internet music publishing
a survey of independent and open source publishers

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Incalcando Contemporary Music Publishing -
(Sebastian Lexer and John Lely)

Incalcando Contemporary Music Publishing, or ICMP, is the brainchild of Sebastian Lexer, a Masters student at Goldsmiths College, London. He founded the site around two years ago, with the aim of setting up an independent and very specialised publishing company for experimental contemporary music. This coincided with the release of Sibelius for Windows, and the site uses the Sibelius 'Scorch' browser plugin, allowing prospective clients to read the scores before choosing a purchase. The scores are also available in Adobe Acrobat PDF format for users of other operating systems (including Linux). As interest in the site continued to grow, he then teamed up with John Lely, also a Masters student at Goldsmiths, and together they manage the creation and preparation of scores and their incorporation into the site. John describes the purposes which unite the site and its participating composers:

We're attempting to found a community, an international community for composers wanting their scores seen.

The site was supported from its beginnings by the composer Dave Smith, whose roots lie in the UK experimental music tradition. Dave is a close friend of John Tilbury, and a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths College, where he met Sebastian and John. Indeed part of the feeling of community behind the site is due to the fact that most of the works published are by young composers currently based at Goldsmiths, a college renowned for artists working in experimental media. The name Incalcando means "warming up the voice", a musical term which Sebastian found in the Oxford Music Dictionary and felt was apt in conveying the interests of the site.

John Lely describes the advantages of releasing music in an electronic medium, which allow Incalcando to bypass the commercial restrictions of the larger publishing houses, where experimental music would normally be seen as unviable:

The good thing about using internet publishing is there's no wasted paper; there's not a huge amount of scores produced and then not sold, they just produce what they want.

Sebastian discusses further the limited returns to a composer signed to a larger publishing house, where restrictions may be made on outside collaboration as well as upon style. His aim is to keep overheads low through using internet media, enabling a much greater return to the composer:

That's where we have the edge on - there Sibelius actually keeps 50%. We are able to give much more directly to the composer.

The emphasis of the site is on quality rather than quantity of music, and in contrast to the many sites such as which allow any internet user to upload music, Incalcando concentrates on selectivity in order to maintain its aims to produce contemporary music of international quality. The next stage of development for ICMP will include the establishment of a selection panel, featuring amongst others the experimental musician and composer Dave Smith, one of the original supporters of the site, as well as composer Roger Redgate and pianist and contemporary music specialist John Tilbury. The panel will function to decide on the inclusion of submitted scores, in order to continue the site's emphasis on quality, as well as freeing Sebastian and John to concentrate on maintaining the website and approaching new composers. While many of the works could be classified as falling into the category of "new complexity", they maintain that there is no stylistic restriction upon the composers who participate, beyond that of promoting the development of experimental contemporary music. At present the selection of works is left to the participating composers, in the knowledge that they will want to put forward their best music for public release.

The database at the heart of the Incalcando site is fully searchable by any category, including composer, name of work, its instrumentation and duration. Sebastian Lexer describes the process which led him to be hand-coding the dynamic pages of the database in PHP, run from a UNIX server:

At some point I got the Front Page program and started learning ASP. I set out some pages and wanted to upload them to my webspace - it didn't work, and I wrote an email to tech support and got the answer back "Apparently we have a UNIX system, so you can't run ASP on it, you would need a Windows NT server."

His ISP reccomended that he use PHP with MySQL, and although this took him around 3 months to learn how to hand-code the pages, it has resulted in a database which is "incredibly fast" to load and enables a client to search by any category that may be required in programming a concert.

The Scorch plugin allows a user to view the entire document before purchase. The permissions on the plugin are locked so that it may only be downloaded once the score has been paid for. Sebastian describes the experience as being similiar to being in a music shop, "you can flick through the score, decide you like it and then buy".

The site has attracted a lot of interest nationally, and to a certain extent internationally, as Sebastian is originally from Germany; with most of the interest so far coming from other composers. Sebastian and John have further plans for Incalcando, with the possibility of setting up associated sites to promote their current work in programming MAX patches, as well as John Lely's Cardew resource page. Later in February Mstation will be talking again to Sebastian and John as they present their work in MAX at the Goldsmiths College EMS Research Conference "Composing Sound: Issues in Sound Art and Electroacoustic Music".

The Choral Public Domain Library (Rafael Ornes) -

Rafael Ornes established the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) in December 1998 with the idea that open source concepts used in software could work in much the same way for modern editions of public domain works.He is a big fan of Linux and is a system administrator in addition to being a choral director. In contrast to the specialisation of Incalcando, the emphasis of his site is upon openness, and upon making choral music readily available to the public in a form which may then be immediately downloaded and used for performance. His focus is primarily upon choral music:

I basically accept all types of Choral music. The choice to concentrate on choral music was driven primarily by the fact that I am a choir director. Also, I wished to concentrate on choral music because choral sheet music is a specific economic niche which would benefit greatly from a free/open source music project. Choral music is peculiar in that each choral score is exactly the same, and thus lends itself to xeroxing. This is not the case with orchestras or chamber music. There are many other reasons why choral music is particularly suited for a free music project.

While being very fond of Linux, Rafael maintains the importance of working with a vareity of systems and software packages in order to make his work more widely accessible:

Regarding software, I try to remain neutral with regard to software packages, That is because there is a major problem with compatibility in the between music notation packages. Also, at present free/open-source notation packages are not widely used for professional typesetting. I generally use Finale, but also own several other packages, and I accept scores from many other notation programs. There are other sites which concentrate solely on one software package, but I tend to find that too limiting. In that case the focus is on the creator, not the end user.

The open source - like principles of the project mean that the music of the Choral Public Domain Library has made its music accessible to many users for whom the cost of purchasing sufficient copies of conventionally published sheet music would be forbidding. Indeed, costs become extremely high when involving large choral ensembles, and here again, the fact that the music may be downloaded on an individual basis rather than printed on paper and distributed has allowed its performance to become affordable. He speaks about the positive feedback which the site, a member of the Free Sheet Music webring, receives on a daily basis:

Most works are in the public domain , but there are also several works that are done by modern composers. Virtually all of the feedback has been very positive. Over 6000 scores are downloaded daily, from all over the world. The Free Sheet Music Ring is primarily just free music, not open source (although Richard Stallman has notified me about the difference ;). Most music publishers are significantly behind in understanding the principle of open-source, since they do not have a background in software. In fact, open source principles work better in many ways when dealing with public domain music rather than software. The reasons for this are many and too time-consuming to go into here..

Yet indeed these principles provide a fascinating insight into the establishment of a musical community where making music openly available is facilitating performances of new works and allowing the enjoyment of choral music to reach a wider audience.

Musica Viva (Frank Norberg) -

Musica Viva is another website which offers free downloads of sheet music, although maintaining a commercial interest alongside the free network in order to support its composers and editors. Frank Norberg writes about the origins of the site and its purposes:

The History

Musica Viva first appeared on Internet February 2nd 1999. I had been toying around with various web sites for about half a year, and was looking for some content for a really serious personal site. It occured to me that while there were lots of midis and guitar tabs and God-knows-what around the web, music in standard notation was hard to find (at that time I didn't know of *any* free sheet music sites at all). I also thought it a shame that traditional music publishers charged (and still charge) far too much for old public-domain music that hardly cost them anything at all to publish. So I dragged out a couple of simple classical guitar pieces I happened to have on my hard disk, converted them to GIF format and uploaded them. I soon discovered other sites with similar ideas, so I added a links page that eventually grew into the Free Sheet Music Directory. Musica Viva was able to expand rapidly due to a couple of fortunate circumstances: I already had all the equipment I needed for the job, I already had quite a large collection of Finale files on my hard disk, I had some server space available, and - most of all - I happened to have plenty of spare time that year. Eventually the site grew so much I had to make a couple of investments, but the fact that I was able to get through the crucial first months at vitually no cost was a great help to me. With more than 2000 titles Musica Viva is today one of the largest free sheet music collections on the web, and with 25,000 page visits daily it might be the most popular one.


Lots of people have asked me why I do all this work. There are a couple of reasons: 1. I'm a professional musician with a farily strong computer interest (and background). Combining the two seemed to be a good idea.
2. I wanted to give the music publishers a kick in the ... for doing such a lousy job. Sheet music is far too expensive today. The music publishers aren't ashamed of charging ten dollars or more for a piece of paper that costs less than a cent to print. The traditional publishers have also let their traditional distribution network (the local music stores) die without coming up with any good alternatives, making it really hard for musicians living outside the big population centres to get hold of sheet music at all.
3. Internet has been very useful and enjoyable to me, so I thought I owed the Internet community something.
4. I thought it might be possible to make a little money by exploring one of the smaller - but also less crowded - niches on the web. It's important to note that although money never has been my main motivation and I deliberately keep the commerce at a rather low level Musica Viva *is* a commercial site.

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