The State of Music Publishing

FRANK J. OTERI: I want to ask a question because a lot of the membership of the American Music Center and a lot of the composers I meet are self-published composers. There’s been a growing movement toward that with American composers, and a lot of it is out of frustration, the inability to get published by a major firm, but also there’s a new spirit of entrepreneurship among composers as a result of all the recent technological developments which facilitate self-publishing. It’s also taken on a life of its own now, and the question is, what are the advantages to being with a publisher versus being self-published? What is that dichotomy in our society as we now move into a world on the web where everything seems to be on equal footing, to some extent?

TOM BROIDO: The line between self-published composers and traditionally published composers has gotten more and more blurry over the past years. The Internet is a big factor in that. There is one thing, though, that a self-published composer can’t do, that a published composer still has, and that is somebody advocating them that is, to a certain extent, a disinterested party. I don’t mean the word disinterested, but what I mean is, we are not the composer, and we have a process that selects composers, and a process that decides which composer we mention to this conductor, that has attached to it, and not just for us, but for Boosey and Hawkes, for G. Schirmer, for Carl Fischer, for any of our brethren, has a certain stamp of approval attached to that process of choosing the composer and then deciding where you promote the composer that a self-published composer can’t have. Because the self-published composer goes backstage and sees the conductor. Of course, they’re going to talk about their own music. That’s all they’ve got to talk about. And they have a right to talk about it. And it may be very good music, that’s very valid to talk about. And it may make a connection. But it doesn’t have that stamp of approval. And much as we would like every good composer to be published by the Theodore Presser Company, obviously there’s a limit to what we can do. But self publishing has not only now been borne out of frustration, from not being able to be traditionally published, but I think it’s borne out of ability, as well. Not necessity, only, but ability. Composers are able to self publish. And they retain a certain measure of control that you give up when you assign works to a publisher. They can get all ends of income. But the biggest problem for a self-published composer is not lack of success, because if you have lack of success, it’s very easy to handle. Success, for a self-published composer, is very difficult to handle. Because the phone starts ringing, I mean, God willing, for that composer.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

TOM BROIDO: Phones start ringing, cassettes have to be made, invoices have to be sent, and all of a sudden the self-published composer might have to hire somebody to help them. Hire somebody else to help them, and pretty soon they say, well, I’ve got these other people, and maybe they start a publishing company, taking on other composers…

ARNOLD BROIDO: That’s precisely what’s happened. You can name the publishers who we represent who started out this way.

TOM BROIDO: So that collective publishing still has validity because it is a way of getting the business done, and letting composers compose. In the best of all possible worlds, composers write music and publishers publish it. But there aren’t enough of us or our colleagues to go around. And our colleagues tend to be much more restrictive as to what they get involved in and who they take on than we are.

FRANK J. OTERI: And as you said, even you can’t handle everybody.

TOM BROIDO: We can’t. We are constantly trying to balance the need to give voice to composers who deserve it, and our own ability to control what we do and to remain effective, because, obviously if you take on everybody, you become ineffective for anybody.