Paradigm Shift

“A change of thinking from an accepted point of view to a new belief.”


Every now and then, we experience a paradigm shift. If you can see the paradigm shift in advance, the results can be rewarding (in a corporation, profitable), even though you may be criticized at the time.  If you can be aware of a paradigm shift as it is occurring, you can be prepared for the changes that are going on–and perhaps lead others through the change.  If you miss the paradigm shift, you potentially will lock yourself into the past, have to work twice as hard to catch up, or you will fight the change to the point of loss.

In the past year with events connected with the iPad, I’ve been fortunate to both see paradigm shifts and to be aware of them.  In terms of music education, I’ve seen three.  First, the iPad itself and its potential for education.  I will not be surprised if all students bring an iPad to school within five years.  Second, the advent of PDF music readers, like UnrealBook and ForScore.  Third, and most recently, the MusicXML reader for the iPad, SeeScore.

The next paradigm shift could very well be centered on the music publishing companies.  There have already been changes, with companies like BriLee and Carl Fischer putting rehearsal and performance tracks online for free, as well as posting full PDFs of their printed music online (The printed music is protected–as much as anything can be).  There have been anti-changes as well, whereas companies like Hal Leonard charge the same amount for a printed piece of music and an e-copy of music. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know what it costs to publish a piece of music: how much goes to the composer/arranger, how much goes to royalties for pop and jazz music, how much goes to the engraver/Finale specialist, how much goes to the CEO, how much goes to the share-holder, how much goes to the printer and binder, how much goes to the local music store.  I have no idea.  But something tells me that if you don’t have to print, staple, pack, and ship a piece of music, it should not cost the same as a song that you need print, staple, pack, and ship.

I also hate being told in 2011 that something is “Permanently Out of Print.”  Are you telling me that you don’t have a library of your music where you could take out a copy, scan it, and sell it to me?  Or that you aren’t already hiring high school students to come in every night and scan everything that wasn’t created on a computer into a PDF so that it can be stored digitally (so that you can continue to sell items that are POP?)?  If not, why in the world not?

I love my PDF music readers, but they have one flaw: what you put into them is what you get out.  In other words, if you scan a band score, it is going to be tiny on a PDF screen.  If you scan a choral score, you are limited to the original format of the music.  In both cases, the quality of the printed music and size of the music file is limited to how the original score was scanned.  SeeScore changes all that, reading MusicXML files.

Not only does SeeScore show perfectly clear music all the time, you can resize a score to your personal (eyesight) preferences, and you can even hide other staves which you might want to see.  In a choir?  Leave just your part.  In a band?  Hide the other instruments.  In an orchestra?  Same thing.  Or customize to your heart’s desire.  Additionally, in digital music, repeats have no function whatsoever.  Pages do not matter…only measure numbers.  In a choral score, why repeat a section with two verses (and different slurring for words that change rhythm with each repeat) when you can just keep going in the song?  And when you can instantly scroll back to a specific measure number, what’s the worry?

As I mentioned in my review of SeeScore (verison 1.0.1), it isn’t a perfect program, and the developer is continuing to refine the product.  However, for the first time, we can make a case that music publishers should offer music for purchase in MusicXML format.  Set a universal price for every score.  Band score?  $100.  Orchestra score?  $100.  Larger work?  Charge more.  Chamber music?  charge less.  Choirs?  Charge by size.  Offer a license for each.  Then let schools decide how to distribute music, whether via iPad, Android Tablet, Web OS Tablet, Windows 7 Tablet, or even printed through Finale or Sibelius.

Is there a risk of copyright infringement?  Sure.  But not much more than currently exists.  Ultimately, the music publisher has to trust the ethics of the individual teacher.  Can we all agree that the mass majority of schools try to follow copyright law?  And that in nearly every case, a choir/band/orchestra director will spend as much as their school allows them to spend on music?

Can we also agree that the current music purchase model isn’t financially sustainable for our schools, who purchase the lion’s share of the music?  I know of a local school whose budget for music was reduced to $1,500 (total) this year, when that same school had $10,000 annually ten years ago.  In that same time, the average price of a choral octavo has raised from $1.65 to $1.95.  How long until that school cannot afford any music whatsoever?

At the same time, what percentage of a sale does a composer get on a composition?  In the modern era, wouldn’t it make more sense for composers to come together under their own united service where they prepared a song for publication (or paid someone to do so) and then publish that song themselves, as a MusicXML file, directly to the consumer, cutting out the music publisher in the middle?  I fully understand that music publishers negotiate with larger firms for copyright purposes (obtaining copyright for new works, getting permission for arranged songs, etc.).  But how much of that could be accomplished by the individual composer instead, particularly on new works (e.g. not arrangements)?

In the past, I’ve wondered if a subscription service would be beneficial for music publishers (providing digital content).  The end result is that you’ll never get all the music publishers to exist under one banner.  And if you can’t have an all-in-one stop (e.g. iTunes), things get too tricky for the consumer.  Furthermore, with the rumors that Apple will require 30% of the income from in-app sales, I don’t see a situation where music publishers are going to willingly give up that 30%.  They are better served moving away from printed music and selling MusicXML files to the consumer.

Finally, I’m hoping that music publishers don’t consider making their own “apps” for music.  Again, a standardized platform has to be used, or else music management–in class and in performance–will become a nightmare.  Therein lies the strength of MusicXML files (even more than PDF files).

We’re about to see a paradigm shift in how we buy music as well as how we make music, due to the digital revolution spurred on by the iPad.  It is certainly going to be fun to see how it plays out in the end.


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