Midi Transcriptions:  A New Era for Music Copying

Midi Transcriptions:  

A New Era for Music Copying 

by Lee Monroe

Sounds a little melodramatic, doesn’t it?  It will no longer be enough to be just a copyist… that is if you want to work at a high level.  I am sure that there are and will be exceptions to this but the trend I see from my little corner of the world is that composers are more and more eliminating the step of putting their work to paper.  Midi transcriptions have been around for a few years, but it is becoming more and more apparent that if you want to be a full-time professional in the music preparation business, you will be required to learn this skill. 

I will explain a little about our process, to help demonstrate how it can work.  There are probably several subscribers to this newsletter who have a different perspective and who are very successful in their own right.  I would love to print some of those perspectives if any of you would like to drop me a line.

Midi Compositions

With the proliferation of composers and even orchestrators that do all of their work on Midi, a need was created for individuals who could properly translate the Midi information into “correct” music notation for the performers; that is for either the studio or live musician.

Many programs that composers will use can offer some music notation interpretation.  However, it still has a long way to go in making many of the calls a transcriber has to make.  Articulations, dynamics, and proper rhythm notations are just part of the problem.  Often I will get a midi file that has evolved from the initial demo until the client is satisfied.  The composers will continue to add tracks to get an effect for these new demos until we sometimes have several different tracks of strings or brass with many different effects.  It is part of transcriber’s job to do his/her best to interpret all of these inputs to create scores that can mimic the effect and still be performed by a 45-piece orchestra in a studio.

Those copyists who are also arranger/orchestrators have a leg up here.  They have a better feel for the correct interpretations.  On my staff I have several arranger/copyists, in fact I would say that most of my copyists come from pretty complete musical backgrounds.

Types of Transcriptions 

There are basically two different types of transcriptions. 

Composing with no Orchestration

The first is a transcription of a demo that has not been prepared from the perspective of an orchestration.  The composer is simply creating, knowing that at some point in the process someone else will do the detail work of orchestration. 

In this case the transcriber will prepare a score with as much music information as possible that will assist the orchestrator.  To do the transcription we will require the general midi file and an audio file (wav preferred but mp3, wma, or any similar format will do).  The Midi score will be prepared in a music notation program (we use Finale), made into a PDF (portable document file), and then sent to the composer for approval.  Once the composer has approved the Midi score, we will get him/her and one of our orchestrators on the phone together to talk through the composition so that the orchestrator has a good understanding of what the composer wants.  Our orchestrators are very good with the music notation program that we use so they can often work directly off of the Midi score that we created.

Once the orchestration is done, another PDF is created of the score and sent to the composer for final approval.  Part extraction is then done.

We recently had a project exactly like this, a stage show with about 30-40 minutes worth of music.  The client was in Paris, the composer in New York (Peter Lurye), the orchestration & the music prep was done in Orlando, and the recording session was in Budapest, Hungary.  Everything was done via the Internet except for a few phone calls.  We contracted a printing service in Budapest and saved a week’s worth of delivery time (without any hassle from customs).

Full Orchestration

The second general type is when the composer wants his Midi work to be represented precisely as an orchestration.  These transcriptions are more challenging and require much more knowledge on the part of the transcriber.  Gavin Greenaway is a composer that we have worked with in the past that operates in this fashion.

On these difficult transcriptions I will assign different instrument families to different copyists and then we will all get together to discuss and come to a consensus for what is most appropriate, particularly in regards to articulations and dynamics.

It is very helpful if the composer can send us audios with isolated instrument family tracks (strings, brass, percussion, vocals, etc…).  This will allow us to be more precise and make better decisions when condensing multiple tracks to the number of staves needed for a session.

Composition Transcription & Orchestration Transcription

It is now, more often than not, the standard operating procedure to transcribe the composers Midi.  Because of the expectations of clients for high-quality demos, the composer is forced to spend even more time and effort with the Midi, which leaves less time and energy for putting his composition to paper.

Oftentimes though, the orchestrator is also doing his orchestrations in Midi.  The orchestrator will get the initial Midi tracks from the composer and equipped with the PDF of our Midi score transcription proceeds to add his/her orchestration tracks over the original Midi.  We then get the new Midi file and updated audios to transcribe the new orchestration, create a new PDF score and send it off for approval by the orchestrator.

Communication Is Essential

Communication is the key to the success of this process.  You must have a good working relationship with the composers and orchestrators.  You must learn to ask questions from the very beginning of the project, trying to anticipate potential problems.  Getting something wrong because of a fear of sounding musically dumb will have a far greater consequence than a little embarrassment from asking a silly question.  A quality composer’s or orchestrator’s time is quite valuable and the transcriber/copyist needs to prepare a list of pertinent questions to ask in order to keep the intrusion to a minimum.

That is the gist of it.  There are many more details when you start getting into the actual transcriptions (quantization, voicing, dynamic interpretation, etc.), but now you have at least been exposed to some of the technology that is happening out there in our business. 

Our company has customers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and North America, so finding the best ways to use technology is the key to making the world smaller and keeping our clients happy.  

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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