Live Performance, Studio Work, & Music Publishing

Professional Music Copying

Live Performance, Studio Work, & Music Publishing

Excerpt from the "Lizard's Guide to Music Copying" 

by Lee Monroe

Not every music copyist makes his/her living the same way.  For those of us that are strictly copyists, you will have some that do live, studio, or publishing and some that do all of the above.  Speaking from my experience, they can be vastly different.  It is important to know your venue when you take a job.


My experience is mostly from live performance and studio work, with some limited work with several publishers.  You must be open to what your client needs and wants, being somewhat flexible in the product that you produce.  This is not to say that you should break any fundamental rules of copying, just don’t be so highbrow that you won’t be open minded.  Offer opinions but don’t be condescending (unless you are talking to a friend and you just want to have a little fun).  


Studio Work

If there is one thing that I have learned from over 20 years as a copyist it is this, don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you are not happy with the answers keep asking questions.  It is your reputation on the line and you can rest assured that you will run into composers, or arrangers, or show directors, or music directors, or contractors, or performers who love to blame the copyist for problems that arise (we’re usually the only ones not present).  It is one of the reasons that I am so defensive about it.  Don’t call me up to tell me that we need to make corrections to some work we did when in reality these are changes that have been made since the production of the work.  There is a big difference between the corrections and changes!  You can rest assured that I will make that clear.  It doesn’t take much to label someone as unreliable or sloppy, killer comments in this industry.  Protect your reputation hardily.


You should know instrumentation and be aware of limitations that the performer might have.  Portrait or Landscape, reduction or full sized are important points to know.  Is this an ongoing gig?  Will there be subs involved? Is it a marching gig or sit down.  Is the venue outside or inside? Is it a musical?  Will there be rehearsal time?  When is the deadline, first rehearsal, etc..?  Are the strings doubling on a stand? These and many other questions need to have answers.  Decisions on how to layout a piece of music may be affected by the results.  


By the way, it is unwise to accept a gig with a deadline of “as soon as possible” or “when you can get to it”.  Insist that your client or contractor give you an exact date for when the final product is due, it will save many a headache and potential bad feelings with your client.  You will also be thought of as more professional for insisting.  


Studio Work

For Studio work your goals are very simple – clear, clean, and precise.  Page turns and clarity are paramount.  You should only be interested in what is best for the musician performing.  Don’t try and squeeze too much, make the phrase patterns clear, always carry key signatures and bar numbers.  Make sure that your notation is ultra clear.  Studio musicians read bullets because they recognize patterns easily, make sure that the pattern is correct and simple.  


Don’t rely on a notation just because it is technically correct.  Reiterate information on different pages so there is not a need to refer back.  Help the musician as much as possible; his/her interest should be your focus.  Studio time is very valuable, between paying the musicians, studio time, engineers, etc…, there is little room for error or time delays caused by the musician not having enough clear information.  The final product, the recording, is all that matters.


A Note About Page Turns

Page turns rule in my business.  If I can work it out, I will have rests at the bottom right and top left of every page.  If that is not possible then it is every odd page, so that the musician is always viewing two pages at once and can turn a page without rushing too much or playing while turning.  I prefer to do the rests at the bottom of even pages as well so that the musician has that moment to readjust to the top of the next page.  In some cases, particularly for studio work, or Musicals, or Circus work the page turn is critical.  Even if there are only a few staves on the page, if that’s the only page turn you have, so be it.  Another hint, if your first good page turn is at the bottom right hand side of page two, add a cover page.   



Publishing is a different animal.  When you prepare a published piece, you should give more thought to how many pages you actually create.  There will be more emphasis on this because of the expense of producing thousands of copies of an arrangement, where saving a single page on a few parts can translate into dollar savings for the publisher.  In this age of Finale, these goals are much easier to fulfill.  It’s easier to add staves to a page or even reduce the percentage size of the work in order to squeeze a little more.  In the old days (pen & ink), this was a particular challenge.   As were scores, where I used a blue pencil and a ruler to line up everything.  There was nothing more depressing than to realize that you have “painted” yourself into a corner by not accounting for everything present in the score.  With Finale, you never run out of options and can “play” with different configurations to ultimately find the best one.


My experience with publishing has all been in the Jazz Band arena, there are other books and manuals that better explain what publishers expect for more Classically oriented material.


Take care! Lee Monroe

Lee Monroe is the owner of Express Music Services.  He has been a fulltime copyist for 19 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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