Playing the same old song? Meet the NewMusicJukebox

Playing the same old song? Meet the NewMusicJukebox

What’s inside? Here’s a screen shot of a composer’s page

Need to find a piece for wind quintet written after 1990? Wishing you knew of a new 15-minute chamber suite to round out that perfect program? Is your classical music station playing yet another Handel concerto grosso and you’ve had enough?

For those with a need for new music, the ultimate source has arrived on the Internet. Tomorrow, the American Music Center officially launches, a composer-controlled digital library of contemporary music offering detailed information about each included composer and piece, and often score and sound samples of the music.

The sheer volume of information—all searchable by myriad criteria—housed under the site’s umbrella can make a first visit overwhelming, but once the basic features are understood, it’s a digital musical playground.

Lyn Liston, the AMC’s Information Specialist, calls it the “next generation” of the AMC’s beloved score library, now a closed collection residing in The New York Public Library. George Boziwick, curator of the American Music Collection at the NYPL for the Performing Arts and also a participating Jukebox composer, agrees. “The Center’s decision to go digital was in my mind the most logical next step forward. Moving the original score collection to NYPL has shifted the emphasis onto the digital library, thus giving the AMC’s original mandate a new and powerful thrust.”

Strong and growing…

142 composers already have material on the site

  • 227 sound files
  • 242 score samples (both complete and excerpts)

Boziwick also points out that the move to digital makes access to both the music and the composer more immediate and more global. “While this will never displace the traditional print repository, and it may be some time before performers no longer read from hard copy scores and parts, digitization gives new meaning to the word ‘access.’ ”

AMC Board Members Larry Larson and Carl Stone (no longer serving) and Executive Director Richard Kessler drafted the original framework for the site. Their goal was to create a venue for discovering and promoting new music on the Web in a way that would at the same time adequately safeguard the work as intellectual property.

The need to represent a healthy cross-section of American music is a top priority of the project. A fair share of established composers are represented, with more to come as the site moves out of the trial phase and major publishers upload more of their materials. But one of the distinctive aspects of the site is the way it does away with that hierarchy. Here all AMC member composers—regardless of style or celebrity—are created equal. Each participant is simply given a slot on the site to demonstrate their work as they see fit.

On the user end, a key element of the site is the advanced search engine built into it, allowing visitors to track down the perfect piece, whether that’s a work that uses text by Emily Dickinson or something for an oboe/harp/xylophone ensemble. For those who like what they hear and want to perform a work, contact information for the composer or publisher is provided.

Just browsing? The second generation of Jukebox will include a curated Internet radio program of new music. An e-commerce hub for the sales and rental of performance materials by performers is also in the planning stage and is slated for launch next spring.

So far, 142 composers have uploaded information about themselves and their work onto the site. Composer Alex Shapiro has already uploaded a number of her works and has included both audio and score samples. Based on the impact the Web has already had on her career, she was enthusiastic about joining this larger community of composers. “A great deal of my business—score sales, performances, and even commissions—comes through my own Web site, so I know how effective the Internet is as a multimedia marketing tool. When I learned about AMC’s NewMusicJukebox, I saw what a terrific method it would be for the public, as well as for the press who review concerts, to get a more complete picture of a composer’s musical world.”

Most of the composers already participating seem to find getting their material up on the site relatively painless, regardless of their technical know-how. And when snags occur there is help available—Project Coordinator Chris Becker is only an email away and eventually tutorials on the site will also guide composers through the process. Arthur Jarvinen says that “actually putting the data up was easy. I’m not the most computer or Internet savvy person I know, and I found my way around pretty well in a short time.”

Some of the composers who participated in the initial year-long testing phase did run into technical difficulties or recommended design or data entry changes to the interface and addressing those concerns was a very important part of the initial development. For instance, Boziwick found some of the instrumentation headings to be too general and suggested changes and Jarvinen had some problems with his MP3 files that have since been resolved. However, AMC staff was available to answer questions and “help was never far away,” says Boziwick.

With the inclusion of score samples and audio excerpts (the type and amount completely at the discretion of the composer) there is of course the danger that someone may digitally steal the material. Those who are worried about the prospect simply don’t offer these materials or offer only, say, a page of a score rather than the entire file. A “terms of service” agreement greets each first-time user clearly addressing licensing and copyright parameters so no one can plead ignorance on this point. For those interested in further reading, there is also coverage of “Copyright Basics” included in the site’s legal guide.

Jennifer Higdon, who offers both audio and score files, says she is a little concerned about the possibility of piracy, “but it’s worth taking the chance to see if there are new ways for all composers to get their music out into the world. I think that benefit alone outweighs any concerns I might have.” And she suspects that Jukebox may indeed have an important impact on dissemination in the future. “Any method that helps composers get their music before performers and a public is a good thing.”

Boziwick also characterizes himself as only “mildly concerned” about would-be digital pirates. “It was my choice to make my scores and non-commercial recordings available to others” on the site, he points out. He offers this bit of advice to other concerned composers: “If the music demands attention you’ll want to make it available despite the potential risks. And you will likely get more performances because of it….You may be concerned about a potential loss of revenue but the increased visibility and access via the Web allows others to instantly audition your music, creating more opportunities to sell your product. Besides, how often in the past would we composers simply give away copies of our music in order to promote its dissemination or realize a performance?”

Shapiro feels she has adequately guarded against possible theft by (in most cases) only posting short excerpts of audio clips and scores. That will be enough, she expects, for Jukebox will help her music find its way to new places. “With luck, the information about my work (as well as its link to my own Web site) will prove to be extremely helpful, especially as it becomes widely known as the ‘one-stop shopping’ Web site for new music.”

Publishers, many with their own online catalogues, are also anticipating that “one-stop shopping” use. Linda Golding (formerly President of Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.) served as the AMC’s publisher liaison on the project, and she found both large and small companies “uniformly enthusiastic” about the idea. “There wasn’t one publisher who said, ‘No, I won’t do it because I don’t trust it.’ The purpose [of the site] is to provide a way for people to meet on the topic of music, and it’s a difficult thing to set up those meeting points. I think from the publisher’s point of view it’s an extra pair of hands. It’s a way to get music out to people they may not otherwise reach.”

There have been concerns, of course, as with all developments that change the status quo. Golding found that simply, “as in any new format, there are a lot of questions. Some of them are practical like: How do we do it? What will it look like? How will I know it’s working?”

Not willing to name names, Golding says there is one publisher “who flatly just won’t participate and the reason is because they’ve got so much work to do just in their general, right now lives that they can’t see getting this stuff up digitally.” However, she suspects that eventually the publisher’s composers will see the site and elbow them along. “Which is completely fine. It’s a balancing act and everyone has their own priorities.”

Jenny Bilfield, general manager of Boosey & Hawkes and an AMC board member, has been a proponent of the site since the beginning. “I think it’s important for a publisher with major composers to have a presence in such an important initiative,” she explains. Her publishing company has also used the processes as an opportunity to reevaluate their own Web site as they strategize how they will get Boosey composers’ materials posted on Jukebox.

Bilfield brushes aside any implication that the site may be a danger to the business of publishing itself. “I don’t understand why there is a misunderstanding about the promotional nature of the site. I don’t see it as taking away from anybody’s income, I see it contributing to their visibility.” She goes on to illustrate, “Not everyone knows about Boosey, so maybe they find out about composer Ben Lees on Jukebox and then get drawn back to Boosey’s site. It’s just a reinforcement.”

And in the current industry climate, that kind of cooperation is very important. “There’s no question that anything that promotes the interests of American composers and American music is essential for our industry,” Bilfield concludes.

And whether you’re an entire publishing company or just one composer, bets are high that NewMusicJukebox is going to be one hell of a cheerleader. Jarvinen, for one, is convinced that it’s in step with the future. “More and more the Internet is becoming the world’s library,” he says, “and from my teaching experience I have seen that many students look there first for information. If that’s where people are going to be looking for pieces to play, I want my pieces found there.”

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.