Back in circa 1985 when I was trying to manage what was then called the Academic and General Division of Oxford University Press (OUP) part of my portfolio was music publishing. This was roughly a third books (which I vaguely understood) and the rest sheet music publishing about which I knew close to nothing. It didn’t take me too long to uncover the wonderful truth that music publishing at the time earned its profits from payment for performing rights. Whilst OUP was not by any stretch of the imagination a major sheet music publisher the profits from these performing rights from composers such as William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Matthias, and John Rutter were significant. The only downside was that distributing the sheet music itself was slow, complex, inefficient and loss-making. I thought if only we could find a better way, avoiding the costs but also avoiding the complaints of schools that we hadn’t supplied the correct number of viola parts or choirs that the costs were too high to give every singer a score or to be able to supply in less than a few weeks….
So now after 37 years I was delighted to see that OUP has agree to release its catalogue through the secure, efficient, and digital streaming service, nkoda. Transparency and decency insist that I own up to being a miniscule shareholder in nkoda as they are doing exactly what I was looking for so many years ago.
They have signed contracts with most of the world’s music publishers, have developed clever software to digitise and protect (from piracy) the scores, allow conductors, teachers and musicians edit scores for their own purposes, and are now supplying many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and conservatoires. It is only a matter of time before iPads and similar screens will replace the attractive but obsolescent printed scores and there will always be the right number of viola and soprano pieces.
Composers and publishers will be properly rewarded for the use of their copyright material and with huge distribution opportunities. Students at schools and universities all round the world (remember musical notation is linguistically neutral, no translation required) will benefit as will professional musicians.
nkoda’s governing phrase is ‘Musicians are made, not born’ and in this world riven by wars, misunderstandings, economic woes it is a privilege for me to find myself involved in something as life-affirming and creatively important as music making. I only wish we could have seen this solution at OUP in 1985 but delighted that my old employer has joined my new friends and the circle is almost complete.