Now Inviting Requests for New Arrangements

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As of 13 January 2012 I am available for new arranging projects again! So, for all of you who have been asking me while I was all booked up, thank you for your patience.

With this new intake, I am changing the procedures for accepting commissions and seeking copyright permissions, such that you get the agreement in principle before making the commission. There are guidelines for how to do this (for UK customers) on the Bespoke Arrangements page of this site.

This may seem like an extra fuss, but the reason I have decided to try doing it this way is to avoid a number of difficulties ensembles and I have encountered in leaving the requests until after the arrangements are done. These include:

  • Having permission refused. (This has only happened once to me, but if it has happened once it can happen again.)
  • Being unable to contact the copyright holder (or at least, being unable to get a reply from them!).
  • Having unreasonable delays in getting permissions. At the time of writing, we are still waiting, 6 months after submitting a request, for permission for one song.
  • Complex copyright-ownership splits. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it significantly increases the likelihood of one of the other issues emerging. For instance, the rights for the song with the long wait are split among 11 different holders, who are represented by three different administrators.

All of these situations cause problems for both me and the ensembles. I can’t deliver and invoice for the work I have done; they can’t start learning the music – they can’t even plan when they want to have it available for performance. Many permissions are routine and easy, but if the one you have chosen is one of the minority with problems, the fact that others are unproblematic doesn’t help you!

Seeking permissions in advance will flush out these issues. You may decide to enquire about more than one song, indeed, in order to have your Plan B up and ready in case your first choice of music turns out to be delayed or otherwise difficult. You will know at the point you make the commission that it can be delivered as soon as it is finished. And, as any ensemble whose music has been held up by this process will tell you, it makes a huge difference to your ease of planning to know when the music will arrive.

Which leads me on to the variable that now becomes tricky to handle – how to manage the workflow of commissions when the timing of their arrival is contingent on when ensembles get their permissions. I have devised a system that I think will work, but there’s an element of suck-it-and-see: if it doesn’t we’ll think again!

What I propose to do is schedule arrangement slots in much the way I have been doing (one to three per month, depending on other commitments), and then publish how many are available over the next 2-3 months. So, at the moment, I have 5 slots available by the end of March.

My intention is to open slots on a relatively short timescale, so that all commissions are turned around within a maximum of 2-3 months. But this is a variable that I’ll be able to adjust as we go on – with the aim of balancing a reasonably prompt turn-around time with accommodating people who are all excited to have their permissions sorted out.

Experience suggests that I may still find myself having to turn people away – my capacity is finite, and people’s desire for music, whilst also finite, is much bigger. And I can see people feeling, initially, more disappointed to be turned away once they have already done the admin to get the permissions. But here are two (I hope) comforting thoughts:

  1. You won’t have to pay for the licence up front. So if I can’t accommodate you when you get the offer through, you won’t be out of pocket.
  2. This is still, on the scale of things, less irritating than having the arrangement finished but not being able to use it because of licensing issues.

So I hope that’s all clear and dandy. If you have any questions about the process, it would be a good idea to ask them in the comments section so that other people who might have the same question can see the answer.

Coming back a few years after putting this process in place, I can report that actually it's turned out that asking people to sort out licences first has effectively managed the workflow for me. It is somewhat lumpier than it used to be - I get busy patches and quiet patches, depending on when licences come through - but I've not found myself (yet!) with an unmanageable backlog.

The one extra thing I've learned is that it is important not to go ahead until you actually have the terms of the licence contract, not just an agreement in principle. Most publishers have pretty standard terms, but you want to know the licence on offer is going to cover the usage you want for a price you can afford before I start any chargeable work.

Thanks. Question: if I ask about making an arrangement and the management reply saying "I'm delighted that you would like to perform (song) but I'm afraid the licenses aren't currently available. Best of luck with your performance' - is this an absolute no or something else? On what timescale would you try again (it's been a year, and was a 2010 song from a musical)?

That sounds very confusing. I'd try again after a year though. I had a song turned down at one point when it was being used in a movie, and then granted some years later when someone else asked.

Also worth checking that they haven't outsourced their print-licensing to someone else like Hal Leonard or Faber - sometimes people at the publisher that owns the rights don't all seem to be aware that that is a thing...

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