Publishing, Self-Publishing, and the Internet

LINDA GOLDING: It’s an interesting point, because it comes back again to the financial realities, the economic realities of what needs to be done. And you know, selling a set of parts, absolutely, you’re going to make some money up front and you’re going to hopefully continue to collect performing rights income, because hopefully that orchestra will be submitting the programs. If you rented each time, you know you’re going to get that income. So you know, you’re balancing it out there a little bit… I think a point that Ralph was heading towards was the amount of activity. You know, at a certain point, sometimes the reason that a composer goes to a commercial publisher or opens up their own actual business, is just because the amount of time required in managing all of these details and making these day to day business choices becomes overwhelming, or just more than they want to handle. Or sometimes, and if you’re really lucky, there’s lots of new things to work out as well, that may be beyond your immediate experience, of how to negotiate. I get very nervous when I hear composers say what you just said, even though I know it really works for you. I get nervous when I hear composers say, “I take the contract that was sent to me, and I look at it, and it seems to make sense to me.” Because of course it makes sense; it’s a reasonable document. That makes me nervous. The other thing that would make me nervous is that you didn’t cut and paste to make another one for somebody else. Ralph’s question about having an attorney goes directly to that sort of thing, of protecting your rights and your copyrights. So, we’re using you as the poster child example [audience laughs] of an incredibly successful way of going about doing this. And I meant what I said before, when I said this is every composer and every publisher’s dream, how this story is turning out. But it’s important to interject little bits of things that you need to think about, regardless of who you are and what kind of an organization you’re running or are attached to.

FRAN RICHARD: And what level of career you’re at, that you start to prepare early. I want to ask how many of you are as far – or wish you were as far as Jenny is… [audience laughs] I mean, you have here a hustler, somebody who does not sit still and wait for an accident to happen, but who goes out there and really beats the bushes, but also was able to connect from one opportunity to the next, to the next, to the next, and the thing starts to go. And it could be an avalanche that Linda’s warned you about…

JENNIFER HIGDON: But I have to admit, it has crossed my mind a couple of times – last year I really hit a point where I thought, uh-oh, I could be in trouble here real fast. I do leave myself open to the option. It’s always in my head that I’m going to consider all possibilities, so I have no doubt that down the road I may have to adjust what I’m doing, because every year I have to adjust. It’s growing to such an extent now that I do have to have an assistant come in quite a bit, so if it keeps going at this rate, I will have to do something.

FRAN RICHARD: Well, we’re now not only talking about an assistant to help you with the administrative time of mailings and answering phones and letters. Because, remember, it’s very important for somebody at the other end that’s trying to contact a composer to have a responsible person at the other end respond promptly. That’s one thing people are afraid of about living composers: They’re always afraid they’re flaky, or they don’t have a business head, or they’re never going to respond. But what we want to say now with applause and caution, is that you also need to know at a certain point, when you need professional guidance…

JENNIFER HIGDON: Or help. When you need professional help. [audience laughs]

FRAN RICHARD: When you should not sign a contract without a competent attorney looking at it, models or no models. You may need to adjust the contract. You may need to change the terms…

JENNIFER HIGDON: Actually, I probably should have said, I do adjust the contracts. But you’re right, in terms of…especially getting an attorney to look at something…

FRAN RICHARD: What happens, Linda, if ASCAP tells you in your distribution statement that an orchestral performance occurred in Wichita of a piece by a composer you publish, for which you did not rent the scores and parts. What do you do?

LINDA GOLDING: We send out a legal letter, actually. We send out a letter asking them exactly how they did that. Where did they get those materials? And sometimes, there’s a very quick answer to it; often it’s because the composer or conductor gave them the materials…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Recent developments in technology have made it possible to download entire books off the Internet. Soon, the same could be done with entire musical scores. Obviously, this produces financial risk for publishers but it also can make a lot of materials much more available than they have ever been. Is the music world considering the implications of this?

LINDA GOLDING: This is a fabulous question, extremely complex. The Author’s Guild has done a huge project on this for books. I am not an expert in this, so you’re going to hear a very sort of blunt response to this without a lot of frills. There is this thing called “print on demand.” It’s a little like the Xerox machine – it’s difficult to control, it’s difficult to license, a lot of people are doing it, and you can buy all sorts of printed music on the Internet right now. Most of that music, however, is only a couple or three sheets, and there’s no binding. At the moment, as far as I know, the serious publishers are staying away from it because technology can’t actually satisfy their requirements, and the composers’ requirements, for the look of the piece, but more importantly, for the copyright protection of it. Undoubtedly, it’s going to happen, and probably in all of our lifetimes. But it’s not yet there. The biggest issue I think we have is something maybe Frank and I know Ralph and Fran have a lot of experience with – downloading sound, MP3 files. You know, we can talk about that later. That’s a nightmare. And we have to learn to work with it and to make it useful for composers, but at the moment it’s a licensing problem.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: When you’re looking at submissions, are you looking at genre? Because obviously certain genres usually sell better.

LINDA GOLDING: You mean like chamber as opposed to orchestra or vocal?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: As opposed to choral, for example, or band.