Guitar Tabs

What occurs when somebody qualities guitar tabs on a Web website so musicians will discover to play their favorite songs? The posting is possibly copyright infringement since publishers have licensed few guitar tab websites. But publishers are facing a lot more pressing issues than whether they could sue the unauthorized sites: What is the greatest company model to compete with all the free, unauthorized websites, and do present publishing contracts even cover the required rights to post tabs to the authorized websites?

The sale of print versions of guitar tabs is a multimillion-dollar company. Although publishers’ revenue is confidential, a source with a print publisher crunched some numbers for me based on info from a NAMM report, the company’s own revenue and the source’s estimate of competitors’ revenue.

According to a NAMM report, the North American print music marketplace produced 9 million in retail sales in 2006.

My source estimates that about 48% of that amount (8.7 million) was connected to songs in about 2.7 million songbooks. Regarding 16% of the song part of the revenue was probably attributable to guitar tabs, thereby generating about .4 million in retail revenue from about 40 million individual guitar tabs. With wholesale costs usually 45%-50% of the retail cost, print publishers probably received .6 million-.7 million in 2006 from print guitar tabs, which they then shared with songwriters and their publishers.

Currently, just 3 commercial guitar tab websites appear to be authorized by a big amount of publishers. Each sells tabs as digital sheet music: FreeHand Music (FreeHand Systems), Musicnotes and SheetMusicDirect (Hal Leonard and Music Sales U.K.). Meanwhile, websites that can contain unlicensed tabs keep growing. From July 2006 to July 2007, distinctive monthly visitors grew for from 1.4 million to 2.4 million, and for from 473,000 to 1.1 million, according to comScore Media Metrix.

In an attempt to compete with all the free websites, Musicnotes acquired a earlier unlicensed website,, with plans to license the site’s database of tabs and add others, provide them for free and share ad revenue with publishers. Among the publishers that licensed rights for the website were BMG Music Publishing, Famous Music, Bug Music and peermusic.

But when Musicnotes produced a deal with all the Harry Fox Agency in May so that publishers can choose into the licensing deal for MXTabs, Hal Leonard reacted negatively. It e-mailed some publishers to urge them to think carefully before licensing the “free” company model, which could include amateur (i.e., not really accurate) guitar transcriptions of songs. Musicnotes posted the letter as well as its answer found on the MXTabs website, that has not yet introduced its service.

It’s unclear whether the response to the dispute is carrying up the website. But the debate is unlikely to be solved shortly. It boils right down to 2 questions: In light of all illegal websites, must tabs be available for free on ad-supported websites despite that “free” will feed into a customer demand for more free music, therefore devaluing music? Or could legal action shutting down unauthorized websites and educational efforts become the approach for publishers while building per-download or per-use websites for tabs?

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