What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die (and What You Can Do About It)

For many years the American Music Center has accepted scores and recordings (CDs in most recent years) from American composers to be placed in its library for anyone wishing to peruse the materials on site. AMC members could also request for scores and recordings to be mailed to them on loan. Materials remained with the AMC until 25 years after the composer’s death. After that period, the materials were then transferred to the Americana Collection at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Most of the holdings in the AMC Scores/Recordings Library are listed in the online searchable catalog.

As of July 1, 2001, the Collection was moved to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center, and is now known as the American Music Center Collection at The New York Public Library (NYPL). The most significant change in the AMC Collection policy is the fact that the AMC has closed the Collection to new donations of PAPER scores. Although the non-CD recordings were included in the move, the CD collection remains at the AMC administrative offices, and the AMC will continue to accept CD donations from members. The American Music Center Collection at The New York Public Library is, in effect, a collection of works from the 20th century. Under the new agreement, AMC will continue to circulate perusal copies of scores from the Collection throughout the world, and NYPL will house, maintain and make the original items from the Collection available for on-site perusal, listening and research. [Ed. Note: NYPL’s Lincoln Center location has been closed for renovation and will reopen in October 2001. Until then, those wishing to peruse scores from the AMC Collection should make arrangements through the AMC Information Services.]

As for the future of AMC’s promotional service to its members, a new comprehensive set of programs now under development, under the working title of NewMusicJukeBox, will function as a central clearinghouse/portal on the World Wide Web for contemporary American music and the artists who create and perform it. By providing on-demand access to audio recordings, music scores, and core information on new music artists, NewMusicJukeBox will serve as a 24-hour “virtual” listening room for new American music, with streaming and downloadable sound files and score samples for listening and perusal. Using the latest online technologies, NewMusicJukeBox will provide the new music field, as well as general audiences, with unprecedented access to composers’ works in a way that protects the artist and the integrity of the artists’ original work. AMC is making every effort to proactively address the issue of intellectual property rights throughout the architecture and design of NewMusicJukeBox. As a key part of the project development, the AMC will be addressing issues of digital rights management, rights clearance, licensing, etc.

Since this program is under intense development as I write this, there will be some changes from what I describe here to the program as finally implemented. What follows is the compilation of information from many phone calls and emails between the American Music Center’s Executive Director Richard Kessler and myself, and I am grateful to him for such a comprehensive peek at what must be a defining step for AMC and for all composers.

Regarding the transition to the new program (see below), Kessler writes: “For NewMusicJukeBox, we will accept works written during the 20th century, but only in digital format. As the years go by, we anticipate that NewMusicJukeBox will consist of a significant number of works from the 20th century.”

NewMusicJukeBox is being constructed to serve as that unique and powerful “gateway,” a single site where one can access the works of thousands of composers. As currently proposed, the NewMusicJukeBox website will consist of the following primary components:

  • A search engine based on composer name, musical genre, instrumentation, duration, composers’ professional interest or focus; key word, and more.
  • An Internet radio/webcast component with curated program themes.
  • Links to individual composer, performer, and/or a publisher Web sites, not just to artists and works within AMC’s own Collection, but also to resources outside the AMC Collection.
  • An e-commerce component, allowing users to order performance materials for purchase or rental. Here a user could order parts for a particular work, pay the purchase or rental fee online, and initiate a process whereby the parts would be printed out, bound, and mailed by a third party (such as Kinko’s Documents on Demand Center). Payment would go directly to the composers, with the AMC charging a minimal transmittal fee.

NewMusicJukeBox will utilize the most cutting-edge technology available for reproducing and distributing music over the Internet. This will require the creation of a sophisticated architecture of computer hardware, database and digital rights software, and professionally managed web server and hosting services.

NewMusicJukeBox will be supported by its own server infrastructure utilizing the Microsoft 2000 platform. Registered AMC members will use a browser-based interface to administer their works and data within NewMusicJukeBox. Composers will be able to create their own biography, inform users of their performance schedules, provide contact information, and upload audio and score files. By uploading music files with metadata to NewMusicJukeBox’s Windows Media server, members will be able to take advantage of the “On-Demand” and “Webcast” features of NewMusicJukeBox. When accessing the “On-Demand” portion of the site, users will be able to search AMC’s vast collection of works by a variety of queries, such as, composer name, title, duration, and instrumentation. The “Webcast” or “Internet Radio” aspect of the site will offer random and thematic music programming with direct links to promotional information about composers in the collection. Digital Rights Management software will ensure NewMusicJukeBox is a secure environment for composers to promote their works.

Although perusal copies of all existing scores currently in the AMC Collection at NYPL, including those of non-AMC members, will continue to circulate, the acceptance of new “virtual” scores and materials will only be on behalf of AMC members. Similarly, only AMC members will be able to take advantage of the new service. There will also be a modest fee charged for the service in addition to the AMC membership.

Notice that the inclusion of reference scores and audio materials (tapes, CDs) constitutes the body of this project. A major drawback in terms of making it possible to perform a composer’s music posthumously is that only scores are accepted — parts are not. [Ed. Note: The AMC Library was created for the sole purpose of promoting the music of American composers via perusal materials and was never intended as a resource for performance parts. However, it has always been the practice of AMC to provide information regarding sources for parts.] Even scores for, say, instrument and stereo tape will only find the score accepted, even if (as I firmly believe) the composer considers the tape part an integral part of the score. Conceivably the tape part (or its CD counterpart) can be catalogued as a separate work. Also, electro-acoustic and experimental/media composers, although they can include any materials within that traditional framework, will be prohibited from including more esoteric materials such as software, hardware, multimedia, etc., unless it can be documented within the traditional formats. Articles, work papers, diagrams of software, letters, etc. will NOT be a part of the AMC program. Instead, composers will be asked to deposit these in a library or local archive and the AMC program will provide links to these localities.

Once the basic program is in place, there may be a “secondary” thrust to include and catalog video. This will bring in more experimental and multimedia composers (such as documenting a performance using a particular hardware or experimental instrument, or documenting a performance art work).

All scores and audio materials in the program will continue to be serviced after the composer’s death according to current practices, including materials on NewMusicJukeBox (providing the composer is a member of AMC of course). No additional charges will be assessed. And so on the face of it the AMC program, although not specifically advertised as a posthumous archival service, is nevertheless a de facto one. Not being specified as such, it seems to me that could easily change in the future however.

Regarding implementation, at the time of this writing Mr. Kessler writes that “an in-house test of this program will occur in October 2001 and we expect that it will contain the works of a sample base of 25 or so composers’ works.” This is the one that also links to the Web site as described above. The sound files will be streamed in Windows Media format and mp3, and the scores in either PDF (for hand-copied, etc.) or a Sibelius format for scores available in Finale. For more experimental and handwritten scores, PDF format will be employed.

Regarding my inquiry as to exactly how AMC would deal with intellectual rights issues with scores, Mr. Kessler writes, “With NewMusicJukeBox, the copyright owner gets to determine how promotion will be handled. So, if a composer wants to allow people to print out parts from a downloaded Sibelius file–they could authorize that. If they only want people to print out a score or view the score without being able to print it out, they could do that too. If the copyright holder wants to limit access of the score to hardcopy mailed by the composer and/or agent, that can be done as well. Similarly with PDF, people could print out the score or only view it on screen. I am not saying that this solves everything–on the score side–but I think it will work out in most instances.

“On the sound file side, that’s a different question. Clearances will have to be had–I think what we will see will be different approaches depending on the clearances that a composer or publisher has for commercial recordings–whether we stream complete works or just excerpts. On the non-commercial side, where a composer has a live recording of their work, again, clearances will dictate what we can or cannot use. We also expect that there will be MIDI recordings available.”

It should be stated that the AMC programs are not specifically set up to service deceased composers. Nevertheless it is clear that they intend to do so, as Mr. Kessler states in a note to me, “The database of NewMusicJukeBox will have links to both composers’ archives/websites of composers who have work in the AMC Collection and composers who do not. As long as the archives and Web sites remain intact, the links will remain in the database. An important point is that NewMusicJukeBox’s database will include data on all the works in the AMC Collection at NYPL.

“The works in NewMusicJukeBox (scores, sounds files, etc) will remain in NewMusicJukeBox, indefinitely. At some point, the issue of archiving will emerge–but right now, I anticipate that we will not be removing works by composers who are deceased.”

The AMC has garnered major financial support for this program from several private foundations and government agencies, including the Helen F. Whitaker Fund and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. In addition, promising applications are now pending to the National Endowment for the Arts and other agencies. In light of these prospects, and AMC’s prior history with its library program, I think we can assume that it will be around for a long time. Mr. Kessler considers the program the “core of what we do at the American Music Center.”

From What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die and What You Can Do About It
by Barton McLean
© 2001 NewMusicBox