Interview with a Copyist Sensei Part I

Interview with a Copyist Sensei Part I

by Jim Roberts, US Army Band

Jim Roberts is an instructor at Shenandoah University where he teaches ďMusic Notation.Ē  Last month Jim contacted Express Music to get our viewpoint on the Music Copy Industry.  His objective was to offer his students as many perspectives on the practice and business of music prep as possible. Jim interviewed Lee Monroe, the President of Express Music and a copyist for 20 years. The following is a 2 part series of that interview transcript.



Jim: Were you a hand copyist before you started using a computer for notation?


Lee: I hand copied some in college (1978-1982) for a roommate who was an arranger. I would trade out my work for arrangements for a jazz group I had been playing with at a local nightclub. I moved to Central Florida in 1982 as a musician and began copying professionally for Disney to supplement my income. It almost immediately turned into a fulltime job. I worked with three other experience copyists Ė Russ Ward, Dan Stamper, and a guy I call the godfather of music copying in our area, Sonny Annis. I learned a great deal from these guys and became quite good at emulating each of their styles depending on what mood I was in. I hand copied all the way up to 1995 when we developed our music fonts for use with Finale. Itís been exclusively on computer since then.   


Jim: What are some of the characteristics of music copying that you try to present, either of your own compositions/arrangements or those of others? 


Lee: Everything has to be clean and clear as a bell. I am not as much a stickler for the perfect technique as I am about what is the best for the musician. Most of the work I do is for recording sessions and there isnít any room for confusion. Page turns are important, vital really. We try to do everything we can do to make the studio musicianís life easier.


In regards to arrangers, I cannot understand the ones who donít think creating a clean score is important. Some think that this effort is beneath them, especially young arrangers, and I will say this Ė you had better be the Second Coming of Gordon Goodwin if you want to get hired by me. Given the choice of two equal talents, it could be the difference. This point is, after all, to give the copyist the proper information so that he can then pass it on to the performing musician. I try to teach the young arrangers this and if I have any leverage at all (i.e. Iím paying them), then they will do it to my satisfaction. By and large, the really accomplished orchestrators/arrangers/composers have very clean scores and take care to make them readable. 



Jim: Which platform do you use, Windows or Mac? 


Lee: Iíve used a PC from the beginning. I have always been a computer hobbyist beginning with the earliest Commodores (Vic 20) and some of the first DOS based machines. So I am very comfortable with that environment.  


Jim: Have you noticed any appreciable difference with Finale on either platform?


Lee: My experience with Apple products is somewhat limited. I did use an early notation program on some Apple IIeís, but I only used that application on them. I donít think that there are appreciable differences between the platforms today in regard to music software. Since I use mine for much more and I do a lot of tinkering with it, I like the fact that third party peripherals seem easier and less expensive for the PC than the MAC. I have copyists that use both and we donít have any problems. If asked my personal opinion, I would suggest a PC. 


Jim: If youíre an arranger/ composer, do you do the creative part of the writing with Finale, sequencer or pencil and paper? 


Lee: If you are asking me personally, I do it all within Finale. As a production company, we deal with guys who still create on paper, some in either Finale or Sibelius, and some that sequence their entire compositions. 


Jim: What kind of MIDI keyboard do you use? Is that one you would recommend?


Lee: For me the MIDI Keyboard is simply an input device, so any will do. Currently I have a Roland D-50 at work and something simpler at home. Whenever we want to dress up a file, we throw it into Cakewalk with a SoundBlaster Live! Soundcard, import or create our own samples and develop our playback files there. On our publishing site, all of our streaming audio samples are done with this technique with the occasional overdub of a live musician. Your students should check out some of our Jazz charts to get a sense of what can be done.


Jim: What kind of printer do you use? Is that one you recommend?


Lee: At work I have a HP4+ and an HP4v for the 11x17 format. Both of these printers are adequate with a top end of 600 DPI. They are a little slow but are very dependable. At home, I have a cheap Brother laser printer, but it works great and easily meets my needs. If you are publishing and need something in the 1200 DPI range, then I would recommend Lexmark.  Lexmark puts out some good economical printers that can fulfill your needs. 


Some of the topics to be discussed in Part II will include which versions of Finale Lee uses and which he recommends, what is considered to be the Finale learning curve, what kind of fonts he prefers, transcription of MIDI Files and breaking into the music preparation business. 

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