Spartan Press - 1989 - 2009 celebrating 20 years
How did Spartan start?
Following a sixth form spent writing and performing musicals, Mark Goddard went on to study piano with Ruth Harte and composition with Christopher Brown at the Royal Academy of Music 1978 - 1982. There he met and soon married Pat - a woodwind player from Sheffield with even more energy! The two graduates set up shop in Oxford, running concurrent teaching practises, supplemented by a rich variety of other activities including freelance playing, accompanying ABRSM exams, composing, conducting, model wargaming, beer making and dog walking.
After nearly ten years of this busy musical life, it was an adult piano pupil (who happened to be a computer consultant) that suggested that Mark buy some music typesetting software written by an eccentric and insomniac professor of music at Stanford University. This was 'SCORE' (pre dating the Finn twin's "Sibelius" product by a decade or more) and it formed the seed of an idea that grew to become Spartan Press Music Publishers Limited.
Why the name 'Spartan'?
The name for the new imprint came from Mark's favourite wargaming army: Spartans were committed professionals, hard working, seriously well trained although they had no time for superficial frills!
First Publishing Steps
Spartan Press was used at first as a trade name for Mark's work as a composer, fulfilling commissions and writing for existing pupils and associates in the Oxford area. But "Spartan Press" soon started getting mail bags of imaginative music from talented composers nation wide. All this posed the next big step - how to move from being a carefree freelance musician, to representing the work of (now, many) other talented composers on a world stage.
A whole new multi-faceted and captivating world opened up for Mark and Pat - and a limited company was registered to Mark and Pat in April 1990 called Spartan Press Music Publishers Limited. Our first employee was Jo Bridle, a music graduate from Southampton University, who was appointed as our first sales co-ordinator in 1994. Our current sales co-ordinator, Sandra Grant, started with Spartan nearly 10 years ago, and runs the distribution outfit with great energy and expertise.
A visit to the Frankfurt Music Fair in 1991 generated a chance meeting with Simon Hunt in the transit lounge at Heathrow - and this was the catalist for our first distribution arrangement with the Fentone Nova Music Group. But when this group split up just a few months down the line, Spartan was left stranded, as a toddler in a marriage break-up. It was then that Spartan started its own distribution arm with the help of Larry Fenton. The big day of independence loomed, coined 'PL DAY' (like 'D' Day for the Normandy landings but standing for 'Post Larry')... very exciting times... Hunt Edition became our first agency, followed by Useful Music, Pan Educational Music, Camden Music and others.
Spartan, and agencies, are now also distributed abroad by companies like Theodore Presser in the USA and Europoean Music Centre, Holland.
Mark became the first 'sales rep', travelling up and down the country visiting key sheet music specialist dealers, many of whom have become personal friends over the years. In the first year, while Pat was on tour in the Central Band of the RAF, Mark followed the 'bus' around the UK visiting music shops, although appearing (alarmingly) to be the first 'groupie' the band had ever had.
Sometimes a dealer would get on board and stock up in a big way. Other times, it was very difficult to sell anything at all!. During one visit to a shop in the North West of England, a local music teacher walked into the shop in the middle of the sales meeting, (which was not going particularly well). He picked up a sample book, went to the piano and played some of the music... 'Aye, I use this with my pupils... its not bad is this... ' He played some more... Mark turned to the dealer with a wistful smiled and suggested he might like to order a copy ... 'Nay, lad... the only thing I can sell around 'ere are second hand plectrums'....!
Spartan 'broke through' in 1996, , thanks to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music new woodwind syllabus listing many of its works. After years of trying to twist the arms of music dealers to stock its music, and getting ... "oh, I'm a bit busy at the moment"... after 1996, it was "ahhh.. come in and have a cuppa tea!"... With a core product range that formed the 'bread and butter' of specialist sheet music shops, a chance to sell Spartan's full range of music now opened up.
As the sales grew, Mark Pulman was elected our first rep for the North of the country, working part time. When Spartan moved to Scotland, Sarah Garratt became a full time rep, shared with Cramer Music, with whom we have always enjoyed a close relationship. Jonathan Kershaw stood in when Sarah was head- hunted after only 6 months or so, and did the job for an amazing 7 years until he got married and decided to move to Cornwall!
Spartan's first books were printed by James Ledward in Brighton, but as things grew, Spartan decided to buy a press of its own. Ken, a retired printer in Monmouth was brought in to teach Pat how to run the new baby: a Rotaprint 953R - a ton of 1930's offset printing press, with a paper plate maker. Along with the press of course, guillotines, folding machines and a saddle stitcher were needed for starters, but with all of these machines came the independence of a complete in-house product. Spartan eventually progressed into the digital world and now runs 2 networked digital presses with finishing modules, an EBA 21" computerized guillotine a Multinak Nagel Sticher with matching Morgana folders and creasers. Cor blimey!!
With all this printing gear, backed up with a bit of musical nouce, it became inevitable that Spartan started to print for other music publishers (especially in short runs - suited to our particular 'kit'), and also non-musical clients as well.. e.g. Forestry Commission flyers, Hotel brochures, Butcher's business cards etc.
Spartan started life in 1989 in a mid-terrace 1950's ex-council house in Fairfax Avenue, Oxford. The various rooms soon got full of boxes of music, packing boards, computers etc etc... and then Tess was born. The purchase of the 'Old Brewery House', on the Gloucestershire/Wales border was the answer. Spartan Press and associated family members, moved there in 1993 thanks to an imaginative piece of bank managership at Barclays in Oxford, where Spartan has continued to bank since. After another seven years of gentle expansion the Old Brewery also became full to bursting, and because the Brewery was a Grade 2 listed building, it could not easily be extended - so Spartan Press and Goddard family sold both Monmouth and Oxford properties and moved again, this time to Strathmashie House in the Highlands of Scotland in 1999.
After nine years at Strathmashie, guess what? The place filled up yet again.. but this time an extension could be built to coincide with the acquisition of Fuller Music, which needed a lot of shelves itself! Good job shelving is seen as a wonderful and engrossing past-time - Mark spends a lot of time erecting 'em!
Mark and Pat enjoyed their honeymoon up on the West Coast of Scotland, and spent the first eighteen years of marriage dreaming about moving there. In 1998, with children at the right age to put into the notably different Scottish education system, and a business that looked robust enough to support the move, it was then or never. It took nearly two years to find the right place, and Mark and Pat looked at nearly 40 separate properties before they managed to secure Strathmashie House. They have often heard people say "ooh, you are so lucky to live and work here"... but it's not luck - you make a decision, and pay the price. The price for us includes, for example, a ridiculous amount of driving around to get to anywhere (e.g. ballet lessons, footie practice, a family swim etc)... with the nearest big supermarket over 100 miles 'round trip!
Since 2003, Spartan Press have been developing their own bespoke Intranet application, from which the whole business edifice is now run. Written with the help of Tom Pike, and based on web technology, the system finally replaces the old DOS database application (Dataease). The new application, aptly called 'Zeus', is based on L.A.M.P. (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). Not just accounts, VAT, sales and purchases, but a myriad of uses including full bank reconciliation, comprehensive stock managment, print and production management/print and web quoting modules, catalogue creation (pdf files), product reviews, instrumentation links, ABRSM examination references, staff holiday tracking and even the family fitness regime etc. etc. It has eighteen floors, plus penthouse music room and marble lined subteranean swimming pool and sauna.
Probably the most important advantage offered by the Spartan lifestyle is that of being able to work, in effect, from 'home' - and what a fantastic environment Strathmashie House has proved to be to raise children.
- Tess (now 18 years old) was born in England
- George (16) was born in Wales
- Rose (12) was born in Scotland
And to keep it in the family, Spartan has employed Phil Goddard, Mark's dad, since the early days as a music typesetter. Phil is a retired Dean of technology from (what is now called) Oxford Brookes University, and is a talented amateur organist. He is now a very experienced music setter and the most reliable employee ever!
Plans for the Future
As technology continues to march onward, Spartan is keeping pace...
- not with the leading edge (because that's dangerous and expensive)
- not at the back of the queue either (because that's also a dangerous place to be and potentially just as expensive)
but somewhere near the front - about 10 people back from the 'blade' perhaps...?
For sure, the Spartan computer department seems to get busier each day that goes past, and well placed to help many smaller music shops towards an affordable yet seriously powerful web presence, without which, the outlook is guarded!
In publishing terms, Spartan has a policy to keep all titles 'in print' (if humanly possible). There is no excuse for putting titles out of print with short run printing processes as advanced as they are these days. Spartan is "dipping its toe" into the world of the internet 'downloads' , but will almost certainly treat it as a completely separate business to selling beautifully printed music that people can cherish.
But Mark and Pat have one firm plan, amongst all other plans: to continue to make beer and walk dogs!