Music Publishing: Are you thinking about pricing correctly?

Ah yes, that old chestnut of pricing. You’ll hear many myths and stories about pricing products, many of which over-complicate the issue somewhat.

I have decided to share with you the best practices for a pricing strategy behind selling your brass band sheet music. Instead of bombarding you with all sorts of useless info and conjecture, I am restricting this blog post to bullet points and key points to note. To put it bluntly, I am showing you what works.

 

Firstly, let’s explore a few myths…

1) Customers won’t buy my music if it’s too expensive. ANSWER: Rubbish!

2) Selling my music cheap will mean they will buy it. ANSWER: Rubbish!

3) If I sell my music cheap, they will come back again and again. ANSWER: Rubbish!

 

If you have fallen into any of these traps, don’t worry, you’re not alone. We’ve all done it at one stage another.

Customers will pay good money for good products. Period! Selling your music too cheap generally means you have no confidence in it. Why should the customer? As for point number (3); just think how expensive it will be to keep that customer who only spends a few quid a month. Do you really have the energy to sustain a customer like that?

Pricing is about one thing and one thing only: VALUE FOR MONEY. Repeat it. Repeat it again. Repeat it in your sleep. For the next 50 years.

So what is pricing about? That’s right, value for money. Now, I know you’re intelligent, so I know you are thinking, “well duh, of course pricing is about value for money” – BUT, do you actually deliver on this? Many who are new to business almost always put “price” and “customer service” together. As soon as you do that, you loose all judgement of the pricing of your products. In fact, pricing has nothing to do with customer service.

Here’s a few things you must remember:

1) Have a good pricing spread of low – mid – high, so you can target all price-points. It is important not to use discounting as a method of price spreading. Notice how I didn’t say “cheap”. Nobody wants cheap things. They want useful, valuable things without spending the earth. If you sell cheap rubbish, you’ll attract rubbish customers who you will not be able to (or is too expensive to) move on to your more profitable items.

2) Value what you have. If you think your product is great, and it is actually great in some quantifiable way, demonstrate that in your pricing. Trust me, people will pay. Have confidence in your own product, and people will have confidence in you.

3) Sometimes looking at the competition is a bad idea. I know, “business 1-0-1″ right, look at what your competitors are charging. Let me ask you this; do you believe that you have a better product? Do you you believe the customer will get more value from your product? Do you believe the customer will get more value from your business as a whole? What more do you offer that the competition doesn’t? Do you see a pattern here? Value what you have. If you judge your value against your competitors value (whom you’re supposed to be out-doing anyway!), then you’ll forever live in the shadow of their success. Value what you have; set your own standard and believe in it.

4) Plot a ‘law of diminishing returns graph’. Yes, the boring bit. I won’t explain it here, but you can investigate it yourself. But by plotting this graph, it will allow you to evaluate how far to put the price (up or down) to produce a meaningful profit percentage increase/decrease. Why? Well, if you ask the man on the street and ask them to plot a price to profit ratio graph, I bet they will draw a straight line; i.e. profit is directly proportional to price. Incorrect. The curve is actually a [inverted] curve, and it gets steeper and steeper. This is because production costs are likely to be static; you have an unchanging property (production) against a changing one (price), and this affects how much % profit you will make. In short, the more you put your price up, the ratio of profit will decrease. So, if your music sells for £20 and you put it up to £25, you might make an extra 10% on that £5 price increase. But if you increase the price up to from £25 to £30, you’ll probably make an extra 8%. So for the same amount in price increase, you’ve decreased the % profit ratio. I hope that make sense. Learning how to plot this graph will be a good scientific way to judge deal prices, etc, and if you’re planning a price increase/decrease, how much extra/less profit will you actually yield?

 

To summarize;

Target price-points for low-mid-high, not by discounting, but by having valuable products at each of these price points.

Don’t be afraid to charge a lot. Be confident in what you can offer, and your customer will have confidence in you.

Forget about what others are doing. Instead ask, “What am I doing?”. Ask this question, and you’re thinking like a business person.

Value for money, and value for life. Don’t sell them cheap tat; after all they are spending their own hard-earned pennies on your music. Respect them and give them something they can be proud to have spent on. If a customer is enjoying shopping with you, why not give them something free. If they’ve given you a few hundred quid or so in sales, you can afford to pop them something extra. Remember, the RRP is what the customer pays, COGS is what you pay. And the COGS would be the “expense” that you incur. Very inexpensive way to impress a customer of value!

5 Top Notch Cover Versions

I’ve been a bit busy on YouTube again, this time finding great cover versions to great songs. I hope you enjoy my choices. If you have heard a cover of a song you would like me to share in a later blog post, feel free to email me at james@devilishpublishing.com

 

New Radicals – “You Get What you Give”

Cover version by Paul Wells

This smartly-conceived and extremely upbeat song by the New Radicals has been covered so well here. Aside from the clear technical talent, the musicality and vibe he gets across in the interpretation is second to none. It is exactly what an arrangement should be; to sound as if it is an original, and not a cover at all. Paul makes a lot of covers on his YouTube channel, and I cannot recommend him enough. What a talent!

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Tears for Fears – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

Cover version by Adam Blessing

The iconic original by Tears for Fears has been covered here with subtle simplicity. The great thing about this cover is it very much focused on the vocal, which has a somewhat jazzy lilt to it. I like this edge; instead of being in 12/8, it is a swung 4/4. Very musical and intimate version.

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Empire of the Sun – “Walking on a Dream”

Cover version by The Make

To me, this track is the sound of summer, and it is an incredibly hard track to cover. The Make have done a fantastic job; the vocal work is sublime, especially the backing female vocal which is so tastefully done (very rarely do we hear such sophisticated part writing in pop music). I love the electric drums, which I think enhances the warmth of the track. Huge kudos to The Make; what a top job!

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REM – “Losing my Religion”

Cover version by Scary Kids Scaring Kids

REM;  a band known for their catchy but highly respectful rock songs has had their ‘Losing my Religion’ covered by emo punk rock band Scary Kids Scaring Kids. As usual for American punk rock, it’s highly melodic and musical. If you like bands like Thursday, Greenday, and Asking Alexandria you’ll like this cover.

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Kate Bush – “Running up that Hill”

Cover by Stars of Track and Field

Covering Kate Bush is brave. Very brave. But this cover by Stars of Track and Field is on the same league as Bush. Although the interpretation is completely different, it stands on its own two feet, again, the golden rule of arranging; it should sound like an original. The understated verses and intertwined with a slightly more busy chorus; Stars of Track and Field have added their own tom-tom drum break; a nod to the original whilst offering something new.

Tracks Which Caught My Attention

I’ve got a few cool tracks for you guys to listen to. I Found these while listening to a variety of playlists online, and I like to keep paper and pen handy to jot down tracks which I quite like. I’d like to share a few of these with you now, along with a little note of what caught my ear in these pieces. Enjoy!

 

“Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia (1980)
A funky soul number. Classic 1980′s sound with American 1970′s drum sound. Great vocal performances, and the instruments all create a great warmth and it never feels cluttered.

 

 

“Kei’s Song” by David Benoit (1987)
A dark piece of smooth jazz. Some beautiful chord changes that create great atmosphere. Beautiful string orchestrations; don’t often get to hear these sorts of beautiful skills anymore. Modern commercial string pop arrangers make the strings sound so dull and without emotion. Masterclass this one!

 

 

“25th Floor” by Bungle – DJ Marky & Bungle Remix (2007)
This ultra sexy and cool drum and bass remix is totally superb. Lo-fi drum breaks similar to that of LTJ Bukem, provide such great momentum. The splatters of vocal are well balanced from the sine bass and E.P chord vamp. Typical jazz influence as usual from this style of DnB, so called as Atmospheric DnB.

 

 

“Above your Head” by Anoraak (2010)
Similar in style to “A Real Hero” by College, as heard in the 2011 Ryan Gosling movie, ‘Drive’. ‘Above your Head’ has a late 1980′s sound to it; almost Pet Shop Boys, but with a less commercial sound. Just like in the College song, I like how the bass is really driving this track.

 

 

“Love the Way” by Danism – Crazy P Remix (2011)
Everything is just so great in this track. I totally love the piano; very little compression. I really can’t stand those artists today  who take a perfectly amazing piano and then compress the sound to bits. In this track, the bass is well balanced and I like the subtle use of Dorian mode for the overall harmonic structure. A quality track that groove along. A great bit of engineering skill means this mix works well at all volume levels.

 

 

“Fireworks” by Wolfram – Johan Agebjorn Remix (2011)
Another track where the bass is proving substantial movement in the song. A lot of dubstep producers can learn a lot from these sorts of songs. The kick drum is very late 1980′s; I’m sure the S-A-W team would approve. The vocals are very subtle, but the exceptional use of double tracking, delay and reverb give the track a great dimension of space. The chorusing on the bass really works as it pulls the bass away from the middle of the mix, and feels like it is spread out. This greats a lot of space in the bottom end and cuts through the mix well. A little treat of a track this one!

Be Still My Soul

In the summer of 2006, I was playing soprano cornet with Eccles Borough Band, when the band secretary, Val Davies, informed me it was her husband’s birthday coming up. Jim Davies, who played 3rd cornet, has a fond love of the hymn from Finlandia, “Be Still My Soul”, by Jean Sibelius. As a special birthday treat, Val commissioned me to arrange the piece for the band and dedicate it to Jim. It was a pleasure to mark his birthday in such a way.

The arrangement is characteristically dark and lush, with subtle splashes in the harmony, but all the while maintaining a beautiful warm sound. A careful balance of homophony is juxtaposed with subtle polyphony. In moments of polyphony, the music should not become cluttered, and in the homophonic sections, the music should exude character and texture of tone, almost choral in nature.

The last section of the piece is a simple balance of homophonic chorale writing with question-and-answer counterpoint. The cornets sounding completely electric, the horns and baritones adding warmth, the euphoniums adding character, the basses adding depth and width, and of course, the majestic trombones add a stamp of British authority.

This passage of music grows and grows in intensity before reaching its closing half a dozen bars or so; the percussion and bass trombone supply the grandest of symphonic grit as the band power through to the final chord of D major.

Farnworth and Walkden Band performed the arrangement as part of their summer 2013 concert programme. I am told it went down a storm, and I am also told that a tam-tam roll found its way into the score on the final chord. We shan’t say anymore on that.

At the beginning of 2014, I contacted Stephen Cobb about the arrangement, and he was very generous to open the piece up to the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army. The band were very kind to make a sight-reading rehearsal recording for me. Extremely impressive stuff I must say, and I have had amazing feedback about the piece, not least the surge in sales for this piece — internationally.

You can listen to the ISB performance below (please remember, it is a breathtakingly beautiful performance in my view, so be warned, I won’t be responsible for tears). If you would like to purchase the band set for your band, you can do so now by clicking here.

 

 

Why I love Lilypond

When I first began my voyage into composition, it was at a time when you didn’t fire up computer software. It was a golden time of buying manuscript and writing directly onto paper; I still remember being all of 15 years old and having a set of Panopus orchestral manuscript hand-delivered to my door on Christmas Eve!

Still to this day, I write purely by hand. I don’t sketch and then flesh it out on the computer; I write the whole thing out on manuscript, and it gets typeset later. I write by hand for many reasons (perhaps I can talk about this in another blog post?), but the important thing to get across is I don’t use the computer at all for composition. Not even arranging or re-scoring; everything I do is written by hand. This is true even for my latest big project, “The Complete Band Trainer”, although for reasons I shall never know, I binned the handwritten originals upon sorting through my things in preparation for moving to York in November 2013.

What the computer is amazing at, is producing nicely-printed sheet music. In 1998, I got a copy of Sibelius when it first made its move from Acorn computers to the Windows platform. I thought it was amazing, although my first typeset scores took a very long time to get right and were hardly what I’d class as publisher grade.

I used Sibelius for publishing since I set up Devilish Publishing in 2002, but began to migrate to Lilypond from 2006. In 2012, I completely ditched Sibelius for all publishing duties and now do all typesetting in Lilypond.

My enthusiasm for Lilypond is not without the contentious feelings of others. Or should I say, the contentious feelings of people who either were so stuck in their ways with Sibelius, or just wanted to do what everyone else was doing. Quite frankly, I don’t care what everyone else is doing. If Steve Jobs took that attitude, there would be no iPhone.

I simply could not use what I felt to be an inferior product, when an alternative was out there that would produce sheet music so beautiful, never yet seen in the brass band environment. Not only that, it was easy to use, extremely powerful and packed full of professional features that were somewhat lacking in Sibelius. Most of all, Sibelius looks ugly; it looks digital and rigid. Lilypond has chunkier blacks with far less right angles, more expressive bezier curves (slurs and phrase marks). The beams are well thought out and the fonts are scalable. Unlike Sibelius where one font is used for all sizes of music, Lilypond uses different fonts for different sizes, resulting in a more consistent look no matter the size.

Basically, it looks top notch, it can do all the fancy geeky stuff Sibelius has yet to catch up on. Comparing Lilypond to Sibelius is rather unfair because Sibelius is clearly inferior. A good rival for Lilypond is SCORE; seen as the industry standard for music typesetting.

The problem is, to save money, the big publishers often employ 3rd party music editors to typeset the music. These editors come from different musical backgrounds, but are often composers. In a way, the art of engraving has been lost a little to the economics of business, but that is just a harsh reality of the publishing business in the 21st century. Luckily there are still “engravers” out there working for the big firms too and there is ever-increasing activity on the web comparing the different software available. Advice from actual engravers; excellent!

So why do I love Lilypond? Because it looks amazing, it is mind-bogglingly powerful, totally professional, publisher grade, and no more “extracting parts”. But most of all, no one else in the banding world had the foresight to realise that our bands need the highest quality music products. I can provide what is lacking. And that makes my job worthwhile.

Anthracite Dances

Last year, I was commissioned by Yasuaki Fukuhara to write him a brand new ragtime-inspired solo for xylophone and brass band.

I spent many weeks listening to the famous George Hamilton Green, whose ragtime style is greatly respected by many players of the xylophone. I wanted to capture that lighthearted magic and combine it with my stereotypically dark sound.

The title of the work – Anthracite Dances – was conceived by my wonderful girlfriend, Helen. She has been a great support whilst writing the work, and she has now been roped into typesetting the piece. Not bad for someone who isn’t a musician, and she doesn’t whinge as much as musicians do about reading my handwritten originals!

It has long been a mission of mine to write a xylophone solo, so when this commission came along, it was the perfect opportunity to put pencil to paper.

Anthracite Dances is written in duple time and comprises of two different ragtime vamps; one which is steady, and one a little more stilted with tetrachords in the bass. The xylophone part sits on top, with ragtime shuffle quavers intertwined with carefully placed triplets.

The xylophone is a great instrument, but it is prone to sounding comedic or childlike at times. For this reason, the xylophone glissando is only ever used to enhance the dark qualities within the music.

As a small interlude, the cornets and trombones play block chords at fortissimo. These chords are held down tight with unison trombones playing the famous chimes that ring from the Queen Elizabeth Tower.

A section of improvisation occurs where the band performs long chords over continually changing time signatures. Yasuaki is given a series of notes within each chord, which he can utilise in any order and in any rhythm he likes. This gives the xylophone soloist a chance to put their own stamp on the music.

A sample of the xylophone soloist part is below:

Yasuaki especially commissioned Anthracite Dances for his CD, The Golden Apples of the Sun; it was a pleasure to have him record the work, and also Leyland Band, who have recorded my music previously. The album is conducted by Richard Evans, aka “Dick the Stick”. I have had the great pleasure of Richard conduct several of my works throughout the years, and I’d like to thank Richard, Yasuaki and Leyland Band for their performance on the album. I always feel very lucky to have my music recorded by such fine artists.

You can learn more about Yasuaki’s album here.

You can purchase the sheet music of Anthracite Dances here.