Earlier this week I received this note in my Facebook mailbox:
I really like your songs. That’s why I added you on facebook, because I love your CD so much. So I feel like I should tell you that some people are sharing PDFs of your songs online. How do you feel about this? Selfishly, I love it, but at the same time, there’s nothing I would hate more than taking money out of your pocket. So if you’re against this, just let me know and I will do all I can to prevent any further sharing.
Hmmm. I was actually surprised to hear this, and then I kicked myself for being so naive. For the last few years, and certainly even more now that my CD has come out, people have written me emails and asked for sheet music to the songs I’ve written. Seeing how this is actually what I do for a living, I charge a small fee which I split with my collaborators. Once I’ve cleared the check, I send out a .pdf of the music via email and that’s that.
Only apparently that’s not that.
I called Sam Davis, who wrote two of the songs (Air and Perfect Summer) on my CD with me, and asked him how he felt about the fact that our music was being circulated around the internet without our permission. His first comment was something like, “I’m still just so excited that anyone wants to sing any of my songs!” But his next comment was about how we should probably stop sending out .pdfs, because clearly people were taking advantage of us.
I try to make this blog about the work I do, and so I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch for me to explain a bit how this all works. I’ve been writing songs since I was in high school, but only in the last ten years or so has it become something that generated money for me. In the music theater business, you can write and write and write, but unless someone is out there performing your work, those pieces of music just pile up as files on your computer or sheets of paper in your piano bench. Sam’s right; it’s thrilling when at last people start talking about your music and asking for copies of it so they can sing it. Our impulse as young composers is to fly over New York dropping copies of our sheet music from airplanes in the hopes that actors, recording artists, and music publishers will pick up the pages and recognize our unique genius.
This is who I was when I first moved to NY, and if you’re one of the actors who coached with me in those early years, you probably got free copies of everything I had written at the time. In those days I thought of myself as a music director/coach by day and a composer by night. I’ve now gotten to a more exciting point in my career where I’ve got enough demand for music that I need to be a composer by day, and it’s led to a career-changing discovery. If I am music directing all day long, I don’t have time to write.
All this is to say that those of us who are writers for a living depend on your support of our writing. When I’m not making money as a writer, it’s not that my baby is starving or I’m unable to afford shoes. It’s that I have to do other work during the day, and I’m not able to write. Ultimately that means, you, the people who claim to love the music I’m creating, will have nothing new from me.
At the moment I’ve got about a month’s worth of music that I’m supposed to be writing, but during the days I’m at SOUTH PACIFIC. I’m not complaining — I had no idea how much I would enjoy sitting next to Paul Gemignani all day and listening to Reba McEntire sing about how she’s gonna wash Brian Stokes Mitchell right outta her hair. By the time I get home and put my daughter to bed, I’ve got (at best) three hours before I fall asleep, and not one evening so far have I chosen to sit at the piano and write something. However, come August, I’ve got pretty much the whole month to focus on finishing these three shows, addressing a choral commission, putting together a concert in London and planning several recording sessions. The writer in me is chomping at the bit to get back to work.
I’ll close with a piece of good news. Before too long all of the complaining about posting .pdfs and using music without permission will be moot, because you’ll be able to go to your favorite music store and buy a songbook folio of my sheet music for yourself. “This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs of Georgia Stitt” is due out later this year, thanks to the wonderful Maxyne Lang at Williamson Music. I’ll pass along more details as I know them.
And then we can talk about photocopying.