Online yet still so much offline


If I was to believe the majority of posts on my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds then online is everything. Full of strategies to use including how to form your tribe, the next ‘new’ approach for more customer interaction, more software to measure the effectiveness of… When I think as a business I am bombarded by these online messages but when I am a customer do I rely solely online? No, never.

There are so many stages of interaction to go through before the most important element in any relationship, the trust, is established. When I can see, then touch, play with and test something physical then I can quickly decide if it is what I require but online I only have images and descriptions to assist my choices. This advertising is created and written for the greatest effect and there may be endorsements from others at best or just a thumbs up at worst. How is the trust developed in this purely film environment when I have been brought up to watch, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge described, with a willing suspension of disbelief?

So why should I put my business online? For music publishing it means very little investment as the create -> copyright -> publish -> earn process has no manufacture, distribution and/or shipping stages. The purchasing process includes the download and the customer may print the material or may keep it in digital form on the hard drive or both, it is their choice. As a publisher who has spent years experimenting with different paper, card and binding systems to produce a quality product this loss of any control in how the physical product might be produced has been difficult to come to terms with.

The Ofcom Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014 shows growth in use and online activities from all demographic groups compared with the year before. Is this mainly for information or entertainment or will it be shopping? According to the Centre for Retail Research “E-commerce is [still] the fastest growing retail market in Europe” so I have set up my online presence and will keep you informed of the progress.

 Groove_Jogger_Page_01         Point Of NoR_Cover

 The first two items on the virtual shelves are a collection of over 100 groove styles from around the world with basic drum pattern and bass lines Groove Jogger for drums and bass and a solo recital work for four pedal timpani The Point Of No Return. Both available from my Sellfy store

I would welcome any comments about this new enterprise although I cannot see the worth of the thumbs up yet.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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I like to compose standing up


During the past month I have been working on a couple of commissions for percussion ensemble. One brief was for five players using a limited number of instruments with an idea of the performance experience of each percussionist specified.

I made some sketches on manuscript paper and wrote down some key words and phrases that would remind me of the concepts I was going to use and then left it for a while. I often do this and when I return to the ideas and they still excite me then I know that the music will be what I intended.

Feeling confident with the material that I am arranging usually means I can work reasonably quickly, normally it takes one hour to complete one minute of music, and I enjoy the process. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your work and I am happy to have found a vocation that allows me to do this.

When I am scoring, arranging or orchestrating I like to walk around. To some this may seem an odd concept when accurately placing small blobs, sticks, curved lines and the odd bit of text on lined paper. This is the first score, the handwritten one, and not the typeset version that most people expect in these days of desktop publishing software for computer. The standing and walking helps my creativity to flow, sitting down is for the more mundane typesetting and score preparation activities.


I hand-write the score because I find the ideas flow on to the paper. The process from consciousness to pencil to manuscript is quick and precise and is not stifled by the restrictions the software places on the creative path. I have tried playing the music into the computer but then had to spend too much time editing the half completed result so paper for me every time.

When the handwritten version is finished I will either type it up on the computer or hand-write the score and parts. Most professional performing colleagues I know prefer the handwritten version as it is easier to follow when the copyist writes the parts in a way that they find the most appealing and accessible to read and perform. This look can be achieved using computer software but it is very time consuming editing bar by bar, line by line and individual part by part.


The photographs are stages in the creation of the work 5:45 for percussion quintet. I hope to hear the performance in a few months time somewhere in deepest Lancashire.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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Alternative funding strategies

Money tree

It is not that many years ago that a youth organisation, recognised throughout the world for winning two Golden Diplomas for outstanding singing and the Open Popular Choral Music category at the World Choir games, would have been supported by a music service who’s main funding would have been from the local authority (public) purse. The kudos of such awards would have been promoted and marketed nationally showing the significant educational and social experience the participants regularly enjoyed (over 200 rehearse during term time) as well as highlighting the excellent standards achieved and the progressive policy that supported the project.

That was in the past, getting more distant by the day, and the reality for music organisations these days is a precarious one. Speaking with many musical directors and teachers throughout the country there seems to be a decline in the numbers taking part in the larger ensembles (orchestras and wind bands) and the encouragement of wider opportunities and/or first access class participation sessions does not frequently progress students to continuing their musical studies on an individual basis. Placard making and organising protests against the withdrawal of funding seem to be some other extra curricula activities for music groups if the number of petitions on is anything to go by.

The choir that were so successful at the World Choir Games last year were the 2014 Open Popular Choral Music winners Barnsley Youth Choir. This year they have been invited to take a group of singers to the European Choir Games in the German city of Magdeburg. That means another extra fundraising effort to hit the target of £30,000 required for the choir to be part of this choral festival.

The fundraising began in earnest a few days ago when many of the choir members took part in a Sponsored Sing-a-thon. Non-stop singing for over 12 hours through the night which can be seen and heard on their Facebook site. Donate at


Along with sponsorships and donations, which are always welcome no matter what time of year, the choir will soon be holding a gala dinner and auction and are hoping for donations of prizes (experiential and physical) from businesses to help with their efforts. Are there any businesses out there that need a theme for this year’s corporate and social responsibility scheme? If so the choir are a very worthy cause.

Fundraising through a ‘Sponsor a child scheme’ is also planned this year and the individual recipients of the sponsorship will wear the sponsors name on their shirts throughout the games in Germany. For much more information about helping the choir achieve their goals and raising aspiration for many more singers please visit

If the choir were a PLC they would be a market leader and exceeding their targets every year, especially for quality and commitment, and all this organised and managed by volunteers.

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More online views

Pinterest instagram

How to keep up with the number of social media platforms?  I have no idea which is trending so the best thing to do is ask customers and students.  Most replied that they used Instagram and Pinterest with mobile users also liking Snapchat.

I have an Instagram account now to share the images that present themselves from time to time on my travels and I have started two Pinterest boards.  One for my publishing business ( and one with enterprise and entrepreneur links, especially those with a social element, which is another of my main interests.

I hope you get time to give them a quick view and share some pins

Two out of three is a reasonable start.

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Songs for the future


Last week the schools had a half term in most areas of England and pupils and teachers will (hopefully) be getting themselves ready for a start back on Monday. In the week before the break I was part of a morning session devoted to composition and lyric writing at the launch of a songwriting competition for schools in Rotherham.

The concept of the competition is ambitious but I am confident it is achievable in the time and the eventual performance(s) will be showcased before the summer holiday. The plan is for pupils in every school in the Borough to work on songs and submit the best one to the competition in the week before Easter. The songs will be judged and the winning entries will be arranged, orchestrated and produced ready for the summer term (my main job in the process).

The complete versions of the winning songs will be sent to all the schools for their choirs to rehearse and put together as a video and possibly performed live at a community sing event. For examples of how the final results could look see the Lincolnshire Big Sing Virtual Choir or the song What If on video produced for the Commonwealth Games

Each year there are a number of songwriting competition initiatives, many with specific events and themes as their focus. Some examples are a song for the Rugby World Cup in Leicestershire or Music for Peace and Development as part of the Commonwealth Community Choir competition or the Amnesty International UK young songwriter awards. There are also more general competitions like the Teenstar and Future Music songwriting/performance competitions.

My thoughts about the value of competitions in music are mixed. Composition competitions often include directions to write for a particular group of instruments and for a specific duration (almost ‘to a brief’) and one of the most important skills to master – finishing a complete version of the work by the deadline (with edits, dynamics, phrasing, articulations, performance descriptions…) gives finality to the undertaking.

The performance and/or talent competitions where the competitors sing songs that were defined by known singers seem to have little musical worth but are geared towards creating a certain type of celebrity status for the participants. As such they are directed by the principles of entertainment rather than those regarding music.

This competition is based on judging the song through the combination of words and music. This may tell a story, be an anthem, create a mood or feeling… An original song created by the youth of Rotherham for the youth of Rotherham. If the enthusiasm of the music staff at the launch session is any indication of how the project will run and what could be achieved we should get a sack full of entries in a few weeks time. Good luck to everyone taking part and I hope there are clouds of creativity circling over Rotherham in the weeks to come.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

For further information regarding the competition please get in touch with me by email or contact the Rotherham Music Hub direct through their website!contact/cut5

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Beautiful sounds and never a silence


An orchestra of marimbas (with bass, percussion and a xylophone), handcrafted instruments and cymbal mutes were just some of the highlights for the ears on Sunday 8th February at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The Day of Percussion has now completed 23rd consecutive years and is still going strong.

The day heralds the new percussion year with spring just around the corner and it was good to meet up with colleagues from the RNCM, Southern and JAM Percussion as well as catch up with long standing partner in rhythms Dave Hassell. There was also a very productive meeting of the National Association of Percussion Teachers where members discussed some very good ideas for the committee to set in motion for the coming years. All information will be available at or on the Facebook page

My exhibitor table was placed on a balcony overlooking the doors to the main concert hall and sandwiched between the Matt Nolan Custom and Cymbomute stands. Some wonderful sounding hand made cymbals, gongs, effects and triangles from Matt Nolan offset by the equally effective (and most needed for a practice room or teaching studio) cymbal mutes that allow the drummer to ‘keep the feel’ Two entrepreneurs creating new sounds for the drum and percussion community.

The day was as usual packed with concerts and demonstrations to appeal to the wide range of experiences of the audience and included a rare outing for the Manchester Marimba Orchestra that had been organised by RNCM and Birmingham conservatoire tutor Liz Gilliver. The sound was fantastic as the ensemble of 20 marimbas, a xylophone, string bass and some orchestral percussion performed a repertoire of music seldom heard in this country.

Manchester Marimba Orchestra

Manchester Marimba Orchestra

As for the day, I hope a few more drummers and percussionists will join NAPT after our conversations, I met customers that were only email addresses a few weeks ago and I was commissioned to write some new works. And why never a silence? With all the different stands of instruments on show stretching from the main doors to the furthest balcony of the reception area there was always someone trying something percussive so never a quiet moment.

Percussion music from Peter R. Birkby is available at or email with ideas for commissions.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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The troubles and life of technology


The composing, filming, writing, recording, mixing and publishing (on YouTube at of Travels II (sunset over Yorkshire) took approximately 19 hours due to the availability of hardware and software (on phone and computer). Not that remarkable in these times of software and hardware compatibility (as long as you have well-matched products).

The breakdown of the time spent on each aspect of the work is itemised below. Editing, scoring and articulating exactly what was required took the majority of the time. It is not the devil in the detail but the standard I aspire to for the final product that is so time consuming and so detailed.

Inspiration, observation, collection and analysis

Recording film                                 3 minutes (sat on train)

Recording idea                                1 minute (walking from station)

Recording trains                             2 minutes

Editing recordings                          2 hours 30 minutes

Development and refinement

Scoring for string quintet                4 hours

(string quartet and bass)

Articulations on the score              5 hours (dynamics, phrases, accents, tempos)

Transcribe to percussion quintet 40 minutes

Product development and production

Collecting all elements                             10minutes

Placing film and music in software        25 minutes

Editing in software                                    1 hour 20 minutes

Final mixing                                               20 minutes

Burning to sharing format                       15 minutes

Alternative software version                   50 minutes

Publishing (sharing) and evaluation

Uploading film                                 7 minutes

Blog about it                                     2 hours 40 minutes (evaluation and promotion)

These hours were spread over a ten-day period so there was time for reflection and refinement away from the technology and the music. Time spent just thinking, imagining and visualising the final work. When I started composing and arranging (about 45 years ago) I would never even dreamed of completing such a project, a score on paper was as ambitious as I could be. I also managed to persuade the brass band I performed with, Besses o’th Barn, to play them through as well so I could hear the results.

Media equipment was so heavy and difficult to access and the recording studio was very expensive and only for the professionals in those far off days. Now all the features to create a film or recording are readily available on the mobile phone.

In his article What has happened to young people? on LinkedIn Martin Jones describes the consequences of making everything accessible but explaining very little to the students of today.

Any difficulties these students encounter with software are mainly due to not comprehending the concepts that make it function. In my experience of undergraduate popular music students the performers can communicate to their audience very effectively (they are ‘natural’) but what caused them to study on the degree course was a need to understand the theory behind the music.

The ‘natural’ approach is limited by physical and mental restrictions and at some point there has to be work and application to make the ‘raw natural’ into a natural professional. Research how many gigs Ed Sheeran had performed to perfect his style before he was given a chance.

My music is now going with film, something I dreamed about and now is a reality. In the intervening years I have looked at films and artworks with a critical eye, I have composed hours of music with a critical ear and now I can put them together with confidence. They could still be better so I am still learning and perfecting the art and that is the trouble with technology, there is new software to bend and mould to do my bidding.

© Peter R. Birkby 2015

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