Ep. 29: Listener Questions: Royalty Rates, Pitching to Publishers, Educational Music, and More!

Episode Description:

We’re kicking off the new year by answering YOUR questions!

1. Is it even worth it to arrange copyrighted music if you only get 10% of the sale price?

2. What are the biggest pros/cons of using a big publisher?

3. What’s the best way to pitch big publishers?

4. How can foreign composers break into the American education market?

5. How do I format multiple songs into a book?

Featured On This Episode:
Garrett Breeze

Garrett Breeze is a Nashville-based composer, arranger, publisher, and the founder of Selling Sheet Music.  His credits include film, television, video games, Broadway stars, major classical artists, and many of the top school music programs in the U.S.  Visit garrettbreeze.com for more information or to book Garrett for a commission or other event.

Episode Transcript:

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

Before we start, I just wanted to remind everyone that if you like the show, if you’d take a minute and leave us a five-star rating or write a positive review, that will help us a lot. Alright, first up, is it even worth it to arrange copyrighted music if you only get 10% of the sale price? This question is probably referring to music that is sold through Arrange.me. That’s the Hal Leonard program that lets you sell arrangements of certain songs that have been pre-cleared, and you get 10% of the sale price. Scott Harris talked a bit about this issue on his episode, so if you’re new to the podcast and haven’t heard it yet, it was one of our earlier episodes, number four, in fact.


And, for the record, I do think that percentage ought to be higher, but I will save that soapbox for another episode. In answer to the actual question, though, the thing that really matters is not the royalty rate, but whether or not your music will actually sell, because 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing. The other thing you have to ask yourself is, what else could you get out of the arrangement? Maybe you’re a conductor, and that performance of the arrangement will help promote yourself.


Or maybe you’re a performer, and you get to record a video playing it. Or you’re a teacher, and you get to use that music with your students. Or better yet, you’ve been commissioned to write that arrangement for somebody else, and you’ve already gotten paid.


Those are all examples of cases where the 10% in and of itself might not make it worth it, but combined with other factors, if you can use those arrangements to help you in other aspects of your music career, then it’s a nice way of bringing in a little extra cash and a little publicity on the side. I might also add that if you are somebody that can write music quickly, the only thing you really have to lose is the opportunity cost of how long it took you to make the arrangement. So you could also approach it from the attitude of, okay, if I make X dollars an hour, how many hours I’m going to spend writing this arrangement, and how long will it take me to earn that back, getting a 10% royalty rate.


And for some of you, especially if you’re writing a lot of music, that math might work out okay. Question number two, what are the biggest pros or cons of using a big publisher? I’m interested in your views, given Philip Kevrin was not into big publishers anymore, but Kyle Peterson was pro big publishing. First of all, those were two fabulous episodes, and again, if you’ve joined the podcast recently, they’re definitely worth a listen.


My personal opinion is that if your full-time job is composing or arranging, or if that’s what you want it to be, then you have no choice but to embrace self-publishing. For two reasons. One, traditional publishing is very slow.


It can take up to a year from the time you turn in a piece to the time it gets published, and then it’s probably another six to nine months before you get that first royalty check. The other reason is that no single publisher is going to take more than one or two pieces at a time. At least not when you’re starting out.


And that’s just not enough to make a living. And you know, I was just talking about 10%, but a lot of the time in print publishing, the royalty is even smaller, which is, again, a topic for another day. Now, if you have a full-time job, and you’re not relying on composition to pay the bills, maybe you have a teaching job or a conducting job or something like that.


If your music writing is on the side, and maybe if you’re doing a smaller number of pieces, then I think traditional publishing is probably the more appealing option, because they handle all of the logistical stuff for you. They’ll do the editing and the engraving and the printing and the marketing, and all you have to do is keep writing hits. Publishing doesn’t guarantee sales, but it does guarantee that people will see it, that they’ll listen to it, and that’s often the hardest job.


What I see more and more is composers doing both. There’s no reason you have to pick one or the other. In fact, developing a strong track record as a self-publisher makes you more appealing to traditional publishers and vice versa.


You know, let’s say somebody buys your music through a traditional publisher, and they go looking for more, and they find your website with more music. That helps everybody. Question number three is a good follow-up.


What’s the best way to pitch big publishers? The short answer to this is to do your homework. Figure out the kind of music that a particular publisher is selling, look at how difficult it is, look at how long it is, what the instrumentation is, all that stuff, and then try to submit music that would appeal to the same market. Some publishers post very specific guidelines of when they review material and how they want to receive it, and if you’re not aware of that, then it doesn’t make you look very good.


It’s a given, of course, that the quality of music needs to be your best, it needs to be free of mistakes, and you really do need to have a good recording. One more thought is that making a personal connection with somebody at the company is also very helpful. Most of the publishers make the rounds at various conventions and festivals where you can meet and ask questions, and chances are you have some mutual friends who could help make an introduction.


That’s not going to get your piece moved to the front of the line, but it does give you the chance to be more prepared before you submit. If there’s one thing music publishers are really great at, it’s knowing who their customers are and what they like. So the thing to keep in mind is that if publishers are looking for something really specific, even if your music is amazing, if it doesn’t fit what they need in that specific moment, then they’re probably going to pass, and you just can’t take it personally.


Number four, how can foreign composers break into the American education market? This is a really great question, and I think we first need to separate it into two parts. Because you have the quote-unquote instructional side of the market, which is teaching people how to make music, you know, private lessons, recitals, that sort of thing. And then you have the ensemble side of the market, which is your band, choir, orchestra, that sort of thing.


A couple of things to understand about the U.S. First of all, I would say that the majority of music education is tied to institutions, either a school or a university or a music store. Secondly, at least when it comes to education, each state is essentially its own country. Funding levels are different, the average size of schools are different, the enthusiasm for certain kinds of music is different, and so it’s impossible to paint with a broad brush and just sort of say, this is what works.


However, I do work with a lot of music educators, and I do see some common trends. Word of mouth is very important. For a lot of teachers, it’s probably the most important thing.


Recommendations from other teachers of what they’ve performed in their concerts or used in their classes. If you can find a teacher to champion your music and recommend it to others, that will go farther than any sort of ad campaign. Most states also have recommended music lists, and in some states, there are festivals that require you to use music from those lists.


So if you can get a piece on one of those lists, it will do a lot of work for you. The last thing I would say is that music educator conventions are very important. I know a lot of teachers that get the majority of their music from what is presented on reading sessions or performed in the concerts or given out as samples.


So although it’s obviously difficult for you overseas to travel to a lot of these conventions, if you can find some way to get your music represented, that’s going to give you a big boost. Alright, next question. How to format multiple songs to publish as a book.


So let’s say, for example, that you have multiple piano solos that you’re selling individually and you want to package them together as a book. What I do is I make a copy of all the notation files. So I have the solo version file and the book version file.


And then really the only thing you need to do from there is change the page numbers and the book versions so that when you combine the PDF files together, the page numbers flow from song to song as intended. You can use Microsoft Word or Canva or really anything to create the cover page and the title page and the table of contents and all that extra stuff. Whatever you use just has to be able to export as a PDF.


And then from there, all you need is a way to combine those PDF files into one document. There are free online tools that do this. There’s websites that do this.


Notationcentral.com has a really nice one called PDF Batch Stitch. Adobe, of course, has a tool. Just Google Merge PDF or Combine PDF and you’ll find something.


Then you can take that single file and do whatever you want with it really. You can sell it as a single product. You can get it printed and bound and shipped to wherever you need it to go.


Just make sure that when you do the exporting to PDF, that you have it set to the highest quality resolution that you can. And you should be good to go. I do have a few more questions in front of me related to printing, shipping, binding music, selling physical copies, all that good stuff.


Really great questions. So great, in fact, that I recorded a special joint episode of the podcast with Scoring Notes host and friend of the show, Philip Rothman, where we dig into all the details about printing and shipping your music. That episode will air this weekend, so unfortunately you’ll have to wait a few more days to get the answer to those questions.


But I do think the wait will be well worth it. Thank you again to everyone who submitted a question for this episode. As always, you can reach me by email, garrett at breezetunes.com. Happy New Year to everyone and best of luck with all your composing and publishing adventures.