To Publish or Not to Publish

As part of New Music Box’s series on new-music economics, Vivien Schweitzer does a good job of succinctly summing up the advantages of having a publisher for your music versus not having a publisher. Namely, a publisher will market out your music to specific conductors and administrators who otherwise wouldn’t see it, but orchestras (and this I didn’t realize, but it makes sense) prefer to play music by self-published composers because the score and parts cost so much less. I will add that, as a critic, author, and program annotator, I always find it much easier when I can get a score from the composer. If I have to go through a publisher, the employees there are always as helpful as they can be, but the process is glacially slow, one often has to navigate endless and confusing web sites, and sometimes scores are for rental only and I can’t get what I want. If I had a choice between writing a profile about a self-published composer and one with a publisher, all else being equal, I’d take the self-published composer every time. It’s so much more convenient. I’d long ago decided that the sole function of publishers was to prevent music from being disseminated, and I’m surprised to learn from Ms. Schweitzer’s article that they play any positive role at all.


  1. richard says

    Personally, I think the music publishing world, like the recording industry, is doomed in its’ current form. I’ve heard that Boosey is shitting bricks about Bartok entering public domain. And so many publishers don’t even engrave orch. scores, and just put out hand copied composers “autograph” scores. No big problem for those of us using computers, but not all composers do. In many cases, the only value they add is the ability to connect with performers, which is, though, no small thing. For a lot of performers, the fact that a work is published is importantd. They think that just because a piece is being handled by a publisher, it has been “vetted” and is better than self-published work.

  2. Paul H. Muller says

    The 21st century solution may already be here. I recently saw an ad for an electronic music stand that has a screen. So instead of paper sheets you look at a scrolling score. I know one musician who has used them and he said they worked pretty well.
    Upside is fewer worries about page turns. Downside is you don’t get to pencil in notes.
    But ultimately a score will be available for download directly to the musician’s stand, and the fee automatically deposited to the composer’s bank account.
    Composing nirvana.

  3. says

    Nice try, Paul…if you think orchestras are going to pay $2900-$5900 per stand, you might want to think again. (See – they look great, but unless you’re someone like Harry Connick Jr. who uses them with his big band, there’s just too many problems inherent in the idea.)

  4. says

    When Earle Brown was teaching our graduate composition seminar at CalArts around 1980, he wanted to use some of his scores. His publisher said he would have to buy them, so we looked at other scores.
    When the E.A.R. Unit played Feldman’s For Philip Guston, the publisher wanted to charge us $600 rental for one performance. Okay, it’s four hours. But it’s also a trio, and the score is a xerox of the manuscript. Feldman xeroxed his personal copy for us to use.
    When Lucky Mosko was conducting a major work published by Peters (I don’t recall the exact piece), he wanted to buy the score so he could mark it up sufficiently for his use. They were extremely reluctant to sell him a copy, but finally relented. The copy he paid $90. for was a xerox, with one page double exposed and another one upside down.
    Rand Steiger commented “That’s why I publish with Leisure Planet” (my self-publishing enterprise, which also handles a few other composers).

  5. says

    When I met Per Norgard’s publisher at a concert recently and began a rant about the high prices of scores, she answered right back with a complaint about the high costs of production.