February 2001

Publishing, Promotion and Profitability
Graham Hayter


Computer technology has given composers access to high quality music notation and simplified the process of producing scores and parts, and made it cheaper too. So does a composer need a publisher? Ideally, yes, because the status afforded to a composer through association with a well-known publishing house still carries considerable weight with the musical establishment, and a publisher can provide promotion and publicity on a scale way beyond the resources of even the most energetic self-promoting individual.

When a music publishing company offers to publish a composer’s works, whether they are critically acclaimed or virtually unknown, it believes (or more modestly hopes) that its ‘artistic’ evaluation of the music will be accepted by future generations and that this will in turn lead to financial rewards for the company. Music publishers are commercial organisations and as such must be geared to profitability, and yet one of their most high profile activities, the publishing of new music, does not lie comfortably with the limiting objectivity of spreadsheets and business plans. Can one even measure the value of a musical work in terms of bums on seats, the length of the applause, what the critics say, or whether some influential arts directors approve? No, the fact that more and more individuals and organisations appear to fall in line with a publisher’s artistic judgement is no proof of a prophecy fulfilled. Only time can tell. Choosing to publish a composer is a high-risk enterprise.

With the introduction of copyright legislation at the beginning of the last century publishers acquired the right to receive income from performances and recordings. The financial rewards were much greater than had previously been generated by sales of sheet music, and hence the industry came to believe that the copyright income it received from successful works should be re-invested in publishing new music. But over the last twenty years it has proved difficult for publishers to sustain their role as ‘patrons’ of contemporary music and most of them now adopt a more strictly commercial attitude to all new publishing ventures.

The main reason for this has been the loss of confidence in the new concert music of the last five decades which, it must be admitted, has not provided income for publishers on anything like the scale generated by early twentieth-century works. And publishers have not been helped by the gradual weakening of copyright protection caused by the multiplicity of new media for music’s dissemination (control and legislation are always several steps behind the technological innovations); or by the Performing Right Society’s move towards logging only selected venues and sampling, and the abolition of the Classical Music Subsidy; or by the conservatism of the recording industry and
the appalling state of funding for new music performance in Britain; or by the fashionable ‘art for all’, anti-elitist mentality reinforced by successive governments’ populist agendas for the arts and music education.

So, as publishers look to music that offers a more immediate financial return (music for film, television and the stage generally known as ‘media music’), what will happen to the sort of music that takes time to gain favour, music that initially only plays to small audiences, music that it exists outside the mainstream, receives scant media attention and is therefore non commercial? The BMIC’s initiative, New Voices, designed to provide practical assistance and greater visibility for 25 young unpublished composers, is one inspired example of a response to the current situation.

Also, it seems likely that many of the tasks traditionally associated with music publishers’ promotion departments, such as the negotiation of commissions and the introduction of new works to performers and concert promoters will in future be handled by independent agencies working directly for composers. Certainly if the publishers limit further their interaction with such a vibrant, diverse and relevant sector of our musical culture, new and imaginative ways of ensuring that the creativity of today’s composers is nurtured and recognised are bound to come into their own.

Graham Hayter

Graham Hayter was Head of Promotion at Peters Edition from
1979 to 1999. He is currently working independently on behalf of composers Brian Ferneyhough, Roger Reynolds, Richard Barrett, Rebecca Saunders and Sam Hayden.


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Previous articles:

January 2001
From the World to the Warehouse

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
Composing for dance
from start to finish

October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
Joanna MacGregor

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
Word of mouse

April 2000
Child's Play

March 2000
tables turned

February 2000
the ENO Studio

January 2000
a challenge from Michael Oliva

December 1999
into the next century...

November 1999
Joanna MacGregor writes

October 1999
obsessed with consuming?

September 1999
spnm welcomes Joanna MacGregor.

July/August 1999
Spectrum 2 - miniatures for piano.

June 1999
Hoxton Hall New Music Days.

May 1999
Bath International Music Festival is 50.

April 1999
Who is Georges Aperghis?

March 1999
On frost, birth and death

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!

December 1998
Forty years of madness?

November 1998
To plug in or not to plug in?

October 1998
No, honestly it is a cello

September 1998
Composing for film

July/August 1998
New music on old instruments

June 1998
Blue sheep of record companies

May 1998
spnm looks to the future

April 1998
New Music 98 in Manchester