How to Sell Sheet Music Arrangements

Posted In: Repertoire

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    Jodi Ann Tolman on #194876

    I’ve written several arrangements of harp solos as well as piano solos.  So far I’ve just done some hymn arrangements and medleys of hymns, but I’d possibly like to start doing other types of songs as well.  I would love to be able to sell some of my arrangements, but it’s a bit overwhelming to figure out how that would work and what I would need to do to make sure I don’t break any copyright laws.  Can anyone explain to me how I might go about selling some of my arrangements?  I know that if the song is not in public domain I would have to obtain permission from the owner.  But how do I find out if a song or hymn is in the public domain? I have a lot to learn about how to sell arrangements and would appreciate any advice on how to get started.

    carl-swanson on #194877

    There’s got to be some book out there that answers all of your questions, and gives you a list of places to contact to deal with copyright.  I’m very lucky. My publisher, Carl Fischer Music, deals with that for me. So I have never had to deal with it myself.

    patricia-jaeger on #194907

    The world of copyrights and rules seems in flux at this time, but I found two leaflets that give a few answers. Sylvia Woods has written one about this subject. I cannot locate it at the moment in my files, but at in La Crescenta, California someone there would know how to get a copy. Another leaflet, though outdated, has 7 pages of good answers in the “Questions, Answers” publication of ASCAP(founded in 1914): The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
    ASCAP – New York
    1900 Broadway
    New York, NY 10023
    Tel: (212) 621-6000
    Fax: (212) 621-8453
    One of the many helpful answers in that publication is: “The purchase of sheet music or a recording does not carry with it the right to perform it publicly for profit. It only gives the purchaser the right to use it in his home for personal enjoyment”. You may need to dig deeper, into The United States Copyright Law, which presently needs thorough revision by Congress.

    sueblane on #194910

    1923 is the year to remember for public domain. I just did a quick google of this and found this explanation of US copyright law on the Stanford Univ. site.

    Anything written before 1923 is currently public domain. You can use anything written before that year without permission. Legislation passed in 1998 states that in 2019 works that were published in 1923 will become public domain. In 2020, works published in 1924 will become public domain, and so on. There are additional terms that deal with works published after 1977.

    Hope this helps a little.

    Sue 🙂

    carl-swanson on #194912

    SueBlane- That’s basically what my editor at Carl Fischer told me recently. But he also said that that apply’s only to the United States. The rules are different in different countries.  it does get very complicated.

    diane-michaels on #194922

    In addition to copyright rules regarding selling arrangements, you also need to obtain permission to arrange the music.

    This is one site that handles music rights:

    I’ve obtained rights through Hal Leonard, too:

    sueblane on #194923

    Hi Diane-michaels,

    What you wrote is certainly true when arranging a piece of music which is still under copyright. And if that is what Jodi wants to do, she should seek permission as you wrote. But if she’s interested in arranging a public domain title, then no permission is needed.


    Jodi Ann Tolman on #194951

    Thank you for all this information.  It’s very helpful.

    Out of curiosity, can anyone tell me what it costs to get permission to arrange a non-public domain song and be able to sell it?  I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth the cost if I’d never sell enough copies to recoup the amount paid to get permission.  But I have no idea what the cost of that would be.

    If it’s too expensive and unreasonable for me, I’m happy to stick with public domain songs for now–mostly hymns.  But what is the best way to actually go about selling those songs? Selling PDFs would be obviously the simplest route. So is it best to create my own website? (But then driving traffic there is difficult.) Somehow find a publisher? (What is involved with that?) Or will places like Melody’s or other online music sellers sell my music for me? And what kinds of fees are associated with that? In other words, even if I’m sticking with arrangements from public domain, what’s the best way to get my music “out there”?

    patricia-jaeger on #195565

    Jodi, several years ago I wanted to arrange for harp solo a tango composed by a man in Argentina who died in 1935. Before I put pen to
    paper I did what is called “due diligence” searching for existing arrangements out there already, of that particular piece, which was originally for guitar and Spanish text. I found a big U.S. music
    publishing company had included it in a collection of many tangos, for piano and sometimes with voice as well. Asking for permission to publish my harp-only version, I learned it would be a fee of $80. for my version, to last for 5 years, for selling not more than 100 copies. I decided to sign the legal agreement and begin to self-publish it. My version had a different key, different time signature, fewer measures, no voice. etc.I sold far less than 100 copies so decided I would not renew my permission to self-publish that particular piece. Fortunately not long afterwards, I was approached by a large U.S.harp music dealership that had purchased many of my other public domain self-published arrangements over the years, to be the Distributor and seller of my works. It was just the right time in my life for this to happen so I no longer do all that work of many years of time and expense and will receive small royalties once a year instead. That company urges me to “keep publishing” because then when I send them a finished copy they do all the rest, including marketing, selling etc. You must decide if this is the same path you would take, such as giving sample copies to many dealers first so that they can decide to do that for you some day. Until then, it is wise to keep any arranging you do, in public domain, or make your own compositions. You must have a business license and keep two sets of books: Music Expenses/Income and Household Expenses/Income. SCORE is an organization of retired former business owners. Our local public library was helping many younger entrepreneurs to have interviews, at no charge, with SCORE members to get started with all sorts of helpful advice that musicians entering the world of business rarely learn even after a lifetime of practicing! A community college course in Accounting 101 is also quite an advantage. Good luck!

    christylynmusic on #195981

    Hi Jodi

    Have you progressed in your research about this topic since the last reply? I have currently been looking into selling my arrangements, particularly for voice and harp because I don’t think there are enough good arrangements available for lever harp and voice. I have not contacted the copyright holders directly, but I found out from a friend who publishes her own arrangements that it would be likely to cost far too much to make it viable for me, and even then the permission apparently does not include PDF downloads – it’s only for physical copies. I was feeling so discouraged but then a friend sent me a link to a page on the Sheet Music Plus website (have you heard of them? A reputable sheet music distributor online) and they have a list of over 1000 titles that they have already obtainer copyright permission for arranging. You can then sell your arrangement of these titles through their website and you receive royalties for 20% of the price of the music. Of course this is not a lot, but if you’re not going to be selling huge quantities then it could end up far more cost effective in the end.


    I already have a YouTube channel so my strategy is going to be to:

    1) Drive traffic to my YouTube performances of my arrangements

    2) Place a link in the video description to my website where I sell sheet music

    3) For public domain arrangements or originals, they will be available directly through my website, but for the songs not in public domain I will place a link to the Sheet Music Direct link where my arrangement is for sale.

    4) Hopefully harpists would also find my arrangements directly through searching on Sheet Music Plus, which is also an advantage!


    Here’s the link to the website:


    I haven’t tried any of this yet, but I’ll update you as I progress 🙂 Hope this helps!



    Christy-Lyn xx

    Jodi Ann Tolman on #195982

    This is all very helpful, information, Christy-Lyn.  Thank you very much! I’m aware of Sheet Music Plus, but I didn’t know that it worked as you described.  That could be highly beneficial. Thank you so much for passing this info along!

    christylynmusic on #195983

    Pleasure! Yes, Sheet Music Plus hasn’t always had this programme – it’s quite new. But I think it’s brilliant for you and me! Hoping it works out and isn’t just a pipe dream 🙂 All the best! xx

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