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How to get started (and make money) as an independent music publisher

Music is one industry where you can make millions based on individual creativity. This article asks the questions that a new firm must answer to establish a successful independent music publishing firm.

The music business is wide open for independent music publishers. Far from the closed corporate buddy system of the 1970s and 1980s, today a focused music publisher can make big profits with a clear business plan for startup and growth. Hardware and software prices have dropped significantly, and with a minimum financial investment and some training on music software, anyone with the time and energy can operate a successful independent music publishing business. Some important questions need to be answered before writing a business plan.

Music and Catalog:

The most important question deals with the type of music your company will represent. Are you creating your company to represent your own music or the music of other composers, arrangers, and lyricists - or both? The music you market is called a catalog. Some companies specialize in a Classical catalog, others Rock or Jazz, while some large firms represent all types of music. Scan offerings of other companies to study their categories. You might be an expert musicologist and label your artists as High Life, but if the other companies market such music in the Alternative category, follow their lead. You can always cross-reference the music later or, as your catalog develops, add artists to fill out the High Life category into a larger offering.

If you limit your company`s offerings to your own works, you will need to be sure that you have a sufficient number of pieces to fill out a catalog. It is easiest for your catalog to focus on one type of music when your business opens. Marketing and identification of your audience will be limited to one musical category. As your business expands, it will be easy to add artists. Avoid a large catalog of various types of music with only one artist under each type of music. Potential buyers wanting to purchase Jazz pieces will not shop in any other category. Depth within the Jazz category will attract return customers. Attempt to list several pieces by one artist. If customers like the first piece they purchase or rent, they will return for other offerings. Your company can develop a recognized name by offering specialized music.

Copyrights and Contracts:

Legal issues in the music business have grown exponentially in the last three decades. Careful planning in contracts and copyrights will avoid litigation later. Some key questions need to be addressed before you offer any music for sale. Will the company retain the rights for the music, lyrics, arrangement, or mix? Will the artist retain the rights with your company simply marketing the piece? Will your company consider sharing rights? If so, what will be the profit split? How much money would you offer for your company to buy a piece outright? If an artist writes the music and lyrics, and your company purchases these rights, what will happen if an advertising agency uses the song in a multi-million dollar ad campaign? Will the artist share in any of the profits? Will payment to the artist be made on a percentage of the sales or rentals? All of the what ifs should be addressed in the contract. Think BIG. You never know what the future might hold for any piece of music. If you plan to resell music, th e contract must address this contingency. Much of the Lennon and McCartney catalog has been resold, some of it many times and for millions of dollars.

Contracts should be signed for all music, lyrics, arrangements and mixes. Never assume because the artist is a friend or relative that everything can be worked out at a later date. Hired counsel should look over the contracts to make sure they do not violate any state or federal statutes - it will prove to be money well spent if a contract is ever challenged. Once a contract is in place, it can be used again for other artists. Sample contracts, from professional writing and arranging societies, can be used for a basic model. Select an attorney who specializes in contract law, preferably one who also has music industry experience. Joining one of the professional organizations shows potential artists that your music company understands the market and operates on a professional level. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Music Publisher`s Association (MPA), and the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) are the largest nonprofits, and their websites provide information about contract law and copyright. These websites can also give you an indication of the payments that are standard for the industry. While most music, arranging, and lyrics earn little money for one-time use, the repeated use of one piece can turn into a valuable resource for your company. Think of the number of stations playing a single song over the course of a month. The money quickly adds up!

Marketing and Advertising

How will potential buyers find your company? Identification of the market requires careful study and consideration. Whom do you think will play the music your company represents? Where are they located? How will you reach them?

It is important that your company develops an easily identifiable logo and name. A logo or symbol associated with the company will help customers remember the name. Once you open for business, avoid changes: you want customers to remember you and be able to find you quickly.

Advertising is an important element to a successful business. A decade ago, the music market determined the type of advertising your company would select. Today, all music advertising, regardless of the type of music, uses both online and print outlets. A new company, with solid artists to represent and a sharp, user-friendly website, can do as much business as a large company that has been in business for decades.

Many music publishing companies offer online catalogs. Consider hiring a specialist to put together an online store complete with shopping cart and online credit card payment. Make it easy for your customers to quickly select your music. Do online searches to see what your competition is offering, and find ideas your company can borrow from their sites. Focus on: What types of payment does your competition take? What are their terms? How is their site organized? Locate your competition by use of a combination of search terms such as: music, lyrics, rentals, sales, sheet music, arrangement and the type of music your company offers.

The degree to which your company uses printed mailings will be determined by the type of music your company represents. If you offer choral, band or orchestral original compositions or arrangements, target schools (high schools, community colleges, and universities), professional orchestras and symphonies. If your company represents popular lyricists and composers, you will need to develop an aggressive plan to contact groups and recording companies. Some companies advertise in musical trade magazines and visit local music venues on talent nights. Unsigned talent is a major opportunity for new businesses to expand their music offerings.


A successful music publishing business requires a high degree of organization, in addition to creativity, but with careful planning of contracts and copyrights and advertising and marketing, your business will continue to grow year after year.

On Raga Nand

Raga Nand, known variously as Anandi, Anandi Kalyan, Nand Kalyan, has attained considerable popularity in recent times. Although the provenance of the rAga is not easy to pin down it is thought to have been conceived in the early 1900s. For a long time time the vilambit Khayal, E bAre saiyyAN tohe sakala bana dhoonDooN, composed by Mehboob Khan "Daraspiya" (d. 1921) held sway. The distinguished Daraspiya was a student of Tanras Khan and the father-in-law of 'Aftab-e-Mausiqui' Faiyyaz Khan. In those days there was considerable give-and-take of ideas, Ragas and bandishes between the Atrauli-Jaipur founder Alladiya Khan and the Agra elders. And so this Daraspiya composition came to be firmly installed in the repertoire of these two schools. Over time the composition dispersed beyond its immediate environs establishing itself as the apotheosis of the rAga. Today, it has a presence in virtually all vocal Gharanas. Another early bandish that merits mention was due to Agrawale Vilayat Hussain Khan 'P ranpiya': ajahuN na Aye Shyam, bahuta dina beete. This beautiful rAga is product of the highest musical imagination, a masterful synthesis of calculation and aesthetic imperatives. The contours of Raga Nand do not obtain from simple, straight Aroha avarohana runs. There are tantalising chhAyAs of 3 or 4 rAgas but the overall product is a composite. The rAga is mastered by recognizing its kernel and by a gradual assimilation of its lakshaNAs. Let us examine some of the highlights. Throughout the following discussion, M = shuddha and m = teevra madhyam.

Raga Nand employs all the shuddha swaras plus the teevra madhyam. Fleeting glimpses of Kalyan, Hameer and Bihag are to be had now and then. The Raga signature may be encapsulated in the following tonal phrase:

G, M D P R, S

It is not simply a matter of hitting these notes; the swara ucchAraNa has got to be just right. There is no better example of this execution than the prelude by Lata Mangeshkar to a Ghalib gHazal tuned by her brother Hridaynath -

The key lakshaNAs are now summarized:

S G, G M, M (M)G P

While the gandhAr is a nyAsa swara, the elongation of the shuddha madhyam provides a very pleasant effect.

G M P D N, (D)P, P D (P)m m P, G M D P R, S

G M P N, N (D)P, G M P N S"

The uttarAnga launch is Bihag-like.

P D R" N D P and P D S" R" G" (R")S" R" N D P are occasionally employed for embellishment; notice the latter prayoga in Kesarbai's rendition below.

P N R" N DP, P D m P G M (D)P R, S

Chromatic (albeit mediated by a meenD) use of the madhyam is found in some treatments, viz., S G, G M (G)m, m P

A superb selection of recordings has been lined up for this feature. We flag off the parade with the familiar Nand candidate from the film MERA SAAYAA (1966). Madan Mohan's composition is delivered flawlessly by Lata Mangeshkar: tu jahAN jahAN chalegA -

Purandaradasa's pada, Enna pAlisu, in Bhimsen's voice exhibits Nand's signature in the mukhDA but then veers into alien territory -

Composers of Marathi Natyageete have fruitfully exploited the rich and luscious Nand landscape as the following three examples attest. Master Krishnarao's composition in AMRUTASIDDHI, inspired by Daraspiya's bandish, is voiced by Gangadhar Londhe: dhanya tuchi kAntA -

The great violin maestro from Goa, Shridhar Parsekar, was a composer of considerable renown. His creation in VAHINI is deftly handled by P.L. Deshpande, another highly gifted individual known throughout the Marathi world as "Pu. La.": pAkharA jA -

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jitendra Abhisheki re-ignited interest in Marathi musicals with an admirable display of creative tour de force. His compositions revealed an unusual facility in marrying verse with Raga-based melody as witness this gem from MEERA MADHURA. Why he let Ramdas Kamat (a fellow Goan) molest this gem of a song will forever remain a mystery. Take note of Ramdas-bab's tAns towards the end of the clip, indistinguishable from the bawling of a newborn baby: Ananda sudhA barse -

We kick-off the classical segment with Kesarbai Kerkar's magnificent rendition. I had the misfortune a couple of days ago of listening to a webcast of a Maharashtrian lady ruining Nand (I do not wish to be entirely negative; as a word of encouragement, let me add that we will see far worse singers in the weeks and months to come). There is a virus - a poisonous weed, really - that has taken root in Hindustani circles, one that induces people to mistake fast tAnabAzi and affected trills for Ragadari.

Kesarbai's tAns are superbly conceived and dealt, and they are always placed in service of the rAga. Vazebuwa's description of them as a shower of costly 'ittar' comes to mind. Kesarbai, in dheemA teentAla -

Mallikarjun Mansur, another Jaipur-Atrauli master, especially enjoyed his Nand. The Daraspiya bandish in vilambit teentAla -

If the Atrauli-Jaipur grip on Nand has not registered by now, this breathtaking assay by Kishori Amonkar should help drive home the point. We have two cuts of Kishori here -

The final act in the Atrauli-Jaipur lineup, Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik -

Amir Khan's Nand is a mixed bag. It is meditative, in tune with that great man's musical personality, but he hasn't really captured the gestalt of the rAga (which is perhaps not very well suited to his style). The ubiquitous Daraspiya bandish, this time in jhoomrA -

The distinguished representative of the Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana, Nissar Hussein Khan, lends a lyrical touch to Daraspiya's baby, this time cast in vilambit ektAla

and then goes on to sing Vilayat Hussein Khan's cheez ajahuN na Aye Shyam -

Enter the Agra punter, Dinkar Kaikini. He sings an exquisite bandish, composed by his guru Acharya S.N. Ratanjankar and, for a change, the 'sam' lands on the rishab: pAyal morA bAje -

The lovely Kirana songstress, Roshanara Begum, carries Daraspiya -

Kumar Gandharva's recording of his own composition ranks among the finest pieces of recorded music. Do not fail to notice the extra-special extra-appealing lyric -

This beautiful AIR rendition by D.V. Paluskar finds him elaborating on the jhaptAla bandish ajahuN nahiN Aye (not to be mistaken for Pranpiya's cheez encountered earlier) -

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