PianoFiles Will Shut Down Because of Clueless Music Publishers

I found out today that the sheet-music-oriented community site, PianoFiles, announced that they will shut down in December.

I’m new to PianoFiles, having only joined earlier this year, but it’s been a huge resource for me already. As some of you may remember I got back into playing (drums, mostly) in musical theater pits this year, and PianoFiles was the resource that made it super simple for me to use my iPad in the pit instead of sheet music. 

Using my iPad means I can make as many notes as I want, back them all up, don’t need a light on stage, and can turn pages far more easily than I can with a paper book. It made a huge difference for me.

As I said, I got back into playing in theater pits. It had been almost twenty years since I had done this, and here’s how it used to work for all of us musicians:

  1. Get hired for show.
  2. Get book (sheet music) from the musical director.
  3. Go to copy shop and make a copy of sheet music.
  4. Go to rehearsals and mark up my copy with all the notes that are necessary for that particular production.
  5. Play the run of shows.
  6. Return pristine original book back to musical director (who then returns it to publishing company).
  7. Keep the copy. Sometimes it’s fun to go back and revisit those parts. I’ve learned a lot doing that and it keeps my reading skills fresh.

Step 6 is mandatory. Regardless of how you organize yourself, that book is rented and needs to be returned in as mint condition as possible lest you get fined. If you make notes in it, you damned well better do them in pencil (or stuck-on post-it notes) that you can erase or remove. Someone else is going to use that book next week for a completely different production and wants to start with a clean book just like you did.

When I got hired for a show earlier this year, I got the book and went to Staples. I figured I’d either follow my exact method above (and use the paper copy during shows as I used to) or I would have them scan it into a PDF that I could use on my iPad, depending upon the cost. At that point I wasn’t sure if my iPad would work for me (it does!).

What did Staples tell me? “We’re sorry. This book is copyrighted. You need a release letter from the publisher in order for us to copy it.” THAT never happened 20 years ago!

I had two options. Ok, well, three, but actually getting a bona-fide release letter (and doing so in time) was probably a long-shot. I could phony up a release letter (how would the rep at Staples know?) or I could find someone who already had the PDF and just use that. I suppose I could also scan it myself, though doing that with a 100+ page spiral bound book would be a disaster.

I went to the Googles while standing there in Staples and found PianoFiles. This site just allows folks like me to list what scores we have and what we want. The site doesn’t host any files, and trades are arranged person-to-person. There’s no mass distribution of files. I’m not sure, but it’s possible what we’re doing (sharing scores with each other) might even fall as legal under copyright law (similar to if I shared a copy of the new Phish album with you). Either way, the folks I’ve met through PianoFiles are all quite pleasant and aren’t interested in screwing anyone. They’re all mostly musicians just looking to make things easier for shows to which they already have the rights.

But no. ICMP organized a terrible letter-writing campaign to get this great resource shut down. Terrible. Just another example of an old business model hanging on and not changing with the times. We musicians don’t get paid very much, either. But we want to be able to play the shows we’re paid to do. Either distribute PDFs or let us share them when you give us paper books. 

It’s not like anyone is going to get the PDFs of a show via someone they met at PianoFiles and then actually, you know, rent out a theater and put the show on without getting the rights. There’s far more at risk there than would make it worth that, and the rights to shows (which come with the book rentals) are priced quite fairly from what I’ve seen. If you know what you’re doing you can likely make your money back and then some, even in a small theater (because rights are priced based on number of seats capable of being sold).

ICMP should stop hanging on by a thread and instead start a letter-writing campaign pleading with their own publishers to provide PDF copies when someone licenses the rights to a show. Why that’s not already happening is something that I find quite curious.

Hopefully this injustice can be reversed. Otherwise I think I have a new idea for a site to launch.

17 Responses to “PianoFiles Will Shut Down Because of Clueless Music Publishers”

  1. Flynn Says:

    Copyright law is an evil, evil thing that basically holes up great works of art and cultural history in the hands of corporations, such that it’s impossible to even look at stuff like the orchestrations to a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show without getting the rights to actually perform it (something that a good chunk of the population would be unable to do or afford).

    PianoFiles was a refuge against that, and a strive to make the studying and perusals of scores a cultural commodity, as it should be. This is stuff to be shared, plain and simple, and it’s depressing to see it shut down by "The Global Voice of Music Publishing".

    (I should note, for anyone who reads this and wonders "what about the musicians? Shouldn’t they get the money they deserve?"– absolutely, they should. If a musician were ever to contact me about something I listed on PianoFiles I would take it down, and probably do my best to support them financially in any way I could. I strongly believe in protecting the artists, but the idea that that’s what copyright law exists for is simply wrong. Copyright law as it stands today is about protecting corporations and private ownership of the arts, and the uselessness of it should be noted by anyone who realizes how preposterous it is to have a copyright on Oklahoma to protect the creators that have long since passed away.)

  2. Eldritch Says:

    There is a new site very simmilar to pianofiles – swappano.com. You can even import your sheet music list from pianofiles dto swappano.

  3. sunny Says:

    This is shocking news. The site has been very valuable to me as a teacher and as a performer. The day it comes down will be a sad one indeed.

  4. Santi Reyes Says:

    Don’t they even realize that musicians swapping sheet music in order to survive is like Hydra (without being an evil organization). Cut off one head and two more will take its place. What a bunch of fossilized idiots… I’m sure the new one will even better than the original! FOOLS stop the money grabbing and catch up with the times. Do I think piracy is right? No, but this is clearly a whole different scenario where poor musicians are doing what they can to help each other after businessmen especially these dinosaurs in particular have put us in this situation… So screw them for bleeding us dry in the first place…

  5. sunny Says:

    @Eldritch: swappano is useless. The registration form doesn’t work and there is very little content listed there.

  6. Simon Says:

    It’s a shame, and a great loss for musicians like me, who cannot find some sheets in normal stores (in Europe) and for artists that are dead long time ago (so I’m not ripping anyone here (!)) As I like old jazz (art tatum period) almost all the sheet music from that time are public, and I could get some that I’ll never find otherwise…
    If you come un with a new site, let me know….

  7. bryan Says:

    Have you ever tried Scribd? It’s a pretty great resource for all things printed media, but I’ve found that the sheet music catalog is pretty solid. IMSLP is good too, but only for public domain stuff.

  8. Seainside Says:

    The fact that is simply impossible to fathom is that ICMP is not providing, or even working on providing, an alternative distribution channel (centralized, ubiquitous, online), even if on a paid-request basis. Itunes was the for-pay alternative when Napster and others were forced to close down. That is not the case with sheet music. Publishers are simply in the dark ages, and they know it. ICMP is force-closing a product created by users who desperately need, depend on it. There is a massive need for it. The vaccum that will be left is immense and all for the benefit of an outdated and inefficient industry ! The day Pianofiles is shut-down will indeed be a sad one. Does anyone know if there is anything that can be done to prevent this?

  9. Mark Says:


  10. Alex ale[X] Says:

    I guys im italian and im not speak english very well sorry
    The closure was terrible and I was blown
    I know of other sites and I lost so many points of reference
    I live in a small town and pianofiles linking me to all of you and I could find many things
    I read your comments and noted
    If you have any news or if you know any other similar communities can contact me at alexweb2004@tiscali.it?
    thank you
    Sorry again for my English I am beginner
    greetings from Italy

  11. Alex ale[X] Says:

    thank you Mark

  12. Alex ale[X] Says:

    To download files from Scibd you have to pay (in Italy)
    Or subscribe monthly / year
    For me, I am poor and not ‘the most
    I like to talk to share opinions with the world
    In pianofiles I arrived requests for italian pianistis , was nice to share files
    And I’ve met so many good people throughout europe
    Share can ‘help to grow culturally
    same thing for music
    I go on you tube listening and if I like I buy the cd or discharge from itunes
    should be the same for scores
    Copryright excuse to make money (I think)
    gold cost less copyright……
    I did not know of the closure of the site and I made a mistake
    damn hard disk format
    I lost mail and contacts,,,,,,,,,:-(

  13. Alex ale[X] Says:

    Thank you…….very very very much

  14. Markley Says:

    Have to be honest, as a musician who has used pianofiles to get a jumpstart on rehearsing for shows, I find your comments reckless. The copyright law is the greatest thing to happen to musicians EVER. It protects our product(s) from individuals and corporations using it as will without compensations. The copyright law essentially created the music industry. As for pianofiles, I was always surprised that it existed. It was nice to see a score for a show before I held auditions. But if I were the composer or lyricist I would be furious that my work was being recreated and shared at will to anyone that wanted to do it without making payment to me. And your assertion is WRONG btw: there are MANY MANY theatres, community groups, and schools that perform music theatre productions without the rights. My own community performed a staged production of Mary Poppins the summer before it opened on Broadway. They paid no royalties to Disney or any other company. The director was also a capable musician and arranged his own music from the released P/V score. THOUSANDS of people created that Disney movie and thousands more created the Stage version. It is not just corporations that get paid – but people who do their job when we pirate music this way. Closing pianofiles was inevitable.

  15. Michele Says:

    Hi, I’m Michele from Italy.
    I had a huge list of scores uploaded on Pianofiles, and I need to export it, but now the site is blocked!
    Do you know how I could contact the admin of the site to try to rescue my datas?

    Thank you so much, please write me at michele.foresi@hotmail.it for news!


  16. dannw Says:

    It’s back, redirecting to sheeto.com. Woot.

  17. Neil Says:

    Pianofiles will be missed; however, it might not have gotten the attention of music publishers had people not started putting up copies of music that was still available from publishers. That is a violation of the copyright law, whether we like it or not. Don’t forget, some of the money spent on music goes to the composers.

    I liked the film scores that were not published because that was a great educational resource. For those who want to have music on their tablets so they can write on it, etc., you really need to buy a copy of the music and scan it.

    Again, this is the law. We all want something for free, but if we are making money from music, why should someone steal it from us. I have published a few things in my life and every time someone copied my music, I lost money. It was not much, but it all adds up.

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