May 17, 2009

Worth a song

Copy that.A friend of mine the other day said that at his daughter’s solo singing competitions every competitor is required to present to the judges original scores of the song he/she is to perform. That is, not photocopies or handwritten things, but actual published and purchased sheet-music.

Here’s a rule of a vocal competition that I found:

Upon arrival at the festival, two copies of performance selections must be provided for the clinicians. The use of photocopies is forbidden. Photocopies of permanently out of print material must be accompanied by a letter of permission from the publisher (or legal copyright holder).

Solo light music piping competitions are generally assessed from memory, and occasionally someone will provide sheet music of an obscure tune. But I would say that, at least in my experience, there are four or five competitors in every light music event who play something questionable, leaving me wondering whether the piper got it wrong or is just playing a different version.

Providing scores might avoid those doubts, but, perhaps more importantly, it would help our own publishing industry if competitors, as with serious vocal competitions, were required to present actual purchased published manuscripts in order to participate. It would mean that all pipers would have to purchase collections, and not rely on photocopies and scans.

If it’s good enough for serious singing contests, shouldn’t it be good enough for us?


  1. Years ago a pupil of mine was sitting a Descant Recorder Grade 111 exam (Assoc Board of the Royal Schools of Music). He’d to play three pieces, and each was in a different book which he’d to buy, as photocopies weren’t allowed. One of the books was £30, and the parents refused to buy the book. Knowing that copies weren’t allowed, I urged them to buy the book but they refused point blank and on the day he went in with a photocopy. Two weeks later ‘I’ as the person who’d entered him for the exam got a very snippy letter tellling me in no uncertain terms, not to let this happen again. At least with piping collections you’re likely to get more than a single use out of a book. I’d never before bought anything from but when my band recently needed Bonnie Gallowa, The Rowan Tree and The Old Rustic….. I was totally amazed that we could buy one copy of each, for a miniscule sum, and that within the band we could then photocopy times 8 so that each member had a copy. This made the price per band member something like 2 pence. I really think we should support the publishers of books, collections, and the likes of by doing the decent thing and buying the music- and yes, presenting a copy to judges. It happens elsewhere as a matter of course – why not in piping indeed.!

  2. On the other hand, it might result in many people playing only public domain music, thus reducing exposure and reducing potential future sales for new composers and compositions. If we extrapolate to the band competitions, would we require a non-photocopied sheet of each tune in a medley from each band member? Again, this would discourage use of newer tunes in favor of old public domain stuff. Also, what if the tune was purchased electronically, like on Mr. McGillivray’s website? While legally purchased, these sheets would not be accepted at the song competition.

  3. I write music, and would love to make money at it. But as a competitor, I’d hate lugging sheet music around to every competition.


  4. I am a composer who has had my tunes played by bands other than my own. I personally consider than an honour in itself since none of them have ever been published. I also don’t care if I ever receive any royalties from them. We are not “Prince” or “Jay-Zee”. Contributing and creating should be enough. If you don’t agree, then “Get over yourselves! You’re not all that”. Humbly yours,…

  5. I’m coming at it from a different angle though – if we don’t buy the books or if we don’t support the single tune option eg from the people producing this stuff would presumably just stop producing it, and the supply of new music as well as the older revised music would just dry up, slowing down the development of the music. I know what you mean from the ‘own compositions’ point of view though – I’ve given away more harmony parts and tunes in the past,than I’ve had hot dinners, and yes its an honour if anyone wants to play them. But I DO want the option of being able to buy a single tune (or sometimes a book) and that would make me support anyone offering that facility. It also puts some value on the music and the composers. After all its hard work, which takes hours, and some have trained long and hard to get to the point of writing music, never mind publishing books or setting up websites.

  6. Songs are typically published individually and have been for a long long time, making the rule easier to apply I suppose. I would argue that the song comp. rule is as outdated as cassette tapes. There is plenty of legal language that makes valid just about any physical form of a work. A digital file of said tune is as valid as the book is as valid as a photograph of the page – all of which can be legally acquired. The issue is use and distribution. My question would be why isn’t the song competitor required to produce a letter of permission from the composer to perform the song? What kind of death knell would you hear if that rule was in place? New music of any kind will suffer more from obscurity than from any kind of “piracy.”

  7. this would be a very tough one to nail down. What’s the difference between a photocopy and the printed score that you got from Macgillivray’s site??I don’t know. plus does this mean that the person has to hand in the copy of Willie’ Ross’s book to the judge to get the tune out of and in my case, that’s a bound collection so I have to hand my nice bound collection of Willie ross to the judge for him to hang onto at maxville with the other 30 books on his table from other competitors. Not sure how it would work but would love the sales personally.
    Bagpiperman, a lot of rock and roll and other musicians didn’t bother to register their music for many years and they lost out a lot of money for it. You are honored to have your music played and I have to say , so am I , it really is a thrill to see some band playing one of your tunes listed in the program at the worlds and while you are correct on the one hand that most likely you wiill not make much money, there is money to be made and it’s not about getting over youself at all. If you have a tune that is played on say, the new Dragoon Guards Cd, then you must be quite weallthy to not worry about it. Standard royalty is now 11 cents per unit ( I may be off a penny here) so lets say 10 cents, an easy number. If the Dragoon Guards sell 200,000 copies which is not out of the question, you would receive $20,000 for you work there. For a guy that makes a living , playing, teaching , composing, judging etc, that’s a nice chunk a change.

  8. I wouldn’t think that the “real” music industry has any fewer challenges than piping/drumming when it comes to published scores. Maybe we should get more information before declaring the concept impossible.

    Art — what tune(s) of yours are you referring to? I didn’t know you were a composer.

  9. So after you lot are happy setting up all the red tape and lawyers fees, are we supposed to pay 10% for each tune recorded on a CD album.

    Does anybody that wrote a little 2 part reel or jig deserve 10%?

    If you want to go down this road, how many pipers have made good money playing AG and owe royalties?

    Keep it a hobby based industry, you’ll be much further ahead than what the alternative is worth.

  10. Just a thought: I wonder if, say, in 1920 when copyright law was in its infancy, if anyone envisioned something like American Idol, where tens of millions of people would be entertained by seemingly trivial compositions.

    Why do pipers/drummers (and associations) keep selling our art short with the “it’s just a hobby” argument? If you read the Donald Shaw Ramsay interview, he talks 20 years ago about a composer 20 years before that who failed to get his fair due for a tune he composed that was picked up for a BBC program.

    I think all composers of pipe music, whether it’s Bruce Gandy or a one-hit-wonder writer, deserve what’s fair, whether it’s $20,000 or 20 cents.

  11. Andrew: In response to your question and to set the record straight, yes it is a very well kept secret. I wouldn’t call myself a prolific composer, or even a good one, but I have penned 5 or 6 compositions over the years. My main contribution, though has been as a consultant, Tunes & Medley arrangment as well as harmonic arranger for most of the Medleys written and played by T&DCPB and Peel (until I left the band in 1997). I was a part of the creative team that helped put them together. the other two main contributors and composers (to greater degree than myself) were Perry Gauthier & Ross Griffiths (there wer others). Also included would be Craig Stewart and Scott Perrier (Someone had to write the drum scores!). It is writing teams that will take a band from good to great in terms of composition and arrangement.
    When my mom gave me a copy of the Edinborough tatto 2007 on DVD ( she mixes that up with the Worlds, well you know…..), I decided to sit down and watch it with her. While listeing to the introductory “Medley”, I almost fell out of my chair when I heard the third tune (or so, not 100% sure) and exclaimed “Mom, their playing my tune!” Well, they were playing the second part of a quick air called “Rainbow Country”. The only place that the musical director could have picked that up from was a single recording of a Medley played at the Worlds one year by either T&DCPB or PRPPB (can’t remember which band) as it has never been recorded on a band album or published anywhere else.
    I was also pleasantly surprised to hear a few bands recently playing a waltzy type air called “Dream Time” , cowritten by myself and Andrew Worrall while we were members of T&DCPB. The harmonic arrangements and 2 or 3 of the 4 phrases were written by myself while “riffing” with Andrew one day at the “Coxwell House”. That one is also not published as far as I know, but can be heard on the album “Reflections” by T&D or possibly on youtube being played by “Frederiction Society of St. Andrews?” at Maxville diuring the GRI Medley competition in 2005 or 2006? (not sure).
    Anyway, I have a few others under wraps at the minute which I would like to play with a Grade I Band some time in the future. They are part of a whole medley and are not to be played on their own yet.
    So, then, where are the royalties for the drummers? If we paid them 10c per tune, what then? Let’s not forget that the mid section would be included in that…..Pretty soon, we would have to sell albums for $100.00 just to break even…….

  12. the fact is, that the money has to go somewhere and it is required now for someone to make a CD. If you don’t wish to register your music, then that’s fine but someone gets that money. It either gets paid out or it stays with the person/group/comapny that owns the CD. As well, in the UK, they have what’s called a medley rate so the track is divided by several tunes. yeah yeah yeah, it’s only penny or two but the rates are more substantial for DVD productions. So much like the argument that we’ve exhausted here, on the worlds CD’s, either you get your little piece of the package for having your tune on there or the klub records keeps that bit of money from every unit pressed and keep it in their own pockets. Now if they gave that back to the contest for more judges or prize money, then i am sure that many people would say sure, just give it back to the contest. I have done that many times for bands. When they call and ask for a licence to publish, if you know the band is just doing it as a fundraiser, then I often just sign off on the first couple thousand units. That’s approx $150 for the band. If ten people offer to do that, then the band is ahead by $1500 if they have gone about publishing the Cd correctly. I also guess you are correct on the drum scores but have no experience in that area, but it’s individually written accompaniement so I expect the same rules would follow. Michael Flatley certainly made a bunch of money for writing dance steps for Riverdance. ?

  13. Royalties for composing and playing rights is an interesting topic with many points to consider. We owe it to ourselves to define and enforce some sort of set of rules and policies regarding this topic, particulalrly if it is part of one’s primary income.

  14. So far, comments have dealt mostly with the issue of immediate compensation and the particulars of how to provide that to composers. But I believe the far greater benefit would be found in the statement that this makes to the new generation(s) of pipers emerging. It communicates to them a certain value and a level of expectation. So long as governing organizations stand by and watch copy made after copy and alterations made again and again without permission, THIS communicates something as well. Regardless of any individual’s or any band’s response, which should be our message? People tend to do that which is expected of them. That which is RIGHT never will be done until that which is right is EXPECTED to be done. Start now.

  15. How on earth did this get derailed into a discussion about royalties? The stories about pipers lifting other’s work for the small compensation that can come from pipe music composition are abundant. Surely the point of Andrew’s comments has to do with how careless we are in requirements for competition. I can pretty well predict, with I’d guess 100 % accuracy, that any tune of mine played in a contest would yield $0 in royalties…and I’m good with that, as I’m sure every other current composer of bagpipe music would be. The question raised by Herr Berthoff is, what the hell is any competitor playing at a given contest? I have judged the best in the world in the last few years, and I can say without any fear of contradiction, that some of these great talents wander far from the beaten path, let alone any accepted score, in the tunes they play in competition. Written scores would relieve the adjudicators of the intellectual and ethical burden of trying to determine if this was intentional, or as the lawyers say…..”was he/she off on a frolic of his/her own”….don’t you hate the need to be politically correct with the awkward he/she stuff? Surely this is a reason to go to the neutral although grammatically incorrect “they”.

    Anyway, I take AB’s point to be that we have a serious lack of rigour in the way we approach competition and adjudication. If I’m right in reading him, I agree….we are woefully lacking in attention to detail, both in the way we allow people to be taught, and the way in which they are judged.

  16. Bill, I agree with your concerns about competitors’ music “wandering far from the beaten path” as you say. But it got “derailed” from the start when Andrew illustrated his blog with a stylized Copyright logo and then prioritized the issues when he wrote about “wondering whether the piper got it wrong or is just playing a different version. Providing scores might avoid those doubts, but, PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANTLY, it would help our own publishing industry if competitors…were required to present actual purchased published manuscripts in order to participate. (Upper case mine for emphasis.)

    Both issues are worthy of discussion. But the latter (that of upholding the rights of composers) is sure to draw more discourse. For me, the money involved is not so great a matter as honoring the creative intent of the owner and not “improving” upon it without permission.

  17. In top level competitions, it would seem to reflect the professionalism and ethos of the event, for competitiors to supply legitimate copies of what they are about to play. I’d have thought that to be a basic requirement. What better place to set that example for the future, than way down in the juvenile and amateur competitions, so that it just becomes the expected, the norm, and sets ‘a ‘good practice’ in place early on. It’s the attention to detail, (and this is no SMALL detail) that will improve standards all round, and set the best example for those coming behind us to follow. I must say if I knew I’d to purchase tunes, provide copies for the examiners/judges – I’d approach the competition in a much more serious way than if it doesn’t matter if you chop and change, hand over a dirty photocopied unauthoriased sheet or none at all. Sloppiness in the structure will mean sloppy everything else. Another thing about repeated generations of altered copies, is that all kinds of mistakes creep in – D doublings-gdf, note values at beginnings and ends of parts get all askew, note errors etc etc etc. Bad practice not to acquire a proper copy of the book or tune, and value it for what it is. A thing of value. And imho, its the attention to detail (as Bill says) that raises standards, as well as wins on the day.

  18. The post is really about both the way we conduct judging and competition AND royalties and copyright. Apologies for the murky writing.

    Because of not providing scores, as a judge I tend to be very lenient, and don’t much care if someone adds a doubling, or plays a second-ending. As long as we don’t require scores, then I think people are fairly free to play whatever. But if they say they’re playing a certain setting, then that goes into the assessment. I do think that if we’re going to have subjective music judged, then we need some objective criteria, and perhaps scores could be part of that.

    The blog was also about copyright, and maybe even started with that notion. If we were adopt the singing world’s approach, then certainly that would drive sales of published works – whether music books or some new form of single-tune sheet-music. So, the 0% royalties that Bill currently receives from competitors playing his stuff might be replaced by proceeds from actual sales of copyright manuscripts.

  19. Interesting comments so far. Some commentts regarding the competition part.
    Ideally it would be fantastic if every competitor had to produce an original copy of the manuscript that they learned the tune from. There are practical consideration to be taken into account.
    1) What if the original score has a typeo? Does the player have to adhere to that error for fear of being penalized for playing the tune “incorrectly”?
    2) Does everyone then have to carry copies of the books containing the tunes? Its cumbersome enough to have to lug around a pipe/drum case + some sort of water supply and other personal items, never mind bring along your entire music collection.
    3) When playing these new “freestyle” selections, or in the case of a band, a Medley, how many books would the judge have open on “its” table (sorry Bill) to follow along? Are the tables big enough?
    4) Would we need to provide 5 books (one for each of the band judges, including the experimental “Mid Rift” judge) when entering a Medley competition?
    5) If signed photocopies were OK, how do we get Willie Ross to sign his tunes?
    6) How strong is your wrist? It’ll be stronger after you’ve finished signing photocopies for every competitor on the planet that wishes to use your tune in a competition.
    7) How do we determine that the signature is authentic and authorized?
    8) Who determines what setting of an older tune is correct? Different versions can be found in different books.

    Just some food for thought from Art (trouble maker) Irvine.

  20. It can be helpful to supply the original music manuscript to the judge. Unfortunatly, typographical errors do occur. The early editions Scots Guards book is a good example of that! Thank God Big Angus got his hands on it and cleaned things up in the latter editions. These issues can be trying. I’m still trying to get an answer if the the B/C(?) switch in the 4th part of the Glenfinnan Highland Gathering is real or not
    As Bruce notes earlier, fractions of cents can ad up rapidly. Hollywood and your local bank make a fortune off of these centile round-offs. Granted, most pipe music manuscripts are quite limited in distribution, but if you happen to go big in the popular market things do change! One example of a “good old boy” song writer that missed this boat was John Fogerty. He lost $$$M’s and for years, he couldn’t even sing his own songs in public. Cheers, Kent Argubright

  21. “Let me in Pipey, I’m ready to plaaaaaay……todaaaaaay!” Sorry, just got carried away with a little John Fogerty moment! cheers, Doc

  22. Unless someone figures out a way to copyright or track my brainwaves, this whole discussion is likely to become moot. (What about all the tunes we learn by ear?) What we are really talking about is “new” pipe music from living composers, who all should receive their fair reward for their creativity when recognized enough to be played out and about, or when offering their published collection. But any reward or lack thereof to any composer (living or dead) is not going to make major moves in our little world one way or the other. The trouble is that strict requirements such as those in effect with music licensing favor large rights holders. Those same requirements often bring a depressing/constricting effect to small niche markets such as ours. (And keep us flailing about words in blog comments!) Keep in mind that “copyright” and “commerce” are two distinct things. I would argue that the depth of new bagpipe music that exists today is a direct result of the “fast and loose” way in which we deal with copyright and licensing. If strict enforcement were in place twenty years ago up to today, we would not have the rich musical scene we have now. Despite the apparent lack of “attention to detail” in judging and teaching (which we all know and love…!), there exists more opportunity today to receive compensation or reward for your creations than there ever was.



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