Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing

Located in the GraniteState of New Hampshire, Frog Peak Music (A Composers’ Collective) is an artist-run organization devoted to publishing and producing experimental and unusual works, distributing artist-produced materials, and serving as a supportive home for its artists. FPM was co-founded in 1983 by Jody Diamond and Larry Polansky, when the husband and wife team was teaching at Mills College, a hotbed of new music activity. From the beginning, FPM has been guided by the principal that if an artist believes in something, then it should be made available to the public. The founders, encouraged by rapidly improving technology which enabled artists to self-produce their own works with a high level of quality, realized that artists had become free to pursue their artistic ideals, no longer needing to gain the approval of an editor at a major publishing house. They recognized that they could now offer high quality printing, expert binding, and attractive artwork in house. With the distinction between artist and publisher significantly blurred, FPM set out to provide the vital service that they identified as the missing link: distribution.

Co-founder Jody Diamond explains that FPM is a membership organization that “is interested in people, not in specific works of art.” When a composer, author or visual artist becomes part of the collective, their entire output can be made available using the services of the FPM office, and most of the members put a very high percentage of their works with FPM. The office is located in the home of the founders, and serves as a central location for the score masters, books, artwork and CDs. There has evolved over the years a single staff position of office administrator, who works 20 hours per week to mail out books, copy scores and design the FPM Web site. With the increased traffic to the Web site, FPM has saved a lot on postage by not mailing complete catalogues and has cut way back on sending out brochures. “What is most important,” says Diamond, “is availability rather than promotion. Our artist members know that anyone interested in their scores can get them – professionally and reliably – by contacting our office. We don’t have the staff resources to lobby for performances of these works, but we find that artists, secure in the knowledge that we will be there to back them up, are the best possible advocates for their own works.”

Another distinctive feature of FPM is the policy decision (which has been in place since day one) not to accept any performance royalties from BMI or ASCAP. These royalties go straight to the composer, who is often so grateful that he/she voluntarily donates them back to Frog Peak. Of the 60 or so artists who are currently living members of FPM, the majority are involved in experimental, computer, altered-tuning, and/or algorithmic compositions. It is an eclectic roster which includes such composers as Richard Ayres, Michael Byron, Kyle Gann, Lou Harrison, Wendy Reid, and others. It is no coincidence that several of the composers in the catalogue have written important works for gamelan orchestra. FPM co-founder Jody Diamond is also the founder of the American Gamelan Institute.

FPM has developed an important role as collector of the seeds of American experimental music. The magnetic force was evident in 1990, when FPM absorbed 49 large boxes from Peter Garland, the founder and editor of the pioneering journal Soundings, in which were printed many of the most adventurous works of recent vintage. In these boxes were mint condition copies of Soundings, which have been made available to collectors and scholars through FPM. Again, in the mid 1990′s, when Kenneth Gaburo, the founder of Lingua Press passed away with no one stepping forward to carry on his work, FPM sent a truck to Iowa to bring his output home to New Hampshire. To make room for the expanded archives, the co-founders added new shelving to convert their garage into a new annex.

You expect good analogies from the people that dreamed up a name like Frog Peak, so the following summary of FPM’s activities flowed naturally from Jody Diamond: “The composers are a pebble in the bucket. We’re the ripples that follow up.”

From Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing
by John Robinson
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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