In my humble opinion, if there is any aspect of music education that remains firmly footed in the traditional model, it’s band. That’s not a bad thing. As a former band director myself, I believe that we are creating some incredible performing ensembles, and band directing at all levels has become a position with very high expectations. Just visit the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic in December and you’ll see what I mean. While there, be sure to walk around the Exhibit Hall. You’ll see LOTS of band music publishers, selling everything from method books to the latest compositions by some amazing composers who specialize in the band music idiom. What you won’t see a lot of however are publishers that are offering their catalogues in a digital format. You’ll see some great products like Sound Innovations from Alfred Publications that utilize technology to enhance the teachers and student experience, and Chromatik that offers a revolutionary way to disseminate music to students, but you won’t find that many that have embraced technology as a way of delivering their content to students. There is one company doing something amazing in this area, and I’d like to take a moment to share why I think that they are forging a new model for band music publishing here in the United States. Meet Bandworks Publications.
Founded by respected composer Patrick J. Burns, Bandworks Publications is doing something that I find remarkable. In a nutshell, a consortium of composers are embracing the PDF format when selling their publications. Recently, I purchased an arrangement from Bandworks for an All-County Festival that I am conducting in January. I was amazed when I looked carefully at the way they sold their music. You can purchase a typical paper arrangement from them at competitive prices, but you can also purchase PDF versions at reduced prices. Why is that so special? Because the PDF parts you purchase are unlocked, and allow you to print out and photocopy as many copies as you’d like. You didn’t read that wrong. Bandworks Publications sells their arrangements and compositions in a very director friendly format. For my specific purchase (TURBULENCE! by Chris M. Bernotas), I chose to buy the printed and bound conductors score and the set of PDF parts for $55 instead of the traditional format which is $65 – a pretty significant savings considering the price point.
I decided to give Patrick a call to ask him a little more about how this decision is working for them, what the reaction is among his customers, and how the whole copyright/licensing arrangements works. He told me that a lot of publishers in the industry are very interested in what he is doing, and that his model is quite successful so far. The composers retain all of the copyrights for the music that they have composed (a very unique arrangement to be sure), and they license their music to Bandworks Publications for a period of time during which they receive a very healthy royalty on sales – much more than a traditional publishing contract. Bandworks Publications can do this because of the extremely low overhead costs. Most band directors that purchase music through the site followed the same method as I did – buying a printed bound score (to write on and conduct from on their stands) with PDF parts which they then photocopy legally for their students. Another interesting aspect of this that Patrick pointed out to me was that if an error in the score is found, it is very simple to correct from the master engraving files and update. He does not need to have a warehouse to store all of the printed sheet music (most band composers get a run of 250 sets of parts when they sign a publishing deal) as his business is most print on demand. Most of the time however, he is only printing a bound score and the directors do most of the printing. Talk about a truly green company! When I asked him whether he was concerned about people taking advantage of this arrangement, he said “Most certainly not. Band directors have been photocopying parts since photocopiers were invented. We are certainly using an honor system with our PDF parts and hope that band directors aren’t abusing the copying rights we are granting them by making duplicate sets for other schools. It’s no different than the current model though if you think about it, except we are clearly stating that you can photocopy. It’s working out really well for us so far, and the response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive.”
On a side note, as Bandworks Publications is located in New Jersey, 10% of all November sales will be donated to the Red Cross relief effort in support of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
I personally think that the model that Patrick and the folks at Bandworks Publications have adopted is the future of band music publishing, though I am sure that traditional publishers in this genre will need to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. What do you think? Should more publishers adopt this model? Do you know of choral and orchestral music publishers doing something similar? I’d love to hear from you.