Ep. 22: Kyle Pederson, Part 2: Deep Dive into Traditional Print Publishing

Episode Description:

For part two of my interview with  Kyle Pederson we take a step back and look at the state of the industry as a whole, what goes into publishing, and what composers need to do to gain traction.

Featured On This Episode:
Kyle Pederson

Kyle Pederson (b. 1971) is a Minneapolis-based composer, lyricist, pianist, and educator. Kyle was awarded the ACDA Genesis Prize in 2020 and the American Prize in Choral Composition in 2019. His work is published by Walton, Santa Barbara, Galaxy, Beckenhorst, Morningstar, Alfred, Hal Leonard, and Carl Fischer music publishers. Additional information and links to Kyle’s music can be found at kylepederson.com.

Episode Transcript:

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

This week is part two of my interview with choral composer Kyle Peterson.


If you missed last week’s episode, you’ll definitely want to go back there and get caught up first. At the end of today’s episode, we’ll also get to share two of Kyle’s pieces. And with that, here is part two of my interview with Kyle Peterson.


Well, I think at this point, we’ve scared away the casual listener. So let’s jump into working with publishers. Yes.


We met at the ACDA conference in February. We were neighbors at the composer fair. And one of the things that jumped out to me looking at your table is it almost seemed like every piece you had was published by a different publisher.


You know, there was at least eight or 10. I can’t remember. I should have taken a picture.


But I don’t have anything to back this up, but that does seem kind of unusual to me. I feel like most composers tend to gravitate to maybe one or two publishers. And you’ve sort of managed to flood the zone with, it seems, just about everybody.


Could you talk about how your experience with that has been? I mean, you must have just a wealth of insight in how to submit to publishers, how to work with them, how to figure out, you know, which piece goes where. I mean, otherwise you wouldn’t have placed so many. Yeah.


Yeah. Well, I could ramble on for a while. Cut me off at any time here, Garrett, if you like.


You’re going on too long about this. I do work with a lot of publishers. And it’s been an absolutely great experience.


I’ve loved working with every one of them. At the start, I submitted. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing.


So maybe six years ago or so, I wasn’t getting a whole lot of traction with anything on my own website. And I had maybe a couple pieces up there. And we can talk more about that later, my sort of travails of self-publishing.


But I wasn’t getting enough traction. And I thought, well, I’ll start to submit. And the first couple of publishers I submitted to didn’t hear back.


But then eventually I did. And Walton said yes to Can We Sing the Darkness to Light, which even today is one of my best-selling pieces. And I was thrilled and had a great experience working with Susan Lamar, editor at Walton and Walton.


And I thought, well, this is great. But they didn’t take one of my other pieces. And so I submitted it to another publisher.


And they said yes and then got that piece published and really enjoyed that relationship. And there was a third piece that eventually didn’t seem to fit that market, either Walton or Santa Barbara. It was a sacred piece.


And so I submitted it to ECS. And Mark Lawson said yes, this sounds great. We’ll publish it.


And that relationship grew. And I loved it. So each publisher that brought me into their fold along the way treated me well and then worked on my behalf.


And so with every single publisher, I realized, well, I’ve got now first it was just me promoting my stuff. Now I’ve got one other publisher and their team promoting my stuff and then a second team and a third team. And so if I think that there is a piece that would do well in a certain catalog with a certain publisher, then I know that I’ve got that whole team of people who are incentivized to help sell my music and advocating for me.


So it’s no longer just me out there promoting my work, but now I’ve got teams of seven or eight, I think seven official sort of overarching publishers. And each of them have a couple of different imprints. And all of them are out there trying advocating for Kyle Peterson’s music, which I find delightful.


It works really well. So that’s the short answer. So here’s the million dollar question, and I don’t want to get you in trouble, but do you think the music is selling because it’s amazing music or is it because it’s with the right publisher? Like if Walton had said yes to everything and taken all of your music, do you think it would have done as well? That’s a great question.


And I think the quick answer to that is no. It very much, though I’d like to think that, of course, that the music has to be crafted well and has to be solid to begin with. That it makes a big difference on what publisher it’s with because different publishers have different niches and different markets and different kinds of directors that are their primary audience.


And different choir directors out across the world have affinity towards and loyalty towards their own sort of set of publishers. So every time there’s a new publisher that brings me on, I have always received at least a few emails from new choir directors who have said, ah, I didn’t know who you were, but I saw that you had this new piece with X publisher. I love their work, discovered you there, and I can’t wait to learn about your other stuff.


And then at that point, then they’re looking for my other and then they find other publishers that have my stuff. So that’s been awesome. One of the things I appreciate about publishers is that because it’s a costly thing to be a publisher.


And so they want to make sure that each piece of music that they spend the time and the money bringing into their catalog, they want to make sure that that will resonate with their audience and that they’ll be able to sell copies of that music. And so I’ve had publishers who have said, Kyle, I think this piece is interesting, but it’s not for us. This is not a piece where the choir directors who typically turn to us will look.


This seems to be more of a piece for here, or it seems to be a piece for here. And I’ve really appreciated that sort of editorial input. And at this point now, you know, six or so years in, I have a pretty good sense of what I think might sell well at these different publishers.


And so if I have a piece that’s more pop oriented, I know Alfred and Hal Leonard, those are probably going to be my go-tos. If I’ve got something that’s clearly sacred and it’s going to be primarily a church choir audience, it would be Beck and Horst or ECS and one of ECS’s imprints. And they’ll just go right to there.


So that’s a little bit of sort of the internal sort of dialogue that plays out. But I love the fact that they’re all in your corner. They all want you to do well.


And if you do well, they do well. Right. Absolutely.


How do you navigate the politics of that? Like you write a new piece and you’ve got seven different publishers that probably all want the next hit. How do you decide who to send it to? That’s a great question. Fortunately, I write quickly and I write a lot, which is another reason why it made sense for me to branch out for multiple publishers.


Because there was even during the pandemic, I think I put out like 14 songs that that year, which was way, which is way too many. One could argue it’s way too many, even in a non-pandemic year, because, you know, the question of are you flooding the market? Are you are you not allowing any individual piece to get enough traction before there’s just too many options? That’s a legitimate question. But regardless, there’s so many pieces that I had ready to go that there’s certainly no way that any one publisher, even if they wanted me to be exclusive with them, they wouldn’t have been able to take all of them.


It would have been a backlog and maybe even next year we might have gotten to release the 12th piece. So so fortunately, I think my publishers know that that I write enough and that that even if I’m putting music out broadly with other folks, that there will be, you know, every year or every other year, there will be something that I’ll submit that I’m really proud of and that I hope will be a good fit for them, which will keep me sort of top of mind with with their viewers and readership and and will allow me to continue to maintain those relationships. When you’re working with different publishers, are any of them coordinating with you on the marketing of a piece? Are they are they are they asking you to post on social media or to do X, Y, Z kind of on your end of things? Or is it all just completely done in-house and and you just find out about it when everyone else finds out about it? Yeah, I think it kind of varies by publisher, but they are very encouraged.


They are encouraging of us, the composers, to do as much as we can on our social media channels and on our websites to to promote the pieces as well. And so they might put out a Facebook post or an Instagram post and they might say, composers, we’ve posted. Can you please share that? Others might say, you know, we’re we welcome your description, like we’re going to submit a description to to Pepper or we’re going to submit a description to some festival.


What would you like to say about the piece? How would you approach writing about this? And so, of course, I always advocate that composers should take the. The initiative up front and say, you know, if they’ve got some ideas like here’s how I would love to position this piece. Here’s how I think it might resonate and sell out or how it might land.


Here’s the niche that I think it might might help fit to because a publisher, I mean, they’re dealing with dozens and dozens of pieces depending on the size of the publisher a year. And there’s just a lot for them to keep in mind. So having having composers that will advocate for their stuff as well.


Certainly, certainly helps. OK, so talk to me like I’m five. I’ve just written a new piece.


I want to submit it to a publisher. How do I do that and how do I actually get someone to listen to it? Yeah. Well, the first thing that that you would want to do is connect with a composer who’s willing to give you some insight.


That’s that is one of the things that I did early on. Some of the composers that were mentoring me, I said, how do you navigate this process? It’s always good to have people in the know. So that’s the first thing.


Second thing, you’ve got to have a good recording if you’re just starting out. There are some publishers who will accept a piece and who, as part of their publishing process, will get a demo choir to perform it and record it. That’s part of their service, which is an incredible service.


But there’s other publishers that won’t do that and that expect you to have a good recording. Regardless, in order to get people to listen to your work and to get choral directors excited about it, you absolutely need a good recording. Some people would even go so far these days as to say you also need a good video.


Like people not only want to hear it, but they actually want to see a choir performing it to really sort of get the flavor of it. And all those things cost a little bit of money from hiring a full demo choir, which you can do. There’s a few different great places to do that, down to hiring somebody like Matthew Curtis and choral tracks to sing.


Essentially, each part, layer them together. You can do that a lot more economically, but it’s really helpful to get a recording. Then when you have that recording and your score that’s cleaned up, you always want to make sure that you have somebody else who knows what they’re doing with notation.


Look at your score, help you clean it up so that it’s really professional looking. So professional looking score, professional recording. And then you go to these various websites, places you might want to submit it to.


And you’d ask them or you’d read about what their submission requirements are. And most of these publishers are very transparent and very upfront. There’s a place on their website that says submission policy, and they’ll tell you how often it might take, where to submit things.


And I found it could take a while, especially when you’re just starting out. It can take months before you hear back, not necessarily with every publisher. Some publishers really review things quickly, and then you’re off and running.


Oftentimes, the question is, well, how do I know which publisher to submit it to? That’s where it really helps if you’ve got somebody who’s in the business that can say, this kind of piece seems like it might be a good fit for Walton or ECS or Alfred or Santa Barbara. But the thing that I oftentimes tell composers who reach out to me, I say, you can do a Pepper search. So JW Pepper provides a number of awesome services for composers.


They’ve done really well by me. And they’ve got this robust search engine. You can go to the Pepper website, and you can say, I’m going to search choral music, all concert and festival music, which essentially gives you the list of every piece out there, or it’s got to be close.


And then you search by bestselling. And so then you have the list of all the bestselling concert and festival music. And then you further refine that search by typing in the various publishers, because they have all of these different, I don’t know, 40, 50 different publisher options.


And then you have the bestselling pieces by each of these publishers, and you can sort by that. And then you simply listen. And so I oftentimes tell emerging composers, I’ll say, if you want to get an idea of what Santa Barbara music is really selling well, do this search.


And then you can listen to a couple minutes of the top 10 pieces. You’re like, OK, that’s what sells well at Santa Barbara. Now do the same thing for ECS.


Do the same thing for Beckenhorst and Alfred and Hal Leonard. And you’ll get this idea of what their niche is, at least in the last year or so, which is just super helpful. At this point, sort of, I haven’t kind of intuited that.


But with new composers who are sort of trying to figure things out, it’s a great, relatively easy, relatively quick way of figuring out where they might submit a piece. And they can say, oh, I’ve got a piece that really sounds like this. Or, oh, it’s, this is, it’s oftentimes sort of staring them in the face, like, well, this is clearly a fit for this publisher.


Submit it to that publisher. Wait until you hear back. You can never in the business submit to more than one publisher at a time.


It’s a big no-no. And then you’ll hear back with either good news or frustrating news. And then you can submit to the next publisher and on you go down the line.


So let’s dig in a little more to how much music someone needs to be writing. You kind of alluded to this earlier, but you said 14 pieces was too much for a year. But for some people, if they’re, if this is all they’re doing, that seems like a small number of pieces.


I mean, how do you determine what’s enough? Yeah, it’s a good question. And I know some composers who, who will say, Kyle, I, I write fairly slowly. Ideas come fairly, fairly deliberately.


And, and I might put out three pieces a year and that I’ve never put on more than three pieces a year. I mean, that sounds like a dream, I guess, if you can charge enough to only have to write three pieces of music in a year. Yeah.


Then more power to you. It’s a, it’s a balance, I think, between like, I think the danger of flooding the market and having pieces just sort of get lost in the shuffle. It is real.


That can happen. And it certainly happened to me in that, well, it happened to a lot of composers during the pandemic year. Music that we wrote that we were really proud of that just didn’t get a chance to get out there.


And I think that that can happen in a normal year as well. If I’ve got, you know, there’s only so much music that can get programmed. And if somebody says, well, what’s, I really like Kyle’s music.


What’s, what’s his best new tune. They’re not going to do generally, unless they’re doing like a, like an evening with Kyle or, or some sort of a festival that sort of highlights a particular composer. Which is awesome when it happens, but it doesn’t happen all that often.


They might do a Kyle piece once a year or once every couple of years, regardless of. And if there’s three great pieces that I’ve put out, they’re just like, well, I might like them, but I, you know, but there’s so much other awesome music that I want to do as well. And other people and other voices and perspectives.


I’m just not going to do that many pieces by one particular composer, whether it’s me or anybody that they might enjoy. So there is something to be said for those composers who, who are just so deliberate. And they only put out a couple of pieces because then essentially people who follow them and who love their stuff.


They’re like, well, when that piece drops, it’s going to get performed by all these choirs who are just waiting. But at the same time, if I have an idea and I was like, well, I’ve got a piece I’d love to. To me, it doesn’t make sense to hang on to it just because it’s going to, it might resonate with some people.


It might not have a chance to get to get huge because there’s all these other pieces, both for me and other composers that it’s sort of competing in the marketplace with. But it might really resonate with somebody. And that’s happened on occasion, too, where a little known piece that isn’t broadly performed of mine, but I’ll get a nice email from somebody saying, hey, I’m not sure how many choirs are doing this piece.


But I just discovered it and it’s been just awesome and we’ve really loved it. And so it’s like, OK, good. It didn’t get as much traction.


I’m glad I put it out because it’s still having an impact in a small way. So it sounds like you’re not only writing for commissions that if you get a piece, if you get an idea for a piece that you just do it, you don’t wait. Is that correct? Yeah, correct.


Correct. And at first, you know, the first couple of years when nobody knew who I was, there were no commissions. Well, yes, a couple of people knew who I was.


And maybe I’ve got a really good friend, Melanie Brink, who who has commissioned a couple of my works and she was the first one. And so she was in my corner from the ground from ground zero. But other people didn’t know who I was.


And so, yes, I would write my own stuff and just say, well, I just put it out there and say, I hope I hope it will resonate with people, even though no one particular choir has commissioned it or is championing it. And now it’s a mixture. I’ll take some commissions and and sometimes I’ll have oftentimes what I do now, because I still have a large bucket of potential ideas.


I will a commissioner will approach me and say, I want to commission a piece. And I’ll say, well, let me tell you about some ideas I’ve got. Here are some things that I know I want to write that I really think will resonate, either bits of text or a melody.


And I might even share large parts of the text and and this melodic idea I might take. I’ve been known to take my phone and and and actually play something in and then send it to the commissioner and say, here’s an idea. Do you want me to run with this or maybe here’s this idea? And I know some composers don’t like to do that at all.


But for me, it’s really worked well. So there’s a mixture of commissions and then just writing for fun. And what I what I hope might have traction.


All right. One final question. If you were teaching today, teaching composition, what is it that you would have your students be doing to have them be ready for the current marketplace and the way things are going? Whether or not it’s whether or not you steer them towards traditional publishing or self-publishing or choral instrumental.


But what what are the things that you would have them doing so that they would be ready? Because everything’s changing all the time. And, you know, things are not how they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Are you thinking like the the act of composition or sort of compositional insight and advice or more of the business end of things? Well, I guess I guess both.


I guess that’s I guess that’s a poorly worded question. I guess I guess what I’m really asking is. Where do you see things going in the future in choral music and in publishing? Where what what are the changes that you predict? Let’s let’s have let’s have you make news here.


What’s what’s coming down the road? Well, one thing that I’ve been thrilled about compositionally in choral music is that I see more composers being willing to also write their own texts. When I like five, six years ago when I was starting, there really were not too many composers, at least that I was aware of, that were also writing their own texts. And there was a real stigma, I think, attached to composers who were writing their own texts.


There was a particular competition that I entered once, and I happened to be sitting at a table where the adjudicators were talking about the process. And learned that this particular adjudicator was saying that they took the stash of compositions that they separated into two piles to begin with. One was a pile where they set someone else’s text, a text that existed before.


And one pile was one where the composer also wrote the text and they took this pile where the composer wrote the text and they threw those away. They wouldn’t even look at those. They did not know, of course, that I was sitting there, that I had entered that competition and that I was one of those composers who had written his own text that ended up not even getting it looked at.


And that was eye-opening to me. Of course, it was frustrating. And I can certainly sympathize with the thought that you run the risk of having a composer who is primarily a composer who might write a very cheesy text.


And then you don’t get the depth of text that you would if you were setting someone else, like a poet or somebody who considers themselves a lyricist or a text writer. But I’ve always thought that it is very possible to write both stunning music and also really evocative text and thread them together. And that when you can do that, it’s certainly, from my own perspective, super enjoyable and an awesome challenge to be able to do both because it allows the process to, as I mentioned earlier, be this iterative process where text influences music and vice versa.


But I think now there’s more choral composers doing it and the stigma is much, much less. I see even some of the composers who are known to be, and I’m not known to be a particularly sophisticated composer. Much of my music has sort of a pop bent to it and sort of this modern contemporary element.


But even those composers who are sort of known in the industry as being very sophisticated and writing high level pieces, even they now are starting to write some of their own texts. So I love that. So I like to encourage, that’s a long way of saying that that’s a change, a positive change, and I love to encourage composers to do more of that.


Though, of course, the danger, you have to have a high chisometer or chisometer because it can devolve very quickly and you can have really schmaltzy and terrible poetry and nobody wants to sing that. So that’s one change. Let me think if there’s other sort of directions.


The sound of music, just in terms of the kinds of chords that are resonating, the kind of harmonies, those tend to change and shift. What I was playing for church music 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, lots of dominant chords, lots of diminished chords. Not much of that in the last few years, and I think that’s great.


Those new harmonies resonate much more with me. What AI is going to do to composition, of course, is a wide open question and one that I know keeps a lot of composers up at night. There are programs out there that will write music for you.


How much of that will replace the human element? I’d like to think that there will certainly always be a need for those of us who craft something from scratch, but it’s nutty what those computers can do now. The business element, of course, is super interesting as well. It used to be there was really no self-publishing option decades ago.


You would only rely on traditional publishers or you wouldn’t get your stuff out. Now it’s just such a wide open space for lots of people and for people who have the desire and the skills and the energy to commit to self-publishing. The sky is blue for them in getting their music out on social media and other channels.


Quite overwhelming, really, especially for those of us who aren’t digital natives and who struggle to even figure out how TikTok works and the like. Kyle, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today. This has been a really insightful conversation.


Before we let you go, I’d like to share two of your pieces with our listeners, People Get Ready and Does the World Say? Do you mind just introducing both of those real quick and then we’ll cut in the audio afterwards. Sure. People Get Ready is the iconic protest civil rights song from the 1960s.


Curtis Mayfield wrote it. I’ve always loved it. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to ever hear the Blind Boys of Alabama sing their cover version of it.


It’s just super impactful. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to do an arrangement of it and finally had the opportunity for a festival in Minnesota here this past year to bring that to life. It can work with just a piano accompaniment, but if you really want to have it sing, you can add bass, you can add keys, you can add ham and organ drums and do it up.


You can get spots for one or two or even more wailing soloists or bluesy soloists and it’s accessible. It won’t take a lot of time to learn the ending. I’ve added a new music that sort of stacks and layers up to kind of build it up to this idea of everybody get on board.


It’s a very invitational piece that says people get ready. And you can interpret it a number of different ways, but change is coming. Community is coming.


It’s an invitation to live into grace and this sense of community together. Thank the Lord. People get ready.


There’s a train to Jordan. Picking up passengers from coast to coast. Faces keep open the doors and for them.


There’s hope for all. So thank the Lord. Can we even make room for the whole person just to save his soul? Have mercy on those whose choices grow thinner.


So there’s no hiding place. People get ready. There’s a train coming.


Don’t need no baggage. You just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the Jesus loving.


Don’t need no ticket. You just thank the Lord. Get ready.


Ready Lord. Get ready. Get on board.


It’s time to get on board. So that’s one. People get ready.


Does the world say? Does the world say is original music and a text that I wrote that essentially explores the expectations and pressures that the world throws at us, throws at all of us, but especially our young people. So it sort of names some of those pressures, those expectations, and then it encourages us to lean into the power of friendship, power of community, essentially inviting us to extend our hand and take the hand of others so that we can get through it together, that we are not in this alone. So again, an invitational piece asking us to reach out to those who might be bending in and perhaps breaking under the weight of this expectation that the world throws.


Optional violin, sort of flowing piano part. And there’s a really cool social emotional learning curriculum that Walton and I have created. So there’s all sorts of activities and exercises and discussions, conversations that you can do for days, days on end with your choir if you’d like to pursue that.


There’s also, I think, a really interesting video that I worked on to sort of bring this idea to life in a video visual format. Tell us how our listeners can find out more about you and let us know what you have coming up in the near future. What do you got to promote? Well, thanks for that.


People can always find me at kylepeterson.com. I’ve got a website that I keep fairly up to date. In terms of new stuff that I’m excited about, really thrilled about several things. I’ve got next May, I’m going in studio with a professional choir to make a full length album that will be sort of commercial release album of my work.


Super excited about that. There is a new extended work of mine that is just in the process of the premieres right now, but that is also in the process of publishing with ECS. It’s called A Vision Unfolding.


It’s a 25 minute work with sort of chamber ensemble, piano, optional trumpet, snare drum, violin, that in spoken word that’s threaded throughout where I had a chance to work with a spoken word artist from New York City, Chanel Gabriel, loosely based around themes of social justice and equity and inclusion and freedom and really excited about how that turned out. That will be available very shortly, either octavos individually or as the entire 25 minute work. Got a couple of commissions that would likely be too difficult to explain quickly.


But there will be a bluesy piece coming up. There will be a sort of a pop folksy piece coming up and a couple of pieces that would be perfect for a church choir coming up as well. So lots of stuff in the hopper.


It’s a good time to be creating music. Great. Well, thanks so much.


And we’ll catch you next time. Hey, thanks for inviting me, Garrett. I appreciate it.