Practical Tips for Professional Music Copyists

Practical Tips for Professional Music Copyists

 by Lee Monroe

So you’ve made that commitment to become a professional music copyist, now you need to have a plan and some idea of the market you’re shooting for.  There are basically two camps of people that produce parts today: 1) Music Copyists, those who work as copyists almost exclusively and 2) Composer/Arrangers that now can produce their own parts without having to find a dependable copyist.



Since I am a professional copyist and not an arranger, I will address issues from that point of view.  When considering the market for music copyists there is good news and not so good news.  The not so good news is that there are only a few places where you can make an exceptional living as a music copyist: Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London, or a handful of other major cities that have a good recording studio base.  I know that there are exceptions, so no flame mail please.  The good news is that with technology, your options are much greater than they have been in the past.


My company’s situation is one of those exceptions.  We are based out of Orlando, Florida and have a few major clients.  Through these clients, we have made many other contacts around the world and are able to expand our client base without having to be in a major recording location.  With technology, I can service these clients without the usual time delay associated with having worldwide clients.  We have clients in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and several European countries.  Often the development phase will consist of posting demos electronically, eliminating the time and distance difference.  We do our recording sessions in those major cities I mentioned earlier; the quality of studio musicians from LA, NY, and London cannot be matched (again, no flame mail).


I also have copyists, which contract for me, who are not from Orlando.  These are generally computer and Internet savvy individuals who work well on their own and can be relied upon to meet deadlines.


I would have to say that in today’s market it is more difficult to be a copyist exclusively.  Of the copyists that I use who are only copyists, they were all hand copyists at one point and just needed to learn the computer notation program that we use.  There are some excellent hand copyists that we have used in the past, but it is impractical to use them now because they could not make that leap to computer notation.  The copyists that we train now are mostly arrangers who use their newfound copy chops to produce their own parts.  Because they write their own charts, they have plenty of opportunity to develop their music notation skills.


I would not advise a new copyist to learn to copy with pen & ink.  It is a slow, arduous process with no guarantees of success.  It takes longer to perfect and you really won’t know if you’re any good until you have devoted a great deal of your life to it.  You need to learn one of the top music notation programs; at this point those would be either Finale or Sibelius.  My company uses Finale and all my copyists must do the same.   We have nothing against Sibelius, we started with Finale and it does everything we need it to do as copyists.


It is important that you have some understanding of the market in which you wish to work, which program(s) are prevalent in that market, and who are the major players in that market.  Do your homework and then do the wood-shedding.  I can pretty much assure you that going through a college course in computer music notation will not prepare you for life as a professional copyist.  You must introduce yourself to someone in the industry and learn the ropes.  Like any other specialized profession you have to be persistent and when you get the opportunity, you must be prepared.


I receive many emails from copyists looking for work; they provide resumes or give me a URL to their site.  That doesn’t really work for me.  I want to see examples of their work (actual files so I can examine the detail) and I want to get to know them.  I want them to understand what I expect from my copyists and I want to learn about their thoughts regarding commercial copywork.  I will say that I have met several copyists through our site that I would use in a heartbeat, because I have gotten to know them on a personal level (through email or phone calls) and their work on a professional level. 


The music business is a highly interpersonal profession.  I’ll never forget talking to a trumpet player from the Stan Kenton band in the 70’s; I asked him what does it take to get on the band.  He said it’s not just about the playing, paraphrasing he said something like this “There are better players out there than me, but you have to be able to get along with the other musicians on the road.”  


The music-copying field is the same.  You must know the copyists that you are working with.  We depend on each other; it only takes one of us on a project to totally wreck the reputation that has taken us years to develop.   My advice is to begin to develop those relationships with some working copyists.  You will learn about the markets that might interest you and have better information about how to crack into them.


To recap, here are the main questions that you will need to answer: 1) Which market do I want to pursue and where is the best place for me to be, 2) Who are some of the players in those markets and how do I contact them, 3) Which program(s) are being used, and 4) Do I have the right attitude?  The first three can be answered with a little investigation and persistence.  The last question, you probably already have an answer to or you wouldn’t be pursuing this information here.  Good luck, my next article will be more technical in nature and deal with the “art” of music copying.

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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