Someone Wrote That Song

Musical theater writers out there are facing the exact same problem that popular music writers/artists faced years ago:  the internet has made it waaaaay too easy to steal their work.

See, back in my day, I used to record the Top 40 off the radio, or “tape” my best friend’s record if I couldn’t afford to buy it myself.  And the music industry was making so much bank in so many ways, no one cared.

When the internet exploded, well, all of a sudden anyone anywhere in the world could be your best friend, and “taping” became clicking so sleepovers for music sharing was not required.  Thanks to sites like Napster and Limewire, stolen music was the norm (I’ll admit, I downloaded some files myself in the early 2000s – the sites saved time and money and that’s what consumers always want.)

Two things put those sites out of work – monstrous litigation and the invention of iTunes.

Now, let’s talk about the subject at hand – musical theater writers.

Back in my days as a performer, we all photocopied music from the library, or, yep, from that same best friend.  And while annoying to the publishers, no one really cared that much.

Here comes the internet, and surprise, surprise, here comes a couple of sheet music “sharing” sites doing the same thing as Napster and LimeWire.  (I won’t link to them or mention them here because I don’t want to offer them that kind of promotion – no wait, there is one I’ll name because they so obviously know they’re doing something wrong, they named their Facebook Group “I Love Oven Mitts” as a mafia like cover!)  The result of these sites is that hard working writer folks lose out on potential revenue that they could use to help pay the bills (and therefore they have less time.)

So, what could stop them?

Monstrous litigation and, well, a Steve Jobsian type publisher that puts the majority of sheet music on one central site.  (A bunch of mini-Jobsian type writers establishedthis site years ago and have been quite successful so far.)

Before the litigation or the” iTunes of Sheet Music” happens, the smart folks at the Dramatists Guild, with a number of brilliant writers and performers at various stages of their career, from Alan Menken to Craig Carnelia to Nick Blaemire to Kait Kerrigan , wrote the little ditty and shot the little video below to help spread the word about piracy and what it could mean for the future of our biz.

Enjoy it and enjoy your weekend.  (But first make sure you give me a comment on what you feel about sheet music piracy.)

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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Comments
  • Brooke Tansley says:

    This is not a defense of theft, however, when I was a 19 year old just starting out, living with four other people in a studio apartment and working at least 40 weeks per year for my non union salary of $150 per week at places like Carousel Dinner Theatre, I couldn’t afford a $5.00 sheet music download. Heck, I didn’t even own a big girl bed or a computer till I got to the Broadway. Now, I make a point of doing the right thing and supporting artists, but I think that we need to change the hearts and minds of people through awareness and education, not litigation. The music industry chose to make an example of a bride who made mix CDs for her wedding guests and sued her for millions. I would never support litigation against the newbie off the bus with two pennies in the pocket but a heart full of dreams.

  • Minty says:

    I agree that piracy needs to stop, but I also think that composers need to be realistic about price. iTunes succeeded because it found a good, realistic price point. NewMusicalTheatre.com has not found that price point–$9.99 or $7.49 for a single song? Ouch. For example, and I don’t mean this as a slight on the composer in any way (I love her songs), but Georgia Stitt is one of the most vocal composers against this piracy, but most of her songs are $9.99. I can’t afford that. Even $4.99 at times feels like a splurge. Instead, I go without. A better price point would be better for all involved, I’d think. I also think all the talk about how piracy is bad comes off as rather arrogant and out of touch when all the songs are priced really highly, and I get semi-annoyed at hearing it. But that’s just my perspective.

  • Chris says:

    This is an incredibly important issue, and I have a LOT to say about it. First, that I, too, was a “radio taper” – cassette decks made that easy. And I, too, made my fair share of xerox copies of music at the school library. The problem that I see is a generation of kids who grew up with the internet and a feeling of entitlement – they don’t want to pay for anything because they don’t have to. And it’s not a song here or there. Look on Oven Mitts and you’ll find people with laundry lists of stuff they want free. Not even just songs; whole scores! Dare to suggest that a song they want is available from an online dealer and they become indignant at best. (Yes, I know this because I am a “member” of that group, where I routinely respond to “Does anyone have [title]?” with a link to the online music retailer selling that very song. That said, I agree that there has to be a price point balance. I’ve seen writers asking $10 and $15 PER SONG. They’ll claim it’s about volume – they can’t sell enough to make the money they need, which brings me to another type of entitlement: People feel that because they’ve written a few songs, they should be able to make their living solely by writing. It ain’t gonna happen, folks. Very few of us (both within the theatre and outside it) can exist on a single job anymore – we all have to supplement our incomes. The other excuse is “if I charge that much, it will deter whoever did pay that amount from sharing it because it cheapens what they bought”. Or, five people go in on a copy and now it’s become more affordable. (The problem we THEN face is when those five figure “well, it didn’t cost me that much, and I’m only giving it to my best friend”, and then those five best friends do the same, and so on.)

    I could go on and on, but you get the idea, and there are far more eloquent people on the topic. (Jason Robert Brown, anyone?) Thanks, Ken, for shedding light on this topic.

  • Mark says:

    Since I’ve made my living in the print music business for over 23 years I figured I couldn’t sit this one out. I’ve worked for some of the largest print music publishers in the world during that time and the good news is that we’re doing our very best to make music affordable and available legally via digital download. Printed music has always been a labor-intensive proposition (transcribing, engraving, royalties, etc.) and yet remains a pennies business to this day. Check out sites like http://www.sheetmusicdirect.com or http://www.musicnotes.com and you’ll find thousands of legal sheet music downloads at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, the Internet has caused everyone to think music should be free, but like any other commercial enterprise, it just doesn’t work that way (at least not survive and continue to offer quality work). I’m a member of several national publishing organizations and we spend more time discussing education than litigation, but some entities are so flagrant in their violation of the copyright law, we often have no other choice. Thanks to those who are doing it right. That assures more and better music for all!

  • Mary says:

    I know it’s a big deal anymore about piracy with sheet music but I do think it’s provoked. Who could spend all that money ($5 or even $15 for one song)? Not many people can. I don’t think it’s wrong to pirate one song here or there to fill your catalog for auditions or voice lessons. I don’t even think it’s wrong to want the sheet music to one entire show, just to have it. If i had to pay the retail or even the ones from those websites, I wouldn’t do it. They’d be losing money anyway. However, I do find a problem with people wanting an entire show to do illegal productions of it. Now that is a topic you should definitely write about. I am a advocate for that kind of thing. it’s more wrong then pirating one song.

  • Yoni Weiss says:

    I think it depends on a few things. I would never trade sheet music if it was something I could buy legally. But I can’t buy a score from MTI. Or from Tams-Witmark. Or any other licensing company. And who knows, maybe I want to play “Crossover Music 2” one night on my piano. If these scores were available to the public, there would be no need for these trading sites. Most of what you will find, will be scores that can’t be found anywhere else.

  • Brittany says:

    I understand that piracy makes it difficult for composers, who are just trying to make a living. What they need to consider is this: College kids are the fanatics willing to spend hours trolling the internet for material. They are the people who idolize new composers, worship YouTube performances, and tell all their friends about the awesome new songs they found. College kids are broke. They can’t (or won’t) perform the song if the sheet music isn’t cheap or free. Plain and simple, these composers just wouldn’t be getting the kind of exposure they’re getting now if every kid had to pay full price for the music.

  • Chris says:

    Sorry, but I’ve seen far too many college kids who cry poverty, but find the money to buy Starbucks coffee, or cigarettes, or a case of beer, or a ski trip, or spring break in Cancun. The “we’re broke” argument doesn’t cut it. As an actor, even a student actor, you are your own business, and every business has expenses. Buying sheet music is part of the expense of your chosen field. And please… “If I don’t get free sheet music and sing it, [composer] will never get that exposure!” How utterly pretentious. How did YOU find the song? Who do you think you are?

    The “but it’s unavailable” argument holds all kinds of water. I’ve always said “If you don’t want people to copy and trade it, make it available for purchase.” There are a lot of aspiring theatrical musicians and music directors who are starved for actual theatre scores to practice. (Making scores available for purchase will NOT, however, eliminate the trading sites.)

  • Rachael says:

    As a member of the group and sheet music purchaser as well, I will honestly say there are many of us there looking for things that are not available for purchase. I.E. I have been trying to buy the sheet music to Violet since 2004 – it isn’t available. Same with Elegies. I downloaded them here and my graduate school is now interested in licensing Violet, which will bring the writer and licensing company the money they deserve. Sometimes vocal selections cut songs, or you really enjoy a trunk song, these sites SHOULD exist for this. That way we can share fantastic theatre that is unavailable any other way – I personally wouldn’t download the score to Wild Party from there though… Just buy it. It is tax deductible after all.

  • Shannon D. says:

    What a great video… and a catchy song…. to get the message across…
    I totally just “legally” shared this video with Doug K. LOL

  • Keni Fine says:

    Yes, speaking of Jason Robert Brown, he dealt and wrote at length about this topic:
    http://jasonrobertbrown.com/2010/06/29/fighting-with-teenagers-a-copyright-story/
    (Note: I did copy the url for republication herein. I think that’s a fair use.)
    One revelation was how much the sale of sheet music represents as a portion of his yearly income – nearly half, I believe. Another was the wide scope of the pirating/stealing/liberating of sheet music. Worth a read.
    As an addendum:
    Dear Jason, as soon as the sale of my sheet music reaches even 25% of my yearly income, I’ll join you in the trenches. Heck, make it 10%. Or if/when we write something together, upon publication of our joint sheet music.

  • Mark C. says:

    I’ve made a living for over 23 years in the print music industry so I figured I couldn’t sit this one out! I’ve worked for some of the largest print music companies in the world and the good news is that we are very interested in providing affordable music (physical copies and digital downloads). Even with all the innovations in production and manufacturing, print music remains a cost and labor intensive proposition with transcribing, engraving, editing, royalties, etc., making it a “pennies” business even today. There are some great (legal) downloadable music sites out there which offer affordable music. Check out http://www.musicnotes.com, http://www.totalsheetmusic.com or http://www.sheetmusicdirect.com. I belong to several national music publishing organizations and we spend more time discussing education vs. litigation at our conventions, but sometimes, litigation is the only choice with flagrant violators of the copyright law. Illegal downloads have practically killed the record industry. Bravo to all who obey the law. That truly assures continued, more and better music for everyone.

  • Kristi R-C says:

    Music companies DID care about piracy when we were younger, but it was more difficult for them to find violators and get the evidence to convice them.

    There have been times I’ve copied something when I was in school, and copyright laws include “fair use” provision for students to be able to get materials for classroom use. The problem is that copyright law is so complex that most people are unaware that they are violating it. As a theater professional, I do everything I can to abide by the law. When I was teaching K-12 school, I tried to get permission from the copyright holder to do an edited version of “Oliver” which appeared in our 7th grade text books. Tams-Witmark wouldn’t sell me rights because it wasn’t their version and the text book publisher claimed they couldn’t give me Grand Rights (the rights for stage use) either and didn’t know who I should contact to get them. So I didn’t do that show, I selected something I could get clear Grand Rights to perform, even though it was for a free performance in a school setting prepared during class time.

    How many people would know enough about copyrights to do the same?

  • Nolan D. says:

    – Make ALL print music available to purchase/download/print online.

    Just as the music industry has embraced the digital model, the print industry must adapt…or lose out on sales. Being able to find a piece legally on Musicnotes.com or the like is the first step in deterring someone from seeking it illegally.

    I work in a music retail store. While we carry many print titles in stock, it isn’t possible to carry everything. If I can find it on http://www.sheetmusicdirect.com, most customers are happy to hand over $5 to have the music immediately. We need more extensive catalogs available online and closer partnerships between publishers and retail stores who personally deal with customers seeking the product.

    – Find a reasonable price-point. Are we really talking upwards of $9.99 a song? Yes, everything is more expensive in New York City, but not everyone relates to paying $10 for a beer. (I do believe starving artists/composers deserve a beer every now and then!)

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