To Do or Not to Do: Publishing Scores Online
I’ve been enjoying recent posts from Dan Visconti, Alex Gardner, and Rob Deemer on composer self-promotion; I’m not a very active self-promoter—among other things, I find it impossible to tweet on-message—but I did want to take a minute to talk about publishing scores online, a topic that Dan Visconti and composer Joe Eidson (in the comments) raised last week. There seem to be two issues chiefly at stake here: first, control (over who has the scores, who can perform them, etc.); second, monetization.
Regarding the former, Visconti raises a good point; one benefit of producing scores at the computer is that revisions can be quickly made and printed. But what if several conflicting editions of a piece make it out into the world? The scenario Dan mentions—performers cobbling together parts from an obsolete edition—is unlikely to befall me but is still quite sobering. By the same token, however, Eidson voices a desire to see what a composer’s music looks like on the page; naturally, I’m sympathetic to this, although I wonder whether prospective performers (and, dare I say, fans?) are so worried about this. Question for noncomposers: Would you prefer to see a score along with a recording on a composer’s website?
Regarding the latter, the future of the music publishing business also has to be considered at some point: If we post scores online, are we no longer holding out hope that someone might someday want to buy them? Self-publishing (i.e., for profit) seems like an increasingly appealing option (in fact, the customer service rep I spoke to in my most recent ASCAP phone call suggested I self-publish so that I can reclaim the lost half of my royalties). Posting scores online for free might result in a few more performances, but I hesitate to give the milk away for free, so to speak. Then again, what are the odds that I’ll be signed to a publisher in the near future?
The real question is, how hard is it to set myself up as a publisher and implement a watermarked .PDF purchasing functionality on my site, maybe with excerpts viewable for free? Because that seems like the best of both worlds. It still doesn’t address the possibility that depreciated editions might be floating around in the ether, but that seems like a bridge to be crossed when I get to it.