Sell sheet music—and arrangements—online from Sheet Music Plus and Sheet Music Direct via the ArrangeMe Program!
“I got into writing musical theater for the money,” said no one. Ever. The fact is, even once you’ve secured a production for a show you’ve written, it can still be a long time before you see much – if any – profit or income from your musicals.
However if you’re willing to think outside the box, there are ways to supplement your income with your musical writing skills.
One such option is selling sheet music online – both self-published original work and legal arrangements. While this is something you can absolutely do directly from your own website or social media via platforms like Gumroad, Shopify, Koji, etc., I strongly recommend starting out with a platform like ArrangeMe.
With ArrangeMe, you do not have to worry about creating or maintaining your own website, obtaining copyright clearances, or processing payments. You can simply upload PDF files of your music (and mp3 recordings). Shoppers on these sites can then purchase your music. ArrangeMe takes care of all the logistical headaches, and you receive a payment each month once your sales hit a certain quota. (Need help with notation software? View our classes or contact us here.)
Interested? Let’s look a bit closer at some of the pros and cons of selling sheet music online through this program.
For context: I’ve been publishing music with the ArrangeMe self-publishing program (formerly known as SMP Press) for about 10 years now. So these opinions and the tips that follow are coming directly from my own experience.
Reasons to consider selling your sheet music online via ArrangeMe
Reasons why I would recommend selling original music and arrangements of popular songs, especially via ArrangeMe:
- It is a very easy way to start self-publishing and selling your sheet music online. And once your pdfs are uploaded, self-publishing can be a completely passive source of income for you.
- If you have people requesting sheet music for your shows, this can be a great way to distribute it.
- There is no overhead cost to publish your music via ArrangeMe.
- The program publishes your music to trusted online sellers (Sheet Music Plus and Sheet Music Direct). This means you and your customers can feel confident that their credit card information is safe and that the transaction will be handled professionally.
- Through these platforms, you can sell arrangements of copyrighted music (perhaps ones you have created for students or your own ensembles) completely legally, without worrying about getting in trouble with the “copyright police.” (Assuming the song is a part of ArrangeMe’s EXTENSIVE library of arrangeable songs. PS to check out the list, click here.)
- Creating arrangements of popular and acclaimed works can be a great score study to help you improve your own songwriting and composing craft.
- If you are wanting to learn or master some specific notation software, creating shorter, sellable arrangements can be a great way to practice.
- Creating descriptions for your pieces for Sheet Music Plus and Sheet Music Direct is a great way to hone your SEO and pitching skills.
However, like everything, there are drawbacks to this system as well.
Challenges to consider when selling sheet music online via ArrangeMe
- Commission rate. As a composer or original or public domain works, you will be taking home just 50% of the retail price for your piece. For arrangements of other composers’ work, this commission drops to 10%. This is actually pretty generous when compared to the commission you might make from a piece chosen for “traditional” publishing. However, considering you could potentially keep 100% of the purchase for any original or public domain pieces sold directly from your website, you do need to decide how much it’s worth to you to NOT have to handle any other logistics when selling your sheet music.
- You will not have any way to gather email addresses or contact information for people who purchase your music.
- Originals will likely not sell without a marketing push on your part. People go to sites like SheetMusicPlus and Sheet Music Direct looking for something specific; generally an arrangement of a specific piece or music for a specific event or situation. It’s unlikely that your original pieces – however good they may be – will be discovered on these sites organically. (The first piece I ever published was a very cool if I do say so myself suite of piano pieces based on a specific season of Dr Who… and they have yet to sell a single copy…. However my easy piano arrangement of “Baby Shark” has sold hundreds of copies. ????)
I’m interested! Now what?
If you are interested in trying out the ArrangeMe program to sell sheet music online, it’s very easy to get started. Simply go to www.arrangeme.com and sign up for an account. You will need a PayPal account eventually, so that ArrangeMe has a way to pay you when your music is purchased, but other than that the sign up process is quite simple.
Once you have signed up, you can submit your first piece for publication.
A Few Final Tips and Tricks
- Make sure you completely understand the difference between original works, public domain, and arrangements of copyrighted works. You can only publish arrangements of copyrighted works that are included in the ArrangeMe catalog.
- If you have a website, mailing list, or social media presence, make sure your music includes links or sites for those. So that way performers know how to get a hold of you if they like your work.
- Know that these online sales sites will likely not advertise your work in any way. It will be up to you to pull attention to your music, either via SEO or by using social media/email to raise awareness of your work.
- Include links in your description, to your other pieces, to recordings of the piece, even YouTube videos of the original song.
- Make sure to take advantage of all the resources and help provided by the ArrangeMe team, including their blog. I also recommend the Selling Sheet Music podcast.
What’s Possible With Sheet Music Self Publishing
While there are some (very prolific) composers and arrangers who make substantial income from selling sheet music online via programs like ArrangeMe, realistically, a new self-publishing composer should start out with fairly low expectations. As I said, I have been publishing originals and arrangements for over 10 years as an on-and-off-again side hustle, and I only make what I refer to as my “Starbucks money” every month.
But, on the other hand, that income is truly “passive.” By that I mean that, once a piece is published, I usually do not market or maintain it in any way. I suspect that if I were to take a more proactive approach to my marketing and arranging output, I would make substantially more money. I do know that there is a small group of composers and arrangers who do make substantial income with self-publishing sheet music (check out this Facebook group for more information), but most see self-publishing as a single revenue stream in a portfolio of incomes – teaching, day jobs, performing, etc.
If you are interested in getting into selling sheet music online via self-publishing, there are a few other programs you may want to look into as well. Some that I’ve tried include MusicNotes Marketplace program, JW Pepper’s MyScore program, and Amazon KDP. However, out of all of these I have had by far the most financial success with ArrangeMe, AND it is the only platform that charges $0 in fees or membership.
So if you are looking for an easy, low-maintenance way to publish your sheet music for your audience on a “legit” platform, or you’re interested in honing/using your music writing and arranging skills for profit, consider using programs like the ArrangeMe program with Sheet Music Plus.