Thoughts on the Music Publishing Industry – Part 2

Before I go any further in this series, I think it is important to note that I am an “end user” in this industry. I have done some arranging, and I have also prepared some larger works (public domain) for use with choirs. I am very familar with Finale and Notion, and am growing more familiar with MuseScore. For the most part, Finale and Sibelius are the major tools that music publishers use to finalize a piece. Many hours can be spent “print setting” a piece. In choral music, the process is generally straightforward, as the biggest concern is printing all parts in an octavo (smaller page size) format, whereas instumental music offers many challenges in both a master score and individual parts. Most composers compose directly to MusicXML, and software of nearly any kind can print both scores and parts. But creating a published piece requires much more finish work, as well as cover art, composer notes, and anything else included in the final printed masterpiece. Then of course, there is marketing, audio recording (samples), printing, storage, shipping, and all the other overhead costs of a piece.

I honestly don't know the cost distribution of a music publisher, but my guess is that the composer/arranger receives 10% or less, and that the license fees of a pop song are perhaps 25%. I believe that music is sold to music stores at a discount of 25% (75% of MSRP), leaving somwhere between 65% and 40% of the cost of each piece of music to the music publisher. When the sale moves to the online format of the music publisher, they may make between 90% and 65% of the cost of the music–with the purchaser often picking up the shipping (the website costs are negligible, perhaps an extra 3% of overhead with credit card fees. Normal website costs are part of doing business these days).

So, with that in mind, let me express some of my frustration with things as they stand and how they can be addressed:

  1. Music purchased in a digital format should NEVER cost as much as paper. At certain times of the year, I can purchase sheet music from a local music store for 20% off with free shipping. If I order a digital copy, it costs the full cost PLUS shipping (and my local music store doesn't see a cent).
  2. I “get” that some people love paper music and hate digital music. I can only assume two things when this occurs. First, they haven't tried apps like forScore or unrealBook tied with an AirTurn foot pedal. Second, digital music is paper music digitized, not music optimized for a digital screen. So that said, have the engravers tweak the digitial music you are paying more for to specifically work on the screen of an iPad (with hundreds of millions sold, that's a good start), which will then scale well to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (which still lacks a good PDF music reader) or future iPad “Pro.”
  3. That said, any printed music that makes staves miniscule should stop the process. Earthsongs and Oxford…some of your scores are horrendous to read if you are over 40.
  4. Storage of paper music stinks. Collection of scores after a performance and distribution is a challenge, and some kids fail to turn things in until the very end of the year. Sorting scores (in instrumental music) is a pain. Digital music can solve all that (after the piece is used, it is deleted or recycled). An online database could easily track what a school (not a director, as those change) has purchased, allowing that school to redownload and print as necessary.
  5. We (educators) can photocopy cheaper than you can print. Covers are pretty, but are not needed with digital music. We want the first page to be music, with “extra” materials at the end. For a digital score, pages should be re-numbered. Save the money and do away with the fancy covers that end up dating the scores in five years anyway. So if your school isn't 1:1 iPad or Surface (or a future Chromebook tablet), you can still photocopy. Remove the cost of printing, stapling, handling, storage, and shipping from the cost of the music, and make it less expensive for all of us. Make digitial copies we can print the standard.
  6. With that digital copy, be bold. Include the MusicXML file so we can convert songs easily to rehearsal files. Include rehearsal audio files (like Carl Fischer).
  7. Make a way for us to “trade in” printed music (or simply recycle) for the number of copies we have (thus showing those copies in our school's databae), either for free or a ridiculously low cost (covering the cost of the person who has to enter the data). Help us remove our sheet music storage rooms. Paper is terrible. It becomes brittle, gets abused by students, is suceptible to water, fire, and insects (the school where I taught in the Dominican Republic lost all of its music to termites. My father's male chorus had their music library flooded), and even professional drying didn't save all of it).
  8. Rewrite the terms of your copyright agreement to allow for things like creating “keepsake” CDs for students, posting on YouTube and SoundCloud. Encourage people to share those recordings. Also modify your copyright terms to allow directors to revoice music as needed.
  9. Change copyright to require each SCHOOL to own the music, and make sharing or lending illegal.
  10. Obviously, allow schools to use purchased digital music in lieu of printed sheet music in 1:1 situations.
  11. Never, EVER, sell us a piece that is in the public domain without letting us know that it is available in the public domain. Help us to use our limited money to buy music that supports living compoers. Some teachers may still want a printed copy–if so, fine. But most teachers would appreciate the customer service.
  12. Offer schools the ability to buy a set of music versus indvidual copies. In choir, treating a song like a band score, authorzing use from 1-25, 1-35, 1-50, 1-75, and unlimited. Those price points could change (increase) from year to year, but once you buy the set, they stay with your school. With band scores, allow owners to use as many copies as needed for their school.
  13. On a related note, if schools consolodate, their libraries could legally merge.
  14. Never, EVER, let anything go out of print. Ever. Always make it available. If I can reasonably recreate a piece in a couple of hours, so can your engraving experts. They might even correct original mistakes in the process.
  15. That said, when there are errors in your music, and they are reported, update the scores, and upload the refreshed versions to the overall database, with a note that errors were corrected! Furthermore, if you are updating scores, update fonts and beaming at the same time. Just because the original printing plate was horrible doesn't mean that you can't make it better today.
  16. Stop with the practice of developing your own app for every publisher, where music has to be locked into the app or printed. This is complete DEATH in a rehearsal (“Okay, now open the Alfred App. Now the Hal Leonard App). Everything should be in an unlocked PDF.
  17. You know all those workers who handle all your music in your warehouse? They can become compliance experts, traveling to schools and checking that the music being used is legally purchased and owned. Don't sue those who are not in compliance–bill them for the cost of the music. This could also be passed on to the independent music stores who are getting cut out of the action.
  18. I would love to see a Pandora of music, a site where all publishers made their works available, and schools could register to use “x” number of copies per year at an annual fee. You would have every song at your fingertips at a cost that could be defended to administration and budgeted. Furthermore, use would be tracked, and then payments would be sent accordingly to both the composer/arranger and (if necessary), the performing artist/song writer (pop music).

The world has changed, and paper resources are on the way out. It is time for music publishers to embrace the new paradigm, and in fact, to profit from it. There has to be a realization that school budgets are shrinking, and that schools are simply not going to be able to buy music as they have in the past. There are ways to sell digital music (such as Graphite Publishing and BandWorks) that make it possible for schools to afford music and use it digitally, while still paying the composer and the publisher. I know that change is scary–but right now, the music publishing industry–even with its attempts at some apps–is out of date with the changes in technology and funding that we are seeing in our schools.

Thoughts on the Music Publishing Industry – Part 1

It is mid-2015, as as much as technology has impacted our lives, as musicians, one area where technology has had little influence is the music publishing industry.

While there are still hundreds of music publishers, many exist (distribute and print) under a larger “umbrella” of a handful of publishers (Hal Leonard, Alfred, and Carl Fisher, to name a few). As a choral director, I saw the average price of new scores raise to $2.25 per copy. Meanwhile, education is in the process of eliminating printed resources and using public domain or group-sourced textbooks authored by their own teachers. Ultimately, this means that schools can place more money into technology devices and delivery systems than curriculum (paying teachers is far less expensive than purchasing books).

Where does this leave music, where most educators are consumers and not composers?

The quick answer: not in a very good place. I do not know many schools that have an increasing “music” budget each year–and in fact, I know many schools that receive less funding today than they did ten years ago. This means that schools are unable to purchase as much music as they did in the past, meaning that they have to turn to four solutions: using existing music, borrowing/lending, public domain, or photocopying.

There is nothing wrong with using existing literature, but this means that you aren't buying the most recent pieces by today's composers/arrangers, and you are also not buying pop music that kids want to study. I'm not saying you have to program a lot of today's music, but you should probably be programming some of today's music. Additionally, your existing music may be missing copies or the copies may be in poor condition. The end result? Publishing companies sell less music if you aren't buying new music.

I have no problem with borrowing/lending, but in some sense, it seems that borrowing/lending is also a breach of copyright. Think about it: someone's purchase of music was an agreement, I believe a non-transferrable agreement, between you and the publishing company to have ensembles learn and perform that music. The copyright does not allow you to arrange the music, rearrange the music, re-voice the music, make take-home copies of the music, record the music, make a CD of the performance, share the performance via Google Drive, or share a video recording of the performance on YouTube. Since the copyright is intended to be between the purchaser and the publlisher, does the purchaser have the right to lend music with others? Probably not. And in the end result, publishing companies sell less music if you are borrowing/lending music.

Let me add an additional thought here: having students share a single copy of music between two or three students is also against the spirit of Copyright. The concept is one legal copy for every user of the music. This includes solo and ensemble literature–you are not supposed to make photocopies of music for students to practice at home and then use the same two printed copies for every student that competes on contest day. Under copyright, every student should be using their own purchased printed copy, if the piece is under copyright. And if something is out of print? If it is under copyright, you still need to pay for the ability to use that music.

The public domain is a wonderful source for music, but you need to make sure that the piece is truly in the public domain. Furthermore, there is no editor of public domain literature, so some scores provided by well-intended arrangers are full or errors. And you should find no “pop” music in the public domain, as you know that the original pop artists and song writers will not be receiving any income from public domain publications. The use of the public domain will cause publishers to sell less music.

Photocopying music is illegal, unless you have either purchased the music and it has not yet arrived (at which point you need to destroy the photocopies) or you have contacted the publisher, paid to make legal copies of an out-of-print but under copyright piece. You can also make a photocopy of up to 10% of any score for educational purposes–but you can't photocopy all 100% and distribute it in 10% chunks to your students. Obviously, if you are photocopying music, music publishers sell less music.

Arranging music yourself, unless you are using public domain resources or freshly composing new material, is also against copyright. If you make an arrangement of a song that is on the radio, you have to get permission (and likely pay royalties) to do so. I one made an arrangment for Women's Choir and orchestra of the song “Requiem” by Eliza Gilykson, and receieved written permission from Ms. Gilkyson to make the arrangement but not to publish it (later, Craig Hella Johnson made an arrangement for SATB and made a lot of money on royalties, which I did not). If you make an arrangement of an existing piece under copyright, that is also against copyright. Generally, composers and publishers don't want you to mess with their stuff, even if it means revoicing parts for a boy with a changing voice. Chances are they aren't going to “hunt you down,” but you need to understand that arranging existing is generally against copyright.

Let's be honest here…musicians and music educators break Copyright with near reckless abandon, and only use Copyright as an excuse when they are fighting against new approaches or concepts. There isn't a teacher alive that hasn't re-worked a part, made a photocopy so that a student can take a copy of the music home, or shared an audio recording. Many more have either posted videos of their ensembles on YouTube or have allowed parents to post their own recordings (yes, we could be considered accountable to ask students and parents to remove illegal recordings of our groups on YouTube and SoundCloud). Even more troubling? School districts airing concerts over public access are also in breach of Copyright unless written permission is granted for every song! You can make an audio recording or video recording for your own educational use (e.g. playing back for students afterwards), but you are not automatically granted permission to share. The positive news is that the music publishers seldom go after people who break copyright (even the mass photocopiers who clearly only purchase a few pieces for groups of 50). But as economics in music publishing continue to slide–perhaps they will start doing so to get income back!

I will conclude my thoughts in the next post. In that post, I highlight problems with the current system and offer solutions that would not only give education better tools, but also help the music publishing company ensure that they were “getting paid.”


A new song writing app: Tin Pan (Rhythm)

Once again, my friend Paul Shimmons has posted about a new app before I have…this time, about Tin Pan (affiliate link), an app that was released on Monday. Check out Paul's review, as he has different conclusions than I do (although both of us like the app).

The App takes its name from Tin Pan Alley, a segment of New York City that was known for song writers and music stores, from about 1885. The name is appropriate, as Tin Pan is meant to help people write songs, in a format similar to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as GarageBand. The first time you open the app, it runs you through a basic tutorial of how to use the app. There are several steps:

  1. You (eventually) choose the number of measures (4 or 8), tempo, and key.
  2. You select chords (1 measure each) from a triangle of chords which are labeled in Roman Numerals (each represents the chord built off of that step of the scale, if you are not familiar with this). You can set the program to display chord names, but this is not the default setting.
  3. Then you look at a view of all the possible instruments (Piano, Bass, Guitar, Miscellanous Percussion, and Drums), where you can choose different patterns by swiping on the name of the instrument, as well as changing the pattern of melodic instruments by dragging the event of the instrument up and down. You can also adjust the volume of each instrument.
  4. Finally, you can record the segment and then send it via e-mail, Open In, AudioCopy, or SoundCloud.

Setting tempo, number of measures, key, and chord format.

Ultmately, you aren't going to use this app as a stand alone app for writing a complete song, as you cannot paste various sections together in the app itself. You would have to do that pasting with other apps. For example, you can create various loops in Tin Pan which you can then export to GarageBand with AudioCopy.

The idea is that you can play around with different chord progressions and rhythms, coming up with new materials for songs. This is particularly powerful for pop music which is often limited by form (intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, fade).

Export options for Tin Pan

Currently, Tin Pan can't handle different time signatures (3/4 or 6/8, for example), or loops of longer lengths. You are limited to 10 different chords (not including inversions, however), so it is possible you might want to use a chord that doesn't exist. The record feature is a little odd, as it simply records the looped set of measures as many times as you want it. This can result in dead space before the loop begins (bad for importing) or an off-cut off. I would like a simple “export” feature which would export one precise loop to any of the already existing export destinations.

The 10 chords available in Tin Pan in the major mode

The richness of the app, other than the quality of sounds and educational value of teaching about chord progressions (as mentioned by Paul), is the variety of solutions this app adds for users of GarageBand. Are you tired of GarageBand's stock sounds and auto-chord accompaniments? This app adds 56 different styles of piano loops alone as a starting point, and that doesn't include all the options of the other instruments! The variety of combinations is almost (but not) overwhelming, and I hope that a future version of the app could classify types of piano, bass, and guitar sequences to better help a person know where to start (if that is even possible).

The app is easy to use, sounds great, has educational value, and could really be a great addition to your iPad DAW (even GarageBand). At $2.99, I highly recommend Tin Pan and I am excited to see where it goes in the future.


Monoprice and Pro Audio

One of my favorite sources for cables and miscellaneous audio products has been Monoprice ( I finally realized–today–that they are into all kinds of pro audio, including guitars and MIDI controllers. Most of my personal pro audio needs have been met through Carvin products, or by simply calling Full Compass Audio in Madison. And if I need local help (Minnesota), I go to Metro Sound and Lighting.

Carvin has traditionally been inexpensive but rugged. From my experience with other Monoprice products, I bet that Monoprice will often beat other vendors with their product–IF–it happens to be in stock.

I have used Monoprice HDMI cables, VGA cables, lightning cables, iPad cases, and more. Everything is inexpensive, but it all works. So it might be worth checking out Monoprice for other pro audio needs.


Ningenius Music App – A New Approach to Fingering Charts

I was recently contacted by the developers of Ningenius Music App, and was given a promo code to check out their app. The app itself is a new approach to fingering charts. It is a game that challenges you to name the fingering for a given note, or the note name for a given note. While there are plenty of apps that do the second feature (naming notes), I do not know of any other app that features a game based on fingering. That said, my colleague recently mentioned how many of their middle school students still struggle to name notes (they know the notes as fingering), so it makes great pedagogical sense to have both of these features in the same app.

Basically, after you choose a level, the app shows a note, and then you select the correct fingering or note name for the given note. Meanwhile, every attempt sends a ninja against a wooden beam. Every correct answer damages the beam a little more, while every wrong answer injures the ninja. Get enough wrong answers, and the ninja passes out from injury,

My friend, Paul Shimmons, has reviewed the app at his blog (iPad and Technology in Music Education), and he indicates that his students really like the app.

The app comes in three “flavors” (all are referral links):

I have had a chance to play with the tuba fingerings, and some of the fingerings are a good reminder for someone that hasn't played in a while (and this might be a good way to get back playing if you have put your instrument aside). As with most apps, you will reach a point where this app will no longer be a challenge (you will earn the black belt level on the hardest setting). But at that point, the app will have done its job for $2.99, and if you have the $9.99 or $24.99 app, it will simply keep on giving back to you, year after year.

I would like to see a mode that required you to identify both the fingering and the note name at the same time (press one button in each answer column). My only possible negative about the app is that it is centered around a ninja, and as such all of the sounds and images reflect the Japanese culture–maybe a bit too much. Perhaps I have learned to be over-sensitive, but I think that it is possible that if you have students with an Asian background, someone might be offended by the app. That's probably unlikely, but I still felt it should be mentioned.

As I mentioned before, Paul Shimmons goes into much greater detail about the app (including tracking progress). He thinks the app will be great in his teaching, and I can see this app being a wonderful addition for any elementary or middle school band teacher wishing to have their students drill note fingerings or note names.

You can learn more about the apps at their website, and also in the following YouTube video.



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