Getting the Right Look for Vocals!

Music Copying: 

Getting the Right Look for Vocals!

by Lee Monroe

My last article dealt with how to get the right look for a basic instrumental part.  Since then many of you have remarked that you generally work with vocals and that information specific to that would be helpful.  I get the opportunity to do many vocals myself for several A Cappella groups and many stage shows, parades, etc. 

So here are my thoughts regarding creating vocals within Finale.  Please forgive me if some information is repeated from my Earlier "Getting the Right Look!" article, some of you will be reading this article from an Internet search and the information is critical to both.

Entering the Music:

The preparation for getting your final product to look as professional as possible begins with how you enter information into a file. 

In my article on our method of part extraction (A Different Approach to Finale Part Extraction) I explain the importance of distinguishing between measure attached and note attached expressions.  Measure attached expressions should be used only for information that applies to all of the parts and not for information unique to an individual part (i.e. tempo info, style info, rehearsal letters, etc…).  Note attached expressions should be used for all information particular to a part (dynamics, doubling info, etc…).  As a production company that often reuses material for different venues this distinction is very important because of how Finale handles the copying command <ctrl+c>; with this command only information contained within the bar and not information attached to the bar is copied.  This is explained more fully in my article “Music Copying & Finale Part 3: A Pasting Paradise”.

You must also take care in how you enter information to make sure that expressions and smart shapes are attached to the appropriate stave or you will get a nasty surprise when you extract the parts.  You must also give some care to how you place information if you will be required to produce a score for an arrangement.  

Vocals require lyric information that also needs to be properly planned for.  In my article "Lyrics & Finale" I explain how we have done vocals in the past.  Many of my complaints in this article have been rendered moot with each new version of Finale but those of you with older versions might find information here useful.

More and more I get vocals from composers already in Finale.  These can prove quite challenging.  I work with many very gifted people and even though I rib them about their lack of Finale chops, I would never expect them to put in the time to become particularly effective at Finale.  This would be very time consuming on their part and generally the more gifted they are at composing the busier they are actually doing that and shouldn't have to concern themselves with learning a notation program (besides, what would I do then?).

In these cases, often the key is trying to decipher exactly what the composer wants so that I can put it into notation that a studio singer can recognize immediately and read straight down.  It is important to note the value of communication, don't be timid about asking questions of the composer.  I would suggest that you go over the information you have thoroughly before bothering them and try your best to have a group of questions rather than several phone calls about little things.  I don't like to interrupt a composer's groove or train of thought about a current project with questions about something he/she has already moved on from unless necessary.  The most important thing though is to get it right.

Many of the vocals I produce can be quite complicated with several layers of information.  Most of the time I get some representation from the composer, either printed out from Performer or done crudely in Finale.  Sometimes I have an audio demo to work from as well but more often I am preparing the vocals for more sophisticated demos than were required in the past.

A Side Note About Demos:

As mentioned before, because of advances in Midi capabilities and the growing number of composers and arrangers who are fluent with them, clients today have a far greater expectation of the demos we produce than they ever have in the past. No longer can we throw together a few musical clips to give the client an idea of what is going to happen.  Today's demos are so slick and sampling has become so accurate  that many with a less than sophisticated ear might wonder why we involve live musicians at all. These thoughts are easily dispelled once we have Wayne Bergeron nailing his lead trumpet or the London Symphony Orchestra cranking through a seemingly impossible pass. 

However the nature of this process, a sometimes endless production of demos to get the client to buy off on a concept, has forced us to streamline the production process of the music for the actual session.  This is evolving the music prep field into something new altogether.  More and more the composers/orchestrators do their work in Midi and we are required to transcribe these Midi files to a format fitting for the Studio Musician. 

Through the use of Midi, MP3, and PDF files, we can work with composers/ orchestrators from LA to NY via the Internet.  This digitizing of our work also allows us to partner with print houses around the world (LA, London, Budapest) to get the material to the actual session, giving us precious time we didn't have before because of the constraints of snail mail. 

It is an exciting new area and because we have clients all over the world and the current state of air travel and delivery it is a necessity.  I will discuss Midi transcriptions and our delivery methods in future articles.

Basic Set Up for Vocals:

The most important feature of any vocal is the Lyric.  I learned this early on as a hand copyist.  Often, for complicated lyrics, we would do the lyric first and the notation later.

Doing vocals on computer is nirvana compared to the old way.  You have complete flexibility, particularly if you set things up right from the get go.

We do a lot of SATB combined with solo vocals.  I will generally layer parts only if their is significant counter lines during a piece (time is money).  If I do have these counter lines, my preference is to be consistent with the layers throughout.  Pre-program your layers to minimize the need to deal with individual sections.  I like to use 1st and 4th layer programmed and the other 2 layers for special information.

To program layers go to layer options:


Alter you settings for layer 1 and 4 something like this:


I would then print out what ever source material you have and go over it marking what information you want to put into which layer.  Again, don't be timid about contacting the composer about his/her intent.  I would suggest that you get a series of questions together for a minimum of calls rather than interrupting them every few minutes. 

I would also advise that you make your own default template to get all of the settings you want rather than having to change them for each new chart.

Basic Lay Out of Your Vocals:

Because of the space constraints of an article I am only going to touch on a few basic principles regarding practical vocals.  Remember, I am a commercial music copyist.  Most of my work is for studio musicians and my perspective may differ some from a published vocal.  As I have said in many previous articles, my only concern is doing what is best for the studio musician to give them the best opportunity for a one time read down.

Having gotten that caveat out of the way, here is generally what I like to see, in order of priority.

1) Clear Lyrics, at least 12 point, 14 point when practical (the larger the better for some of our more, shall we say, experienced studio singers).

2) Use optimizations wisely.  Don't go crazy with the optimizing tool in your layout.  Using it is a great way to save space but you must be careful to make everything absolutely clear.  You don't want a singer having to bounce around staves having to search for his or her part.

I suggest laying out the number of bars per stave first, before you actually layout each page.  You will be able to see what fits lyric-wise and you will be able to decide how you want to affect optimization.  

For example, I might physically enter a whole rest in a measure of a line on a system that isn't singing during that particular section because I don't want the system to go away during that section.  Perhaps that line is only out for a couple of bars and the visual value of keeping it active (while allowing you to use the optimization boxes to move system staves) out weighs the benefit of removing the line in that particular system.

3) After using the optimizing tool you will be able to adjust the distance between staves of an individual system for particularly complicated passes.  When you click on the Staff Tool you will normally see one handle/box per stave line.  After optimization you will see two, the second of which (bottom box) allows you to move that stave line only without affecting that line in any other system.  

This comes in very handy when you are trying to squeeze an extra system on a page (minor adjustments in several staves can easily bring in another system).  Particularly when you are dealing with vocals, you will have a variety of space requirements on a page (multiple layers, additional lyrics, etc...), so this requires maximum flexibility.

Here are a few other tidbits: a) Number every bar on the bottom stave, all studio musicians need to be able to got to a particular bar as quickly as possible (time is money), b) Print at least 8 1/2 by 11, don't get cute by using the standard published vocal size - the singers will have music stands and it needs to be as large and clear as possible, and c) Talk to studio singers whenever possible, find out what they prefer and see if you can make their life easier, that is what music prep is all about.

I will be posting examples for my suggestions above, so you might want to check back to the article over the next week.  

Take care! Lee Monroe

Lee Monroe is the owner of Express Music Services.  He has been a fulltime copyist for 20 years and was strictly a hand copyist for the first 15.  You can check out his hand music font by following this link - LeeMusic.

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