How to publish sheet music

23.12.2021 Ben Maloney Sheet music

Composers and songwriters can now quickly and easily self-publish their music through a range of web spaces such as Escobar•DigitalArcomisComposers Edition, and more. Each offers a unique service that is geared towards different types of composers’ needs. 

This picture looks very different to how things used to be. Publication was once a world bossed by the likes of heavyweight European publishing houses and Tin Pan Alley outfits. But now, there are all sorts of ways for musicians to get work out there.

In fact, it’s even possible to break out entirely on your own, taking responsibility for the creation, marketing and sale of your music - though that’s by no means an easy route to take. 

Fortunately, there are many intermediary services that cater to those looking for greater independence. Taking care of distribution, they give you the freedom to spend more time on what matters most: creating.

If you’re thinking about publishing sheet music, then you can find out more below about these options available to you. But whichever route you decide to pursue, there’s one thing that you're encouraged to keep in mind…
 

Protect your work


It’s important that you take steps to ensure that your property is protected. This applies to any and every method of publication, whether you're producing a sound recording or music notation, scoring an ad or a TV show. Full control of your work is your prerogative – don’t forget that.

Whether you end up striking a deal with a publishing house or an online marketplace, there’ll no doubt be small print pertaining to ownership, copyright, royalties and the rest. It’s worth taking the time to check out these terms and conditions.

Wherever your work ends up, once it’s in the digital domain then it’s to some extent susceptible to piracy. Musicians are inherent owners of copyright - as soon as a work is created or published it is protected by copyright. But there are extra steps you can take to protect it and you should at least consider the guidelines. 

Organisations such as ASCAPSESACPRS and BMI can help you find out more about copyright, performing rights, performance royalties, and so on.
 

Publish with aggregation services


Escobar•Digital is an example of an aggregation service, digitally compiling the works of independent composers and small publishing houses and uploading them to nkoda’s digital sheet music library. This is one of the easiest ways to self-publish.

Fully organised and catalogued, your sheet music then takes a place alongside the works of the great composers, and can be accessed like any other by thousands of nkoda subscribers. 

So your work is not only distributed, but also stored digitally – there’ll be no need to worry about how to store sheet music that you’ve created.

Any musician can sign up to Escobar•Digital and can publish five works per year for an annual fee. The best part is that your income is sorted out too, as all mechanical royalties accumulated by in-app usage on nkoda are delivered right back to you. 100% of them.
 

Publish with digital sheet music websites


Unlike the aggregation channel that Escobar•Digital provides to the nkoda library, there are a range of existing websites that themselves are spaces in which your music can be distributed. Collectively they offer a variety of alternative routes to self-publishing your sheet music.

Composers Edition is a leading example among digital sheet music websites, offering the composers the chance to distribute sales and hire material worldwide. Their system gives musicians the chance to self-publish their music in the most simple way and on the largest possible scale.

Moreover, composers retain 100% ownership and earn 100% of the publishing royalties with CE, and your work can be sold as printed music as well as being delivered as digital downloads. It’s a process that’s not only easy and efficient but also fully economical.

Arcomis is another site that aids composers looking to create and distribute music. Theirs is a unique service that works by supplying a myriad of opportunities to find work - always a precious thing as an artist.

In short, it facilitates the commission process, linking up you, the composer, with all sorts of individuals and organisations looking for music for their projects. It might not be self-publishing to the letter, but it’s another way to get music scores performed and utilised.

 

Publish with printed sheet music marketplaces


Some sites function themselves as marketplaces for sheet music, where your work can be uploaded and then sold on to paying customers.

Sheet Music Plus is perhaps the leading name here, the self-proclaimed world’s largest sheet music store, selling everything from full scores to songbooks. 

Originally an online commercial marketplace for published sheet music, not long ago unpublished composers were welcomed to the site, which makes it another option for those looking to self-publish. 

Composers and songwriters retain full rights to music supplied to the site, but the writer's share falls short of what the likes of Escobar•Digital and Composers Edition offer, to 45%. But considering the number of buyers that Sheet Music Plus boasts, that might well be a price worth paying.

It’s worth noting that as well as being able to publish and sell original compositions, you can also sell arrangements of copyrighted and public-domain compositions, if that’s the kind of creative work you do.
 

Sheet music publishers and labels


Of course, sheet music can still be published the old-fashioned way, via a music publishing house. Plenty of them span the music industry, and most specialise in certain types of music, managing, marketing, printing and selling the work of their composers, whose royalty share varies from publisher to publisher. 

The snag is that to land a publishing deal with a publisher or a record label you have to have established a significant reputation as a composer or songwriter. More often than not you’ll also need to be in a position to produce work on a regular basis, and not all composers find themselves in these circumstances.

Still, you’d have nothing to lose by reaching out to a publishing house if you feel that they’re a good musical match for you and your work. And if that doesn’t bear any fruit then self-publishing could certainly be a stepping stone to a professional association with one of these prestigious institutions.
 

Publish independently


There are a number of composers out there that self-publish in the truest sense of the word, choosing not to rely on intermediary organisations to handle publishing administration. 

Instead they see to every stage of the process themselves, from composition through promotion to delivering the music itself to paying customers.

Because of the very nature of this highly independent approach to self-publishing, there’s really no one way to go about it – each composer has developed a bespoke method and business model that suits their needs and the needs of the work that they produce.

Randall Davidson, for example, is a composer who founded his own publishing company, Boys Art Music, to promote and distribute his work. There are countless composers like Davidson who have forged a path for themselves in response to the challenge of getting music read, played, performed and heard.
 

Publishing your sheet music


There are all sorts of ways to achieve the coveted goal of publishing sheet music. And depending on the type of composer or songwriter you are and the type of music you create, one of them is sure to be right for you.

Is it important that it’s heard in public performance? Is it important that you make money from your work? Is it important that there’s a record of your achievements? Reflecting on questions like these and making sense of your priorities as an artist is a sure fire way to figuring out the right way forward.

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