From school hall to Tin Pan Alley;Show time

11th December 1998 at 00:00
There's a wealth of musical talent in our staffrooms, so how do you go about getting your own compositions published? Sally Ballard finds out the score

MANY a music teacher has spent evening after evening at the piano, dreaming up melodies and lyrics for the school Christmas show. Usually the hours of composing pay off. The children sing joyfully and parents dab their eyes. But is there a chance these compositions could catch the eye of a publisher and lead to fame and fortune?

School music book publishers areinundated with scores written by teachers, often under the impression that as their work went down well in class, publishers would be bound to give equal praise - and a large cheque. The reality is not so rosy.

"Teachers can get an optimistic view of what they have written," warns Sheena Roberts, head of publishers Aamp;C Black's music department. "I don't want to discourage people from writing for children or their schools, but something that can give your school great pleasure may not be suitable for another school."

Yet Aamp;C Black does look at everything it is sent. "And occasionally we get suitable material," says Ms Roberts. She suggests that a telephone call to her to discuss a score would save time and wasted effort. "We can then say, `No, we are not looking for harvest songs at the moment', for example. But we could also say, 'You can send in the material and we will keep it on file.' " There is a market for the right melody and the right lyrics at the right time. Aamp;C Black is currently compiling a book of non-religious Christmas songs for top juniors to be published in 1999. "As long as it is accepted that there is no guarantee, we would be very happy to consider material for the song book," says Ms Roberts.

First step for the would-be published composer is to research your target publishers. Aamp;C Black is known for its celebration, assembly and classroom songbooks (Michael Rosen's Sonsense Nong; Sue Nicholls's Michael Finnigin, Tap your Chinigin and the unusual carol book, Merrily to Bethlehem among them). Music Sales, which includes Novello and Chester, publishes few songbooks but does bring out several school musicals each year.

This market is equally competitive. "We do get deluged," says Lesley Rutherford, the company's education and classical publications manager.

Whichever genre you are working in, the market will be difficult to break into because many publishers have established composers who they use continually. Never forget, though, that some of these successful composers were once in your position. Many of Music Sales' composers of educational music are full or part-time teachers, and a background in teaching can be a great advantage because you have to have classroom knowledge and be fully aware of what is going on in education to succeed in this sector.

Music Sales publishes musicals for key stages 2 and 3. They have to be closely linked to the national curriculum and need to be commercial enough to sell to other schools. More than that, they have to be startlingly original to make an impression.

"If it is just another Christmas musical, even if the music is fantastic, it is difficult to sell," says Ms Rutherford. "The story has to have a different angle. We have got a lot of great musicals already and so have a lot of other publishers. So a new composer will have to come up with something very new that will be commercial."

If the publisher decides to take on the score, fees are negotiated. It is usual that the publisher would offer either a royalty or a buy-out fee. Ms Rutherford says: "Most composers go for the royalty, because if you have any faith in your work, then it will go on for years and years. So you either have a nice little lump sum at the beginning or a trickle for years."

TIPS FOR THE TOP

l The British Music Year Book (available in the reference section of all main libraries) lists music publishers, their addresses and areas of specialisation. Research various publishers. Request a catalogue and see whether your work fits the publisher's list.

* Ring the music department to see if the publisher is interested. l Send in a score and a tape (useful for atmosphere), and include a stamped addressed envelope. Publishers try to reply within three months.

* The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), an organisation forprofessional musicians, has a special sectionmembership option for music teachers. The society can give advice on legal, copyright, contractual and other matters. Tel: 0171 629 4413 * Aamp;C Black Publishers, 35 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4JH. Tel: 0171 242 0946.

* Music Sales, 8-9 Frith Street, London W1V 5TZ. Tel: 0171 434 0066

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