Ep. 30: Printing Like a Pro (Joint Episode With Scoring Notes Podcast)

Episode Description:

In this special joint episode, Philip Rothman (of Scoring Notes) and Garrett Breeze (of Selling Sheet Music) take a deep dive into all the complexities of printing music at a professional level. For any composer or self-publisher considering DIY printing, this episode is a must listen. For everyone else it is a detailed peek behind the curtain showing all the work that involved taking music from the computer to your music stand.

Featured On This Episode:
Philip Rothman

Philip Rothman is the editor and principal contributor to Scoring Notes. Philip’s a Juilliard-trained composer and orchestrator with two decades of experience preparing quality materials for professional clients in the music industry. Philip’s music preparation firm, NYC Music Services, provides music services to professional clients and has worked on thousands of projects ranging from simple transpositions to large opera productions.

Episode Transcript:

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

Well, hi everybody. This is a special episode of our respective podcasts. I’m Philip Rothman of the Scoring Notes podcast, and I’m talking with my great colleague Garrett Brees of Selling Sheet Music.


You will find our discussion in both of our respective podcast feeds, or either. You could listen to them simultaneously, I suppose. That would be quite an experience, but that’s not necessary.


But anyway, we’re going to talk all about the business of printing sheet music. So Garrett, it’s great to see you. Thank you for asking this question and having this discussion today.


Well, thanks for having me. I feel almost as if I’m taking advantage of you, since you’ve already been on the podcast once before. But this is something that’s definitely more in your wheelhouse, but it’s something I get a lot of questions about.


So I’m really excited to dig into this together. Yeah, I am too. And on Scoring Notes, we do often have guests come back and talk to us again, because there’s just so much in our industry, as you well know, that is worth discussing.


And even if we have these discussions that go on for sometimes an hour or more at a time, that barely scratches the surface. I know, Garrett, you sent me a question. We were having a little conversation back and forth on email.


Do you want to let our listeners in on what that question was and how we came to have this discussion? Yeah. Well, I think printing has sort of become this lost art. It’s not something that’s really taught in schools.


Of course, notation software is covered. How do you print to PDF and all that sort of stuff? But unless you’re working for one of the traditional print publishers or some kind of a print house, you don’t really get the training that you would on the job. And so especially for composers, if you’re going to distribute your music independently, if you have a client or a potential customer that wants the physical copies sent to them, it’s almost this sort of deer in headlights thing that can happen where you’re not really sure what to say.


Because most of the time, if you are an independent composer, when you’re distributing your music, we’re talking about doing it digitally online, sending PDFs or making downloads available. I get a lot of questions from my podcast listeners about the logistics of printing physical copies and how do you ship them and how do you find a printer and what kind of paper and all this sort of stuff that you don’t really hear about unless you’re in the know. So I think maybe before we get into all the technical stuff, though, it might be useful just to talk about the different business models involved and what options composers have for making their music available.


And I think you can kind of divide those into three different camps. You have the more traditional publisher model where you go and you print hundreds or thousands of copies of music and you keep it in your warehouse. You have that inventory ready to go in case someone buys music from you.


Or you have the print on demand model where you wait for an order to come in and then go figure out how to print it. And then I also think there’s a third option, which is that you simply outsource that task to some other company, a distribution company, a print shop, that sort of thing. And I think there’s pros and cons to each of those methods.


So why don’t you walk us through your thoughts? Yeah, I’m happy to do that. Obviously, the caveat in all of this is that the business models are always changing and even more so with digital publishing being ever more present in our life. But there is still a significant demand for printed material.


And we’ve talked about that. I know you’ve talked about that on your podcast and David and I on our podcast as well, and the benefits of still having printed sheet music. And a lot of people still want it.


So we will assume for the time being that there will still be some sort of market, whatever it may be, for print material. I think that’s the first thing that we have to establish here. And then, like you said, yes, there are a few different models.


The traditional model that you mentioned, where you print a lot of copies, basically on spec, and then you distribute them to all different sorts of warehouses and the inventory is ready. I think for all but the top, top of the top of printed material, where you’re literally selling lots of copies and people expect an order to be fulfilled right away from whatever a major publisher. I mean, really, it’s really the major publishers that have sophisticated print operations that are able to do this and can afford the outlay of expenditures to have print material in stock.


For the vast majority of our listeners, I suspect, unless they are signed with one of those publishers and have that relationship, we’re going to be focusing pretty much on the two other options where you have a print-on-demand model, where you wait for someone to make an order and then you go print and ship it, or you basically just outsource those tasks to another print shop or distributor. There are variations on each of these. The first thing is that depending on the type of music that you are printing or that you’re composing, the expectations are different.


It’s very different if you’re, like you are, Garrett, composing for choir. I would like to throw that question at you, and I know that’s not all you do, but I know that a lot of what you do is composing for choruses, where you might have an order where you might reasonably expect to send out 50 or 100 copies of the music at a time. And if you have a big hit, if you have a big seller, you might actually want to print up thousands of copies in advance so that you have those ready to go, because everybody’s singing effectively from the score.


Everybody’s performing from the score, right? Yeah, exactly. Yeah, whereas what I focus on in what we do at NYC Music Services typically is the score-in-parts model of instrumental music, where it’s either an orchestra score-in-parts or chamber score-in-parts. Those are, first of all, often much more specialized in terms of printing.


There’s also session music or film scores for recording sessions, for jazz sessions, whatever. Those are also kind of one-off, unique things that are unlikely to be ever replicated again. So again, they’re very custom, they’re very last-minute, the deadlines are very compressed.


But in either of those cases, you know, you’re talking about really only a handful of copies of each set being produced at once at the most, whereas chorus and perhaps educational music and some other things, those are very different. Those are, I think, where that traditional model might still apply. Is that something that you’re finding when you get an order? Like when you get an order for a choral arrangement, how are you fulfilling that? Well, the majority of my sales are digital only, although if somebody does want physical copies, I typically just direct them to the catalog on MyScore.


That’s J.W. Pepper’s self-publishing platform and they do a really great job of offering both physical printed copies or digital downloads. So if they want to get something printed, I usually just tell them to buy it from Pepper and then they can take care of the printing and the shipping and all of that stuff. It’s a pretty slick system, actually, because when you upload the music to their site, it asks you all of the specific questions, you know, what paper size do you want and how do you want it binded and, you know, what’s the cover page and all those different things.


So that’s already in the system, so to speak, so that when an order comes through, they know how to handle it and they have a big shop down in Atlanta that runs all those things off and sends them out when the time comes. I mean, occasionally I’ve gone to my local UPS store and printed off copies, but that’s not something I’m really interested in doing myself, frankly. I’d rather focus on the music.


But to your point, I do think that it’s not so much the utility of digital versus paper as it is the fact that, you know, if you’ve got a hundred person choir, you don’t want to take the time to print off a hundred copies and staple them and collate. And there’s also, I think, an additional cost to that, which doesn’t always get discussed, which is that if you’re an organization and you’re buying all of your music and then printing it, you know, you have the cost to pay for the music, but then you have the cost of the printer and the ink and all that stuff. So if you’re working on a tight budget, that’s something that could be an obstacle to a lot of groups.


Yeah. Let’s talk about MyScore just a little bit more because it’s something that I think many of our listeners may not be familiar with. I’m aware of MyScore.


I don’t use it personally, so I’d love to hear a little bit more about your experience with it. But basically it is run by JW Pepper. And unlike a publisher relationship, they don’t take your copyright.


They’re not doing any editorial work on your music. You’re basically responsible as the composer for uploading a finished edited score. And then you pay a one time setup fee of $99.


And then you as the composer receive 50% of the list price for every digital copy that’s sold and 25% for every printed copy that’s sold. And they pay out on a regular quarterly basis. And they have some minimum prices that they establish so that it’s not a money losing proposition for them, obviously, but you can set those prices.


There’s no evaluation process. There’s no quality standards that they have. That’s all on you as the composer, but that allows you an exchange for giving over between 50 and 75% of the retail price of the music, which seems like a lot.


But then when you consider what you get in return, where you basically don’t have to do anything and you retain, I think the key is again, you retain your copyright, your ownership of the music. They handle all the printing, the fulfillment and processing the order and all that. Have you found that to be a good model for those types of pieces that you have with MyScore? I really do.


I think J.W. Pepper is just a fascinating company because of the fact that they don’t own any copyrights. They’re not a publisher. Their business model is 100% distribution.


And so it’s amazing to me that in today’s age where everything has been disrupted so much that they have been able to do such a great job of staying relevant, frankly, and especially within the American educational system. Basically, every school ensemble in the United States gets some amount of music from Pepper. They have open purchase orders with the company.


If you’re somebody who’s writing for the educational market, it’s pretty much a no brainer. I think you did a great job of summarizing the pros and cons. I think the first point is that because they don’t take the copyrights, you’re still free to submit to publishers.


You’re still free to have it on your own website, to put it in other places, to give out promotional copies, to do anything you want to do. But you do have that option there if you run into a school, for example, that would rather purchase through them because they have the PO. Or if you have somebody that wants to print physical copies, that’s an easy way of getting that done.


And I also think too, just to speak to the royalty side of things, there is a world where, especially if you’re working on commission, if you’ve gotten paid to create a piece, then I kind of look at it as what do you have to lose by putting it on the platform and getting potentially a wider exposure for the piece because you’ve already gotten paid to create it. You’re not losing money to put it out there. Another advantage to MyScore is that your music goes onto the JW Pepper site and it looks and appears in the search results the same as any of the music from any of the other publishers.


You have a lot of people who find your music just because they’re browsing using the search engines built in on Pepper. They’re not necessarily looking for, oh, I want something from an independent composer. They’re just searching for whatever it might be and it comes up in the search results.


And so I think that adds a certain amount of legitimacy to the music because you see it alongside well-established publishers and well-respected names of composers. And I think that can do a lot for expanding your audience. That’s really good to hear that that has been a positive experience for you.


So they are not the only ones, but they seem to be the ones, as you said, JW Pepper has a long history and know-how in this area. We actually, on our recent episode, talking about this area of the industry, broadly speaking, with the Muse Group acquisition of Hal Leonard and publishers and distribution networks and so on and so forth. She Music Plus is now part of Hal Leonard, was acquired by Hal Leonard some time ago.


Do you happen to know if they are still running their SMP Press operation or has that been replaced by Arrange.me? In July of last year, Hal Leonard sort of did a rebrand and they renamed the SMP Press Arrange.me and they also brought in the sheetmusicdirect.com website that Hal Leonard owns and operates. So it’s a little bit confusing because you don’t actually sell the music on Arrange.me, right? That’s the portal for composers to upload their music and then on the front end where it actually gets distributed is Sheet Music Plus and Sheet Music Direct. It’s a similar system in some respects to MyScore, except that there’s not an upfront cost to join and also they don’t have the physical print side of the business.


So anything that you sell through Arrange.me is strictly digital. The advantage to Arrange.me, of course, is that you have this great big list of copyrighted songs that you can arrange from and upload music legally and get all of the clearances for. I see.


Okay. Did Sheet Music Plus, did they ever print music? Not to my knowledge. Oh, okay.


All right. So that’s helpful to know that Arrange.me still is continuing that what used to be known as SMP Press. And of course, as you said, the ability to have a lot of songs pre-cleared for arrangement is really helpful.


But since we’re talking about print music specifically, it’s helpful to know that the print aspect is not available through the Arrange.me service. So that’s one major distinction. There are other services, but they’re kind of few and far between really.


I mean, when it comes right down to it, if you want to have somebody that has some knowledge about printing music and do it on a remote basis without getting a little bit more detailed about it, there is a company called Music Spoke that contracts out their printing. I don’t think they actually do it directly. They contract out with Black Ribbon, last I checked.


We can talk about them a little bit more later, but Music Spoke is another one. Do you have any experience working with them? I haven’t worked with them directly. I see them all the time at conventions and that sort of thing.


They’re very established in the choral world. And I know a lot of composers that have been really happy with the experience. Okay.


From what I understand, that company grew out of a desire to pay composers a higher royalty fee on their music. I see. And I think that’s one of the things in the sort of self-publishing landscape that’s maybe shifting a little bit.


It’s hard to say where things will go, of course, but obviously when you are distributing the music yourself or when you are representing the music yourself, you can command a lot higher fee than you would if you were selling it through a or whatever it happens to be. Right. All right.


Well, that’s, I think, broadly speaking, those types of services are one category. And it’s interesting. I had a similar question from someone not too long ago that was looking specifically for information on how to sell choral arrangements.


And I basically directed that person to those three services that we just talked about. My Score from J.W. Pepper, Arrange Me from Hal Leonard, and Music Spoke. There are other smaller ones that are out there, but that model is probably best served for that genre.


Well, and I also think before we jump off of those sort of big online distributors, they are a great substitute, especially for composers who don’t have their own website or are not interested in creating their own website. Because they have a sales, they have a store element as well. They don’t have to set up a Squarespace store or anything like that.


Exactly. You can just use your social media accounts and share links to the product pages. I mean, each product that gets uploaded to any of those services will have its own URL that you can use, however you see fit.


That’s actually a great point. And again, it goes to what you pay for, what you get out of that percentage that you give over to the company that’s doing this. And there’s a huge amount of infrastructure.


So let’s actually get into if you are going to do it yourself, because I think a lot of people have this idea that they are going to do it and then start getting into what’s required to make their own print shop and very quickly realize why it’s not something that the vast majority of people do on a regular basis. But the first element is actually one that I think a lot of people don’t even realize is that you need some way to have the music accessible unless you every time somebody wants your music, they have to try to look up your contact information online and send you an email or call you up and give you their information. Not to mention, obviously, the overwhelming majority of transactions are processed by credit or debit card, and you need to have all of that.


So if you don’t have that aspect of your operation set up, then the rest of this is kind of moot. Yeah, exactly. And I should say that’s probably the biggest downside to using one of those bigger services like Arrange.me or MyScore is that you don’t get the customer data in the end.


You get a record of the purchase, of course, and you get the royalty payments, but you don’t know who it was. And depending on what industry you’re working in, that can be a really important thing, especially if it’s something more specialized or niche. And there’s a lot of people I know who sort of pick a middle ground where they have just sort of a basic landing page for a website, but they don’t actually want to deal with setting up the e-commerce side of things.


So they’ll just have a static webpage, and it will have links to the catalogs on MyScore, the catalogs on Arrange.me, or social media pages, that sort of thing. That way, if somebody searches your name online, they still find you, they still know how to contact you, because it is a lot of work to set up the online store and to get the downloads ready to go and all that sort of thing. Yeah, that’s a good hybrid model, because that way, at least you have your own website on which you can put whatever else that you want to put on there about your bio and your performances and your activity and videos and so on and so forth, and still embed the information or link to the storefront element without you having to be responsible for maintaining it and all that.


But then, of course, there are, we hear them on other podcasts advertised all the time, things like Squarespace, other web stores. What do you use, Garrett? I use Elementor, the hosting and the building of the websites, and then the storefront is through WooCommerce. Yeah, that’s interesting.


That’s what I use as well. For those that aren’t familiar, WooCommerce is from the same folks that actually create WordPress. WooCommerce itself is free.


There are a whole lot of extensions, literally probably thousands, otherwise known as plugins. In fact, WooCommerce itself is a plugin for WordPress. A lot of people don’t realize that, but then there are a lot of extensions to WooCommerce that can have it do basically just about anything as WordPress is.


The downside of that, of course, if you’re not familiar with WordPress or don’t want to get familiar, there is a learning curve to be sure, even though a lot of this stuff, they try to make it as easy as possible, but the trade-off is almost infinite flexibility. If you want to find a way to do a particular thing, you can pretty much do it through a combination of WooCommerce and WordPress and whatever various plugins and extensions that are out there, both free and paid. Then there are other options out there.


There’s certainly Shopify. There are other things. The main thing is, if you’re selling sheet music, most likely, if you intend to sell printed music, you also want to be able to sell the PDF version of that or the digital version of that, however it’s represented.


And then you have to start getting into setting up, like you said, Garrett, it’s a lot of work to set up the product and to think about the variations of the product and all that stuff. And having done this from experience, it’s not for the faint of heart, but the reward is great because once you do it, you have a model that you can duplicate. And as you said, the more customers you have, the more customer data you have, the more you learn about what is selling and what people are interested in and how they’re purchasing.


And there are a whole lot of other ways to track that information with things like HubSpot and other things. But the bottom line is this, broadly speaking, if you go with a platform like Shopify or Squarespace, you will probably have a lot easier time getting in, but you may, depending on how picky you are, you may run up against some roadblock because the service just doesn’t offer a particular thing that you’re doing. So that’s the first step.


But then even if you have set all that up to your satisfaction, everything’s looking great and you have set up credit card payments and you’ve set up customer gateways and payment gateways and all that, you still need to actually, if we’re going to talk about printing music, you got to print the stuff. Well, let me flip it on you. If you’re going to try and print it yourself in your home, what would you need? Yeah.


Okay. All right. Again, it depends on the type of music that you’re printing.


We get this question a lot. I get this question a lot. And I really do think that you need, first of all, a laser printer, not an inkjet printer.


If you’re actually going to be selling music, even the best inkjets, I know they’ve improved a lot over the years, but nothing compares to the precision and durability and quality of a laser printer. So that would be the first step. You want one that can run off a decent number of copies relatively quickly.


If you’re printing music, you probably only need a black and white printer, but it is helpful to have color. So if you find a model that does good black and white, but also has color drums or color toner, and you think that you can justify the cost, it is helpful to be able to print in color when you need it. Probably one out of every hundred jobs I print has color, but I’m happy to have the ability.


You know, you want some sort of printer that can do at least, I would say, probably at least 11 by 17 and probably 18 by 12 if you’re going to be doing what we would consider professional quality scores and parts. Again, if you’re only printing things occasionally, or if you’re only printing for a very, very small niche market, you might be able to get away with something that does less. But if you’re talking about making the investment in actually printing and distributing your music yourself, then you’re going to have to get a printer that can do 18 by 12 size paper.


And then there’s, you know, how much do you want to invest in materials, in equipment that can automate a lot of the things that you need to do to the paper, which is binding, folding, stapling, cutting, and all these things. There are a lot of options. I have to say, this is something that I built up over time.


And I started out with one of those HP 5100s. A lot of our listeners will still remember those fondly. You can still get those kind of on the secondary market.


They were a workhorse for a lot of us that were doing this because they could do 18 by 12. But those, I believe, have been discontinued and now have been replaced with some other printers. There are a lot of them out there.


I happen to be using two Ricoh printers right now, and they’re fairly large Ricoh printers. Each of them cost more than $4,000 a piece. So again, you know, that’s a significant investment.


Again, that doesn’t include all the other things that I just talked about. That’s strictly just the printing aspect. You know, multiple paper trays if you want to not have to always constantly, if you’re printing a lot of different paper sizes.


And you can start to see how quickly you get to a point where it’s just not practical for the vast majority of people to do this. So I would say if you are a composer that focuses on one particular niche and one particular niche only, and there’s always a standard size paper that you print and always a standard size stock that you print on, that’s another thing. Different stock paper is used for different purposes.


You might want a little thinner weight for scores. You might want a little thicker weight for parts. People have different color preferences and on it goes.


But I would say probably the best case scenario, unless you want to actually go full on and build every last option out, is to really focus on one particular genre with a consistent paper size and paper stock, paper weight that you feel that you are getting regular orders for. That, I do think that, I don’t want to say the average person, but at least the composer that is selling a fair amount of printed material could see a good return on their investment without too much of a significant upfront cost. Well, I think that’s one of the things that makes this conversation so hard to have is because the standards are so different from each side of the industry, choral versus orchestral versus piano.


And even between the United States and Europe, I know there’s a lot of differences in page size and preferences for certain things. Right. But are there any things that come to mind as being universal, sort of just industry standard, no matter where you are? Sure.


I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot on Scoring Notes, obviously, the way you would set up a print job, making sure that the headers are in the right place and the page numbers conform to the correct standard. And you can listen to conversations that David and I had about the chronology of a perfect print job, where we go into a little bit of detail about what I would expect as someone who’s printing somebody else’s music to make sure that things are set up, making sure that the odd pages are on the right-hand side and the even pages on the left-hand side. Those types of basics are really important.


But let me give one example, perhaps, that could answer your question. Like, say if you are someone who is always selling some sort of, you know, you have a particular score of yours that does really well, and say it’s a chamber music score, and let’s say it’s a 50-page score, you might do very well in investing in a printer that can print on at least 9×12, perhaps, and making sure that it’s a 9×12 size. And it can be spiral-bound.


Certainly, a score can be spiral-bound and some paper stock that you can get. We mentioned, I mentioned on a previous episode over the summer last year, there are various suppliers that I’ve used over the years. Here on the East Coast, there’s Paperworks.


In the Midwest, there’s the Paper Mill Store. On the West Coast, there’s Kelly Paper. Those would be three out of others that are out there.


And you can cut the paper to various sizes, but you might be well-served to have a repository of paper in and covers in stock. And then you can get spiral bindings from various suppliers. There’s a few that are out there.


There’s MyBinding.com. There’s CFS Binds. Those are two of them. There’s several others out there.


And then you could get a binding machine, a spiral binding machine. And again, you can look those up. One of the companies that sells these, or the brands, I should say, is called Achilles.


I believe that’s how it’s pronounced. It’s A-K-I-L-E-S. That’s the one that I have.


And they have something called the CoilMac. That’s the make or model of it. Again, there are others.


And you can go up the chain to something that’s kind of hand-cranked and very manual to these things that are motorized and automated and all of that. But those would be kind of the basics. And if you find that somebody is regularly ordering that type of score, then you could probably crank out a fair number of spiral bound scores relatively quickly and rather cheaply once you acquire, like I said, the paper, the covers, the coils, and then, of course, the printer and the binding machine.


So that would be one thing to keep in mind. If you are selling parts, typically those are booklet format. And again, ideally, we would expect 9×12.


We’d expect 18×12 folded over. You could do one of a couple of things. You could get a bone folder, which are very cheap, and get those from your local art supply store or Amazon or whatever.


Now they’re mostly made out of plastic, but there are some that are still made out of bone. And you literally take that, and that’s how you get a nice crease on your paper. And you can fold the paper.


If you find that you are going to the next level and you’re folding a lot of music, then you might want to see if the particular printer that you get has a folding, you know, has a bookletizer basically built into it. Those can be rather pricey and take up a lot physical space as well. So a lot of people probably are probably best served with the manual option.


I actually have a folding machine, which is not inexpensive. It now costs a couple thousand dollars, but that’s how I am able to fold a lot of music really quickly. And then, you know, you can get a saddle stitch stapler.


You can get, again, you can get a manual one for probably not too much money. Find those on, you know, from an office supply store, Amazon, wherever, or you can get one that is electric and operates with a foot pedal. And that’s what I have.


And it’s called a Rapid Stapler. That’s the name of the company. It has this vice that you bolt it onto your desk and attach it.


And it has a foot pedal that operates the stapler. And it’s kind of crazy that this is where things have gone, but that is how I did rely on other services. And perhaps that’s our next topic that we want to cover.


But over time, I found that I could get better quality control because I was doing the engraving and the copying for a lot of my clients. Then they said, oh yeah, I would also need 10 copies of the score and parts. And I was like, oh, am I going to outsource that last part and maybe it won’t be done well? Or can I actually do that myself and then be able to print for other people as well? And that’s ultimately what I’ve been able to do.


But if you’re going to do that yourself, again, I think that what I would say is see what it is that you’re doing most often and try to build a little workshop scenario around that. That may be something that you may be able to do that may be economical in the long run. And I do think there are some variation within a genre of music.


I mean, there may be different options of page sizes or different options for binding. And you can look at what other people in your area are doing and see what makes the most sense for your setup. Yeah, that’s true.


Again, ultimately it comes down to what the expectations are. Again, you asked about the ground rules. You asked about the things that are kind of common conventions.


All the basic things apply. You don’t want to use just cheap office paper, 20-pound office paper. You want to use at least for scores.


I mentioned a little while ago, I said thinner for scores. I didn’t mean thinner than office paper. I meant thinner relative to part paper.


I would print typically scores on at least what we would consider 28-pound paper or that’s 70-pound text weight. There are various ways of measuring these things, but look that up. That’s what I would print on.


The grammage is also another way of going about these things. For parts paper, I would go even thicker, 80-pound text weight. It’s equivalent to what we would consider 32-pound bond weight paper.


That is 60% thicker than your typical office paper that you would print on. That’s the bottom line. And some people print on even thicker paper than that for parts.


That’s important for a variety of reasons. It’s got to hold up, especially if you’re doing music that is rented, that may be shipped around several times and sent to multiple orchestras, multiple ensembles. It’s going to be played from again and again and again.


So it needs to survive that process. Pencil marks, erasures, that sort of thing. And there’s also just the bleed through element.


I mean, music, especially if you want it to be legible, it’s got to be printed rather dark and precise. When that’s done, you don’t want that bleeding through to the other side. Again, those are things that can really, in a low light environment, these are all the things that we don’t necessarily think of when we’re just printing something, but they can all inhibit a successful performance if you don’t have those.


So those are the table stakes for when you’re printing music. And all the good stuff that I’ve talked about for a long time, the size of the staff, the thickness of the beams and the bar lines and the font choices and all that. We don’t need to necessarily get into that here, but suffice it to say that those all apply.


Yeah, that’s a topic for a whole nother episode. But I did want to ask, are there settings within notation software that you would do differently if it was going to be a digital only score versus something you were going to print? Yes, absolutely. The main one is the margins.


Certainly if it’s a digital only score, if it’s going to be read on, let’s say an iPad, you really don’t need much, if any margins, maybe a quarter inch or something like that. So you don’t have music going right to the edge. But when you print on actual paper, you do need margins.


You do need white space on all four sides of the page. That’s the most important one. The other one, when you’re printing the setting to think about is the aspect ratio, because these devices have kind of more or less kind of converged into the iPad aspect ratio, whatever that is.


It’s not unlike a sheet of letter size paper. I don’t know exactly off the top of my head what it is, but that’s basically what it is. It can display a regular sheet music reasonably well without too much extra space in any direction.


The difference is when you get to some of these odder sizes, like let’s say 11 by 17, which is something that we often see here, at least in the US, it’s kind of like A3 in the rest of the world, but it’s a little taller and a little narrower. So it kind of looks like it stretches basically to eight and a half by 11, which is our letter size, stack one on top of the other to make the 11 by 17. And when you do that, that’s a significantly different aspect ratio than the one that I just described, which is basically like a letter size or nine by 12 piece of paper.


And so when you try to display a score, like a full orchestral score on a device, that gets very problematic. Not the least of which is that the music is very, very small to read. So if you’re going to be creating a score that you know is going to be displayed, somebody’s going to be reading from on a device, you can’t use that 11 by 17 aspect ratio.


You’ve got to do basically something in the nine by 12 range, and that will scale well. And then you have to just decide, okay, how am I going to set up my score so that the staff size isn’t ridiculously small on the device. And that may mean condensing several instruments into one staff, flutes one and two on the same staff, so you have fewer number of staves.


That becomes a lot more pertinent when you’re setting up for digital reading as opposed to printed reading. When you’re printing, you have the luxury of spreading out the music a little bit more. So if you’re a composer that doesn’t want to deal with this stuff, how do you recommend finding the right print shop for them? Or is that even the term? I mean, what do you Google? I don’t even know what to Google.


Is it a print shop, a music preparation? What’s the terminology, I guess? I mean, I guess music printer. There aren’t too many of us around that do this sort of thing on what I referred to earlier in our conversation on kind of a custom basis. Certainly I know that I do it at NYC Music Services.


There’s larger operations. There’s Black Ribbon Music. A lot of people are familiar with them, perhaps.


There’s Subito. They’re in the New York area, New Jersey, Subito Music. And there are some others as well that I know that offer this service, but it’s kind of few and far between for the reasons that I have just established.


So let’s say that you end up getting all that equipment. Then you actually have to know how music is supposed to be printed. There’s the actual knowledge, which I’m always learning.


There’s a variety of different ways to print and bind music. Are we going to do it single-sided in accordion style and we’re going to tape it? Are we going to spiral bind it? Are we going to put it in a three ring binder because the pages need to be swapped in and out? You know, I would never do that. No, no, no.


In the musical theater world, I just did a job where I printed legal size landscape three-hole punched on the eight and a half side because it was going to be swapped in and out. Changes were being made rapidly and the three ring binder was preferable in that regard. So I needed to be able to set up my three ring binder punched for the two and three quarter inches space between the three holes, which is different than another standard three ring binder.


It’s just all this esoteric stuff that just you learn over time. All the things I just mentioned, what size paper and binding and different coils. You know, all the coils, there are many different coil sizes.


So how many do I want to have in stock on any particular time? Are we going to be doing a plastic cover or a vinyl back? Going to do a hard back because it’s a big score. It needs to have some extra heft behind it so that doesn’t flop around on the stand and on it goes. Not to mention all the shipping and boxing supplies.


It’s kind of nutty. And so for that reason, like I said, only a few people do that. Now, of course, there are lots of standard garden variety copy shops out there which handle the general population and all sorts of print jobs that you can imagine.


That is a perfectly reasonable option if you can think about all these things that we’ve just discussed, Garrett, and set it up so that all that, whatever it is, staples or whatever other commercial copy shop is out there, you can go on their portal and upload your thing and see the proof in your web browser and make sure that you’ve done it. It’s almost kind of like, going back to the first part of our conversation, it’s almost like my score in that regard. But even less in that they basically don’t even know what music is and they don’t care.


Like, you know, they’re going to print whatever it is that you give them. So that’s why on the other end of the spectrum is what I do where not only do I know exactly how the music is supposed to look, but I will most likely, if I see something that is wrong, I will say something. I’m not going to obviously proofread all the scores that come in.


That would be crazy. But if I’m going through and if I, they just say, hey, print all these. Like, wait a second, I see that you have a percussion part with three parts in it.


Are we printing three copies of that, for instance? And they’re like, oh yeah, print three copies of that. And I said, okay, what about the string count? And they said, oh, that’s eight, seven, six, five, four. Okay.


I know what that means. You don’t have to explain to somebody what eight, seven, six, five, four means in an orchestra context. They know that that’s the number of string parts per section.


You know, I may point out egregious page turn, depending on how much time I have and not to mention all the things that show up in a print job where cues might be coming from different music preparers and they might be formatted differently. And we might need to collate them in books and collate them by instruments and on it goes. That becomes a very, very, very, very specialized service that’s being provided.


And a lot of people don’t even know what they don’t know. And that’s okay. Like their job is to create great sounding music and then leave it to somebody else to, A, prepare that music, extract the score and parts, put in good quality cues and all that.


Even if that’s something that I didn’t do, or someone on my team didn’t do, I may get that music and be able to then print it in a way that best represents the music and even suggest the type of binding, the type of page size and those things, depending on how much or how little the client may have opinions in that regard. And some people are very specific. They set it up perfectly.


They know exactly what they want. They know what page size, they know what paper stock, they know how many copies and all that. That’s great.


I talk about that in the podcast episode called Print Perfect. There’s a blog post on scoring notes called Chronology of a Perfect Print Job. And the copyists knew exactly what needed to be done.


And that was great, but that’s not always the case and you have to deal with it. So that’s why the handful of us that do this sort of thing on a professional music printing, I guess the search term, if you’re going to try to find a professional music printer, maybe would be someone that you would try to find to do this for you. Yeah.


And if you are going to try and use a local print shop, like a FedEx or Kinko’s or something, I would definitely go in person and explain what you need and be there to answer questions as they come up. I remember going one time in college to just the, you know, nearby Kinko’s to print off a score for a recording session in class, you know, and the person working looked at me like I was crazy. I mean, they just had no idea.


They had no idea what I was talking about. And they know all the questions to ask, right? You know, what are the page sizes and how do you print and the binders and all that. But if you don’t have answers for them, they’re not going to be able to help you.


Like you said, you have to have that stuff decided beforehand. That’s right. To be completely fair and charitable, like I said, they are getting really anyone that comes through the door with any sort of random print job that might come in.


So it’s not their job to know the specifics of orchestra printing or whatever it may be, but it’s your job then to be able to provide that. And if the time allows to be able to look at a before you may run off a hundred copies or whatever it is that may be. Scores are generally a little easier, obviously, because I mean, once you have established the type of paper and the type of binding booklet or spiral or otherwise, it’s just a matter of basically running that same as any other printed material, printed book.


So if you’re just doing a bunch of scores, that’s where I find a lot of composers may find it more economical to do scores, especially if they’re printing for, let’s say, I don’t know, a college application or a job application or a composer competition where they just need the score. Or if you’re going to hand out samples at a conference. Yeah, exactly right.


Yeah. That you may not need a music printer to do. You probably can do that at your local shop or even online and say your local copy shop.


That’s almost an anachronism a little bit because all these services have ways in which you don’t have to go to the store if you can be reasonably confident of the proof that you see online and have it delivered to you. They’ll ship it right to your door, which is great. Again, you need to be really certain you know what you’re doing.


But I have done that. It does work as long as you set up things and upload in the correct order and in the correct place. That is possible.


So I would say the scores are something that are less problematic. It’s really the parts and the more specific you are with taping and binding and fold outs and all that. Obviously, that is something that is going to require the service as a professional.


And then there’s the shipping aspect. And we haven’t talked about that, but shipping is a real thing. You need to find a way to get the goods from point A to point B. Fortunately, that’s easier than ever now.


I happen to use a few services. I have accounts with all the major, you know, UPS, FedEx, USPS, stamps.com, which sometimes can get you better rates. They have negotiated rates with UPS in particular.


So what I would say is, unless you’re only doing this very occasionally, there’s no need ever to wait in line at the post office. Please don’t do that. Oh, I mean, that will just be a time suck.


That’s time that you’ll never get back. Go and order the supplies online that you need. You can get a lot of supplies for free, certainly.


If you do any shipping with FedEx and you set up an account and you have any reasonable volume, you can get FedEx supplies for free. So you can just drop it off instead of having to do the thing every time. Yeah, you don’t even have to drop it off.


You can schedule a pickup. They will come and schedule, call them up or have the FedEx app and say, there’s a slight fee for that. But what’s your hourly rate? How much time is it going to take you to drive or walk over to your local shop and drop it off? And I’ve done that.


I’ve done that only because I was running a bunch of errands in New York City and I wanted to be certain that I was actually getting it in FedEx’s hands by that day. The one benefit is that if you go to a shop, they will scan it right there. And at that point, it’s considered tendered to FedEx and they’re in control of it.


Whereas if you schedule a pickup, they may not show up. It may get delayed. You may miss their cutoff point and so on and so forth.


So there are reasons to still walk over there. But what you don’t have to do is walk over there and wait in line and tell the person, oh, this is who it’s going to and what services. At least do all of that ahead of time.


Print the label out, affix it to your package, invest in a postage grade scale. They’re not that expensive. Weigh it.


And if you want to walk the last mile to the shop, that’s fine. Just don’t wait in line and spend time telling them what it is that you want. So that I cannot stress enough.


So is it cost prohibitive for smaller composers to use a print service like NYC Music Services? I mean, is there a certain point career-wise where you need to be before it makes sense? Or does it really just depend on the job? Yeah, I’ve done all sorts of jobs. I’ve done $25 jobs and I’ve done $2,500 jobs. And it really runs the gamut.


The downside, I would say, quite frankly, of using a service it is really just me, certainly on the printing side, other than the building staff that assists me with some of the dealing with client-facing stuff, where somebody can come to my building and pick up a package. I’m in New York City, obviously. They can pick up a package without me necessarily needing to be present.


I may not be available. I may have other priorities, and it’s always best to schedule things in advance. I’m not a retail location where you just walk in and expect me to say, Hi, how are you? How can I help you today? It’s got to be something that’s done over the internet, over email almost all the time, or somebody filling out a form on my website and saying, I’d like this printed.


Quite frankly, I may not always be able to reply that same day or even within a day or two. I endeavor to do so, but it’s best to plan for things a little bit more in advance. So that’s the downside.


I suspect it’s the same with even some of the larger services that do something similar. Again, they’re not open 24-7 certainly. So if you have a rush job that you finished at 12 midnight and realize that you need it at the next morning, you’ll probably be out of luck, and then your 24-hour copy shop will literally be your only option.


That would be the first thing. But I would say from an economical standpoint, again, what is it that you value? Generally speaking, my prices will be higher than, again, going to a commercial shop because of that specialized element. What are you getting in return? You’re getting someone that actually knows how music’s supposed to be printed and will take responsibility if for some reason it wasn’t done in the way that was agreed upon, and will probably make suggestions if not necessarily to improve that particular project, but then others in the future.


Then there’s a little bit of a shorthand, a musical shorthand that you can have with someone that speaks the same language, so to speak. I’m talking about the English language. I’m talking about musical language.


Certainly, like I said, all sorts of people come to me, and I print a variety of jobs. It seems to work out because of what they’re getting in return is not just the value. If you count up what the value of the printed material is and the overhead and all that, it all gets factored into the price.


Well, I think that’s a good way to bring it full circle to where we started talking about the royalty percentages that you give up for certain things on certain services. I think for any kind of a job, you reach a point where it makes sense to bring in others because of the expertise that they have and the ability to specialize that they have. Depending on what kind of music you’re doing, partnering with a music printer probably makes a lot of sense, or partnering with some distribution platform makes sense because you’re going to be able to do things with them that you couldn’t do on your own.


At a certain point, it becomes too much. Yeah, I think that’s a good way of summing it up. Again, the genre aspect of it certainly plays into it, especially if you’re going to be printing many, many multiple copies of one particular item, or if you’re going to be printing a relatively few number of copies of many items.


On the former end, there are those other services that we’ve already discussed, and even the commercial print shops are good. If it’s the latter end of the spectrum where it’s the few number of copies and many different unique items, that’s where the specialty music printer is probably your best bet. That’s probably a good way of summarizing our entire conversation.


Well, and the pages add up quick. If your sales are in the tens, but the piece itself is 20 pages, and then you’ve got parts and accompaniment and all these. It can add up fast.


All of a sudden, you can be talking about thousands of pieces of paper, even though you may not feel like you’re a big operation. That’s true. Look, I know the title of your podcast is selling sheet music, but it is important to keep in mind that the selling component is really only one element to why somebody would need printed sheet music.


It’s often the case that it isn’t sold, but it’s rented, or it serves, as we said, a variety of other purposes. It’s not always practical to think of it as, oh, can I sell this for more than I paid to get it produced? Because the answer in many cases, probably not, but it has value beyond that aspect to it. And so that’s something that you need to consider depending on for what purpose you need it.


And if you are giving someone a quote for a job, these are things you can consider and work into your quote and have that covered as part of the negotiating process. Absolutely. And you know what? I meant to ask you about your PDF utilities that you have, the batch scale and the music binder and the batch stitch.


I don’t know. We may want to just refer people to the website for that. Yeah, I’m happy that you mentioned that.


And I’ve certainly talked about it on the podcast and certainly on scoring notes, but yeah, you can just go to Notation Central and look in the productivity section. That’s where you’ll find them. These are free utilities.


You can donate some money, but we do keep them up to date. So any donation that you give is always appreciated, but it’s not necessary. There’s four of them.


They do pretty much what they say, PDF batch booklet, PDF batch scale, PDF batch stitch, and PDF music binder. They are for Mac and Windows. They will respectively create a booklet from many different files.


They’ll scale, talking about that scaling element from one size to another, a lot of PDFs very quickly. They will stitch together multiple PDFs into one combined PDF for printing. And then PDF music binder is the piece de resistance.


It’s really designed specifically for music printing. It’ll bookletize. It’ll do accordion style.


It’ll save off the single page parts versus multiple page parts and a whole bunch of other things. There’s a demo up there. Great shout out to Abraham Lee, who I think has stepped away from the music business, but a great fellow.


He basically wrote the code for all these apps. And the late Robert Puff, a great colleague of mine, helped commission that particular app and was really instrumental in defining the way that it would work. But we make it available for really anyone to use.


I know a lot of people use it or some of them. That’s a great way of setting up music for printing. I would say specifically to send it to a print shop for someone who is not familiar with printing music.


If you send me PDFs, you don’t need to do any of that. You can just send me the regular single file PDFs. And obviously I have all these tools and more that I will use to set up the print job.


But certainly they’re very helpful for, let’s say, bookletizing a set of PDFs that then you would just send to a music printer and say, hey, print this double-sided on the short edge. And they don’t have to worry about doing the booklets or anything like that. So that would be one scenario in which you would use that app.


Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I really appreciate how generous you are with your knowledge and wisdom and insight that you have in the industry. And I know there’s a lot of us out there that are very grateful for what you’re doing.


Well, likewise, Garrett, the same is true for you. I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcast and seeing it grow over the years and some of these tips that you offer from a very practical, well-meaning perspective. And I’m really glad that we had this opportunity to do effectively a joint podcast.


And I hope that our respective listeners, especially those who may not know of one or the other, will subscribe to both of our podcasts and we’ll be able to share that knowledge even further. That’s right. And happy new year to everybody.


Exactly. All right, everybody. Thank you, Garrett.


Thanks to you at home for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on our respective podcasts, Selling Sheet Music and Scoring Notes. Take care.