Digital Music Thoughts

As I continue my scanning efforts (another 300+ pieces picked up today and I’ve already cut them apart in preparation for scanning), I find myself further devoted to the transition of sheet music from paper to digital media.

My online colleague, Brandt Schneider, posted this tweet in response to my post about 351:

In my iBook, Practical Technology for Music Education, I have an entire chapter dedicated to the transition to digital sheet music.  Every one of the points I make in the book are still valid (the book sells for $4.99, perhaps I’m enticing you to buy a copy).  But I’ve had some further thoughts today.

  1. Any PDF generated from music software is going to be both more accurate and more legible than any printed copy from the same source.  I’ve seen a lot of pieces–even with “new” pieces–that have faded printing, or are printed at an angle on the page.  This will never happen with a direct-to-digital piece of sheet music (displayed on a digital device).  Any piece of paper sheet music that is scanned will always have the faults of that scan.
  2. Most music is in octavo format, but there are exceptions.  Even octavos differ slightly from score to score (this is one of the blessings of the Canon P-150: it automatically selects the correct page size).  Earthsongs and Oxford printings of Mack Wilberg are the worst…gigantic scores with tiny printing.  These songs simply don’t translate to the iPad (or any other tablet) because the scores are so small.
  3. I’ve e-mailed some people at MakeMusic about this, but it would be great if they could have a preset “iPad friendly” page format available; or a setting that could convert a score to be iPad friendly.  I haven’t looked for it, but somewhere, someone has done research to find out what the ideal size of music notes are for most people.  We know how big the iPad screen is, and how a piece of paper scales down on a 9.7 inch iPad.  This should be pretty easy to do.  I understand that Finale offers Finale Songbook for free, but there are times you might simply want to print an iPad-friendly score to distribute.
  4. I find errors in a majority of the pieces that my choir performs.  Sometimes it is just a missing flat, other times, there are errors with words.  A publishing company could quickly make changes and send an update to all the purchasers of digital music.
  5. In addition to my belief that there should be an “iTunes” for sheet music, I’ve been wondering about the legality of a digital lending library.  Could a company purchase physical scores, convert them to digital format, and then loan them (for hire) to end users?  For example: you want to perform a piece with your high school band.  It normally costs $150.  The company purchases five copies of that score (at the cost of $750), and then “rents” digital copies (no more than five at a time) to a school for $25.  At the end of the rental, the school deletes the copies (per contract) until they want to rent it again.  In the process, the school saves $125 while still being able to perform the work; the company rents the score multiple times until it makes a profit.  The music publishers could audit the company at any time to verify that only the number of copies purchased were being used at one time.
  6. The cost of music is very stressful for music education.  We have decreasing budgets, while the common choral octavo is now $1.95.  Digital copies could significantly reduce that price.
  7. And I continue to understand that some people fear the illegal distribution of sheet music, which is made easier with digital files.  But the truth is that honest people will remain honest, while dishonest people are probably already copying music one way or another.  And every music education knows someone that either willingly does this, or is forced to do this because of budget.
It’s time for music to go digital first, at a reduced price, for paper sheet music to increase in price, and for companies to offer paper-to-digital incentives for existing libraries as well as other digital resources (MusicXML files).
How do you convince Hal Leonard, Arnold, Carl Fisher, Alliance, Barnhouse, Hinshaw, Colla Voce, Earth Songs, Santa Barbara Music Press, and the rest of the bunch to make that transition?  Think of this wonderful world: No paper.  No printing.  No fancy covers.  No binding.  No packing.  No shipping.  Straight to digital, to a central vendor.  Keep all those people employed sending them to do audits of schools and churches that buy the music (no more single copy purchases).  Or improve the scanning software, teach them how to use notation software, and have them start scanning the entire existing libraries of scores (band, choir, orchestra) that are not already in a digital format.  Move everything to digital.  And NEVER have a “POP” (Permanently-Out-Of-Print) again.
By the way, one of the upcoming features of forScore 4.0 (due within weeks, according to their blog post) is a music store.  It will be interesting to see if any major music publishers of band, orchestra, or choral music have signed on.

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