Publishers Clearinghouse

I recently performed Mathias Spahlinger’s musica impura for the first time with my group, The Ludovico Ensemble. I wanted to program it originally on a concert in April, 2012, but did not perform it until March 2013. The reason for the delay was that it took several months trying before I finally acquired the score.

Figuring out who published the piece was a challenge. I eventually found it listed in an online library catalog and discovered that the publisher is Peer Music. So I contacted Peer Music Germany and was referred to Peer Music New York, who informed me that the score would be made available through Hal Leonard. After several months and several unreturned emails to Hal Leonard, musica impura was still not listed for sale on their website. I turned the matter over to Music Espresso, a sheet music store here in Boston, and they were also given the runaround by Hal Leonard. Finally, I put Music Espresso directly in touch with my contact at Peer Music, and they eventually hashed something out and I got the score in January 2013. I made my first inquiry to Peer Music in February 2012. The bright side is that musica impura finally is listed for sale on Hal Leonard’s website, so anyone that wants to can now acquire the score easily.

With the technology readily available to us in 2013, this is not an acceptable or tenable situation. The music publishing industry is so far behind the times that at this point the only things keeping them in business are their monopoly on content and the near uniform stupidity of their business model, which is so antiquated that frankly I’m surprised that any of them have websites. I wish it were possible for the industry to be entirely digitalized, but this won’t be the case in the near future, if ever. Unlike books and recordings, there is no dedicated e-device for consuming printed music. Even so, having such a device would be impractical for a number of reasons. Still, certain areas of the industry could benefit from digital enhancement. The score for musica impura is about 15 pages long. It would take me 5 minutes to make a PDF of it. This should have been the response to my initial email to Peer Music Germany:

“Dear Nick,

The score is available via PDF and can be purchased for $20 via our PayPal account. When your payment is confirmed you will receive a download link. If you prefer to purchase a hard copy, please include an additional $x for shipping and you’ll receive it in 10-15 business days.”

I understand that this business model wouldn’t really apply to music that has to be rented, but serious improvements can be made on that front as well. The ordeal of perusal scores could use some upgrading.  When trying to decide whether to program a piece, presenters can receive a free copy of the score to be returned after two months or so, which is nice. But it can also involve expensive international shipping, and outlandish fees if the score is lost or damaged. Perusal scores should be entirely digital.

Donemus is the publishing house of contemporary music in The Netherlands, and their business model is the gold standard of the industry. 99% of their scores can be purchased in digital form, and perusal scores are all online for anyone to look at. They really are remarkable. I encourage anyone reading this to play around on their website to see what I mean.

To prevent unlawful use of perusal scores, they all look like this:

I can still peruse this.

I can still peruse this.

This digital perusal score is far more convenient than a hard copy and is much harder to use illicitly. After all, what is to stop me from making a photocopy of a pristine hard-copy perusal score and then performing from it without paying a licensing fee, aside from my fear of litigation and my general desire to not be a total bastard?

A lot of composers have forgone publishers altogether and instead make their music available on their own websites. This makes things very easy for any performer that is interested in their music. I would advise any composer that isn’t represented by a publisher to emulate Andy Vores’ website, which I find exceptional. Scores and live recordings are available on his site for most of his pieces, and are well organized.

The major publishing houses are dragging their feet toward progress. Boosey has a tiny selection of their catalog available for online viewing. Schott’s digital store Project Schott New York is most welcome, but I wish it represented their full roster. Most of the music I am interested in happens to be published by Ricordi and Universal Edition, neither of which has any digital distribution to my knowledge (please correct me if I am wrong).

To be sure, all of the people I have dealt with from every publisher I’ve mentioned have been extremely competent and friendly. I have no issue with any of the hardworking people at any of these firms. But their business model is extremely inconvenient for their customers, and I hope it gets modernized soon.


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