Composers, publish your scores!

Since I self-published my score Bleu 3, a number of colleagues and friends asked me a "score self-publishing 101" session. This post is intended to help anyone interested in self-publishing, especially composers. Some of these tips may be equally useful to make a book of your favorite recipes (a nice present for your friends). Actually, self-publishing is quite easy today, and you will surely find useful the article "Upload" from Make magazine, issue #12.

First of all, why self-publishing? Why don't all composers work with a publisher? Last year, I discussed this question with composer Julian Anderson, published by Faber Music. As he explained to me, publishers have two roles: first, the promotion of the music, and second, the printing side of the business (making scores and parts available). They are especially useful when they promote the music and their catalogue is well diffused. This is the case for rather big publishers, who are well connected to concert organizers, etc. As you can guess, these fine publishers don't like to take too much risk, and actually decide to work with a composer almost exclusively when he/she is already well known.

Because the printing side of the job is so easy today, I decided to make my music available, not only as free recordings, but also as high quality printed scores.

Engraving music and Layout

After the composition of the music, the actual conception of the score is the longest and most difficult part. I will at some point describe my engraving process on this blog. From what I've been caring about in score and parts to which software products I have been using. The most common practice today is to end up with a pdf file, that will make the communication with your printer easy.

Bleu 3 musical score by Jean-Francois Charles


lulu.comThis is the easiest step! You may look for a local printer, but a great solution is brought to you by It's very easy to register. The prices are clear and very competitive. And you can have very limited productions printed. You can even print only one or a few books, for instance for proof-reading.
Upload your pdf file, and you will receive your books within 1 to 2 weeks with the cheapeast delivery option.

Make your score available

A few simple options:

  • have your score available directly on's shop. Your score will be printed by lulu only after they receive the order. This is true on-demand printing. They take care of the shipping, as well.
  • have your own paypal store on your own web site: get a free paypal store widget to embed in your page(s). The drawback here is that you have to deal with stock and shipping.

To make my score the most widely available, I decided to propose it through This is where it gets a little more complicated. The main point is that you need then an ISBN for your book.

Get an ISBN

On this great article about How to sell your book, CD, or DVD on Amazon, you will find all the information you need. The place from where you get an ISBN in the USA is . You need a different ISBN for each score you want to publish.

Get a barcode for your ISBN

Reading the same article, you will understand that the ISBN is just a number. The distribution of your publication will require that you print a barcode version of your ISBN. Several options are discussed in the mentioned article, with prices from $10 to $25 per barcode. This is the price to pay to get the barcode graphic of one ISBN number. Fortunately, I found another online service to generate barcodes free of charge: free barcode generator. I used it for Bleu 3, and it worked perfectly.

Register your book

You can ask Bowker to add your title in its huge directory of "Books in Print." This service is free. Then, any bookstore and library will be able to find the reference of your book (as well as your address as a publisher.)

Sell your score on amazon

I don't need to go in further details than the well entitled article How to sell your book, CD, or DVD on Amazon!
Don't forget that you can send amazon your book to enable the "Search Inside" feature.

Propose a free preview on google books

An ISBN is also necessary if you want your score to be part of the google books project. This is a great tool to allow people around the globe to have a look inside your score before they buy it. Register at this page: google information for publishers.

Note: I wrote this article about my publishing experience in the United States.


  1. Really wonderful article! And beautiful score! What about making up a single-purpose music publisher name (like many composers do)? I thought that protected certain of your royalty rights that you otherwise lose.

    Btw -- any tips on making .pdfs of scores (Finale) look good when on a computer? They always print out great, but I often find that the staves look awful because some staff lines appear heavier than others. Converting to .tiff or .gif doesn't have the problem.

  2. Thanks Myke! Well, another name to publish, I am not aware of any concrete advantage. I thought about it, and I even have a nice name in mind, but let's face it, I am the publisher of this score!

    About the look of pdf documents, the important point is obviously that it always prints great. The rendering of the pdf may differ according to which software you use (Apple Preview, Adobe Acrobat, others...), also depending on the level of zoom, etc (because it is a vector description, then rendered to screen.) But I have not met the problem you describe, sorry, I can't help more.

  3. Thanks for the information!

    I was just looking into doing this for some public-domain band music I'm working on. I looked at Lulu, but I wasn't sure that 8.5x11 was the size I wanted to be printing at -- and also, I didn't seem to have the option to print books at band size. Do any publishers out there specialize in printing music, or is Lulu the best I can do?

  4. Hello, thanks for your comment.
    One good point with 8.5x11 is that you can always carry the music easily: no need for a big bag or anything.
    When you say "band size", do you mean more wider than high? I don't know who would do that online. I haven't found that, but my search was surely not thorough. The other options would be to find a local printer, or to print on "portrait" format, but with 2 "pages" on top of each other.
    Also, about lulu, don't hesitate to register and create a project. It's free and easy, and then, you can see all the options and prices.

  5. I have arranged some scores. They are pop songs that you'd usually hear on radio. Can you tell if I can sell them to publishers? Would publishers be interested to buy them from me? Considering that I secure the copyright clearance. If yes, which publishers will that be?

  6. Hi, thanks for your message. Actually, I am afraid I cannot help a lot. My feeling is that 2 things are important first: -- make sure the copyright owners are OK with your arranged version. -- find / make happen a performance of your arrangements, so they can be heard. But if you are looking for publishers, they have usually an editorial line that they want to keep coherent. Look for publishers that do publish already music similar to what you do, they are the most likely to be interested in your work.

  7. There's a group trying to lobby Lulu to have a separate sheet music section and better integration for publishing sheet music.

  8. Thanks for the news. Good idea indeed. More options would be good for publishing. Parts, and horizontal format, for instance.


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