Below are some of the most frequently asked questions that come to me about songwriting, the music business and the music I have written – out-of-print music, in particular. If you have a question that isn’t listed below, please let me know via the contact page. Not all questions can be addressed individually, but if possible, an answer will be added to the FAQ.

How do I find out of print music?

It is an unfortunate reality that sooner or later most choral music goes out-of-print. (The average life expectancy of a new choral product is only about three years.)  Once an anthem or an orchestration is no longer profitable for a publisher to keep in stock, it can be very difficult to purchase the music. The good news is “print on demand”  is now an option for a lot of previously out-of-print music.  Even when a piece is out-of-print, you should check with the publisher to see if it is available “on demand.” Every print music publisher has its own way of dealing with out-of-print music.  Here are some specifics for my various publishers:

WORD MUSIC:  Word’s website (http://www.wordmusic.com/) is the first place to check for the print status of any Word Music product.  Word has an ever-growing list of titles in their Special Order program.  Or call 1-800-324-WORD (9673) to ask directly about any Word product that may be out-of-print.  In addition, Word Music has a relationship with musicservices.org, through which they handle out-of-print material (as well as church licenses for recording Word copyrights).

HAL LEONARD MUSIC/SHAWNEE PRESS:  Go to this page at the Hal leonard website: http://www.halleonard.com/permissions/index.jsp

ALFRED MUSIC:  Alfred is now the home of my old GoodLife catalog, as well as some new arrangements.  To my knowledge they still not have a Print On Demand program in place.  The best bet for now is to contact Alfred Music at their website: http://www.alfred.com/

LORENZ MUSIC: I have just begun writing occasionally for Lorenz Music, so all my pieces are still in print!  Here’s their website, should you need to contact them: http://www.lorenz.com/ If you still can’t get an answer after checking with the original publisher, try finding used copies of the music online.  A website I’ve had luck with is http://www.themusiclibrary.com.  If all else fails, contact me here at the site.  I’ll see if there’s anything else I might can do. ~ Robert

Do you do custom arrangements?

Yes, I do.  Typically I am commissioned to write for special occasions in a church’s life.  Because of potential copyright problems, I limit my commissioned works to either songs in the Public Domain or songs that I write for the occasion.  Fees for this work vary, mostly due to the accompaniment requirements. If you are interested in me doing a commissioned arrangement for your choir and/or orchestra, contact me here at the website.

How do you determine the proper split of ownership on a co-written song?

As a general rule, I believe in equal splits on a co-written song – even if the contribution of the writers wasn’t necessarily equal.  Why?  Because in the long run, equal shares promote a healthy, long term writing relationship.  This approach also acknowledges the importance of both contributors to the finished song. Ultimately, it is up to the writers alone to determine the fair split on a co-writen song.

How do I get my song heard?

This is one of the all-time great mysteries of the music biz.  By “get my song heard” I assume you mean “get my song heard by a music business bigwig.”  The truth is it is becoming increasingly difficult to do that – not impossible – but very difficult. Perhaps a better question would be – what are the steps to getting my song heard by music professionals?  That is a little easier to answer. First – “bloom where you are planted.”  In other words, make the most of the music scene wherever you currently are.  Get your songs heard by your church, your friends, and your community.  Use their feedback to help you write better songs.  Kick up as much musical dust as you can on the local scene.  By doing so, chances are somebody outside that scene will notice you, and you can move up the musical ladder a rung or two. Second – take your music to seminars like the Pine Lake Music’s Composer Symposiums.  There you can play your song for a professional who can give you an honest critique. Such seminars are a great place for a talented new writer to get noticed. Third – start collaborating in your writing.  A co-writer will instantly expand your musical horizons. Fourth – the music business, like most businesses, is a “people” business.  Relationships matter.  Ultimately, if you are serious about writing, you will need to make contacts in Nashville or LA, and go there occasionally to meet people.  When you do go, be prepared with good material.  Getting a first meeting with a publisher is not so difficult.  Getting the second meeting (if the first meeting was fruitless) can be nearly impossible. Don’t assume the only songs worth hearing are those that are being recorded on big-name artist records.  God can use your songs to great purpose right where you live, if you’ll just give him your very besy efforts.

Are there any good books on songwriting?

Yes!!! Lots of them. I’ve compiled a long list  of my favorites on my Toolbox page. These are books that have been extremely helpful and continue to be good resources for me. There are even a couple of books that I frequently re-read. Let me know if there’s a book that you love that’s not listed. I’d probably love to read it too. Send me a note via my Contact page and tell me the title and author. Further down the Toolbox page you’ll see Tools of the Trade, a listing of the hardware and software that I use in my music writing every day. I hope this listing is helpful to you.

A custom artist has recorded my song. What do I do to get paid?

First – congrats on the cut!  Now you need to take care of some fairly straightforward paperwork, which isn’t as daunting as it seems. Begin by registering your song for copyright.  You can find the info you need at www.copyright.gov.  Be sure to download Form PA to use to register your song. Next – register the song with your Performing Rights Organization – ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.  If you haven’t yet joined – I recommend ASCAP.  You may want to join as both a writer AND a publisher, since you control the publishing rights to your song, and the PROs split the money between the writer and the publisher.  (If your song gets monitored on the radio, you want to collect both the writer’s AND the publisher’s share.) Then – create a Mechanical License for the song – issued to the artist/record company that recorded your song.  A mechanical license is a simple but specific form letter that names the artist, the song title, the record company, the number of units manufactured, and the royalty rate to be paid per unit.  Typically, you will charge the current statutory rate determined by law.  The rate will be $.091/unit, effective January 1, 2006.  You can find a mechanical license form letter in most good music business texts.  “This Business of Music” (Krasilovsky and Shemel) is an excellent text.  You will also find a terrific resource at www.musicbizlaw.com – created by an attorney friend of mine – Greg Seneff. Check it out. You can do this paperwork without an attorney – as long as you keep things simple. However, if you suddenly find yourself getting lots of cuts, then I do recommend you find a qualified music business attorney or a copyright administration company to help wade through the paperwork.

Robert Matthew Sterling Music logo

What is RMS Music?

This is my new downloadable music page. Currently, you’ll find two different series for church musicians; The Platinum Orchestra Series (for instrumental groups) and The Alternate Route (for vocalists and rhythm section). Look for additional music in the future. Each download includes all of the files needed for each song (all music pages and demo recording). Each of The Alternate Route downloads also includes an accompaniment track.