This will be an ongoing series consisting of questions that I have received after giving the Composition for Kids lecture. The first three questions came from members of KMTA this summer. They included:
This post is about the fourth question I have received which Barbara asked after the Kansas City Composition for Kids lecture:
I have a student who writes beautiful arrangements. Can she possibly get these published?
The answer to this question is that it depends on a lot of variables. So, I’ll talk about some of these variables and how you might be able to help her with each.
Variable #1: It depends on how good they are. Every publishing company is going to have different standards of evaluating manuscripts, but here are some consistent standards that most editors would consider:
- How pianistic is it? How easy is it to play? If the pieces fit within the hands easily, that is definitely a plus. Difficult arrangements are difficult to sell, so publishers are less interested in these.
- Does the set of arrangements display an understanding of good voice leading, musicianship, and composition technique? It’s amazing what a semester of 4 part writing will do for a student, even a student composing piano music. For example, I have had students whose RH melody jumps in the most inopportune places (an example of bad voice leading). This would be something noticeable to a good editor which would make them flag the submission as immature and not publishable.
- Is there anything unique about it? There are a lot of piano arrangements out there, so its important for a student to have a bit of an established “voice” that differentiates them from another person.
- One way that you can help this student is to help her polish several pieces and then set up an appointment with a published composer or editor if you have access to one and ask them to critique the compositions. Of course, you will want to pay for this meeting and the evaluation.
Variable #2. How many arrangements are you submitting? Your chances of an editor being interested are better if you submit a collection of arrangements rather than just one or two. Publishers are not interested in whether or not you can write one piece, but whether you can write great pieces consistently. I would submit a minimum of 8-10 pieces at a time to a publisher. They need to see more than one kind of mood in the writing and consistently great compositions.
Variable #3 How old is the student? Since the publishing of music requires that the composer sign a contract, it is probably safe to assume that publishers will be much less interested in a person who is less than 18. There are some composition contests that have taken place in the past that have resulted in single sheets of composers being published (FJH has done this a few times for original solos), so I would encourage a student to look into those opportunities where students are asked to submit. Otherwise, it is wise for a student to wait until they are at least 18, get all the education they can to improve their compositions skills, get some feedback from a published composer, and then submit.
Variable #4. How professional is the student willing to be? Make sure any submissions that are sent are well polished, and are notated using a notation program for a clean printout.
Variable #5. How patient are you? Unfortunately, submitting works to a publisher can result in years of waiting (it takes 3-9 months to get a response) and rejections. If you have a student serious about composing and being published, encourage and help them do the following:
- Hone their composition skills. Use the later levels of Music By Me to assist the student in learning new ways of approaching composition and arranging.
- Contact and get feedback from a published composer. Arrange and pay for a series of composition lessons with a real composer to get their feedback on the student’s work.
- Take theory coarses to learn about proper voice leading and other principles of good writing. This is helpful even when working in piano music!
- Take a general composition class from a local university. Being around other students interested in composition and hearing their compositions will broaden their horizons to the possibilities that are out there.
- Help the student expand their own styles of playing by selecting new books of arrangements in differing styles.
- Instruct the student to research all kinds of publishing companies to see which ones even publish the kind of music that the student is writing. Read the following guidelines from just one of the publishers to which I’ve referred on this site. This document is a great guide for submitting manuscripts to a publisher.
Variable #6 Is the original tune copyright? If so, you probably wouldn’t want to send this to a publisher who does not own the copyright. This is a complicated variable which should be the subject of another post.
These are just a few of the many variables that might need to be considered for a student thinking about submitting manuscripts. These are very general guidelines, so if you have more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.