How Much I Earn, In Royalties, For The Piece of Choral Music I Published in 2002

mr holland composing

When I was in college, I wrote a piece of choral music that my professor encouraged me to submit for publication.

So I did, and it got published. It’s called “I Wish You Peace” and you can hear it here.

I just got a royalties statement from my publisher for earnings in both 2012 and 2013. In 2013, I earned $9.42. In 2012, I earned a whopping 71 cents.

There are four different versions of “I Wish You Peace” available: two part, two part a capella, SATB, and SSAA. In 2013, my publisher sold 17 copies of the SATB version and 57 copies of the SSAA version, which I suspect means that two different choir directors purchased it: one for a chamber choir, and one for a large collegiate women’s choir. (The piece was originally written for a large collegiate women’s choir, the Miami Choraliers, so it seems appropriate.)

I have no idea how many copies of “I Wish You Peace” sold in 2012. If you do the math, that 71 cent royalty suggests five copies. A vocal quartet and its accompanist.

In the 12 years since “I Wish You Peace” was published, I’ve never earned more than $30 in royalties for the year. It’s usually been closer to $10 or $15. Just about enough for a large one-topping pizza.

Like many other types of music, earning money from choral works is largely dependent upon whether you write a hit. You’ve got to write Morton Lauridsen’s “Dirait-on” or the John Rutter version of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” which we sang in church choir every year and which, if you click that link, was the one that Westminster Abbey picked to sing to honor Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

“I Wish You Peace” feels like a hit—the Miami Choraliers still sing it at the end of each concert, and I’ve received messages from choir directors telling me they love the piece, and it’s been performed all over the world—but it’s not a hit. Not even a small one.

I’ve often been asked why I don’t write more choral music. It’s on my “someday/maybe” list, but I don’t know if or when I’ll come back to it. Writing choral music is a bit like creating a crossword puzzle; it’s time-consuming and everything has to fit together perfectly. Plus you have to figure out what to do about the lyrics: write ’em yourself, or be the 500th person to write a version of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” simply because it’s in the public domain.

On the other hand, publications are a source of passive income, so if I wrote one piece a month I could reasonably predict $120 in passive royalty income every year. Just about enough for dinner at a high-end restaurant.

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