Free sheet music downloads change the game

Now musicians want their music to reach the widest audience possible.

Sheet music by Johann Sebastian Bach is shown in this photo. Guest blogger Jeffrey Tucker writes that the rise of free sheet music online has changed the way musicians think about ownership.

The New York Times finally takes notice of a website that has dramatically changed the fate of classical music.

The site is the Internet Music Score Library Project, founded only five years ago but now providing scores to every soloist, chamber group, choral group, ensemble, and symphony on the planet. Because of this resource, the fate of classical music has made a turn around in the culture for the first time in several generations. One is more likely to hear live music at the museum, and the great scores of the past are being given new life with amateur groups acquiring sheet music that would have been unaffordable in the past. Listeners are discovering new and forgotten pieces rather than being treated to an endless litany of warhorses. New vibrancy in this genre is everywhere to behold, not only in live performances but also in digital recordings.

The founder of IMSLP is a Chinese immigrant who remembers what it was like in the old days, and how music was just so inaccessible. He changed all that with his scans and uploads. And the site has managed to survive some serious legal challenges by the state-protected publisher monopolies that try to charge ghastly prices for music. It is a glorious thing to behold, and I’m so pleased to see that classical music is systematically developing a larger role in society and culture than it has had before. The site and the development model has even inspired modern composers to seek out other models for financing their work and then putting their creations into the commons – which represents a recreation of the distribution method from the golden age.

Just the other day, for example, I was seeking some scores from a composer/pianist on the West Coast. I had never contacted her before, but she readily attached all her music back to me in an email. She further encouraged me to pass them around to others, which I did. She did this without thinking a thing about it. This never would have happened two or three decades ago. Now, it seems like a no brainer: of course I want me music to reach the widest audience possible!

One tragedy here concerns the early modern composers who are dead but whose works are tied up in a copyright prison. Their status is sinking while the status of older and newer works is rising.

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