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Caveat Emptor

There was a time when "one-to-one" described not only personal, but professional and trade, relationships. Years ago, buyers and sellers participated not only in commercial, but also in human, transactions. As our world grew ever more complex and unwieldy, circumstances, many of them economic, induced sellers to develop time- and labor-saving measures. If you could not only "build a better mousetrap" but do it cheaper, your success was assured. One formula towards streamlined modernization was found to be a merging of seller interests: putting it all together in one pot would increase "product line" (and profit) without commensurately increasing costs. A new outlook on commerce was born, and, along with it, a new vocabulary, with euphemistic words and phrases like "bottom line."

It must be said that many of the technological benefits we so enjoy could only have been possible with "sophisticated" marketeering. But it should also be remembered that this applies primarily to consumer goods. There are still, and will always be, areas to which the precepts of modem marketing can't be effectively applied. Any association of individual and professional, be it with doctor, lawyer, or clergyman, defies patterning. Individual needs and personalities vary too essentially to be put into molds or punched into computers. Large businesses, however, persist in seeking ever new ways of "streamlining," thus inevitable reducing the possibility of coping with uniqueness.

The arts have not gone unnoticed by the new centurions of commerce. The political and economic implications of their involvement — let alone the artistic and philosophical ramifications — are so patent that the U.S. Senate is studying the absorption of certain cultural and educational media by broad industrial complexes and conglomerates. (There has not been enough news coverage of the investigations being conducted by the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, formerly chaired by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and now — 0 Fortuna! — by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.) In music, gone are the hundreds of fiercely independent little publishers of the turn of the century. Subsequent generations have been largely unsuccessful in keeping alive the unique profiles and personalities of founders, and many publishing companies have floundered, given up the ghost, or sold out to larger, more impersonal firms which are better versed in the arts of modern merchandising. What had been intimate, idiosyncratic and manageable has become smooth, huge and homogenized.

What of the composer, an ingenuous type who could count on the personality of his editor or publisher 50 years ago, but has only the almost faceless image of the corporation on which to rely (to which to relate) today? Clearly, his need for the services which only a publisher can provide has not diminished in our time. If anything, his own situation is more complex now (with the existence of a rapidly changing public, mass media, the multiplicity of musical esthetics, and the artistic and legal novelties implicit in our new copyright law) than may have been the case in the fifties or sixties. He is still the buyer of essential services, now occasionally wooed by personable publishing executives, skilled diplomats with unlimited arsenals of urbane conversation, witticism, and expense accounts, who know just how to make him feel oh-so-wanted. Irresistible or not, the composer would do well to ask himself some dispassionate questions before embarking in a relationship which ought to be about as personal, dynamic, privileged, and subjective as a marriage: what do I need to have done for me? given that everything can't be done at once, what are my priorities? what can I reasonably expect a publisher to do for me? what effective monitor do I have that my publisher is living up to expectations, contractual and otherwise? what clues (other than social amenities) can a publisher give me that he is more suited to provide services for me than his competitors?

Publishers, too, might do well to ask themselves periodically what it is that they really wish to be doing, which market(s) they want to address, which composers would most appeal to these markets, and how they could best reach their objectives, given economic and musical circumstances which have changed drastically over the last three decades. Just as composers must seek the services of publishers, so must publishers attract the composers who best fit into their publication program and profile.

Today, as always, the relationship of author/composer to his publisher must be vital, symbiotic, based on mutual admiration and trust, and on knowing one another. In order to attain so desirable a partnership, it is advisable to ferret out as many data as can be revealed. By getting it all out in the open right from the beginning, much future frustration and disappointment may be avoided. Let the buyer beware.

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