A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

Sheet Music

Its February 1997, and the November 1996 issue of Guitar hits the newsstands in Australia. We were always 3 months behind.

On the cover is Rush  with the headline, “Returns To Rock With Their Heaviest and Best Album in 15 Years”. And that album is “Test For Echo”, a headline I totally agreed with.

And how things change from the previous decade. Back in 1986, guitar heroes like Malmsteen, Van Halen, Schenker took up the first few pages of ads. In 1996, it was the dudes from Bush advertising “Ernie Ball” strings and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden advertising Guild guitars.

Each issue of the magazine has a section at the beginning by the Editor In Chief. It’s written like how we would write a blog post today. On this occasion, the headline was “The Song Never Remains The Same”. The Editor In Chief HP Newquist wrote about “how songs get published in the magazine”, because the main reason why I and many others purchased the magazine was for the song transcriptions.

There are publishing companies that OWN the print rights to music. The publishing companies usually pay the artist a large upfront fee to license the songs for printing, which will cover a three to 5 year term (or longer in some cases) or they will pay a royalty (that lovely word) whenever the song is published.

To get a song transcribed for a magazine like Guitar, the magazine needs to first get the approval of the publisher.

Then the magazine will send the music to a transcriber.

When the song appears in the magazine, the magazine pays the publisher who in turn pays the artist and the transcriber is paid as well for their work. The magazine also pays to use the song in each of the countries the magazine is distributed, which means getting the rights from several international publishers for each song.

And all of this for a one time only use, hence the reason why the magazine at that point in time didn’t put any transcriptions up on their website, because that allowed unlimited use.

Sounds like a pretty simple business arrangement when everything is controlled by the labels and the publishers.

But there are also artists who are not interested in having their music appear in magazines and artists who want to give their final approval of the transcription as being true and correct. In this instance, the magazine sends off the transcribed work to the artist who goes over it to make sure the transcription represents what the artist played.

So the post goes on to say that when they feature an artist and don’t run a transcribed song, it is because the magazine doesn’t have permission to print a song from that artist or another magazine has first rights to songs from that artist or permission has been given to multiple magazines, who print the song all at the same time (which has happened as I was a Guitar World buyer and a Guitar buyer). In this magazine they had Rush on the cover and “Test For Echo” was also printed. So in typical fashion, Rush are the good guys once again.

Even after the magazine has secured the rights to print a transcribed song, it can be denied a reprint because a new songbook is coming out and the publishers don’t want to cannibalise the sales of that songbook.

And the web back in 1996, had a lot of text notepad transcriptions put up from users who either transcribed the song themselves or had access to a transcription and copied it to a text document and distributed. I found a lot of songs that way.

So of course the print publishers came out with lawyers and started to crack down on user posted online transcriptions, claiming that it infringers on their copyright and takes away from an artist’s royalties, which is the same spiel used for bootlegs. EMI had a very public battle with OLGA (On Line Guitar Archive) because it had user uploaded transcriptions which infringed on their rights and took money away from the artists. You know the usual PR spiel.

Suddenly the business relationship is a bit more complicated, because the publishers didn’t know how to operate in the world wide web.

These days, it is different and communities like Ultimate Guitar do have user uploaded transcriptions.

And the reason why the Editor In Chief felt the need to explain all of this, is because by 1996, the magazine was getting a lot of angry feedback for re-publishing songs they had already published. A problem that the internet had created for them.

And the big problem the internet created for the magazine was the user uploaded transcriptions to songs. Why buy a magazine to learn how to play a song when a 15 year old kid has learnt it and shared it with the world.

Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Power Of User Transcriptions and the Death Of Sheet Music

I can honestly say that with the rise of the internet, the need to use my ear and figure out a song has more or less gone out the window. All I need to do is go to UltimateGuitar.com or to an iPhone app and search for the song.

There is a 100% chance that it is there, especially the popular ones. The beauty of it all is that the transcriptions are free and made by musicians who are fans of the band. Some of the more complex progressive stuff is also out there and massive kudos to the guys and gals who sit down to transcribe Dream Theater, Periphery, Sikth, Animals As Leaders and Protest The Hero because they love it, not because they get paid to do it.

However, it wasn’t always UltimateGuitar for me. My fascination with other people transcribing tabs started off with “Harmony Central” back in 1999 which had basic and crude text tabs. However that interest went up a large notch with this website:


The website is littered with PowerTabs from bands in the Eighties and Nineties. In some cases it has the whole album from a band or in some rare cases it has the whole discography for a band, even going into the Nineties and Two Thousands. It is simply as well. Click on the song and it downloads straight away. Nice and easy, just the way that I love it where as UlitmateGutiar.com has way too many clicks involved in order to get the song transcription.

If you are in the business that sells sheet music, your business model is challenged. Not because of piracy, but because of users wanting to show the world that they can transcribe music that they love. If you are in the business that sells magazines with transcriptions like Guitar World or Total Guitar, your business model is also challenged. I am a Guitar World subscriber and the last 16 months worth of issues are still sitting on my shelf with the plastic wrapping still on them.

When my subscription expires I will be letting it lapse. There is no need for it in the current world and their fascination with ass-kissing the classic rockers is getting too much. For example, i can honestly say that i have over 15 transcriptions of the same song from either Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, Ozzy/RR era, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

I digress. You will notice that I mentioned PowerTab earlier. It’s a piece of software which I still use today to capture riffs and turn them into songs. It is not the best piece of software out there on the market right now, however I was a very early adopter of PowerTab (circa 2003 or 2004) and it served my purpose well when my kids came into my life between the years of 2005 and 2011. Instead of plugging in and playing riffs, I opened up the lap top and fired up the PowerTab software. It more or less became my guitar.

And this brings me back to the the Power Tab Dungeon website. It is pure Eighties heaven. Even the hard to find stuff. Back then, when this site came out, a lot of the other tab sites didn’t have this collection of material. Now if you go onto UltimateGuitar.com you will more or less see it all there. However the original leader in Eighties tab was the Dungeon.

If you wanted to know how to play songs from “Shotgun Messiah” they are there. Or “Babylon A.D”. Or “Steelheart”. Or “Jackyl”. Or “XYZ”. Or “Ugly Kid Joe”. Even “Vince Neil’s” solo albums.

Also on the flip side you still have Hal Leonard selling Note For Note books for between $50 to $70 plus dollars in Australia. And they wonder why no one is buying. Let’s blame piracy. Why not, everyone else does.

Of course, there was a time when the Music Publishers Association freaked out about PowerTab and went all nuclear on the software.