Unexpected Ways to Build Your Mega Music Library of DEATH

If you recall my previous post about firing up your music library (warning: you must actually know how to budget), this is a continuation of that…here are some Unexpected Ways to build your Mega Music Library of DEATH!

Garage Sales, Auctions, Craigslist. I once got a monolithic box of music for $40. It included at least 30 methods books, 5 sets of flashcards, an assortment of CDs, a metronome, and some other knick-knacks. A local music store was closing and auctioning off their assets. There’s a rockin’ lady in my community who makes a living organizing estate sales. I’m on her mailing list and her good side, so when she happens across musical supplies and instruments, I’m usually the first to know (besides the dead guy who originally owned it…morbid).

Type “music books” or “sheet music” into craigslist and see who’s selling directly or through a garage sale. There are a lot of people who retire from the profession, or musicians who no longer use their standard literature. People purge older and antique sheet music, and you might find usable stuff, if not some sweet historical gems. While perusing vintage sheet music at an antique mall, I happened upon these old Wurlitzer ads for a buck apiece. Call me a curator – I preserve history and fill awkward silences with conversation starters!

I don't know about you, but I practice in an apron...
I don’t know about you, but I practice in an apron…

eBay, half.com, Amazon. I spent about .03 seconds in a community choir that did major masterworks concerts (as it turns out, it’s hard to own a studio and get anywhere by 7pm). As an organization, they purchased music in bulk and then sold it for list price to the singers, which was convenient for us because we could buy what we needed right there. But I employ warfare shopping tactics, so I found the same edition at 1/3 of the price on eBay and it showed up like, an hour later (not really, but it was fast). Just make sure shipping isn’t crazy-exorbitatnt and pay attention to your estimated delivery time. This isn’t a slam on the US postal service (or maybe it is?), but do NOT rely on them to get you your second contest copy in time for contest! That’s challenging murphy’s law. Also, make sure you’re buying a readable copy – read the seller’s notes (nothing like trying to remove incorrect, pen-written IPA!) Amazon is great because if you’re willing to wait, a copy of what you want will inevitably pop up for nothing. I consistently buy anthologies and reference materials for $.01 and then pay $3.99 for shipping. $4 for a book…I guess I can fork that over. 🙂

eBay is a parent company of half.com, which is a lot like amazon. People list their copies for whatever they want and you can usually score a sweet deal if you frequently check the latest prices. Don’t leave them in your shopping cart for too long, though…you’ll be pissed when someone else gets your 1-cent copy!

Clearance and Reduced Price Sections 
My second home, it seems. Music stores are like any other retail establishment, and they have to clear inventory that isn’t selling or is damaged, and lezzbihonest, you’re probably going to rip the cover eventually anyway, right? If you don’t, your accompanist sure might. Ask to be put on your music store’s mailing list, or phone in every 6-8 weeks to see if they are running any sales. Stores are usually willing to cut you a deal if you are willing to purchase in bulk. If you know you’re going to have all your singers use the same sight-reading book, call a few stores to see what they might charge.

Conferences, Events, Reading Sessions, and other Music Pow-wows
I love music conferences. You know you’re at a good one when everyone and their mother is trying to get the newest edition of 28 Italian Songs and Arias (yes, you read that right, singers. It is no longer 26…). I’ve found the best times to visit music vendors to be early in the day and right before they close up shop. Ask for reduced price or sale items. If you see something that’s damaged, ask if they’ll knock off a buck, and for heaven’s sake, keep it honest and don’t damage anything on purpose, a la Adam Sandler in “Big Daddy.”

dented cans are half price
dented cans are half price

I’ve had moderate success with this site. The premise is pretty sweet: you post those books that you’re using for fire kindling. If someone requests it, you send it to them on your own dime (either by yourself or by printing postage online and mailing it from your own mailbox). Once they’ve received your book, you get a credit. Then you use the credit to request other people’s fire kindling! Win-win! You can make a wish list, and when those titles become available, they’ll offer the book to you first, satisfying your inner kindergarten line-leader. If you don’t have any credits, you can buy one for a few bucks. Either way, you’ll end up only spending a few dollars on each book. I go in and out of paperbackswap phases; some months, I’ll strike gold and there will be three copies of books I want. I’ve managed to score staple titles like 26 Italian Songs and Arias, several of the “First Book Of…” series (soprano solos, tenor solos, etc.). I even nailed a Singer’s Musical Theater Anthology (those things are like $40 new). Other times, I’ll go months without using it because I’m not so interested in mid-90’s band songbooks (Jewel? Matchbox 20? ::snaps fingers:: If only they wrote approved contest pieces…) I’ve also found some different things that have ended up being kind of neat and useful, like this nifty Civil War Songbook:

I may have to change some words...
I may have to change some words…

Public Domain & New Composers
The public domain thing seems obvious, but I always forget it’s there. You DO, however, have to know your stuff when it comes to composers, original keys, editions, etc., and then hope whatever you choose isn’t a hot, blurry mess that someone uploaded from their 1999 scanner bed. There’s boatloads of art songs, Christmas stuff, and hymns that are old enough to be in the public domain at imslp.org (International Music Score Library Project) or cpdl.org (Choral Public Domain Library). Consult an art song guide, music manual, or even your trusted music friends and colleagues before digging (what? you can actually use that college lit course book for something other than frantic cram-memorizing???)

The less obvious, more savvy option is to consult your trusty network of musicians, teachers, and performers for things they may have arranged or even composed themselves. A lot of composers would pee their pants to see their work performed live. Offer to record so they can use the audio of their work for professional submissions or on their composer website. Disclaimer: tread lightly and make sure you don’t inadvertently insult your friends in the process (“hey, do you wanna let me use your work for free? It’ll be great exposure for you). Work with people you know are willing to do this and don’t take advantage, but do try to make a big deal out of the fact that your students are performing or even premiering original work and get people in the audience to hear it.

Existing Students
This one seems weird, but a lot of studio parents have their own junk piled up, and it’s probably bigger than your pile! Sometimes they want their kid to use this junk, and may donate it to your studio. On at least three occasions, I’ve had families give me their aging sheet music. I had one parent shlep a whole box of really neat vintage and out-of-print music, most of which I actually use. This collection of Disney Songs (below) was in it. Where the hell else am I going to find a print copy of “The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks??? Rad.

magical funtime!
magical funtime!


How do you build your music library?

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