Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 328, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Steve from organbench.com. And he wrote:
Good morning Vidas,
Hope all is well with you.
Most of my compositions are listed now for sale with Sheet Music Plus Press and Noteflight Marketplace. Under the terms of this arrangement I retain ownership of my compositions and copyrights and can exercise control over listed retail prices and product descriptions. Royalties are at or near half of the retail price, for every copy sold, payable every month or quarterly, by PayPal or written cheque, my choice. Their online catalogs reach 110 countries world wide.
A certain publishing house has also expressed an interest in publishing one of my compositions separately, namely, the E Major Op. 17 Communion song. The standard contract from this firm arrived today in duplicate, and, if I sign it, I will be assigning ownership of this piece to this firm. In return I'm to be paid through PayPal just once a year, the standard 10 per cent of the retail cost, which is set by them, for each copy sold. I'm informed that this music will be listed in a future catalog, but due to the large number of contracts they already have, it may be several catalogs before it is published. As you probably already know, they are a much smaller music publisher with a much narrower, focused market, their catalog does not provide the composer with the control to set the retail price for his work himself, and it has no playback feature to allow customers to hear the music they're thinking of buying. Revenues are about 60 per cent higher when online catalogs have this feature. This firm also provides no means to affiliate with my web site either, to provide it with links or search boxes to allow it to help generate sales for them and thereby generate commissions for me.
This contract, as worded, is one page, a mere three sentences long, between me and the firm, with no stipulation about what happens to my music or any accrued royalties in the event of my death or the closing of the firm. I may yet change my mind, but as of this moment I don't feel that signing this contract is in the best interests of my music, myself, or my legal heirs. It seems that it leaves too much unanswered, and there are other better alternatives available. Just my feeling.
I'd enjoy hearing back from you. Wishing you and Ausra the
V: You know, this is a message that Steve wrote, and I deliberately excluded the name of this company, because Steve didn’t feel that people should really know. Because his feelings are not necessarily objective feelings. Maybe other people would want to be part of this company, catalogue. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Well, nowadays, when I have a question or a doubt about something or somebody, I usually try to Google it, and to see what other people have told about the same problem or the same company or the same person. It’s really useful because nowadays it’s really hard to make something bad, or something really hurtful to somebody and don’t be punished.
A: Maybe you will not get legal punishment from police or whatever, but people will punish you because opinion will spread out through the internet and if you will make something really bad, people will find out about it.
A: And your company or something will be just doomed.
V: Look how we’re buying things. For example, myself. When I buy books, I most often buy books from recommendations from other people I trust.
V: So the same is with trusting companies, and being in relationship with them, in contract, right, like composers. To me, releasing the ownership of the work has to be done with certain consideration, right? You don’t know how successful you will be as a composer, right now if you are just starting, in the future, right? And if you are releasing your rights to them, and they owe you just ten percent per year? Ten percent!
A: That seems like nothing.
V: Paid just once per year. Imagine if you’re starting to make a living from your music, right? And you only get your salary once a year, that’s a joke.
A: Yes, it is.
V: You need to get it once a month, or even faster—twice a month, or even as soon as the sale is done.
A: Also, what I trust when I think about making an important decision, I think about certain impression, what I got from reading a letter.
V: Gut feedback.
A: Yes, because...
V: Gut feeling.
A: Gut feeling, yes. Because that first impression is most often the rightest one—you need to trust it. And if you feel that something is fishy there, then don’t do it.
V: Mmm-hmm. And Steve mentions Sheet Music Plus, at the beginning, and Noteflight Marketplace. Those are two places that he is publishing his compositions now. And it seems to me that the owners of Sheet Music Plus and Noteflight, have understood the importance of playing the fair game—being fair with your customers, with your members. Because Sheet Music Plus, gives you the opportunity to be affiliated with them. You could sell your own music on your own website, while, by having links on your website which would go to Sheet Music Plus, and banner ads and everything else that he needs, special codes, snippets of codes that they count impressions and clicks. And you would get statistics about that, and you would be paid through PayPal once a month. It’s really nice. And Noteflight probably also behaves similar way. Noteflight is a platform which allows you to produce your own sheet music scores. It’s like Sibelius, but it’s online in the cloud. You don’t need the software at all. You create your score in the browser, and if you have a premium account, for certain membership fee, yearly or monthly, you have many more benefits with them. I’m not advertising them or endorsing them, I’m just saying what they have, and Steve produces his entire organ works this way, by working on the browser. And it seems that he enjoys it.
A: Yes, I think it might be…
V: Suitable solution.
A: Suitable, yes.
V: Because Sibelius is expensive and you have to install it and if you lose your computer or break your computer, you have to reinstall it. It’s a big mess and a big hassle.
A: Yes, and takes a lot of space too.
A: It might slow down your computer if it’s not the newest one.
V: It has certain features that Noteflight lacks and special benefits, but for people who are just creating simple scores, in the browser, is just painless process I think.
A: Because last year, for example, at my work, I asked for computer specially to install Sibelius, and then I had to uninstall it because my computer just slowed down so much that I could not work on it.
V: Mmm-hmm. Right. Here is we’re looking at the Noteflight platform, and they Marketplace, where you could sell your own scores through them. So it seems that they found a nice business model and Sheet Music Plus, and also NoteFight completely different business model, but still working business model I think. But, Ausra, do you know what the biggest problem or challenge for Steve still is?
A: I don’t know.
V: You could feel it already in my question.
A: Well, yes, a little bit.
V: With all these tools, and all these opportunities, right, and once a month PayPal payments to your account, and everything is fair and wonderful, he even has opportunity to insert MP3 files for listening the scores before buying. Customers could listen to the score as a sample. It’s really nice. But you know, the biggest problem, Ausra, still is, what? Finding your customers! Neither of those platforms will not guarantee you, your customers.
A: Well that’s true. Competition is very big nowadays, because there are so many compositions and new compositions are appearing each day.
A: So, it’s really hard to break through.
V: It would be interesting to know maybe one year afterwards, if Steve could write us his results, how many scores he sold through Sheet Music Plus or Noteflight Marketplace also. I also have Sheet Music Plus account. I also sell through them a number of my organ music scores, but not all of them. Most of them go directly through our online store on Shopify. And on Shopify you don’t owe them nothing. They just take a certain, very small percentage of the sale, and everything is controlled by you. You are in control and they are just facilitating the sale. Neither Shopify or other platforms guarantee you success in finding customers. That’s the biggest challenge nowadays...
V: ...when selling is so easy.
A: So, I guess the best is to compose music that you can perform yourself.
V: Right! Your music has to spread. And who else will start spreading your music besides you. Of course yourself.
A: Because if you don’t want to play your music, then maybe others won’t play too.
V: Right. That’s how I started. Either with improvisations on Youtube or recordings of my scores on Youtube too, so other people could listen to that and then play it if they want. So having a big social profile is really important nowadays and constantly updating, constantly, basically, developing new scores. Maybe having a procedure to produce one score a month, or maybe one score a week. And then a year later you will have large catalog of your works already. And bigger chance of success too, the more you have.
V: Okay guys. These are our thoughts about that. If you have any other feedback, please let us know. And please keep sending us your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
So you have written a nice collection of organ music and have submitted to a few music publishers and nobody wants to publish your music? Does it mean your music is bad? Does it mean you should stop composing?
Music publishers might reject your music for one of two reasons:
1. Your music isn't the right fit for them.
2. They are not the right fit for you.
Although you might think that your organ compositions are wonderful and worthy of receiving the light of day, you must remember that music publishing houses receive thousands of submissions and look at your pieces strictly from their commercial point of view:
Will it sell? Here's the question. Will they be able to publish it and make a profit from it?
So if they think that the answer is yes, you might receive a positive answer and if they don't believe that your music will be the right fit for them - you might even not hear from them about their rejection (sadly).
So in order to receive a positive answer, you should first think about why they think your organ music will sell or not.
Scores of organ music, just like anything else can be sold based on these 3 things:
The right kind of people know them, like them, and trust they can solve their problems.
People must know your music, they must know you exist. If they don't, you're invisible to them. It doesn't mean your music is good or bad, it just means they are not aware of it.
Once the right kind of people know about your music, they must also like it. Think about yourself - do you ever buy music scores of composers whose music you don't like? Not likely, unless you buy for the future reference, unless you know the composer is too important to ignore. But in general, if you buy some music scores, you like the music.
Once the right kind of people know about your music and like it, they must also trust you enough that your compositions will solve their problems. What do I mean? Well, every organist who is on the lookout for new music, has some problems, such as "I don't know what to play for my church service next month", or "I don't have suitable music to play for Christmas service", or "I do have some collections of Christmas music but they are too difficult for me", or "Organ music collections suitable for Christmas I have sound musically dull. Therefore I need something more interesting". That's an example about Christmas organ music but it can be about anything. So if they believe your music will help solve their problem, they might consider buying it.
Of course, you can always publish your compositions yourself. Amazon Self Publishing platforms make this process very simple. Unless you've done much of the preliminary work I write about later in this post, this doesn't mean your music score will sell, though and you will receive royalties.
But if you still think you need a conventional publisher to get your musical ideas to spread, here are some things to consider you can do to get on the radar of the right kind of people, help them like your music, and help you earn their trust:
Create a website with a blog. If you are not online, the right kind of people will have a hard time finding you. Sure, you can have an active profile on social media sites, but they are not places you can control. Your website with your domain name is what nobody can take away from you, if any of these social media sites change or go out of business, or you get locked from your account or whatever. Today this process of creating a website is too simple even for non-tech people, like organists, to be an excuse of ignoring it. Basically you can be online in 25 minutes or less. Just google "how to create a website and a blog" and you'll see.
Think about who you are trying to reach. Sure, they are representatives of specific music publishing houses. But what are their hopes, wants, needs, fears, frustrations, and problems? Be as specific as possible.
Think about where the people you are trying to reach are gathering online. What blogs do they read, what social media sites do they interact at, what forums do they have their discussions at, what podcasts do they listen to, what journals do they read. What conferences do they go to? Try to be helpful and inspirational on some of these places always linking back to your main site.
You can convert your music files into PDF's and sell them directly from your website or external platform, such as Score Exchange.
You can also convert your scores into videos and publish them on sites like YouTube or Vimeo. You can perform your own music and record videos of them. You can talk about and analyze your compositions, reveal your compositional process in these videos as well.
In the description of each video, make sure you include a link back to your site where they can get more information about you. You can also offer some collection of your scores for free in exchange for people's email address. For this you need a newsletter service, such as Mailchimp.
Once you have newsletter subscription form set up on your website, you can begin to produce more videos of your music compositions and publish them online. A few videos won't make any difference but the more videos you have, the better chances people have at finding your work online.
Of course, don't stop here. Embed these videos on your website and in your blog posts talk about the behind-the-scene work you do while you compose. What's inspiring to you? What problems and frustrations related to your work do you have? Don't try to appear superhero. Be human, someone people can relate to.
Regularly distribute your work on social media sites in the format and form that is native to that particular platform. What works for Facebook will not necessarily work for Twitter. What works for Twitter, will not necessarily work for LinkedIn. You can share in formats of text, pictures, video, or audio or any combination of them. Form can include a link, a question, a poll, an idea etc.
The great thing about newsletters is that people can subscribe to them and you can automatically convert your blog posts to email messages that will be delivered to your subscribers (like this blog, for example).
What else? Always be generous and helpful to people. These two things alone over time will help you build a reputation that will precede you wherever you go.
When you have a terrific reputation of always exceeding expectations and over-delivering, the time will come when the right kind of publishers will start to approach you. So basically you have to be so good that they can't ignore you.
And because the myth of overnight success is something we always want to believe, remember that it takes at least 3-7 years (sometimes even more) of relentless hard work to build your profile online so don't expect quick results.
You see, you might think about publishing your new organ compositions as the publishing problem, the reality is that more likely you have idea-spreading problem.
Above all, if organ music composition is something you love, keep up composing and keep perfecting your craft. In a world of too many options and too little time, nothing will help spreading your idea, if your work isn't remarkable enough.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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