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.

7 thoughts on “To Do or Not to Do: Publishing Scores Online

  1. dennistobenski

    I’ve found it remarkably easy to get my website set up with score purchasing capabilities. Granted, I’ve designed more than my fair share of sites, but with a little knowledge of HTML and a PayPal account, it’s more than possible to get a decent print store up and running.

    Digital scores seem to take a bit more know-how, in my experience. I originally used Linklok and PayPal to sell my scores digitally – Linklok protects the files’ locations on your domain from being discovered and exploited, and a PayPal Micropayments account keeps the PayPal fees lower for people who buy less than $12 worth of scores. However, I found it a bit cumbersome ultimately, and have since abandoned that in favor of setting up a full-on digital distribution service at NewMusicShelf.com. (As if setting up a full e-commerce site isn’t cumbersome!)

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  2. mormolyke

    I offer PDF’s on my site (see Mormolyke Press), with the first page of each score available for free. I also give customers the option of either a digital download or a hardcopy – but I jack up the price of the hardcopy pretty heavily because I’d really rather not go through the trouble of making and sending it. Hardcopies are a pain in the arse, but sending someone a PDF is a piece of cake and doesn’t cost anything.

    Am I worried about my unauthorized copes of my scores being distributed for free? No more than I would have been before the internet, given the ubiquity of photocopiers. I do a little guilt-tripping by putting a footnote on every page of the score in Sibelius that reads: “This score is for the personal use of _________. Please support new music and contemporary composers – do not make unauthorized copies. http://www.mormolyke.com.” And yes, I create a new PDF for each customer with their name on it. As I see it, if are sociopathic enough to ignore my footnote, and they want to go through every page whiting out their name before copying it, I can’t stop them, any more than I could stop someone from distributing photocopies. It’s the best I can do, and I’m fine with it. If the score is being sent to a performing group, I will specify in the footnote how many copies they are authorized to make based on their order. Payments are accepted via Paypal, which is very easy to set up.

    I don’t pretend to do a huge business selling scores, but I have sold a couple dozen since my publishing site has been up – and every single order, without fail, has been for a PDF rather than a hardcopy. People like the immediacy, and honestly, I think they appreciate having a digital copy. If their score gets chewed up by their dog or thrown up on by their baby, they can print out another. Choirs can print out the score to whatever paper size format they prefer. And I don’t have to spend hours slaving over a hot printer and binder, or have too many excess scores lying around my house. It’s better for everyone.

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  3. Armando

    Collin,

    While I am also a composer, I am posting as a conductor who programs quite a bit of new music each year. I have to say that I used to like to look at scores but find that the page helps a lot less than actually hearing a piece in making my decisions. So, no, seeing a score doesn’t necessarily help.

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  4. jeidson

    Colin – thanks for the mention! Upon reflection of my comments last week, I represent a niche market where I want to see what my peers are doing rather than shopping for pieces to perform. I would love to hear more comments from performers on the relevance of seeing / hearing scores on composer websites (Thanks Armando!).

    I am sure the Adobe PDF suite will do everything you want with editing documents, but I use a combination of three programs to make my scores:

    PDFEdit995 – extracts / rearranges pages if needed, also bundled is Signature995 which provides anti-printing & copying encryption.
    Cool PDF Watermark – puts watermarks on PDF files. You can also easily do this in Sibelius if that’s your notation program of choice.
    PDF Booklet Creator – creates 11×17 booklets out of 8.5×11 originals for hard copies of scores & parts.

    In somewhat related news, Boosey and Hawkes now offers perusal scores online(!)

    - Joseph Eidosn

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  5. mormolyke

    Whoops!
    Thanks, Paul! Not sure what happened there, obviously a bad paste job on my part. Yes, my publishing site is http://www.mormolyke.com, and not actually a article about the the GOP killing the arts in Minnesota! Thanks for the comment too. It helps a lot that I’ve been making websites for a decade, and I’m married to a web developer who can help me with some of the trickier PHP + SQL stuff.

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  6. brbrofsvl

    Two small points and a larger point:

    1) I think this question is impossible to address without also thinking about where a composer is in their career. I think it might be very useful for a fledgling to make their music widely and openly available, and then crossfade to more restrictive practices over time.

    2) Sometimes the logistics of a given piece require the availability of a perusal score and not just a recording. This is true for pieces that have non-standard notation or improvisation. I think a perusal score can also be helpful for gauging the difficulty of a piece, in a way that just a recording might not be (this might especially be true for solo and chamber works). I keep much of the music on my website open to perusal for this reason: http://ecmc.rochester.edu/mbarb/web/music.php?filter=chrono

    3) The larger point: much of my activity as a computer-music composer depends on open-source software. Many open-source software developers are supported by academic jobs, and treat their software as their professional research, which happens to benefit people who use it. I think it’s possible to think of one’s music, and the score especially, in much the same way. I like being able to say to another composer, “that’s an interesting problem; you might find how I notated this interesting.”

    I think those of us who are or plan to be supported through academia might do well to care more about performances than remuneration, but having said that, my favorite model is the .pdf perusal score, with a suggested donation for the password to unlock it or for a hard copy, which could be in the form of paypal or simply a commitment to a certain number of performances. I have yet to implement paypal on my site, but it’s something I have had planned to do this summer.

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