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Topic: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

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  1. #1

    The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Awhile back in The Listening Room I posted a string quartet arrangement I did of "Drive My Car" by Lennon/McCartney.

    A fun idea that came up on that thread was for me to make the arrangement available to string quartet groups who may want to perform it.

    I did an investigation of how to go about making my arrangement available and found the publisher who controls the rights for arrangements of Beatles songs--And the reply was less than encouraging:

    --I would need to pay the publisher $500, and also get permission for the arrangement from the writers of the music--not just their representatives, but from the writers themselves. This is all so I can publish the arrangement in whatever way I intended, even if that meant just making the score available online.

    I'm unable to pay $500 on the extreme off-chance that a quartet group would discover and want to use the arrangement.

    SO--it's a dead end.

    But I'm wondering if Forum members have experience in arranging copyrighted works, and successfully, legally, having those arrangements published--without this high cost?

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  2. #2

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser-
    But I'm wondering if Forum members have experience in arranging copyrighted works, and successfully, legally, having those arrangements published--without this high cost?
    Randy, I don't have first hand experience, but I would assume that arranging falls into the copyright enfrigment...

    On the other hand, I would assume that also falls into the "fair use", as it also happens with parodies, no?

  3. #3

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Hi, Nikolas - Thank you for the reply.

    The whole reason I did research to find who controls the arranging/publishing rights for material was precisely so I wouldn't be violating copyright. And what I'm wanting to do goes way beyond "fair use" since it's an arrangement of the entire song, with the idea of collecting royalties for the use of my arrangement.

    Hal Leonard controls So much music, including most of The Beatles' material. So that's the company one needs to work through for getting permission to publish/make available new arrangements.

    And the results are as I said--very expensive. And on top of it, they're saying I would need personal permission from Paul McCartney himself. --It seems just impossible, paying all that and doing all that for one song.

    They also requested details of who my publisher is--Well, I don't have one, it was to be something I made available online.

    New arrangements of standard, copyrighted songs appear all the time--Apparently the publishers are getting Quite a nice sum for that work.

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  4. #4

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    My experience is with simply arranging copyrighted music for other groups. I write music for high school marching bands. (aside: I am eagerly awaiting the concert band library in the hopes of having an "all in one" solution, rather than piecemealing together different libraries...)

    The process (and known cost) that I go through:

    1. submit a request to receive permission to arrange the piece. This is usually done by the commissioning band director or an agent acting for him/her. (There is an excellent service available for that called CopyCat Licensing.) The request is made to the copyright administrator, which may not be the original holder of the copyright, but often another company that deals with the administration of the work itself. In the band world, Hal Leonard Corporation is the big gorilla for this.

    2. a contract is then received by the commissioning director. In it the cost for the request is noted, along with any particular restrictions and the copyright notice to be printed on the music itself. (by the way, it is EXTREMELY infrequently that I am allowed to even put my name on the score as the arranger of the piece.) Ownership of the copyright remains with the original holder, not the commissioning band, and certainly not with the arranger. (Said another way, the arrangement itself is owned by the original copyright holder.)

    3. contract is signed by all parties involved and legal permission to arrange is granted. Cost ranges from a minimum of $100-150 to upwards of $500 per tune. There are some extreme cases of charges of $1000 or more per tune being charged. (Some composers, John Williams being most prominent, will not allow under any circumstances arrangements like this to be done. Only arrangements published through major companies are allowed, and there are strict guidelines as to how the material may be used.)

    **two things to note about this process as described:
    a. this is for single-use arrangements for a particular group in a particular year.
    b. this is only for the printed arrangement and does not cover anything related to recording the piece by a music group (audio or video).
    Brad Pearson
    THG Music
    Spokane WA

    MacBook Pro (2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo), 3 gig RAM, OS 10.6.5, Finale 2011b, GPO4 & CMB2

  5. #5

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    No wonder classical music is popular with performers. It's public domain!
    Vista / Sonar Home Studio 6 / GPO 2d edition / Melodyne Uno 1.8

  6. #6

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    A friend of mine, Gary Slechta (www.selectapress.com) creates arrangements for brass and woodwind chamber groups and frequently deals with Hal Leonard. He told me that he has to get a contract for each HL-owned tune he arranges, HL owns everything about that arrangement, and HL gets 15% of any profits made fom the sale of that tune. If you want to contact Gary, I'm sure he'd be happy to help with some advice, or at least his own experiences. Tell him Paul Baker sent you.

    It's my understanding that it's up to each copyright owner as to the permissions he/she is willing to give to an arranger, hence the various stories already mentioned in this thread. As soon as any money starts changing hands, they want their piece of it which is only fair since that's how composers earn the bulk of their money.

    Publishing, in the legal sense, is not printing and selling sheet music. Publishing is owning and administering the copyright to a piece of music. Currently, you are your own publisher. Hal Leonard administers a lot of copyrights, as you have discovered. They have staff/contract arrangers that keep their catalog full of the latest and greatest tunes in addition to us freelancers who want a piece of their action.
    Paul Baker
    Baker's Jazz And More
    Austin, Texas, USA
    www.bakersjazzandmore.com

  7. #7

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Thank you so much for all the information, thgmusic.

    Your post confirms that what I've run up against is Just The Way Things Are. Acting as an independent agent, I don't have a commissioning agent working with me, but the prices and procedure you outlined was as I understood it.

    Beatles music, being Big League Stuff, the price quoted to me is logically enough in the higher range you mentioned.

    Interesting that one doesn't usually get credit for an arrangement, and that the original copyright owner also becomes the owner of the arrangement.

    OH well!

    If I wanted to pursue this particular idea more, I suppose I could make it be known that I have an arrangement available--if a group wants to go through the expense of securing the rights for it. But I wouldn't be able to post a sample of the arrangement online.

    Back to working with my own music, which is mostly what I do.

    Thanks again!

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  8. #8

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Hi, Paul---You're yet another of us few Forum members online today during the holiday.

    Your reply came in simultaneously to me writing my last reply, thanking thgmusic.

    Thank you also for the info and for the lead!

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  9. #9

    Re: The high cost of arranging copyrighted music

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser-

    If I wanted to pursue this particular idea more, I suppose I could make it be known that I have an arrangement available--if a group wants to go through the expense of securing the rights for it. But I wouldn't be able to post a sample of the arrangement online.
    A couple of thoughts about this: some copyright administrators, depending on the specifications of their agreements with the original copyright holder, will allow any single arranger permission to arrange a particular piece *once* and *only once*. In your scenario of a group securing the rights to play your arrangement, assuming Hal Leonard granted you permission retroactively to do so, they could deny any further requests to arrange that piece by you, even if it was for another group in another year.

    In my line of work, for instance, let's suppose that Band X commissions me to do an arrangement of "Let It Be Me" in 2004. They follow procedure and secure permission to arrange the piece. I do the arrangement, fees are paid, and all is right with the world. Now suppose that in 2005 Band Z decides they want to commission me to do another, *new* arrangement of "Let It Be Me." It is quite possible that Hal Leonard Corp. would deny permission to arrange the song, because I've already done an arrangement of it in 2004.

    So, in your scenario, let's say the Bay City quartet would like to use your arrangement. They could apply for permission to arrange from Hal Leonard, and probably be approved for it, thereby "commissioning" you to write the arrangement for them. (Fees would be paid, all is right with the world.) But now the Fox River quartet hears of the arrangement and decides they want to do it, too. They apply for permission to arrange, but it is highly likely that Hal Leonard Corp. will deny permission for you to arrange the piece, because you've already done that once. Fox River could alternatively apply for permission to use a pre-existing arrangement, but that gets dicey, too. The view is apparently that Hal Leonard Corp. will deal with the administrative process for a new arrangement, but not multiple requests for pre-existing arrangements, even if new fees are paid. The most frustrating part of the process is that each song is somewhat unique depending on the original agreement between the copyright holder and the copyright administrator.

    I don't personally have anything against Hal Leonard Corp. I've dealt with some nice people there. But to do things right, one has to be willing to deal with a somewhat labrynthine system.

    Now, having painted such a bleak picture of dealing with "Big Brother", I will say that I have had some very pleasant dealings with smaller publishing companies.

    My advice to you, Randy, is this: if you think the arrangement has merit and the possibility for marketing, then contact someone at Hal Leonard to see about submitting it for publishing. Alternatively, you could contact some of the smaller publishing houses to see if they would be willing to publish it. You would receive far less money per copy sold, but the music would be out there, and your name starts to get around. Perhaps more arrangements and original compositions then come from that...
    Brad Pearson
    THG Music
    Spokane WA

    MacBook Pro (2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo), 3 gig RAM, OS 10.6.5, Finale 2011b, GPO4 & CMB2

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