Music Publishing: how it should be done

We’re looking at performing a selection with our younger choirs (mainly 9th grade) that we performed about ten years ago.  With changes we’ve made to our schedule and the middle school schedule, we have more students in choir than ever (this is a great thing).  So we needed more music…and although I cannot speak for other teachers, we make it a point to have a purchased piece of music for every student.  In fact, we try to buy music in sets of 60 so that we have enough pieces for our future.

Well, this piece, published in the late 1990s, is out of print.  I could ramble on a long time about this piece being out of print (it’s inexcusable in this world of computer-generated music, relatively cheap copying, and high cost copies).  This piece originally sold for $1.50 per copy, and would sell for at least $1.95 today.  So I e-mailed the publisher (one of the “big” companies) about two weeks ago.  I received an e-mail today, authorizing me to make 140 photocopies for $105.  This is perfect for us.

It’s wonderful that they granted permission; the price is even better.  That works out to be $0.75 per copy, half of the original price.  Since we’re doing all the photocopying and binding (roughly $.02 per page), that’s a great deal.  So the big question: Why can’t we buy digital music the same way?  If you want to buy digital music, you should be able to do so at roughly $1.00 per piece.  If you have existing paper copies and want to gain the license to use digital versions (legally), they should offer that service for $0.10 per piece…they’ve already made full price on the sale of the music in the first place.

All those people that pack and ship music?  Their jobs have a shelf life.  There should be a relatively simple way to track the purchases from each district (note: districts that pay for music should be allowed to let any school in the district use that music) in a database, so that licenses could be instantly updated by a former “packer.”  And then the school/district could review its legal purchases.  Local music publishers could also be established agents (i.e. access to the database)  for the system.

Digital copies should be priced appropriately for this new digital era, and there should be a way for us to inexpensively and legally covert our paper copies to digital (either provided with a clean PDF from the publisher) or by our own generation.

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