As with publications of the written word, so with music it used to be that there were those who created the content — authors — and those who produced volumes that people could purchase — publishers. Things have changed in several ways. Now the composers of music are more often their own publishers and the road to become a music publisher is itself quite different than it once was.
The first music was printed in about 1473 in Germany. At that time, one had to be an artist to become a music publisher. Early techniques, including woodblock printing and freehand music engraving, both of which required the creation of a mirror image of the desired result, and typesetting, followed by binding and marketing.
Today, one can take a much different path to become a music publisher by following four specific steps. First, one needs music to publish. There are a number of composers who self-publish today, and it is viable to publish only one’s own work. One may also publish one’s own work and the work of one’s friends, or one could solicit work from others who would prefer to, or need to, spend their time otherwise than in publishing.
Second, one needs to become well-versed in engraving standards and in at least one, and preferably more than one, of the top professional music notation software programs available today. These include Sibelius Notation Software™, Finale Music Notation Software™, Notion Notation Software™, or LilyPond, for example. Also known as scorewriters, these programs are tools to engrave music on the computer, comparable to how a desktop publishing program, such as QuarkXPress™ or InDesign™, can be used to prepare print publications on a computer. Through any of these software programs, one can do the initial work required of a music publisher, creating appropriate staves and systems, placing notes, dynamics, and expression text, refining page layout, creating covers, etc.
Third, the material created through the notation program needs to be made accessible to people, either through downloads, in which case they must do their own printing, or by creating physical copies that are printed and bound. One may do this on one’s own equipment, send files to a copy and print shop, or print through a self-publishing website. This choice will partly depend on what approach to advertising and distribution one plans to take.
It is possible to sell copies of your finished products yourself, have them made as they are order by a local or online service, or create a distribution agreement with a larger outfit. Although this step is listed fourth, it is one that you should consider as you begin planning your path to become a music publisher, because it will influence the choices you make along the way.