How to Publish Your Own Songs
Do it yourself publishing has advantages and disadvantages. But if you have collected a stack of rejection letters from music publishers (as I have through the years), still determined to publish your music, then you may want to consider self publishing. The advantages to self publishing include having complete control over all rights, licenses, and quality of your product. Disadvantages include having to do or oversee nearly everything yourself. Depending on your personality and capabilities, this can be a boon or a frustration.
To start, you'll want a good music notation program like Finale or Sibelius. There are a variety to choose from. Doing a Google search for "music notation software" will provide you with a list of options to suit most budgets. (See below.) If you are just starting out and learning how to use music notation software, you may want to invest in a less pricey package. You can look through your Google search, click on the sites, and determine for yourself what will be best for you. There is even shareware music notation software called Lilypond.
Google Search for Music Notation Software
For those of us who are die-hards, never-gonna-give-up-no-matter-how-many-rejections-I-get kind of people, who also perhaps even write charts for studio production, or even orchestrations, I would recommend choosing one of two software tools. Both capture number one ratings in searches, but take turns alternating back and forth from first to second position. I own both these music notation packages, and I like them both for specific reasons. Take a look at Finale and Sibelius. There are lots of reasons to choose either of these.
Finale has a slightly higher learning curve than Sibelius. However, don't let this deter you from the marvels it can perform. It's just a matter of getting acquainted with the mindset of how Finale works. You can do about anything in Finale 10 different ways, but every way has a ripple effect, and can add to frustration levels when you realize you need to restructure, reformat, etc. Some ways are rather hidden, while others are more obvious. Finale offers a composer's showcase. You can actually post your music on the website for downloading, thus creating one outlet for your new music. (Click here for more on Finale showcase.
Finale Composer Showcase
Sibelius is just as sophisticated as Finale, but prides itself on its user-friendly approach. You can click on about anything and drag it just about anywhere on the page. Finale can do some of this, but not the same way as Sibelius. Thus, the click and drag feature can become a frustration as well as a serendipitous experience if you're not always paying attention. Sibelius handles lyrics in a completely different way than Finale. Both ways are good, but it just depends on your mindset and preferences. In the end, it just becomes what you get used to doing, in my opinion. (Click here for more information.)
Both packages can be purchased through educational or ecclesiastical institutions at a discount. You can check at each website to see how to qualify.
And, finally, sibeliusmusic.com also allows composers to post their music online. The sign up link is here.
It's located in the upper left top of the page, and can be missed if you're not sure where it is. Here's what the top of the page looks like:
A Few Words about xml
Leading edge technology utilizes xml. In music, good xml means that your music notation file can be converted to xml code that will actually preserve your hard work in creating a finished masterpiece, in an attractive, formatted page. The default xml conversions for Finale and Sibelius are not nearly as good as the xml plug-in you can purchase from Recordare.com. (Check their website here if you know you're going to be using xml online.)
About The Music Notation Process
Most music notation programs will allow you to play from a midi keyboard into the music notation file. If you are new to this, there are some possible problems to keep in mind. Unless you designate where the right and left hands should be split between two staves in keyboard music, you will probably get a very odd looking page of notes, even though the notes and rhythms may actually be correct. That's where your editing skills have to become very refined. Another option would be to play each hand separately into the notation file. This is usually the best method, as far as I know. Experimenting, trial and error, and some patience are must when you're just starting out.
Some Advice about Inputting Lyrics
Use correct English and grammar rules when inputting text into the music. If you're not sure where to divide a word correctly, consult the dictionary. These may seem like trivial things, but presentation and quality are very big factors when it comes to selling your product. Misspelled words and poorly divided syllables send a message that you're not really sure what you're doing. If you are a professional songwriter/composer/publisher, then make sure your skills are as professional as you are. If you need some help, you could hire an editor—perhaps an English major at a school or university. But if you can’t, just use good sense and double check your text and music.
Copyright Your Music
Put the legal copyright symbol on your music. This is nearly always placed at the bottom of the first page of printed music. The legal form is the circle “C” followed by the copyright date, followed by the copyright owner's name.
For example: "© 2009 by Daniel Carter."
Additionally, I always include "All rights reserved. Copying prohibited."
You could also include a website address, mailing address, or email address. By doing this, you announce to everyone who sees your music how to get a hold of you for more copies, more information, etc.
Even if you do not register your music with the Copyright Office in Washington D.C., they want you to include this notice on your music anyway, because it puts everyone on notice that you are the creator and that it cannot be used for profit or photocopied without your consent.
For more information, and to register your music with the Library of Congress, click here. You'll find all the information, forms, and fee schedules and how to register it online.
If You Sell Your Music in Hard Copy
Design a simple, attractive cover after you have music and text in a publishable format. If you don’t feel confident in designing a cover, you probably have a friend or family member who can help. I have designed several covers using two colors, but I have also designed other covers using black and white, (including screens and halftones) which have turned out as nice or nicer than the two color covers. I have also seen cover designs that were clever and eyecatching that didn’t use a picture or illustration. These covers were created using only the text and so the placement, size and fonts were the design. Covers need not be elaborate to be attractive and eye catching. Show your cover designs to people whose judgment you trust and go from there.
Printing Your Music
Choosing a Printing Company
If you’re not familiar with printing businesses in your area, check your phone book for printers listed there. Your product can be something produced by a quick copy shop that prints on 11"x17" copy paper, printed on both sides, folded, or something printed by a more traditional printer on very nice paper stock. You will have to determine what you can afford to do. I have done both, but if you use quick copy sources, you may want to consider lowering the selling price of the music a little because the buyer isn’t getting quite the same quality of printing or durability out of 20# (20 pound) photocopy paper and toner as from 60# paper and printer’s ink. I recommend that music be printed on 60# white paper, however, your printer may recommend something else. Consider your options carefully and make a logical, economical decision. You want printing stock that isn’t as thin and disposable as photocopy paper, but still affordable for your investment. If you are publishing a book of music and need a heavier stock for cover and don’t know what kind of binding you need, consult with your printer and let him make some recommendations.
Decide what the size of your product will be. If your music is choral, it probably should be octavo size which is about 6 3/8" wide x 9 7/8" tall. (You’ll find that some publishers use slightly different sizes than this for their octavo size. Your printer can help you avoid wasteful, odd sizes that turn out to be costly). If it’s a vocal solo, piano/organ, etc. generally 9"x12" is what you’ll want. I have often published on 8.5"x11" because it is so close to 9"x12", and usually a little less expensive. Whatever size you decide, be sure it is a fairly standard size—especially since you want stores to carry your music. If you’re still not sure about the size you need, try going to a store that sells sheet music and check the sizes they carry. Choose the size most common for the type of music you are publishing.
If you're not clear about the quantity you should have printed, ask your printer to supply a bid in more than one quantity. I recommend quantities of no more than 500 because self publishing is usually slow. I have also learned from experience that inventory that sits around gathering dust can become ruined, forcing a loss on the investment.
Getting Your Music Out There
After you have your piece printed, select a certain portion of your printed copies to give away as gifts (gratis copies) to selected friends and professionals. These should be people who may use the piece with the idea of promoting it for you by performing it. Frequent performances and high numbers of performances will yield sales results. You should be performing your own music as much as you can, and so should anyone else you think would like it.
Choose a conservative number of copies to give away as promotions. For example, if your printing is 500 copies, set aside perhaps no more than 25 gratis copies. You can always change your number of gratis copies up or down, but if you don’t decide now how many copies you will give away, you may be much more generous than makes good economic sense. Try to balance your excitement and generosity for people to have your music with sound economic and accounting practices.
Music Stores and Music on Consignment
In your list of those to receive gratis copies, consider who in your area sells the kind of sheet music you compose, and meet with the store owner or manager and present them with one free copy of your piece. Be brief and professional and be sure to leave pricing information, your name, phone number and address with them. If you can’t get to the store, try sending a succinct one page letter about yourself and include the pricing information, your phone number and address.
Some stores will consider selling your music on consignment, rather than buying inventory at wholesale cost. This means they will take a few copies (maybe 2 to 6) and after a few months will settle up with you on anything they sell. While this may not be as convenient as selling wholesale, it is a way to start until the store is convinced that they want to keep your music in stock continually. The split for selling on consignment is generally the same as selling wholesale. I recommend you keep the 50/50 split.
Wholesale and Retail Price
Sheet music retailers buy from you at wholesale price and sell at retail price. Wholesale price is approximately half the price of what the retailer sells to the public. The wholesale price percentage can vary from publisher to publisher. Many large publishers arrange a 60/40 split, where the publisher receives 60% of the retail price and the retailer receives 40%. I recommend an even 50/50 split of the retail price between you and the retailer. This will sound more attractive because you are willing to allow the store to make more money if they carry and promote your music.
Direct Marketing, Websites and Email Lists
Try some direct marketing sales by contacting family and friends by letter, postcard, or email that you have published some music. Ask family members to provide 6 or more addresses of people who might be interested in buying your music. If you publish choral music, ask them to send addresses of choir directors. If you publish solos, ask for names and addresses of those looking for new, good solos, etc.
Build yourself a webpage. Learn how to design and optimize your own web page and put on a sample of a page or so of one or more of your pieces.
Last of All. . .
Be consistent in composing and publishing your music. If you have a website, post news releases of new music about once a month, and provide a link to the piece, or a sample of what it's like. Plan out your publishing year, what you are going to publish and release and when. This will keep your audience in constant interest of what you're up to.
Just as it most often takes time to finish a good composition, so it will take time to publish your music. The key is to take an otherwise overwhelming task and divide it into manageable parts. Go steadily and slowly and allow yourself to find your own "rhythm" with this process. The same is true whether you publish with other publishers or publish yourself. And, by the way, if you'd like information about how to get your music published by publishers, read my other article here.
And, finally, realize that occasional frustration and disappointment are a part of this process, but with wise decision making, good public relations skills, and perseverance, you will gain rewards which equal success.
Other related articles about music and music publishing include: "Learn to Read Music in Ten Minutes," here, "Do I Have Perfecct (Absolute) or Relative Pitch?", here, "How to Find a Sheet Music Publisher," here, "How to Write Parts for a Transposing Instrument," here, "How to Play Piano with Nine and One Half Fingers," (humor), here, and "A Piano Parable for Christmas," here.
Here is complete list of articles and topics by Daniel Carter.
© 2009 Daniel Carter
Snigdha Shahi from India,mumbai on May 14, 2012:
Very useful Hub.Had been searching google for this information.sometimes searching on hubpages is much better.Thanks for sharing.Bookmarked this hub
Yasmine on April 19, 2012:
I already write my own music, I've made sooo many! I play the keyboard,piano,flute,himonica,cello,violin,guitar,trumpet and loads of others!!
Daniel Carter (author) from Salt Lake City, Utah on February 09, 2012:
Sibelius is my preferred program as well. However, there are very distinct differences and advantages to both. If you want to share .sib files, and have the newest version and your friend doesn't, you can save the .sib in an older version so they can open it. However, that's not the case with Finale files. Newest version Finale files cannot be saved out in older versions to share. If a friend or cohort doesn't have the same version of finale as you, chances are sharing a file will not work at all.
Chelsea Forster on February 09, 2012:
I too am a composer, and i prefer to use sibelius :)
Debra Russell on April 14, 2011:
Thank you so much for this article. I got a question for my Ask Coach Debra call about selling sheet music at stores and your article helped a lot!
Jane on April 04, 2011:
You can publish your sheet music with SheetMusicX, it's easy and cheap: your earn royalties on each sale of your books and they take care of everything else, manufacturing, shipping, billing and marketing, your book will even be for sale at Amazon, it's just great promotion.
Mavr on December 07, 2009:
Hi Daniel, thanks for this interesting article.
I would like to add to your list a very interesting platform for sheet music online publishing I use: http://www.load.cd. First of all they accept Finale and Sibelius formats in addition to the PDF format. You also get absolutely for free your own personal website with a unique address where you can publish your sheet music as well as upload personal information, images, articles and news. On your personal page you can offer your sheet music for free or price it. Another unique feature of this platform, which could be interesting for composers, is the possibility of direct selling of performing rights which enables a simple alternative to the complex legal situation concerning copyright, performing rights and competition laws.
You can have a look at my personal site on this platform through the following link http://mavr.load.cd.
Daniel Carter (author) from Salt Lake City, Utah on August 28, 2009:
Hi Sarah, thanks for reading. Most publishers don't want you to submit computer files of your music, except if you can submit music online, you should send it in pdf format. Very few accept any other type of computer files. I have only seen one or two publishers to date who accept a finale file for online submission.
As for submitting hard copies, it doesn't matter what program you use, really. As long as your music is accurate and good quality, they don't care which program you use. It only becomes an issue if you submit your music online, through email and such.
Jewels, thanks for stopping by and reading! I left you a message, and I look forward to reading lots of your hubs!!
Jewels from Australia on August 28, 2009:
At least I can have a play on Finale, see what genius I have stored somewhere! (or not). Daniel what's the name of your website, I'd like to listen to your music. Teresa eluded to it in another hub of yours. PM if you like.
Sarah Denton on August 28, 2009:
I'm am a band and choir director and I've just started thinking about publishing a few compositions I've composed. I've used Encore for several years and really like it, especially the updated version 5.0. I've seen mostly Finale and Sebelius as the prefered notation software. Do publishers generally not accept Encore? Do you know why?
manujkhera from India on July 16, 2009:
I suppose this hubs can be very useful for people interested in gettin into the music industry............Well thanks a lot for sharing.
Daniel Carter (author) from Salt Lake City, Utah on May 24, 2009:
Thanks very much, Don and Kathleen. I'm rather new to this and appreciate the feedback!
Don Blackburn on May 23, 2009:
Thank you for writing this wonderful article. You have answered my questions today in a clear, friendly, and practical way.
Thanks for sharing your hard-earned publishing expertise. Your own music, vision, and wisdom are appreciated!
P.S. I am beginning my own composing & publishing adventure after teaching choir and guitar in the public schools for 30 happy years.
Kathleen Holyoak on May 16, 2009:
This was an exceptional article for anyone interested in getting started in publishing music. As I read each paragraph I kept saying, "Yes!" Way to go . . I look forward to other future articles but what are you ever going to do to top this one? You've set the level pretty high here.
I might suggest another title: The Craft and Business of Song Writing by John Braheny.
One other thing . . it might be good for people to know that if they have a higher version of Sibelius, they can receive any previous version. But . . if they have an older version, such as Sibelius 3 or 4, they cannot open files from Sibelius 5. I have also found some headaches with Sibelius 5 and if I had my druthers, I like the Sibelius 4 version better.