Interview with a Copyist Sensei Part 2

Interview with a Copyist Sensei Part 2

by Jim Roberts, US Army Band


In Part I of “Interview with a Copyist Sensei”, Jim Roberts got Lee Monroe’s perspective on the Music Copyist Industry. They discussed Lee’s background, what characteristics of his copywork he believes are most important, platforms, the process, and peripherals. This week Jim follows up with specific question about the Finale Program and it’s use in the business world, the future of music notation and some advice to pass on to those trying to break into the field.


Use of Finale 

Jim: When did you first start using Finale?

Lee: We had been tinkering with it since around late 1995. Our main client, Disney, had no interest in the look of the computer work until a music director was wondering by my desk and was examining a score page that we had imported our fonts into. (I think it was for Warner Brothers.) He looked at it and said how nice it looked; not realizing that it was done on computer. After that we got permission to do everything on computer. We went cold turkey in the fall of 1996 and I haven’t touched a pen since. 


Jim: Which version are you currently using?

Lee: We have just begun using Finale 2000c. Before that we were using Finale ’97. Coda puts out some pretty flawed programs and each usually needs several upgrades before it is a usable product. Finale 2000 had a glitch where in some cases a file that you were working on could get corrupted and become inoperable. That is just unacceptable in my line where deadlines are crucial. I had a session in LA this week and changes were being made through last weekend. I can’t afford to lose work, time and in the end money. We usually let someone else do the Beta testing for us before we risk moving to a newer version. They keep adding bells and whistles that don’t necessarily make the life of the copyist easier. 


Jim: What versions have you used? (3.5, ’97, ’98, 2000, 2001 etc.)

What strengths and or weaknesses did those other programs have?

 Lee: I have spent the majority of my time using Finale 97. It has the fewest glitches of all the versions that I have worked in. Once I learned it, then I knew exactly what would happen when I did this or that. Later versions have added features that don’t necessarily improve the product. My favorite improvement however, has been the ability to Macro more features through the whole keyboard. Before 2000 we actually used Voice commands to macro functions we used all the time. We could crank along and then say “highlight all”, “space”, “update”, and a few others that really cut down on the menu drops. 


Jim: About how long did it take for you feel confident using Finale? 

Lee: As I mentioned earlier, we went cold turkey. I made that decision for all of us that the only way to learn it was to dive in and not look back. We were right in the middle of several major shows and it was very frustrating. It took half an hour to figure out how to do something with layers that you could have done by hand in a few seconds. Out of necessity we learned it quickly. We also learned from each other. All of us “discovered” features and then would share it with the group. We even developed our own extraction process that is in our opinion, faster and better than the Finale extraction process. It is very important to use the program constantly so that it becomes second nature. So I would say it was about 6 months before I knew the program really well.


Jim: Did you achieve that level of confidence with any other notation program?

Lee: No, the learning curve is tough and it really took some commitment to learn this one as well as I have. I have not been happy that Coda decides to change where things are or how things work with every new version. The new gimmicks don’t always counter balance the time we lose in learning the new features. I encourage all of the copyists and arrangers that we use, to use Finale in-between gigs, recopy an old arrangement or start something new, but do anything to keep Finale familiar. 


Jim: Which music font(s) do you use currently?

Lee: I use LeeMusic for my primary music font and sometimes use RussMusic just because I like the style.


Jim: What about text fonts?

Lee: I use AshAlpha for my text font. Title information is usually done in a more classical looking font, such as Arial, Georgia or something like that (anything but Times Roman).


Jim: What advice can you offer about page Layout? 

Lee: Page turns are the first priority for live musicians. Know the venue for which you are copying. Don’t try to fit too much on a page, but don’t needlessly spread it out. Leave room in-between staves for the musicians to write in. In the old days you would see copywork with 4-bar multi-measure rests on each line (for payment purposes).  The last piece of advice comes from one of my mentors, Sonny Annis, if you have to go to another page then use it.  This basically means that if you have to go to two pages don't cram a lot on page one with only a couple of staves on the next page - use both pages to create a more practical layout for the musician.  I went to charging a page rate based on the number of bars years ago so that my copyists and I could concentrate on the best layout without having to worry about how we were getting paid. 


Jim: Have you ever used Finale to transcribe MIDI Files?

Lee:  We are starting to get into the new field of MIDI Transcriptions. This isn’t as easy as it may sound. We import the MIDI files for the basic voicing, then use the audio to assemble a score from which we do the extractions. To do this properly, each person needs to have copying, Finale, transcription and arranging chops. We set up the score for the director on a session and reproduce it on card stock paper. This is a very exciting field and may open up a whole new clientele to our production company.


Jim: Have you used a scanner to import music into Finale? 

Lee: Yes, but we haven’t had much success with it. I have come to the conclusion that it is better for my people to enter the information rather than scanning because of the time it takes to clean up and edit these scanned files.


Jim: What advice would you offer someone who is just beginning to use Finale.

Lee: Practice! Nothing substitutes for actually doing Finale. Find any excuse to work at it. Many new Finale users come to me but I can’t tell them everything I know at once. I usually introduce them to the basics then after they have some experience I give them a little more. If they are not familiar with where things are within  the program then they won’t have the context in which to understand what I’m telling them to do or how these features work together. 


Jim: How does a person “break” into the music preparation business?

Lee: Find a successful copyist and pick his or her brain. If you hang around enough and show an aptitude for it you will get work through him/her and you will start to develop your own clientele. You must be industrious. Making a living in this business doesn’t happen by accident. You have to generate interest and awareness in order to develop it into a full time profession. Going to a major market like LA would also be one way. I would just say that you should have your chops together before you try that because you may only get one chance to show what you can do. 


Jim: What was the tightest/hardest deadline you’ve had to cope with?

Lee: There have been so many. One in particular occurred a few days before a recording session in London. A well-known composer faxed me the classical score on letter size paper. The score was assembled from several different classical standards with transitions written in between each piece. It was all very notey and nearly illegible. On top of that, the trumpets were playing several different trumpets (Bb, E, A etc.) and we had to prepare Bb parts as well as one with all the transpositions. In the end we successfully completed the project on time and without errors.


Jim: Was Finale helpful in meeting that deadline?

Lee: Sure, the transpositions would have been more difficult and time consuming without Finale. Doing everything on computer also allows me to use copyists all over the country, so it greatly increases our capacity to churn out work. 


Jim: Who are some of the more familiar names for whom you’ve prepared music?

Lee: John Debney, Carmine Coppola, Gavin Greenaway, Gordon Goodwin, Greg Smith, Bill Liston, Matt Cattingub and Rich Shemaria to name a few in the composer/orchestrator field. I have done work for a lot of “name” talent through my association with Disney. 


Wishful Thinking

Jim: Assume you were the head of Coda; what changes would you make in the future?

Lee: What I would NOT do is continue to change the layout every year. Change for the sake of change isn’t necessarily good. My one major pet peeve is how Finale handles lyrics, particularly how you identify what verse a certain lyric is in (type into score should be outlawed). I am constantly editing old material for reuse and this can be a real problem if the originals were not set up properly.


Jim: Where do you see the future of music notation programs heading?

Lee: I believe the industry will become more hi tech and less traditional.  Now that just about anyone can produce their own parts, many of the issues that are important for music copying are overlooked out of ignorance.  We will have to fight to maintain some of the old standards. 


Jim: Any advice you’d like to pass along?

Lee: Firstly, you must have a variety of skills. Just being a copyist isn’t enough. You must be familiar with computers and work to keep up with the latest that is happening in the field. The business is evolving at an incredible pace and you either adapt or you won’t be able to make a living. You must be committed and completely dependable. It doesn’t take much to kill a reputation in this business. The rewards are great though and I personally find a lot of satisfaction working with the talented and gifted individuals I have had the fortune to meet.


Jim Roberts attended the Berklee College of Music, (paying for most of his last semester by copying entire big band charts by hand for a mere $35 each!) Having been in the Army since 1979, he is currently with the US Army Band (Pershing’s Own) at Fort Myer, VA. He performs on Guitar and Bass in the band and helps with copywork as needed. Jim is also an instructor of Jazz Bass and Music Notation at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, located in the picturesque foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

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