Making A Living As A Music Copyist

by Lee Monroe

Develop the Craft Ė As in anything, particularly in the music industry, you must be prepared.  You will never know when or where a life changing opportunity may occur.  Try your best to find and pick the brain of a good copyist (some times easier said than done).  

  • Donít expect to be making decent bread until you have some legitimate Ďchopsí.  When someone is interested in working for my company, I usually give them something casual to do first. I give them a reasonable deadline (deadlines are what this business is all about after all) and some basic guidelines. Usually what I get back needs a lot of work.  I examine the file in detail, write a critique, and propose changes. I then send it back to the fledgling copyist.  After I receive the new file, I go through the same process and have essentially proofed the chart.  The files my core copyists send me are practically flawless (thatís why I use them.) Therefore, when a copyist is trying to get into my group, he/she must prove himself/ herself at that level of performance.  You might not make the full rate until you have proven you are competent at the required level. This is called paying for lessons. All successful professionals have done this, (working for less or even nothing, to get the experience or the opportunity to work with a top professional).

Understand the Market Ė You must acquire knowledge of the market in which you intend to work.

  • Research.  Talk to every professional that you can find.  Try and learn which services are producing movies, theme parks, cruise lines, traveling shows, state fairs, recording sessions, etc.  You might make contacts that could lead to something you never imagined.  Donít be afraid to ask questions, I can joke about people who ask dumb questions because I have slung some pretty silly questions of my own.

  • Donít go off half-cocked.  What appears simple on the outside never is.  I chuckle ironically to myself when I see some of the postings to Finale and copyist related bulletin boards regarding pricing (i.e. using the Finale note counting system, or wanting to charge less because using Finale is easier).  I would plant a significant wager that these individuals are not full-time copyists and were never hand copyists.   In many ways Finale is easier, but itís not as simple as most understand it to be.  What appears to be all right on the surface can be a disaster underneath.  My company reuses material like crazy. We are constantly editing and combining material for various shows and venues.  If my original material is flawed, it may require a complete redo in order to get the appropriate final product. 

  • Pricing.  Learn your market and what the market will bear.  Generally, the copyist community is pretty civil. However, a sure fire way to make yourself a pariah is to come into a market you donít know and go spouting off about how you ďcan do it better and cheaper.Ē Usually this is a sign of a clueless person.  Subcontract to an established service and learn the pricing ropes before you consider going out on your own.

Quality of Service Ė There is no substitute for establishing a successful copying business than providing great customer service and a quality product.  If you are serious and do your homework, you might have one critical chance to break into the big time as a copyist.  The music production community is not that large and your reputation will be with you forever. Networking is a very critical element in developing work. You must nurture your status and protect how you are perceived within the industry.    

These comments just hint at what it takes to become a professional copyist.  Like anything else, your own expectations define your success.  Realize too, that these are opinions from my little corner of the world and results may vary (sorry, couldn't resist).

Lee Monroe is the owner of Express Music Services.  He has been a fulltime copyist for 18 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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