Author: Piechocinski, Ted
Date published: April 1, 2012
We're All In This Together
In my previous AMT article,1 I wrote that music publishers and music teachers are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship - each needs the other for continued success and survival. Each faction is stronger working together than separately. The first article presented observations by which teachers might understand better how music publishers work, therefore, be more able to "think like a publisher."
Better understanding is great, but it can be even better if the parties actually take the next step and do things that will directly benefit the relationship as well. This article will highlight several practical suggestions that would directly make the lives of the teacher and publisher easier and, for publishers, eventually result in greater savings and a better bottom line. More to the point, the implementation of one or more of the following ideas would greatly enhance the symbiotic relationship between music publishers and music teachers.
PUBLISHERS SHOULD MAKE LICENSING EASIER
Many responsible music teachers reach out and contact music publishing companies requesting permissions to do a number of things: make copies of publications for adjudicators, make changes to publications or separately arrange a piece of music, among others. Seeking such permissions is referred to as seeking a license. While some publishers have made strides in making this process easier,2 such as developing web pages that make online information and requests possible, the extent of such coverage is still sporadic. But, what if publishers went so far as to establish some sense of standards regarding license pricing and the viability of certain requests?
For the moment, pricing is extremely varied, ranging from gratis permissions to several hundreds of dollars for permission to do special arrangements. Granted, some requests are difficult to standardize since they are subjective to the usage involved (number of performances, size of ensemble and the like), but some can easily be quantified, such as copies for judges, or page copies to facilitate page turns. (Yes, this technically requires permission!) So, why not streamline the application process so, from beginning to end, the requesting teacher has more assurance their request is either so standard as to be fairly automatic or sticky enough so the teacher knows more information will have to be provided before a timely answer (and price, if any) can be given?
One of the biggest complaints teachers raise against publishers regarding licensing/permissions requests is, "It takes far too long." Response times range from 24 hours, to a reasonable 14 business days, to never, as oftentimes, a requesting teacher never receives any response from a publisher. For busy music publishers, with few employees (if any, at all) permanently assigned the full-time task of responding to teacher permissions requests, consideration can take valuable time for which monetary compensation does little to cover the costs of responding. So, while publishers appreciate (or should appreciate, at least) music teachers trying to do the "right thing" by making proper requests for copyright usage, it is double-edged in that the time necessary to respond to such requests generally doesn't appreciably contribute to company profits. It is a dilemma viewed simply from a profit standpoint, but publishers should view these requests more broadly, as customer /constituent service opportunities. For the teacher who cares enough to contact a publisher to seek permission to use a copyright, it makes sense to make the process as convenient and friendly as possible. To do so rewards caring teachers and removes traditional complaints about "difficult" publishers.
For the most standard and oftenasked requests, an automatic response resulting in permission would be most welcome. With today's technology, this is not too daunting for IT offices. For example, requests to make multiple copies for judges should be easy to process, with a nominal charge, and the teacher could get a generated form letter indicating permission has been granted to copy the requested music. Similarly, for academics asking to use copyrighted music excerpts within a journal article meant for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, it would be simple to systematically grant such a request for little or no money. Scholarly journals are typically of such limited distribution it is hard to imagine such usage posing a threat to a music publisher. The goodwill and professional courtesy gained from quick and easy request processing would be far more valuable than any costs incurred. For requests that require further information or more in-depth review, at a minimum, an automated response containing a reference number and information for a publishing company contact could be sent. In either event, by treating requesting teachers as valued and appreciated colleagues and making websites for permission requests even more friendly and complete, much can be done to encourage greater copyright compliance.
While considerable responsibility for this suggestion lies with music publishers, there is this caveat to music teachers: Do not wait until the last moment to ask a publisher permission to use a copyright. Be respectful of the publisher's time spent on license request. As a former publisher who dealt with many permission requests, nothing would more raise my ire and more lessen my desire to help a teacher than receiving a request at the last possible moment (for instance a Friday afternoon before a Saturday contest) "demanding" I drop everything and deal with this self-proclaimed emergency. Worse were the times when such requests included a statement to the effect that, "If you do not respond by 5:00 P.M., I will assume my request has been granted and will act accordingly." This inevitably led to a caustic e-mail response by 5:00, but it was not friendly and did not include permission being granted. Cooperation in matters of licensing and permission requests is absolutely a two-way street.
* PUBUSHERS SHOULD MAKE PERMANENTLY OUT OF PRINT (P-O-P) AN ANACHRONISM:
Publications most often become PO-P because demand has dwindled making it inefficient to keep hundreds or thousands of copies collecting dust on distributors' shelves. So, although a work may be favored by a handful of teachers resulting in a hundred copies per year being sold, the work may disappear. But, times and technology have changed this equation. For at least 1 5 years, music publishers' engravers (those who actually input notes on what will become a page of music) have been able to rely on engraving software3 that provides a tremendous product in a digital environment. With digitization of music engraving, high quality print products can be produced in any quantity at any time. While not all publishers' complete back catalog publications are available in digitized formats, a great percentage of them are. Many decadesold publications have been re-engraved so they can now be accessed digitally. This being so, it is time for more music publishers to make any publication that is digitized available to music teachers and musicians at any time.
The availability of digitized music is with us now. Some publishers and distributors have4 made some catalog offerings available, but the offerings remain relatively small and generally don't delve deeply into the older backcatalog items where many teachers' favorites might lie. With today's technologies, there is little practical reason an entire back-catalog offerings of publishers cannot be offered to consumers on a print-on-demand basis. With scanning technology improvements, that quickly digitize any printed medium, there is even less reason older publications can't be made available, even if some engravings might appear somewhat dated by today's cleanly engraved standards.
* TEACHERS SHOULD SUPPORT MUSIC PUBLISHERS' NEW ISSUES
Whether it's food, companionship, activities, vacation spots or music choices, we are all, generally, victims of our predilections. We know what we like and know what we know and, quite often, we tend to gravitate toward those things most familiar and least mysterious to us. Certainly, this is no less true of music teachers. Whether teaching applied music, theory, literature or pedagogy, we tend to go with "tried and true" publications and various materials with which we are most familiar and most comfortable. Sticking with familiar materials when teaching music and related skills makes sense, on one level: it is the most efficient way to move through our various teaching duties, gravitating to those materials we have studied and taught from for some time, materials we have navigated numerous rimes before, knowing where its best points lie and where its weaknesses are. Familiar materials are comfortable. We don't have to keep re-learning and rediscovering. There is great value in this argument, certainly. By using the same ingrethents in our teaching concoctions, we can feel somewhat more certain of the desired outcomes we seek in our students. This especially makes sense with regard to music literature classics.
But, while even the most adventurous of us can understand why music teachers might tend to stay with familiar and comfortable publications, we must neither neglect nor ignore that percentage of musical study and enjoyment - to both the student and teacher - that comes from the discovery of new musical gems. There is a definite thrill when one "discovers" a new piece of music with which one is unfamiliar, yet immediately feels a connection, a thrill, an affinity.
Discovery can stem from the sage introduction of literature from a knowing teacher to a hungry student, but it also comes from reaching into the "grab bag" as it were, of available and unknown publications and finding a new and exciting gem, a composition that moves even the most jaded teacher or pedagogue.
At the risk of stating the obvious, it is music publishers who, through a constant stream of new publications, provide the thrill of discovery of new works. Just as movie producers, book publishers, record companies and music publishers put out a constant stream of new material, none does so with the intent of producing worthless trash that will be universally reviled. All offerings are distributed with the hope they will be favorably received, but the true tests of such viability lie with the consuming public. So it is, then, that music publishers can never be sure whether their stream of new publications are going to be successful unless and until their consumers - largely students and teachers - try the publications and give feedback. In this case, feedback is shown by more copies being sought and sold.
Music publishing is, at its most eloquent, about helping musicians discover and enjoy the wonder of music. Any review of music publishers' catalogs, through online means or through traditional catalogs will disclose the fact that there is no dearth of new writers constantly coming forward with new music. The art of composition and creative and artful music arranging is very much alive and thriving. As in all periods or styles of music, as with any area of art or intellectual pursuits, one must weed through much to find those new offerings that will resonate and last. But, it is that pursuit of the new and fresh discovery that keeps the art alive and vital, rather than simply a dry, archival pursuit of a static thing.
In music teaching, there needs to be a balance between comfort for materials we know and the pursuit of the new - those wildcards of music that promise new thrills. Support for new publications helps keep music publishers viable and active in the constant pursuit of new writers and the broadening of materials for music teachers and their students. There needs to be an implicit understanding that teachers will support the full offerings of publishers so all parts of the equation, publisher, teacher and student, can get what they want and need and, most importantly, continue in their individual pursuits that bring collective gain.
Teachers should take chances with new publications. It keeps teaching fresh and will definitely help music publisher's continue to find and support great new writers. Who knows, you might even be the first to recognize a new "classic."
* SUPPORT PRINT MUSIC RETAILERS
It's no secret that music retailer space dedicated to print music has shrunk in recent years. It is a thorny issue as to why this is so and could warrant its own article, but considering the great number of new publications that publishers produce each year (in the thousands, as described in my previous article) and in back-catalogs, which also number in the many thousands, it is unreasonable for retailers to stock all available music. Music retailers must make educated guesses as to what publications will sell in quantities enough to warrant their consistent purchase from publishers. To stay viable as businesses, music retailers have had to become more careful about stocked materials.
Although music retailers are more careful about stocking products they believe are most likely to match consumer wants and needs, they are still very much in the customer service business and, especially, in the teacher service business. Most local retailers are extremely willing to cooperate with local music teachers to find out which teaching methods and materials teachers use and, with an understanding that teachers will encourage students and their parents to buy these materials locally, retailers usually will be happy to stock these items. Such cooperation builds local relationships and encourages retailers to find new ways to serve teachers and their students. It is usually the local music retailers who sponsor and host authors, composers and clinicians for local teachers and musicians. Therefore, it greatly behooves all parties to support these retailers. Granted, since music retailers don't usually have all publications in stock, it is understandable that teachers may rely on some of the great print music distributors to supply them with less-common publications. After all, these online distributors are an important part of the music products food chain, too. But, where and when possible, the ecosystem of publisher-retailer/ distributor-teacherconsumer is best served when local retailers are supported.
* TEACHERS SHOULD NEVER GIVE OR ALLOW STUDENTS TO USE PHOTOCOPIED COPYRIGHT-PROTECTED MUSIC
All of the ideas and solutions suggested in these AMT articles are predicated on the premise that music teachers and music publishers understand and respect the baknce between them or, at least, want to understand. But, it is all irrelevant if the most basic premises of copyright protection are not honored. Simply put, the use of photocopied copyrighted music deprives creators (composers/arrangers) and distributors (publishers) of any return on their respective creations and business risk. When music teachers supply or otherwise facilitate their students with using photocopied music, the baknce between teachers and suppliers is shattered.
Teachers sometimes make photocopies available to students to "try out" a piece of music. There is no legal basis by which this is allowable. The excuse for this practice is, "I don't want to loan my music to students because they oftentimes lose it or don't bring it back." Rather than work to instill responsibility in students, teachers sometimes make the arbitrary decision that music publishers can be put in a precarious position by having their copyrights violated. Similarly, teachers might simply deem it "too much of a hassle" to try to contact music publishers or say "There simply isn't time to seek permission to copy." The solution is simple: don't give or allow students to use photocopied music. If desired music is out of print, this article has detailed how teachers can contact publishers about acquiring the music legitimately. Along with the obvious benefit of teachers setting an example of copyright compliance, the simple act of banning student usage of photocopied music would be a significant showing of solidarity with music publishers regarding the importance of the balance between teachers, creators and music publishers.
Life, we are constantly reminded, is about finding the proper "balance." I hope these articles demonstrate that balance is significant in the symbiotic relationship between music teachers, composers/arrangers, music retailers and music publishers. All of these disparate and separate elements can fend for themselves in pursuing musical or customer needs, but, when they all recognize and appreciate their enhanced strength when they work cooperatively and respectfully together, they form a cohesive force that is collectively stronger that any of them is individually. By adopting even one of the suggestions outlined in these articles, relationships and the music industry can be strengthened.
1. Piechocinski, T, "RelationshipBuilding Between Music Publishers And Music Teachers Through Understanding Of Business Realities... We're All In This Together," American Music Teacher 61, No. 4 (2011)29-32
2. While certainly not a complete listing, the following are examples of publishers that provide good information and online applications possible for some requests:
Hal Leonard, Inc. http://www.halleonard.com/ permissions/index, jsp;
Alfred Publishing http://alfredpub.com/Licensing.aspx;
Kjos Pulications http://kjos.com /disp lay. php?f=s_1_main.htm;
G. Schirmer http://schirmer.com/ default. aspxPtabld= 2424
3. These days, the standards are, after years of jockeying for market share and place, essentially between two terrific software engraving programs, Finale and Sibelius.
4. Such services as J. WPepper.com, sheetmusicplus.com, primamusic.com
Ted Piechocinski has been a band director, music publishing executive and music/copyright attorney and consultant. Since 2005, he has served as associate professor and director of the music business program at Indiana State University.