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Escobar Digital - increasing access for a diverse range of composers

Creating a sustainable eco system for composers, performers and researchers isn't always easy. Many 'new' composers struggle for their music to be heard, and far fewer are actually able to make a decent living through their art. Especially for composers whose music falls into the 'diverse' category, how can they make their music available to many performers and educators worldwide, but not at a heavy cost?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jari Eskola, one of the founders of Escobar Digital, an aggregation service based in Finland about how they are increasing access for a diverse range of composers for people around the world.

The Escobar Digital logo
The Escobar Digital logo

Who are the founders of Escobar Digital?

We are a trio of culture-conscious individuals with backgrounds in music, design, and information technology. Each member brings a different skillset to the combination. Jari has a solid background in arts administration, music publishing, lobbying for diverse interest groups etc.; Henry is a long-time professional in software development and infrastructure, and Ismo’s skill set includes ie. design, software development and server maintenance.


Our upload engine is simple and elegant: one signs up, chooses from one of the available imprints and voilà, the first work may be available on nkoda within a few hours, depending on the processing queue.

What is Escobar Digital?

Escobar Digital is essentially an upload engine for independent composers to get their music on sheet music library app nkoda. Nkoda works with commercial publishers only, leaving out a vast number of unpublished or self-published, ie. independent composers. We were able to persuade nkoda to view Escobar Digital as an aggregator service, kind of publishing front-end for independent composers – we stand between the composer and nkoda as a kind of publishing partner. Our upload engine is simple and elegant: one signs up, chooses from one of the available imprints and voilà, the first work may be available on nkoda within a few hours, depending on the processing queue. 


All rights remain with the Escobar Digital customers, no share of copyright is transferred to us. We take a small annual fee against the upkeep of the system, and an even more modest fee for every uploaded work. The usage royalties accumulated through nkoda are paid out in full. Though we need to add that with the constantly rising costs of doing business, the upkeep of our IT framework is getting more expensive as well. It might be that we will roll out other kinds of models for joining our service, percentage-based rather than a flat fee. 


In nkoda the works uploaded using our service do not differ from any other work of any other composer in the nkoda library. The composer profile with picture is available, and each work may or may not contain a work commentary - this is up to the composer to choose. 


Some limitations though: the works must be original works and currently the composer person will have to be our customer. Arrangements are not currently possible, but we are working on this with the nkoda team in London. 


Asian woman composing with a violin and piano

Why did you create Escobar Digital?

Our heart beats with the creators of music. nkoda was a great initiative from the first day, and during the years of operation it has proven to be the go-to place for instant access to legal sheet music online. We value the rights of the creators and as nkoda closely works with the publishers to ensure all usage is logged and revenue is distributed according to the use, we share the same ideology and view of the world. 


Brave composers pour out their hearts in their compositions, only to face competition that is more fierce than ever. We felt that nkoda is the perfect platform to promote one’s (sheet) music, regardless of the genre. We are proud to be able to empower the independent composers by offering them a way to get their works online, so that their music can both be found by exploring the nkoda catalogue, and by using links to nkoda when promoting their own works. Traditional sheet music publishing – especially contemporary classical – has been in trouble for a long time. Publishers with their limited resources are more picky than ever when choosing composer partners, and at the same time there are more composers around, more than ever in the history of music. Publishing companies are buying out competition, which means that there are even less publishers to choose from. The digital realm is the perfect contemporary alternative to make one’s music available without a publisher affiliation. 


Brave composers pour out their hearts in their compositions, only to face competition that is more fierce than ever.

How do you see the future of music publishing?

This was briefly touched above. We think there will be more merging of companies happening in the future, cutting down the number of actual (sheet music) publishing companies. Orchestras and ensembles will continue to perform music of our time, but publishers will explore the genres in which the performance materials are distributed in sheet music format. This might be bigband, orchestral pops, world music etc. As we know, film and video game music concerts are a big thing, the performance materials are controlled by a handful of companies. Since streaming services pay back so little, the music publishers dealing with contemporary classical will try to find new revenue sources from licensing their catalogue to media use. We envision that smaller publishers will identify the portions of their catalogues that are suitable for AV productions (film, TV, video game, ads) and join the major players in offering their content to AV companies. Faber Music was a pioneer in working with composers of different genres. In their verbiage this is the ”more commercial repertoire” (as opposed to not-very-commercial contemporary classical). Others may explore similar solutions. 


Some traditional publishers are opening their services to anyone willing to pay for the service, ie. Universal Edition’s SCUDO initiative. Will this devalue the main catalogue, remains to be seen. But it is certainly one way to increase the revenue stream.


How long will we see piles of printed sheet music being shipped around the world from publisher to orchestra customer? It is not environmentally viable. Reading music on tablets is one solution. As there are platforms available to distribute sheet music digitally, with copyright concerns having been solved (nkoda, Newzik), this will be a growing trend in the future. How will this affect the network of rental agents? Probably badly. Instead of b2b the shift will be b2c.


To sign up and for more information, please click the following link https://escobar.digital/

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