Ep. 25: Kathy Fernandes: Marketing and Copyright for Independent Composers

Episode Description:

Kathy Fernandes, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for the world’s largest sheet music retailer, JW Pepper, comes on the podcast to talk about what it’s like marketing at such a large scale and what composers can learn from it. We also talk about recent developments in copyright law and the work of the Music Publishers Association.

Featured On This Episode:
Kathy Fernandes Head Shot
Kathy Fernandes

Kathy Fernandes is the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for the world’s largest sheet music retailer, JW Pepper, where she oversees direct mail, online and social marketing, as well as targeted niche and regional marketing.  Before joining Pepper, she was a school band director, studio teacher, and performing flutist. She’s currently involved in the music ministry of her church, and she also sits on the board of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Association for Music Education Roundtable, and the Support Music Coalition. She was recently awarded the Arnold Broido Award for Copyright Advocacy by the Music Publishers Association of the United States, where she also led the Education Committee for more than a decade.

Episode Transcript:

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

Kathy Fernandes, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Welcome to Selling Sheet Music. How are you doing? I’m doing well today.


How are you, Garrett? I’m doing great. I’m really excited for this conversation because we’ve spent a lot of time on the podcast up to this point talking about marketing and the need for composers to do it themselves, and I’ve talked to a lot of really brilliant composers who have a lot of great ideas of how they’ve done things, but you’re the first person I’ve talked to that has sort of that company-wide perspective, who can really talk about, I guess, some of the more traditional things, but also how it interplays with just the sheet music industry as a whole. So anyway, I’m just really excited to get your perspective on that.


But before we jump in, could you just describe your background as a musician and your role within JW Pepper? Sure. So I come out of a teaching background. I was a middle school band director for eight years.


And actually, I still taught privately for many years. I still perform. I’m a flutist.


I play at my church every week and do all that. So like many of the people you’ll find here at Pepper, there’s a lot of musicians. My role at Pepper is the chief sales and marketing officer.


Pepper is a specialty retailer. Obviously, our specialty area is music. So we’re really charged with knowing the needs of music teachers, of music directors, and trying to match up the music and the music products that they need that’ll work for them.


So we’re a professional resource because the people that we’re serving really are professionals. Even some people aren’t getting paid for their work as a director. Some are actually volunteering their time, but most are being paid.


But even the volunteers are highly passionate. And so we have to kind And my role is to take kind of the business side of it. We have products that we need suppliers for, and we need a mechanism to get it over to the customers and to match the right products to the right people.


So that sounds kind of easy. It’s a couple sentence explanation. It’s extremely complicated.


But that’s what I oversee. So I oversee the areas of marketing product, which is a lot of music professionals, people that have been in different roles or are still in those roles as directors, looking at the music that comes in, looking at the products that are out there, and trying to gauge their applicability to different markets. We also have a creative team that helps us look and feel the way we look and feel as a company.


Everything from video to blogs to, you know, the ads, you see our logo, everything, that’s all creative work, which is also really fun to be with teams that are also musical and creative and can do that type of work. We have a flute player who’s our copywriter. We have a percussionist who is our videographer.


So it’s really kind of fun to watch these creative worlds collide beautifully in a role. And we have a marketing team who, again, an awful lot of musicians. It’s not a requirement, but it really helps.


We have people that are running our catalog production as a bass player. We have our email marketing and our social media channel. We have a wonderful keyboardist who’s our social media coordinator.


And our catalogs, I think I mentioned was a bass player. So it’s, we have different channels that we monitor. We have an e-commerce site and that actually our director of e-com is a flute player and the members on her team are also musical.


So I keep mentioning that because it matters in the understanding, you know, we’re not a specialty retailer in motorcycle parts, right? It’s all about music. So you have to have that deep level of understanding. And we kind of have that throughout the team.


So my job is to coordinate staff and put our resources, put the company, if you will, the investment that we make, any business does, right? We do in our home budgets. What are you going to invest in different areas? Where’s it going to be most fruitful? Where’s it going to have the best impact to sustain what your customers need, which in the end sustains your business? So I’m a musician who has learned an awful lot about business. That’s really what it comes down to.


So what’s the day-to-day like? Are you sort of the idea person, like writing it on a napkin and then telling the team, go build this, you know, or how does it work? It would be great if people were sitting around waiting for my great ideas to happen. But in reality, it’s a team, right? So someone’s great idea very likely is coming from another member of the team. There’s over 60 people in my part of the company.


There’s a couple hundred people total in the company. Great ideas come from all over because whether you’re in the actual marketing area of the company or the account management side of the company where people are really working with customers one-on-one or in customer service or in inventory or in the distribution center, people will see things that can be better, right? And we can find a better way to do things. We’re getting feedback from customers.


Maybe we got a return from a director that said, oh, there’s something wrong with this. Okay, well, let’s take a look at that. Or we’re getting feedback that something could be better on our website.


So we have a team on the IT side, the e-commerce side who will take a look at what we can do better. It is very likely a good idea is as likely to come from the customer base, right, as it is from our team. What happens is when we get that feedback, it can help give priority to something that we need to move on more quickly.


No company has endless resources. So my job on a day-to-day basis is to look at what the teams are engaged in, make sure we are giving the employees the best opportunity to execute their work well, everything like work environment, workload, what systems are they working with, what is the staffing level, all of that. Much like a director, right? Think kind of like with your ensemble.


If you’re directing an ensemble, you have to make sure everybody has a place to sit, has a music stand, has their music, has their folders, has, right, proper lighting. Like so there’s some real basics you’re setting the stage for the group to move forward. And throughout your day and in planned meetings and in many unplanned interactions, people will bring forward the what-ifs.


Can we do something better? Is this a problem? Occasionally that goes from me to them. But just by sheer numbers, I’m going to get more from the team, which I absolutely love. Do you find that different kinds of music has to be marketed differently? Like are there things that work for promoting piano music that don’t work for band music or whatever? And how do you make those determinations? Like obviously there’s customer feedback.


Is there other market research you’re doing or do you just kind of keep an eye on sales and as you try new things, go, oh, that worked. Ah, that didn’t work. You know, like what’s that process like? It’s an art and a science.


Absolutely. And it is very different for different types of customers. We have, like I said, we’re a specialty retailer, but that’s kind of a lie.


We have a slew of customer groups. So like when people say a customer segment, when you’re marketing, the terms you use, we need to be extremely aware of the needs of the different segments of a group of people. So if you have, let’s say choir directors, all right, fine.


If I said that to somebody who is not in the music area and said, it’s our choir director segment, they would think that’s one segment. And of course it’s not, right? It could be somebody who has children’s choir or maybe a children’s choir at their church. Is it a school or a church? Is it middle school? Is it high school, college? Is it a community group? Is it a children’s community group? Like, you know, adult, is it an aging choir? So what is the intent? What is the performance menu? Who is doing the performing? So it immediately gets really complicated.


So as we are looking at our marketing, we do look at history because music is, it does have a beautiful cycle to it. We have times when groups tend to perform, you know, marching band, you usually think fall, right? At least for the field shows. You think community and professional choirs tend to plan their performances usually a couple of years in advance or up to a year in advance because they have to really set up those ticket sales and marketing promotions like it’s a different animal than perhaps a middle school choir who might, that director might plan a concert ahead, especially if they don’t know what level their singers are coming in.


And then you have your church choir directors who, they may need to support something, we’re going to do a special service around a theme and they need to react to that. And they may not have more than a month to prepare that or even a week in some cases. So timing and appropriateness of the literature is everything to us.


So us understanding the customer need and the musical, what music we can match. I just was meeting with a new employee this morning and I said to her, a piece of music or a music product can be perfect for someone or it can be perfectly wrong, right? That’s in us trying to figure out what is the best opportunity to give them what’s going to work is the work that we do. Okay.


This is great. And this is something that I’ve struggled with because when you try to learn about marketing, right? When you go online and Google, how do I advertise and how do I promote and all of this stuff? I feel like a lot of the stuff that you get doesn’t really apply to music because it’s so segmented. Like you say, it’s not just choir music, it’s 20 different subgroups.


And so do you think the traditional sort of methods of marketing, sales and email blasts and social media posts and those sorts of things, do you think that works in music or is music too specific? I think the basics are always true. And I’ve talked to a lot of composers and a lot of publishers that are starting up just because of my role. And I go out to a lot of conferences and try to be in the room with people that are creators of music.


I think the basics always hold true. You first want to start, I think, you know, people learn about composition, but they’re inspired by something. Who is the intended performer of your music? Are you looking for, I’d really like to create more music that’s going to work for a middle school orchestra? I think the kids could use XYZ because you’re a teacher, you see the need, you want to fill the need.


Great. Or are you looking for something that could be inspiring a congregation or something that would be more applicable in an adult group? So you have to, I think it’s wise to always start with something more targeted and work through the process on that one thing. Doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you have to do, but if you start there, you then have identified a lot about what you will be writing for.


Correct? You have your performer. Okay. Well, what environment do those performances happen in? Is your music appropriate for it? I can give you an example.


I give you a bad example of that. One time somebody came out with a, they wrote a nice wind piece for middle school band, but there were no percussion parts. And I’ll do a whole series with no percussion.


I’m like, what are the drummers going to do? You’re going to have a crowd control problem in a band group. So there’s, you know, just those moments of think about the environment. Now think about who is directing that group.


Now, what are their concerns? What are their needs? How do they communicate with people? And that becomes the determination of, is that a group, you know, if you’re talking about a professional director in different scenarios, who are they connected to? Do they go to a conference? Is it likely they are somebody who attends a conference or is it something where you may want to use social media to find, hey, are you within this group of, you know, do you direct this type of an ensemble? And there’s nothing wrong about being highly available. Meaning I’m doing social media. I’m doing some email.


I am maybe even sending out letters or postcards or whatever is appropriate, but really focusing on the performer, the director, their environment, and how they get information and what matters to them. That’s, that is the key. And it doesn’t matter if you’re and we have a planned marketing budget, it’s the same conversation.


How do we reach that person who’s got to make the decision around the music effectively? And we have to make it about who they’re conducting, right? That it has to solve the problem that they have, which is they’re going to be the one on stage with that group in front of them and it has to go well. So it’s okay to not do email marketing. It’s okay not to do social marketing if you’re reaching them effectively a different way.


Well, I think the hard part is just how do you find them, right? Like you’ve, you’ve, you’ve, I think really brilliantly summarized sort of the issues with not understanding who you’re selling to, but when you’re first starting out, especially like finding those people, that’s the hard part. Do you think social media is, is the answer? It’s, it’s really helpful. Networking is probably the biggest answer.


So how you do that could be, you may have a friend who, and by the way, I recommend this very highly. Whoever your intended performing group is, have someone and you have to find them through a network. You could offer to be like a composer in residence comp kind of thing, right? Where you have, let’s say I’m writing for middle school orchestra.


I have an orchestra that is somewhat close by where I reside, where I could say, I would like to have your group try my piece. I’d love to be in the rehearsal. I have to get clearances to be in the school.


You have to do a little, make sure, you know, that schools have to follow their protocols, but I would like to be, you know, tap in and just come and watch your group perform this piece, have you work it with them. Because a couple of things can happen. First of all, you’re going to learn a lot about how things really work in that setting.


But secondly, you begin to create authenticity with you writing for that particular ensemble type. So then you want, that’s something you can really make some noise about. Maybe you can’t get pictures of the kids because of privacy stuff in the district, but maybe you and the director could take a pic and say, you know, I’m going to put that out on social media and say, I just heard my piece performed by this and maybe a quote from the conductor, right? Like now it’s not advertising, it’s actually validating what you’re doing.


And that becomes more important than saying, hey, I wrote this new piece, right? I think that’s the kind of quality, you put so much into the compositional process. It’s really just looking around that and seeing who could really validate that this piece is on point and really works in this type of performing group. And then if you do that, you do it again.


You start to create a network. These people are connected to other people. Certainly use LinkedIn.


A lot of teachers use LinkedIn. They kind of set them up. Directors are often set up in LinkedIn because of their training.


It’s part of the college thing now, right? Everybody gets a LinkedIn. So use those connections and see who knows other people and say, hey, here’s something you might be interested in if you’d like to hear my piece. I think some of those grassroots proving grounds are actually critical.


When they’re not there, you end up having to face it at some point or another, right? And so you want to control that as best you can and really tap into networks of people and be the person that introduces one director to another in the same area and say, you know, Kathy, you might not know Garrett, but I think you guys would love to talk. I think one of my colleagues did that for us, right? To talk today. They said, you guys might want to talk.


Yeah. Shout out to Isaac. He was our connector.


So be that connector and be okay with that. And it’s more important to do that early on because that’s how people will validate. If you’re looking to publish or you’re interested in self-publishing and people start to reputation kind of check without even calling it that, they’ll say, oh, this person’s been played by a few different schools or been picked up in this particular kind of group.


It starts to show itself down the road. So how do you decide what to post on social media? I’ve been looking at the JW Pepper accounts over the last couple of weeks to prep for this, you know, and it’s rarely more than once a day, at least on Facebook. And with a company of your size, there’s so much stuff you could be saying.


So how do you whittle that down and decide what are we going to put out? Yeah. So there’s an awful lot of noise in the world. There’s an awful lot of noise in social media.


We have decided and we really opt for quality over quantity. And that’s why I mentioned kind of going deeper with, if you’re going to put something out there, have something to say, have something that’s interesting on at least some level, right? Like not just this is my new stuff. This is my new stuff.


Why should I care about what you just did? Give me something to hold on to. Pepper does that. We try to create content.


So we have videos, things that fall in an area of being edifying to our customer base. So if you’re a music director, you’re a composer, you’re a music teacher, you’re probably one of the only ones doing your job in your school or whatever. It is really nice to know that people understand you, care about you, want to build you up in that role.


That’s not always the case. A lot of people feel kind of like, is anybody else here what my needs are? So we try to create content designed to edify. So for instance, we created a wellness page on our website, lots of resources on it.


Everything from hearing protection, which a lot of musicians would benefit from, how to be aware of taking care of your hearing. We just posted a video, which you may have seen come through on the social posts, on physical warmups, especially for marching band. For people that are, the marching bands, it is an extremely physical activity and it’s only gotten more so over the past couple decades.


So just, we have a very brilliant choreographer and dance professor from Towson who showed us how he warms up the body and prepares it and cools it down literally for marching band because you need it. So we would rather spend more time creating something that is going to build up and add new information or maybe bring it together for musicians than, you know, this is new. We’ll announce things like Editor’s Choice.


That’s a big twice a year announcement, if you will, that new products are in. Come explore. We’ll do that because we’re a retailer.


That’s what we do. But we realized pretty early on that people get tired if you’re just constantly hitting them with an ad. Nobody needs more advertisements in their life.


So we try to stick more to the seasonal things, some highlighted stuff and really value content. But it’s a real decision and you need to think about that as a composer or a publisher. How much do you want to support it? What kind of a time commitment are you willing to make? You know, it’s not insignificant.


And if you’re in it, you want to be responsive. You want to be able to have conversations. So if you post something and somebody goes, this is the best thing I ever saw.


This is the worst thing I ever saw. All right, you’re in. You posted it.


You should probably be engaged in that conversation. So you won’t probably see a huge uptick in that. Have you seen things that you do on social media really move the needle in terms of sales? Because I feel like I’ve tried a couple of different approaches.


And although I’m sure it’s great for brand awareness and all of that, I haven’t really seen it necessarily move copies of music in the same way. And my theory has always been because music directors have a very specific time they’re purchasing. And if you’re not in that time, even if they love it, they’re not going to buy it then.


And so from that standpoint, I feel like it does make social media marketing for musicians a little bit different because if you don’t catch them in the right window, it’s out of sight, out of mind because they’re not going to need it until next year. Yeah, yeah. So with social media, you don’t often see the immediate sale come through.


You may not see an immediate bump because very often someone will see a social media post, be interested in it, but if they work in a school, they might have to go get a purchase order. Or if the piece is something like, hey, maybe I’ll program that in the spring or next year, you may not see that be impactful for another six months, 12 months. But think of familiarity.


The more someone is familiar, you know, if you say the name Garrett Breeze, people that become familiar with that, it creates an affinity to your personal brand. And so you can go too far and badger, right? We got there’s that fine line, but you do want to create familiarity. So really think about how you’re using social media.


Did you create something to fill a particular need? Talk about the need. That need is going to resonate with somebody. They’re going to remember Garrett solves that need.


And again, it preps, I think more than anything, preps sales, builds familiarity. Do you think for independent composers, it’s better for them to operate under their own name or sort of pretend to be a publishing company? I mean, they are a publishing company, but in terms of the branding, you know, is it better for me to be out there as Garrett Breeze and trying to be the personality, you know, going viral and all of that? Or is it better to be sort of, you know, Breeze Tunes Productions and here’s our quarterly, you know, catalog of new folios coming out? I think it’s a career question and where you see yourself being further down the line. And it may depend is composing going to be your pay the rent, pay the mortgage.


Then you may want to look at, okay, how am I going to scale the business to support that? Or if we have many composers who have teaching gigs or performing gigs and directing, they love it. And composing is a passion and it’s great. And anything they get off of that is going to, but it doesn’t have to pay the rent and the mortgage.


Like that’s, you think of that determines, it’s a personal decision on that level. But you mentioned, I love that way you said that because Garrett Breeze, it doesn’t have to be Garrett Breeze Productions. It could be, but you could also tap into that breeze and do something so it allows you to both be personal and has expansion to others.


And we do, we have, there’s a number of self-published composers who have a network of composing friends and then suddenly it’s, hey, let’s make this something bigger together. So just being thoughtful and trying to plan out where you realistically see yourself wanting to be as a composer professionally, as a self-publisher, I think that’s the key. There isn’t one right answer.


It’s going to depend on where. There never is, but I still have to ask it anyway. I know, right? I wish I, oh, it’d be great.


If I gave right answers all day, I’d be giving me a line at the door. Many, if not most of the composers listening to this podcast will have at least a couple of pieces sold through Pepper, either because it’s distributed traditionally through one of the print publishers or they’ve uploaded through the MyScore program. What do you wish that we, the composers, were doing to market those pieces? What could we be doing that would make your life easier? Think about solutions.


We are always looking for the solution. So I mentioned we have people that walk the walk looking at the music that comes in. So the more clearly you can draw the line between, in this situation, this piece is spot on, perfect, right? And talk about that.


Talk about it in your social media or talk about it with your network of directors. And think about that. I mean, it can be simple things, grade two band piece, if something’s in compound meter.


Well, that’s a solution because teachers have to teach that, right? So it depends on, again, what your performance group is, but try to see what makes the director say, I really do need to teach that, this piece, or I really needed to work with this type of composition for my adult singers. I wanted to expose them to either more independent parts or less independent parts or more limited range if it’s an aging voice or whatever. Call it what it is, but try to look through the lens of the director.


And if you don’t have that role, find somebody that you can use as a kind of a partner in that and just say, what would you see here? I think the more you can do that, you’re prepping your musical answer to be really on point for the group you’re intending it for. It will show itself. And a lot of the work established publishers do that have editors, a lot of that work, and that’s what Pepper always recommends.


If you can get published, get published, because publishing houses have editors who will walk that walk with you and go through the process. And sometimes it’s a painful one, right? It’s something to be like, oh, but that’s out of range. But it may not be just a range consideration.


It might be the approach of the note is very difficult or maybe it’s fine. But again, that’s where kind of that somebody to walk with you through that and being able to say, this works really extremely well in this scenario. It solves this need that you have.


It’s really, really basic retail stuff, right? But very musical. I’m going to throw one other thing in there because I’ve worked with a lot of publishers and be open and see that as they’re not trying to change your art. They’re trying to help you find the mark that director you’re trying to reach, right? So again, that being open to it and seeing that there’s a whole community that does want your works to resonate and to have performance, I think is important too.


It’s really interesting you say that because I think when composers think about the debate between, oh, should I self-publish or should I try to get something with a publisher? I think where composers’ minds always go to is, well, I need somebody to market the music for me. I need somebody with that audience. I need help getting it out there, getting it in front of people.


But anytime I talk to somebody in the industry like yourself, the thing they always go to first is the editors. You need an editor. You need somebody to mess with it.


I just find that fascinating because that’s not the conclusion that most, I guess composers have a blind spot when it comes to that. Maybe it’s just because they think, maybe it’s just because they’re too attached to their work. But what I hear everybody saying is, if the piece is written for the right group, then the sales take care of itself.


It does. You have to consider how many groups are out there. You can also write yourself into, there’s four groups in the country that can perform this.


Okay, well, then you’ve limited your market a little bit. And that’s actually some of what Pepper has to do. We have to look at what’s produced and then say, is this in the camp of it makes sense from just a pure retail for promotion? Because will it work for many situations? And we’ve always taken the stance that we’re not going to be the final answer.


We’re going to be a great starting place for people to explore. Because we’re not, while we’re professionals and we’re musicians, we are not the ones in front of that group trying to perform. There’s only one person who can judge whether or not that music worked, and it’s the director who’s in front of them, or the teacher in the classroom.


They know if the kids shut down that whatever they were doing wasn’t working. So that’s the tricky part, right? Because for one director, they could say, this is wonderful. I’d love to, you know, somebody else would be, what are you talking about? Didn’t work for me.


Different scenarios. Well, and I think that’s getting harder. That’s the tricky part.


It’s really hard. Well, and I think that’s getting harder to navigate as self-publishing is becoming more prominent in the industry, because I do think there is a need, or at least a desire out there for music that is more unique, is going to be less applicable to the masses, you know, maybe more difficult music. And so I think threading that needle is going to become harder and harder.


I think back on, especially the commissioned works that I’ve written, you know, a lot of those works were commissioned because they couldn’t find what they were looking for in the marketplace. And so they wanted something different. And for me to try and like change that piece then to make it fit into the market and like kind of go backwards, like that just doesn’t work, you know? And so maybe that’s a piece that’s not going to scale tremendously, but we’ve kind of been jumping around this issue the whole time.


What do you think the role of self-publishing is in the industry right now? Where do you think it fits in and where do you think things are going? You know, there’s all these debates about print versus digital versus online and, you know, all of that stuff. And Pepper’s a company that’s managed to navigate that I think really well, you know, through, you know, the company’s 150 years old, right? And we’ve lost the mom and pop stores, we’ve had the internet, we’ve had COVID, we have all this stuff and Pepper’s still on top. So what’s your take just sort of stepping back and looking at the industry right now and where we’re at? So first of all, watching performances come back in every venue type, schools, churches, community settings, right? Marching bands, a whole thing.


Watching that come back was incredible post-pandemic, right? Just to, first of all, to watch how much it matters to communities everywhere, right? I don’t know, and somebody will probably prove me wrong, I can’t think of a place where people said, oh yeah, music, live music, we don’t want that, right? So, I mean, talk about a proving ground for music performance matters, music matters. Okay, I think we’ve had a very strong proving ground how passionate people are. So that’s really cool.


And as you mentioned, Pepper’s had to shift, you know, there was a time we delivered music by horse and carriage, I have a picture in my office of it. You know, somebody’s job was to feed that horse and polish that carriage and get the music inside and all that. You know, the job changes over time.


So we look at kind of the physical and the digital. It really matters what the directors and the performers need. So, we have digital music because it solved a lot of problems for people, especially in the church world.


For instance, somebody is, they play funerals and there was a special request and they can get that piece of music and be done, right? Like, they can get it. There are times we have, we call them the kind of the school bus phone calls where band directors on their way to festival and they need judges copies and they forgot to order them and they realized on the bus on the way to the festival. So we get those calls and we’ll say, okay, well, you know, you’re going to do e-print when you get there and yep, they’re going to get to the hotel and use the, all that kind of stuff.


So we see these scenarios. What we don’t want to do is create a, you must yield to the way we think you should use your music, right? So we’re constantly positioning ourselves to be able to provide the music. If it’s on screen, if it’s a printout from an e-print, if it’s a downloadable MP3, those types of things, as well as the physical goods.


Physical still dominates. Musicians like tactile things. They love paper.


They love paper. It’s easier on the eyes. There’s great advantages to digital, but there are equally great advantages to paper.


So we intend to support whatever directors are needing for their ensembles. And there’s not one answer. I think even the book industry, last time I looked, still only about a third of books are consumed digitally.


So two thirds are still printed editions. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a tactile human thing about holding a book, owning it, right? And turning pages that’s different than swiping.


So that’s kind of how we navigate it. We have really smart people that do great electronic things, and we have really smart people managing warehouses in ways that, by the way, percussionists seem to manage that detail level stuff really well. So it’s a thing.


All right. So you put the flutes in marketing, you put the percussionists in charge of the warehouse. Where do you put the trombones? That’s what I want to know.


Okay. There’s a joke there that I’m not going to say. They’re the reason we can sell extra parts after a set has sold.


No, I’m joking. Actually, one of our editors here is a trombonist. A couple people are.


I’m a band director, so I have all the instrument jokes in my head that I cannot say on a recording device. We’ll take that one after. You are also a member of the Music Publishers Association, and you recently won their award for copyright advocacy.


Congrats on that, by the way. So I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you any questions about copyright while you were here. Can you settle a debate for me? Does registration with the Copyright Office matter? If I’m a composer and I write a piece, does it matter if I go to the U.S. government and say, this is my piece, I own it? The way it was explained to me is your copyright exists automatically, and therefore, unless you wrote something that’s going to get you a ton of money, there’s really no point of registering it, because it’s too expensive to sue people.


And so that’s the only thing you can really do with the registration is defend your copyright. What’s your take on that? So first of all, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a copyright lawyer, because that’s a smart thing to say when you’re talking about things that are legal. And neither am I. I’m one of the trombone players.


Okay. So I kind of come back to, if your creation, and that’s really, we’re talking about creators and things that are protected. It was one of the first things the Founding Fathers put into the Constitution was protect intellectual property, and that’s what it is.


By the time you realize you wish you had something more formal and easy, it’s kind of too late to do it. I look at it as, I don’t know everybody’s individual situation, but this is where you put an official stamp on your creative work that you have worked for a long time to create, most likely, right? It gives you an official public record and a certification of registration. That is meaningful, and it’s something you have and cannot be taken away from you, and if ever somebody releases something that is eerily similar, and you just want to send a, hey, that’s mine, or you start seeing your PDF out on a sharing site, and you’ve got this in your arsenal.


You don’t have to, but unless there’s a reason you don’t want to, I don’t know why somebody wouldn’t register their work that they put so much of themselves into. There may be occasions, this is where I don’t know all of the legal background on this level of it, but there are times when certain organizations are called to task for use of copyrighted material. I don’t know how often the registrations are called into those.


You’d have to talk to a professional about that, but I always look at it as protection. I lock the door of my house when I leave in the morning. It is very unlikely that somebody’s going to come in, or that I’m going to have to prosecute somebody for entering my house, but I’m going to lock the door.


I see it as a stamp of ownership that our government supplies, and if it’s not a barrier, I personally would take that, but that’s me. Again, it’s a decision. There are other ways people can claim the ownership, but it states that you’re validated.


It’s a public record of it, which is kind of cool. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here, but with that registration, is that something that a traditional publisher would do? When they accept your piece, would they go and then register it, or is that something that they would need to transfer from you? Typically, and again, I’m not in these shoes, but typically the publisher will register the copyrights. If you have a copyright on a piece and you could assign it to a publisher, you could transfer that, but that’s where I get a little foggy on that, because that’s not my area of specialty.


What I primarily have done on the copyright side is create educational materials that teachers and directors can use. That was a lot of the role that I had when I was at the Music Publishers Association board. A lot of it is people didn’t know, because copyright is kind of, if you will, fought in the courts every day.


There’s big cases that we all hear about, then there’s little cases we never hear about. Just like all of our laws, they are constantly being really worked through in the courts. How does this law apply in this situation? At the end of the day, we try to boil down some simple facts.


I’ll give you the world’s worst version of copyright, so I’m going to start with that. My neighbor has a great lawnmower. I can’t just go use it without their permission.


I can if they give me permission. It’s not my lawnmower. That is my world’s worst version of ownership.


I can like it. I can say, that’s a great lawnmower. I cannot use it without their permission.


A creator has that right. They have the right to decide who gets to use their material. That’s the simple side of it.


Somebody said, well, what about in this environment? What about in a recording? What about in a video? What can I arrange my own version of it? All of that is like, again, maybe I want to throw some cool stuff on the neighbor’s lawnmower. I can’t without their permission. That’s a right that they have as the owner of that thing.


It’s kind of playground fairness kind of approach. I think for composers, the really important part is if you’re going to allow something with your work, say so. So if you’re like, you’re going to get this, and with this, I allow you to do X, Y, and Z, state it clearly, think about what you want to do.


There are resources for you if permission to arrange these types of things, you’re going to get requests. If people like your music, they’re going to want to take your music and maybe make it more applicable to their performing group. The Music Publishers Association is a terrific resource, mpa.org. They have example forms for permission to arrange, so you can utilize that.


This is not a commercial, but I’m going to make it a commercial. MPA membership is $50 a year for a, I think it’s under $50,000 income company, publisher. They accept self-publishers.


You’ll be asked to submit a score so that there’s some kind of quality check of, yes, this is a valid music publication. They do a tremendous amount of work in key areas. One is education.


They’re constantly educating around copyright. Your creations are being defended in that way. Let’s first start out by making sure everybody understands that you have rights as a composer and as a publisher.


They partner with other organizations, much larger organizations that are also on the creator’s side, which is great. Get a lot of good work done, a lot of working in Capitol Hill to make sure that rights are understood. Big organizations can help.


We bring our voice to that. Another area that they focus on a lot is illegal use of the music. Somebody grabs your music and puts it out on a file-sharing site.


What can you do about that? This organization helps with that work as well, gives you a reporting mechanism to report that you’ve seen things. There’s a lot of good stuff in there for composers to consider. If you’re considering this part of your livelihood, it’s a professional organization for you.


I offer that. It’s not a commercial, but yeah, I guess it is. Can we pick at that more a little bit? Because I do see a lot of composers that get frustrated because they will find a copy of their score ends up somewhere, a PDF gets scraped and put on a public forum or something like that.


There’s just this sense of sheet music is such a small piece of the pie that there’s no real way to bring down the hammer. There’s really no way to get people to comply because it’s such a small-dollar thing. It’s like you’re not going to go hire a lawyer to go after somebody for copying your $5 sheet music.


You know what I mean? It feels like we’re stuck in a lot of ways. Do you have any advice? This is the Trade Association for print music publishers, and that includes self-publishers. You have a mechanism to report the offense, and there’s a process for which the organization notifies those that support that website.


It’s usually websites, right? That’s typically what’s done. We can say it feels sometimes like whack-a-mole, like you take care of one offender and it pops up somewhere else. But what also has happened is, in many cases, licensing has been set up so that those files can be provided, which is good.


But the whack-a-mole is worth it because for every moment that an offending site is spending having to shut down, spin up, shut down, spin up, they’re doing less damage. There is real good work happening there. I doubt we will ever stop theft in the world, right? But if you don’t defend what is yours, you’re just exponentially going to be dealing with it.


You won’t be able to get any income from your work over time. So it’s the first line of defense, and if you intend to continue composing, I encourage people to consider, if they’re serious about remaining in self-publishing, to have your entity be a member of that association. I think you’d find a lot of benefit to it.


So I just offer that. But you can check out the website, and there’s contact information there to talk to the administrative person. Yeah, and we’ll link to that in the episode notes, so people listening can go find that.


Let me give you a scenario I run into all the time. I’ll discover an independent artist or an unsigned artist who’s written a song I really like, and I decide I want to do an arrangement. So I reach out to ask permission, and they put me in touch with their lawyer or their manager, typically somebody who has no idea what to do with my request.


So when that happens, what should my response be? What’s the easiest way to explain the rights that I’m after to somebody who’s not really familiar? Because with songwriters, when they hear publishing, they’re not thinking about sheet music. They’re thinking about the greater song publishing rights, not the physically putting it on the paper. I don’t know if we get tripped up by the terminology or something else is going on there.


But what’s the best way to sort of, without overwhelming them, say, this is what I’m after, and making it easy for them to fulfill the request? So you’re asking, so depending on what you’re pulling from, you want to make sure you’re telling them it’s sheet music, because that’s a category for them, right? Which I don’t know any composers that say, I’m going to go write some sheet music. You know, nobody does. It’s like so general.


It’s like, why would we say that? But to a person who’s dealing with artists, that is very different than a recording, right? So make sure you’re clear about it. It’s sheet music. And if we think there’s notation already out there, I want to do a derivative work.


A derivative work is a way of saying an arrangement, right? And also, I mentioned that MPA, permission to arrange form, you could, in essence, kind of fill it out and send that and say, this is what I’m looking for. So you might have people use that for your request, but you might also request and say, here’s an example. So anything you can do to make it easy for the lawyer to understand and say, yes, that’s fine.


Or, no, this doesn’t look like something we can, you know, we’re going to have to look at this more closely. But use actually more simple terms and state it will be for resale. And sometimes you have to say, you know, for this audience, so that there’s no conflict if they already have a deal somewhere.


Or they might say, there’s another company who handles our print licensing. So print music, sheet music licensing, they might refer you to somebody else. And that’s fine.


It’s just they probably won’t care that it’s for College Choir. But if that work is arranged by others already, and the print is already out there, another publisher might care that it’s for College Choir if they already have an edition out, right? So you just, and it might be somebody they have a license with. So use simple words, but be specific to with who it’s intended for what you’re trying to do.


And if you’re trying to sell it, versus it’s a one time use, anything like that you can put into it will help them understand it. But I would also, I would use some of those general forms and, you know, lawyers helped us create those. So it should have the speak that they need in it, and they can adjust it if need be.


So is there a correct way of differentiating between like song publishers, you know, the Sony and the Universal versus like the print publishers? I mean, is it just that word print added to it? I mean, in describing it, yes. There are many different, and again, this is not my particular area of expertise. It’d actually be really great for you to get a copyright lawyer on here, that’d be great.


They could explain a lot of stuff in detail. But yeah, it’s print music is a different form of licensing than recorded side. Yeah.


Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast today. One more question before we go. If you were going to quit your job and become a self publishing composer, what are the first steps you would take? What are the things that just 100% you have to be doing in today’s market? I would go and talk to people who are performing the kind of music I want to write.


So I come out of a middle school band background, right? That was my professional job before I came to Pepper. If I were to write for that, I can assume that what was done years ago is still what teachers are seeing in the classroom and what they need today. You know, the trumpet ranges might still be the same.


But maybe the style of what they want to teach is different. Maybe their need is different. So I would start with that conversation and start building out how am I going to know what I can do to be fruitful.


So I’m not sitting at home writing for something that goes back a couple decades in usefulness, right? I want to build it for today. And also work in that network and taking notes on it, the whole thing. Here’s what I think will work.


And I think we really do need composers also to be aware of what’s happening in the different states with requirements for music. So we have the national standards for music education, but a lot of states have specific requirements, grade levels, and ensemble types. So if you’re writing within the student population music, do some research there.


A lot of the criteria is available to know. Again, just a way to inform yourself about if I’m going to create something, is it just for me to create it or am I going after that audience? And then just whatever you can do to inform. I would learn a lot before I started writing.


Where can we find all of the resources that you said you created about copyright work? Do you have a website? Is it on Zephyr? Yeah, it’s actually on mpa.org. I’m going to jump over there to take a look. There’s actually resources for adults and also even some for children. On the MPA website, there’s a link for educational materials.


And there’s a number of resources there, including PowerPoint presentations with notes and videos and that type of thing. Okay, yeah. We’ll link to that in the show notes as well.


Okay, great. Well, thank you again. I really appreciate you taking the time to come and talk to us.


I really learned a lot from the conversation. Thank you, Gary. It’s been great to talk to you today, and it’s been fun.


I appreciate it.