Tag: music publishing

Online Score Sales for Self-Published Composers

Empty Staff Paper with staple

“No one’s going to buy your music if it’s sitting on the shelf at your house.” So says Kurt Knecht, composer and co-founder of MusicSpoke, a sheet music distributor focusing on choral music. And it’s true! So, composers: how can you get your music in front of the right musicians in a format that makes it easy for them to purchase, download, and start practicing your pieces right away?

This article will provide an overview of options for self-published composers to sell their PDF (and sometimes, physical) scores and describe the typical audience for each of these methods so composers can evaluate which option might be the best for you and your music. It will also discuss methods for selling your music on your own website, via Bandcamp, or by creating a composer’s collective. Finally, it will explore an alternative path: not selling your music. All of the distributors in this article share two similarities, with a few exceptions for special series or publishing arrangements you can opt-in to. First, composers retain the copyright to their work. Second, these distributors are non-exclusive: composers can sell on other sites.

All of the distributors in this article share two similarities, with a few exceptions: composers retain their copyright; these distributors are non-exclusive

And, a note as we get going: the legacy of systemic racism and sexism is apparent when one browses the distributors in this article. Many of the owners and operators of music distribution services are white men and the catalogs represented on these services often have a large proportion of white male composers. The work to amplify the voices of women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC composers must continue.

Let’s talk about two large distributors first: J.W. Pepper and Sheet Music Plus (SMP) Press. These distributors have name recognition, come in high on internet search results for sheet music, and serve large numbers of customers. However, they offer smaller payments per score (45-50% of list price) to composers, and do not share information about who purchased your music (name, contact info, etc.) with you.

J.W. Pepper’s My Score

Logo for My Score


J.W. Pepper is one of the largest distributors of educational music in the United States, selling everything from method and solo books to ensemble works. K-12 music educators are familiar with the website and often have purchasing accounts already set up and ready to go. My Score is J.W. Pepper’s distribution service for self-published composers. “People know the J.W. Pepper name,” says Isaac Brooks, who heads up My Score. “The My Score composer can be found in results along with traditionally published pieces.” Composer Karlyne Félix works as a music educator and first encountered My Score when she was looking for music for her students. Now she uses it as the sole music distributor for her own works. “It’s very easy to use, accessible, and well-known among the music education community,” she says. The audience of educators also attracted composer Garrett Hope to the service. “I’m focusing my efforts on educational music,” Hope explains. “A big part of marketing is knowing your audience and knowing where they go.”

“A big part of marketing is knowing your audience and knowing where they go.”

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

Signing up for My Score costs a one-time $99 fee. Composers receive 50% of the list price for every digital copy and 25% for every printed copy sold, paid quarterly. There are minimum prices for your sheet music starting at $2 for choral works up to $45 for a full orchestral work. For choral works, a minimum of 5 copies must be purchased, to avoid illegal copying. There is no evaluation process for composers, no quality standards, and no guidelines on notation to follow.

PDF or Print Scores?
Works sold on My Score can be purchases as PDFs or printed scores.


“All digital copies sold by jwpepper.com are watermarked and made available for print through a customer portal called My Library,” Brooks says. “The product can also be viewed through our on a mobile device. The end-user has 3 attempts to successfully print the product, after that it will only be viewable electronically through their account.”

Isaac Brooks in a tie and jacket playing a cello outdoors.

Isaac Brooks, who heads up J. W. Pepper’s My Score

Additional Benefits:

J.W. Pepper has a presence at music conferences, and often offers My Score composers the opportunity to stand at a booth. They offer Webinar training for their composers. One benefit that makes My Score stand out: every work is available as a digital score or a physical score through their print-on-demand service. Professionally printed and bound scores will be fulfilled within 3 days.


“Neutral themes and music of hope are very good to have at any performance.”
Karlyne Félix holding a glass globe

Karlyne Félix

Félix suggests that composers considering My Score keep in mind who they are selling to: music educators and their (often young) musicians. “Neutral themes and music of hope are very good to have at any performance,” she explains.  She says it took a little work to get the hang of uploading music, but that My Score’s team was helpful. “I have been contacted by their support team, at the beginning of my journey with them, to clarify a few edits before the site made my music public,” she says. “I appreciate that, especially being new to the system.” Hope wishes that the editing process for scores was less cumbersome. After scores are added, any changes must be requested via email. “I would love to be able to login and see my catalog and make edits,” he says. However, Hope agrees that the customer service team is responsive, usually making changes within 24 hours. Brooks explains that one reason composers must submit edits through email is that My Score prepares a printable file for every score submitted. “One difference between My Score and SMP Press is that we are preparing the item for physical distribution,” he says. Brooks says that a portal for composers to edit their current catalog is “in the works.”

Sheet Music Plus (SMP) Press


Sheet Music Plus calls itself “the world’s largest sheet music store.” SMP Press is their distribution arm for self-published composers to sell PDF scores. The site caters to K-12 music educators and ensemble directors, private music teachers and their students and individual hobbyist musicians. Composer Juhi Bansal (https://juhibansal.com/) appreciates the popularity of Sheet Music Plus’s site. “It’s a place people are already going and looking for music, so you are exposed to a much larger audience,” she says.

Composer Juhi Bansal

Composer Juhi Bansal

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

SMP Press is free to join. Composers earn 45% of the list price for original compositions and public domain arrangements and 10% on arrangements of their copyrighted song catalog. Commissions are paid monthly once you hit the $20 minimum for payment via Paypal or $40 minimum for check payments. SMP Offers guidelines (not requirements) for how much to charge for scores. They provide guidelines for scores, such as margin sizes and reducing ink on the cover (since customers are printing these out at home).

“I don’t know too many orchestral institutions willing to print and bind the conductor’s score and parts, with their numerous varying page sizes.”

PDF or Print Scores?

SMP Press sells only PDF scores at this time.


Customers receive downloadable, watermarked PDFs.


Bansal finds SMP Press easy to use. “If you’re just starting out and you want to put music up, it’s a good platform to do it. You can have one place where you sell your scores, and direct people to it.” Composer Arthur Breur agrees. “You create your company name, upload PDFs, you can include preview pages, a video or recording, description, select your price, and 24-48 hours later, your piece is approved and ready to sell,” he explains. “Making changes are easy and then it will take 24-48 hours to update.” “SMP Press is a great option for artists who enjoy a ‘set it and forget it’ method to distributing their music,” says composer Brian Nabors. “It definitely gets the music into the hands of the musicians instantly.” He does wish that SMP had an option to sell physical scores and parts, especially for large ensemble works. “I don’t know too many orchestral institutions willing to print and bind the conductor’s score and parts, with their numerous varying page sizes.” Because of this, he binds and ships his orchestral music himself, often using another music distributor, Subito Music Distribution. To enhance search on the Sheet Music Plus website, Breur suggests including the instrument or performing forces in the title field of your piece when you add it to your catalog. For example: “Dance – Piano Solo” rather than just “Dance.” In his experience, this helps customers find your piece when they search the site.

Composer Brian Nabors

Composer Brian Nabors

Next, let’s talk about four smaller, composer-run distributors: MusicSpoke, NewMusicShelf, Graphite, and Murphy Music Press. These distributors offer a higher payment to composers (50-70% of list price), and share information about who bought your music with you, so that you can get in touch with musicians and ensemble directors.


The Logo for Music Spoke


MusicSpoke is a marketplace for music by living composers, with a strong emphasis on choral music. “Our primary customers, in this order, are K-12 choral, university choral, and churches,” says Kurt Knecht, co-founder. Composers are welcome to sell other genres of concert music on the site as well. Juhi Bansal sells her vocal music on MusicSpoke, in addition to selling her music on Sheet Music Plus. “It is more specialized,” she says of MusicSpoke, “mostly choral, a few piano works, and art song. I don’t think it’s a great place to sell string quartets, opera, etc.”

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

There is no fee to join MusicSpoke. Composers receive 70% of the list price, with some slight variations for rare physical copy sales or promotional offers. The vast majority of MusicSpoke’s sales are PDF scores. When MusicSpoke works are chosen for state repertoire lists requiring physical scores, MusicSpoke works with Black Ribbon Printing to print and bind hard copies.

Kurt Knecht in front of an organ.

Kurt Knecht

The process to join MusicSpoke is unique. “We evaluate composers, not pieces,” says Knecht. MusicSpoke has a one-on-one dialogue with each composer to see if they are a good match for distribution on their site. They do not evaluate individual pieces (as a traditional publisher might), but rather add composers to their service and let composers list as many or as few pieces as they want. Knecht says that they do prefer that you have a recording available for any piece you want to sell.

PDF or Print Scores?

Music Spoke primarily sells PDF scores, with the rare option to print scores when works are chosen for state repertoire lists.


Customers receive downloadable, watermarked PDFs, or (rarely) physical scores printed through Black Ribbon Publishing.

Additional Benefits:

Bansal appreciates the reputation that MusicSpoke has built among conductors. “People know it’s a good place to look for contemporary choral scores,” she says. She also like that they don’t have a minimum purchase requirement. “If you want to check out a copy of a score, if you want to teach from it or share it in class, there are no minimums,” she says. That can be an advantage if your goal is getting your music in front of a conductor. MusicSpoke maintains a presence at national conferences, with options for composers to join them at their booth. They are continuously developing a network of composers and conductors to promote the music of MusicSpoke composers. In addition, they curate several series with renowned conductors such as the Charles Bruffy, Derrick Fox, and Joseph Ohrt, and MusicSpoke composers are eligible for these. One note: these special series have an additional three-year exclusivity contract with MusicSpoke due to the special promotional services they receive.


New Music Shelf logo


NewMusicShelf sells and distributes PDFs of concert music by living composers, with a particular emphasis on music for collegiate and professional performers, ensembles, and chamber groups. “I believe chamber, vocal, and choral music work best on this platform,” says composer Jennifer Jolley, who sells her music on NewMusicShelf as well as through Murphy Music Press and ADJ•ective New Music. Composers are welcome to sell educational music, but that is not its primary market. Of the composer-run distributors discussed in this article, NewMusicShelf is unique in the breadth of its catalog across instrumental and vocal ensembles.

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

There is no fee to join NewMusicShelf. For scores sold, there are 2 fees per transaction: a payment processing fee from Paypal or Stripe, which is typically 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction, and NMS’s 30% distribution fee. This leaves the composer with slightly under 70% of the list price. Composers set their prices, with a minimum of $2 per score. Digital scores sold through NewMusicShelf must be priced less than physical scores sold elsewhere and identically to digital scores sold elsewhere.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a gatekeeper to talk about ‘quality’ because that is very subjective.”

Of the composer-run distributors, NewMusicShelf is the most inclusive. Founder Dennis Tobenski does not curate based on style or perceived quality. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for a gatekeeper to talk about ‘quality’ because that is very subjective,” he says. The most important criteria for acceptance is the engraving quality of your scores and parts. Tobenski suggests comparing your scores to professionally engraved music or seeking advice from a composer whose scores you admire before submitting. That said, he will provide feedback if your scores are not up to his standards—it is not just a blanket rejection.

Dennis Tobenski

Dennis Tobenski

PDF or Print Scores?
NewMusicShelf sells only PDF scores at this time.


Customers receive downloadable, watermarked PDFs.

Additional Benefits:

“There is a guide to help us figure out how much we should charge per copy of our music. That is a game changer right there,” says Jolley. She appreciates the service because it helps composers sell their music online even if they “have no idea how to implement this on their own website.” NewMusicShelf is Tobenski’s self-described “one man operation,” but he still makes sure to have a presence at conferences, particularly in conjunction with the publication of their print anthologies of music. His mission is to build a community of composers and new music performers.

Jennifer Jolley standing near a lake

Jennifer Jolley (Liz Glen Photography)


Tobenski recommends that composers provide a lot of information to potential customers when they upload their scores to the catalog, including a perusal score or sample pages, program notes, links to recordings, and information on who commissioned the work. “Give people too much information,” he suggests. “That’s what people are buying the score based on.” Jolley hopes to see more options for educational music on the platform in the future. “Once they expand, they can make it so their musical offerings are sorted by grade level,” she suggests.

Murphy Music Press

Murphy Music logo


Murphy Music Press is a distributor of composer-owned music for saxophones and wind ensembles, run by composer and saxophonist Sean Murphy.  The site sells everything from solos to chamber music to large ensemble works, at all difficulty levels. Composer Evan Williams distributes his work through Murphy Music Press and ADJ•ective New Music (more on ADJ•ective later). “Both Murphy and ADJ•ective have wide markets,” he says. “Some works are educational and some are collegiate/professional.” Murphy aims to sell to customers seeking a curated catalog. “We sell to the kind of person who buys an espresso coffee versus Folgers,” he explains.

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

There is no fee to join and composers selling through Murphy Music Press set their own prices and earn 50% of the list price. Murphy Music Press pays for printing and binding out of its half of the sales. Composers are paid twice a year. The site includes around 200 composers at present and Murphy is always looking for new members. Composers interested in selling their music on Murphy Music Press can contact Murphy through the web form on the website, and when invited, submit a piece. “I listen to the piece and follow my heart,” he says. “If I think there’s potential I say yes, and if not, I say no.”

Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy

PDF or Print Scores?
Murphy Music Press sells primarily print scores but can also sell PDF scores. The choice is left up to the composer.


PDF scores are watermarked.

Additional Benefits:

Twice a year, Murphy Music Press provides composers with a record of who purchased their music so that composers can follow up about performances, etc. However, they sell a large number of scores to large distributors like J.W. Pepper, and from there, they cannot track sales for composers. Murphy Music Press maintains a presence at conferences such as the Midwest Clinic. Williams appreciates the time Murphy Music Press and ADJ-ective put into marketing. “The biggest benefit for me is not having to dedicate time, effort, and money toward printing, binding, and shipping scores and parts,” he says. “Distributors can also market your music online and at conferences, reaching a wider audience than you could yourself.”

Evan Williams standing near a wall

Evan Williams (Photo by Eric Snoza, SnoStudios Photography)


“Composers can be so bad at communicating. Answer your emails!”

Murphy vets potential composers by researching their presence online. “Be nice!” he urges. He also pays attention to how easy it is to stay in touch with composers. “Composers can be so bad at communicating,” he warns. “Answer your emails!”  Murphy prefers submissions with a score and a performance recording. “It’s hard to market something without a recording,” he says, but acknowledges that with the pandemic, a MIDI rendition may suffice on occasion. He advises that it is easier to sell a piece if it has already been performed, because it adds legitimacy to the piece and creates interest from buyers.

Graphite Publishing

Graphite logo


Graphite Publishing, run by composers Timothy Takach and Jocelyn Hagen, is a considerably more discriminating option for established composers of primarily choral music as well as art song. There are two arms of Graphite: a tightly curated distribution catalog of composer-owned works and an even more select publishing house. They sell primarily secular choral works of all levels, particularly for high school, collegiate, and advanced amateur choirs. While they do distribute some music that is suitable for a church choir, it is not their primary market.

Timothy Takach

Timothy Takach

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

There is no fee to join.  Composers receive 60% of sales for composer-owned scores distributed on Graphite Publishing and 40% of sales for Graphite-published works. To keep overhead low, they sell only PDF scores. There is an open submission process on their website, and scores are reviewed 1-2 times a year. Graphite curates with a philosophy of finding what Takach calls “a balance between excellent craft and innovation of scores and the accessibility of the scores. We’re looking for things that are different, things that enhance the choral experience and our catalog.” So a piece setting the same Sara Teasdale or Emily Dickinson poem that everyone at your graduate program set is likely not be what Graphite is looking for. There is a high bar, and those who are chosen are typically composers who have an established catalog that is already selling. “The gate is open,” Takach explains, “but it’s open just a crack.” “I really appreciate their quick and helpful responses to any questions I have,” says composer Dale Trumbore, who distributes her music through Graphite. “Setting up with any new distributor takes time…but overall it’s a pretty straightforward process.”

Dale Trumbore standing outside near a tree

Dale Trumbore (photo by Lucas Hausrath)

PDF or Print Scores?
Graphite sells only PDF scores at this time.


Customers receive downloadable, watermarked PDFs that include their name, organization, and the number of copies that they are allowed to make.

Additional Benefits:

“I appreciate how Graphite Marketplace has composers rate their pieces in difficulty level on a 1-5 scale, so choral conductors can use that plus the perusal scores to assess whether a piece will be a good fit for their ensemble,” says Trumbore. “There’s a wide variety of music within Graphite, ranging from simpler pieces for children’s chorus to challenging works for advanced choirs.” Graphite maintains a presence at ACDA and NATS conventions and periodically organizes consortiums for groups of their composers. Their model is to “build trust through adjacency,” says Takach. Trust in one composer’s excellence leads conductors to trust the music of other Graphite composers. Trumbore is grateful for this presence at conferences. “That can lead not only to them promoting your work there [at conferences], but to them potentially sponsoring all or part of your registration fee and/or offering times for you to meet conductors and performers face-to-face at their booth,” she explains.

What if you want to be fully in charge of your catalog and sell and distribute yourself? Bandcamp is one way, and selling your scores directly on your website is another. These methods require the composer to take on the work of building and maintain an online store and getting PDF or print scores to their customers.


Bandcamp logo


While many of us think of Bandcamp as a way to listen to and purchase music albums, composers like Sean McFarland use it to sell their scores. “It’s an excellent place to pair your audio work and physical work together,” he says, “and for me, the communities that I’m most interested in connecting with are doing a lot of their listening in Bandcamp already.”

Logistics, Fees, Criteria:

McFarland appreciates how easy it is to get set up with Bandcamp, and the fact that there are no gatekeepers evaluating you or your music and deciding if it is worthy. “All you need is an email, and that’s it!” he says. Composers can sell their sheet music in the “merch” section of their Bandcamp page. Bandcamp is free to set up, and charges a 10% fee for all merchandise sales plus transaction fees of 1.9% + $0.30 for Paypal or 2.2% + $0.30 for credit card payments  (https://get.bandcamp.help/hc/en-us/articles/360007802394-How-much-are-transaction-fees-for-digital-sales-).

PDF or Print Scores?
It’s up to you. If you sell print scores, you will have to print, bind, and ship them yourself.


Bandcamp is not set up for automatic downloads, which McFarland views is a plus: “It is more personal and connective anyway,” he says. He emails scores to customers after they have made a purchase.


McFarland find the organization of information a little “clunky.” “The platform is not exactly meant to sell scores, so you have to get creative with the track organization to make it look reasonable,” he explains.

Selling Scores on your Own Website

There are as many ways to sell your music on your own website as there are composers.

There are as many ways to sell your music on your own website as there are composers. To give perspective on ways this can work, I spoke to Reena Esmail through her assistant Melanie Eveland, Jennifer Wagner, Alex Shapiro, Stephanie Ann Boyd, and self-described New Renaissance Artist Elizabeth A. Baker about how they each approach selling their scores and other materials and services.

Why sell your music yourself?

A major reason to sell your music on your own site is to earn your full sales commission. “I like to keep my money,” says Baker, who sells her compositions, recordings, books, and consulting services through her website. She also emphasized the importance of retaining creative control of your work. “We live in a time when you can self-publish your albums; you can self-publish your own work. You don’t need other humans to put your stuff in a warehouse and take a big percentage of the pot.”

Elizabeth A. Baker holding a small object in front of her face.

Elizabeth A. Baker

Another aspect that came up with every composer I spoke to was the ability to build relationships with customers.  “A significant benefit for composers handling their own score sales is the direct contact they will have with the people who purchase the materials,” says Shapiro. This often leads to future collaborations, commissions, and residencies. Boyd adds, “If they are exploring contemporary music, they are probably someone who wants to ask questions of a composer.”

Logistics, Fees:

Esmail and Wagner design their websites on WordPress and use the WooCommerce plug-in for sales. WordPress’s ecommerce sites begin at $45/month, with no additional cost to add WooCommerce. WooCommerce charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for U.S. credit and debit cards, and an additional 1% for non-U.S. cards. They both do their score delivery and licensing individually, separately from the website transaction. “We like to see the orders that come in and provide a personal level of service to musicians,” says Eveland, Esmail’s assistant. Wagner sells both PDF and print scores, and works with a reliable printer with a fast turnaround time for physical scores. In some ways, she wishes customers could automatically download scores, but on balance, she likes the connection made by sending the email. “It allows me to personally thank them for their purchase and wish them a lovely season with their students,” she explains. She uses MailChimp “sparingly” to let past customers know of new works of music or particularly special opportunities.

Reena Esmail

Reena Esmail (photo by Rachel Garcia)

Shapiro sells physical and PDF scores. She uses a PayPal shopping cart on her website and charges one set shipping and handling fee for print and digital scores. PayPal charges a 5.4% + $0.30 transaction per transaction, but there are no monthly fees or set up costs. Shapiro’s customers receive a custom email with a private web link to download their PDFs. She prints chamber music in house and outsources larger ensemble works to be printed. Shapiro’s works are also available through many distributors and retailers, giving her publishing company a far larger domestic and international footprint than it might otherwise have were her scores only available through her website.

Boyd designs her composer website and store, Femoire, on Squarespace and uses their built-in ecommerce functionality, which includes a score preview function and the option to sell downloadable PDFs. Squarespace’s Business plan costs $18/month plus a 3% fee per transaction. For users selling more than $3200 annually, they offer Commerce Plans starting at $26/month with no transaction fees. After customers purchase music on Boyd’s site, they can automatically download their music.

Stephanie Ann Boyd

Stephanie Ann Boyd

Baker uses Square and appreciates the business management tools the platform offers. “Square is like accounting software,” she explains. “It offers scheduling, it offers online booking, inventory management, and it helps me with invoicing. I can print out very coherent reports which allow me to work with my financial planner.” Square stores begin with their Free option which has no monthly fee and charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction and offers additional features at Professional ($12/month), Performance ($26/month) and Premium ($72/month) options.


To reduce illegal file sharing, Shapiro embeds metadata into every digital audio file, always watermarks her digital perusal scores, and often watermarks her PDFs to reflect who purchased them. Boyd and Wagner watermark the score previews on their sites but not the purchased copies. Baker takes a different view on preview scores altogether. “All these quick view perusal scores nonsense is giving too much away,” she says. “I am heavily against it. I know a lot of specifically white male conductors and composers are going to say, ‘No, we need this, because I need to know your stuff.’ No. I have a website, you can clearly get a better picture of someone through a walk through their website than a single score.” Baker’s music is not notated in standard notation so she does not watermark purchases. “I make things that are unstealable because people stole my stuff in the past,” she explains.


Of course, if you are selling yourself, you really are going at it alone. Shapiro warns, you’ll be administering your catalog, hold your engraving to a high standard for print and digital scores, deal with printing and binding, purchase materials, and process and ship orders—all by yourself. She suggests hiring others to help you with some of these tasks so that you still have time to compose.

Alex Shapiro in front of a collection of computer terminals and electronic keyboard instruments

Alex Shapiro


Esmail has found that score sales are only one, smaller part of her income streams. “We have noticed that score sales are a lagging indicator—not a leading one,” says Eveland, Esmail’s assistant. “It has not been our experience that a concert composer can set up an online store and hope to build an income that way without already being known through other sources.”

Shapiro suggests setting up Google Alerts for your name (in quotes) and each piece in your catalog (the title in quotes as well). This allows you to track performances you might not be notified about otherwise. Boyd’s emphasis is on reducing what she calls “consumer friction.” “Think about how you shop online, pay attention to the brands whose shopping experience you enjoy, and try to re-create that,” she says.

“If you don’t have an organized way of managing inventory and shipping, you won’t be productive.”

Baker advises composers to choose a method that helps you stay organized on your end as a seller. “It’s not about having the most sleek website, it’s about what’s going to work on the back end: delivery of content. If you don’t have an organized way of managing inventory and shipping, you won’t be productive.” She also urges composers to get set up like a business: create articles of incorporation, assign successors (especially now, during a pandemic), and work with a lawyer and a tax professional who is also a certified financial planner. “Set up everything the right way and put in the initial investment,” she says.

Wagner reminds composers to keep their customers in mind as they write, especially for those writing educational music. “If you are going to self-publish, you need to be on the cutting edge of what teachers need,” she explains. “If you supply teachers with the tools to be successful, then profit will come organically.”

Jennifer Wagner outside

Jennifer Wagner

A hybrid model that combines aspects of a small music distributor with selling your music yourself is to create a composer collective such as ADJ•ective New Music.

Composer Collectives: ADJ•ective New Music

ADJective New Music logo

Composers can band together and create a collective of like-minded colleagues to sell and cross-promote one another’s music. This is the model of ADJ•ective New Music, a publishing and distributing company begun by composer-performers Jamie Leigh Sampson and Andrew Martin Smith. “The idea from the beginning was that a rising tide raises all boats,” says Sampson. “If one composer does well, then people will come to our website and see the works of others.”

Composers should create their own collectives.

ADJ•ective’s roster currently includes 14 composers and has a model in which they expand every other year and only with a few composers, by invitation, at a time. “We don’t have the capacity to have an open call for new members,” Sampson explains. Rather than wait for their next period of expansion, Sampson suggests composers create their own collectives. She shared how ADJ•ective works to supply a potential model for other composers.

Jamie Leigh Sampson

Jamie Leigh Sampson


The ADJ•ective website features a store for score purchases and rentals. ADJ•ective composers retain their copyright, can choose to sell or rent physical and/or digital scores, and receive 50% of the net profits of sales and rentals. Sampson and Smith invested the profits from the first several years of the business into purchasing printing and binding equipment and industry-standard paper at various weights. They print and bind physical scores in house. ADJ•ective shares information about who purchased works with composers.


At this time, ADJ•ective does not watermark PDFs, partly because their volume of PDF sales is fairly low.


“ADJ•ective is special because we are a composer’s collective, so we advocate for each other and are often involved in group commissions, projects, or festival appearances,” says composer Evan Williams, who sells his scores through ADJ•ective and Murphy Music Press. ADJ•ective composers have pooled resources to share booths at conferences such as the Midwest Clinic and ADJ•ective has a podcast, Lexical Tones, which is hosted by collective member Robert McClure and which features guest musicians involved in contemporary music. “Collectives help bring legitimacy,” says Sampson. “We have the old guard thinking if you’re not published, you aren’t legit.” A composer’s collective, she says, offers the best of both worlds: artistic ownership and control with the power of a group advocating for your music. They are planning to expand this partnership to include performers in the future.

One Final idea…What about NOT selling your music (most of the time)?

Because I love to rock the boat, I asked composer Melissa Dunphy to share her “radical” (as she puts it) approach to score distribution with me. Dunphy, best known for her social justice-inspired choral music, makes all of her self-published scores free to download on her website. Trusting in an honor system, she asks anyone charging admission to their concert to get in touch with her for an invoice and she charges them $1.50 per digital copy. For free recitals and church service performances, her music is free, provided she is informed of performances so that she can list them on her website and online and report them to ASCAP.

“It makes no sense for me to create ‘artificial scarcity’ by placing a barrier on the distribution of my sheet music.”

“The vast bulk of my income comes not from sales of scores, but from commissions and performance royalties,” Dunphy explains. “Given this situation, it makes no sense for me to create ‘artificial scarcity’ by placing a barrier on the distribution of my sheet music, such as a price or copy protection. Rather, I should want my music to be distributed as widely and easily as possible, to create more opportunities for performances and commissions. I should especially want music students, many of whom will become music professionals and educators (and many of whom don’t have a lot of money, as I know from experience), to have free and easy access to my sheet music.” She feels her career has benefited from this model and that it is “particularly well-suited to choral music because choral directors on the whole are social creatures and born networkers and very game to try new music from living composers.”

Melissa Dunphy

Melissa Dunphy

While she does feel that instrumental music has to be approached a bit differently: “more direct marketing, more specific networking to individual performers,” she also points out that “for solo or chamber works, you’re only selling a single copy or a few parts, so the potential revenue to be gained from putting a price on your sheet music would be even smaller.”

Dunphy’s sacred choral music is not available for free. It is published with a traditional publisher because of their connections to churches and religious communities that aren’t in her network, and she feels that her publisher works hard to market her music, which she appreciates.

Even More Options:

Score Exchange is an online music distributor with no fee to sign up, and no editorial criteria to pass to be accepted. Composers retain their copyright, and Sibelius users can take advantage of their built-in “publish on Score Exchange” function. Composers earn a percentage of the list price, beginning at 45% and increasing as your monthly sales exceed $200.

Black Tea Music describes itself as a “boutique music promotion, publishing, and management representative for composers and new music-inclined artists.”

Subito Music Distribution is a service that allows you to sell or rent your works while retaining copyright of your music. One benefit is that they will print and bind parts at industry-standard sizes. There is a $50 fee to join and $50 annual fee subsequently. Composers begin with 5 titles in their catalog and may add 10 more during the year. Composers receive 55% of retail sales.

Other options to take payments online include Stripe which charges no set up or monthly fees and a 2.9 % + $0.30 per transaction fee, Sellfy, which charges $19/month and no transaction fees for up to $10,000 in sales per year, and Shopify which combines website creation and ecommerce and begins at $29/month plus 2.9% + $0.30 per transactions online.

Empty Staff Paper with staple


“Working with distributors rather than publishers has allowed me so much more freedom for future projects.”

So composers, is your music sitting on a shelf at your home? Are you ready to change that? As you evaluate options, Tobenski suggests, “Composers should genuinely ask themselves, what do I do, and where does it fit? Don’t try to shoehorn yourself into some place.” And you can take advantage of the non-exclusivity of many of these distributors. “I like using several methods because the audience for the different genres of music varies greatly,” says Jolley, who distributes music through NewMusicShelf, Murphy Music Press, and ADJ•ective New Music. “Working with distributors rather than publishers has allowed me so much more freedom for future projects,” says Trumbore. “Freedom to make arrangements of existing works or even withdraw works from my catalogue if I feel they aren’t representing my best work anymore. The tipping point in deciding to use a distributor came when I started to resent that score sales were pulling time away from my creative work. Freeing that time back up is well-worth the cut that a distributor receives from my sales royalties.” And of course, choosing a distribution or sales method is only the beginning. Arthur Breur reminds readers:  “You have to market to let people know about your music.”

My hearty thanks to everyone who contributed their voices for this article: Kurt Knecht, Isaac Brooks, Karlyne Félix, Garrett Hope, Juhi Bansal, Brian Nabors, Arthur Breur, Dennis Tobenski, Jennifer Jolley, Sean Murphy, Evan Williams, Timothy Takach, Dale Trumbore, Sean McFarland, Reena Esmail, Melanie Eveland, Alex Shapiro, Stephanie Ann Boyd, Jennifer Wagner, Elizabeth A. Baker, Jamie Leigh Sampson, and Melissa Dunphy.

Support for the writing of this article was provided by the ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund.

ASCAP Foundation Logo

Pondering New Digital Distribution Models and the Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence—MPA 2019

A brown wooden table that has stacks of publications on it

The 2019 meeting of the Music Publishers Association, which took place last week in New York City, was a combination of reminiscences of the past and planning for the future, both in terms of legal issues and technology. Aside from the presentation of the annual MPA Lifetime Achievement Award, the Arnold Broido Award for Copyright Advocacy, and the Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence, there were reports on the EU Copyright Directive, the USA’s Music Modernization Act, and a lively panel about digital distribution models for musical scores.J

Among the most moving segments of the afternoon was the MPA Administrative Director Brittain Ashford’s presentation of the 2019 MPA Lifetime Achievement Award to Iris Manus of Alfred Music during which she took out a coffee-stained chord handbook published by Alfred that has been a lifelong companion to her. In her equally emotional acceptance speech, Manus talked about her 60 year career at Alfred, transforming with her husband, the late Morty Manus, what was then a small business that published accordion music into a worldwide enterprise that currently has over 150,00 active titles in its catalog. The 2019 Arnold Broido Award for Copyright Advocacy was presented by John Shorney of Hope Music to Elwyn Raymer, President and CEO of the Church Music Publishers Association (CMPA) Action Fund, an initiative that was initiated in order to protect writers’ and publishers’ intellectual property rights and to rewrite the long outdated US copyright law. Raymer’s more than half century career in music publishing and production has encompassed serving as Minister of Music for churches in Arkansas and Texas to being President of Lorenz Creative Services, a leading publisher of scared music, and working with Bertelsmann Music Group to direct and manage BMG’s entry into Contemporary Christian Music.

Brittain Ashford and Iris Manus holding her MPA Lifetime Achievement Award

Brittain Ashford and Iris Manus (this photo and all other photos herein courtesy MPA)

A total of 33 sheet music publications received 2019 Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence in a total of 12 award categories. Two of the publications, The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar by Laurence Juber (Hal Leonard LLC) and String Training, a collection of 80 reproducible worksheets for the beginning to intermediate orchestra classroom or private lesson studio by Kathryn Griesinger (Wingert-Jones Publications) received awards in two different categories. Among the other 2019 award-winning publications were the piano-vocal scores for two operas—David T. Little’s Soldier Songs and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby—as well as Harbison’s For Violin Alone, a solo cello work co-composed by Gabriela Lena Frank and David Fetherolf, a composer who has long served as Frank’s music editor at G. Schirmer, two chamber music compositions by Pierre Jalbert, a previously unpublished newly discovered song by Kurt Weill, and works by Brian Balmages, Mohammed Fairouz, Nancy Galbraith, and Bright Sheng. The awards, which were established in 1964 in honor of the first music engraving in America (by the legendary American Revolution patriot Paul Revere), recognize publications which best exemplify high standards in music engraving, design, and utility.  For the 2019 awards, a total of 121 submissions were evaluated by a group of four judges. Kazue McGregor, Orchestra Librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Ronald Whitaker, who served as Head Librarian for The Cleveland Orchestra from 1975 to 2008, served as the two engraving judges. Nim Ben-Reuven, a Brooklyn-based freelance art director, custom lettering artist, video producer, and installation designer, and Mallory Greg, an Art Director for MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, served as the two graphics judges. Robert Sutherland, the Chief Librarian for The Metropolitan Opera, serves as the Coordinator of the Paul Revere Awards. (A complete list of the 2019 award winning publications is appended below.)

John Phelan and one of the slides in his PowerPoint presentation

John Phelan explains the ICMP

According to John Phelan of ICMP, the EU Copyright Directive was a way to counter the value gap for music due to an abuse of safe harbor.

John Phelan, the UK-based director general for the International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP), presented a report on the EU Copyright Directive and the potential worldwide impact of its implementation. According to Phelan, the directive, specifically Article 17 (ex art 13) which mandates upload filters, was a way to counter the value gap for music due to an abuse of safe harbor. Of top 500 YouTube videos, 486 are music-based and the average song on YT, a great many of which are uploaded without consent of the rights’ holders, is listened to more than 80,000 times by YT’s 1.9 billion monthly users, for which remuneration is negligible. Despite intense lobbying efforts mounted by YouTube’s parent company Google, the measures passed in the European parliament in late March.  After that, entertainment, media, copyright and trademark lawyer Corey Field gave a presentation on the newly Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law in the United States on October 2018. Among the notable aspects of the new law is that there is now protection for pre-1972 sound recordings, but no termination rights. He also noted that Karyn Temple was appointed to serve as the US Register of Copyrights on March 27, 2019 after serving in that role in an acting capacity without official title from October 21, 2016 to March 27, 2019, the longest time that the United States was without an official Register of Copyrights.

There was a lively panel about the digital distribution of musical scores moderated by Brittain Ashford. The four panelists were: Joseph Ciappina, who serves as a band director for Middletown Public Schools in New Jersey; Guy Barash, a composer and the founder of the digital consulting company, Dotted Eighth; Enrique López de Mesa, who serves as the managing director of nkoda, a digital sheet music subscription service that is currently licensed with 90 publishers; and Sara Griffin, the assistant principal librarian of the New York Philharmonic.

Enrique López de Mesa of nkoda said that it would be “foolish if we start pushing technology on people.”

Ashford began the discussion by pointing out than in data collected from the Major Orchestra Librarians Association (MOLA) in 2015, only 4 percent of their constituency do not get any requests for digital materials. Griffin was quick to counter, though, that there still is not a lot of “jumping to digital” at professional orchestras since the operations of these organizations are determined by lots of tradition. They “want digital as an option, but not the only thing they do.” They “send digital perusal scores to conductors who don’t want to carry stuff around. But when it comes to concert-time, 99.9% is paper.” López de Mesa concurred saying that while “26% of musicians want digital materials,” it would be “foolish if we start pushing technology on people.” However, Ciappina explained why digital materials are a better option for him.  “As a consumer, I don’t know instrumentation until very late. I go to e-print so I can get stuff immediately. I can’t wait to get materials in the mail. If I can’t view it, I’m less likely to buy it.” However, he also acknowledged that “in terms of tablets, etc., the school system is not quite there yet. We still look to paper because that’s what my 11-year-old can remember to bring to school.”

Joseph Ciappina, Guy Barash, Enrique López de Mesa, and Sara Griffin

Joseph Ciappina, Guy Barash, Enrique López de Mesa, and Sara Griffin

Obviously, one size does not fit all. Griffin pointed out that the New York Philharmonic plans 2 years in advance, which is “very different from a school,” and that performance materials “stay with us forever.” (Their rental parts are kept on “permanent loan,” as per agreements made with publishers.) But Barash believes that there “is a real need for a digital rental system” that is viable, though no one on the panel addressed Ashford’s question about whether there is any digital rental system that could ensure that materials distributed that way could only be accessed temporarily unless there was a prior agreement.

López de Mesa said that nkoda offer non-subscribers a free preview of scores which are stored and displayed as “secure file in our own proprietary format” which he claims is “unhackable.” However, for subscribers, “if you use the service, we know where you are. All our materials come with a warning that they can’t be performed without a rental agreement. We use technology to protect you.” He also said that through this service, nkoda is “also creating a new market for this material: students wanting to study these scores.”

Barash stated that there are currently “two big challenges.” The first is “political”—the conversation “should be more open to find solutions between publishers, orchestras, and tech companies.” The second involves “getting ready for the change to digital.” For publishers, this means having materials that are ready for digital conversion and having proper metadata for all their catalog. For orchestras, it’s about “getting them to learn rather than resist.” And for tech companies, it will require “more listening” to understand the needs of these two constituencies.

Before the 2019 MPA meeting was adjourned, Kathy Fernandes from JW Pepper gave a brief update on copyright education. The MPA has created a power point presentation which is accessible and downloadable from the MPA website so it can be used in schools and universities to give students a greater understanding of copyright and its benefits to society.

MPA annual meeting attendees examine the 2019 Paul Revere Award-winning scores

MPA annual meeting attendees examine the 2019 Paul Revere Award-winning scores

The 2019 Paul Revere Award winners

The 2019 Paul Revere Award winners are:

Cover Design Featuring Photography

First Prize
Soldier Songs piano/vocal score of the opera by David T. Little
Boosey & Hawkes, Inc./Hendon Music

Second Prize
String Training by Kathryn Griesinger
Wingert-Jones Publications

Third Prize
Sousa’s Marches – as He Performed Them by Keith Brion
Meredith Music Publications

Cover Design Featuring Graphic Elements

First Prize
Peaceful Piano Solos
Hal Leonard LLC

Second Prize TIE
Baroque and Classical Masterworks for Strings
Wingert-Jones Publications

More Masterworks for Strings
Wingert-Jones Publications

Third Prize
Canzona by Peter Mennin
Carl Fischer Music

Book Design in Popular Music

First Prize
Ragtime Fingerstyle Ukulele arrangements by Fred Sokolow
Hal Leonard LLC

Book Design in Concert & Educational Music

First Prize
Vaideology, basic music theory for guitar players, by Steve Vai
Hal Leonard LLC

Second Prize
String Training by Kathryn Griesinger
Wingert-Jones Publications

Third Prize
The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar by Laurence Juber
Hal Leonard LLC

Choral Music Notesetting

First Prize
Simple Settings for SAB Choirs, Volume 1
Hope Publishing Company

Second Prize
Christ the Lord is Risen Again by Donald McCullough
MorningStar Music Publishers

Third Prize
Revelation 19 by Jeffrey LaValley arranged for gospel chorus by Mark Hayes
Hope Publishing Company

Keyboard Music Notesetting

First Prize
Roman Sketches, op. 7 by Charles T. Griffes
Alfred Music

Second Prize
El Male Rachamim by Mohammed Fairouz
Peermusic Classical

Third Prize
Fantaisie-tableaux (Suite No. 1), op. 5, for two pianos, by Sergei Rachmaninoff
Alfred Music

Guitar Music Notesetting

First Prize
The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar by Laurence Juber
Hal Leonard LLC

Second Prize
The Great Arpeggios Book, 54 Pieces & 23 Exercises for Classical and Fingerstyle Guitar by John Hill
Hal Leonard LLC

Piano-Vocal Notesetting

First Prize
The Great Gatsby, piano/vocal score of the opera by John Harbison
Associated Music Publishers

Second Prize
“Lied vom blinden Mädchen” (“Song of the Blind Girl”) by Kurt Weill
European American Music Corp.

Third Prize
Foursquare Cathedral, a setting of five poems by Todd Boss for bass-baritone and piano, by Matt Boehler
ECS Music Company

Solos Notesetting, with accompaniment

First Prize
Introduction and Variations on “Trockne Blumen”, D. 802, by Franz Schubert (arranged for cello and piano)
International Music Company

Second Prize
Concerto in A Major, K. 622, for clarinet and piano, by W.A. Mozart (arranged by Charles Neidich)
Keiser Music

Third Prize TIE
Concerto, opus 8, for violin and piano, by Leo Portnoff
International Music Company

Zigeunerweisen, by Pablo de Sarasate (arranged for flute and piano by Jasmine Choi)
Theodore Presser Company

Solos Notesetting, without accompaniment

First Prize
Serenata, for solo cello, by Gabriela Lena Frank and David Fetherolf
Schirmer, Inc. and Associated Music Publishers

Second Prize
For Violin Alone by John Harbison
Associated Music Publishers

Third Prize
Piano Sonata No. 2 by Nancy Galbraith
Subito Music Corporation

Chamber Ensemble, Score and Parts Notesetting

First Prize
Wind Dances, for piano and wind quintet, by Pierre Jalbert
Schott Helicon Music Corp.

Second Prize
Light, Line, Shadow for flute/piccolo, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, and percussion, by Pierre Jalbert
Schott Helicon Music Corp.

Third Prize TIE
String Quartet No. 5 “The Miraculous” by Bright Sheng
Schirmer, Inc.

The Emperor and the Nightingale, for narrator, violin and piano, by Robert Mann
Peermusic Classical

Collated Music Notesetting

First Prize
Tower of Inspiration by Robert Thurston (wind band)
Excelcia Music Publishing, LLC

Second Prize
Pageant by Vincent Persichetti (wind band)
Carl Fischer Music

Third Prize
Dream Machine by Brian Balmages (wind band)
The FJH Music Company Inc.

Exploring Timbre in Choral Music

Full Disclosure: many of the samples I share in this article are from the See-A-Dot Music Catalog, a company for which I am the director.

Unlike many aspects of the experimental music world, choral music in the western classical realm has historically avoided employing a variety of vocal timbres in any given piece, usually defaulting to the inherited English choral cathedral tradition. By contrast, string players are readily prepared to perform a variety of sounds on their instruments from sul tasto and sul ponticello to pizzicato and scratch tones. But while this kind of experimentation with sound used to be unusual in the choral world, it is now becoming more common.

In choral music, timbral varieties are generally confined to specific styles and genres.

It’s not that choral singing as a whole does not employ a variety of timbres: singers sing differently in a gospel choir than when singing in an Anglican church; musical theater and opera choruses ask for very different vocal production, and that’s just sticking to the most common styles in the United States. If we back up even further and look at ensemble singing from a global perspective, Bulgarian choirs use an entirely different timbre from singers in West Africa, Sardinia, and India. But these timbral varieties are generally confined to specific styles and genres of music. Modern recording and communication technology has brought a new level of awareness and exposure to vocal timbre to a large group of people, and there is an increasing interest in playing with the sound possibilities of the voice influenced by music of other cultures—from yodeling to Mongolian throat and overtone singing. I believe the future of choral music will embrace timbre as an integral component of sound making.

I give credit to Meredith Monk for pioneering music for vocal ensembles that focuses on the different sounds of the voice, perhaps above and beyond the individual notes and rhythms. For example, Dolmen Music has an entire section where the soprano line gradually changes from a more open, “traditional” sound to a very bright nasal technique, and that transition in timbre is the main driving force behind the drama of that section.

Like the above example by Monk, much of this choral music is wordless, putting the focus on the voice itself as an instrument, rather than the musical interpretation of the text. Here is an example from the composer Toby Twining, who is also a versatile vocal performer familiar with a variety of techniques. Twining treats the voice like an instrument and incorporates a slew of different styles and techniques into a single composition.

While the piece certainly isn’t easy, it has been performed by college and community choirs around the country. Twining has also recently written new pieces for Roomful of Teeth, an ensemble popularizing the incorporation of techniques from global singing styles into Western music. While most of the music written for them is extremely specialized and likely not performable by large choirs, avocational singers, or even most semi-pro ensembles, there is a growing body of work that incorporates a variety of timbres and techniques in such a way that is accessible to avocational and student singers.

There’s a growing body of work incorporating a variety of timbres that is accessible to avocational and student singers.

I’d find it silly to not include my own most performed piece for choir, which is an example of timbral exploration for choirs. Hymn to Aethon uses four different timbres, ranging from dark to bright sounds, and it’s the use of timbres and rhythmic groove that provide the bulk of the aural interest, not the harmonic content which mostly revolves around melodies and open fifths.

I believe what contributes to the popularity of this piece is the relatively simple harmonies (it’s only 4 parts with almost no divisi) and straightforward rhythms making it relatively easy to perform without compromising its interest. I’ve taught this piece to unauditioned college groups and professional ensembles, and in both instances, the rehearsal process relies on rote learning, vocal play, and listening rather than note learning, blend, and lyrical interpretation. I think exploring vocal timbres will play an increasingly important role in the future of choral music as a way to expand the expressive palette available to choirs without relying on the harmonic content of the work.

The Future of Choral Music

Here’s a common experience I have as a publisher of choral music: I’ll receive a piece with all the hallmarks of a composer who knows what they are doing. The piece is well engraved, follows the rules of voice leading, is idiomatically written for the voice—and is dull. But then I’ll do a little sleuthing and find samples of this same composer’s instrumental music, which will often by contrast be lively, engaging, and innovative. Nothing drives me battier than to see this separation between the two mediums, and I’ll often write an impassioned reply to the composer asking why they are so apparently willing to stifle their creative voice when it comes to choral music. Nine out of ten times, they respond with something akin to “thank you for giving me the permission to write the music I want to write.” These experiences have lead me to the belief that while there is plenty of newly composed music for choir, it is not part of the same contemporary conversation around new music as its instrumental and solo counterparts.

Highly chromatic or atonal music is rarely written for choirs.

It’s no shocker to say that the choral and instrumental worlds have evolved quite separately over the past century. Highly chromatic or atonal music is rarely written for choirs, and the deep exploration of timbre found in instrumental pieces from later in the 20th century has mostly been ignored in favor of the pervasive choral sound inherited from the English cathedral tradition. Not only have the two worlds evolved separately, but their cultural importance is weighed differently as well. Using the Pulitzer Prize as one limited metric, it’s worth noting that, until The Little Match Girl Passion in 2008, an a cappella choral piece had never won the prize. This fact is confounding if we consider that choral music is thesingle most popular activity among adults in America. It is estimated that 32.5 million adults in America sing with a choir on a weekly basis and that ensemble singing is the most popular arts activity among adults in the United States. While the majority of choirs are religious or school ensembles, it is conservatively estimated that 12,000 of US choirs are community and professional groups. That’s 10 times the amount of community and professional orchestras in the United States. It’s entirely possible that the Pulitzer committee shares the same perspective as much of the new music world, that choral literature is not in the same “high art” category as its orchestral counter-part. And to be fair, the largely avocational nature of choirs contributes to the cultural sense that, as a whole, it need not be taken as seriously as instrumental music.

Choral music performers are hungry for new types of exploration.

Thankfully, choral music in the 21st century is undergoing a cultural renaissance. More and more ensembles are bringing together musical innovation in the choral world, and ensembles are performing music that points composers in a new direction. These composers are exploring and expanding what is possible in the choral medium without being stymied by the avocational nature of many of the performers. There has, perhaps, never been a better time to make a national, and even global, impact with choral music. The choral world is one of the most accessible avenues for the public to stay connected with “classical” or “concert” music, especially when it comes to the work of living choral composers, where there is still a mass appeal from the young to the elderly. The medium is hugely popular, it is being taken more seriously than it has for the past hundred years, and the performers themselves are hungry for new types of exploration.  There is a wonderful opportunity to use choral music as a way to expose a wide swath of Americans to the adventurous side of today’s new music conversation by getting people involved as performers, not just passive listeners.

In the series of articles that will be posted here in the coming weeks, I will explore: how the choral world is changing artistically, logistically, and creatively; what factors into that change; and where we all might be headed. I’ll also describe how technology is changing the social and business world of publishing and what methods composers can employ to bring experimental musical ideas to a wide demographic of people without alienating the majority of avocational singers in the choral world.

Leveling Up, Part 1: The Business of Sheet Music

As I am wrapping up a recent commission for high school concert band, I am reflecting on my experience composing for educational instrumental ensembles.  Writing music for these ensembles is deeply rewarding—primarily because they are eager to perform freshly composed music and are willing to try new things.

Writing music for younger players also has its challenges. Chief among them is writing within the constraints of students’ developing technique. How do you communicate your musical idea if the players have limited ranges? If the music must stay within a small set of keys? If the players are still learning to sub-divide the beat and can’t read music in asymmetrical meters?

How do you communicate your musical idea if the players have limited ranges?

But as I started writing pedagogical music the most vexing problem of all for me was leveling the music. In the world of educational instrumental music, each work receives a grade, typically on a scale of 1–6. This makes sense. It’s a simple way for a director to sort through music to find the pieces appropriate for his or her ensemble.

The rub is that there is no consistent definition of the levels! One publisher’s Grade 3 piece is another’s Grade 4, or maybe even Grade 2. Some states publish their own leveling guidelines that are different from the publishers.

Plus, it’s big business! Every year schools spend significant amounts of money to purchase sets of scores and parts. Composers who write for educational ensembles need to understand the leveling system so they can better write for younger players and promote their finished scores in a market hungry for new music.

This post will look at the business of educational instrumental publishing and why leveling matters. In subsequent posts I will examine the leveling system more carefully and provide some best practices for writing for elementary, middle, and high school bands.

The Business of Sheet Music Publishing

Educational music is big business and there are incredible opportunities for composers to impact the lives of students, create art, and generate income. To paint a picture: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 24,053 secondary (middle and high school) public schools in the United States in the 2013–2014 academic year.  Not every school has a music program, but most do. Another study published by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2012 says that in the 2009–2010 academic year 94% of elementary schools and 91% of secondary schools had music programs.

Between $2.4–10 million is spent annually on purchasing new music for public high schools per year.

With a very conservative estimate that directors have $100 to spend per ensemble per year on purchasing new music for their libraries (which amounts to between one and two new pieces with score and parts, on average) that means between $2.4–10 million is spent annually on purchasing new music for public high schools per year.[1]

These numbers aren’t exaggerations.

Some schools have up to four or five ensembles that all need music. In reality, the number is probably even larger because I am not including private schools (33,619 in 2013–2014 according to NCES), elementary schools (67,034), and degree-granting institutions (4,724).

The hard truth is that educational instrumental music publishing is a $25 million industry minimum and probably has sales in excess of $100 million annually.

And there’s choral, solo instrumental and method books, chamber music, pop and rock tune arrangements, and sacred music on top of this, but it’s not the focus of this article. Just know that as an educational ensemble, choirs can spend just as much as bands and orchestras when purchasing new music every year and that nearly all students who study privately are required to purchase method books and solo literature continually.[2]

Once we add in all ensembles and instruments, the sheet music publishing industry is nearly three times larger. Some estimates peg the sheet music industry at $1 billion dollars.

Don’t be quick to dismiss leveled music for degree-granting institutions, either. Outside of large music programs, most small, regional, and liberal arts college and university bands and orchestras consist of non-majors who have a passion for music. When I was conducting a string ensemble at a highly selective East Coast liberal arts college, most of the members of my group were pre-med and science majors. The literature we played was in the grade 3–4 range. It was the same for the concert band. It’s also the same for thousands of degree-granting institutions across the country. But it’s worth noting that, for better or worse, all band music (and even most orchestral music) has been leveled by this point.

To be clear: ALL band music and most orchestral music is leveled, and it is a big business.

Show Me The Music 

Leveling of music plays a critical role in both the business of sheet music publishing and in classroom pedagogy. For the music publishers, independent self-publishers or the major publishing houses alike, leveling the music makes it easier to sell. For the ensemble director, leveling provides a quick way to sort through the many hundreds of options and track skill development and artistic growth of an ensemble over time.

Leveling the music makes it easier to sell.

The leveling system was created by publishers who desired to promote music differentiated by skill and difficulty, and by state band programs to create a handicapping system for competitions, festivals, and juried performances. It is a system that works well, despite the nebulous nature of defining the grading scale.

At this point, composers writing for educational groups know that they are working within the leveling system and often, in collaboration with the commissioning ensemble, aim for a specific grade level based on a set of parameters. The next article in this series will examine the grade levels and what they mean more closely.

Composers who write for educational ensembles have the unique opportunity to take this information and use it their advantage. If you can find the most appropriate level for your composition, you can then more easily get it in front of the people who would be the most likely to purchase it and perform it. While doing that, you can describe how the piece works specific skills and which outcomes the director can expect to see with their ensembles.

Imagine the following scene: a 75,000 square foot showroom floor where the largest booths are those of publishing houses and music distribution companies. As a band director shopping for scores, how do you quickly sort through thousands of pieces to find the ones appropriate for your band? Your first step might be to begin with bins marked at the level your band typically plays.

Likewise, unless one is searching for a specific piece or composer, the easiest and most expedient way to sort through music online is by sorting by the grade level. Give it a try yourself sometime.

The Grades Aren’t Everything

As any composer with extensive experience writing for younger players will tell you, the levels aren’t everything. In fact, sometimes they get in the way.

Music is an art form and defies boxes and labels.

One reason for that is because music is an art form and defies boxes and labels. Another reason is one I listed above: the defining of levels is a challenge and although there is a lot of overlap, each publisher (and even some states) classify the music differently. In the next article we’ll begin to look more closely at how leveling works and how you can write music within that system.


[1] The $100/ensemble number was derived from an informal survey of my band directing contacts on Facebook that live across the U.S. and serve diverse communities. Depending on the district, school, and community this number could, in reality, be lower (some directors have a budget of $0) or much higher.

[2] The music publishing world is still battling the problem of private instructors photocopying repertoire and ensemble directors copying parts. Both activities are nearly always illegal. At most county and state solo and ensemble competitions, the student and director are required to have original parts and multiple original copies of the score. This is not true for NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) state, regional, and national competitions. The illegal copying of art songs (primarily for the accompanist and also to avoid the student having to purchase a large volume for the sake of one aria) is rampant.

Music Publishers Association Announces 2016 Paul Revere Awards

A display of the 2016 Paul Revere Award winning scores

The 2016 Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence were announced during the luncheon of the annual meeting of the Music Publishers Association at the Redbury Hotel in New York City on Friday, June 10. Among the award-winning publications were a violin concerto by Steven Mackey, a timpani concerto by William Kraft, a Thelonious Monk-inspired wind band piece by John Harbison, two settings of poems by E. E. Cummings for women’s chorus by Augusta Read Thomas, and a work for flute orchestra by Daniel Dorff. All-in-all, publications in 13 separate award categories, ranging from educational folios to piano and guitar solos to choral and full orchestra scores, were honored. As perhaps a sign of changing times, the award category “Publications for Electronic Distribution” has been eliminated since at this point publishers can submit digital scores for consideration in any of the other categories.  A complete list of award-winning publications appears below.

Full Scores

1st Prize – Steven Mackey: Beautiful Passing, a concerto for violin and orchestra (Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes)
2nd Prize – William Bolcom: String Quartets Nos. 1 – 6 (Edward B. Marks)

Chamber Ensembles

1st Prize – Daniel Dorff: Zoe & Xena for piccolo and bass clarinet (Theodore Presser Company)
2nd Prize – Dotzauer: Three Sonatas, op. 103 (International Music Company)
3rd Prize – James Lee III: String Quartet No. 2 (Subito Music Corporation)

Choral Music

1st Prize – Morton Lauridsen: Sure on this Shining Night (Peermusic Classical)
2nd Prize (tie) – Augusta Read Thomas: Two E. E. Cummings Songs (G. Schirmer, Inc.)
2nd Prize (tie) – Psalms for the Church: Advent and Christmas (World Library Publications)
3rd Prize – Mary McDonald (composer) and Rose M. Aspinall (lyricist): My Savior’s Love, a musical for Holy Week (Hope Publishing Co.)

Keyboard Music

1st Prize – Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations (Carl Fischer)
2nd Prize – Edward MacDowell: Classics for the Advancing Pianist (Alfred Music)
3rd Prize – Raymond Scott: Powerhouse (Music Sales Corporation)

Guitar Music

1st Prize – John Williams: Rounds (Hall Leonard Corporation)
2nd Prize – Philip W. Groeber, ed.: The Big & Easy Songbook for Guitar with Tablature (The FJH Company Inc.)

Piano-Vocal Music

1st Prize – Christopher Cerrone: I Will Learn to Love a Person (Schott Music Corporation)
2nd Prize – Richard Hundley: Are They Shadows (Schott Music Corporation)
3rd Prize – The Christmas Family Songbook (Alfred Music)

Solos with Accompaniment

1st Prize – William Kraft: Concerto No. 1 for Timpani and Orchestra (Theodore Presser Company)
2nd Prize (tie) – Bottesini: Fantasia Lucia di Lammermoor (International Music Company)
2nd Prize (tie) – Romberg: Sonata in E Minor, op. 38 no. 1 (International Music Company)
3rd Prize– Eccles: Sonata in G Minor (International Music Company)

Solos without Accompaniment

1st Prize – Schradieck: School of Viola Technique, Volume II (International Music Company)
2nd Prize – Elliott Carter: Mnemosyné for solo violin (Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes)

Collated Music (Band, Orchestra, or Large Ensemble, Score & Parts)

1st Prize – Daniel Dorff: Fireworks for flute orchestra (Theodore Presser Company)
2nd Prize – John Harbison: Rubies for symphonic band (Associated Music Publishers, G. Schirmer, Inc.)
3rd Prize – Bernhard Heiden: Diversion for alto saxophone and concert band (Keiser Southern Music)

Cover Design Featuring Photography

1st Prize – Todd A. Harris: The Lyric Flutist (Wingert-Jones Publications)
2nd Prize – Sunday Solos for Flute (Hal Leonard Corporation)
3rd Prize – Michael Daugherty: Trail of Tears for flute and chamber orchestra (Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes)

Cover Design Featuring Graphic Elements

1st Prize – The Christmas Family Songbook (Alfred Music)
2nd Prize – John Jacobson and John Higgins: Wing It! (Hal Leonard Corporation)
3rd Prize – Kendor Debut Solos (Kendor Music Inc.)

Design in Folios: Popular Music

1st Prize – The Songs of Cole and Johnson Brothers (E. B. Marks)

Design in Folios: Concert & Educational Music

1st Prize – Peanuts Music Activity Book (Hal Leonard Corporation)
2nd Prize – 25 Great Jazz Guitar Solos (Hal Leonard Corporation)
3rd Prize – Alfred’s Kid’s Electric Guitar Course 1 (Alfred Music)

Robert Sutherland, Chief Librarian for The Metropolitan Opera, announced the winners. This year’s Revere Awards were overseen by Sutherland. The engraving judges were Kazue McGregor, Principal Librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Ronald Whitaker, Principal Librarian (retired) for the Cleveland Orchestra. Graphics judges were Nim Ben-Reuven, a freelance designer and graphics editor working primarily in print, and Mallory Grigg, a senior designer at Simon & Schuster.

Dean Kay and I. Fred Koenigsberg

Dean Kay and I. Fred Koenigsberg

Prior to the announcement of all the 2016 Revere winning scores, two additional awards were given out at the luncheon. MPA Counsel and Acting Schott Music Corporation/EAMDLLC President James M. Kendrick presented I. Fred Koenigsberg with the MPA Lifetime Achievement Award. Koenigsberg, who has spent his career as an attorney specializing in copyright and related intellectual property law, has been president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (the first copyright lawyer to serve in that position) as well as chairman of the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law. Serving as in-house counsel for the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) for 18 years, after his retirement Koenigsberg continues to serve as counsel to ASCAP’s Board of Directors. Newly elected MPA President Sean Patrick Flahaven, Senior Vice President of Theatre and Catalog Development for Warner/Chappell Music (WCM), presented Dean Kay with the Arnold Broido Award for Copyright Advocacy. Kay, a songwriter and music publisher who also serves on ASCAP’s board, is the editor of “The Dean’s List,” a daily email digest of news about music, copyright and new technology in the entertainment industry.

Natalie Madaj

Natalie Madaj compared the late 1990s to today during her presentation about the need to update the DMCA.

Natalie Madaj from the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) spoke to the MPA membership about efforts that are underway to work toward updating the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act to better deal with the realities of the current digital landscape. There was an afternoon panel titled “We Don’t Want it Free We Want in NOW” which debated the use of PDFs in orchestras, libraries and schools. Composer Daniel Dorff, who is also the Vice President of the Theodore Presser Company, moderated the discussion. There was also a presentation of videos created by the 2016 Copyright Awareness Scholarship Finalists. As per MPA’s tradition, the annual meeting ended with a cocktail reception which this year was accompanied by live jazz performed by the John Murchison Trio.

Paul Gunther, James Matheson, Elizabeth Davis, Erin Rogers, Susan Bush, and Daniel Dorff

Panelists for the afternoon MPA panel (pictured left to right): Minnesota Orchestra librarian Paul Gunther, composer James Matheson, Columbiua University Chief Music Librarian Elizabeth Davis, composer/saxophonist/Peermusic Production Manager Erin Rogers, Albany Records President Susan Bush, and composer/Theodore Presser VP Daniel Dorff

2015 Paul Revere Awards & Other MPA Annual Meeting Highlights

Updated on June 20, 2015 at 12:35 p.m.

2015 MPA conference logo showing map of USA with various fragments of music notation scattered across it

The 2015 Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence were announced during the luncheon of the annual meeting of the Music Publishers Association at the Westin New York Grand Central in New York City on Friday, June 19. Among the winners in 13 separate award categories (ranging from educational folios to piano and guitar solos to choral and full orchestra scores) were publications containing two of the final compositions of the late Elliott Carter, an unaccompanied choral setting of Psalm 23 by Paul Moravec, flute and piano duos by Shulamit Ran and Amanda Harberg, a wind quintet as well as work for narrator and orchestra inspired by the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Daniel Dorff, voice and piano collections of music by John Musto, Tobias Picker, and William Bolcom (whose solo guitar piece also received an award), and a suite for six violas by South African composer Elizabeth Rennie. (The awards are named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, who was a printer by profession.) A complete list of award-winning publications appears below.

Besides the Revere Award recipients, there were several additional 2015 honorees. In recognition of their commitment to intellectual property rights and their efforts to sponsor bi-partisan copyright reform legislation, US congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries were presented the MPA Arnold Broido Award by composer and MPA vice president Sean Patrick Flahaven, who is also senior vice president of Theatre and Catalog Development for Warner/Chappell Music. “It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the law changes with the times and that those who create are able to prosper in the years ahead,” said Nadler during his acceptance speech. “While technology should continue to grow and flourish, we can’t allow it to undermine creators,” Jeffries added.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right) accepts the MPA Arnold Broido Award as Sean Patrick Flahaven (left) and congressman Hakeem Jeffries (center) look on.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right) accepts the MPA Arnold Broido Award as Sean Patrick Flahaven (left) and congressman Hakeem Jeffries (center) look on. (All photos by FJO)

Ralph Peer II, chairman and CEO since 1980 of the 87-year-old music publishing company Peermusic founded by his father Ralph Peer, was presented MPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award by composer Mohammed Fairouz, the youngest composer signed to Peermusic Classical. “Ralph has made an impact in the lives of so many artists over the years,” said Fairouz. “Without his undying commitment, I would not be able to create my works.”

“Despite our successes in the popular music field, I find our work in the contemporary classical community to be very personally rewarding,” said Peer during an impassioned speech in which he urged right holders and performing rights societies to rethink the way that “long term” music is surveyed in an era where streaming is becoming the dominant mode of music listening.

The 2015 Paul Revere Winners

Table with 2015 Paul Revere Award nominated scores on display

Some of the 2015 Paul Revere-nominated scores on display at the MPA annual meeting.

Full Scores

Chamber Ensembles

  • 1st Prize – Elliott Carter: Tre Duetti for violin and cello (Boosey & Hawkes)
  • 2nd Prize (tie) – La Serenata, a collection of Italian love songs arranged for flute and guitar by Paula Robison and Frederic Hand (Theodore Presser Company)
  • 2nd Prize (tie) – Elizabeth Rennie: The Gathering, an African suite for massed violas in six voices (Gems Music Publications)
  • 3rd Prize – Daniel Dorff: Cape May Breezes for wind quintet (Theodore Presser Company)

Choral Music

Keyboard Music

Guitar Music

Piano-Vocal Music Notesetting

Solos, With or Without Accompaniment

  • 1st Prize – Shulamit Ran: Birds of Paradise for flute and piano (Theodore Presser Company)
  • 2nd Prize – Max Bruch: Canzone Opus 55 for cello and piano (International Music Company)
  • 3rd Prize (tie) – Sigfrid Karg-Elert: 30 Studies for solo flute (International Music Company)
  • 3rd Prize (tie) – Amanda Harberg: Poem and Transformations for flute and piano (Theodore Presser Company)

Collated Music

  • 1st Prize – G.F. Handel arranged by Johan Halvorsen and edited by Jascha Heifetz: Passacaglia For Two Violins (Lauren Keiser Music Publishing)

Cover Design Featuring Photography

Cover Design Featuring Graphic Elements

  • 1st Prize tie) – Henry Mollicone: Elegy for organ and soprano saxophone (ECS Publishing Corporation)
  • 1st Prize (tie) – Justin Dello Joio: Sonata For Piano (Edward B. Marks Music Company)
  • 2nd Prize (tie) – The Christmas Songbook, arranged by Dan Coates (Alfred Music)
  • 2nd Prize (tie) – John Jacobson and John Higgins: Toys! (Hal Leonard Corporation)
  • 3rd Prize – Robert Hilf: Play for the Lord, hymn preludes for piano (World Library Publications)

Design in Folios: Popular Music

Design in Folios: Concert & Educational Music

Publications for Electronic Distribution


Ronald Whitaker, head librarian for The Cleveland Orchestra, announced the winners. This year’s awards were overseen by Metropolitan Opera Chief Librarian Robert Sutherland, who chairs the Paul Revere Awards committee and announced the winners. In addition to Whitaker and Sutherland, the adjudicators for the 2015 awards were: Kazue McGregor, principal librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; graphics designer Dennis Suplina, formerly of Jaffe and Partners; and Nim Ben-Reuven, a freelance designer and graphics editor working primarily in print.

In addition to the presentation of awards, there were a variety of speakers at the 2015 MPA annual meeting. After welcoming attendees in her opening remarks, MPA President Kathleen Marsh, CEO of Musicnotes.com, described the progress on some of MPA’s initiatives in the past year. As a result of MPA’s coordinated anti-piracy efforts with the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), more than 200,000 infringing files have been removed from websites; one particularly offending website, pianofiles.com, has been pulled down, but they have re-emerged as sheeto.com.

NMPA President David Israelite offered a report on the state of the music publishing industry. Flanked by a series of pie charts, he showed that performance rights, which constitute 53% of music industry revenue earned in 2014, are now the major revenue category. (The largest portion of that revenue, 36.6% is from terrestrial radio; digital is still less than half of that–13.1%.) Mechanical rights in 2014 only accounted for 21% of revenue. While revenue from physical recordings still accounts for the largest part of that, 44.9%, he predicts that digital will overtake physical as soon as next year. Already downloads (at 41.6%) and streaming (10.7%) constitute over half of the revenue, although the future of downloading is uncertain as more consumers are streaming music. Nevertheless, Israelite seems particularly hopeful. “We’ve turned the corner from an era that is marked by piracy,” he said, but he noted that publishers must think beyond the way they have been doing business for the last 70 years. He warned the members of the audience not to be “like a prisoner who’s been in jail for so long they’re not sure they want to walk out.”

Pie chart showing breakdown of 2014 performance rights revenue: 36.6% radio; 18.4% cable; 16.7% TV; 13.1% digital; 8.1% other; 5.5% general background; 1.6% foreign.

Pie chart showing breakdown of mechanical revenue in 2014: 44.9% physical; 41.6% downloads; 10.7% streaming; 2.4% ringtones; 0.4% other.

Natalie Madaj, legal counsel to both MPA and NMPA, provided her annual update on the two organizations’ joint anti-theft program. The goal of the program is to remove unlicensed reproduction of lyrics and music from websites and to work with sites to properly license lyrics and music under copyright when they are posted online. Over the last year, notices were sent to a total of 18,954 URLs and 81% of them removed the infringing material.

John Raso, vice president for client services for the Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the agency which collects and distributes virtually all mechanical license fees in the United States, spoke about new licensing streams for publishers. “We live in a market now where it’s virtually impossible to police everything,” he acknowledged and encouraged publishers to be more pro-active in managing their data. “Part of why we’re now successful in reducing piracy is that there are now legal alternatives.” When Deirdre Chadwick, BMI’s executive director for classical music, asked Raso to address the immense difficulties involved with remunerating composers for digital usages when online files frequently lack metadata identifying the composers, he admitted that “it’s not easy without the authoritative knowledge of the publishers to identify the works in their catalogs.” According to him, in the era when mechanical licenses were primary collected from record companies, it was a lot easier since record companies worked very closely with the people they recorded, whereas technology companies are very distant from the process of creation.

In the next presentation, “YouTube Music Publishing 101,” Kim-Lorraine Gerlach, manager of content partnerships for YouTube, stated that there are more than 1 billion unique YouTube users each month (which is 1/7th of the world’s population). Users upload 300 hours of content per minute. A statistic that she was particularly proud to share with the members of this convening is that 25% of people who hear a song on YouTube buy it afterwards. YouTube is eager to better facilitate the discovery of music. According to Gerlach, YouTube now works closely with HFA to identify material that is owned by more than 7,000 partners using their audio scanning platform, Content ID. There are now more than 35 million reference files, and more than 3.5 million hours (400 years!) of video are scanned daily. During the Q&A period, several publishers complained to Gerlach that, given the volume, it is extremely difficult for publishers to properly monitor and identify everything that is being uploaded, but simply adding a few steps for uploaders to properly identify music that appears in YouTube videos would greatly simplify the adjudication of rights. She could not address that directly, since it is outside of her department, but she stated that she would raise this issue with other YouTube staff. Below is a graph showing YouTube’s current rights management process.

The steps in YouTube's rights management process

Updated 3:42 p.m.

Following the awards luncheon and an election of new officers to the MPA board of directors, a series of brief video memorials to recently deceased MPA members were presented followed by screenings of the National Music Council and MPA Copyright Awareness Scholarship Finalists. Launched by the MPA in 2010, the program has now awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to high school and college students in recognition of creative videos that engage students in copyright and intellectual property protection. (The 2015 finalists have not yet been posted online, but the 2014 finalists can be seen here.)

Bill Aicher, who serves as the digital strategist for Musicnotes, gave a presentation entitled “Going Digital: Building Blocks for a Successful Online Environment.” “The internet is life,” exclaimed Aicher. “Most people are now online all the time.” Aicher claimed that while it is important to have a website, no one should expect people to interact with that website on a daily basis; those interactions occur on social platforms. Facebook is where the most interactivity takes place. Twitter has yet to show business value. Advanced users should also consider using Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine as well as YouTube, which he suggested was ideal for product preview. Aicher opined that publishers should not worry about having an e-commerce enabled site since many people are now afraid of having their credit card information compromised; instead, he suggestions, that potential customers should be redirected to sites where they already shop at and trust. He claimed that all websites should be optimized to work on mobile devices but that creating an app is unnecessary. However, he also advised, “If what you can offer can be made available digitally, make it available. If you don’t offer it, someone else will–probably illegally.”

Updated 4:00 p.m.

Finally, there was a demonstration of StaffPad, a new notation app that recognizes handwriting and converts it into an engraved score that can then be further edited and printed. According to its developer Matthew Tesch, a software engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, it currently can only be used on a Microsoft Surface and other Windows 8.1 compatible devices since it requires a touch sensitive screen that supports a pen. “We wanted to also develop this for the iPad, but the iPad’s technology isn’t there yet,” said Tesch. The app, however, does support Finale and Sibelius platforms, allowing users to import and export files created using those notation programs.

The day’s activities ended with a reception featuring live jazz performed by the John Murchison Trio. Many of the attendees continued to talk about the day’s presentations. Stephen Culbertson, President of Subito Music Publishing, reflected on the pie charts that NMPA President David Israelite displayed earlier in the day and pointed out the economic realities of what it means for mechanical income to decline to 21% of publishers’ revenue streams.

Those economic realities are indeed sobering, but the reports that legal alternatives to digital piracy are becoming more normative and new developments such as StaffPad offer hope. It will be interesting to hear what the discussions will be at next year’s MPA gathering.

2014 Paul Revere Awards Announced at Music Publishers Association Annual Meeting

Table of Nominated Scores

The nominees for the 2014 Paul Revere Awards on display at the Music Publishers Association Annual Meeting.

The 2014 Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence were announced during the 2014 annual meeting of the Music Publishers Association at the East Side Marriott in New York City. Among the first-prize winners in 13 separate award categories (ranging from educational folios to piano and guitar solos to choral and full orchestra scores) were publications containing music by William Bolcom, Daniel Dorff, Avner Dorman, Mohammed Fairouz, Nancy Galbraith, Alex Mincek, Joni Mitchell, John Musto, Steve Reich, and Christopher Rouse. Two scores by Eric Ewazen were among the 2014 winners. (The awards are named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, who was a printer by profession.)

Robert Wise and Lauren Keiser

Lauren Keiser (right) presents the 2014 MPA Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert Wise.

In addition, MPA Legal Counsel James M. Kendrick presented Frances Richard of ASCAP—whom he described as “the single most influential person for composers, publishers, and musicians”—with the MPA Arnold Broido Award for Copyright Advocacy, and MPA Second Vice President Lauren Keiser presented Music Sales Owner and Chairman Robert Wise—whom he called “the greatest publisher among us”—with the MPA Lifetime Achievement Award. A complete list of the 2014 Revere winners appears below.
Full Scores

  • 1st Prize Christopher Rouse: Heimdall’s Trumpet—Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes
  • 2nd Prize Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841): Divertimento in F, BI. 330 (Urtext)—Gems Music Publications
  • 3rd Prize Claude T. Smith: Danse Folatre—Wingert-Jones Publications

Chamber Ensembles

  • 1st Prize (tie) Artur Schnabel: String Quartet No. 2—Peermusic Classical
  • 1st Prize (tie) Elliott Carter: Epigrams for piano trio—Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes
  • 2nd Prize (tie) NOËL! Six French Christmas Carols arranged for string quartet by Graham Bastable —International Music Company
  • 2nd Prize (tie) Robert Beaser: Mountain Songs for flute and guitar—Schott Helicon Music Corporation

Choral Music

  • 1st Prize Charles Thatcher: Communion Chants—World Library Publications
  • 2nd Prize William Bolcom: Satires—E.B. Marks/Bolcom Music
  • 3rd Prize Aaron Copland: Old American Songs—Boosey & Hawkes

Keyboard Music

  • 1st Prize Alex Mincek: Stems—Schott Music Corporation
  • 2nd Prize Leon Kirchner: Piano Sonata No. 2—Associated Music Publishers, Music Sales
  • 3rd Prize Nancy Galbraith: Three Preludes—Subito Music Corporation

Guitar Music

  • 1st Prize Steve Vai: The Story of Light—Hal Leonard Corporation


  • 1st Prize Douglas J. Cuomo: The Doubt Sermon—Schott Music Corporation
  • 2nd Prize Kurt Weill: Four Walt Whitman Songs—European American Music Corporation
  • 3rd Prize John Musto: Collected Songs, Volume 2—Peermusic Classical

Solos, With or Without Accompaniment

  • 1st Prize Henry Brant: Concerto for Alto Sax and wind ensemble—Carl Fischer Music, LLC
  • 2nd Prize (tie) Daniel Dorff: Sonata (Three Lakes) for flute and piano—Theodore Presser Company
  • 2nd Prize (tie) Eric Ewazen: Classical Concerto for tenor saxophone and orchestra—Theodore Presser Company
  • 3rd Prize (tie) Avner Dorman: Violin Sonata No. 3 (Nigunim)—G. Schirmer, Music Sales
  • 3rd Prize (tie) Eric Ewazen: Sonata No. 2 for flute and piano—Theodore Presser Company

Collated Music

  • 1st Prize Brian Balmages: Call of the Wild for symphonic winds—The FJH Music Company Inc.
  • 2nd Prize Paul Moravec: Change at Jamaica for symphonic winds—Subito Music Corporation
  • 3rd Prize Giuseppe Verdi (arranged by John Caponegro): “Brindisi” for string orchestra—Kendor Music, Inc.

Cover Design Featuring Photography

  • 1st Prize Reynard Burns: Tango Loco—Wingert-Jones Publications
  • 2nd Prize Darren W. Jenkins: Celebration Overture—Wingert-Jones Publications
  • 3rd Prize Steve Reich: WTC 9/11—Hendon Music, Boosey & Hawkes

Cover Design Featuring Graphic Elements

  • 1st Prize Evan Hause: Elephant Breath—E.B. Marks
  • 2nd Prize Philip W.J. Stopford: Festival Benedicite Morning Star Publications
  • 3rd Prize Mohammed Fairouz: Native Informant for solo violin—Peermusic Classical

Book Design in Popular Folios

  • 1st Prize Joni Mitchell: Complete So Far—Alfred Music
  • 2nd Prize Journey Through the Classics—Hal Leonard Corporation

Book Design in Educational Folios

  • 1st Prize Elaine Schmidt: 101 Flute Tips—Hal Leonard Corporation
  • 2nd Prize Andrew Balent and Philip Groeber: The FJH Recorder Method for Everyone—The FJH Music Company Inc.

Publications for Electronic Distribution

  • 1st Prize Max Reger: “Mariä Wiegenlied”—Musicnotes, Inc.
  • 2nd Prize (tie) W.A. Mozart: “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”—Musicnotes, Inc.
  • 2nd Prize (tie) Antonio Cesti: “Intorno all’idol mio”—Musicnotes, Inc.
  • 3rd Prize Ozzy Osbourne: “Black Rain”— Hal Leonard Corporation


Sutherland Announces Awards

Metropolitan Opera Chief Librarian Robert Sutherland announces the 2014 Paul Revere Awards.

Metropolitan Opera Chief Librarian Robert Sutherland, who chairs the Paul Revere Awards committee, announced the winners. The adjudicators for the 2014 awards were: New York Philharmonic Principal Librarian Lawrence Tarlow; graphic designer Dennis Suplina; composer/music editor Philip Rothman of New York Music Services; and composer George Boziwick, chief of the music division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. As in previous years, an exhibition of the award-winning scores will tour music libraries across the nation from September to May.

In addition to the presentation of awards, there were a variety of speakers at the 2014 MPA Annual Meeting. Natalie Madaj, legal counsel to the Music Publishers Association and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), provided an update on the two organizations’ joint Anti-Theft Program. The goal of the program is to remove unlicensed reproduction of lyrics and music from websites and to work with sites to properly license lyrics and music under copyright when they are posted online. There are currently 37 participating publishers involved with this program which, according to Madaj, provide access to 2500 of the most popular compositions. In the past year, they have issued 10,000 take down notices. In the coming year, they plan a greater focus on mobile applications, tracking new technology to weed out infringing content from user-uploaded sites, and to increase publisher participation in the program.

Elwyn Raymer, who currently serves as executive director for the Action Fund of the Church Music Publishers Association (CMPA), gave a presentation about his Nashville-based organization and his desire for it to work more closely with the rest of the music industry. Sam Mosenkis, legal counsel to ASCAP, gave a report about recent legislative and judicial developments that could have a significant impact on the ability to accrue income from the creation and performance of music. Two laws currently under consideration are the RESPECT Act (named after Aretha Franklin’s hit recording), which would require webcasters to pay royalties for recordings made before the year 1972, and the Songwriter’s Equity Act, which would ensure fair remuneration to creators and their publishers via mechanical licenses and allow performing rights societies to look at those licenses. According to Mosenkis, there is currently a “14 to 1 disparity” between payments made by online music disseminators to recording labels and the creators of the music and their publishing representatives. Mosenkis argued that there needs to be a significant reform of the copyright law, which hasn’t been changed since the 1970s, since now, under the current laws, “it’s impossible to get fair rights set by the rate court.”

Lauren Keiser spoke about the MPA’s initiative to document its history. It is a long history; the MPA was founded in 1895 and it is actually the oldest trade organization in the United States. Among the highlights of the organization’s history up to 1933 (which is how far they’ve gotten in the process of sorting through the archives): As early as 1897, The New York Times reported the MPA’s success at stopping a group of “songsharks” based in Canada which had been distributing pirated sheet music through the mail. In 1927, Harold Flanner, the then-president of the MPA, attempting to maintain music’s position in the fine arts and horrified by the notion that it was becoming relegated to the background with the rise of radio, claimed, “Radio made music too easy to obtain and thus consequently too little appreciated.” Keiser pointed out the parallels between the rise of radio and the current ascendancy of digital technologies, acknowledging that “when a new technology comes along, we have to make social and philosophical paradigm shifts.”

MPA Panel on Digital Music

MPA Panel on Digital Music (pictured left to right): Sean Patrick Flahaven, Jane Gottlieb, Or Matias, Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk, and Jim P. McCrann.

There was a lively exchange during a panel discussion in the afternoon entitled “Working Together to Address the Needs of the Digital Market.” The panel featured: musical theatre composer-lyricist collaborators Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan, who distribute their scores online; composer/music director Or Matias; Garden City high school teacher Jim P. McCrann; Jane Gottlieb, VP Library and Information Resources, Juilliard; and Sean Patrick Flahaven, SVP Theatre & Catalog, Warner Chappell Music, who served as the moderator. While everyone on the panel advocated for digital scores, their usage of them varied extensively. Mathias now only uses digital sheet music. He described how he made the transition:

I was of the mind that nothing would ever replace paper. Then one day I was carrying around a score of Mahler’s 2nd and my bag broke. I went out and bought an iPad and started exploring. The first time you read music from an iPad it’s daunting, but once you get used to it the advantages become immense. I’m currently carrying around 7000 pieces of music, all of which are paid for. Now I conduct every concert from the iPad and I play every gig with it; I even use a foot pedal to turn the pages. But I haven’t found the perfect software yet, and I turn off the accessibility function.”

Kerrigan stated that she and Lowdermilk have completely abandoned selling printed sheet music. “It’s much easier to push out a rewrite,” said Lowdermilk. Although Lowdermilk admitted that he is still somewhat afraid of using digital sheet music in performance since computers can crash. According to Gottlieb, though Juilliard has been actively using digital sheet music files, they still acquire lots of printed sheet music. According to McCrann, classroom educators and schools have been extremely slow adaptors: 90% of music teachers still use printed scores in performances by their students; 36% do not use digital sheet music at all. From their point of view, the start-up costs for using these technologies are prohibitive, but he claimed they’d love to make the transition since students are less likely to lose a tablet than their band folders; so “if the publishers would supply the tablets, they’d use them in a heartbeat.”
In addition, there was a screening of a selection of the most outstanding videos promoting copyright awareness submitted by students for the MPA Copyright Awareness Scholarship; the prize-winning videos are given cash prizes and posted to the MPA website. The day’s activities ended with a reception featuring live jazz performed by the Scott Colburg Trio.

Scott Colburg Trio live at MPA

At the end of a very interesting but long day, it was great to finally hear some live music from bassist Scott Colburg’s trio.

Newly Launched Composer Subscription Service Offers Alternative Publishing Model

ScoreStreet, a new website offering automated dissemination, promotion, and payment for self-published classical, jazz, and theatrical composers, launched today. While full file-protected scores and audio clips are available on the site for visitors to look at and listen to freely, performance materials are available for purchase (downloadable PDF or print-on-demand scores and parts, rental of parts for large ensemble works). In addition, permission to use any material on the site for synchronization (e.g. film, TV, advertising), mechanical (e.g. commercial CD recordings), derivative works (e.g. arrangements, samples), or grand rights purposes (e.g. operas, musicals, or ballets) can also be negotiated directly online through automated licenses. Composers who offer their music through ScoreStreet pay a monthly subscription fee but retain full ownership of all of their materials and have the ability to opt out at any time.
Like traditional publishers, ScoreStreet will actively promote its service to customers such as orchestras, opera and dance companies, festivals, conservatories, educators, performers, and music supervisors. Through its ScoreSearch™ interface, ScoreStreet helps users find the works they want and then, by filling out a questionnaire, customers obtain all the rights they need.

Unlike traditional publishing arrangements—in which composers assign part or all of their copyright to a publisher in exchange for the printing and promotion of their music and income from the composer’s music is then divided between the composer and the publisher—ScoreStreet will pay 100% of all net royalty income directly to composers on a quarterly basis and composers do not relinquish any copyrights. The sole expense for composers who choose to be included on the site is a monthly charge of $29.95.

Composers based anywhere in the world are eligible. A few brief online forms are provided for composers to fill out from which personalized landing pages, biographies, works lists, discographies, performance calendars, and news and reviews pages are generated. For each work included on the site, composers can enter descriptions and upload performance materials as well as audio clips, if available. ScoreStreet sets the prices for materials featured on the site and also automates the registration of works with performing rights organizations. For additional fees, composers may also obtain editorial and promotional services, as well as assistance with negotiating commissioning and collaboration agreements on an as-needed basis.

According to ScoreStreet’s CEO Marc D. Ostrow (himself a composer as well as an intellectual property rights attorney who was formerly a senior attorney with BMI and the general manager of the New York office of the publisher Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.), the goal behind creating such a platform for new music is to eliminate the gate-keepers and put composers and consumers directly in control. “ScoreStreet levels the playing field by providing more composers worldwide with professional music publishing services and by giving customers instant access to a varied and growing catalog of cutting-edge new music.”

If and when composers decide they no longer want to be affiliated with the site, they are able to take all of their works with them. If composers cease paying the subscription fee, all of their materials are automatically taken down from the site after a grace period. Currently composers can sign up for a free 30-day trial subscription. Members of ASCAP and the American Composers Forum will receive a 10% discount off their monthly fee and these discounts are combined for members of both organizations.
ScoreStreet was developed and is owned and run by Ostrow; Stephen Culbertson, president of Subito Music Publishing and chairman of ASCAP’s Special Classification Committee; and Stephen Rauch, a former senior executive at the Hal Leonard Corporation. Their developer partner is Greg Williams, CEO of Engage Connective Technologies. (Ed Note: NMBx’s FJO was a beta-tester for the site.)

(—from the press release)


A couple of months ago while I was on the West Coast to interview composers, Ken Ueno took me to the famed Amoeba Music record store in Berkeley. I hadn’t been to a brick-and-mortar music store in quite a while and was quickly transported back to a time in the ’80s when I’d scour the racks at Rose Records and Tower Records in Chicago. For a kid growing up in Corn Town, Illinois, such exercises were one of the only ways to discover new music, artists, and composers.

The experience became even more reminiscent of those days when I saw Silfra, Hilary Hahn’s new release with the experimental pianist Haushcka, being sold as an LP. I vaguely recalled hearing about a few pop artists who were still releasing LPs and even the occasional cassette of their albums, so I wasn’t too surprised by this throwback. For a second I thought this was a pretty risky move on Hahn’s part–the portion of the population that has never owned a turntable is ever-growing–until I noticed that the LP also came with access codes for digital downloads of the music as well; Hahn’s not risk-adverse, but she’s also not stupid. The entire album is made up of improvisations between the two artists (a bold move in and of itself), and the non-traditional content seems to fit nicely within the retro medium through which it is being heard.

Hahn’s experiment came to mind this week when the news broke about Beck’s new album. Scheduled to be available in December, Beck Hansen’s Song Reader will consist of a collection of 20 new songs published only as sheet music. Beck’s website explains further:

In the wake of Modern Guilt and The Information, Beck’s latest album comes in an almost-forgotten form—twenty songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, never before released or recorded. Complete with full-color, heyday-of-home-play-inspired art for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case (and, when necessary, ukulele notation), the Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012—an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that’s as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together.

The songs here are as unfailingly exciting as you’d expect from their author, but if you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” bringing them to life depends on you.

BECK HANSEN’S SONG READER features original art from Marcel Dzama (who created the imagery for Beck’s acclaimed Guero), Leanne Shapton, Josh Cochran, Jessica Hische, and many more, as well as an introduction by Jody Rosen (Slate, The New York Times) and a foreword by Beck. The package measures 9.5” x 12.5” with 108 pages comprising 20 individual full-color song booklets—18 featuring original lyrics, and 2 instrumentals—with covers from more than a dozen different artists.

Readers’ (and select musicians’) renditions of the songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website.

Reactions on the intertubes to the announcement have been predictably mixed, with Beck being labeled as a cutting-edge genius or a pretentious gimmick-laden hipster. One fan laments that “this eliminates so many people from being able to participate in the music except by various recording of likely dubious quality…” while another gets right to the point: “Notation is boring.” Composers seem to be equally divided, with complaints directed towards the inherent irony of printed music being portrayed as new and unique while compliments point toward the risks Beck is willing to take as well as the gesture away from overly processed studio production techniques.

Here, for what they’re worth, are my initial takes on Beck’s project:

1) This is one more way to utilize the immense power of community through the Internet to create music. I’ve been very interested in how musicians have been experimenting with group concepts to either create new works or foster new ways to present their music. Two contrasting examples of this are composer/producer Kutiman (Israeli-born Ophir Kutiel) and composer/conductor Eric Whitacre. In 2009, Kutiman created his ThruYOU project, a series of “songs” made by splicing and layering pre-existing YouTube amateur videos. In 2010, Whitacre came out with his first “virtual choir” which combined videos of 185 choristers singing their individual parts into an online performance of his Lux Aurumque; two subsequent virtual choirs included over 2000 and almost 4000 singers from around the world. I see Beck’s experiment as taking these innovations one step further by encouraging others to interpret his lead sheets in their own way. Will there be lousy performances? Of course there will be, but that comes with the territory of letting your creations go off into the world.

2) This is not new or unique, and yet it is. Published sheet music of songs has been around for over two centuries and today bookstores and music stores continue to be replete with lead sheet collections for every remotely popular act. That being said, the concept of the audio recording by the artist or band as being the “work” in question has been in force in popular music since the record industry blossomed in the 1940s and ’50s and lead sheets have always followed the recordings. To publish the sheet music not only before but instead of a recording altogether is indeed unique in Beck’s genre of music and his slice of the music industry. Which brings me to…

3) Comparing Beck’s project to what most composers do is a mistake. I’ve seen several composers already snarkily suggest that publishing printed music in the hope that others will perform it is what we do all the time, and so how is this new or bold? This almost seems too obvious. The vast majority of (read: not all) concert composers are not writing lead-sheet songs that are appropriate for the general public to perform. That, and Beck is known throughout the world and we’re not; even if this project sells a fraction of what his normal albums do, he’ll still sell more sheet music in one year than most concert composers could dream of. But I don’t see this project in terms of how much money he’s making–it’s obvious that he’s not too concerned about that himself–but rather getting as many people to perform his music as possible.

4) John Phillip Sousa and John Cage would approve. Sousa’s feelings about the infant recording industry at the turn of the century now seem prescient: “I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue–or rather by vice–of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines.” The severe backlash that Beck will endure because of his decision to not record his songs will, I’m afraid, be a testament to Sousa’s musings, but ultimately the project may inspire others to do the same and usher forth a new national respect for printed music. Beck’s experiment is also right in line with Cage’s ideas on allowing others to serve not as automatons but as active participants in the creative process; this was demonstrated perfectly by the two performances this week of Renga:Cage:100 by the Third Coast Percussion Ensemble at the Kennedy Center and MOMA with 5- to 7-second compositions by 100 composers strung together into one piece.

Ultimately it will be interesting to see how Beck’s album fares; it could be dead on arrival or it could spark a new cottage industry. It bears mentioning, however, that in this year that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to a silent film, we have not completely divested ourselves from our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ cultural gifts.