Ep. 12: The State of Choral Self-Publishing (Live Panel at ACDA)

Episode Description:

Recorded live at the Hal Leonard Booth at ACDA Cincinnati, I talk with Luke Talen (Creative Director of Choral Publications for Hal Leonard), Liz Groch (Head of Growth for Sheet Music Plus, and Scott Harris (Program Manager for ArrangeMe) in a wide ranging conversation about choral music and what composers can do to make their music stand out.

Featured On This Episode:
Luke Talen

Luke Talen is the Creative Director, Choral Publications for Hal Leonard, who has played a pivotal role with the company’s choral product development, digital expansion, and marketing efforts. He has taught at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and has been a music director at various high schools, colleges, and theatre companies in Wisconsin.

Scott Harris

A 20+ year veteran of the music business, Scott is currently serving as Project Manager of ArrangeMe.comHal Leonard Music‘s self-publishing division, where he helps composers and arrangers form all over the globe publish and make their music available to musicians worldwide. Scott is also an active arranger, orchestrator, and musician in Nashville and beyond and has published work with Word Music, LifeWay Music, Lillenas Publishing, and Hal Leonard.

Liz Groch

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are provided by Apple Podcasts and have NOT been proofread.*


Let’s start by having the three of you just briefly introduce yourselves and give us both your musical background and what you do in your respective positions. So since I butchered your name, Liz, do you want to go first? Sure, so I run marketing basically at Sheet Music Plus. I’ve been with the company about four and a half years now and I actually used to run the predecessor of ArrangeMe, called S&P Press, before we kind of moved over into a larger program with Scott at the helm.


And prior to that I worked for startups and music-wise I’ve been a singer now pretty much for 20 years but primarily before that I was a pianist but also violin, flute, so I’ve just been playing music my whole life. Awesome, all that good stuff. Hi, I’m Luke, choral creative director, and I have been at HAL for five years and growing up I just sang a lot of pop charts from our big HAL pop guys like Roger Emerson, Mack, Herbie Shaw, all those guys.


And then my choir director in high school used to work at HAL. He was a music editor, a choral editor. I admired his skill and his knowledge, expertise, and when a job opened up five years ago, heck, I jumped at the chance.


So yeah, happy to be here. And we had Roger on the podcast a couple weeks ago. Yes, that’s right.


Yes, what a mentor he is. Yeah, he’s an amazing guy. That was a great interview, so everyone go listen to that.


Scott, why don’t you also give the spiel about ArrangeMe, just in case anyone listening is new to self-publishing and doesn’t realize. Sure, ArrangeMe is HAL Leonard’s self-publishing program. That’s a free platform to get your arrangements published through the HAL Leonard digital distribution channels, SheMusicDirect.com, SheMusicPlus.com, and NoteFlight.


Yeah, it’s wonderful. Access to over four million copyrighted songs pre-cleared, so no permissions necessary. It’s free to sign up.


We’ve paid out over five million dollars in commissions to arrangers and composers in the lifetime of the program, and yeah, it’s that worldwide reach for your arrangements and compositions to get out there for people to find. Okay, so Luke, I’ll throw the first question to you. What do you think the perception of self-published music is within the choral community, and how do you feel that it’s changing? Well, I suppose the perception would be like, I’m a little teeny fish in a big pond, and how do I get noticed, and how do I promote myself, and how do I become something that people want to sing? And I think it’s changing a lot recently with, you know, the advent of self-promotion and social marketing, as well as what we’ve done here with ArrangeMe, which is make it 10,000 times easier for someone to take a copyrighted song and put their own spin on it.


So I hope that the perception is changing to one of more accessible and more available for anyone to jump in at any point. Yeah, I do think there is a perception, at least within the composer community, that choral directors are maybe a little bit hesitant to branch outside of the established names and the established, you know, publishing companies. I don’t know if you agree with that, or if there’s any way to make yourself stand out as a composer.


You know, part of the job is convincing people to give your music a chance. Right, yes. I mean, when I gave my intro about how I started, it was like, you know, I talked about the Hal Leonard guys, right? About the established names of gentlemen and women whose arrangements I had sung, because they had been with Hal Leonard for millions of years.


Well, not millions of years, but you get what I’m saying. It feels like they’ve been part of the system, so they’re tried, true, trusted, and been something like that. So, there’s a fair amount of taking a chance, but I think with the Arrange Me platform, I think it just gives a voice to someone who has something to offer, and I don’t think self-publishing is, you know, something you need to be scared of if you’re going to program it.


If you take a look at a piece of music and you want to, and if you want to program it, you should go for it, and you should take advice of peers, and you should come to shows and see what people say, and test the temperature. Okay, so Liz, to put some context to all of this, I looked up on the S&P website on Monday, and it said out of the, well, it said there were 140,000 digital choral titles, and then out of that amount, there was about 66,000 that came from Arrange Me users. So, that kind of gives you a sense of how big the program’s gotten, but on S&P, they’re also competing against the print titles as well, and so what do you think a composer can do to get their self-music, what do you think a composer can do to get their music noticed, especially original music that doesn’t have a song attached to it that comes with its own sort of built-in popularity? So, that’s a very big question.


We ask the big questions here. Okay. It’s like amazing music all the time.


So, if we’re literally just talking about getting noticed, I think you have to think about it as a business, right, as if you’re like a small business owner. So, you have to have your music be in places that people are looking for music, you have to make it easy for them to get it, and you have to make it easy for them to figure out who you are. I think there’s a huge appetite to piggyback on what Luke was saying on the question you guys were talking about earlier, huge appetite to discover new music, discover new perspectives.


You just have to make it easy for the person to do that because there are so many voices in the market. So, if selling through Arrange.me basically means that you’re already on a platform that allows you to sell, it allows you to be distributed to millions of customers around the world via Sheet Music Plus, via Sheet Music Direct, so you’re taking care of that distribution aspect. The next question is how do you get noticed amongst everybody, right? Honestly, kind of think about who is your target market, who are you trying to sell to, and how do you get in front of them? So, sometimes there are people who are building relationships directly with parts of the choral community, there are people who are doing a lot of social media work, there are people who are literally just trying to be the first person on Sheet Music Plus to arrange Paint It Black for cello right after Wednesday comes out, and there’s a little bit of all these things, right? And I think what Arrange.me really does also is that by creating this pathway for people to kind of dip their toe in the water with a new arranger, a new voice, they’re saying like, oh, you’ve arranged a piece, I know the song, oh, I like this person’s arrangement, let me check out what else is in their catalog.


And that’s a way to almost funnel, like, you know, customers into original compositions is by getting to know you through your arrangements. Do you think social media is the best way to market Sheet Music, or is there some other way? I mean, are you using Google Ads, are you going out to conventions and that sort of thing, like how would you rank your tools in order of effectiveness? For Sheet Music Plus or for a self-published composer, publisher on Sheet Music Plus? Well, are they different? Yes. Okay, could you go into that? So we’re a retailer, and as the retailer, like, our sort of place is to kind of scoop up demand a little bit that’s already there.


And so, yeah, we do a lot with Google Ads. That is our main kind of conduit, like our main marketing channel. But we also do a lot to kind of provoke demand via email, via social content.


But, you know, really, we’re focused so strongly on the Google advertising machine. For the sort of composer, I think you think about it in the same way that, you know, how Leonard would think about it, or, you know, any of the other publishers here, where it’s, you know, here’s new music, how do I get it in front of people? How do I introduce them to a new concept? And I think that that is a question of, like, you know, kind of what are all of your potential avenues at your disposal? And what works the best for, you know, the music that you’re selling to the audience that you’re selling to? There are relationships built into that. I think social is a great tool to reach a larger audience than you necessarily have at your disposal.


But I think there, you know, I wouldn’t isolate yourself to that. And I think there’s a lot that can be done, you know, individually, by word of mouth, and so forth as well. When I look, if I look at like Hal, or Sheet Music Plus, or a lot of the, like, bigger publishing companies, if you just look on, if you just look at the follower counts, I see the YouTube accounts having tons of numbers, then Facebook, and then from there, maybe Instagram, and then kind of Twitter at the bottom has like 100 people.


It doesn’t really seem like there’s a lot of sheet music moving on Twitter. Would you agree with that sort of ranking? Yeah. Because also, you know, people are using YouTube also for a lot of these, like, scoreplay videos.


Yeah, like, our kids, our singers often reference YouTube. You know, we started their YouTube program, and it just turned into a teaching tool. Like, kids listen to it, or singers listen to it to learn their parts.


And that’s going to be a big change in how we, like, do digital audio in the future. But we’ve really adjusted and been like, Oh, this is really something that really gets the word out. Was that a pandemic thing? Or was that already happening? That was already happening.


I think the first video we uploaded was 2015. I was kind of like, Oh, we’ll throw it up there on YouTube and see what happens. And all of a sudden, it would get tons and tons of hits.


And people would be like, Oh, OMG, this is so great, because this helped me learn my part really well. Would you have another voice that you could put up? And then it just kind of snowballed into something gigantic. So and also, you know, as a director, right, if you’re going and looking through a lot of different music, and especially if you want to branch out from, you know, the tried and true, both, you know, brands, composers, songs, all those things, right.


The easiest way to do it is to listen to it while following along the score. And that’s what those videos let you do. Without any real hassle without having to, you know, sort of sit at the piano and play it or find a choir to read through it.


Go to a conference. It’s the easiest thing. Oh, yeah.


And you you self direct yourself there. So it’s like you listen to one thing, and then another thing interests you. Yeah, and another thing.


And that’s, that’s why for ArrangeMe, we say so often, like the best thing you can do in terms of, you know, kind of your visibility on our platform really is getting those YouTube videos. Because that audio, like that ability to kind of pair the audio with the previews, it’s just, it’s really kind of second done. Yeah.


Yes, some kind of demonstration recording, even if it’s just a simple MIDI out, if that’s all you can do, great. You know, it’s better than nothing. Yep.


That’s true. Because we we know we all know that music sells better when there’s an audio demonstration attached with it, you know, just by and large, you know, so you got to give people a taste of it. Yeah, one thing I really enjoy about those ArrangeMe emails, yeah, are like the call to the action that they all have.


Yeah. Like, hey, here’s this song and no one’s made an arrangement. 100% like go for it.


And it feels like I read it. I’m like, oh, I could be the one to do that. I could really be arranging this and flexing my creative juices.


Yeah, we’re just inviting people to step into that. Yeah. And some people aren’t interested.


And that’s fine, too. You know, you do you and stay in your lane. But you know, we’re providing opportunity and valuable information for people to act on exactly like you just described.


That’s great. Which also helps you be the first person to have done that on Sheet Music Plus or Sheet Music Direct. And then if somebody kind of is looking for that song, then you’re the one that they’re that they are discovering.


Yep. I mean, long story short is like, as we were all musicians at one point, there’s a certain grind to it, you know, like it’s our side hustle. Making YouTube videos is definitely a grind.


Right, exactly. But you know, creating and any creator will tell you that you put in the work, but then ArrangeMe is like this tool that just makes it comfortable and easy to just get your word out there. So and I’ll say this, like you’re already an arranger, a composer, you’re already grinding, right? Like you said, you’re doing the work because you love it, you’re passionate about it.


Go that one extra step to make sure you’ve got a good audio demonstration to really maximize the potential to get in front of people. It’s just treat it as part of your process, you know, every time. So what about these interactive scores? Do you think those are going to, are those the future? Are those going to be more prevalent? Or is that, does that exist to serve a specific type of choir? Luke, do you have thoughts on that? Well, Liz, talk about your voice part and how that nothing to offer for your vocal range.


Yes, you really don’t. As you may have noticed, I am the alto of altos. And all those things that are sort of re-centered on the staff, all those pops, I can’t sing those.


I would love there to be more interactive music, especially for solo vocal. You know, and even the choral, you know, is written, it’s always generally written differently. So it’s a different situation.


But, you know, if you want to be able to do that for choral, especially if there’s like accompaniment, I would love to see more of that. On the acapella, it’s a lot less of a problem, right? Because you can just say, we’re going to move this, you know, half a step or a step. Yeah, it’s not a big deal, but I would love to see more of it.


Is it going to happen? I mean, I think that this is a question, you know, really just people using the tools, right? Well, that’s what note flight’s for, isn’t it? Yeah, I was going to say, note flight is really the tool to do that through ArrangeMe right now. It’s a great program. The notation editor built into the service is really quite wonderful.


It does take some getting used to, but once you do, it’s the just fastest way. And you can import a music XML file from your Finale or Sibelius right in there, clean it up a little bit, get used to it, and you can publish it. And you’re publishing interactive files just like any Howlander produced piano vocal that’s published of any pop tune that they do.


Those are all interactive as well. And so, yeah, you’re kind of, you’re raising your bar to meet that standard. Choral, I agree.


It’s a bit of a mixed bag, because like, nobody’s going to want to take down a choral tune like a sixth, you know, or a fifth. It’s tough to, you know, voice leading all the things. It’s more of a business decision.


Exactly. Yeah. So in that case, I would rearrange it and then upload it as a second option or third option.


You know, those different, I love medium voices. That’s how I would do it. Are there people that are doing both, like ArrangeMe and NoteFlight, putting the same chart up? We recommend not doing it.


It doesn’t make sense, because when you publish through NoteFlight, it publishes through ArrangeMe. So it goes to She Music Direct, She Music Plus, and it also goes to NoteFlight Market, well, the NoteFlight, like the retailer that you can purchase through NoteFlight in and of itself. So if you then uploaded a PDF of the same chart through ArrangeMe, you have two charts in the system of the exact same thing.


One’s interactive, one’s a PDF lockdown, you know. But if you want to do one interactive and then a couple different voicings, you know, I guess you could do that. But yeah, I would recommend for choral, a couple of three different voicings, a lockdown and PDF, or just do the interactive version where people can pick, you know.


So I’ve tried a lot of different things in marketing my own music, and I’ve noticed that choral music in particular seems to be pretty set in its ways. People buy music when they buy music, they buy what they’re looking for, and they don’t really seem to be moved by like, 25% off this week, you know, or like, buy one, get one free, or sort of the traditional sales gimmicks, for lack of a better term, that you see from other companies. You know, if you’re selling t-shirts, there’s all kinds of things, you know, use this coupon code here or whatever.


Are there certain things like that, special events that you have found, either, well, any of you, that have you found any of those sorts of things to be effective in marketing and getting people interested in music that they might not otherwise have been? I think that when it comes to, so I think that we use discounts a little bit more, a little bit less to highlight, you know, a new composer or a new type of music, and more to kind of attract customers away from other retailers, frankly. Like, it’s less about, you know, kind of what’s in our catalog, and more about kind of competing for those orders. Because as you said, you know, people are buying at certain times of the year, I, you know, I want to kind of make sure they’re buying with us.


Whether they’re buying Garrett Brees, or Scott Harris, or Hal Leonard, or, you know, they’re not buying me. But whether they’re buying, you know, whoever, whoever’s worth. I think that’s like, it’s less a question of price and any discounts provided, and it’s more a question of, have they heard of it? Is this what they’re looking for? Does it suit their needs? So what those, any sort of discounting would do, really, is that you’re calling attention to yourself and to your product.


And I would focus less on the price component, and more on the look at me component. And educating people about, you know, kind of who you are, and what makes you special. And kind of getting them just interested in what you’re doing.


That’s actually a really interesting question from you, Garrett. Because, like, the Hal Leonard Publishing Catalog, the stuff that we put out in print and now digital copies, it’s very seasonally focused, right? So we base it on, like, the Easter Lent season for Sacred, Fall Christmas, and then for the school, we base it on the school year, right? So we’ve got a big catalog that comes out in May for Spectrum. And then it’s like, you buy your music for the year, and that’s just kind of how it works.


And then there’s a mid-year promotion, where we’ll take things in, you know, sort of in the holiday season, and promote spring choir things for graduation, and, you know, uplifting things for the end of the school year. But attaching discounts and things to a schedule that isn’t aligned to, you know, what we’ve been doing for 30 years is probably a really good thing that we should look at. Because saying that we’ve done this for 30 years, that’s never a good statement for anything.


So I think, I mean, it’s just a really interesting point to raise when it comes to that kind of promotion and discounts. Because we’ve been doing it the same way for a while, but perhaps there’s something we could do better. So I’m curious on one thing, since you brought up the publishing cycles.


The conventional wisdom, like you said, is, for example, Christmas music, you would want that published, you know, over the summer, because that’s when people are getting ready for the Christmas season. But I’ve noticed that I sell the most Christmas music in October and November. And maybe I just attract the last minute crowd.


But I’m wondering if you think self-published sheet music is serving maybe a different corner of the choral market that maybe wouldn’t be going to Hal Leonard in the summer. The last minute procrastinator market? I don’t know. I mean, are we talking about the same, like, am I competing with you for the same people? Or is it maybe a different set of choral musician that’s looking at self-published music? That’s another really good question.


Because a lot of our timing had to do with how we would furnish music to dealers, like brick and mortar dealers and that kind of thing. So we would always be ahead of the game on that kind of thing. But self-publishing, I feel like just by its nature is much more immediate.


Like you can create and get it out there immediately. And I know that’s one thing in print we have to get better at, but that’ll come in time. But yeah, I think there’s a difference in immediacy between the two as well.


And they probably reach different levels of buyers at different points in their careers, different points in their lives. And yeah, that’s probably a gap we need to analyze. Well, speaking of print, do you think everything’s going to go to iPads? Not yet.


Not completely. I mean, we’ve seen a change. Not on that one.


I want to talk about the seasonality thing actually a little bit. I also think there’s a question of, like, literally your delivery method, right? Like, people who are buying print for Christmas probably have to buy it earlier. If you’re talking about selling your digital titles, like these are people who potentially waited a little bit longer and they need something immediately to download today to fill in a gap or whatever, like fill out a new program that they didn’t know about.


And so I think that also they don’t have time to buy the print anymore. So I think that also helps. It also really might be a question of the choir and the sort of part of the choral market that you are serving, like your particular music.


You know, we also find that the people who are buying a lot of times in like a July or something for Christmas, a lot of times these are either directors that are just really out of the curve or they are dealing with choirs that are maybe need a lot more time to rehearse. And so if you’re writing things that are at a higher level or specific sorts of choirs, they might be able to kind of buy them closer to a performance stage. Yes.


And it’s like by waiting and purchasing later or earlier, like the product is still the same because you’re buying good music and you’re buying good arrangements. It’s not like when you pick teams on a playground, like the last kids love, sorry to use an outdated reference, but when you’re waiting, you’re not losing anything by that. I mean, you’re still buying good music and good arrangements that are just out at a different time.


Yeah. I will also say that one of the things we’ve been noticing, it’s kind of getting more regular and normalized now, but like, you know, during COVID, what we were seeing is that a lot of Christmas buying was actually delayed because, you know, people were, I think directors were like, is my choir back? What do my numbers look like? What’s the level that I’m looking at? Like, you know, can I, what can I accomplish? And so things that were, you know, where we would see sales happening and maybe in August or September, we’re moving back to October, November, because they were trying to answer those questions throughout that period as well. So I think that’s also part of what we’ve been seeing.


This may be related. I also think it has a little bit to do with the voicing of your chart. You know, it might be a little bit different, a little out of the norm of what Howell or other publishers offer.


And so different voicing types, you know, that are maybe less traditional could explain some of that too. And that’s where Arrange Me Self-Publishing tends to fill the holes of the market. And that’s where you’re going to be a little more successful if you kind of find your niche.


Or difficulty level. Yeah, fair. Yeah.


So you want a really custom arrangement of something that’s kind of easy. And if we were at the school kid, I’d be like, oh, no way we can sell that and get a bunch of copies. There’s a market for that.


So yeah, I think it’s just worth mentioning that there’s a large market and there’s a lot of needs to fill. And Howell Leonard Coral fills a good part of it very well and very specifically. But there are other things that just don’t make sense for big publishers to publish.


And so that’s where a self-publisher, if you kind of tap into aligning your gifting with the hole in that market, you can really do fairly well. Although Howell Leonard sort of is doing that, because by going all in on the Arrange Me thing, they’re basically backing all of these self-published composers. I mean, essentially, they’re backing their competition in a lot of ways, at least with certain catalogs, at least certainly the pop choral, you know, the arrangements.


I’m wondering if you see it that way. I definitely don’t see it that way at all. And the biggest reason is just because of the amount of music and talent in the world.


Like, yeah, the arrangements that we put out are great, but they’re not the only arrangements in the world. There are amazing people in the world with things to offer. And we’ve done our due diligence over the years and gotten these great copyrights through our relationship building.


And that’s how Howell Leonard was built. But it’s time to share that, because lots of people have other things to say. And holding it onto us, or holding tightly onto it like that, isn’t beneficial anymore in this day and age.


So I don’t view it as competition like that in any sense of the word. This self-publishing program is, at this point, about 11 years old. The copyright sort of portion of it, I think, started in 2016, if I’m correct.


So that’s seven. And then we brought on choral in 2018. This has mostly been a market expansion activity, meaning it’s a market that just wasn’t served.


Or it was served in this very, you know, hand-to-hand, not broad, like, way, and frankly, probably not legal. And not really giving the copyright holders their due as well. And so this has, I mean, largely been really just an expansion of the sheet music market in that time.


And it’s allowing, yeah, those voices to be there. So it’s really not competing against Howell Leonard in a lot of respects. It’s adding to what Howell Leonard can do.


Yeah, when you just said it, Liz, I mean, it’s giving people a voice to be heard that didn’t maybe necessarily have that opportunity. Guys like you, and people that deserve to be distributed on a wider basis. Well, and I also think one of the challenges for composers is educating the choral market about all of those different options that are out there.


I mean, because there are more places to buy music now. There’s more pricing models. There’s more voicings.


And just a lot, the market’s flooded, right? And so being clear in telling and communicating where your music can be found and how you can find it, I think is a hard thing to do. And I think maybe part of that has to do with the way you decide where to put your music. Like, I get the impression that Sheet Music Plus serves a different market than JW Pepper versus Sheet Music Direct.


Otherwise, Howell Leonard wouldn’t put it on all those other sites. I mean, because most of your titles are on the Howell Leonard site, but then they’re also like, you can get them from Pepper. There’s a number of different distributors.


And so is that just because each of these companies or each of these distributors has a specific set of people? Or is it just like blanketing the field and seeing what sticks? Honestly, it’s been like a natural evolution of when we started digitizing choral for the first, I can speak to the Howell Leonard portion of it, where it’s like when we started digitizing chorals, which wasn’t that long ago, like 2015 or 16 or something. You know, we would open up those channels with our closest brick and mortar dealers, so they could get the assets quicker and get those digital copies. And then Sheet Music Direct became our furnishing place for all those digital chorals that just go straight out of Howell Leonard and go there.


So for us, it’s just been a natural evolution of the relationships that we have with the dealers, just bringing it into the digital age. And since we acquired Sheet Music Direct and use that, that’s where all of our digital choral on the Howell Leonard side just got furnished that way. What’s happening to the physical brick and mortar distributors? Is that still a thing? It’s still a thing.


Lots of consolidation in the world, you know, of course, there’s less stores and you’ve seen it everywhere, closing Kmart’s and Sears all over and music business is no different, but digital commerce in terms of, you know, how that music is promoted and sold. There’s fewer. But I get the sense physical print still dominating digital in terms of sales.


Yes. In terms of sales, oh man, I don’t know what the number is, the percentage. I could throw some wild stat over there, but the print, it hasn’t gone away like maybe you would expect a pandemic and then print dies immediately.


But it just has not been like that. I mean, there’s absolutely a market for print music because it lives on in perpetuity. There’s large print editions that people can read.


And there’s, you know, there’s something about that tangible holding that music in your hand that just, it’s not going away overnight at all. All right. So here’s a super nerdy, choral specific question.


But the standard for choral prints, obviously, that smaller octavo size, but most of the digital print titles are PDFs and those are typically being printed by regular people on regular computers. And so I think the standard for digital publishing, correct me if I’m wrong, is still that eight and a half by 11 page size. So if a composer is publishing digital only, are there things you recommend that they do differently because they’re working with a page size that’s different than the typical norm? I mean, you’ve got everything dialed in in terms of font size and spacing and all that stuff.


But yeah, but there’s a lot more room on the page when you’re going eight and a half by 11. Right. I might get really nerdy here.


But I think whenever we export any of our music, it’s all vector based. So it’s all percentage wise. So you can blow it up to whatever size you need to and it will print at the same resolution.


So when we give large print additions to a retailer like JW Pepper, they just take our PDFs and blow it up and print it on eight and a half by 11. Since eight and a half by 11 is the standard in US, we pretty much have to hold up. I mean, when we export it, it can be whatever size it wants.


What do people have at home a printer that prints in half by 11? Or maybe 11 by 17 if they got like a tabloid or a poster side printer. I mean, or if you go to Office Depot or something. Yeah, right.


I mean, as far as the music coming out from help ourselves, it’s all PDF vector. So they can blow it up or shrink it down to whatever they need. At that point.


I just know that most people have that. Is that something normal people can do? Like blowing up their PDFs and changing size? Is that just like an Adobe feature? Or is it some, like more complicated process? You know, as someone who’s been in the tech, you know, and growing up in the early 2000s, I’m like, Oh, yeah, I can blow up a PDF. No problem.


If I were to give that to my dad. Yeah, he would be like, What are you talking about? How do I do this? So I’m not naming names. Making it easier.


You know, might be something we should look at. You know, making music. Sure.


Yeah, we we definitely got questions and on the tech side into our customer service about things like that. So I Yeah, please do. All right, here’s a listener question that’s on the tech side.


Why is it so I’m just going to read what they said. I would like to know why the search engines for sites like SMP seem to hide our work so far down the search results. And I think what they’re referring to is when you type in the exact title of a song.


It’s not showing up like that exact title match isn’t the thing that pops up first. There’s maybe a bunch of other products or or close matches. And then the arrangement stuff kind of comes in at the bottom of the page, generally speaking.


So I guess could you maybe talk through like what those search engines on SMP are looking for? And what kind of things composers need to do to help their arrangements reach the top of the list? It’s a sales ranking algorithm. So what actually goes into that is proprietary. And honestly, I don’t know the exact every little bit of it.


But I mean, I do sort of but the exact weightings and so forth. I you know, of course, I cannot give you but um, basically, the best thing you can do is sell, sell more often somewhere recently, like that’s what it is. There’s a there’s a total sales, there’s a recency of sale.


That’s the best thing you can do. And then the keywords, is it drawing that from the product descriptions? Or is it from the like tagging that’s done when you upload a piece kind of all over the place? Okay. I mean, obviously, you should do both methods.


But I was curious if one ranked higher than the other. It’s all over the place. Search results are kind of I can’t think of search results.


I will know even our own writers come to me all the time. And they’re like, I searched for something and hit search and I couldn’t find it. And it’s because instead of typing up the word doctor, they did dr period or something.


Yeah. So it’s like, a lot of the search results depend on not going to say it’s all user error. But search results, you use quotes to get words in a string that you want to do.


You can use the word not to get rid of words that you don’t want to search for. And so search results can be tricky for for some people. But you know, well, because I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge that we as composers are up against.


Because I don’t think a lot of people are searching for, you know, self published music, or, you know, arranged music, I think they’re just getting on Google, they’re getting on YouTube, and they’re just searching, you know, and so it’s whatever comes up comes up. And we’re at the mercy of all the algorithms here. Yeah, I would love to know Google’s algorithm.


Because I mean, I’m at the mercy of it as well. Right. And like our entire site is.


So yeah, it’s one thing after another. I mean, but that’s why all these things that that’s why I’m saying don’t just rely on necessarily like, that are Yeah, on that algorithm on any algorithm. And that’s why I do think all these things where figuring out multiple channels to get your music in front of people get choir directors to know you get people to to understand your product and want to buy your product.


You know, diversification is really your best friend. And that’s why, you know, kind of getting in front of people, you know, like we have we have people in the arrangement program who really serve specific niches very well. And they sell over and over again to choirs of those sorts, because they know those they know those directors and they those directors are like, well, I know that this person is going to have an arrangement that’s going to work for my choir.


So I know that they do things consistently very well in this in this sort of style or genre. Getting in front of them, you know, sort of going to conferences, finding a lot of different avenues that we’re not just at the behest of an algorithm. Yeah, I would say control what you can control.


Yeah, you know, and don’t worry necessarily about the stuff you can’t, you know, do the very best work you can promote it as best you can. Liz had a great, you know, get to know choral directors, you know, get your stuff out there as much as you possibly can. Because, you know, good work turns into more good work and word will spread, whether that’s digitally what far and wide or even in your local community as you ask a local choir to demo something or whatever.


It’s, you know, controlling what you can control goes a long way, I think. And instead of spinning your wheels on algorithms and SEO and metadata and all that stuff, do what you can there. Absolutely.


But there’s a certain point where just focus on the work and the cream rises to the top, you know. And also enter these competitions. There’s a ton of these out there.


And what happens is then somebody else will be like, well, I heard about somebody won a prize somewhere or, you know, and that they also help to amplify like your name and your music. And I think, you know, that’s another you already have the product. You just need to enter it and submit it.


So do you see a difference between the success of composers who just kind of keep their head down and write music and upload it versus the ones that are like the content generation machines and they’re putting out posts and videos and like TikToks and all these different things for each of their arrangements. Like, do you see that really moving the needle? So I’m going to say yes, but with a caveat. So again, like going back to this point of it’s really helpful to have recordings and online assets so that people can, you know, kind of get samples of your product and sort of pair that also with the sheet music itself.


You know, always a really good thing. Even if somebody has heard something in a concert or, you know, something like that, even if they know you, that’s always just like, oh, I went home and I checked this out. Right.


So I think that’s no matter what you do. And so, yes, by that regard, a hundred percent. Now, when it comes to does it have to be a social media play? No.


Unlike there are people who are doing excellent work in things like Barbershop, in things like, you know, the Gala Chorus arrangements, in church, who are not major content generation machines, but they’ve built relationships, they’ve gotten, they’ve done this sort of groundwork where they’ve found other channels. And I, so that while the content generation machine is an option, it’s not the only one that you have at your disposal. Yeah.


And I’ll say some of that is great and really good best practices, but it can turn into like just white noise. If you’re doing a thing after everything you put up there, it’s like, okay, well, it’s just another thing that this guy does one a week. It’s like, well, how is it different from the last one? And you can spend just as much time making your YouTube posts as you do actually writing the music.


Yeah. Right. Yeah.


Deke Sharon, I’ve heard him say before, you know, I don’t like, actually, he said this in the interview I did with him for Arrangement last year. He said, you know, I don’t do a social post about every new chart I come up with, but he’s like, I pick my spots. I wait for the ones that I really feel good about.


I really believe in. And like, I make sure and post about those that really are priorities, just like any other publisher would, quite honestly, you’re a self publisher. You know, you almost have to think like a publisher and you can’t put the same level of promotion behind every single piece.


It just doesn’t work. Yeah. Yeah.


Yeah. Yeah. And you learn that kind of stuff as you go too.


So obviously it depends on how prolific you are. And, you know, if you write one chart a quarter or a year or something, you’re going to want to tell everybody about it, you know what I mean? Yeah. So it’s relative, but yeah.


All right, Luke, I’d like your take on something. I kind of see this paradox in the advice I’m given, which is that if you want to sell a lot of music, you should write easy music. That’s what people tell me.


You know, if you want to break into the choral market, you need to write, you know, SAB, simple voicings, you know, stuff that I’ve heard it described as just add water music. You know, you can you can open up a rehearsal. There’s not really any pitfalls.


You know, it’s it’s it’s straightforward. Yeah. So that’s kind of the advice that I hear given.


But then when I look at my music and what’s gotten the most attention and what sold the most, it’s been some of my pieces that are the most complicated. So is that going back to what we said before? Is that because people that are shopping for self-published music are looking for stuff that’s harder or or what’s your take on that? Well, you personally, at least because your music is so good that people go straight to the top. Absolutely.


Bonus points for every time. That’s an interesting question. And ever since the pandemic happened, we’ve put a renewed focus on on that so-called easy music, right? Unison, two part, merging choirs, SAB, because we hear it verbally that we want to demand right because choirs had been away for a while and they need to get back into it and do learning pieces and teaching pieces.


And I think that’s true to an extent. But then also people are ready to go. They’re ready to rumble.


Right. And I don’t want to ignore that section of the marketplace as well. And if if yours, if you’re more difficult, music has sold, that could be who you’re writing for.


But it also could be that it’s just that’s what those choirs are ready to do and that’s what they need. And maybe the unison and two part stuff that we’re pushing is going to be more towards, you know, choirs that have been off for a while and choirs that need to to really work on fundamentals. And there’s going to be plenty of those as well.


So there is a need for unison and two part and just add water music, like you say. But there is also definitely a need for the more difficult, the more diverse and the more challenging. Absolutely.


Do you think it’s a question of deciding, like, I’m going to write hard music and that’s going to be my thing, like that’s going to be my brand? Do you think that matters or is it OK to have some pieces that are easy, some people’s pieces that are hard? I think that’s totally up to you. Yeah. Yeah.


I don’t think we have one specific writer where it’s like this person only writes easy music or like level six exclusively. Yeah. Well, I think maybe this is a better way of asking the question, but I think it’s harder to make yourself stand out with easy music because you’re not getting to show off, you know, your cool part, right? You know what I mean? Like it doesn’t mean I mean, it forces you to be creative in different ways.


But I do think it’s it’s not going to it’s not going to go viral. You know, if you write an easy piece for choir, it might sell like hot cakes, but people aren’t going to be like talking about it, you know, like they would with maybe an Eric Whittaker piece that’s super hard and everybody wants to do it just because it sounds cool. Right.


And they don’t care that it’s too hard for their choir. They just want to do it. You know what I mean? I think this is where that your voice comes in.


Yeah. I would also say argue that maybe the challenge is figuring out how to marry the two. Right.


Like how do you write an easy piece that is unique somehow? And I feel like a lot of composers who and arrangers who do very well in the really the broader market, like even outside of self-publishing are people that are able to write something that is actually fairly accessible and make the choir that’s singing it sound better than they are. And like maybe that’s part of the challenge if you want to kind of tackle that broader market. All right, let’s make some let’s make some predictions.


Already. We’ll meet back in two years at the next ACDA. We’ll listen and we’ll see.


We’ll see. So what what are the styles or genres of choral music that you are seeing the most growth or change in? Where do you think the industry as a whole is going? Heavy metal for certain. Which genre is changing the most? Or what are the what are the trends? You know, what should what should composers be aware of? That’s a good question.


I would say conscious music is on the rise, socially conscious music, diverse conscious music. There’s always a need for that. I mean, everybody wants that now.


It’s just no one wants the message of doom and gloom. And sometimes that can get overwhelming with the positive messages. But there’s there’s a wealth of of composition out there.


And it’s we’re seeing sales numbers through the roof on that kind of music, conscious music, SEL music, just music that that enlivens and, you know, lifts your spirit. That’s a big change that I’ve noticed recently. Diversity, overall, diversity in terms of, you know, kind of places in the world music’s coming from diversity of just voices.


I think the other thing is that acapella continues to grow, guys, like, you know, as an overall genre. So which is exciting. Yeah, sure does.


You’re an acapella guy. What do you what do you where do you see this all going? You know, I mean, you can’t discount the just pop music, you know, cycles, you know, I mean, there’s always going to be another pop tune that’s really popular. And sometimes, as we saw with the Kate Bush tune, right up that hill, like it might be a really old song that that just catches fire because of a sync thing with Netflix or whatever.


And so the ability to jump on that train if you want to ride it, you know, is is valuable, but also it’s OK if you don’t. But I guess my point is pop popular music. There’s always been a place for it.


And I think there always will be. Oh, yeah. Yeah.


I’m glad you brought that up, because a lot of people or a lot of people have this perception that pop music is sort of off to the side, you know, not not of the same quality. Yeah. But we’re we’re disagreeing.


Yeah. In the world of choral music, where do you see pop music fitting in? Like, what’s its significance? I mean, because the arrangements are everywhere. I mean, arranging is like in the bones of choral music.


But pop music, I think. I don’t think of it as an as a way of fitting in. It’s just a piece of the puzzle.


Yeah. It’s a part of it. It’s an important part.


It’s woven in. It’s of music. It’s an important part of choral music, like whether or not you think it’s like, quote unquote, high art or low art is your opinion.


But pop music has a place in choral music. That’s in my opinion. Yeah.


And the ability to execute a really well-written pop chart, acapella or otherwise, is is pretty high. You know, to be able to execute that is takes a lot of of skill, just like it does to sing Rutter’s Requiem or any kind of like high art piece that, you know, it’s definitely woven into the fabric of the entire conversation. Yeah.


I think to me, the open question about just pop music overall is like what we’ve seen in the past, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years. There’s a lot more pop music that’s being written and performed that doesn’t translate super well to sheet music. And I think then the question becomes like, what does the future hold for that? Whether we’re talking electronic music, hip hop, you know, these sort of soundscape things where it’s, you know, kind of one note or two.


And they’re hugely popular albums. But like, how do we take that and transform that into choir music, but also pan music and piano and all across the board? I think that’s the open question. I mean, I’ll listen to those iTunes Hot 100, Billboard Hot 100.


Go through it and be like, what of these could be choir at all? 98 of 100 songs is what we can. But I’m always looking for the person that can figure out how to take some of that and really turn it into it. I think if you can figure that out, if you can crack that code, that’s how you make a lot of money.


Yes, that’s true. I will say this to your comment earlier about the newsletter and how we’re promoting pop tunes a lot of times. I mean, some people might not know this, but we actively go through the Billboard Hot 100 and with a filter of is this going to work in print on some level, you know, and then try our best to make recommendations.


This could be a great choral chart, or this would be a great saxophone quintet chart, you know, or small ensemble, large ensemble. We’re actively, we’re not just checking off the top 100 list and then just throwing the newsletter willy-nilly. There is intentionality and thought.


Will this work in print on some level, thinking as broad as possible, obviously, sometimes not as well as other songs, right? But, you know, I’ve been in this business 20 years. I know what’s going to work in print, what won’t, you know? And I’m not the only person involved, but yeah, there is intentionality behind that stuff too. And so.


Well, I think the question is too, are they singing the song because of the song or are they singing it because it’s a really good arrangement? That’s a great point. And that’s something I struggle with when trying to decide what to arrange. And the question’s always like, you know.


Or how many hits on TikTok it’s getting. Well, it’s like, is anyone going to sing this in two years when the song’s not popular anymore? Like, I got to write a good chart, otherwise it’s going to disappear. Right.


That’s why I say you can take the ride if you want, you know, and it can be valuable, you know, but you got to kind of keep going and going and going. But, you know, to Liz’s point about being discovered, it’s like, what else is in your catalog? Oh, you did a chart of this Katy Perry tune from seven years ago. Oh, that’s pretty cool.


We can try that. You know, it’s still relevant. You know, it’s pretty cool.


You know, my kids have fun with that, whatever. And then you see it and it’s like, oh, this is the same kind of arrangement that I liked about that other one. Like, this is the same kind of voice.


This is the same kind of thing that I’m looking for that I liked about that other one that I now see in this one too. Amongst some of our most popular, well, at least it used to be. Amongst some of our most popular Arrange Me or S&P Press like members, we find that like they have loyal fan base and people come back over and over to buy the music from, you know, an arranger they discovered.


And I don’t see any reason why that can’t translate into, you know, whatever sort of sales of, you know, originals and all that to kind of go back to that question. We do see that loyalty. Indeed.


So to wrap things up, you’ve given a lot of advice for composers primarily, but if you were talking to a director, let’s say a new choral director that just graduated and they’ve got their first job, how would you describe the state of the publishing industry and self-publishing and all of these different sources they can go to find music? Better than ever. Yeah. Saturated in a way, but we’re trying to build the tools to make that easier to parse through.


There is a wealth of material out there. We’re not going to lie. There’s a bunch out there, but we want to give you the tools to be able to do that.


And using Arrange Me and things like that, you know, hopefully will make it that much easier because there’s good music being arranged absolutely everywhere. Your question is great because it’s from the choral director’s perspective, you know, and so I’m just thinking if I’m a choral director and I have a need, I’m going to look around and say, who can help me meet this need? I’ve got friends, people in my community, you know, again, it goes back to relationships. Maybe I’ll call my friend Luke here and I need an arrangement of this thing to meet this need.


Can you help me out? There’s this thing called Arrange Me. You could do it legally, you know, so like being more proactive from a director’s standpoint, instead of, you know, relying on just Google searches or searches on S&P to feed your repertoire, being a little bit more proactive and intentional about the creative people that you know in your circle of influence. So I think that just as we’re talking about, you know, all of these tools allowing composers and arrangers to really figure out, you know, sort of get their own message out, I think that by sort of having this wealth of music really accessible at your fingertips, I mean it really is, it’s literally download now, right? By having that out there, it allows choirs to really figure out who they are and really sort of put their best foot forward, really like kind of decide that they’re going to do some things that are new and exciting in ways that they haven’t always been able to do because just hasn’t been there.


And I think it’s just a really exciting way to, you know, kind of decide, I don’t know, that you’re going to be just a really unique voice in the choral space. And it might be helpful too because when you’re starting out as a choir director, maybe you’ve got a unique situation where you’ve got a bunch of really strong tenors and like that would have happened, right? Your tenors are amazing. Really strong group and you’ve got a soloist that you could feature and it’s like arrange me, you can arrange anything for anything, right? That’s right.


You pick something, you can arrange it for whatever unique kind of thing and something could fit your choir and something could fit your current situation at that moment. So that’s kind of an exciting thing. Well also I used to be in a choir in San Francisco called Resound, so shout out to my group, but it’s a community group and we built concerts around themes and a lot of these themes were really founded on some of these social consciousness and awareness issues.


And by having all this music that is out there, like there’s more ways for us to explore that. And I mean I’m even seeing that from more of the traditional publishers at this conference right now, but it’s a lot of times the self publishers are leading the way on that and it allows choirs like that to kind of explore those territories to you and become that choir that this is who we are, this is what we do. I think that’s a really cool space to be in.


Thanks to the three of you, this has been really fun. Let’s do it again in two years.