Subito is an Italian word that means “immediately”, and when Stephen Culbertson started Subito Music in 1993, making an immediate copy of a musical score was an all-night job. Back then, you see, the work had to be done by hand. Now, Subito Music now relies on digital copiers and CD production machines. Good thing, since Culbertson has 1,600 packages of sheet music due soon for a competition at Lincoln Center.
The name Subito Music might not ring a bell in Verona, but it’s loud as a gong in the world of music publishing. Bands, choral groups, opera companies and orchestras around the globe rely on it for the scores they need to perform. Music publishing has its best-sellers just like the book business and Subito Music represents several of them, including the composers Roberto Sierra and Paul Moravec, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in music. Subito Music has scores by John Williams (revered in my household for his work on “Star Wars”) and it represents Steven Mercurio, whose arrangements for Andrea Bocelli earned the Grammy Award on display at its office.
“Concert music may only represent 3% to 5% of the music market,” says Culbertson quietly, “but when it’s spread over the whole world, that’s quite a lot.”
Subito Music was founded in the basement of Culbertson’s Montclair home in 1993. It quickly expanded to commercial space in that town, before moving to 3,000 square feet on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona in 2001. It outgrew that space at a pace that one of its composers might call prestissimo, necessitating a move to 10,000 square feet on Depot Street three years ago.
Part of what has been driving that growth has Subito Music’s dedication to serving students who are just learning to play, like audition guides or the practice packets for the “Essentially Ellington” jazz competition that get sent to 1,600 high schools around the U.S. in late summer. “The positive impact that they’ve had on education for students of music is really profound,” says Shayne Austin Miller, the director of press and public relations for the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, and a former summer intern at Subito.
But Culbertson, who is on the board of the Montclair Arts Council, also has been serious about using the latest in music publishing software and CD production technology to enable Subito Music to meet demand by student and professional groups efficiently. The company holds some 4,000 titles in its inventory, but often needs to produce only a handful of copies of them at a time. “In serious music you don’t sell thousands,” says Culbertson. “You sell tens or maybe a single copy.” The Internet also helps, since the Subito Store can display Culbertson’s inventory in a way that no brick-and-mortar retail shop could match. And that should allow Subito Music to be very comfortable in its Verona location for some time to come, even as it grows.
“Small businesses are not even able to sustain themselves now and the fact that Subito Music is expanding,” says Miller, “is a real testament to Steve’s leadership.”