Publishing, Self-Publishing, and the Internet

LINDA GOLDING: Let me just ask a question. I think what you’ve outlined is really fantastic, and it’s the sort of thing that every composer and every publisher dreams of. And what I wanted to ask you is, how much time do you find you’re spending on the administrative part of what you need to do? Because again, this goes back to the idea of making a choice and understanding the kind of risk you might be taking, either financial or time-wise.

JENNIFER HIGDON: That’s a good question. This thing goes in waves, because if I get an order for an orchestra score and parts, obviously that’s going to take a lot longer, but I think I probably spend a couple hours a day doing it. I now have been able to hire an assistant. It got to the point where I needed to, and I talked to Libby Larsen, who has an assistant, and I said, how did you handle all of this? I’m fortunate in that I opted not to take a university job. I’ve had a couple of offers, but I decided not to do it because I wanted to spend my time writing. So I thought, OK, I won’t have a car. [laughs] I’ll live frugally, I’ll eat peanut butter and jelly, but I want to compose. And because I teach at Curtis, I’m allowed to decide the number of hours that I’m going to teach. I only teach seven hours a week. So I spend most of my time writing, and I spend a couple hours a day working on the administrative stuff. And there is paperwork. You have to turn in the programs – you know, someone has to do that – do the Xeroxing, the binding, the letters, the proposals, grant stuff. But I find that I probably represent myself better than I would imagine anyone else could. And it also gives me the freedom – in places like South Africa, where maybe some school can’t afford music, I have the option to actually send it to them. And I think, sharing music – obviously it’s an excellent thing…

FRAN RICHARD: Did you hire a young woman composer to be your assistant, so you can teach her how to do it at the same time?

JENNIFER HIGDON: Yeah, actually, you know I have had composers come in and work. I guess it depends. Sometimes we go through periods where the students at Curtis are so busy, I can’t hire any of them. I can’t convince them to step away, and I think it’s a good thing, because they’re usually writing orchestra pieces – they have readings at Curtis for the orchestra students there, which is obviously just an incredible benefit. So when I can, I try to involve students in it so they can see how the whole thing operates and how it works.

LINDA GOLDING: And what do you do about contracts? What do you do about copyright protection? What do you do about negotiating something that you’ve never done before?

JENNIFER HIGDON: That’s always a spooky one. [laughs] A lot of times, the organization provides the contract. Philadelphia Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Da Vinci String Quartet, Lark String Quartet, Philadephia Chamber Music Society – they all provided the contracts. When I needed to make up a contract, I just sat down and put one out on the computer, in a letter form. And I have all of these other contracts, to kind of draw on, and we tailor it according to the group, what their needs are.

RALPH JACKSON: Do you have an attorney?

JENNIFER HIGDON: No, but I do have someone in Philadelphia I can consult. There is an attorney there that also does taxes for artists, just artists. It’s not Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts; it’s just a group of people who like working with artists. So, if I have a question, I call them on the phone, and they answer the question without charging because they like the arts. But negotiations are a little trickier.

FRANK J. OTERI: Jennifer, you said something that I thought was wonderful but scary at the same time. You talked about the performance in Wichita, and you were surfing the Web and found out about it. So had you not surfed the Web and found out about it – this gets into the whole issue of copyright protection – would you have gotten fees? How do you police the performances of your music?

JENNIFER HIGDON: Well, you know eventually they had to contact me about the parts. They couldn’t do an orchestra piece without the parts. But I did something that I thought was more beneficial for me: I sold them the parts, at about what a major publisher rents them for, and they snapped them up immediately.

RALPH JACKSON: Let me say something about that. You sold a set of parts. Let’s say that that was a good deal for you, and for the next ten years, you sell parts to fifteen orchestras. At some point in your life, hopefully your career…

JENNIFER HIGDON: It’s already happened, you’re about to ask that xeroxing question, right? [laughs]

RALPH JACKSON: Well, actually I’m not. Xerox has nothing to do with this. At some point in your life, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, who are two composers who self-published in a very professional way for a long time, you’re going to need, if your career goes far enough, to go to Linda or to G. Schirmer or one of those major publishers.

JENNIFER HIGDON: Right.

RALPH JACKSON: They’re going to look at that piece and they’re going to say, you already have this piece out in the world…

JENNIFER HIGDON: I know what you’re asking, but it’s more important to have the music out there, because too many composers are having this problem to begin with. I’d rather get the music out there and deal with that problem later on, than have to wait for down the road…