Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sheety Sheet Music

A few weeks ago I made a comment to a friend that I'd like to be able to download sheet music for $1/song, just like on iTunes or puretracks. He said those types of services exist, although it's not $1/song; it's more like $5/song.
So I tried the two sites he pointed me at:


At musicnotes.com you can download either individual songs (about $5 each) or a whole album/book (about $30 each).
At sheetmusicdirect you can download only individual songs (about $4 each.
Sheetmusic direct seems to have the added capability of transposing the music into your key before you download it, but their software crashed my browser and I wasn't able to use their site to buy music in the end.

The music I purchased from musicnotes.com (Coldplay's Parachutes album)comes with a statement at the bottom of every page of music: "Authorized for use by Sara Bannerman." How ridiculous. I think this is a scare-tactic, because I didn't see anything in the way of a license saying that only I, the purchaser, was allowed to play the music.

Anyway, apparently there is now a war starting to get rid of unauthorized sites that offer sheet music.

Publishers Exert Pressure on Rogue Sheet Music Sites

What bothers me about this is that the quality of the sheet music I downloaded - in terms of musical correctness and musical arrangement - sucks.

I know that the market for sheet music is difficult. When the main outlets for legitimate sheet music were dusty stores in malls where it was difficult to find anything you wanted and where most of the music available was 100 years old, I could understand that problem. But today technology makes a really good, competetive and profitable market for sheet music possible.

I would like to see an open market on sheet music - a web site where all comers could write a transcription of a song and upload it onto an authorized web site for sale. A percentage of the proceeds could go to the person with the rights to the song, and the rest to the transcriber. People could post comments/reviews about which is the best arrangement etc.. Then, when I went to buy a transcription of a song, I'd have several difficulty levels to choose from and several arrangements. I might find that a particular transcriber was my favourite, and look for other transcriptions by that person. And really good transcribers would be rewarded. That would be much better than the current system, which generally offers only one version (seemingly a computer-generated transcription of something someone has churned out in 3 minutes on a MIDI-keyboard) of a song - often the same version across services (on both musicnotes and sheetmusicdirect). It would create a whole new market, competition, and tons of innovative renditions of songs for people to play - at the right difficulty level, which would be good for music education too.

That is the kind of thing that copyright is supposed to be for - the encouragement and dissemination of high-quality products, not for boxing up the market so that extremely low-cost and low-quality products are the only ones available.

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