Ep. 18: Isaac Brooks on the New MyScore Uploader From J.W. Pepper

Episode Description:

Yesterday saw a major update to J.W. Pepper’s “MyScore” system with the unveiling of their new uploader and Isaac Brooks is back on the podcast to walk us through it.

Featured On This Episode:
Isaac Brooks

Isaac Brooks is the manager of J.W. Pepper’s MyScore, a platform that lets composers sell their original compositions as both digital and print-on-demand products through the J.W. Pepper website.  He is also an experienced audio engineer and classical cellist.

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are automatically generated and have NOT been proofread.*

Hey Isaac, welcome back to the podcast. Good to have you. Garrett, it’s so good to be here with you and your crew that are looking to sell sheet music.


So the reason we’ve got you on today is to talk about the new MyScore uploader. I guess why don’t we just start by having you give us the bird’s eye view of what’s changed. You know, what are the main things that frequent MyScore users are going to come in and notice are different? Yeah, I’m really excited to talk about our new uploading process.


If you don’t know or if you’re new to what MyScore is, we’ve been helping composers get their music onto J.W. Pepper for 10 years now. And so that process has evolved with sending PDFs to J.W. Pepper to get them online onto J.W. Pepper’s website, but also making them readily available for print on demand and e-print. So over the last 10 years, we’ve kind of learned a lot from the composers that we’ve worked with, and we’re trying to make this really fast and easy.


The idea is that we want composers to do what they do best, write music, spend all their time getting recordings, spend all their time coming up with new melodies and stuff that works for the people that we are servicing, which is directors and music educators and ensembles. So our idea is that we’re going to make this a lot faster. So for anyone that is familiar with the current upload process, regardless if you’re doing a band set, orchestra set, or just a plain old choral piece, it takes a little while.


I mentioned earlier, it kind of looks like Y2K had the uploader for lunch, and we want to change that, make it a little more fun and intuitive. So what we’re doing is allowing you to drag and drop files, pretty standard in 2023, just drag and drop, attach everything and confirm it automatically before you start adding any details. And then from there, we have a new technology that’s actually scanning the music, the PDF, for information like the page sizes, the number of pages, the part name, and a few more details about what is this piece of music, and all the components that go into getting it ready for print and distribution on J.W. Pepper.


Well, I think one of the biggest changes is just the explosion in the number of options that are available. If you go through every composition type, it seems like there’s a completely different menu. I mean, I’m talking about a choral piece versus a piano piece versus an orchestra versus whatever.


And it seems like everything is really detailed and you’ve added a ton of options. How do you recommend composers approach that process of categorizing their piece and making sure they check all the right boxes? Because I think a lot of people see that and they’re just worried it won’t get to the right place if they mess something up. So the idea of when we’re uploading to MyScore is that we’re going to get this onto J.W. Pepper’s website.


So be thinking about who is the main consumer of your music. While you may have a piece of music that is appropriate for multiple markets like church or school, think about the main themes, think about the end consumer. So ideally, what you want to do is find the primary one.


So if it’s something that works for Christmas and Advent, select one or the other. Of course, right now, we’re only allowing you to select one option. We’re probably going to give a little more availability to that.


The other thing is if there’s something in the list of styles and formats that we don’t currently have, we now have the ability to add those if it’s appropriate for searches on J.W. Pepper. So ideally, what we want to do is be refining and making sure that we’re able to get your music to fit into the right spot. A really good case in point is that a lot of multicultural music was just being put into one category, world music.


Okay, well, that’s multifaceted. Of course, we want to be considering what cultures are there, what kind of options are there for specific music, and also how are customers actually coming to J.W. Pepper and searching for the music? So really, it’s twofold. We’re saying, let’s get it in the ballpark, but then let’s also make sure that customers are able to find the music when they search for it.


So my recommendation really is go through the list. See what’s there. See what is kind of the standard for what we call things, what you may consider things.


Of course, if you don’t find it, shoot us an email, have a conversation with someone here at J.W. Pepper. We’re always available for those conversations and want to hear your feedback. And just if you’re listening and you haven’t got on the uploader yet, just to give you an idea of what we’re talking about, I have it open on another tab and I just started a new choral upload.


And under style, there’s 28 different options for style that you can put in. And that’s just for concert. If you change to a sacred choral upload, you get an even larger menu that goes with the liturgical calendar and all that.


So I mean, all of these different categories, are they tied to the search engines when you go on the Pepper website? Or is that more of just the back end for Pepper keeping track of what they have? So it’s both. So the back end, of course, is driving the search engine and the search results on the website. So ideally, what we’re doing is is serving up to the customer what they’re searching for.


So if you’ve been to J.W. Pepper’s website and you’ve just typed in like Christmas music for choir. OK, very broad search result. And you’ll start to see in some of our navigation, like it’s broken out by different themes, styles or even voicings.


And so what we’re doing is we’re trying to make that funnel kind of less and less. So ideally, we’re getting the right piece of music that the customer wants when they’re searching. Of course, a lot of those dropdowns are always going to drive the different product lines that we have.


So you mentioned having a different style options for school choral versus sacred choral. Of course, you know, not everything is going to be appropriate for each market. So they are dynamic and they’re going to probably have a little bit of crossover.


But those are specific per market. And you’ll also see that between band and orchestra, that those those styles change dynamically. Is there going to be the option at some point to choose more than one? Or is it better to narrow it down to the most specific use rather than choosing a more general one to sort of cover all your bases? So for right now, it’s going to be the general the primary.


We’ll have the option to add secondary and third options as well. That is just not going to be in our current or current upload or release that is in our backlog. We have a nice long list of things that we want to get to.


And the great thing about this new uploader is that it’s going to position us in a way that we can make changes on the fly. And continually improve what we have and make it a tool that works for composers. Well, I mean, really, you’re talking about automating the system, right? I mean, we’ve we’ve had some chats offline about this.


And at this point, anyway, it’s still you personally putting things onto the MyScore. Right. And if I’m understanding this correctly, the system will take care of that once it’s live rather than you having to go through and manually do each change and do each piece as it comes onto the site.


Right. Our goal is to automate. When we started 10 years ago, it was someone scanning a piece of sheet music and trying to get it into JW Pepper’s system.


Then it moved to notation software. This was pre Y2K, right? So, I mean, there’s a lot that’s been automated. There’s a lot that we want to automate.


And, of course, with new tools and being in a different decade from where we started, we have new tools, of course, because we’re powered by Pepper. A lot of that’s driven by what Pepper wants as far as the back end and how we manage files and how we get them on the website. So a lot of larger conversations happening outside of just MyScore and what we’re doing right now to get music online.


So we’re pretty excited about that. There’s a lot of hope for automation to just be able to send this all in and figure it out for you. Of course, you know, as a composer, as someone that wants to sell their music, you have to keep in mind, like, what does the product look like to the customer? So not everything is going to be fully automated.


Sometimes you’re going to have to pick your paper size. You’re going to have to pick or determine where do you want a page turn? Where do you want your cover to be? And so not everything is going to be automated. We want to be keeping the end user in mind because they’re ultimately going to buy your piece.


And what we want to do at MyScore and JW Pepper is make it easier for people to buy your music. For the rest of the Pepper catalog, are they using a similar system? Like if I’m a traditional publisher and I’m sending pieces to Pepper to distribute, are they going through an upload process that looks close to this? I’m just wondering how everything connects on the back end. Sure.


The back end is pretty unique. Of course, a lot of a lot of work that we do with traditional publishers is a little more hands on, whereas MyScore is a little more automated, meaning that you are entering all the data. Of course, there’s a lot of spreadsheets.


There’s a lot of back and forth, like email us this file. Of course, we have a we have a place where we get to store all files and and make sure everything’s in the database correctly. The other component is that some publishers have printed products already, whereas with MyScore, we’re focused on e-print and print on demand.


Publishers already have their music printed. And so we’re talking about inventory and managing space and how do we get that into production? So there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of different departments that get involved. Of course, in the future, we want to streamline that process and make it easier for our traditional publishing partners to be able to get music and get products online with Pepper as well.


So a lot of what MyScore is is ahead of the time. You know, we’re getting music online within one to two business days. That’s not necessarily the case for a traditional product that goes through that pipeline because there’s just so many other touch points that need to happen before a product gets online.


Well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth or anything, but it does seem to me that for Pepper to put the time and the money into developing a system like this, to me, that suggests they have a lot of confidence in self-publishing and where that’s going just for the industry in general. Do you think that’s fair to say? I mean, what do you see the future being for self-publishing and its role in the market? We do have a lot of confidence in self-publishing. We appreciate our traditional partners who have been with us since day one.


That’s a long time to have a relationship, over 150 years worth of distribution. That’s something that we can’t take for granted and we love them. We also know that there’s a lot of smaller players that want to get into the game, that have great content, that have maybe something that doesn’t fit with the traditional publisher.


Or maybe they want the flexibility of just doing it on their own, building their own brand and having control over their music. We want to be able to have a product, which is MyScore, that fits their need. Of course, with MyScore, we don’t own the copyrights.


And that actually, in a good way, kind of gives the end user, the MyScore user, the composer, arranger, the flexibility to do what they want. So if they want to get a recording from a specific group that they love or if they want to promote it through different means, they can do that. Or if they want to decide, hey, I’m done selling music or I want to go and work with the traditional publisher, they have the flexibility to do that.


It also makes it a little more challenging because as the composer of your music, you’re also the CEO of your music. You have to figure out how to promote, how to get it to customers, how to get those arrangements and get everything done. So we do have a lot of confidence and we’ve seen this grow.


We’ve seen self-publishing grow. When everyone was stuck at home over the last couple of years, a lot of people found time, found ways to get their music out. And MyScore was one of those ways to get their music to the end user.


I feel like there’s not a lot of understanding generally about what goes into making a website and making a system like this. And I think there can be a lot of frustration from users when they think that something really obvious to them should be there and it’s not there. If there’s some kind of glitch and it’s not working the way it’s intended, could you just talk about how hard it is to build a system like this? What’s that process like? Take us into the development and the kinds of things you have to go through.


How long did it take just to get to this point? In March of 2020, we had planned on releasing a new uploader. It had been about three months worth of work to get to that point. And then everyone went home and we shut down and wanted to revisit what uploading looked like for JW Pepper and for MyScore composers.


A lot of my day is running around. I’m trying to understand where are we at with getting this particular body of work, like a dropdown, updated? Or where are we at with getting the new version of the beta test out to beta users? And what’s the timeline for releasing to all of our user group? And translating musical terms to non-musical people, it’s kind of like doing a little crash course in Music 101. It’s like, what is a score? What is a part? What are the elements that come together to make a product that our end user uses? The end user sees printed product, it shows up in a JW Pepper box, and hopefully it’s arrived by their shipper of choice with no issues.


There’s a lot that goes into that, from ordering to just getting it online to making sure that it shows up in the search results. And a lot of that comes down to us defining and saying, the end user wants this. Here’s how we make it happen with these little checklists and requirements and criteria to say, when I go to the website, I’m going to be able to buy this piece of music, and it’s going to get delivered to me.


That’s the basics. Of course, now we start talking with programmers and they say, well, what color do you want the button? Or do you want this to say these words or this word? So there’s a lot of back and forth. There’s a lot of going toe to toe to say, no, no, no, it should do this because the customer might be confused or the composer might be confused when they’re uploading something.


And to touch on what current users have experienced is that where we’re moving is to a platform that will be more customizable for me as a manager of the service to be able to update as I hear feedback, but also just a better all experience like for programmers to be able to deploy new features and new elements and code than it was in the past. What was the hardest thing to figure out? So the hardest piece of the puzzle really is setting up files for print. Because what we do is we give composers the option to send us an octavo, an eight and a half by 11 booklet or oversized band sets that could be 11 by 17.


And then the other part is that a single product sometimes for like a band or orchestra set can actually mean that it has 40 different components to it. If you’re thinking about a symphony orchestra, you’re going to have plenty of extra parts. Whereas like a choral octavo traditionally only has one PDF.


So we’re trying to figure out on the back end when you submit a file to us and say, this is a band set. We’re trying to figure out how do we print that? How do we get this to an industrial size printer and say you’re printing one job, but it has 40 different components to it. And it all needs to be sent out and bundled together when it’s ordered.


Ideally, what we’re doing is we’re trying to take the guesswork out for the composer. Because we know that composers, their focus is writing sheet music, selling sheet music, composing. Not everyone understands the complexity of printing off music and making it look right and making it look like what a band or orchestra would get when they go to perform this piece.


And so we’re trying to level the playing field for anyone, no matter where they’re at on their publishing journey. It’s really fun when we get folks that have been published before and have worked with an engraver or publisher that just handles all of this information for them. And they’re like, well, what do I do here? So it’s fun to say like, all right, we have a learning curve, no matter where someone’s at.


They’re brand new or they’ve had 60 pieces on Editor’s Choice. So if you are somebody new, what should you do to make uploading as smooth a process as possible? What do you need to have prepared before you start and what are your tips for getting through it as efficiently as possible? That’s a great question. So anyone that’s new to my score, you need to keep in mind that we are selling digital sheet music.


So it needs to be fully engraved in a professional notation software. So that can be anything from Finale, Sibelius, Dorco, MuseScore, whatever you’re using, as long as it’s going to get us a PDF of the sheet music. So just be prepared for that.


And we’re going to need all of the parts separate from each other because what we’re going to do is we’re going to try to get a copy of every part to the user. So we’re not selling a bundle of just files after files. We’re actually going to print off a part or multiples of a part so that we can get the appropriate numbers to the customer.


The other thing is that you need to think about, do you have a cover? Do you have an audio component? Do you have a description ready? These are all things that you can add as you go. But it’s ideal that you have some of this thought out before you start uploading. Of course, you know, we’re not going to make a recording for you.


We’re not going to make a cover for you. So, you know, think about what your product is going to look like on JW Pepper. It doesn’t hurt for you to go and spend some time on JW Pepper looking at what other publishers or composers have submitted in the past.


Because that’s going to give you a good idea of what it should look like. Also, general ballpark for pricing, too. You know, if it’s an easy piece for elementary violin, you want to make sure that you’re not charging $300 for that because that’s going to automatically kind of put you out of the range for someone shopping for that type of music.


So be familiar with where the music is going to be. Have an idea of who your customer is going to be at on the receiving end of your music. And then also just be ready.


Have your music formatted as a PDF. Have a thumbnail for your cover as a JPEG. And your MP3 should be your preview audio as a .mp3 file.


We’re not going to accept anything other than an MP3. So I did want to ask for our more advanced users, a lot of times you will have a piece with different options. Maybe it’s a choral piece and you have, you know, a piano accompaniment or you have an orchestra accompaniment or a chamber accompaniment, let’s say, you know, or different voicings.


When you have pieces with these different options, how does the new uploader handle those? So for a composition that has multiple options or an additional orchestration, like the accompaniment, and you want them to be sold separately, you need to upload them as separate products. So for a choral piece with full orchestration, treat the choral octavo as a single upload. And that’s going to allow you to set some of the minimum order quantities, the specific pricing per octavo, complete that upload, and then upload the full orchestration.


Ideally, what we’re doing is we’re just making a product item for every piece that a director or customer would be purchasing. In the future, we’re going to have it built so you can just group a product as you upload. But that’s not the process right now.


What about making changes after something’s been uploaded? I’m assuming that’s baked into this new system or will be at some point, right? Yeah, so there’s a few changes that you can do before we process the upload. So up until 5 a.m. in the morning, you can actually edit the piece that you just uploaded. After that point, we’re going to start preparing it for the website and getting it ready for print.


So the product that you submit to us is going to be ready for the customer when they come to it. So we want to make sure that it’s ready for print, meaning that all the files that are in our print system, they’re queued up in our industrial size printers down in Atlanta, and that everything’s ready, that we’re not having to go back and forth and say, wait, wait, wait, wait. Well, that wasn’t the right part.


So there is some finality when you submit to us. We’re just leaving a little bit of a gap depending on when you upload. So if you’re uploading at 4 o’clock in the morning, you only have an hour to make changes.


Eventually, we’re going to be able to do live edits. I know that that’s been a request from Composer since day one. There is some complexity to that.


Of course, getting files to the website and making sure that the newest version is displayed to the customer, but also getting it ready for print. So we have some multiple places that we’re having to send files to when we process it initially. So that would be the same for an edit.


And so that process is still manual. Ideally, we’re getting to those within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, if you’re redoing your entire catalog and updating every part and updating a lot of content, we may just say it’s going to be faster for you to reupload because of the complexity of the project that you’re doing.


And honestly, that’s OK. We want to make sure that the product looks good. It’s got all the right information.


And we have a lot of composers that we have to manage and a lot of files that we need to make sure are in the right place. We’ll work with you. Feel free to email me at MyScore at JWPepper.com. Or if you’re in the Facebook group, go ahead and shoot us a note and say, hey, I got a big project.


Can you help me out? And I’m happy to jump on a Zoom call and talk you through it. We’ve added a few team members. So a lot of those edits that are still manual right now are going to be hopefully going through much faster.


And I might add, too, that if you submitted something, please don’t wait a week. Don’t wait two weeks. Our turnaround time is usually within 24 to 48 hours.


That’s not including weekends. We like to have a life. But please follow up if you don’t see something.


We want to be your business partner. We want to help you out and make sure your stuff looks good on the website. So if it’s not or something didn’t go through, we might need to troubleshoot.


So don’t wait. Feel free to pester me and say, where is this at? Because we want to make sure that it’s right. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on and talk us through all of this new and exciting developments.


Anything else you want to tease before we go? Teasing. So we’re going to be at a few events. We’ll be in July.


We’ll be at the Texas Southwest Summer Exhibit for Texas Band, Orchestra, and Choir Directors. And then from there, we’ll be heading up all the major music education conferences. So be on the lookout for any updates about when we’ll be there.


And, of course, we like to hang out with you. So stop by our booth or be on the lookout for maybe a happy hour or a mixer to just come connect with some of our staff and the JW Pepper team. Well, that sounds great.


We’ll see you around. All right. Thanks, Garrett.


Appreciate you.