Our company exists for two fundamental purposes:
- To bring music to more people
- To help musicians, especially young musicians
In trying to achieve these fundamental purposes, we are guided by our seven core values:
- We are musicians helping other musicians
- We are powered by scholarship
- We are disruptive
- We are socially responsible
- We are environmental
- We go slowly
- The key note of everything to be SIMPLICITY
1. We are musicians helping other musicians
As musicians ourselves, we understand the challenges facing musicians today. Quite frankly, we think that musicians get a raw deal, and that much of the classical music industry lets them down.
We believe that the classical music publishing industry fails today’s musicians. Many publishers are stuck in the dark ages, operating with huge inefficiencies and bloated back offices which provide little benefit to musicians. Yet musicians are paying for these inefficiencies through the high prices charged by those publishers. That’s not right.
If a musician today wants to get hold of a score, they are faced with a choice: either pay through the nose for a high-quality score, or download a free score from the Wild West of the internet.
We believe that musicians need another option. We aim to produce printed scores of outstanding scholarly and physical quality while keeping prices as low as possible, and our hope is that this will widen access to printed music and enable more people to perform and study at all levels, from beginner to professional.
We are proud music geeks. We love obscure repertoire, and are determined to make unusual works available to everyone alongside established favourites. We love the great tradition of music publishing and the beautiful engraving of nineteenth-century German music publishers, and as a company we are proud of our own Austro-Germanic heritage even though we are based in the United Kingdom. Our goal is to bring this tradition to new audiences.
2. We are powered by scholarship
We love scholarship. Most of our core team are former or current students from the University of Cambridge or University of Oxford. Our founder, the composer James Olsen, was an undergraduate at King’s College, University of Cambridge between 2000 and 2003 where he graduated with a double starred first, and has taught music undergraduates at the University of Cambridge since 2006. He also completed a PhD in musicology at Royal Holloway, University of London, supervised by Professor Nicholas Cook. We consider musicological scholarship to be at the core of our work and the value we bring to musicians and the wider public.
But make no mistake: we have no time for academics who write solely with the purpose of proving how clever they are, and who only wish to address a ‘chosen few’ with their impenetrable jargon. We believe that scholarship must inform wider conversations and debates outside universities, and that scholars have a solemn duty to communicate their ideas in plain English to the general public. If they fail in that duty, their work degenerates into pointless internal debates and navel-gazing.
We use the term ‘powered by scholarship’ very deliberately: under the bonnet, the Olsen Verlag engine is entirely scholarly, and is fuelled by the latest musicological research. That does not mean, however, that you need to be an elite scholar to understand our work. The engine is inside a bus which is open to everyone, and benefits whoever climbs aboard, be they a pre-school child or a pensioner, a music lover or a music student.
3. We are disruptive
We are different from most operators in the classical music business both in terms of what we do, and how we do it.
We believe that a classical music publisher in the twenty-first century needs to embrace the digital age, which is why we have in-house video production capability.
Since we were founded in 2017, we have operated as a dematerialised business. We have no physical office, no full-time employees, and our whole team works remotely and flexibly. We have always believed that this was the future of business and, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are more certain of this than ever.
We use technology to make our business as efficient as possible. Technology is becoming increasingly mysterious and complex in today’s world, and we think it is in danger of becoming a ‘dark art’ which is considered accessible only to an initiated few. We are not afraid of learning how to build technology ourselves from the ground up in order to develop the tools we need for our business. Sometimes what we build is a little rough around the edges, but we don’t mind being a bit less polished than others if it means the technology does what we want and we know how it works.
4. We are socially responsible
As a social enterprise, our business does not exist to make money for shareholders, but to benefit our customers, our contractors, the children, young people and adults we engage in our music projects, and the planet. We are a trading company, but we reinvest all our profits so that we can do more work.
Our core business is publishing printed music. Our goal is to produce affordable, high-quality scores so that more people can have access to reliable printed music.
We also represent our founder, composer James Olsen, and we have project-managed a number of projects with a strong educational dimension. James believes strongly that educational work should not be an afterthought ‘bolted on’ to a composer’s career, and is committed to writing high-quality music which can engage young performers and adult community musicians alongside professionals.
Our team is made up of young musicians and we place great emphasis on mentoring and training. Many of our team are students, or at the early stages of their career, and all benefit from mentoring and training from James and other more experienced team members. James expects exceptionally high standards of professional conduct from everyone in our team, stemming from his own experiences working as a corporate lawyer at a Magic Circle law firm and a major New York law firm. Working for Olsen Verlag is not easy, but we believe that we provide outstanding training and mentoring experiences for our team members.
We believe that society benefits from a high-wage economy and we put our money where our mouth is by paying all our contractors a minimum of £10/hour.
5. We are environmental
We know how many people today are concerned about climate change and global warming, and we share those concerns. We love music and printed scores, and we want to better understand how we can further our aims in the most sustainable way possible.
To that end, we are committed to asking questions and doing the necessary research to get to the bottom of these matters. We think it is essential for sustainability not just to be a buzzword or selling-point: we want to understand the full environmental impact of musical activities.
We are committed to print scores rather than electronic-format scores because we have come to the conclusion that high-quality, long-lasting printed scores have a much lower environmental impact than online alternatives. Not only do electronic devices cause significant environmental and social damage, but when electronic scores are printed on conventional printer paper, those prints have a very short life and contribute to the ‘throwaway’ culture which is so damaging to the planet.
6. We go slowly
Technology may be at the core of our operations, but we are not straightforward technophiles. We know how many people today feel overwhelmed by the pace of modern life and all the notifications on their devices. We sometimes feel the same way.
One thing we love about music is how it takes us out of ourselves: it allows us to slow down and reconnect with reality in all its richness. We love printed music because it can be a beautiful physical object. Some of us love vinyl, some of us love working by hand rather than on a computer, some of us are interested in mindfulness and the ‘slow’ movement. We think that what ties all these things together is a desire to reset our relationship with technology: to make it serve our needs, rather than the other way around.
We also take a slow approach to business. Since 2017 we have grown steadily, and built up a small reserve of profits which we are now using to fund the second phase of our business, expanding into publishing printed music. We are not interested in the wild roller-coaster of high-speed debt-fuelled growth which often leads to businesses crashing and burning. Our spirit animal is the tardigrade: small, slow, but resilient.
7. The key note of everything to be SIMPLICITY
We have borrowed our final value from a one-page sketch for the D-Day landings made by General Montgomery, and which James in turn used as the title for his composition to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
We are great believers in simplicity. Today’s world is extremely complex, and music too can seem impossibly complicated. Technology likewise has become increasingly impenetrable. So many aspects of modern life feel like you need a PhD before you can begin to understand them.
Our dedication to simplicity informs everything we do. It informs the way we write about music in plain English. It informs the design of our website, which we have coded ourselves using PHP and MySQL and which is free of annoying popups, chatbots, adverts and all the other paraphernalia we have to endure on the internet these days. It informs the scores we produce, which are reliable, high-quality physical objects without unnecessarily frills. And it informs the way we run our business: our team is ruthlessly opposed to unnecessary bureaucracy and internal time-wasting so we can produce outstanding scores at the best possible prices.