and parts if applicable.  Our printing service is a company that only does music printing and is accustomed to printing standard music sizes like choral octavos and 9x12 for piano/vocal works.  Technically the printing process is called "digital printing" in that it's not offset printing, but orders are printed on demand and shipped to the customer.
In the end, the score in the musician's hand is a professionally printed score with a cover and front matter, such as one would get from a publisher off the shelf in a music store. At the moment we are not selling downloadable or printable PDFs, but if there is a demand for that, it could happen.
on August 26, 2014 5:17pm
Hello Michael,
Thank you for taking the time to share about Swirly. I think it presents some neat possibilities with the "niche" it is aiming to reach. I think the printing aspect rather than digital download is a nice touch (I like digital download, but that niche is being serviced by many right now, so your printing idea is good). You might also consider offering digital printing.
My biggest question/concern is the cost to be a part of Swirly. At $9 per month, that comes out to $108 dollars per year to have one's music included in the distribution service. That is a higher cost than JW Pepper's offering of a very similar service ($99 one time sign up fee, $25 yearly fee - waived if sales exceed $400). Are you generating enough traffic to make it worth it for many small time composers (or are you confident you will with the promoting of your music)? If so, you're service does seem high quality. I wish you great success, and am interested to see how it goes for you.
God Bless,
Michael Sandvik
on August 26, 2014 10:47pm
I think the comparison to JW Pepper is a little more on the mark, as opposed to Sheet Music Plus.  Thank you for bringing that up, and especially the question about pricing, which is a fair question and one that I'm dying to explain. Interestingly, so far, no one has actually asked, although it's clear to me from monitoring users' behavior on the site that this is a turnoff.
The necessity of the $9/month fee is a simple question of basic economics.  Sheet Music Plus is a big store with lots of items for sale for which there is a great popular demand, including popular music, educational materials, etc.  The revenue from those categories makes their business profitable and because of that, they can afford to offer the digital print service for free. Plus, the way they're doing it, it doesn't really cost them much if anything.  JW Pepper is much closer to what Swirly is doing, but it is also a very large and profitable business with the ability to subsidize their My Score service through revenue from popular categories.
Swirly Music only sells music directly from composers and does not attempt to be profitable.  In fact it is a de facto non-profit service. There is no mass-market demand for much of the repertoire we carry, and so it is unlikely that sales alone will generate enough revenue to operate.  (It's really no different than a community chorus needing revenue from outside sources because ticket sales certainly do not cover the expenses.) Swirly Music will always operate at a loss, but some revenue is needed just to keep it going, otherwise it's 100% risk.
That is why it is necessary to charge the monthly fee.  Now here's why I think it is a reasonable expense.  Perhaps I have different take on things than the composers here, but one has to spend a certain amount of money on one's own career.  To me the value proposition is this: if you join Swirly Music, you no longer have to deal with printing and shipping your music at your own expense.  If you're really working at it, I would think that you spend more than $108/year on that, so this is a break.
The idea of waiving the fee for composers whose sales exceed a certain amount is an excellent one, and I'd be all for it. But for now I don't have the resources to solve the operational problems around that.  It would be one of those "good problems to have", and if it ever seems like realistic scenario I will consider moving in that direction.
So if you're not already spending money on your career, I can understand why this is not appealing, and Swirly probably isn't the best option for you.  If you're an actively self-publishing composer seeking and getting performances already, Swirly Music is offered simply as a service that will make that easier, and it is customary and reasonable to pay a fee for such a convenience.
Swirly Music also promotes itself and its composers in ways that I don't think Sheet Music Plus and JW Pepper do.  While I can't afford to advertise on individual composers' behalf I do promote the site in general as a destination for new repertoire, and all composers benefit from that.
Composers want to make connections with performers and have their music performed. Swirly Music facilitates those connections.  When a purchase is made, the composer is given the name and contact information of the buyer, so that connection can be nurtured.  So, it's really about more than just selling products. Personally, if a piece of mine is performed, I'm just as happy whether I'm getting 50% or 25% of the revenue from the sale of the score.
By the way, JW Pepper and Sheet Music Plus seem to almost go out of their way to prevent people from finding the composers who are using their services. I just went to JW Pepper's My Score page and there isn't even a hint of where on their site I can see an example of the "composer page" they're offering.
I like to think that Swirly Music offers a lot of value for the nominal monthly fee, and given the nature of it and the level of personal attention and quality assurance involved, I'm not sure there is a fair apples-to-apples comparison to be made with any other service. It is surely not for everyone! JW Pepper in particular does an excellent job of marketing educational and choral music in particular, for example, and may be a better option for some of you who are strictly choral composers.
This was long (!) and I hope it did not come across as defensive.  In summary, Swirly Music charges a small, nominal fee for a service that others are offering for free, however it is higher-quality, better-executed (my opinion, of course) as well as more personalized and composer-friendly.
Many thanks for the opportunity to explain this further here.
Michael Kaulkin
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 27, 2014 2:02pm
Thank you for taking the time to give a thoughtful, well explained answer to my question about cost and services.
As a conductor I will definitely be keeping an eye on what you have to offer, and will give thought to your services offered as a composer.
Michael Sandvik
on August 27, 2014 2:29pm
I would like to chime in here. I believe Michael Kaulkin has created a wonderful service. Swirly Music is similar to JW Pepper in that it prints and ships copies.  Just like Cadenza One and Sheet Music Plus are similar in that they deal only with digital print.
Each of these sites serves composers by just getting their music out there, and they are non-exclusive. As a composer, I am not necessarily looking for the best option; I’m looking for every option available. My music is available on all of these sites. Yes, JW Pepper has a ridiculously large user base, but Swirly Music will eventually grow. In my opinion, the $9 a month is not a deterrent at all. It is the equivalent of getting one meal at your local fast food joint.
One thing that Michael Kaulkin has pointed out is that Swirly Music puts you in contact with those that purchase your music. I received some sales yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised by this feature. Does JW Pepper do that? No.
I was also not expecting Michael Kaulkin to make an announcement about my music on ChoralNet. This was a pleasant surprise. I’m sure he would do that for many composers. Does JW Pepper do that? No.
Uploading new compositions and editing the media only takes one to two days. All the other sites take weeks sometimes to be uploaded correctly.
In my opinion, after using all of these sites, Swirly Music is the best option. It is the most professional, aesthetic looking, and friendly self-publishing site out there. I would encourage every composer in this forum to jump on board.
Mark Templeton
Applauded by an audience of 1
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