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Publishing pop song arrangements

I frequently arrange pop music for my students and after some encouragement from peers, I am wondering how to go about publishing arrangements.  I know there are lots of laws surrounding derivative works and copyright, and I have no experience publishing music.  Here are my questions:
 
1. What are the basics of the laws relating to publishing arrangements?
2. How do I obtain permission to attempt to publish an arrangement?  (Who do I contact, what/how do I ask, etc.)
3. What are the steps to publish any piece of music, and what publishers should I look into?
4. What other steps or challenges have I overlooked that I should know about?
 
Any answers to any or all of these concerns would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!
on September 20, 2014 4:13am
Hi, Megan!  
 
First thing to do is contact the publishers of the original pop song you're arranging and get their permission.  They may already have contracted one of their own staff arrangers to work on that particular song, in which case they may not welcome a competing arrangement being available on the market and turn you down. On the other hand, they could be very interested in what you've done with their song and want to hear whatever recordings you have and see your manuscript. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC websites can help you track down the pertinent contact info for most every music publishing company. In my experience, this is not a fast process; to reach the right person, send whatever they request, wait to hear back, etc.  Good luck and remain patient!!  
on September 20, 2014 8:13am
Hello Megan,
 
Great questions! You'll find a lot of the answers in a 2013 ChoralNet forum at http://www.choralnet.org/view/427496
In a nutshell, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder (generally the publisher) of whatever piece of music – pop or otherwise – that you want to arrange. I highly recommend looking at this as there are a number of links to articles and other information.
 
Donald
on September 22, 2014 2:43pm
To be practical, you can get the arrangement publishing permissions for most pop music through the Hal Leonard corporation's permissions department about 80% of the time. They can take about two months to get back to you. For self publishing, I've pasted the instructions below. If you do not self-publish, your publisher really should be the agent for obtaining any relevant permissions, as the liability burden shifts to them (although they will have you sign a release) and they are taking their cut. When dealing with publishers, you have to convert classical/choral terminology to pop terminology: a piece is a "song" the text is "lyrics," etc. If you do self-publish, there are a few professional steps you need to take to become a bona-fide publisher: joining a publishing society, getting ISMNs, sending copies to the library of congress, etc.
 
Legally, arrangements are works-for-hire just like orchestrations, even though you hired yourself to arrange them. The composer and lyricist still owns the songs, and you do not, even if your work involves substantial creativity. If someone records your arrangement, royalties only go to the original songwriters, not to you.
 
Note: you can also get a "permission to arrange," which is specific only to a single ensemble, and it usually costs less. As a result, you can't transfer that permission to another group and sell the arrangement without getting a new permission to arrange. 
 

How do I get permission to publish and sell music which Hal Leonard Corporation controls in print?

You will need to submit your request in writing to the following address (email correspondence is preferred)

HAL LEONARD CORPORATION
Attn: Copyright Department
7777 West Bluemound Road
P.O. Box 13819
Milwaukee, WI 53213
Our fax number is: (414) 774-3259
Our e-mail address is: publishingperm(a)halleonard.com

Your request must include the following information:

  • Your complete name, address, telephone number, fax number and e-mail address
  • The title of the composition(s) you wish to publish, including the writer and/or arranger along with the complete copyright information, which is generally found at the bottom of the first page of music
  • The type of arrangement you wish to publish (i.e. SATB choral octavo, concert band, solo piano, etc., etc.)
  • The suggested retail selling price
  • The method of distribution (hard good, digital download, etc.)
  • The estimated print run
  • The territory of distribution
  • Total number of copyrighted songs contained in publication (if you are requesting permission to publish a collection of compositions)
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