Sourcing music – a Making Music webinar

I recently attended a webinar about sourcing sheet music, organised by Making Music. There were more than 100 attendees, mostly from amateur orchestras and choirs, all eager to learn about the best and most cost-effective ways to procure musical scores for performing groups.

It was a comprehensive overview: we heard from 11 separate speakers, each promoting a different service. I knew something already about music libraries and music publishers, but it was interesting to learn about some of the newer community initiatives. Some of the services go beyond simply supplying scores and can help music groups discover new repertoire.

  1. Music Bank, Ben Saffell

This is a service that Making Music (MM) runs. It is a catalogue of music which can be borrowed by MM members from other MM members. Anyone can search and see what pieces are available but to see which member holds the piece (so that you can ask them to borrow it) you have to be a member of MM.  There are nearly 13,000 holdings listed.

The search function is quick and allows you either to search for a specific composer or title, or other keywords. You can also specify the work length, composer nationality, musical genre, instrumentation. It includes both choral and orchestral music. MM members can make a small charge for the music loan, but this is expected only to cover ‘postage and packaging and a small and reasonable admin fee’.

  1. ENCORE21, Lee Noon

Lee Noon is Librarian for Music and Performing Arts at Leeds Libraries – one of the biggest music lending libraries in the UK. He is also on the committee of IAML UK & Irl (the UK & Ireland branch of the International Association of Music Libraries) and was here to tell us about a service that IAML UK run called ENCORE21. This is a union catalogue of choral and orchestral sets held by libraries in Great Britain. Most of the holdings are in public library collections, but it also includes holdings in university libraries and music colleges.

It is free and open to anyone to use. It is straightforward to search but there are not any browsing options (duration, genre, nationality etc). Lee mentioned that there is uncertainty about the future funding for the maintenance of ENCORE21, and currently IAML UK is seeking views on the service.

Lee also talked in general about music services provided by public libraries. Some of them will loan direct to groups across the country. Lee recommended people to use and support their local library music service as they have to demonstrate that they are needed and useful.

In discussion it was noted that there were some interesting developments in Norfolk and Bristol public libraries.

  1. NPALS (Nottingham Performing Arts Library Service), Stephen Chartres

Stephen Chartres works for Nottingham City Council and he was the project lead for NPALS when it was developed in 2015/16.

The service has 3,500 titles and 87,000 copies. A bespoke IT system was developed that allows users to search and reserve sets without the need for manual intervention. This self-service system is available 24/7 and is designed to be sustainable and affordable and to meet user needs. It has delivered efficiency gains and has made the service more widely available. NPALS will lend directly to groups across the UK, though groups outside the east midlands will need to register (this is free). The catalogue is open to anyone to use – it allows searching by composer, title and publisher.

Details of charges are on the NPALS website. NPALS has 380 registered groups using its services, and gathers feedback via user groups. It uses some volunteer effort, though not much was said about this. NPALS is still run by Nottingham City Libraries.

The IT system that NPALS developed is also used by NewSPAL and has recently been licensed to Hertfordshire Libraries.

  1. NewSPAL (New Surrey Performing Arts Library), Mark Welling

Mark Welling is chair of the trustees of NewSPAL. NewSPAL was set up by users of the former Surrey Performing Arts Library (SPAL) when that was closed by Surrey County Council. It is an independent charity and took over the stock of the former SPAL. It has over 4,000 titles and about 125,000 copies. The catalogue is free to browse and you can also check availability. The music was recatalogued by volunteer musicians and singers.

NewSPAL uses the NPALS software to provide an online catalogue and reservation service.  It lends directly across the UK and more than half of its members are outside Surrey. Users need to register (costing £15) in order to borrow, but there is no annual charge. Hire charges are benchmarked against public library charges. NewSPAL is not-for-profit. It is always interested to hear what users want, and it has made some acquisitions in response to demand.

There are two professional music librarians and volunteers also help to run the service.

  1. PMLL (Printed Music Licensing Limited), Viki Smith

Viki Smith is general manager of PMLL, which is part of the Music Publishers’ Association. PMLL represents the rights of music publishers and issues licences on behalf of the rights-holders permitting the reproduction of printed music.

Viki told us about the Amateur Choir Licence. This licence enables choirs to legally copy sheet music, and allows minor arrangements (eg a key shift). It is only for pieces up to 16 pages long. There is an annual charge for the licence, based on the number of members of the choir and the number of works to be licensed. Choirs need to report what they have copied. Copies can be used for 24 months; after that the choir will need to re-license them.

There is guidance on using the licence on the website and also guides on hiring and using music. The PMLL website also has a useful section called ‘Raising the bar – Essential Advice on Launching Your Amateur Choir’.

  1. Hal Leonard, Oliver Winstone

Oliver Winstone is Strategic Partnership & Education Manager at Hal Leonard, which is both the largest print music publisher in the world and also the biggest music distributor in Europe, representing more than 100 publishers. Hal Leonard also owns and provides digital music services. Their website has a comprehensive catalogue of all the music that they can supply.

Oliver said he was interested in feedback on digital services for choirs, and the digital learning tools. I couldn’t find details of these on the Hal Leonard website, but I think he was talking about ChoralMix – see this article to learn more about it.  He also mentioned the Arrange Me function, whereby you can upload an arrangement that you have made of a work and Hal Leonard will sort out the rights and profit share with the arranger.

  1. Composers Edition, Dan Goren

Dan Goren is the founding director of Composers Edition (CE), a different kind of contemporary music publisher.

CE has about 90 living composers as members and it works hard to promote them and their music, working with professional and community music groups to support performance of contemporary music. CE will help performing groups to find new music to fit into a programme and can help to make links between groups and composers, e.g  commissioning new works. A section of the CE website is devoted to commissioning new works.

The CE catalogue can be browsed by composer and by category (choir, orchestra etc), and you can apply filters such as ‘theme’, duration, and date range. You can also preview the score before committing to purchase.

Dan said that CE is keen to support community music groups and is prepared to be flexible when making deals.

  1. Choir Community, Piers McLeish

Piers McLeish is the CEO and cofounder of Choir Community, a music publisher that provides high quality musical arrangements of a wide range of titles and genres. They have about 25 arrangers on the books and about 1400 titles. You can freely search or filter by composers, genre, choir type, voicing, accompaniment, duration and difficulty. CC aim to provide music at affordable prices. Choirs must register and provide information on the number of choir members and the cost of a licence for an arrangement is based on this. Currently CC has about 9,500 registered choirs, half of them in the UK.

You can preview the music and also listen to an audio file. There are also learning tracks available to purchase.

CC makes some items available free of charge. They are a musical partner to RNLI in its bicentenary year and have published a collection of pieces with a maritime theme. One of these is free to download too.

They have a blog, and there is an interesting blogpost on Making Music Day, 21 June 2024.

  1. Newzik, Emma Hakimi

Emma Hakimi is a sales manager at Newzik, a digital music provider based in France. Newzik launched in 2014 and its first paperless concert was held in 2016. They have 40,000 clients, including many leading professional orchestras and ensembles. Newzik works with most of the leading music publishers.

The company provides digital scores, and these are held in the cloud. Performers access  via the Newzik app and will see their part in the app, drawn from the same central score. Each performer can mark up their part as they wish. Newzik has collaborative features that can be useful – e.g. allowing performers to share their markings if they wish. Emma said that this can save time in rehearsal.

Newzik has many interesting features, and clearly represents a very different model. Emma mentioned that they give discounts to small and amateur groups. I’m not sure whether many amateur groups are ready to move into digital music, but I expect it will start to happen in the next few years.

  1. Contemporary Music for All (CoMA), Emory Southwick

Emory Southwick is Music Sales and Catalogue Coordinator at CoMA, an organisation that encourages amateur musicians to take part in contemporary music making. Its music collection includes 900 pieces of vocal and instrumental music, many with flexible scoring. Included in the collection are many partsongs. Prices range from £20 to £60 for a full score plus parts.

  1. Light Music Society, David Greenhalgh

David Greenhalgh is a trustee and librarian of the Light Music Society, which is the custodian of the Library of Light Orchestral Music. This is based in Bolton and holds about 40,000 sets of orchestral and dance band music. About 5,000 composers are represented, including more than 100 women composers.

The catalogue is free to use and loan charges range from £10 – £40, plus an annual membership fee of £33.

  1. Other sources

During the session some other sources were mentioned too, by the organisers or other attendees or in the chat.

  • Gerontius has a searchable directory of music for hire
  • IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) is an online library of public domain (out of copyright) music
  • Musica International is a database of choral music, about 200,000 items
  • CYM Library is an independent not-for-profit music library with nearly 1500 sets available for loan. (Disclaimer: this is where I volunteer).

Two other services that weren’t mentioned but I have heard recommended are:

  • Chameleon Music Hire has over 4,000 titles available to choirs
  • Zinfonia  combines information from many hire and sale catalogues in one place.

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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