Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Major/Minor Dilemma (Part 2)

About a year ago, after receiving my annual royalty statement, I posted some musings about my top-selling compositions - specifically, I noticed that a lot of the better-selling pieces are in minor keys. This led me to wonder if maybe I should just focus on minor-key music when writing for student orchestras.

Well, it wasn't long before I received an e-mail from someone who had read the post and had a different theory:

Of the 5 compositions you posted, the top 4, besides being in minor keys, have really "cool" titles.
I know this seems arbitrary, and it is, but I think we underestimate the value of the titles of our art.


He has an interesting point. I'm always trying to pin down what it is about certain music that appeals to people and maybe an evocative title can set expectations. Titles have always been tough for me and I frequently put off titling my pieces until days before sending them off to my publisher for consideration. So I wrote back:

I wonder if you'd be willing to help me put your theory to a test? My three newest pieces this year
are "Quicksilver," "A Hero's Welcome," and "Porcupine Pantomime." All three are in major keys.
If you'll make a prediction of which of the three will be the best seller, I'll check it against the results
when I receive next year's sales report.


The challenge was taken up:

I'm going to guess "A Hero's Welcome" will be the highest selling. This guess is somewhat arbitrary,
but my rationale is as follows: kids will like the title "Quicksilver" and adults will like the "Porcupine
Pantomime." A Hero's Welcome has universal appeal between the age groups. That's my best guess.
Hope they all do well for you, though.


That makes sense to me. So the sales numbers are finally in and the rankings for the newest pieces are
(*drumroll*):

1. Quicksilver
2. Porcupine Pantomime
3. A Hero's Welcome


Obviously, there are a lot more factors at play than tonality and title. First: exposure. Quicksilver was
performed at last year's Midwest Music Conference, which features huge audiences of music-buyers. Second: Tempo.  In my experience, fast music is more popular than slow music and A Hero's Welcome is a lyrical moderate-tempo piece.  Third: Degree of difficulty.  Beginner orchestras are always larger than intermediate and advanced groups, so there's usually a higher demand for beginner-level music. Porcupine Pantomime was the only early-level piece of the three. I suppose the moral of the story is that the appeal of a piece of music doesn't rest on anything as simple as tonality and title. 

So I'll put it to you, reader. I invite you to predict which of this years pieces will be the top sellers:

• Star of Valor:
A medium-to-advanced concert overture with fast, heroic melodies, a little bit of shifting, and a fast tempo.

• Storm Trail: A fast, minor-key, intermediate-level piece in 12/8 time.

• Sneaking Suspicion: An all-pizzicato, minor-key piece for beginners with a moderate tempo.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Royalty Statement 2010 - Part 3

The third part of my royalty statement is a little nebulous.  It involved "licensing" - an umbrella term that involves all income other than print sales.  Most of it is listed as "MakeMusic Print Licensing."  MakeMusic is the company that makes Finale notation software and Smartmusic, which is a great online resource where teachers and students can play along with recordings and print parts.  So whenever someone pays to download one of my pieces online, I get a cut.

Some other pieces registered income from "Misc. 3rd Party Mechanical Licensing" which, I think, means that I get paid when someone records one of my pieces.  A lot of orchestras record their concerts and sell them as fund raisers and, in theory, the directors should let Alfred Publishing know and pay for the copyright.  In reality, only a handfull of honest directors have ever done this.

A third listing reads "Digital (Other Than Print) Licensing." and accounts for the highest single royalty on the licensing report.  I have no idea what that means.  Maybe something to do with video?  I can only guess, but whoever you are, thanks for doing whatever you did with Breeze In the Keys and please do it again.

You'll notice that there are no rankings listed in this post, which leads me to the most nebulous part of this report.  I have no idea how many MakeMusic downloads there were or how many recordings of each piece were sold - just that a certain lump-sum dollar amount is assigned to each title. And no two amounts are the same. I'd suspect that the royalty rate depends on the number of downloads or CD's burned, so it's hard to specify exactly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gauntlet Got Sampled

I discovered this clip on YouTube recently.  Some kid used Gauntlet as a sample for his hip-hop beat.  Check it out.


He's selling it online for $25.  I'm sure I get royalties for this... right?

Royalty Statement 2010 - Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned that most of my music sales come from within the US, but a small portion comes from other countries.  I can't be sure which other countries, but this blog has received hits from Canada, Sweden, Slovenia, Argentina, China, and Spain, just to name a few. I've also found my music for sale on German and Japanese online music stores, so that may also give some indication. 

As I understand it, many other countries don't have the same model of music education that is common here in the US and most ensemble playing is done in private after-school groups, so there's far less demand for string orchestra sheet music.

Anyway, here are my top foreign sellers for the past year:

1. Agincourt
2. Gargoyles
3. Gauntlet & Porcupine Pantomime (tie) 
5. Hot Potato

Interesting results!  It seems that my most popular pieces abroad are very close to my most popular pieces in the US.  Porcupine Pantomime and Hot Potato are relatively new, which may account for their higher sales. 

Something else to keep in mind: several pieces on the royalty statement are listed multiple times, because they're sold at different rates in different countries with different currencies and exchange rates.  There are four different listings for foreign sales of Gauntlet because it was sold at four different prices around the world.

There's no record of foreign sales of scores only or parts only, which leads me to believe that either those options aren't available in foreign markets or there's no demand for extra scores and parts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Royalty Statement 2010 - Part 1

I got my annual royalty statement from Alfred Publishing recently, which outlines how many of each of my pieces they've sold in the past year, and first, let me just say

THANK YOU JAMES CAMERON!

You see, James Cameron decided to name what would become the highest-grossing movie of all time after a piece of music I wrote five years ago (kidding - the fact that we used the same titles was a complete coincidence).  Anyway, it seems a lot of people mistook my music for James Horner's film score. Or they really enjoyed my music on its own considerable merits.

Here are my top five sellers this year (4/1/09 - 3/31/10):

1. Avatar
2. Gauntlet
3. Gargoyles
4. Agincourt
5. Quicksilver

So Avatar comes out of nowhere to become this year's number-one seller.  Gauntlet and Gargoyles are perennial favorites and always seem to make the top five and I'm pleased to see that Agincourt has retained its popularity.  Quicksilver was a new one last year and music often sells well in its first year.  Plus, Quicksilver was performed at the Midwest Conference last December, giving it a huge boost.

Last year's other new pieces were Porcupine Pantomime, which would have come in sixth place, and A Hero's Welcome, which has a place further down in the rankings.

Now, this is just domestic sales of scores and parts. Scores are sold separately, for when orchestras go to contest and the judges need to follow along.  Here are the sales of just the scores:

1. Avatar
2. Gargoyles
3. Gauntlet
4. Crusader
5. Westward Motion

Interesting - perhaps Avatar is becoming a contest staple like Gargoyles and Gauntlet.  Or maybe people just want to see the score to Avatar, thinking that it's the film score.

There are still foreign sales and mechanical fees to report on as well as a certain long-standing bet to settle, but that's for a later post.