New distributors

This past year, I’ve been working toward upping my publishing game. (I’ve got a rant about publishing coming up in another post, so be prepared for that.)

One of the steps I’ve taken toward putting on my Big Boy publishing pants was to get an EIN and a bank account specifically for the Tobenski Music Press. (For those of you following along at home, an EIN is free, and you can get one online; and Spark Business has a great small-business-centric set of online-only accounts that don’t have balance minimums or monthly fees, which is great when your cash flow isn’t huge.)

Another step was to sign on with two distributors: SheetMusicPlus and MusicSpoke. Having my works available in more places means more visibility, and the possibility for more sales (and consequent performances). I have my eye on a few more. J.W. Pepper and Subito both have distribution programs for self-published composers, but both charge a yearly fee to participate (although the fee is waived if the composer meets a certain yearly threshold of sales). I’ve got to weigh the possible benefits against the cost, and for the moment, the cost isn’t very attractive. I’ve also yet to reach out to a few more possibilities who don’t publicly advertise that they distribute self-pubbed works, but with whom I have connections.

The biggest, most time-consuming thing I’ve been doing is to revisit all of my scores with an eye on the engraving. Every score is getting a complete makeover: respelling rhythms, cleaning up compositional artifacts that didn’t get caught in the first editions, simplifying the ways that I notate certain passages, making sure that tempi and dynamics are clear and consistent.

“John Anderson, my jo” original edition
 
“John Anderson, my jo” 2015 edition
 
Every score gets a new cover, front matter (title page, title verso, texts, program notes, and premiere and recording information), and back matter (specifically: a call to action listing similar scores in my catalog).

I’ve also registered as a publisher with the U.S. ISMN Agency at the Library of Congress (h/t to Juliana Hall and her article in IAWM for the info on that). Each new score gets registered there, and the ISMN goes onto the title verso.

Title verso info for And He’ll Be Mine
 
At the moment, I have five pieces out with the distributors – one song cycle, three standalone songs, and a piano piece – and another ten that I’m in the process of proofreading. For composers interested in learning more about the process, you can follow along here as I post more about it, or feel free to email me if you have specific questions. And for composers who are familiar with distributors, etc, I’m interested in learning about your experiences, and am always happy to hear from you via email.


Co-opetition

Co-opetition.

I came across this term recently, and it’s a concept that I really like. A portmanteau of cooperation and competition, it rather perfectly sums up my philosophy on working with other composers: yes, we’re in competition to a certain degree (there are only so many pieces that can be performed on this or that concert, only so many projects get funded through NMUSA, etc), but the nature of our field is such that by working together and pooling our resources, we can create more opportunities for all of us.

It’s for this reason that I love the idea of composer collectives. Ideally, everyone in the collective has something to offer to the group – connections, a special skill set, etc – and each member is responsible to some degree for promoting the group’s interests. By pooling their intellectual, artistic, and financial resources, the collective can put on concerts featuring the music of its members, or they can use those resources to make commercial-quality recordings of their works, amongst other possibilities. An individual might have a difficult time organizing such endeavors on their own – and may find it impossible to come up with the funds -, but a collective can spread the responsibilities and financial burden across its entire membership.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of composer-run small presses.

A collective of composers could easily found a small publishing company for its members. Each composer could be held responsible for different tasks within the company – tracking sales, marketing, bookkeeping, outreach to performers, proofreading and editing the scores, etc. Whereas a single self-published composer would be responsible for all of these things, and may have a difficult time keeping up, this scenario would allow each member to be more focused on one or two tasks to which they’re well-suited, which ultimately leaves more time for composing.

Off the top of my head, I can see this working in a handful of ways:

1) The composers could pool all of their works in the publishing company, and allow the company to create (essentially) imprints. The imprints could be by composer, where each member has a brand that is a part of the whole, but slightly distinct; or it could be by instrumentation, where vocal music, choral music, chamber music, and large ensemble music are separated out, which could make marketing much easier, since each imprint would be focused on a particular segment of the performing world.

Mock-up for similarly branded imprints in a publisher’s catalog

2) The composers could pool only particular types of their works in the publishing company, retaining publication and distribution rights to the remainder of their catalogs. This allows the publishing company to narrow its focus to a particular market, and would probably be most ideally-suited to choral or band works.

Although I don’t know the inner workings of the group, the Independent Music Publishers Cooperative (imp.coop) seems to operate in a manner similar to the latter form. (Although I think that each composer publishes their own works, and the group acts as more of an umbrella for the sake of publicity and resource-sharing.) The composers in the group all write a significant amount of music for choirs, and they’ve found a way to increase the visibility of their individual members by pooling resources. The group is a fixture at choral conferences – they always have a booth with racks of music, which is much more affordable to manage when everyone pitches in. I saw them in action in 2013 at the national ACDA conference, in Dallas. Everyone took shifts manning the table to handle sales, and at least one of them would be hanging out by the racks, ready to answer questions and offer suggestions based on a director’s needs. Invariably, the composer-on-dutyr would reach for a piece by one of the other members of the group, saying, “You’ll love this one,” or “I think this would be perfect for your group.” The composers look out for one another. As a consequence, they strengthen their bonds to one another, and they add to the stability of their company, which benefits everyone, financially, personally, and artistically.

A small press, of course, would require that the company license the works from the composers, as well as set up royalty rates. While I wouldn’t recommend that the company own the rights to the works that it publishes (as traditional publishers do), it should probably have an exclusive license to publish them for a finite period of time. (Limiting the length of time that the company has exclusive rights allows the composers and the company to re-evaluate royalty rates on a regular basis, as well as whether or not the composer wants to continue to participate in the company and/or collective, amongst other considerations.) Granting the company exclusive rights creates an incentive for the composer to promote the company/collective. A percentage of the profits would stay within the company, and what the individuals “lose” by not receiving the full profit from their score sales, they gain in the ability to present concerts or produce recordings or go to conferences with the collective, which they otherwise might have difficulty doing on their own.

However, co-opetition doesn’t require any formal agreements or formation of a permanent or semi-permanent group to be useful.

Two of my friends, Clint Borzoni and Philip Wharton, recently paired up to put on a concert of their vocal music. Together, they hired musicians, booked a recording engineer, rented a performance space, and promoted the concert. If each had put on a concert of his own music individually, the individual costs would have been much higher, and the risk of not making back the investment would have been a much more significant consideration. But by banding together, Clint and Philip were able to mitigate the risk because each brought their own set of ticket-buying audience members to help offset the costs. Their goal wasn’t to break even, but to put on a concert that they could be proud of, and to have some solid recordings of their vocal works to use. It was a great concert, and a complete success.

I recently started a new feature in my newsletter where I link to a piece by a composer I like: I spend a few sentences telling the people on my list why I like that particular piece or composer, and why I think that they’ll like it, too. The composer may write in a style similar to mine, and we may be “competing” for performances by the same performers, but it doesn’t hurt me to promote their works. Also, since I know my subscribers, I know that they appreciate learning about a new composer or a new piece. It costs me nothing but a few minutes to type up the handful of sentences and link to the audio, but it’s positive for everyone involved.

StoryBundle is a great example of co-opetition in the world of fiction. Each bundle centers around a particular genre, and every author that signs on to be a part of a bundle encourages their mailing list and followers on social media to check it out. The author hopes for sales on the bundle because each sale is earned income for them. Driving their readership to the bundle is partly an act of generosity – readers who buy a bundle get at least five books by other authors, as well, which is a huge win for readers, and it also helps the other authors -, but when all twelve writers drive their lists to the bundle, each writer is seen by the lists of the other eleven, which greatly increases their own visibility. Everyone wins.

Co-opetition is predicated on the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, but with the added benefit of that tide having been generated by the collective efforts of the boats themselves.


The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Competitions Pt 5: Odds & Ends

[This is part five of a multi-part miniseries of posts on composition competitions. Competitions are typically a significant part of a composer’s coming-of-age process, and young composers in particular are frequently (in some cases constantly) bombarded with exhortations to apply to everything possible from teachers, administrators, and older composers. In these posts, I’m taking a look at various issues with competitions that many composers have come to see as problems, and which have caused many to stop applying altogether.]

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As this mini-series draws to a close, I thought I’d tackle a few issues that don’t necessarily warrant an entire post to themselves.

Anonymous/Pseudonymous Entry
Quite a number of competitions attempt to level the playing field by requiring that all distinguishing marks on a score be removed – any names, places, or clues as to the potential identity of the composer. The idea is that by masking the identities of the composers, the panel is prevented from awarding a work based in any significant part on the reputation of the composer (or not awarding a work based on the reputation of the composer…). Instead, the panel’s decision is based entirely on the artistic merit of the piece. In theory.

In practice, it’s entirely possible that a panelist may already know a particular score, or be able to identify the style of a composer he or she is acquainted with. In theory, the panelist should recuse himself when it comes to that submission, but we know that doesn’t always happen. As well-meaning as these panelists may be, and as objective as they may think they are or try to be, it’s still an ethical problem.

Another problem with these types of entries is the amount of time and money that a composer has to spend in creating this separate version of her score and all of her materials. If I’m submitting a song cycle, I have to go song by song removing my name, my poet’s name (because they’re probably alive, and I’m likely one of the few composers they’ve collaborated with), the copyright information, dedications, and dates and locations at the double bars. Then re-export the songs to a PDF; merge the PDFs; create a new version of the cover without my name, the poet’s name, or my publishing company; create that PDF with the other front matter (again, removing the poet’s name from the texts); merge those with the rest of the score to create a single file to print from; then send the score to be printed at my local copy shop, and pick up the new score. Now, of course, I have an anonymous version of the file for the next time I want to submit the piece to a competition that require anonymous entry, but I have no other use for the file.

Oh, wait, the next competition I want to send it to requires a pseudonym? Sure, I don’t mind starting all over. There’s nothing better I could be doing with my time.

Then there are the actual costs. While I could have just grabbed a copy of one of my scores with my name on the cover off of my shelf and popped it in the envelope with a SASE, then reused the score when it was returned to me, instead I have to spend $15-20 to have a new one printed and bound. 8.5×11, black and white, double sided, clear front, black back, coil binding. Or 11×17, black and white, booklet style, card stock cover, saddle stitched. And let’s not forget the digital processing fee that many copy shops charge. Now I have a copy that’s only good for competitions that require anonymous submissions! Joy!

Pseudonyms are also particularly sticky things, and offer composers an opportunity to attempt to game the system. While enough of us believe that entering competitions is akin to entering the lottery (you’re probably going to lose), some try to stack the odds in their favor. By watching lists of competition winners, some composers claim to see trends in the genders and races of winners and runners up. Consequently, I know of several composers who have multiple pseudonyms at the ready to attempt to sway panelists’ opinions: Hispanic male and female pseudonyms, Korean female, Chinese male, Eastern European male, etc.

Electronic Submissions
Yes, please!

More and more competitions are doing the electronic submission thing, and we composers thank you. It saves us a lot of time and money. Plus, it leaves control of our materials with us – we don’t have to worry that the copy shop might get it wrong – and getting it wrong for a last-minute submission is devastating.

And there are lots of other little perks, too.

Electronic submissions are easy to implement – they don’t require fancy online software that comes with monthly costs, only an email address. Download the files, organize them into folders, and you’re set! Or set up a Dropbox account and have applicants share their materials in a dedicated folder.

E-submissions are also more eco-friendly in that they don’t require that more paper be shuffled around.

And materials can’t get lost or damaged like they can in the mail. Plus, they make deadlines that much easier to enforce – there aren’t any stragglers coming in days late because of slow mail service. If the files aren’t received by X time on Y date, which is easy to see by the email’s timestamp, it’s late.

Performance History
I see an awful lot of competitions that require that the submitted works not have received a premiere. Or at least not a “professional” performance.

This assumes one of two things: 1) that composers just happen to have works for such-and-such instrumentation lying around that they haven’t gotten around to getting performed yet, or 2) that the entrants will write something specifically for the competition.

#1 is plausible under certain conditions: the composer is young and has only received performances of the piece at school, which doesn’t constitute a “professional” premiere; or the composer wrote the work on spec and hasn’t yet managed to find an ensemble willing or able to play it. Great, fine, whatever.

But to assume #2 is a little heinous.

My favorite use of this requirement in competition guidelines occurred several months ago – a friend Tweeted a link to a competition for choral music that required the composer to submit three unperformed pieces. The panel would then select a composer, award them something like $200, and ask them to write an entirely new piece without performing any of the others.

This type of requirement also indulges in the Premiere Fetish. It values new works above all the other excellent music that already exists, and which would benefit greatly from a second or third performance. It’s also incredibly selfish, especially since the ensemble can claim a world premiere without having burdened themselves with the expense of paying for a commission, which is simply abusive, manipulative, and exploitative.

My recommendation is to search for works with a limited performance history. It widens the field for composers to send in solid work – which one should hope that the organizations would appreciate – while still leaving openings for the ensemble to claim the performance as some sort of regional premiere (there’s a post coming soon on this topic). By all means, require that the piece not have been previously awarded. And even say that preference may be given to works that have not been premiered.

Publication History
While the requirement for works to be unpublished is becoming more and more a thing of the past, I still see it crop up now and again. The only reason it bothers me is that it overlooks this little thing that a couple of composers have started doing, called “self-publishing.” Fortunately, nobody has ever been successful with such blatant vanity projects.

Yeah, ok, I’ll stop being bitchy and admit that the point of this language is to exclude works that are published by a company with established national distribution channels. These works already have the advantage of being more easily discoverable by performers and ensembles on a national or even international scale than self-published works, and are presumably less in need of whatever boosts these competitions may have to offer.

I really just want to see better language here. Something along the lines of, “Submitted works should not have received publication by a company in which the composer does not have full or partial ownership.” It’s a relatively minor point when put side-by-side with rights grabs (3 years exclusive performance rights and 6 years exclusive recording rights with no additional compensation to the composer?? with an application fee!), but it acknowledges the legitimacy of self-publishing, as well as the fact that composers aren’t shackled to a particular way of handling their careers.

I have a few more posts on competitions that I’ll publish in the coming weeks, but these past few installments are the major, salient points, and constitute my biggest issues with the way that they’re currently run. I appreciate organizations that want to champion new music and give voice to composers’ works and recognition and assistance to composers themselves, but many of them fall prey to outdated modes of operation that do more harm than good to composers and the musical community at large.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to this mini-series: my excruciatingly humble opinion on how I believe that competitions should be run.

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I write the Composer’s Guide here, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, be a dear and click the donate button at the bottom of this post, will you? If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

And I really love to get feedback in the comments section, via email, and on Twitter – they really keep me going on this project.

Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Collectives Part 1

One of the things that makes self-promotion so uncomfortable for people is talking about themselves – specifically talking themselves up. It’s just you saying how great you are.

One way to alleviate some of that anxiety is to band together with other composers, forming a collective of sorts. There’s no one way to do this, and the best solution is one that you and your fellow collective members are all comfortable with.

These collectives can operate in a number of ways: as PR machines, issuing press releases, and sending email newsletters and announcements; as production companies, presenting concerts of the composers’ works; or as publishers, issuing scores, handling royalties and licensing, and doing promotional work for the composers it represents. The possibilities go on and on, and can be mixed and matched in any combination that works best for the collective’s members.

In these arrangements, each composer naturally brings something unique to the table, not the least of which are the strengths of their music and reputations. But they also bring with them a built-in audience, as well as the various skills that each composer wields outside of their musical prowess.

When I ran the Tobenski-Algera Concert Series with Jeff Algera, we both had different skills that helped the series to gain attention and a solid reputation: we both had significant experience designing and building websites; I had a good mailing list in the City, as well as a growing donor base to draw on; and Jeff was a great organizer and detail man, especially on the days of the concerts themselves, when I was often busy preparing to perform (another asset I brought to the table [I frequently performed – always for free – so that we had lower operational costs]).

Here are a few other brief examples of composers banding together successfully:

• With some collectives, like the New York Composers Circle (http://nycomposerscircle.org), dues are charged to help defray the group’s expenses. The NYCC also hosts monthly salons to showcase members’ works, and presents regular concerts featuring works by both members and non-members alike.

• In contrast to the NYCC’s semi-open membership, Sleeping Giant (http://www.sleepinggiantmusic.org/) is a group of six Brooklyn-based composers of varying focuses and styles who present concerts together.

• Red Poppy Music (http://www.redpoppymusic.com/) was formed by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe to publish and promote their own music. The company has since gained distribution through G. Schirmer. (And founded a little thing called Bang on a Can.)

• And none of us could have made it through our musical training without learning something of Les Six and The Mighty Five. ‘Nuf said.

Just Googling “composer collective” reveals a startling array of groups in the first page of results – clearly this is not a new idea, but one that many of us overlook.

PR
For a number of reasons, it’s often much easier to talk about your work through the filter of a larger organization.

For one, you’ve got the benefit of there being safety in numbers. You’re not just advocating for yourself, you’re advocating for a group that you happen to be a part of, which can alleviate the stress of having to talk about yourself exclusively, so that you can take advantage of the mode of thinking that, “This email blast isn’t from me, it’s from us.”

Also, being a part of a formal or semi-formal group can create a sense of distance – a sort of wall that separates you from the group that you’re sending updates to. I figured this one out when I started the NewMusicShelf – the act of speaking for and as a company felt wildly different than speaking as and for only myself. I knew that the people I announced the existence of the site to who knew me were aware that my music was there, but I didn’t feel a) the need to push myself exclusively, or b) the minor anxiety that often goes with saying, “Hey! Look at me!”

The same was true of the Tobenski-Algera Concerts. Granted, my name was the first half of the name of the series, but the fact that I could speak as the organization granted me the latitude to speak of myself as just another of the interesting composers whose works were being presented, rather than saying, “Check me out, I’m awesome!”

Another advantage to banding together is the ability to expand your circle of exposure to the mailing lists of your fellow collective members. Now, this doesn’t mean swapping your contact lists and suddenly sending emails to a person who hasn’t “opted in” to receiving your personal newsletters just because they’re a contact of one of your friends. But by convincing your contacts to joining the group’s mailing list (and attending the group’s concerts, or buying the group’s album, or just listening to the audio samples you’ve got on the group’s site), everyone benefits because of the wider exposure.

There’s an ethics to the whole mailing list thing that must be acknowledged. I think a good rule of thumb is asking yourself: “Would I like to receive regular mass emails from a stranger or vague acquaintance? Emails that I didn’t ask to receive?” The answer is probably, “No.”

What I’d recommend in this instance is to invite your contacts to join the list of the group. Offer them an MP3 of your music if they sign up (and be sure they get the MP3!). Take a page from Permission Marketing (and while you’re at it, Seth Godin’s blog – he’s got some great ideas in this area and many others) and give your fans an incentive to follow the group.

Publishing Company
This particular solution is probably the least useful now that self-publishing is no longer as stigmatized as it was. With so many major composers having taken on the role of their own publisher, it’s no longer necessary to hide behind a distinguished-sounding name to be taken seriously.

However, publishing your works with other composers can offer a few perks. There’s the increased visibility: the followers of the other composers will regularly see your name when they visit your publishing company’s site (because you’re going to have a site, no ifs, ands, or buts). And if you each bring a different skill to the table – score design, engraving, organization, bookkeeping, web design – you can make life easier for each other. Plus, you can pool some financial resources to make things less cumbersome than they would be if you were going it alone.

On the other hand, you all have to be relatively equally committed to the endeavor, especially since there are finances at stake. Each member will have to pull his/her own weight, or resentments and major conflicts are inevitable. Bookkeeping will be especially important since publisher royalties will be paid to the company, and will have to be divided accurately.

Pooling Resources
In my eternally humble opinion, the pooling of resources is where the money is at, so to speak. There are tons of ways to make this one work without the long-term, far-reaching commitments of publishing that you may not be ready to make at this juncture, but that allow everyone involved to benefit enormously. The pooling of resources can be as formal or informal as you and your compatriots like.

One example of an informal resource pooling is a bartering arrangement – trading the use of skills to mutual advantage: web design, engraving, extracting parts, writing press releases and promotional materials, proofreading materials, performing. In essence, if Composer A has a skill that Composer B lacks, and Composer B has a skill that Composer A lacks, each can help the other out by bartering services. This may not be quite a “collective”, but it definitely helps to create a sense of community and shared goals – nothing to scoff at.

The Tobenski-Algera Concerts’ beginnings offer another example (maybe one of the stronger ones, in my experience) of how composers pooling their resources can be used to significant mutual advantage. When we started the series, we typically programmed works by a central core of young composers, with several others (including one “master” composer) thrown in. This central group divided expenses equitably to make sure that no one or two composers bore the bulk of the financial burden. In one of our earlier concerts, we hired eight musicians, and the costs of the performer fees, the space rental, and the high-quality recording ran in excess of $3,000, which none of us could ever have afforded individually. But because of the way we split the expenses (minus the box office), none of us paid more than $400 – a reasonable price to pay for a solid performance (well-played and well-rehearsed) plus a good recording for use in our portfolios. As the series matured, and we started putting out calls for scores, we stopped asking for composer contributions and started fundraising in earnest. But those early concerts worked as well as they did because the group was willing to pool our resources – both financial and otherwise – to make the concert as successful as possible. And as fundraising became more and more of a necessity, Jeff and I shared those responsibilities, as well – pooling our donor bases and mailing lists effectively.

And producing concerts with like-minded colleagues is not only much easier to handle financially than going it alone, but is also an infinitely more proactive approach to building a career than waiting around for someone else to perform your works.

Recording as a group also helps out immensely. For example, if each member of a group of composers has a piece that falls within the bounds of a particular instrumentation, the group could hire an ensemble to prepare and record the piece, rent a studio, and hire a recording/mixing engineer to record each of the works. Sharing the expenses makes much more financial sense – for a fraction of the cost, each composer walks away with a solid recording.

And if the group is so inclined, they can release all of the recorded together works on a compilation album. Although the divvying up of sales would take some solid bookkeeping (not to mention a well-written agreement among the members for equitable distribution of royalties), each composer would benefit immensely from the others’ promotional efforts in getting the album to reach a wider audience. And in this day and age, it’s almost obscenely easy to get an album onto iTunes, and equally simple to sell copies from the composers’ websites. (And let us not forget the selling of recordings at concerts!)

I really think that when composers band together to help one another out, the sky’s the limit. Seriously, dream big, and see where working together can take you.

I write the Composer’s Guide here, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, please leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

And I really love to get feedback in the comments section, via email, and on Twitter – they really keep me going on this project.

Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Print vs. Digital

Print vs. digital. Print scores or digital scores?

Of course, it’s not a question of either/or. But how can a nearly-thirty-year-old (!) American raised on the evening news not open with a sensationalistic and misleading pseudo-question?

A business-savvy composer with her eye on the changes taking place within the industry will see that print and digital scores are a logical complement to one another. Print scores continue to fulfill the needs of and carry on tradition, while digital scores offer more immediate access for a generation of musicians steeped in technology, and that embraces the digital revolution of the 21st century.

While few composers neglect the print side of the business in favor of digital scores (although I must confess that my efforts are generally – and obviously – more geared toward digital, and I would be a bit better served if I found more of a balance between the two), most have yet to hop on the digital bandwagon, as it were.

I think that there are a few reasons why the digitization of scores is still in its infancy.

For one, I think that people forget that they have some wonderful technology at their disposal that wasn’t there a few years ago, which can help them to accomplish so much. The ability to create PDFs – and when I speak about digital scores, I’m speaking primarily of scores and parts in PDF format – has come a long way in the last few years. The Open Software movement has offered a number of PDF creation tools that are remarkably sophisticated, while proprietary products with full technical support like Adobe Acrobat have become infinitely more affordable.

Why do I automatically speak of digital scores as being in PDF format? Simple: accessibility.

Everyone has full and free access to Adobe Reader (do people use other PDF reading software other than maybe Google Docs?). Very few non-composers own Sibelius or Finale or Score or whatever notation software you may use to create your beautifully-engraved scores. Consequently, to offer scores in one of these formats as opposed to as a PDF strikes me as self-defeating.

Digital Springs from Print
In my creating my own scores, I prepare my files to be printed in one fell swoop – everything in one file, which gets uploaded to my Dropbox account. That way, when I need a bound copy of one of my scores, I just email it off to the printer. No muss, no fuss. My files are formatted to be printer-friendly so that they’re always ready, and require as little effort to print as possible.

In the process of putting my print score together, of course, I’ve generated a full digital score, including the cover and everything else that needs to go inside. Ensemble X is hosting a competition with electronic submission? I’m already prepared. Performer Y has a call for scores out? Point, click, send.

So, in preparing my print version, I’ve coincidentally created the digital version, as well. And the whole process could hardly be easier.

My process, in brief, is this:

1) I create my score in Sibelius
2) I create my cover, notes, texts, etc in either Microsoft Word or OpenOffice (depending on my mood that day)
3) I print my score to a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Professional (any PDF creator worth its salt will come with a printer driver that is installed automatically, allowing you to “print to PDF”)
4) I print my cover, notes, etc to one or several PDF files, depending on whether or not I’ve created them in one or several documents
5) I use Adobe Professional to append the files to one another (Document -> Insert Pages, if you’re wondering), creating a single PDF file.

And voilà! A full digital score!

Let me offer as an example this song I wrote in 2009, To a Western Boy: tobenski-t82-v2009-3pdf.pdf

The cover was created in Microsoft Word, the score itself in Sibelius, and the back page (a “stock” page that goes at the back of every score, and which I have always available) also in Word. All were printed as PDFs, then aggregated to a single document and saved. Because the song is so short, I decided to forego any additional pages in the score so that it could be printed on a single 11″x17″ page and folded, like many older short songs from legacy publishers were printed on a single 12″x18″ page.

It’s simple and economical – any additional pages would complicate the matter too much. Were I to add any more, I would have to either add two pages’ worth of material, which would necessitate the buyer to print on one sheet of 11×17 and one page of 8.5×11 (or, more simply – three sheets of 8.5×11), or a whole four pages’ worth, which would be a silly waste of space and of paper.

Digital Concerns
As the founder of NewMusicShelf.com, I spend a lot of time pushing people to take the digital leap, and consequently talking people off the ledge when it comes to their concerns about sending digital copies of their works out into the world.

Concern number one is the big topic that has been highly visible in art-business circles: piracy.

I’ve already written a big post on DRM and Piracy here, so I’ll just give the salient points with a little new elaboration.

Piracy, for the most part, stems from a demand for a work that is either unavailable or priced beyond the means of the people who want it. A thirteen-episode series of Doctor Who (squee!), last I checked, retails for around $50 (when I first started searching, they were $99 apiece), which is a lot more than this sci-fi dork can reasonably afford for something like a DVD box set. I adore the show, and would love to own it, but it’s too expensive for me. A lot of people are in the same boat. Consequently, all six series of the new Doctor Who ($300 in all, plus tax) are particularly popular on various file sharing sites.

The hundreds (probably thousands) of wannabe Companions would happily buy the whole thing to watch over and over and over if the DVDs were only more reasonably priced.

And therein lies lesson number one about piracy: piracy can be combated with affordable pricing. Just think about how many scores you yourself would buy – and not photocopy from the library (just admit that you do it) – if they weren’t so prohibitively priced!

Another television example (since that’s where a lot of piracy is happening): Game of Thrones (god, I’m just putting my nerdiness on display here, aren’t I?) was almost impossible to get for months after it finished airing. The DVD set wasn’t due out for months, and streaming versions were only available by buying or upgrading your cable package. In fact, there’s a great dissection of the whole scenario here – check that out for a wonderfully pithy (and swear-tastic) explanation. Piracy, in this case, was just about the only option for many people (fortunately, I’m blessed with a boyfriend whose parents had an HBOGo account just lying around unused).

And that’s lesson number two: piracy can be combated by making your product available and easily accessible. Fighting piracy with scarcity – by removing the product from the market, or making it prohibitively difficult to obtain, or by putting the release date off for an obscene amount of time – only encourages piracy.

And so it is with your scores. If you’re afraid people will share your scores without paying for them, then make it easier to get them and easier to afford them. Don’t undervalue yourself, but don’t insult the people who want to buy your scores.

The corollary to all of this is lesson number three: the artist’s enemy is not piracy, it is obscurity. Which problem would you rather have? People want your music so badly that they’ll resort to piracy (which we know you can combat), or people don’t know where to find your music/can’t afford it, so no one bothers to perform it? I think we both know the answer here.

Another concern I’ve encountered has to do with page size. For those composers who insist on adhering to the traditions of using outsized paper, digital scores are a bit harder to justify. Either there needs to be a big neon sign attached to every digital score that uses odd-sized paper in order to warn the buyer of what they’re getting, or a second version of the score needs to be made to accommodate regular sized paper. (Scaling is maybe an option here, but then the size of the printed music can be a little too small.) I don’t quite have an answer to this one yet – while I format my scores to 8.5″x11″, I understand the allure of slightly larger pages: they really can be nice. I welcome input on this point – how do you reconcile the issue?

A third concern that I’m going to acknowledge here, but tackle in a few weeks, is how to sell the digital score. How does a composer go about putting his digital scores out there, collecting payment, and delivering the files in a way that doesn’t require constant attention? We all know I’ve got solutions to this one, so I’ll address it when we get to distribution.

So Why Digital?
To the question “Why should I embrace digital?” I can really only respond, “Why not?”

You’ve already got the files ready to go.

Also, the overhead of selling digital scores is almost nil. Print scores come with the costs of printing/binding/postage – a necessary part of doing print business. But digital scores come only with the time cost of creating the files, which you already have to create the print version. After that, your investment is over – there are no losses to recoup. The only money you may “lose” would be the fees that PayPal or Google Checkout or whatever your payment solution of choice charges per transaction, or in the cases of NewMusicShelf and similar services, the distribution fee the business deducts per sale.

Digital scores can, consequently, be offered at a lower price than the print score because there are no print costs involved. (I think that offering digital copies at the same price as print copies is counterproductive and silly – as major book publishers do with ebooks and their print counterparts.) And despite any discount you may offer for ecopies, your profit margin is probably higher, depending on how steep of a discount you offer. In other words: less work and higher return.

In the end, I think that print and digital sales complement one another very well: print accommodates those who appreciate the Score-as-Object, and digital accommodates those who are happy to save some money and print the score themselves.

I write the Composer’s Guide here, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, please leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

And I really love to get feedback in the comments section, via email, and on Twitter – they really keep me going on this project.

Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Score Design

Let’s take a brief break from talk about finances, and discuss something slightly more aesthetic this week, shall we?

One of my major hobby horses is the quality of engraving in a score, which I’ve written about before, and I’ll write about again in more depth in the coming weeks. This week, I’d like to take a slightly wider view, and talk about the quality of a score as a whole.

For those of you who have bravely (and smartly) decided to publish your own works, you’ll do well to view your scores as a whole product comprised of several key elements: the engraved music, the physical materials, the visual design, and the non-score inside matter.

Engraving
The score itself, obviously, should be well-engraved. The purpose of your score is to communicate to performers what you want them to play, and when and how you want them to play it. Proper, clear engraving facilitates that communication, and offers a clarity of expression that a messy or unclear score couldn’t possibly hope to attain.

While some see engraving as drudgery that takes time away from the creation of actual music, I’ve come to view it as a highly artistic part of my process. By making sure that my scores have proper spacing between notes and staves and systems; by avoiding collisions between slurs, accidentals, noteheads, etc; and by making sure that my dynamic and expressive markings are clear and well-placed, I know that I’m allowing the performer to exercise her own artistry much earlier in the rehearsal process, making for a much freer and more intimate and personal performance. She doesn’t have to wonder, “What does he mean here,” or, “How loud should I be,” or “Wait, is that a mistake?” Instead, the score tells her clearly what I want – without being too fussy, of course – so that she can get to the part where she starts interpreting and being expressive much sooner.

My engraving certainly isn’t perfect, but I know from experience that performers appreciate a well-notated score with as few collisions and as much clarity as possible. Cleanliness, as they say, is next to godliness!

For those who still see engraving as drudgery – it’s not just page turns and collision avoidance. Spacement and placing can have a huge psychological impact on a performer. Take, for example, this phrase from one of my pieces, Starfish at Pescadero, which more and more I feel the need to revisit, engraving-wise:

Although I’m fairly clear about tempo, the performance of this particular phrase is always WAAAY too fast because of the notational choices I’ve made. The sixteenth notes (consistent with the rest of the fast-paced movement) and the tight spacing always conspire to make the soprano think that the line should be sung very quickly. When I do finally make the time to correct this page, I’ll at the very least double the note values, and put each measure on its own line to give the notes and text more room to breathe.

As a performer, I’m no stranger to the value of a score whose visual aesthetic matches the musical aesthetic. I, too, have rushed through passages that were too tightly-spaced, been tense and white-knuckled through scores fraught with collisions and poor spacing, and just plain scratched my head at unclear notational choices. In one piece I performed last year, I always – ALWAYS – railroaded through major a tempo change because it happened a) across a page turn (ouch), and b) without a double-bar (sin of sins!). It’s these considerations that allow us to communicate better with our performers, and to flex our visual artistry muscles.

To tie in briefly with last week’s discussion of paper size and the idea that “My dear, it simply isn’t done,” I’d like to say that I have no intention of bucking the entire system. I think that – for traditionally notated music, which mine is – certain traditions and “standards” are there because they work. Engraving is one of those areas where I think that tradition has it (at the very least mostly) right. Engraving standards are standard because they work, and because they communicate effectively within the strange, temporally-notated world that is concert music.

Not everyone works within the standard style of notation, of course. Some modern concert works can’t be notated within the standard tradition of music engraving. In which case, I exhort the composers, still: be clear in what you want. However you notate it, notate it clearly and in a way that (should your music not absolutely necessitate your being a part of it always and for all time) communicates more or less precisely what you want.

OK, we’ll come back to engraving in MUCH more depth later, of that there is little doubt. I have examples and examples and examples of weird engraving that made my brain seize up, melt, and start dribbling out one or both of my ears, as well as a list a mile long of Recommended Reading for those wanting to learn more about the art and craft of engraving.

Materials
Two subtle considerations that can make a HUGE difference in printed scores are paper quality and binding style.

Using regular, 20 lb. bond paper for scores isn’t awful. But using a slightly nicer grade of paper can bespeak a certain level of care and professionalism. So, too, can a nicer style of binding lend a greater air of authority to your works. We all grew up with traditionally published scores, and the paper weight and quality are much higher than what’s used to run off copies at Kinko’s.

In my experience as a performer and as a producer of a concert series, I’ve seen a lot – and I mean a LOT – of scores with comb binding. While I know that a lot of composers swear by comb binding, I’m generally a little…offended by it. It’s noisy to turn pages with, multiple comb-bound scores don’t play nice with one another on a shelf or in a pile, and it’s obviously the cheapest option available at Kinko’s.

If I have to do a fast-and-dirty binding for a last-minute submission to a competition or call for scores (of which I’m never guilty…</sarcasm>), I prefer coil binding, which I know isn’t always available at some print shops (read: my favorite one). It’s just a little more…elegant…than the other cheap options.

Generally, though, I prefer saddle stitch binding for scores that aren’t a billion pages. It conforms nicely to standards for professionally published scores, and is remarkably inexpensive. It does, however, require that the number of pages in your score be divisible by four (think of 11×17 paper folded in half, and you can see why). For large scores, and scores that absolutely must lat flat, saddle stitching isn’t the way to go – a comb or coil really is right for that if you can’t manage the happiest of all binding styles: perfect binding. I’ll be experimenting with perfect binding as soon as I finish enough songs to complete my Songbook project, the cover of which you’ll see below.

Now, using nicer paper and a more elegant binding style can add a bit to the cost of each printed score (one reason not to go crazy with the super nice papers). These aren’t costs that you should eat, if you decide to go this route – instead, the costs should be accounted for in the way you price your scores. Until I re-attack the issue of pricing, see this post from last year on practical pricing: http://dennistobenski.com/news/2011/08/22/pricing-a-practical-approach/

You should also always use the best printer at your disposal. Scores printed on inkjet printers are nowhere near as crisp and neat as laser printed scores. And while those printers at Kinko’s and Staples are laser printers, they’re not always the best-taken-care-of, and can leave streaks and smudges that undermine your efforts at quality. Best to head to a good print shop, where they really know their craft, and can help you find exactly the right materials for your score. The crispness of the printing, while subtle, sends a subtle but clear message that you’re using the right equipment for the job.

These small considerations can make a real difference in the perception of your scores: they show an attention to detail and a thoughtfulness that lend greater authority to your scores, as well as show a higher level of professionalism.

Cover and Visual Design
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes, though we all know that’s complete and utter crap.

OF COURSE you judge a book by it’s cover! Why else would it have one?!

Similarly, scores get judged by their covers. Maybe rather less so than books, but that’s probably because the general cover design for published scores leaves quite a lot to be desired.

For good or for bad, legacy published scores have a particular look to them that inform the whole industry. If I say “Boosey & Hawkes”, you can conjure up the few major looks they’ve had in the past few decades: plain, marbled, or solid colors – with a schmancy treble clef. “Universal Edition?” Black and white. “G. Schirmer?” YELLLOOOOOWWW!! (and green).

Each publisher has created a visual brand that we associate with them.

You, too, should consider the idea of a visual brand when creating your scores.

I’m just guessing, but half of you probably just thought “Visual Design?!” and your brains exploded with delight. The other half thought “Visual Design?!” and your brains exploded in fear and dread. For the happy ones, hold on a second – we’ll get to you. For the ones cowering the corner, rocking back and forth in abject terror, take a breath, and remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Really.

We all have friends who have skill sets outside of our own, and those friends are probably willing to lend us a hand (especially if we float a bit of cash or a few drinks or a dinner or two in their direction – whatever you workout between yourselves). One composer on the NewMusicShelf has a friend who happens to be a painter, and he licenses photos of various of his friend’s paintings to be the cover art for his scores. They look really nice, and they lend a unique look to his scores that mark them as being from the same person.

For those of you running off in search of pencil and paper to start designing your new look, hang back a second.

Composers, in my experience, generally have a pretty horrible sense of visual aesthetics. Not all, certainly, but a significant number. When I started designing websites, the vast majority of composer sites were a total mess – especially those designed by the composers themselves. Consequently, I always advise…not so much caution as…care…when approaching a visual project like web design (which I’ll obviously be delving into pretty majorly later on) and score design. Care, and a few extra sets of eyes. It’s really easy to get so wrapped up in the giddy-making little details that we forget to take a step back to make sure what we’re doing is actually…good. So showing drafts of the work to someone else – or a few someones else – can be really beneficial.

With score design, as with site design, I always say recommend limiting the number of fonts you use, and limit them to those that are easily readable. I’ve been privy to conversations in which composers obsess over the fonts they want to shoehorn onto the cover of their latest score. “This one’s gonna be goofy, that ones’s gonna be art deco, that one’s gonna be…” horrid – a visual nightmare. For my own scores, I’ve worked to limit the number of fonts I use across the board – I have a small handful that I’ve selected as my pool of basic fonts.

Here are a few examples of my covers:

All of my score covers are based on these layouts, and generally use these fonts. As I continue to refine my visual brand, I expect to move more to this design, and similar even-more-consolidated looks:

And for inside matter – program notes, texts, instrumentation – I use a mix of standard fonts and those fonts I use on the covers. Compare these texts pages to the cover from echoes, where they’re from:

Note the continued use of the typewriter font as a highlight for small pieces of important information. The poems, for the sake of readability, are clear, reasonably common fonts – this information needs to be straight-forward and absolutely readable, not cute or clever or particularly visually interesting.

(A small design note, but one I’m kind of proud of: compare the two-word lineation of the poem “perfect” to the description of the cycle on the cover and the dedication.)

I really recommend using a consistent look or set of looks across all your scores. In other words, start to create a visual brand. My earliest visual branding, as seen in the covers for Elegy and My True Love hath My Heart, emphasized clarity over all else, and is, frankly, a little boring, which is why I’m in the process of moving toward the look of the Songbook – it incorporates the color scheme of my website, which creates an added layer of recognizability, and uses the typewriter font that is increasingly among my favorites.

Inside Matter
The non-score inside matter is just as important to a performer or ensemble as the music itself – it’s where you put your texts, list full instrumentation, map your percussion instruments (I’ve been yelled at a few times for leaving this one out), put your table of contents for collections of pieces, or give notes on whatever nit-picky notational devices that composers are known for using.

In addition to texts, instrumentation, and percussion mapping (where appropriate), I like to have a page for premiere and commissioner information – it’s a nice way to acknowledge the people who helped usher the piece into the world. Credit where credit is due. And loving appreciation.

Also, because of the divisible-by-four requirement of saddle-stitched scores, I often have an extra few pages at the end of a score that I feel weird about leaving blank, so I’ve taken to filling those pages with advertising for other scores. At the back of my Duo for Violin and Piano, I had two leftover pages facing one another, so I turned the left-hand page into “Additional Works by Dennis Tobenski” that are instrumentally related to the Duo, and the right-hand page advertises scores by other composers. (This latter bit is something I want to expand on when I get to marketing your works, so take note of it now, and think on how it benefits you, your colleagues, and the field of new music in general.)

The inside matter is a great opportunity to draw performers deeper into your music. If you have the room, put in a detailed program note that talks about the genesis of the piece, what musical and extra-musical ideas inspired it, or any particular points in the piece that you find interesting or noteworthy. Having these insights into the piece – and into you – can be a selling point for the score, or can trigger a connection with performers (and listeners, if these notes are available in the program at performances) that draws them further into your work. And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Connecting?

What have I missed? What have I short-changed? What interesting things do you put in your scores?

I write the Composer’s Guide here, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, please leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

And I really love to get feedback in the comments section, via email, and on Twitter – they really keep me going on this project.

Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Why Self-Publish?

Alright, now that we’ve talked about some non-everyday, slightly esoteric stuff, let’s tackle something a bit meatier and more immediately applicable: publishing your music.

Let me say here and now (though I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again [and again and again]): I strongly advocate against pursuing a publishing deal with a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers, or legacy publishers as I prefer to call them, are not the institutions that they once were, fostering the careers of promising composers, and advocating for performances and recordings of their living composers. Honestly, though, I’m not sure if they ever really were what “they once were” – just as our cultural memory of the 50s as a wholesome-as-apple-pie, not-a-care-in-the-world era of happiness and prosperity is a false one, I think our memory of publishers as bastions of modern music in the style of Ralph Hawkes’ cultivation of Benjamin Britten is fabricated from equal parts wishful thinking and Stockholm syndrome. We’ve always been taught to believe that if you write good enough music – and maybe win an important prize or two – one of the big houses will swoop down from the heavens and offer you a contract to publish X or Y piece (or an exclusive contract!), and you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life. All we have to do then is keep writing music, and our publishers will take care of the rest.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. At least not anymore. (And I can’t say as I’ve ever heard of a case where things did work like that.)

Concert music publishers today are, for the most part, antiquated subsidiaries of subsidiaries of subsidiaries of multi-national corporations. Some are still independent, but that mostly means that there’s not a larger corporate structure in place to bail them out if they get into financial hot water; although it also means that there’s not a larger corporate structure in place to shut them down if they don’t meet the arbitrary profit expectations set by some accountant sitting in a back office of one of the parent companies, and who has no interest in knowing the concert music industry or its financial idiosyncrasies. This is all to say that, like many things these days, concert music publishing has been corporatized, and is primarily interested in what will sell.

Now none of this is to say that publishers, because they’re corporate, are evil. Nor are they uncaring or lazy.

What they are is: lost.

The world of concert music has never embraced innovation or technological advances. We do the things we do because that’s how things are done, not because they’re efficient or intuitive. Some things are efficient, some things are intuitive, but most things are… tradition.

Take, for example, paper sizes. Concert music is published on 9 x 12 inch paper, while the world operates on 8.5×11; sometimes 8.5×14 or 11×17. But whenever I hazard the opinion that self-publishers should format their scores to 8.5×11 (especially for digital scores, which will be printed by others without specialty printers), at least one person in the room suddenly turns into the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey – I’m confronted with a flusteredly scowling Maggie Smith, hooting a shocked, “But my dear, it simply isn’t done!”

Publishers are locked in the same mindset. And what changes they make are either too little too late, or mere retrenchment. Most publishers, in response to flagging score sales, resorted to print-on-demand for most of their titles. This allowed them to avoid some warehousing costs, but (at least at first) added 3 to 4 weeks to the delivery time – a major inconvenience to customers. And it took most publishers years and years to create an online storefront on their own websites, which would have afforded them (after the initial investment in an ecommerce setup) a higher rate of profit. Instead, their websites pointed to various and sundry distributor sites, which sold through their own online storefronts, and took a sizable discount, leaving the publishers with less money, as well as less brand recognition: I didn’t buy this score from Boosey & Hawkes; I bought it from SheetMusicPlus. The storefronts of most publishers today are still mostly clunky, ugly, counter-intuitive, hamster-powered labyrinths of confusing nested categories and incomplete misinformation. (Pardon my horribly mixed metaphors.)

Services like Schirmer On Demand are great steps in the right direction, but they won’t, I fear, be enough to save the industry.

Although it’s all I hear in private, it’s difficult to say in public that concert music publishers are dying a slow and agonizing death. (To channel the Dowager Countess myself for a moment: one doesn’t say to a man on his deathbed, “Did you know that you’re dying?” One smiles and comments on the weather, and when one is out of earshot, tsks and tuts and well-he-brought-it-upon-himselfs behind his back.) Without a drastic shift in the way publishers do business, their continued survival will not be a long-lived one, and their various play-it-safe experiments will do little more than put off the inevitable for a few more years.

I’ll continue to pick on legacy publishers as we go, so let’s talk about happier things in the form of your alternative in the game of getting your music “out there”: self-publishing.

It used to be that the mere suggestion of wanting to self-publish was an admission of defeat, or a sign of very poor judgment. Self-published scores used to be synonymous with poorly-engraved scores of music that was, to varying degrees, unlistenable, unplayable, or just plain bad.

Now, some of the most successful composers publish their own works very successfully. Jennifer Higdon, Stephen Paulus, Philip Glass, Alex Shapiro all publish their own works and have thriving careers. No longer is self-publishing a dilettante’s game.

The advantages of self-publication are numerous, and include:
• complete control over rights, layout, pricing;
• larger profits;
• collection of writer and publisher royalties;
• the enthusiasm of your sales force – you.

Compared with a legacy publishing deal, where you hand over all rights and control, earn a 10% royalty on sales, forfeit half of your performance royalties, and are lumped in with hundreds of other composers and thousands of other scores vying for the attention of the already-badly-overworked marketing department…. Self-publishing isn’t looking so bad.

With all the control you maintain, however, come the responsibilities of:
• knowing how to engrave your scores to professional standards;
• managing your bookkeeping;
• finding distribution outlets for your scores and recordings;
• being a good spokesman for your works.

Some of you may start to balk here because <whinyvoice>It’s too much woooork</whinyvoice> and <whinyvoice>It takes up too much tiiiime</whinyvoice>.

Well. As a business, which, if you remember my chapter on the benefits of entrepreneurship, you are, these are things that should be on your mind. Every successful business owner has to think about these things: the quality of their goods or service, cash flow and bookkeeping, distribution channels, ways to let people know about their services, finding new business/clients. They’re a necessary part of establishing and growing a business. And they’re a necessary part of establishing and growing your compositional career.

Some of us are already good at some of these things. For me, engraving is a part of my composing process – although I write in a number of different ways (at the piano, at the computer, away from both piano and computer, hurriedly scribbling notes on the subway before I get to my stop), I’m always thinking about the final look of the score: how will I notate this? is there a clearer way to show that? how in the hell do I put that on the page? And I’m ridiculous about bookkeeping – I have spreadsheets for everything: performance royalty tracking, project budgets, what I owe my collaborators in royalties from score sales. I have a spreadsheet where I enter my musical income, and it analyses the data so that I can track my income by score, income by year earned, income by year of composition, and income by source. It may be a little overkill for some people’s tastes, but I know where my money comes from, and that helps me to know where my energies are (literally) paying off.

For those of you starting to get panicky over all of these businessy considerations, take a deep breath – no one is forcing you to implement everything all in one go and to understand the whole shebang out of the gate. For the rest of the year, we’ll be tackling these issues piece by piece, and exploring ways to approach each one.

For this week, your homework is to take stock of your skills as a businessman/businesswoman, and be honest with yourself about where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Consider yourself in the role of a shop owner or service provider: what do you need to keep in mind to manage your business properly? Now, compare those requirements to your composing career: where are the similarities? Where are the almost-similarities? Where are the differences that really aren’t all the different when you think about it a little bit? And what just flat-out doesn’t apply? I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that there aren’t many that fall in the last category.

So tell me: what are your strengths? And how do you intend to capitalize on them? And what do you intend to do to address your weaknesses?

I write the Composer’s Guide here, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, please leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

And I really love to get feedback in the comments section, via email, and on Twitter – they really keep me going on this project.

Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Copyright Part 2

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business. This week, I’d like to continue our discussion of copyright, and cover the whys and the wherefores of registering your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Before we get started, though, I’d like to remind everyone that I’m not a lawyer or a law professional, just a composer with an obsession with the practical aspects of having a career in music. This Guide shouldn’t be interpreted as “legal advice”, but as observations based on experience and (extensive) research.

On to the fun stuff!

Thanks to the Copyright Office’s new online system, registering your copyrights could hardly be easier. The first copyright I registered was back in 1998 – one of my very first compositions, which I guarantee will never see the light of day until some lucky doctoral student decides to write their dissertation on my juvenalia decades from now. My Sonata in C#-minor (yeah, I know) was the first thing I’d written that I’d taken the pains to notate, and it was such a special occasion for 16-year-old me that I raced out to get it copyrighted as soon as possible.

Even then, having to fill out the paper form and mail it off, it was an easy process – so long as you had the right form – and I had no difficulty at all, even at such a tender age. With a little poking around online with my family’s AOL account (who’d have thought the internet could ever have been that young?) I found Form PA, printed it out, and set about registering my very first copyright. The form itself was only two pages (it still is, and hasn’t changed a lick in the intervening years), and took a matter of minutes to fill out. I’m sure I spent infinitely longer looking over the form again and again to make sure I hadn’t overlooked something or misread the instructions. Imagine my surprise to learn that such a fabled thing – a COPYRIGHT – was so easy to register!

Off the form went in the mail with a photocopy of the manuscript and a check for $65, and a few months later (no one ever accused the government of working quickly) my form showed up again in my mailbox with the “Do not write above this line” section filled out with my registration number and effective date. Bliss!

Now there may not have been much call to register the copyright for that particular piece, especially since no one has seen it (and I’ve barely thought of it) since the late ’90s, but by going through the process, I learned a very valuable lesson: things like this tend to be a lot easier than they seem.

Even though the thought of bureaucracy and filling out forms can be daunting to some, registering your copyright is a very simple thing to do. And it’s something that every composer should do, for a number of reasons.

Why Register Your Copyrights?
A few months ago, a friendly acquaintance on Twitter weighed in on my earlier post about copyright, and said that he didn’t think that the government should be the arbiter of copyright at all. I kept my snark to myself, being the polite, gentle soul that I am (*wonders of anyone actually believed that last bit*).

Of course, I wanted to give my acquaintance a light smack on the head.

Government is the arbiter of copyright. And there’s no other arbiter even remotely possible.

Why?

Well, let’s look at some of the benefits of registration, and go from there.

The primary benefit of registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is so that if your copyright is infringed upon, you have clear redress to the situation.

The first step to take in case of an infringement is to get a lawyer. Your lawyer will draft a letter informing the person or business:
a) that they are infringing on your copyright, and
b) that they must stop their use of your materials at once.

The second step is to drag their sorry asses to court. Now, in some instances, the infringement isn’t severe enough to bring to this point. Some people just plain won’t have known that what they were doing was illegal, and will be mortified, and stop what they were doing right away. Chances are, these people won’t have done enough damage to warrant taking to court.

But other people…

Sometimes the other party just won’t stop. Either they don’t care, or they think you don’t mean business, or they’re just black-hatted, mustachioed arch-villains bent upon the destruction of society through their disregard of intellectual property laws. Y’know. The founders of Napster. (I kid, I kid.)

In this situation, your registration with the copyright office will be immeasurably in your favor, because you can’t even file an infringement suit without a registration! Without a registration, the only redress you have is to write letters and cry into your pillow.

If you decide to wait until someone has already infringed on your copyright, you’d better be quick about registering.

Copyright holders who register in a timely manner are entitled to significantly greater damages in infringement suits. Many victims of copyright infringement are only entitled to actual damages – the amount of money the other person gained from the infringement. This usually isn’t much at all, so the costs of filing the suit will far outweigh the damages that you’ll be paid in this instance.

However, when you register in a timely manner and successfully sue the infringer, you’re also entitled to what are referred to as statutory damages, as well as court costs and legal fees. This is a HUGE incentive to register your works.

If your work is published – and, considering as most of us self-publish these days, it probably is – you have two chances to register in what is considered a “timely manner”. Your registration is considered timely if it’s done either:
a) within three months of publication, or
b) before the infringement first occurred.

If your work is “unpublished”, you must register before the infringement occurred in order to be eligible for statutory damages (which can be as high as $150k!), court costs, and attorney fees.

If you didn’t already, I hope you’re starting to see how government can be the only arbiter of copyright. Registration incentives aside, copyright and intellectual property laws define the scope of the protections that you’re entitled to in the event that your music is stolen or used without your permission. Remember from last week that copyright was written into the body of the Constitution – it was deemed more important than the Bill of Rights as evidenced by the fact that it’s not an amendment – in order to “promote the Progress” of the arts. Without these laws in place, there could be no enforcement of any kind of protections, or limits on the usage of another person’s intellectual property.

So while it may feel nice to think that in a perfect world all artists and their works would be protected without the need for government oversight, the cold hard fact remains that copyright is governed by a series of laws; so if you want some redress in the even that your intellectual property is stolen, get thee to Form PA.

But How Do I Register?
As I said earlier, copyright registration could hardly be easier.

Whereas a composer used to have to get Form PA (for Performing Arts, which we shared with playwrights, filmmakers, choreographers, and recording artists), there’s now one online form for most types of registrations, Form eCO.

The advantages of eCO over the paper forms are pretty huge. First and foremost is the lower filing fee. Remember how I said earlier that I paid $65 for the registration of my Sonata? The paper version is still $65, but the online form is a whopping $35. Much easier on the pocketbook!

There’s also a much faster processing time thanks to the lack of paper. Transmission is immediate, nobody needs to sort through stacks of mail and forward them to the appropriate department, and there’s no sloppy handwriting to decipher. Everybody wins! Except maybe the post office….

You can also track the status of your registration, which is nigh on impossible with paper applications.

I just took a moment to go through Form eCO with one of my recent compositions, and it took me a whole five minutes to get through the registration. Definitions and instructions abound, and are very, very, very readable – they’re there to help you understand what you’re doing, not confuse you – and the form tailors itself to your needs – almost nothing is extraneous.

Alas, and alack, I would not recommend (again, this ≠ legal advice) registering works as a collection, unless they are unpublished. (If your works are available to the public, including through your own website, they are considered published.) The Copyright Office’s various publications and sets of instructions repeatedly say not to do it. That said, if you feel compelled to register your separately-published works as a collection, be it on your head.

To learn more about copyright and registration, check out the various publications available at the U.S. Copyright Office website. Also, I highly recommend Stephen Fishman’s The Copyright Handbook, available from the excellent Nolo Press. The ebook version of The Copyright Handbook is on both of my computers, my phone, and my tablet so that it’s available any time I might have questions. I’m a big fan of Nolo, which is a great online legal resource, with many free articles and lots of information. In fact, tonight, one of my favorite online book stores had an amazing sale, so I snagged a handful of Nolo’s books to add to my collection.

The Poor Man’s Copyright
“But $35 to register each work is still too expensive,” I hear you say. “Can’t I just use the Poor Man’s Copyright?” To which I repeat: copyright registration is required in order to file suit for copyright infringement.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the poor man’s copyright refers to the practice of sealing a newly-finished work in an envelope and mailing to yourself. The postmark on the envelope, according to this myth, establishes the date of copyright so that anyone attempting to infringe on the copyright at a later date will be foiled in court when the postmarked envelope containing the copyrighted work is produced as evidence.

All well and good, but again: without registration, there can be no infringement suit. And with registration, you’ve only wasted a perfectly good envelope and the cost of postage.

So let us hearken back two weeks to my exhortation to think like a business. Your registration with the Copyright Office is two things: an investment and insurance.

You’re investing in your security as a business, and in the future of your works. You’re also insuring – for a one-time fee, rather than a monthly premium – that should the unthinkable happen, you’re protected against the bulk of your loss. You may, in fact, come out ahead financially, depending on the severity of the infringement and the damages that you are awarded.

If you have catching up to do, do it. Do one piece a week if you can, or one a month, or one every other month. But get it done – protect yourself and your work.

Make copyright registration a part of your self-publishing process. And if you’re nervous about the forms, do a couple of dry runs first – fill some out for different works in your catalog, but don’t submit them, just shred them before doing it for real

So who’s registering works this week? I know I have a bit of catching up to do.

I write the Composer’s Guide here once a week, taking time away from my composing to do so. If this post helped you in any way, please leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. If you can’t afford to donate, please pass this chapter along to someone who you think might get some help from it.

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Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: Copyright Part 1

This week’s installment is part one in a multi-part series on copyright that I’ll be writing over the next few weeks. This week, I want to tackle the basic terminology and concepts behind copyright before moving on in subsequent weeks on ways that composers can and do leverage their copyrights to generate income; the benefits of registering your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office; practical concepts like public domain, fair use, the doctrine of first sale, and the “poor man’s copyright”; and the impact of the Copyleft movement. I’ve written briefly about copyright before on this blog, so I’ll be rehashing a bit of old territory, but I’ll be going into greater depth in this multi-part section.

Copyright is a bit of a difficult concept for most people to get their heads around, in large part because it centers on the idea of intellectual property – the ownership of creative ideas, or the expression of those ideas. Things get a little more confusing for composers in some areas. My father – a smart man – has asked on more than one occasion: “When someone commissions you, who owns the copyright?” The answer is, of course, me, but when a CPA with a successful, 30-year career is fuzzy on issues of copyright ownership, you know it’s not a simple subject.

So let’s start with a basic definition of copyright and work from there.

What is copyright?
Copyright is a term that refers to a group of rights granted to a creator – we’ll refer to him as an “author” from now on, understanding that for our purposes “author” is interchangeable with “composer” – with respect to his creative works. Those component rights are:

• The right to make copies of the work
• The right to distribute copies of the work
• The right to make adaptations of the work
• The right to publicly display or perform the work

The right to make copies of the work is pretty self-explanatory. The right to make copies – copyright – get it? Eh? Eh? Upon the creation of the work (specifically when the work is fixed in some tangible form, such as written or notated on paper, or recorded by means video or audio), the author is the only person allowed to make copies of her work. This simple beginning is the lynchpin on which copyright is secured. All other rights, as you may notice as we go along, flow from this first right.

The right to distribute the work means that the author may sell or give away any copies of the work that she has made, yet she still retains ownership of the work, and others are prohibited from distributing the work without the author’s permission. So, after writing your latest string quartet, you aren’t giving up your copyright when you sell a copy of the score, or give one away – you’re merely distributing the physical copy of the work. The right to make copies and the right to distribute the work, when combined, form the basis of the publishing industry.

The right to make adaptations – most commonly referred to as “derivative works” – means that the author may arrange or expand on the original work in other, separate works, barring others from doing the same without the author’s permission. It’s this right that allows J.K. Rowling to continue to write in the world of Harry Potter, and prohibits other writers from writing new Harry Potter stories without Ms. Rowling’s permission. Similarly, a composer may make an arrangement of his piano piece for orchestra or brass quintet or guitar, but another composer may not make arrangements of that same work without the original composer’s permission. This right ensures that the intellectual property that Ms. Rowling has gone to such time and effort to create isn’t usurped by another writer who can’t be bothered to come up with his own world to write in.

The right to publicly display or perform the work allows the author to hang his painting, produce his play, perform his music, or read his novel or poem in public – preferably for a fee – and prevents others from doing the same without the author’s permission. This right is where we get our performance royalties from – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC have built an entire industry around this one right. Performances via audio or video are also covered under this right.

Now, reading all that, it may seem as though these rights are actually more restrictive than helpful, and maybe the Copyleft folks have it right – copyright only serves to restrict the freedom of speech and dissemination of information. Uh, no.

First, a word about the origins and purpose of copyright in the U.S. (my apologies to my non-U.S. readers – this is all U.S.-based discussion).

Copyright was seen as so important to our Founding Fathers that it was written into the body of the Constitution itself. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. From this section comes the legal basis for copyright, patent, and trademark. Powerful little clause there, huh?

The basic purpose of copyright is to promote science and the arts by allowing authors to control the uses of their works. Imagine: if these rights weren’t protected by law, anyone could appropriate our work, slap their name on it, and not only call it their own, but attempt to make money from it. In such a world, what incentive is there to share our writings and scientific findings? (Let me point out here that copyright doesn’t extend to facts, but only to the individual expression of ideas. Consequently, writing a novel set in London doesn’t put London under copyright, only the particular story and characters expressed in the novel.) Obviously, there is a drive in many to share their work for the love of their art or the advancement of science, but the ability to generate income from that work is an even greater incentive to disseminate it. What better way to promote science and the arts than by allowing people to make a living at them?

And Free Speech, while a lovely banner to wave, isn’t an excuse to deprive artists of their right to control how their work is used and distributed. I’ve got a big section planned on Copyleft and these arguments, so let’s move on for now and get back to copyright basics.

You’ll notice that I used the word “permission” a lot in my explanations of the component rights of copyright. Permission is the key to what I often refer to as “leveraging copyright”. These permissions are called licenses, and are the basis for the entire music business.

Licenses
By giving another person permission to arrange your string quartet for full orchestra, or sell copies of your score on your behalf, or publicly perform your music, you are granting them a limited license to exercise one of your rights as an author.

Licenses can be granted for any individual right or group of rights, for any length of time that you might specify in your agreement with the licensee. Licenses can be exclusive – i.e., only one licensee may exercise those rights for a period of time – or non-exclusive – multiple licensees may exercise the same right at the same time. Licenses are the basis for royalties, publishing agreements, recording contracts, you name it. Basically, anything that will earn you money from your music is due to a license on your copyright.

When you join a Performing Rights Organization (PRO), such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, you authorize the organization to license performances for you – in other words, to act on your behalf in exercising your right to publicly perform your work. So when an ensemble wants to perform one of the works you have registered with your PRO, the organization authorizes those performances and collects the fees that it charges for the licenses. This type of license is a very limited license – it extends to specific performances, and no more. Any performances of that work that aren’t licensed by your PRO are unauthorized, and a violation of your copyright.

When you grant another composer permission to arrange one of your pieces, you are granting them a license to exercise your right to create a derivative work. Any derivative work here, by the way, has its own copyright, which is now split between you, as the original author, and the arranger, as the author of the arrangement.

When a piece of yours is recorded, you’ll have a mechanical licensing agreement (and you should be paid a licensing fee). When that recording is broadcast, the broadcast is licensed, and you receive a royalty. When a piece of yours is used in a film, TV show, or commercial, the filmmaker etc will have to secure a synchronization license, for which a fee and/or royalty is paid to you.
If a piece of yours is recorded multiple times, you’ll be paid a compulsory license royalty.

All these opportunities for income – however big or small – are because of licenses.

Assignments
While licenses are for individual rights or groups of rights, an assignment is a little different. When you assign your rights to another person or a company, you give them all of your rights to a particular work, typically for the life of the copyright (we’ll get to that).

In the concert music publishing world, a composer typically assigns his rights to his publisher. He forfeits his rights to the work, and the publisher becomes the effective “author”. In exchange for this assignment of rights, the publisher then pays the composer a percentage – typically 10% – of its gross sales for that score. (Now, I have a lot of thoughts about this, as y’all may know, so obviously stay tuned for the posts I’ll have on Publishing and Self-publishing later in the Guide.)

Duration of Copyright
Works don’t stay protected by copyright forever. There’s an expiration date for each work’s copyright. Because U.S. copyright law has changed several times in the past century, most notably to extend the duration of copyright, it can be a little confusing when it comes to knowing what is still protected by copyright and what is in the public domain. Unfortunately, there’s not always an easy answer to this. It’s almost always easier to determine whether a work is still protected under copyright than to determine if it’s not.

For works written as of January 1, 1978, the duration of copyright in the U.S. is the life of the author plus 70 years. So for your own works, you’re fine until you die, and then some.

But when quoting or sampling other works, be careful and be educated.

Quotation / Sampling / Text Setting
Before I sign off for the week, I’ll touch on one final thing. Not exactly a copyright basic, but it ties in nicely with licenses.

If you find that you absolutely need to quote or sample another work whose copyright is held by someone other than yourself, you’ll end up licensing that portion of the original work. Likewise, if you set a text that isn’t in the public domain, you’ll end up licensing it from the publisher or author. Don’t play it fast and loose – just ask for permission. And if you don’t get it, move on. We’ll talk more about securing permissions in coming weeks, though in the meantime, ASCAP has some good resources for this very topic.

On that note, I bid you a fond farewell. Next week we’ll continue with more copyright! Yay!

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, and these posts shouldn’t be interpreted as legal advice. They’re my interpretations and opinions. If you have specific questions about copyright, I highly recommend Nolo’s excellent publications on the subject, or consulting an intellectual properties lawyer. If you think you may be the subject of copyright infringement, absolutely consult a lawyer.

I write the Composer’s Guide here once a week, taking time away from my composing to do so. If you find value in this blog, please do leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. Thanks!






The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: The Benefits of Entrepreneurship

Welcome to week two of The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business. I’d like to spend this week addressing some basics and laying a bit of groundwork before we launch into some of the meatier topics I have planned for the coming weeks. The two things I want to address first are:

1. The importance of entrepreneurial thinking to a composer
2. The attitudes that shape our views of money and business

Entrepreneurial Thinking
Composers – artists of any stripe, actually – as a general rule have a love-hate relationship with money and doing business. More often than not, we’re willing to spend whatever it takes to get the latest notation software; to prepare and mail materials for whatever award / grant / competition we’ve set our sights on; to travel to this or that residency or performance; to buy the computer / printer / speakers / piano / keyboard / office supplies we need to write and produce our scores.

Yet when it comes to the thought of taking in money, we’re strangely repulsed at the idea. Some of us flat-out hate the thought of charging money for a copy of our scores, or ascribing any monetary value whatsoever to our art, based on some moral code that we’ve devised (or more likely unwittingly inherited) that places all art outside the realm of the almighty dollar. And some of us are just scared – pardon my phraseology – shitless at the prospect of asking another human being to part with their hard-earned cash for something that we just made up!

Yet that’s precisely what we need to learn to do.

When someone asks us, “How much for a copy of the score to [title of your piece here]?” we need to be able to give them a number. Because that person has just offered us their hard-earned cash in exchange for something that we just made up, purely by virtue of the fact that we did just make it up, which is no insignificant accomplishment.

As I pointed out last week, and I’ll probably point out every couple of weeks here until you’re all sick of it: you (or your parents) probably dished out a substantial amount of – to keep a good phrase going – hard-earned cash for your musical education. You probably laid out more cash for Finale or Sibelius or whatever your notation software of choice happens to be. Then there’s the computer that runs said software – not cheap. The printer – hell, let’s join the 21st Century and give you an all-in-one – to print/scan/copy your scores. For the tech-savvy among you: the MIDI keyboard controller. Your speakers – gotta hear that MIDI! The desk that it all sits on. And for those of us that insist on having one: a piano (or three, as the case may be for some of us with a problem [hides face in shame]).

These, folks, are commonly referred to as “investments”. You (or your parents or other loved ones) have invested a LOT of money into your career as a composer. So whether you set out to be or not: You are a business.

And like any other type of business, you have “overhead” – recurring costs that are necessary to keep your business in operation: the costs of paper, toner, electricity, the internet connection you’re using to read this, postage for those competitions you insist on entering every year, etc.

So I think it’s high time that we started thinking a bit more like the businesses that we are.

And what is the basic goal of any business? To take in more money than we spend. To operate “in the black”, as it were. In other words, to make a net profit.

I’m sure that as I write the Guide, I’ll be littering it witch caveats and disclaimers – little notes to remind you that these are my interpretations of the way things are, and my suggestions for how I think they should be. This is one of them. So as I talk about net profits, investments, overhead expenses – all the fun businessy terms that I’ll do my best to explain as we go along – I’m not expecting that they’ll come to dominate, or even make an appearance in, the way that composers discuss or think about their works. “Hey David, what did your latest quartet net you?” No thanks to that. But these things should be a part of an entrepreneurial composer’s personal stock-taking.

Why?

Well for one, shit happens. Like audits. Those vague, menacing spectres that are always mentioned in hushed tones to scare you….mostly away from attempting to make any money at all at composing. But if you know what your business expenses are, and you know what you can claim as business equipment (remember those speakers, the computer, keyboard, printer, and desk? oh, and the three pianos?), you’re already in much better shape than most. By being aware of your career as a business, and being responsible about record keeping, audits, while still not anyone’s favorite thing in the universe, can be made a lot less stressful.

Also: fires and natural disasters. If you do your composing in your apartment like me, you have renter’s insurance (or whatever type of insurance suits your situation) in case the unspeakable happens. And when I say “you have renter’s insurance”, I mean, “If you don’t have insurance, get some now!” (Seriously, your Performing Rights Organization – ASCAP, BMI, SESAC – has discounts for home and renter’s insurance on their member benefits pages. Check them out. It’s cheap, and it’s smart.) So if something awful should happen, you’ve got your business equipment insured, and that’s one less thing you have to worry about in an awful, stressful time.

All shit-happens-doom-and-gloom aside, there will also come times in your career when you’ll need to do an effective cost-benefit analysis.

For example, Illinois State University recently green-lighted a full recording of my choral works. The elite chamber choir, which I used to be a member of in my undergraduate days, will be recording all of my choral works to-date over the next few years. I proposed the project to them after having done an extensive analysis of what the project would cost balanced against a conservative, multi-year projection of CD and download sales; and, after having presumably done the same analysis – albeit with more experience to draw from -, they agreed to the project. We still have some points that need negotiating, and contracts are yet to be signed, but the project is a go. And I flatter myself to think that one of the reasons that the School of Music agreed to the project – aside from our long-standing, fruitful relationship – was that I could reasonably demonstrate that the project would be mutually beneficial – both monetarily and in terms of our individual goals (another discography credit to my name; a marketing tool that could open doors to more choirs for me; a recruitment tool for the School; and a demonstration to the School’s/University’s donors that ISU’s alumni are active, successful, and still involved with the school).

I’m also always coming up with other hare-brained schemes like the choral disc, but ones that often don’t get off the ground because the expenses would most likely far outweigh the potential return. One that I’d love to make work would be a concert tour of my art songs a la the upcoming tour by composer Dale Trumbore and soprano Gillian Hollis of Dale’s beautiful art songs. Presumably Dale and Gillian planned their tour weighing the costs of travel from city to city against the benefits that they anticipated from the performances and CD sales.

Dale’s CD and her tour are both excellent examples of a composer having an entrepreneurial approach to her career, and both will only benefit her in the long run.

Attitudes
With only about 700 words left before I reach my weekly word limit, let’s talk about some of the attitudes that often cripple us when it comes to thinking about our composing careers as actual careers, where they come from, and how we can combat them so that we can be a little more…mentally healthy.

1) “What’s your real job”?
One small, but soul-crushing question that most of us have to face regularly after we say that we’re composers is: “Yeah, but what’s your real job?” And most of us sheepishly start talking about the thing we do to pay the bills while we’re trying to get our composing careers in gear. It’s this ego-undermining-yet-well-meaning question that gives me my little thing about day jobs.

As I mentioned in the comments section last week, I’m going to have a multi-part section on The Composer and the Day Job (or some such title) in coming weeks/months, but in my rapidly-diminishing word count, I’ll just say that for those of us with day jobs who consider composing to be our primary career regardless of our current primary source(s) of income, remember that composing is a “real job”, and there’s no shame in supporting yourself in a job that is not your primary goal in life.

I’ll be discussing this idea in much more depth in later chapters, so allow me to leave this where it lies for the moment, and consider for yourself if/how this attitude may be affecting you.

2) Teachers
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not knockin’ teachers. But we get our attitudes somewhere. We get our politics from our parents (sometimes as a reaction against our parents’ politics), and we get our career prejudices from our teachers. It’s a pretty linear progression.

And sometimes we need to examine the ideas we inherit from our teachers, because those ideas aren’t always appropriate to our generation, just as the ideas that our teachers inherited from their teachers weren’t always appropriate to their generation. And as the concert music scene evolves as rapidly as it has been with publishers taking on fewer and fewer living composers, the economy cutting into so much grant and award money, and the internet and social networking reshaping the way we interact with our audiences and performers, a lot of those ideas are going to need to be questioned.

3) The Romantic Era
I cannot tell you how much I loathe the idea of Composer as Tortured/Sensitive Soul. Gag me! It’s really obscene how much this idea has poisoned artists over the past two centuries.

We’ve become reliant on others to do the business things for us that we can easily do ourselves, and in so doing have allowed our ability to be treated like rational adults to be completely undermined. Rather than content providers (to be a little blunt) who should be adequately compensated for our work, we’re seen as a nuisance by the established content distributors (publishers), who – when they do notice us – offer us horrible contracts with pitiful terms because we’re not expected to know better. And…we don’t. Because we’ve let ourselves become too removed from the “real world” because we indulged ourselves in the Romantic notion that an artist should lock himself in his garret to write and abscond from the world around him.

I think that this is the most dangerous of these attitudes because it’s quite far-reaching, and has penetrated far beyond our own industry.

4) Selling Out
I was part of an online conversation a few months ago in the comments section of an article over at the NewMusicBox that sort of got me started on the path to writing this series. It certainly sparked a number of blog posts that you can find here with little difficulty; but there was one I never got around to writing, and it’s about the phrase “selling out”, which came up in that discussion. Unfortunately, all of the comments were lost just as the debate was winding down when NMB overhauled their site, and the comments from previous articles were lost to the ether. Pity, ‘cos it was one hell of a discussion, and I wish I could refer to it more specifically throughout this entire series.

But one commenter, because the topic of the article was selling scores rather than giving them away, equated the idea of commerce with that of “selling out”. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry as I was when I read that particular comment. I pride myself of my civility, but I was really ready to take this person to task because I have such strong feelings about the phrase “selling out”. I think it’s petty, uncharitable, and born solely of jealousy at another artist’s success in the face of one’s own lack of success.

I also think that the spectre of being labeled a “sellout” is a major stumbling block for some composers when it comes to trying to achieve success in our field. I’m sure we can all conjure up names of composers who have been – for whatever reason – labeled as sellouts, and see why this fear is so prevalent. I’d really like to see this attitude disappear and the term “sellout” wiped from our vernacular because it’s so uncharitable toward our colleagues.

5) What else?
There are certainly many more of these attitudes lurking in the crevices of our music-addles brains than I’ve managed to cover here. And since I’ve already blasted through my 2000 word limit for this essay despite my extreme brevity in addressing some deeply-ingrained and incredibly-subtle negative ideas that we have to contend with, I’d like to continue the conversation in the comments section below. Are there other things I’ve missed? Anything I’ve overlooked? Any causes or solutions that you can see to any of these pervasive issues?

See you in the comments, and I hope to see you back here next week!

I write the Composer’s Guide here once a week, taking time away from my composing to do so. If you find value in this blog, please do leave a tip or a small donation on the way out. Thanks!