The State of Music Publishing

FRANK J. OTERI: Now that we’re in, dreaded words, “the new millennium,” do you see yourselves as one of the principal publishers of contemporary American composers?

TOM BROIDO: Oh, absolutely.

ARNOLD BROIDO: Yeah, we are.

TOM BROIDO: Absolutely. Nobody has a roster of composers as large as ours.

FRANK J. OTERI: How many composers are on the roster?

TOM BROIDO: We’ll give you a list of active concert composers. In fact, if you turn on your computer you can print it out.

TOM BROIDO: It’s in excess of 50 American composers, and then through the agencies we represent, we handle hundreds of fine composers.

ARNOLD BROIDO: Living.

TOM BROIDO: Living, yeah, I mean. Composers like Henri Dutillieux, we represent a number of works of his. And a lot of young European composers who are starting to get reputations here in the United States. Most critically for us are the composers we represent that are young and emerging and emerged American composers.

FRANK J. OTERI: Who would you say are some of the top people on your roster?

TOM BROIDO: Ellen Zwilich, Lowell Liebermann, Dan Welcher, among living composers, Donald Erb, George Rochberg, of course.

FRANK J. OTERI: Last year, Melinda Wagner got a huge boost in winning the Pulitzer Prize.

TOM BROIDO: Absolutely.

FRANK J. OTERI: She was a name that not too many people knew around the country before that. How has winning that prize affected her catalog?

TOM BROIDO: Well, immediately afterward, as you might guess and it was predictable, there was a number of people that called and said, you know, we’d like to see some of her music, and we sent out scores, and so on, but, of course, it takes time for those kinds of things to materialize. There was one commission that she received as a result of this. She’s gotten a second commission from the Chicago Symphony, not as a result of that. The Chicago Symphony is a big supporter of Melinda Wagner’s music and in fact, did a very rare thing for an orchestra, all too rare. They commissioned a work called Falling Angels and then they repeated it on a subsequent season, which is marvelous.

ARNOLD BROIDO: It’s a good piece.

FRANK J. OTERI: And that’s what needs to be done. It needs to live past the premiere. That’s how you’re going to get it to win audiences over.

TOM BROIDO: Right. And they did that before she won the Pulitzer Prize, and I think that that’s important.

FRANK J. OTERI: That says a lot.

TOM BROIDO: And that’s one of the things that is so critical for composers, is to have a champion or champions who believe in your music and put their money, so to speak, where their mouth is. But Melinda Wagner, I would just like to say, is a hard-working, honest, talented, sincere composer who deserved to win the Pulitzer Prize. I can’t say that the Pulitzer Prize is always an apolitical, reliable judge of what the best piece is in that year, and it’s always subjective, but I will say that her winning the Pulitzer Prize is justice, pure and simple, because she does work very hard at writing music…

ARNOLD BROIDO: She writes good music.

TOM BROIDO: She’s an honest, honest lady.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s very refreshing to hear… I moderated a panel for the Women’s Philharmonic on publishing and the internet and the future, and there are a lot of self-published composers. And there were representatives there from ASCAP and BMI and from Boosey and Hawkes. And a lot of the tenor in the audience reflected the fact that there were so few women composers being published by the major firms, American women composers and here within the short space of a few sentences on your list of composers, you mentioned 2 women, both of whom won the Pulitzer Prize in music.

TOM BROIDO: And we have a third that won the Pulitzer Prize, Shulamit Ran.

FRANK J. OTERI: So all three women who won the Pulitzer Prize are published by Presser. That’s great.

TOM BROIDO: And we have other women. We have a number of… we have a very talented composer from, originally from Poland, Marta Ptaszynska, who’s a very…

ARNOLD BROIDO: Chen Yi.

FRANK J. OTERI: I’m a huge fan of her music…

ARNOLD BROIDO: We’re interested in the music. We’re not interested in the derivation or the sex of the, preferences of the composer.

TOM BROIDO: And it would be nice if society weren’t interested, either. Woman, I think, is a word that should follow the word composer if it has to be there at all, in a sentence, rather than be in front of it.

FRANK J. OTERI: When Ellen Zwilich won the Pulitzer, it was the first time a woman had ever won the Prize, so that was a big part of the story, and then Shulamit Ran, as the second woman, that was part of the story, but Melinda Wagner, I didn’t see in any of the articles that I had read, ‘oh, a woman wins the Pulitzer Prize,’ because now that she was the third who had done it, I thought that was really great…

TOM BROIDO: Well, when Ellen did, Bill Schuman asked her, “how does it feel to be the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize,” and she asked him, “How did it feel to be the first man?” [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: I love that.

TOM BROIDO: I once sat on a panel at Chamber Music America and somebody asked, “What’s it like being a woman composer?” There was a female composer next to me, and they asked that of that woman, and she answered the question from her perspective. And then I said that I’m very interested in what it’s like to be a composer because I’m not one, and I represent composers, and I’m always sort of trying to get in their head, you know, and to a certain extent, I live the life of a composer vicariously through composers when I go with them to premieres, etc. And I’m very interested, especially being married to one…

FRANK J. OTERI: To a composer?

TOM BROIDO: No, not to a composer. But to a woman…

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

TOM BROIDO: …on what it’s like to be a woman. But I’m not at all interested in what it’s like to be a woman composer. [laughs] Because I think that composers have much more in common with each other, than necessarily women have in common with each other, or men have in common with each other, because I think that composers write from experience, and yes, a composer who’s a woman writes from the experience of a woman. But only from the experience of that woman which is not the same as the experience of another woman who writes music, or another man who writes music. So composers are composers.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you sign composers regularly? On average, in a given year how many new composers would you sign?

TOM BROIDO: There are years that have gone by in which we hadn’t added a composer.

ARNOLD BROIDO: It depends on what comes across the desk. We go out and speak to some people, but there’s usually more than we can handle coming in.

FRANK J. OTERI: I can imagine.

ARNOLD BROIDO: At the moment, the problem is how do you handle it? You asked before, who decides and how we decide? We have an editorial committee which looks at everything that comes in. It makes no difference what it is, it goes through the editorial committee. And we have a Pulitzer Prize winner at the head of the committee, that’s Richard Wernick. We go outside if we need outside thinking on it. But by and large we add more to our publishing schedule each year than we can handle. It’s always a problem.

FRANK J. OTERI: So it doesn’t necessarily have to be accompanied by the fact that there are lots of performances…

ARNOLD BROIDO: No, no, no. Absolutely not. We’re interested in the music.

FRANK J. OTERI: So, if somebody sends you scores, who’s completely out of left field, say, in the middle of North Dakota, who no one’s ever heard of and they’re masterpieces, you’ll publish them.

ARNOLD BROIDO: Of course.

TOM BROIDO: And we do… I don’t want to mention any names, [laughs] because that’s not a flattering description…

FRANK J. OTERI: Okay. [laughs]

TOM BROIDO: …but we’ve got composers who are basically out in the cornfields, and are yet to be heard from, largely, by the American public. And we work very hard at trying to make sure that everybody we take on gets their turn, gets their chance.

ARNOLD BROIDO: That’s promotion… One of the things that we were talking about before was technology, and Tom mentioned that we can put out an edition of ten copies. We can put out an edition of one copy. We actually can make available, on a custom basis, the works of this composer from the cornfield, if we see something that we think should be, and I can think of several people, where we’ve taken works. We’ve taken works, purely because they were fascinating works. Interesting, fascinating works. And we have, if the composer gives us material that can be published. We can make available out there a work by a totally unknown composer.

FRANK J. OTERI: And, of course, that’s one of the areas, I guess, where photocopying and xerography has become crucial tools to publishers…

ARNOLD BROIDO: Oh, absolutely.

FRANK J. OTERI: You make copies of the actual manuscript rather than having it engraved.

ARNOLD BROIDO: Or whatever he gives us that we consider… we will not put out things that we would be ashamed of.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right, it has to be legible.

ARNOLD BROIDO: But also, things don’t go out of print now.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s tremendous.

ARNOLD BROIDO: Because you can keep things – Tom is looking at me – you can keep things in print that you wish to keep in print forever. You can put things out of print.

FRANK J. OTERI: Of course.

TOM BROIDO: And unfortunately there are things that are out of print that we can’t access a copy of for reproduction. It’s whatever’s available.

ARNOLD BROIDO: If you look at that wall, [laughs], that’s all music. It’s all educational music.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, that’s so wonderful. And that’s all stuff from the late 19th century, early 20th century?

ARNOLD BROIDO: Going into the mid-century.

FRANK J. OTERI: Theoretically then, if somebody would want an edition of some of that music, they could get it…

ARNOLD BROIDO: We do that all the time.

FRANK J. OTERI: Who’s the youngest composer on your roster?

TOM BROIDO: Probably a composer named Amy Scurria

ARNOLD BROIDO: Yeah, she’s pretty young.

TOM BROIDO: She’s 26 years old.

FRANK J. OTERI: Wow.

ARNOLD BROIDO: We’ve had much younger. They’ve grown!

TOM BROIDO: She came to us because she won a composition competition with the Haddonfield Symphony. And what we agreed to do with the Haddonfield Symphony competition was to give serious consideration to the winning piece, and unless there was some compelling reason against, we would put the winning piece in our rental library, and see if, each year, you know, this yielded a talented composer. And so far, the winners of those, that competition have been Michael Karmon, and Amy Scurria. There was one more winner… I don’t think we’ve seen the material yet, but both Michael and Amy are good composers. And she’s a very charming, serious, and committed…

ARNOLD BROIDO: She gave up a career as a pilot to become a composer.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, I love it.

TOM BROIDO: She comes from a Coast Guard family, actually. And her father is a Coast Guard pilot.

FRANK J. OTERI: I think I’ve read about her!

TOM BROIDO: She was going to become a Coast Guard pilot, and she had been writing music and she decided to pursue writing music. I think that the world’s lucky, because, you know, there are a lot of good Coast Guard pilots… The Coast Guard does wonderful work with drug interdiction and guarding our borders, and making things safe for shipping and so on, but in any case, I think that any time somebody really believes that he or she should be a composer, I think it’s important that they follow that muse if they can. I’m a firm believer in the process. A thousand people, you know, ten thousand, thirty thousand people in a generation say “I’m a composer,” and they write music. And only 5 or 10 in that generation are remembered hundreds of years later. The process is whatever number were actively pursuing that, that’s the process that delivers the 5 or the 10 to humanity for all time.

FRANK J. OTERI: And certainly there are a lot of others who we don’t necessarily call to mind immediately who are also really great. If you keep searching you find the additional 15, or a hundred, in some instances.

TOM BROIDO: Time has been a pretty good filter, over the years, of separating the wheat from the chaff. But you can’t grow wheat without chaff, and you can’t grow a generation of 10 or 20, or 50 talented composers that stand the test of time without widening the net and inviting a large number of people in, because there’s a dynamic that occurs, there’s exchange of ideas, there’s exposure, and then, over time, society as a whole, human society, says, okay, this composer’s work is worth repeating and hearing and backing financially, again and again. And the other composers sort of fall by the wayside. But they’re important because they’re part of the process.