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January 10, 2006

Hinshaw built its reputation on sheet music


Hinshaw Music built its foundation by publishing copyrighted sheet music by many of the country's up-and-coming composers, but the future of the business lies in nailing licensing deals. Which is why Roberta Van Ness, president of the company, is constantly straining to hear if any of her pieces are unlawfully being used on television or in movies. "Because you never know," she says.

Such illegal usage has occurred a couple of times in cases that were settled out of court. A document software company was using clips from a piece by English composer John Rutter. The company said it didn't know that Hinshaw held the copyright on all of Rutter's compositions. "They thought it was in the pubic domain," says Van Ness. Which is why Hinshaw employs a licensing attorney part-time to keep abreast of violations. "There's a misunderstanding that a lot of people have. The piece of paper is not an asset. The music is," Van Ness says. With each CD sold or music clip broadcast, Hinshaw gets a share of the revenue.

Even so, only about 30 percent of Hinshaw's $2 million in annual revenue comes from licensing deals. The other 70 percent of the business is dependent on sheet music sales to choirs and professional conductors around the country, and the prices have changed very little in the past 15 years. Each sheet sells for between $1.50 and $2.75, barely enough to cover the paper and printing costs. "The margins are pretty small, and we have to stay competitive," Van Ness admits. She and her staff aim to stay that way by luring the top talent in their niche market.

Hinshaw Music has built a catalog of more than 2,500 sacred choral music titles since the company was organized in 1975. And it adds about 40 to 50 new titles each year. Most of the pieces are sold through a network of about 200 dealers and music stores around the country. Hinshaw's top seller is still Rutter's "For The Beauty Of The Earth," which has sold more than 1.5 million copies since it was first published in 1979. Another of Hinshaw's well-known composers is Mack Wilberg, an associate conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has performed and recorded many of the pieces published by Hinshaw.

Van Ness on average attends about 200 concerts a year scoping out talent. Many of her company's catalog additions come from composers pitching their pieces to her. Others come from talent she finds through the concerts she attends or through recommendations from others.

"We are looking for something that has an unforgettable melody line ... if it catches you from the beginning," she says. "You just know when a piece is good. It's like reading a really good book. It catches your interest." Hinshaw will contract with individual composers for royalty percentages in exchange for the copyright on a piece of music, which it markets to those in the music industry through its dealership network.

Hinshaw also sells a subscription service to members who receive music clips from its latest catalog on CD, or subscribers can listen to clips through Hinshaw's Web site. "This is the way people are buying music now," she says. "The market is going more toward the Internet. Younger choral directors are not as interested in taking time to go to workshops." It used to be that Hinshaw would host or participate in more than 50 workshops a year to let choir directors hear the music or read it themselves. Now the schedule of workshops is fewer than 30 a year.

Competition in the music publishing industry has increased over the past 25 years. Van Ness says that when company founders Don Hinshaw and Cliff Poole moved the company from New York City in 1981, there were maybe 10 to 15 other choral music publishers in the country. Now there are between 30 and 50. "Most of us are in this business because we love it and have a passion for it," she says.

Posted by acapnews at January 10, 2006 12:38 AM