Shedding the "Napster Mentality": The Benefits of Paying for Your Drum Scores

Two decades ago, a peer to peer file sharing program called Napster changed the music business. With the advent of Napster the music you used to have to pay for was, all of a sudden, free for the taking. All you needed was a computer and access to the internet. I admit, even as a musician, I used Napster. Even though I downloaded many songs for my own enjoyment, I also used Napster to download songs for my drum kit  students--especially those I would never buy for myself. This was invaluable for me as a teacher. I still bought CDs of my favourite artists (especially at shows where I could buy them from the artists themselves) but my songs on Napster were a valuable part of my music collection. 

When Napster collapsed, other services sprang up to take its place (Bearshare, Kazaa, Limewire and Morpheus are a couple that spring to mind) only to crumble at the feet of the all-powerful iTunes. Even though Napster died unceremoniously, it left behind a powerful legacy that I call the “Napster Mentality”: EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT TO FREE STUFF ON THE INTERNET—SO WHY PAY? 

Twenty years after the demise of Napster, almost everyone I know watches TV, sports and movies for free off the net. Many of us now have an aversion to paying for movies unless we go to the theatre. The incredible reach of the Napster mentality into all corners of our lives has even affected our attitudes about paying for drum scores. For many of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s, the photocopier was, to the pipe band drummer, what Napster was to the music lover—an easy way to get stuff for free. With the advent of the internet, score copying became even easier as scores could be scanned, emailed and printed in an instant. 

After two decades of Napster mentality, it's time to stop, re-evaluate and change our behaviour.

Let's start this behaviour change with this thought: It is absolutely worth the money to pay for your drum scores. To help us move away from the Napster mentality to one where we value and reward our most talented composers, let’s first examine the process that even the most veteran score writers must go through. Once we have an appreciation for the work that goes into writing a score it is my belief that we’ll be much more open to paying for it. 

First, there is the composition of the score itself. The composing process is very time consuming and can take several hours depending on the length of the pipe tune. After the score is written, the composer must then spend several more hours posing a list of questions that help her/him to refine the score: 

  • Does the score add to the music of the pipe tune? 
  • Does the score contain rudiments that fit the grade level? 
  • Is the score varied enough to keep the interest of the corps and the judges? 
  • Are the written dynamics adding to the musicality of the score? 
  • Does the score provide a challenge while still being appropriate for the grade level? 
  • Do the tenor and bass parts support the melody and fit within the “melodic chords” of the pipe tune? 
  • Do the tenor and bass parts accent the rhythm of both the snare score and the pipe melody correctly? 

These questions take a long time to answer and if a composer is writing for your band specifically, they deserve to be paid for the time they take to answer these questions. If the composer in question is, or has been, a world champion (playing their own scores) they deserve top dollar—they’ve earned it. When getting scores from a present or former World Champion you can be pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to get a very musical drum score and top value for money. 

Some benefits of getting top quality scores from high-end composers: 

  • Many composers offer recordings which is a great way to learn the dynamics, expression and the subtle ebb and flow of certain scores. 
  • Seeing a high-quality score written correctly will help you learn to write music yourself. 
  • It’s a huge confidence builder for a drum corps to know it's playing music that is world-class. 

Most top composers charge in the range of $100.00-$200.00 per 4-part tune for custom composing (writing music specifically for your band only). If you have the money, this is the way to go. Many composers will also include tenor and bass parts, recordings and a limited amount of “back and forth” to make any changes you see fit. It’s like getting a suit tailor-made—any alterations make it fit that much better! 

Because we can’t all afford to go the custom-composed route, there is another option for acquiring top-quality scores at more affordable prices. Many top composers have already written scores either for their own band or for others that they are willing to sell for much less. It would be like comparing a rock band playing a live show to simply selling one of their CDs: the live show entails showing up in the afternoon for set up, doing a sound check, paying to eat out, going back to the venue, getting dressed, playing a three-hour show, packing up and driving home. On the other hand, the work for the CD has already been done. That’s why the band charges $2000.00 for a live gig and only $20.00 for a CD. 

Buying a score from a composer’s existing library is the equivalent of buying a CD from a rock band—the work has already been done. Most “library scores” cost between $10.00-$20.00 which makes even the longest and most complex scores financially accessible for almost everyone. You could have a new competition MSR written by your favourite World Champion for the cost of a dinner out! 

Composing services are offered by most of the top players in North America and Europe. In my experience, even the most decorated World Champions are approachable and humble so if you’re looking for drum scores, don’t be afraid to get in touch with them! Many also have their own websites. Just Google “Pipe Band Drum Scores” and you’ll be presented with a ton of options. 

If you decide to purchase some scores for your band, please don’t share them with others. It’s only okay to share a score with others if: a) you wrote it yourself or b) you got permission from the composer to share. In the interest of full disclosure I admit that I have been guilty of sharing scores that weren’t my own. However, I am making a serious effort to change and if we all do that, we can begin to give the talented composers out there the compensation they deserve. Paying for drum scores is one way that we, as a drumming community, can effect some positive change in our little corner of the music business. When creative people create valuable things, let’s reward them for it by paying them. We need to rid ourselves of the “Napster mentality” that tells us we have a “right” to copy and share what we want, whenever we want. Paying our composers creates a positive energy loop. Creators are compensated and thereby motivated to keep creating, helping to build a sustainable pool of drum scores from which we will all benefit moving forward.

As always, comments are always welcome. Until the next post, happy drumming!

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