Firing Up Your Music Studio Library

This is a portion of my personal music library:

I hope I never have to move again
I hope I never have to move again

It’s no hoarder’s paradise, but is a sizable heap (there’s three more bookshelves, but I got lazy and didn’t want to clean them up for their closeup). If I lost this all in a fire, I’d cry a lot. Like the Audrey II, it’s starting to take on its own life force. I funded this with my own money because I have big girl pants. It’s not finished – there’s still lots of things on my wish list – but when anyone asks how I managed to build my collection, I share with them the stone cold facts.

When it comes to shopping, I’m a lone wolf. I prefer to be by myself because I. Am. A. Guerrilla. If you think I’m going to pay over $15 for any one item, you are grossly mistaken, JCPenney. Your coupon is worthless! There are very few things I ever pay full price for, and in the rare instances that I do, I have unbreakable expectations about what something should actually cost. This mentality was no doubt instilled in me by my Daddy-o (who, incidentally, works in retail management) and my aunt Julie, both of whom used to take me garage sale shopping…nay, garage-conquering…since I was old enough to haggle. I’ll go out with $10 and comes back with a hot tub and a time share, regretting that I didn’t ask the sellers if they would take it for $8. I used to ask my aunt what I should offer for things, and her answer was always this:

Something is only worth whatever someone else is willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not cheap. When I need recordings of music, I buy them outright. I have faith in original copies and when a cheaply-made product fails me,  I will purposely invest more money into something better in the future. The dilemma: the second you no longer have access to a University teat library, it all of a sudden becomes a game of “whose butt do I need to kiss to get the French Song Anthology around here???” Copying sheet music is illegal, but when you’re building a library, who can afford to buy everything at list price? What’s a guerrilla to do?

Building a studio library is basically like building a fire – it can get clumsy, you have jack squat to start with, and it it inevitably happens in a mad rush before darkness falls (darkness = contest season?). Here were MY first steps…

True to my aunt, ask yourself how much you are willing to spend. If it’s $10 a month and the book you want is $40 list price, then you’ve got to wait another four months before buying something else. If you can find that same book for $15 elsewhere, then you only have to wait a month and a half. At that rate, you can add about 8-9 new books in a year. It ain’t rocket science, friends. Decide how much you can feasibly spend and go from there. When I first started off, my budget was about $10 a month (if I could do Netflix, I could do the same for my career). Today, I spend about one student’s monthly tuition every two-three months on new materials. Seems like a lot, but not when you consider that you’re investing in your students and the quality of your business.

Finding The Moolah
(outside of your couch cushions)

Students. No, I did not rob my students, I assure you (though they do seem to take all my pencils…and I thought I escaped that when I quit school teaching). Instead, they pay a flat tuition plan and set fee every semester for materials. Sometimes I’ll buy books for them, other times I’ll ask them to purchase materials on their own. At the end of the day, though, I always take that money and invest it back in the studio, sometimes in the form of music, other times in doughnuts (the no. 1 incentive for Saturday morning group lessons…screw learning, there’s jelly filled!)

Discounts, Rewards, and Free Shipping. My local mom-and-pop music shop has a rewards system for area teachers. It’s not amazing, but they knock off a few bucks once you spend a certain amount. Over time, that can translate into a decent piano solo library. Also, I can’t say enough great things about Amazon Prime. Remember, the membership fee for a year of free 2-day shipping can be written off as a business expense. Another not-so-secret secret: get a credit card with good cash rewards. Charge everything you buy each month. Pay it all off every month. Cash in your rewards and then take your new magic money and go buy some sheet music (or candy…or a trip to Mexico…whatever!)

Getting Bang For Your Buck.
I care a LOT about solid arrangements and good collections, but I’m also not gonna sacrifice my firstborn for five songs. Yes, I’ll own those songs forever, but copyrights and overhead (like printing and binding) have a lot to do with the list price of a book. Sometimes (not all the time), it can be cost-efficient to a purchase single digital copy of a piece you KNOW you’ll use again from a site like or It’s probably better in the long run to invest in hard copies, though, because on-demand printing really only suits short-term needs. Also, look for the editions without included accompaniment CDs. They’re cheaper and will force you to you know, actually sit at a piano to brush up your skillz. If you’re not there yet (don’t worry, my pretty…SOON), support your neighborhood pianist and hire them to make you a rehearsal CD!

Try Before You Buy. When ordering music, look for companies that will let you purchase “perusal” copies (usually just with choral octavos or sheet music, not full anthologies or books), like J.W. Pepper. They’ll send you one piece FO FREE, and if after 30 days you like it, you can either return it, pay them for the single copy, or get some more! If you ask me, I wouldn’t send my junk out to anyone for free, so it’s way cool that a company is willing to do that for its customers.

In the more classic “try before you buy” sense, make sure you’re getting what you want. Ask friends or other teachers if you can peruse their libraries, or see if your local library has anthologies and songbooks. Look at potential collections, the table of contents, and how many pieces are included. If there’s only a song or two that will benefit your students, you might save your bucks for something you’ll actually use on a regular basis (like a Nordic Track! Wait…)

So those were my first steps. The laying of the kindling, if you will….before desperately blowing on the flame and hoping you don’t end up on “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” Find out how the flame “took” and check back at the end of this week for…

Unexpected Ways to build your Mega Music Library of DEATH!

coming soon…!

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