Exercise in Futility

To serendipitously follow up on my post about publishing and the unavailability of scores, I had dinner with a friend tonight who’s a tremendously successful composer, scads of orchestral performances, awards out the wazoo, you name it. And he’s telling me how he abandoned his big-name publisher, bought a fancy Xerox/scan/printing machine, and is publishing his own scores, with the same kind of binding and exactly the same quality he got from his publisher. He’s sick and tired of people not being able to get his music, or having to pay outrageous prices merely to rent it. And his publisher is nervous and wants a meeting, because my friend hasn’t sent them anything in four years. It’s kind of delicious. So if you were thinking of trying to get a commercial publisher, or fuming because you don’t have one – just forget about it. “What do they do for me?,” he kept asking. And there was no answer.


  1. says

    On the other hand, wasn’t one of the reasons for Stockhausen’s late fall into obscurity (besides the fact that he was bonkers) that he started self-publishing his scores?
    KG replies: That’s a good question. But as someone who used to buy Stockhausen’s scores avidly in the ’70s, it seemed to me that they became harder to find once he started self-publishing. Whereas, for instance, I had an easier time getting Michael Gordon’s scores *before* he got picked up by Schirmer. Somehow publishers choose to make certain people’s scores available. I couldn’t tell you how many dozens of Boosey and Hawkes Nicholas Maw scores I’ve seen in music stores over the years, and I have yet to hear a note of his music. Why publishers aggressively push certain composers that no one cares about, while taking other more important composers as tax write-offs and hiding their work in warehouses, is one of those inscrutable mysteries like why it costs more to fly one-way than round-trip.

  2. says

    The music industry is imploding every which way and loose. Having just returned from Midem with distinct impressions that publishers are grappling for ways not to lose their hold on revenue streams, I couldn’t help but suspect that they ARE part of the reason for the licensing nightmares that exist worldwide. A consistent global strategy is needed, and when you get a group of players into a room, their claws come out as they defend their interests. Publishers, like the major labels, need to modernize, and aren’t doing it fast enough. That’s my impression anyway.
    KG replies: True, they need a complete paradigm shift. They don’t realize how easy it is now for composers to do for themselves what publishers used to do – and they need to do a hell of a lot better job of getting the scores they do have into stores and the hands of people looking for them.

  3. Deirdre Hanna says

    It’s one thing for a composer who, like your friend, already is “tremendously successful” (as you put it), because (presumably) sheet music retail outlets understand that there is a pre-existing market for his music. But what about artists who are still relatively obscure?
    KG replies: Seems to me it’s the same thing. My friend who quit his publisher – I couldn’t find his scores at Patelson’s in New York, or I would have bought some there. If Presser or Universal or Boosey & Hawkes picks up your entire output tomorrow, that doesn’t mean it will appear in retail outlets. I buy a few scores from those companies over the internet, but many of them are only available for rental, and it’s difficult for me to get them for scholarly purposes. They court orchestras, with spotty success, but they don’t market to people who would love to get study scores.

  4. says

    Mainly someone can enlighten me, a mere home listener who likes to follow along with the score, as to why some publishers provide properly engraved scores only to performers as rentals, while as the study score they sell only a barely-legible composer autographs. It’s almost as if music publishers consider readers of study scores to be some kind of nuisance.
    KG replies: Anyone?
    It does seem true, as I was discussing with students at Yale yesterday, that the music publishing industry is focused on (if anything at all) getting its composers orchestral performances, and not at all interested in providing study scores for the self-education of other composers. I think they’re missing the boat.

  5. says

    The only caveat I have about the self-publishing route is, what happens to the music when the composer dies? While a composer may be an active advocate of his material, it’s not clear that his heirs will understand what they have to deal with once the composer moves on to the other world.
    Something to think about when considering this route.
    KG replies: Well, what happens when a published composer dies? I guess the publisher ties up his copyright for 75 years and makes what money they can off it. In the case of unpublished composers like Johanna Beyer, Julius Eastman, Leo Ornstein, and Tui St. George Tucker, people who love the music rush in and do far more to preserve it than any commercial publisher ever did.