When I was in graduate school and just beginning my composing career, I became aware of the limited publishing opportunities for contemporary composers and on a whim, started my own publishing company called Manuscript Publications. The idea was to have print-on-demand publishing so that no stock was involved. After putting an announcement in several composer publications, we began to represent about a dozen composers. We did mass mailings to college and university professors and we were off and running. This benefited me as it gave legitimacy to my publishing company by representing several better-known composers than myself and it also benefited the composers I represented as they had an opportunity to get their music heard.
As a result of starting the publishing company and selling some of my music, I was approached by James Houlik, a well-known tenor saxophone soloist, about writing him a piece on a “performance commission”. The performance commission is where a composer writes a piece for a musician and instead of receiving money, the composer is guaranteed several performances. This is a win-win situation as the performer receives a composition written especially for him/her and has the premiere rights. The composer receives several fine performances of the composition in important venues as well as a fine recording.
I ran Manuscript Publications for over ten years and participated in several more performance commissions, all of which were very beneficial. Manuscript Publications became too big and too time consuming to run, but it served its purpose as a win-win opportunity for myself and other composers and performers.
In 1983, I started Co-op Press, my current publishing company, this time publishing only my music. The intent of Co-op Press is to offer my music to the public at reasonable prices and to use those profits to support more win-win opportunities. When we were fortunate to receive some funding from an anonymous donor, we started the Co-op Press Fund which offers grants to performers to enable them to commission me to write them a piece. The purpose of the grant is for the performer to experience the excitement of working directly with a composer. A residency is also a requirement of the grant so that both the composer and performer are trying to create audience interest and excitement about contemporary music. This competitive program whose applicants are evaluated by a committee of judges has been very successful, resulting in approximately 30 compositions composed, premiered and recorded over an eight-year period. The performer and audience feedback has been very positive as well.
In 2005, we expanded the grant program to include a recording grant. This competitive program is a collaboration between the performers and Emeritus Recordings, the CD arm of Co-op Press. The performers provide high quality digital recordings and Emeritus does the artwork, licensing, manufacturer, and promotion of the CD. Profits from sales are split between Emeritus and the performer. Ten grants have been awarded to date with our latest release of Cristina Ledford on piccolo and Michael McGhee on piano coming out by September 1. This win-win project enables the artists to produce a CD that includes many compositions not previously recorded including about 15 minutes of my music. Sharing the cost and profits makes this win-win as well.
In 2003, we began our annual recording competition for recordings of my music. This competition that is judged by a panel of musicians has resulted many fine recordings of my music. Cash prizes and a CD release of the winning recordings are awarded to the winners. In order to fill some of the CDs, we have often put a call out to composers to submit their fine recordings of their music. We have released two recordings that contain my music along with other composers. We do not charge the composer anything for being on the CD and pay the composer mechanical license fees based on the number of units sold. This win-win project provides prestige to competition winners, prestige to the composers included on the CDs, and is another vehicle for getting my music heard. Airplay over classical music stations, retail sales and music downloads has been very favorable.
Our August release of Collage that contains performances of my chamber music by Cincinnati’s premiere chamber music ensemble, Conundrum as well as the winners of the 2007 Co-op Press Recording Competition is an example of this win-win project. Details and samples from this CD and our other recording projects as well as our grant programs can be found at http://www.cooppress.net
I hope that this article will inspire both performers and composers to come up with win-win projects of their own. The internet and advances in technology makes all this possible in this ever-changing music industry.