To connect musical theatre songwriters and their music to students, performers, and teachers
Create a database to profile writers and sell sheet music
Finding an audience; introducing new works to students, performers, and teachers
WHAT NEEDS WORK
To continue building the database of writers; encouraging writers to market their work
Songwriter David Sisco needed a way to share and sell his unpublished music. He and his musical theatre writing partner, Tom Gualtieri, had songs to share and no way to share them. So Sisco launched ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com in 2012, a digital database with a subscription service that now features 180 writers and more than 600 songs. In 2014 Sisco brought director Laura Josepher on board to help grow the site and reach new audiences. In the two years the website has been selling sheet music, sales have tripled, according to Sisco.
That’s probably because performers are eager to add underperformed songs to their audition books, and educators are looking for new, age-appropriate music for college-bound students. ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com is designed to meet this demand.
“I wanted this network to be a bridge between the teachers, students, musical theatre professionals, and the writers to circumvent the current publishing model, which is very archaic and doesn’t keep up with today’s demands,” says Sisco.
“You used to be able to go into stores and browse songs,” says Josepher, recalling the now-defunct Colony Records in Times Square. “How do you find them now? The issue now is you have to know what you’re looking for before you can go online and buy it.”
ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com helps users find what they are looking for, and more. Subscribers can browse writer profiles and discover new songs by searching for genre and voice type. Legit sopranos can search for dramatic ballads, and belt tenors can find comedic uptempo songs. Each month ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com also posts a round-up of songs for different voice types, including both standards and new tunes.
“People will go looking for one specific song or one specific artist, but because we have this search function they end up finding a lot more,” says Josepher. “That is what we intended, for people to be able to find some of these new artists.”
With contemporary musical theatre stretching in new genres and directions, Sisco and Josepher want to make sure that the site is reflective of the broadening landscape. “We’re really trying to make sure that we’re representing everything from opera art songs to very pop-rock/singer-songwriter songs, and everything in between,” says Sisco. “To us, that is what is represented not only on Broadway and Off-Broadway, but also regionally.”
To keep the database stocked with varying genres, a rotating committee of theatre industry professionals blindly reviews submissions from writers. Because the offerings are curated, the collection is offered to users through a subscription model. There are three tiers of membership: $19.95 for a three-day pass, a $29.95 monthly subscription, and an annual membership for $49.95.
Each song comes with a profile with information including the key, range, and a description from the writer, and an indication of the level of difficulty for the accompaniment. Links to YouTube or SoundCloud are also available so that the songs can be listened to in full before purchase. Contact information for the writers is also included, so that users can request transpositions or ask questions about the material.
The database is more than just a resource for performers and educators—it’s also a platform for musical theatre writers to sell their work. Josepher’s research shows that 75 percent of the writers featured on their resource list did not sell their music anywhere prior to the site’s launch. And while there are a few other sites now where writers can sell their work—such as NewMusicalTheatre.com and MusicNotes.com—ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com prides itself on being able to give the writer 100 percent of the price of their song.
“The writer sets the sale price, usually anywhere from $6 to $8, they get the sale price for every time a song sells, and then they get a payout at the end of the month,” Sisco explains. “The other thing we are proud of is that we are non-exclusive,” meaning that writers can also sell their music through other venues. “We want them to make money any way that they can.”
The site aims to educate not just the writers, but consumers too. “We think of ourselves as a for-profit with heart, so we try to be educational and let people know that there is a writer attached to that song,” explains Josepher. “People are copying music from each other—that is what happens a lot at colleges. We have to change the model so that people understand that someone wrote that song, and they deserve to be paid for their work.”
ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com’s services go far beyond the internet. Sisco and Josepher also travel the globe conducting master classes and workshops, teaching educators how to teach contemporary music, and working with students on how to approach new work. They recently traveled to Denmark to do a class on contemporary American musicals.
“We’re a great tag team, because David is a composer, voice teacher, he plays piano, and I direct and do audition coaching,” says Josepher.
They visit colleges and work with students on building their audition books, offering suggestions of new songs from ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com to replace tired classics with new songs that will stand out at auditions. They also offer tips on how to work with writers in a developmental setting.
“To give them that experience at the undergrad level is so necessary, especially since a lot of what they will do coming out of undergrad will be 29-hour readings and developmental workshops,” says Sisco. “We’re trying to make sure students coming out of those programs are prepared.”
They’re also helping college-bound students prepare. The duo published a book titled Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent to help budding performers navigate the college musical theatre audition process—including how, and where, to find the perfect 16-bar audition cut.
The duo’s goals go beyond the audition room. “One of the things going forward is to change the mentality of what musical theatre is,” says Josepher. Song by song, ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com may be doing just that.
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