Patric Standford has been Chairman of the Composers’ Guild since 1977, and is a co-Director of ‘Redcliffe Edition’. He has been on the staff of the Guildhall School of Music since 1967.
It is now three years since I attempted to bring about some form of organisation to the Composer-Publisher concept for it was clear that whilst some composers had been publishing their own works for several years (Lopes Edition, Joad Press, Kronos Press among others) and had acquired great expertise, others who were beginning to realise the benefits were approaching the Composers’ Guild for practical information that it was not in a position to give. The ensuing discussions I then had with Anthony Hedges, long recognised as the Guild’s spokesman on publishing matters and concerns, encouraged my belief that composer-publishing was a healthy and sensible business that needed Guild support and encouragement.
To begin with, it is only possible for a composer to act as his own publisher if he has a positive attitude toward being a business man, making careful work schedules, meeting dead-lines that are self-imposed, and organising time, ideas and ﬁnance in a persistently continuous and balanced manner. As with anything, without the determination to do it, it cannot be done. But the prospect of not doing it these days is worse than it has been for many decades. The Guild’s advisory service on publishing matters has clearly shown the disadvantages under which many composers eventually find themselves with the more usual commercial channels - the lack of promotion, the inadequate contracts, the unsatisfactory divisions of royalties. Above all it is the acquisition of the composer’s copyright by the publisher that is the greatest evil. His copyright is the composer’s most valued possession, and this he often sells for a shilling and will never see again, for the ‘assignment’ lasts fifty years beyond his death. The problem of publishers eating up composers is no new one, and the sad stories from Schubert to Fall and Alban Berg (to name only three) are proof of the wisdom of any composer now who will keep his copyright and only allow a publisher a ‘licence to print’ or, as I am saying in this piece, do it all himself.
In the first instance however, the composer must, if he is entering into a contract that demands the assignment of his copyright, decide on the nature of the work whether or not it is worth it. If it is an educational piece, then it is almost certainly that specialist publishers have a better circulation than the composer has. If it is a symphonic work, chamber music, vocal or choral piece or light music composition, then, as the publishing world is at present, it would be better that the composer did it himself if he is so able.
The technicalities of setting up a self-publishing business are not too complex. It is best to register the company with the Registrar of Business Names (which can be done for a very small fee), decide on the amount of capital available to open a bank account, and acquaint an accountant with the enterprise. It may be desirable to register the company with the PRS, but this may not be regarded as too important. The financial commitment is important — putting your money where your ideas are! — and to allow an initial sum of, say, £200 and attempt to work within this budget until the works in the catalogue begin to earn through sales or performances is, I feel, a most adequate way of starting. Following the initial ‘self loan’, the book-keeping aspect is vital, and records should be kept most carefully. From this, one learns to spend only when it is possible, and to plan expenditure on printing and advertising only when the books allow.
Generally, composer-publishers will be more interested in performances than in sheet-music sales, and it is likely that the more enterprising will be far more vigorous in promotional activities than would be most large commercial publishing houses. The preparation of scores and parts, of art-work for covers and advertisements, and of the whole process from rough copy to ‘ready for print’ is just as much an artist’s job in its way as it is the writing of the music, and those with a good eye for design and a good sense of presentation will enter into those difficult and painstaking tasks of preparing their own work for the market with such spirit and enthusiasm as would rarely be found in one less directly interested.
Methods of preparing music for print are now so varied and accessible that it is unlikely one would not find one of the processes readily available and suitable. The best method is to cultivate a good hand and, with a little help from ‘Notaset’ (from Breitkopf in London) and a variety of ‘Letraset’ type-faces, a most impressive master can be made quite quickly (the forfeit of a few television programmes and a little sleep is a small price to pay I find!). Dyeline, Xerox or off-set Litho prints are then made, even perhaps quite satisfactorily from ‘the local printer’.
If sales of the printed materials are intended, then keep a careful note of actual expenditure on the work (including even the first round of advertising costs) in order to make an accurate calculation of the cost price per copy. In the commercial business, the sale price of a new publication is often five times the cost - and this is not so unreasonable if it is remembered that trade and foreign discounts can often be as much as 40%, and it is likely that a print of 500 could be sitting on the shelves for quite a long time before gradual sales begin to offset some of the cost.
The composer-publisher has one great advantage over others, should he so wish to use it - and that is in the region of hire charges for orchestral and chamber works. Anything up to 80% of a publisher’s hire fee may well be for the publishers themselves. The enormous cost of hiring parts of copyright works has many times discouraged and cancelled the performance of works which, for the composer, is disastrous. Composers hiring their own works could well charge only that part of the standard hiring fee which they would be likely to receive anyway, and thus ease the financial burden on so many amateur, semi-professional and school orchestras and ensembles that are often willing to perform new works but quite unable to at the full going rate required by the larger companies for the hire of material. (A conductor of an amateur orchestra was recently asked to pay more for the hire of an orchestral work than he was paying for the hire of the hall for the concert!).
Composer-publishing puts the composer in direct touch with the customer, and these days that cannot be a bad thing! Certainly it may all seem like a return to the fifteenth century when William Caxton first established the cottage-printing-industry (then it was possible for a man to write the books upstairs, print them downstairs in the back and sell them in the shop at the front - and that went on for something like two-and a-half centuries until the Stationers’ Company were allowed to prosecute for printing without a licence!). But our present need is of necessity. Perhaps publishers have not adjusted themselves to the current musical climate. Perhaps their need to find financial support for their ailing business has lead them to lean too heavily on the composers. Whatever the reason, it is now more and more necessary that composers are made aware of the commercial side of their own business, and concern about this is reflected in the increasing number of university and college music departments that admit the teaching of ‘business studies’ for composers. Aaron Copland remembers back to 1924 when he left college as a composer, but in a complete state of ignorance regarding the commercial processes of the musical world about him - he is not alone in feeling his college should have done something about it. It is just such ignorance on the part of composers that has allowed publishers to take advantage of them time and again over the years. I would like to hope that we are now entering upon a time when composers are, like many writers now, shrewd businessmen, who have been made aware of how to take care of themselves by their early education.
For the future, however, we must be careful. As the composer-publishing industry increases, publishers themselves will not entirely represent the interests of composers when they appear on committees and councils - and this is important for there are many who consider that the interests of composers have been well taken care of if the publishers have been consulted. With a long-term view, this is one of several reasons that I wished to absorb composer-publishers under a Composers’ Guild umbrella, for it may be that, similar to the Stationers time, the Guild may give a licence to produce the work of living composers. . . .
The following should prove a useful reference list Of Publisher names originated by composers in the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, up to 1978. Full details and up-to-date information can always be Obtained from the B.M.I.C.
Registered Names Composers Represented
ANGLIAN EDITION East-Anglian composers (14 members) Director: Eric Hudes
CHISWICK MUSIC LTD Bill Tamblyn
COMPOSER & PLAYER PRESS Raymond Parfrey
JOAD PRESS Adrian Cruft
JUBEL PRESS Stanley Glasser
KRONOS PRESS Philip Cannon
LINDIS EDITION Colin Hand
LOPES EDITION LTD Leonard Salzedo; Geoffrey Grey; John Mayer; Alfredo Speranza
MAGNIFICAT MUSIC An associate of Chiswick Music Ltd
MERIDIAN MUSIC Graham Whettam
OBELISK EDITION Heinz Herschmann
REDCLIFFE EDITION Patric Standford and Francis Routh
WESTFIELD MUSIC Anthony Hedges