Thirty-two years ago I manufactured and published (when I look at the state of what I produced I’m not sure I would use that description now) my first books: Little Suite and Ten Xylophone Solos for solo percussion with piano accompaniment. I had no indication of how many would sell, not much of an idea what standard of manufacture was expected and little experience of how the books should look or the quality of finish expected by the consumers. I had some music and I wanted to share it with anyone that was interested.
In 2013 I have a design, image, standard, quality (100gsm 100% recycled paper) and product that I like, have developed a product that will last and is very effective in a practical way (music on the music stand) and is comparable with similar products. The music on the page will still allow different interpretations (it is the same as that of thirty some years ago), the book will not fall apart as readily these days (as the older one was prone to do) and the musical notes on the pages are still the same. The product has moved with the times (or caught up with it), the music is timeless.
All my first compositions were tested on an audience and those that achieved an enthusiastic reaction were included in the books. There was no opportunity to test on a ‘focus groups’ or run an audience survey as there is today. The online ‘likes’ or ‘rates’ of the numerous promotional social media sites (none of these were even concepts) now allow the audience to choose the album tracks. I performed all the compositions to audiences (at the Spa in Scarborough, to music clubs around the country, on tours and one off gigs with my own bands) and selected the compositions that got a reaction as those to be published.
The initial market for the publications was small, most of the music was composed specifically for percussion, and the customers were a few teachers and enthusiasts that had set up percussion ensembles or were using percussion solos with their students. I was vaguely aware of the market, the small numbers of customers for my publications, and after taking into consideration the manufacturing costs I priced accordingly. My first trade show, at the Royal Northern College of Music, did not give me much encouragement. The table cost £50 to rent for the day and I only sold £25 of books but I persevered and two years later my £25 loss had turned into over £700 of interest on the day. I remember listening to a radio programme about Japanese car manufacturers and how they had a long-term strategy for sales in the United Kingdom and Europe and this appealed to me. New music in a niche market needed a similar approach so I priced on selling a certain number of the product over a ten-year period to break even.
Some of the works exceeded this plan very quickly, others have not got there after twenty years, but these are the risks that have to be taken. As a composer I create what is foremost in my mind at the time, sometimes this is just what is required by customers and at other times it does not appeal to anyone. Even so, it is good to get the music out of the system and to be able to move on to the next idea. This process has two main benefits, it allows creativity and experimentation with ideas that could inform later works and it shows how the market may have moved away from these ideas and makes me study current market trends more closely. Not all the music I compose is for publication, some works are written for one event or occasion and some are bespoke creations for specific groups or ensembles with the option to publish a more accessible version or arrangement later.
My ‘best sellers’ have been a mix of solo works, ensembles and textbooks. The Ten Xylophone Solos collection has sold regularly since its’ publication in 1985, Ten Quartets for Elementary Percussion Quartet, Quartets (for un-pitched percussion) and Festive Music (for percussion quartet, quintet or sextet) have exceeded my expectations in the number of sets I have sold. Other books that eventually became part of a progressive series Ten Quartets Book 2 and Ten Drum Quartets have eventually reached their target for profitability but a couple of later additions to this series, Celebration Music and Urban Music have been slow movers. Perhaps I misjudged how the music was going to be used and am only now starting to reflect on how the music is used and how much is required by a group or soloist during their student years.
The Drum Kit and Percussion Jotter very quickly covered its’ costs with many teachers and students recognising the usefulness of a pocket size reference book/notebook. Transferring the reference material to an online format is taking considerable time and energy, perhaps trying to replicate from print to online is the problem, starting with a blank canvas may have been a quicker and more efficient process. My book (or parts of the book) that has been well used in both printed and online formats is Scales and Modes, within twelve months the printed version had covered the set up and manufacturing costs and the online extracts have been downloaded at a rate between 250 and 350 per month since their publication.
A publisher has to think of the ways that the customer will use the music. There will always be a place for the printed book until the development of large screen/lightweight tablets that can work as the music stand and even then could it be relied upon? There are many possibilities in the online environment to adapt music for uses that were not originally conceived by composer or publisher as well as use it as an easily accessible promotional arena. My challenge now is to come up with the ideas for Compose, Web Promote, Publish and not exclude the first audience, Perform as well.
Ideas of what I do/extra or blatant promotion, all part of the marketing mix.
If you would like to listen to Autumn Waltz or an arrangement of Welcome To Spring from the Festive Music collection they are freely available at http://soundcloud.com/music-54-4/
Scales and Modes extracts are freely available for iPad users at https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/scales-and-modes/id502409245?mt=11 or