Subito Music Corporation is celebrating our 30th anniversary this year! Back in 1993, Subito was established as an independent, American small-business that offered exclusive publishing for composers, and professional music services including copying and editing, creating scores and parts, printing and distribution. At the time, it was considered unusual in the concert music world, which already had a number of long-established, traditional classical music publishers. But, there was a vision.
Subito actually began as “Integrated Arts People” – a collaboration between Founder and President Stephen Culbertson and Cynthia Herbst – his artist-manager partner. Herbst represented a number of composers including Roberto Sierra along with several others. The mission was to provide both arts management and publishing services to engage performing organizations and promote composers’ works. They immediately signed Sierra, and soon afterward, subsequent Pulitzer Prize-winners Paul Moravec and Michael Abels. Subito was also founded with the goal of representing American composers and building a large catalog of American contemporary music. While it’s been an interesting, and at times, a challenging journey, Culbertson reflects back and shares some thoughts about that vision and journey.
Q & A with Stephen Culbertson, Founder and President, Subito Music
S: Subito Music Corporation is an American, small-business success story. As Subito celebrates 30 years in the music-publishing industry, how do you feel about this milestone? Is there a highlight or a defining moment that stands out to you?
Culbertson: It’s difficult to name just one, but I would say the many premieres we’ve witnessed. Some of these works have had hundreds of performances and are now part of the repertoire. We’re happy to have had a role in this process.
S: Why did you decide to launch Subito in 1993? Was your decision based on observing a need in the music publishing industry at that time? What was your long-term vision, and could you imagine what Subito’s staying-power would be like after 30 years?
Culbertson: The original idea came after several meetings with artist managers while I was with G. Schirmer. Cynthia Herbst and I discussed the concept of publishers and managers being on the same side, which was often not the case. And, at the time, we were getting to the point where concert music was becoming more about communication with the audience and not so “academic.” It was very exciting to work with these composers.
S: When you started Subito, you ran the company out of the basement of your home. Now, you have a well-established office in Verona, NJ with: an extensive rental library; a high-tech, state-of-the-art in-house printing department; a busy shipping department, and a staff of over a dozen. How did you get here?
Culbertson: Well, some would have thought it crazy to start a publishing company without a “back” catalog (that is, a body of works), so from the beginning, we did other things in the industry such as editing/typesetting, short-run printing and distribution. In the early years, those parts of the business supported my publishing habit. Over the years we have become more balanced. That helped us survive the pandemic when choral and ensemble sales drastically dropped and people buying music to play at home increased.
S: Let’s talk about the name. Why did you to choose “Subito,” an Italian word which translates “immediately” or “suddenly?” Did this name reflect your mission to provide excellent music services to the industry?
Culbertson: Certainly. I started in the early 80’s pre-computer notation software. Everything was written out by hand. I recall one project which was a weekly TV series with about 40 minutes of music per episode. We would get scores from the arranger on Monday morning for a 6:00pm recording session with the orchestra that evening. Keep in mind, this was also pretty much pre-synthesizer, so there were live musicians that had to have parts. The show aired the following Wednesday or Thursday. Every week for 13 weeks! Don’t even think about mistakes! Subito seemed like an obvious choice.
S: Your musical background is in conducting. How did that skill inform your thoughts about establishing a publishing company? What other musical background and work helped guide you as you started Subito?
Culbertson: I think that has been a key factor. Understanding what makes a piece “work” is very important. It also helps in relationships with composers and other performers. In addition to the conductor training, I had many years of voice lessons and was in several professional choruses.
S: Through the years, Subito – in addition to publishing its own composers’ music – has also taken on other catalogs such as Seesaw Music, Dunstan House, Treble Clef Music, and Yelton Rhodes Music. Subito also entered into distribution agreements with Peermusic Classical, Paulus Publications, BachScholar Editions, Pacific Serenades, E.B. Marks Music, and many more. Additionally, Subito has garnered a reputation for providing highly professional printing services for clients such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Schott Music, Boosey & Hawkes and many others. How did some of these partnerships come about?
Culbertson: It’s a combination of factors. One is that we’ve expanded as new opportunities have come along, including acquiring new catalogs that fit into our company. Another has been the consolidation in the industry; fewer companies are providing some of these services. We’ve been fortunate to have good “word of mouth.”
S: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the performing arts industry shut down which led to a difficult and challenging time in a world without large-scale performances of live-music. Yet Subito stayed afloat. How did you inspire staff, and composers, to continue to connect creatively and musically?
Culbertson: I can’t say it was easy. We started zoom meetings 3 times a week in Mid-March 2020. Those continue to this day (although twice a week now). I think that really kept people connected, even when the discussion veered off-topic! I think it also helped everyone to understand the importance of all the areas we’re in, not just what each of us is doing. I have to say I have a great staff that cares about each other and was willing to sacrifice in order to keep everyone employed during that time.
S: “Family” appears to be at the heart of Subito Music, something that seems important to you. With a small, but close staff of employees – some of whom have been with Subito for more than 25 years – it’s clear that its success is built on this foundation. Was this one of your goals when you started the company?
Culbertson: When I first started, my goal was a simple one: try to make a living in the music business. The “family” aspect has developed over time and has become very important to all of us. My wife and two sons are involved in the business, and the staff are all musicians who know what a difficult business it can be.
S: So…any words of advice for young composers and musicians, as well as for anyone thinking about starting their own company?
Culbertson: Besides “don’t do it?” Make sure you have a supportive family, work hard, be exceptionally well-prepared, and take advantage of mentors. A business course or two for me would have helped, but too late for that!