Music Publishing – A Brave New World

Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • April 9, 2012

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With the rise of the Internet and online media, it’s safe to say that the publishing world has undergone a virtual revolution over the past quarter century. The transition from print to digital took another dramatic turn when one of the world’s most iconic book titles, the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been in print for 244 years, announced in March that they are ceasing production of the hard copy edition in favor of an all-digital format. Clearly, for publishers big and small – as those of us at the SBO offices can attest – major changes are afoot.

To find out what the dawn of the digital age in publishing means for music educators, SBO reached out to a handful of people at some of the leading music publishers in the market. Andrew Surmani is a senior vice president and managing director at Alfred Music Publishing; Paul Lavender is a vice president at Hal Leonard Corporation; Chris Scialfa is a senior vice president at Carl Fischer; and Joseph Galison is a director at LudwigMasters Publishing.

SBO: As relevant to the music education market in particular, how has the publishing world evolved over the past 25 years?

Paul Lavender: Certainly music educators have more choices than ever before, and now we are seeing a dramatic development in the way educational materials will be delivered. The shift to digital textbooks and online learning will certainly apply to music teachers and students as well. All publishers – including books, newspapers, magazines, and music – have already started to offer new ways to deliver, enhance, and enrich their publications.

Andrew Surmani: Technology is playing a bigger part in education than it ever did before. Just the simple act of misplacing an instrument part can be remedied 24/7 by going to the publisher’s digital site to download a replacement part. Recordings are still an important aspect of new music review and not only are recordings mailed to teachers every year, but they are also easily accessible from publisher and retailer websites, along with sample pages of the score. Tools such as the online SmartMusic program are being used to help teachers assess their student’s performance abilities. Music software accompanies many method books for additional study to include games, exercises, ear training and testing. Many programs also allow the music to be slowed down without changing the key. Many of our books are also available digitally on iPads, Kindles, and Nooks.

Joe Galison: Compared to 25 years ago there are many more publishers publishing a lot more music. Even the smaller publisher can publish a lot of music compared to their size. For LudwigMasters, we have turned away from printing presses and have turned to digital presses. This allows us to print quicker and with better quality. Also compared to 25 years ago, I don’t need to keep as much physical inventory, which, in turn, gets the music to the student and teacher faster and at the right price point.

Chris Scialfa: I think the biggest evolution (at least in the past 15 years during my time in this industry) has been the number of publishers. Fifteen years ago, there weren’t as many publishers releasing educational music geared towards school bands, orchestras, and choirs. More publishers mean more titles released each year and that, coupled with the economic challenges schools are facing, makes it increasingly difficult for publishers to maintain market share. Also, the delivery for this product has significantly changed. More and more schools are turning towards digital downloads to obtain music they would have otherwise purchased a hard copy of in prior years.

SBO: In addition to delivery methods, do you find that method books and other educational titles have changed dramatically? 

AS: Now directors want to have full audio and video to accompany their basic methods. On top of that, director’s don’t want the “one size fits all” approach anymore because we live in a world where you can download just the music you want without being forced to buy songs that you don’t like just because they are included on the album you need. As such, Alfred has created the world’s first-ever customizable band and string methods. Directors can choose the starting key, rhythm, note names in note heads, custom intro letter, custom book cover, and the ability to change some of the songs and add additional enrichment material into their printed book.

PL: With the Essential Elements series, Hal Leonard is certainly a large part of the change in method books over the last two decades. Directors  and students now have tremendous teaching and learning tools that didn’t exist before. Audio CDs, DVD video, learning software, and correlated performance materials have now become integral with methods for beginning students. These types of resources have been particularly important to teachers who need to adapt a traditional method to their unique situation or schedule.

CS: The biggest change has been the addition of a media component such as a CD or MP3 disc. This is no longer new, as the greater majority of titles released in current years seem to have a media component. However, years ago, this was not always the case, even when Compact Discs sent cassette tapes to extinction.

JG: The market has so many different method books for everything out there and you have so many choices of how you want to use the method book (i.e. DVD, VD, apps for a smart device, and so on) that it can be overwhelming.

What do educators need to know about how to find and purchase music from today’s publishers?

CS: For educators who have been teaching for 10 or more years, I don’t think there is anything more they need to know. They seem to be well aware that they can find our music through their local retail stores and/or their favorite websites. For educators who are just starting out, they need to be aware that retailers who specialize in print music still exist. It’s not always about the internet and digital download. It can be, and that’s fine. However, I’m afraid that the younger generation of music educators will miss out on the human element about selecting print music… and you can only get that interaction by walking into a local store and having a conversation with someone that knows the products.

AS: Publisher websites are very good these days. It is fairly easy to go to the publisher site and search in many different ways – by grade level, choral voicing, style, season, and so on – to find just the right piece you are looking for. You can then see a product description, listen to sample recordings, and view a sample of the music online. Most publishers sell through retailers so it is easy to find what you are looking for and either transfer your shopping cart on the publisher site over to your favorite online retailer site, or just contact your local retailer for the items that you found on the publisher site that you would like to order.

JG: Its easier then ever for a music director or teacher to find music for their program from a publisher thanks to the Internet! Most publishers have a website that includes an online catalog. For example, at LudwigMasters we have just created a whole new website that was designed with educators in mind. We felt as a publisher we need to provide the tools to educators to see and hear our music instantly. We provide MP3 recordings and have started to put the first few pages of the score up so they can listen and read along at the same time. Some publishers, like us, even allow educators to make purchases right on their websites.

I also recommend that educators sign up to be on the publisher’s mailing list so they can find out about new music. Like most publishers, LudwigMasters makes a promotional CD for all of our new music for band, string orchestra, and full orchestra. We do full recordings using professional players and it’s a great way for educators to hear new music. And of course there is the old printed catalog, which is still a great resource for educators.

PL: Still, one of the best alternatives for teachers to find music is through traditional retailers, many of whom are well stocked with all publishers music. And now with powerful online search tools, many teachers have become comfortable with the convenience of online perusal of scores, demo recordings, and convenient purchasing. Like many other businesses, music publishers and retailers have found new ways to offer convenience and efficient service for music teachers and students.

Additional thoughts on publishing for school music educators?

CS: Don’t hesitate to reach out and share your ideas with the publishers. I can’t speak for all of them, but we are certainly open to receiving feedback about our existing publications as well as suggestions for future ideas. Educators shouldn’t hesitate to come up to us at a trade show and stop and chat for a while. That’s one of the reasons why we’re at that those shows. Although we sell our music through retailers, that sale “ends” when an educator purchases our product… so we want to hear from them as well as our retailers.

PL: We’re excited about the near future of what we’re bringing to teachers, students, and music programs. The launch of the powerful Essential Elements Interactive program is just one of those innovations that Hal Leonard has created for today’s music education community – dealers, teachers, students, and their parents.

JG: As budgets get cut, teachers are looking for ways to get new music. Many publishers, including us, participate in reading sessions and clinics all the time. A teacher can call the local dealer and find out about these clinics. Often these sets of music are even donated to the clinic to be raffled off at the end. Teachers have a variety of tools at their fingertips, and they shouldn’t hesitate to call a publisher and ask questions about a piece or maybe even for some advice. A lot of publishers have former teachers and band directors working with them. The publisher itself can be used as an invaluable resource for teachers and educators. Reach out to your print retailers and publishers – it’s a win-win proposition!

AS: Educators are faced with a lot of challenges these days. Most states are experiencing difficult budget crises and the red tape teachers deal with every day is only increasing. However, this is not the first budget crisis that we’ve dealt with over the years and no matter what the economic and political climate is at the time, the best music programs and teachers always survive. The best teachers are very creative and do a fantastic job navigating the rapids during these challenging times, and in the end keep their programs in tack and growing in the future. Music is a critical part of the core curriculum and can be the one subject area keeping kids excited about coming to school.


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