Steven Greenall runs Warwick Music from premises off the inner ring road in Coventry, a short walk from the city centre. Sitting in his office, to the accompaniment of the steady ping of arriving emails, Steven begins our conversation by explaining the origins of the company:
"Warwick Music was formed by Simon Hogg and Jeremy Dibb," says Greenall. "Simon was the trombonist with Fine Arts Brass for many years. Jeremy Dibb is a composer, and Area Manager of Warwickshire County Music Service. They formed the company in 1994, publishing one piece, the Holst Concertante, which was in the British Library. That's Simon's way: 'We've got this one piece; let's form a publishing company!' They contacted lots of friends and colleagues, saying: 'The trombone repertoire is terrible, will you write some pieces?'"
Greenall went to the University of Warwick. "Simon was my trombone teacher when I was there," he says. "I finished my first degree, in engineering. There's no music degree at Warwick, but the university has an active and high-quality music department." During Steven's time at Warwick University, the department was run by Colin Touchin. "The standard of the university orchestra was high," says Greenall. "Lots of us had private lessons. Simon Hogg was the trombone teacher. I had lessons with Simon."
After Greenall completed his degree, as his parents lived in Germany he went over to see them. "While there, I visited a trombone festival in Austria," he remembers. "I had no idea, but Simon Hogg was going to the same festival, exhibiting for Warwick Music. We came into Feldkirch train station, in Austria. I was coming from Munich, he was coming from Zurich. We got off our two trains. There we were. We each said: 'What are you doing here?'
"I was there for a week, enjoying the festival. Simon was on his own on the trade stand. I started helping him out, got involved, and got talking to him. Within a few weeks of that show I became a partner in the business. That was straight out of university, in 1996. Warwick Music had only been going two years, and had only a handful of titles. At that point it was run out of Simon's loft in his house. You wouldn't call it a business, then, more a paying hobby, but one rooted in the desire to make good repertoire available, particularly for the trombone. Technology has moved on so much in sixteen years, but at that time printing trombone music and making it available was hard work. We didn't have the internet. So we had to go to shows all over the world, take the music in suitcases, walk through customs, hope they didn't stop you, and say: 'Here we are, here's some music,' and see what people thought of it. Fortunately, people liked it. That was the start.
"I then did a postgraduate course at Warwick University, a sort of MBA in the creative industries. Alongside that I worked at Warwick Music with Simon. So that was good for me, because everything I was learning on the course had an application. In those couple of years we had good growth for the business. By 1999 we had moved into the present premises [in Coventry], racking up the titles, commissioning the new pieces, and making contact with artists all over the world.
"What we'd found was that artists are the drivers of the commissioning. But they need the support of a publisher as well. There's a three-way relationship between artist, composer and publisher. If a composer can forge a relationship with an artist, then it makes that process a lot more valuable. You know that you are going to get some performances out of it, which is the most important thing. To sell music is nice, but composers want their music performed, together with the royalties that go with it!
"We've done it both ways. We've got good relationships with composers and good relationships with artists. We position ourselves in the middle to try and help those people come together. We are able to put artists with composers, and the other way around.
"In 2007 we went to the Beijing Conservatory, which was an exciting place to be, but as a publisher I found it a depressing place. I went into the music stores to see Chinese versions of everything that shouldn't be there! Culturally, the sense of copyright is not present in the Chinese people. The issue is cultural; I don't think it's criminal. I don't think they can perceive that there is anything wrong in it.
"We have a hard enough job here in the West, trying to persuade people that stealing music is a bad thing, because they don't think that it's a bad thing. According to the figures we receive from the Music Publishers Association, we can expect to lose around 40% of our turnover each year because of copyright theft, a huge amount of money. We can see it's an issue. For example, exam periods are coming up. Many times we've had parents rushing round to the store, here, to come and buy copies of our books, because their child has an exam tomorrow and they are not allowed take a photocopy into the exam. I would never criticise the Associated Board for their policy on that. What they are doing is absolutely right, and rigid. We know that people are out there photocopying music or that a teacher buys a book and shares it among his ten students. Photocopying is a difficult problem, because we want children to start learning instruments. Music is expensive, lessons are expensive, and with all the uncertainties around music education that are going to come up in the next few years, photocopying is a real worry.Somehow we have to get people to understand that music has value. Because it's paper, and easy to photocopy, or scan it in, and email it to people, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have intrinsic value. But until we have a monolith like Apple devising a way of selling securely, I don't know what we're going to do.
"We're not pursuing China as an active market. We do sell into the music schools in China, but carefully. In China, you can't make any margin on music, you can't make any money. You've got to remember that everything is cheaper there. Labour is cheaper. Paper is cheaper. Print is cheaper.
"China has played it cleverly. They are now in the position to control costs across the board, in any industry. They've tried to focus on economic growth, which is why they haven't gone into recession. If you spend time in China, you realise that their great asset is people. They can put people to do anything.
"I went to Chengdu. I'd never heard of the city until I'd been there, but it has a population of nine million. We went to the conservatory. The director of music had recently returned from Symphony Hall in Boston, where he'd been doing a Steinway testing with the professor of piano, to order half a dozen new Steinway pianos for the conservatory. They were building an apartment block of practice rooms, with 400 upright pianos in them. It was like a hotel. We stayed at the school of music's own hotel. In the UK we've got no idea what it's like. When you go to the USA you see the big music schools, and they are massively well resourced, because they are hugely well endowed. At Julliard, the trombone choir has recently received a massive financial gift which is going to secure their trombone programme. The Chinese students are desperate to learn. I'm not sure how creative they are. That's an ability you can't teach that. It's cultural.
"You walk out of the school of music compound. As you turn left there's a multi-million pound school of music that they've built, and you walk on and there are people living on the streets. For me, that's the reality of what China is. That really brought it home. There's no social infrastructure. There's no cost of having to provide pensions, or state security, or anything like that.
"The one thing that they are lacking is resource. They don't have material, that's absolutely clear. They haven't got books, or studies, or material like that. The problem is that as soon as anything goes in to China, they all share information, as everything belongs to the state. We know that if we sell a book to a Chinese conservatory, the content will be replicated and shared with all of the other conservatories. There are trombone solo books out there with copies of the Rimsky-Korsakov trombone concerto, reprinted. We at Warwick are in a slightly special position. We are not 'niche'. We are not Boosey & Hawkes. So our material is always going to have a much more limited market. But it doesn't surprise me if repertoire like the Rimsky-Korsakov is being ripped off left, right and centre.
"We do really print in-house, but with a company that's around the corner from here, if that makes sense. But all of the printing is overseen by our internal staff.
"We started off with brass, and we've grown in to winds. We don't do any piano, but we do recorder pieces, saxophone (a growing section of the catalogue) and other woodwind. We publish solos with brass band, but not brass band pieces." Warwick Music now has a catalogue of 1500 pieces
"We have an editorial board, which meets quarterly. I have four staff. Like any business, one's responsibilities are to the staff as much as to the shareholders, and obviously to composers, of course. They are the people who come along and say: 'We'll assign the copyright to you, please do your best to sell our music.' I don't see my role as autocratic. I've been accused of many things, but that's not one of them! It is a private business. Because what we do is so specialised, I'm not doing it because I'm expecting to get rich at it. There aren't many millionaires in this game! I do it because I believe in what we do as a business, the music. We've got a lot of great pieces which need to be heard. And in the early days we were the only way people could get the music out.
"Currently we do two or three big international trade shows each year. Some years it can be more, some years less. Much depends on where the shows are. We go to America a lot. Local UK shows we do regularly.
"One of the biggest issues we have at the moment is postage costs. Shipping costs are high. We operate in a global market. Up to now our policy has been that we ship free to anywhere in the world.
"Our priority this year is to move on to digital printing. We're hoping to be able to offer the first one hundred titles as digital prints, available online. We've looked at several systems. It's a bit of a minefield, but we have chosen a pdf (portable document format) system, so that customers will be able to download a secure pdf file, which you can then print so may times, but you won't be able to distribute it to your friends. It's called Document Rights Management. The system we'll be using is sophisticated, the process used for big accounts in law firms. We operate in a global market. Our policy up until now has been that we ship free to anywhere in the world. We've always wanted to feel that wherever you live, you're entitled to buy a piece of music, and you shouldn't be penalised because you live in Australia. For the most part our customers live in the UK, Europe or America. There have been times when we've shipped music to Australia. We've probably lost money doing it, but at least the music's available, and we're not pricing ourselves out of these far away markets. We do sell internationally. Approximately forty percent of the music industry is based in the States, and thirty percent in Japan.
"But if I can make the music available digitally, immediately, and there's no cost for me to deliver it, then it removes that issue. The other problems we've had include volcanic ash and postage strikes. I am genuinely becoming more concerned. Getting our publications to customers is becoming more difficult. There are more obstacles in the way. In any business, you want to be in control of as much of your operation as you can. We can't sell music through UPS, DHL, or Fedex. If I'm sending a copy of a brass quintet over to America, then to ship it by UPS is going to cost forty or fifty pounds! If I send it by Royal Mail it's going to cost a few pounds, air mail, so that's the way we send it. If Royal Mail goes on strike, we've lost days and days, when people expect to get their goods on time.
"For the most part Royal Mail operates a pretty good service. It's definitely become worse. We do everything through our local post office, because we like supporting them. They provide a good service, and we send thousands of pounds worth of business to them. I'm a fan of the local post office, and our local postman, Sergei. Nevertheless, from a commercial point of view I've got to find out how to get the product to customers another way.
"We've recently sent a trombone octet to Chicago. The customer has a concert on Saturday, for which they need the piece. I assume they've already got a copy of the music, because I think it's unlikely that they'll be able to prepare the piece in such a short time. So, obviously, they've been working from photocopied parts. For whatever reason, they now realise that they now need an original copy of the music. Maybe the conductor wants to walk on stage with an original score, as opposed to a dog-eared photocopy!
"Now, in an ideal world I'd have loved to be able to send that publication digitally. I could have mailed it in digital files, and within twenty-four hours those digital files could have been copied all over the internet! That particular piece is not one that sells hundreds of copies. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that I should be any the less concerned about the protection of those rights.
"There's a downside and an upside. It's a matter of getting the balance right. The downside is that you can't control the delivery of the product. There are always going to be pieces that you'd never sell online. We have thick study books, with 130 pages. Are people going to buy wind band pieces, printing out each part from piccolo down to tuba? It's unlikely. For us, it's about opening up the market, so that we can sell our goods in as many different places as we can. And price is an issue. People are put off because of a high price. If I can sell it cheaper because I'm supplying it digitally, I would rather do that, and sell a digital version which would be fully secure, than for them to go away and photocopy it from a friend. To an extent, I have to react to the market, which now expects to be able to buy things and get them straight away. For the size that we are, Warwick Music is probably one of the few publishers that is going to do this, to invest in that technology. But I think it's important that we do.
"Music print is changing quickly, Music publishing is a conservative profession. But we do need to change. Now, the ABRSM has its own publishing arm. We're fortunate; we have a lot of titles on the Board's syllabus, which is great, good for us and for our composers. The Board has always been supportive of publishers, but now they are printing their own stuff. We've recently submitted titles for some new syllabi, but we are not allowed to send studies. We are only allowed to send pieces that have piano accompaniment. There's a good commercial argument that the Board only does exams on their own pieces. Things are changing.
"There aren't many people in the world who are going to want to buy a piece for contra-bass trombone and marimba. But if you are one of those people, we've got a piece for you! That's the point. We don't sell music merely because we think we can sell hundreds of thousands of copies. You can't do it half-heartedly."
Behind him, on Greenall's PC screen the emails continue to arrive.