Interview by Jari Williamsson, January/February 2005

Lee is a copyist and the founder and owner of the company Express Music Services. Clients are all over the world and include theme park related work, stage shows, parades, fireworks, and orchestral work. Here he shares some of his experiences regarding music copying in Finale.

What is your background?

I studied Music Education at Florida State University, but left in 1982 and moved to Orlando, Florida where I worked as a professional trumpet player for a few years. I started music copying in college. I had a roommate that majored in composition and I would do his copying for him in exchange for him writing horn charts for a jazz group I had at a local pub in Tallahassee. After moving to Orlando, I supplemented my income by working as a music copyist for Walt Disney World – I was very fortunate that they had an opening at the time and I was able to learn the real business of music copying from Sonny Annis. Before too long I realized I could make better money as a copyist and gave up playing professionally, my swan song performances were playing with a big band at the Montreaux and North Sea Jazz festivals in the summer of 1987.

When did you start to use Finale? Which version? Which version do you use currently?

I began using Finale around 1994-1995, with version 3.0. I had played with some earlier notation programs a few years earlier with disastrous results (I don’t even recall the name of the earlier program, but it used a plotter to write the music). Finale was the first music notation program that could do everything that I could do as a music copyist and could do it faster. I currently prefer version 2002, I have a superstition about relying on the latest version of Finale because of their habit of beta testing on their clientele. I would say that I usually give them and myself 2 years to vet the problems. Having said that, I always have the latest version because I often get material from writers that utilize the latest/greatest edition even if they only have 3.0 chops. If you want to stay on top in the business you must stay current with all of your software.

For which kind of work do you use Finale?

I am a music copyist. Music preparation has evolved over the years but I am still basically that. Writers (composers/arrangers) that I work with or hire also use Finale, but my company will always tweak the scores and do the extractions. I have clients all over the world and regularly record in London, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle – with occasional sessions in Budapest or in Asia. My main business is theme park related work, stage shows, parades, and fireworks, but I also do commissioned orchestra work for various clients.

What additional tools do you have when you work with Finale?

If you are referring to tools within Finale I am a huge fan of Tobias Giesen and TGTools, as well as a lot of the JW plugins. I also use Dolet often because of my desire to work in earlier versions of Finale. If you are talking about tools to do the music copying gig, then I would add Cakewalk Sonar 3 to the mix and PDF Factory Pro (embedding all fonts). I use Whalemail/swapdrive to move large audio and pdf files over the Internet.

Which plug-ins (such as specific functions of TGTools) do you find crucial for your work?

Well, I must say that we love the JW Space Systems plugin as well as the JW Tempo plugin. The Tempo plugin in particular because of the graduation of tempos and the ability to ‘fix’ ghost Finale tempos that remain from using an earlier file as a template many times. I also like TGTools ‘join rests of multi-layers’, ‘tremelo’, and really dig the harp pedaling feature, that helps a lot when we transcribe in midi.

Did you work with hand-written music before using computers for the output? If so, how would you describe the differences? And how was the transition?

Yes, I have been a professional hand copyist since 1982. I used Schaeffer nibs, a beveled triangle straight edge and Higgins engrossing mixed with various inks to add consistency. I had a stand for my pen to always keep it upside down so that the nib would maintain its flow, a sonic pen cleaner, and I wouldn’t dare wear a decent pair of pants to work. I have a tattoo on the tip of the ring finger of my right hand as a result of my desire to keep a valuable out of production fine pen nib from hitting the floor. I always seemed to have had a nagging pain in my neck and spent many all-nighters wondering just what the hell I was doing with my life, not to mention the incessant pecking attempts at getting ink to flow that still haunt an occasional dream. Those who are hand copyists should know from exactly where I speak.

The main differences, ignoring the messy ones, is in the consistency and speed that product can be produced. In the old days, music copying was a little more of an art form. To train a new music copyist took quite a while with no guarantee that the person would ever develop the copyist eye. With computers, you do not have to rely on a person’s artistic ability with a pen but merely their level of comfort with a computer and familiarity with the music notation program. Using a hand style music font those who could never get ‘the look’ before now have more avenues open to them.

My personal transition to Finale was in the mid-nineties. My company, Express Music Services, was managing the Walt Disney Music Library as well as the music preparation services for all of the live musicians on property. We also did the music prep for all of the recording sessions for any parade, fireworks, or stage show that was produced out of our Orlando offices. Professional musicians had grown accustomed to the look of hand copying and the music directors at Disney were no exception. Skepticism broached my discussions towards computer music notation. Ashley Wells, Russ Ward, and I continued to work on developing fonts of our hand work, but it wasn’t until the day a music director walked past my ink-splattered drafting table and noticed a small landscape score remarking how good it looked that I could smile and softly say, “That’s from a computer”. That was the end of any further opposition.

When we finally decided to make the transition, we did it cold turkey. Even if it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to make one measure of drum notation look right, we stayed the course. It was hard and we had no letups in deadlines but it has all been worth it.

I guess the phrase “time is money” is very true in your business; do you have a way to consistently improve workflow in Finale (or finding ways to shorten the time to do a specific task)?

The biggest time issue is when you have to start a project from scratch or adjust how you are doing something in the middle of a project.  So one of the more important things that we do at the beginning of a project is COMMUNICATE! I talk with the composers and/or orchestrators as to how they do things and what software versions they are using. In the case of midi composers, we try to catch them before they enter into the demo phase to request certain layouts and procedures for their midi files. If a composer or orchestrator works in Finale, we will provide them with templates so that many of the extraction and settings issues are resolved before they occur. Finally, I have a laundry list of things to check and screen in the score before we start our extraction process so that we do not have to duplicate efforts if an error is found or other adjustments need to be made.

Another time saver is the way we extract parts – I have never been a fan of Finale’s extraction process so we have developed our own over the years that saves time. This probably will elicit questions about our extraction process. Well, I will say that it has proven faster and better for us, but it is full of little land mines that if you mess up one step of the process you can get into real trouble. We have been doing it for years and I check everyone’s work before it goes to print, so it works for us but probably not for the average user.

You have created 2 well-known fonts, LeeMusic and LeeText. How would you describe these fonts? Do you use these fonts for all your work?

I was the hand copyist from which the font was taken. Also Russ Ward and Ashley Wells were hand copyists from the same office. Ashley Wells is actually the person that used Fontographer to create the fonts. We all gave him many examples based on the Petrucci character map from which he scanned and digitally traced these to create the fonts.

We only use our fonts in our work. Personally I have always been a big fan of Russ Ward’s work and I use his font for vocals in particular.

In what format do you deliver the end product to your clients?

As usual, we print to a weighted paper (80 or 90wt) tape bound. We get the paper cut for us as 11 x 17 so we can print 2 pages per, reducing taping. Scores are usually 11 x 17 portrait taped or spiral bound on 80 to 100 wt paper.  Since we record all over the world and it is the nature of our business that we have the ability to work up to the last minute, we have had the pleasure of developing working relationships with other copy houses to print and deliver material at their particular locations. When we record in Seattle we use Robert Puff of RPM Seattle, in LA we use Scott McRae of Hayen Music, and in London we have used Nick Mera and Rob Sneddon of Dakota Music – all of these work at the absolute highest professional level and it has been our good fortune to develop these relationships. We send our material to them in 1200 dpi pdf format.

In your opinion, which are the most important aspects of well-engraved commercial music?

Well, my field is somewhat unique in that my major concern is clarity and page turns. I have a luxury that many in the publishing realm do not and that is that I am not that concerned with the page count. Since I produce music mainly for recording sessions and not for mass production, the cost of a few extra pieces of paper is insignificant to the hourly cost of the recording musicians in LA or London. My number one focus is doing what I think is best for the playing musician. Laying out the piece in a way that the player can read down the music with less concern for what is facing them at the upper left hand of the next turn is paramount. This is another reason I charge by the page based on bar count, so that I do not let anything but the musician’s best interest enter the picture.

Since your main objective with a part is that it should be easy to play from, how do you approach a fresh, just extracted part (from a Finale user’s point of view)?

We have a rather unique way to extract parts. We have a system where we extract one part and paste everything else into it. There is about a 12 step process that ensures that we clear the old information and insert the new information with no errors. So we take a little more time with that first extraction to make sure that the titling information on all pages, as well as the margins and basic layout is good. We get a sense from that first extraction what the page percentage needs to be (80 to 85% normally, but really busy parts or intense vocals might go down to 75%). We have already checked through the score to ensure that all double bars, key changes (though we often work in ‘no key’ for recording sessions), and measure attached information is accurate, so when we extract that first part we are moving the measure attached expressions generally where we want them so as to do as few adjustments as possible on subsequent parts.

For recordings, are page turns in soft music a consideration you must take into account?

Wow, that’s a good question that has never come up before. With recording technology today, I don’t think that it is much of an issue. But in most multiple page cases, we endeavor to provide significant page turns so that the musician has plenty of time to make the best decision as to when to turn the page. It has never been an issue that has been brought to my attention.

Are you as a copyist sometimes “on site” on recordings? If so, what kind of Finale work is expected from you at such sessions?

We normally deal with some pretty high level orchestrators and there is little doubt what we are getting from each recording. But there have been times that we are rewriting at the session and new parts have to be reproduced quickly. As I mentioned in one of the earlier questions, I use copy houses in several of the large recording areas (London, LA, Seattle, etc…) to print and deliver my work to these sessions, so when this type of work is needed they have copyist that can handle the work on site. I will send them the Finale files, they already have all of the fonts that we use and they can produce what is needed on site. The copyists at our level have to produce an enormous amount of work in short periods of time, so these situations are not too difficult to deal with.

In what format(s) do you get the raw material from your clients?

This is a very interesting subject in the context of the evolution of music copying. I must say that rarely do I get material hand written on scores anymore. There are some great writers though, who are so talented they could write music while taking a shower, that still produce hand written scores at a pace that could not be matched by any ability they might develop on computer.

But the demands of clients that demos be of such quality that there is no question what they are getting (no more plinking things out on the piano) has moved many composers in the direction of writing in midi. The usual procedure is to produce in midi, have someone do a basic midi transcription, and then give the transcription to an orchestrator before finally giving the material to the copyist.

A few years back we decided to try to advance the level of transcriptions in a way that would reduce the process. Many of the composers we used were also orchestrators and we discussed with several of them the idea of taking a little extra care in their demos and we in turn would produce nearly finished scores for them. We have had such success with this that it is rarer to get a hand written score than it is to get something as a midi file.

Different composers need different services. Some will give us midis tracked out as a score with only percussion or particular instrument sounds representing additional tracks, some give us 80 or so tracks of information and we then make choices and consolidate these to workable scores, and then there are those composers that do not score in which we do the transcription in ‘scroll-view’ and leave blank the ‘page-view’ so that an orchestrator can work in our Finale templates with the transcription at their fingertips.

Since you receive much MIDI files from your clients, what is your approach to importing MIDI files into Finale? How do you start the import into Finale? How do you (for example) judge if a short note should be a “full duration + staccato dot” or “half duration + half duration rest”?

We do not rely solely on Finale to do our transcriptions. Finale has difficulty distinguishing layered moving parts and I am often surprised at the choices that it makes in regards to rhythms. I have a 2 screen set up for my computer, on one screen I will have Finale with the imported Midi file as well as a Score template for the instrumentation of our current project. On the other screen I will have Cakewalk’s Sonar 3 up with the same midi file imported to it. With these 2 programs, I will also have the audio file up to actually hear what the composer intends. Between these 3 programs, we are able to use our musical experience to make decisions regarding dynamics, articulations, and phrasing. On unusually large scores, 400 plus bars, and transcriptions that are expected to be near finished work (meaning that the complete orchestration is derived from the midi file rather than through another orchestrator) the copyists involved will often get together in a sort of round table to discuss each section of the score to ensure consistency through all of these issues as well as voicing choices that are made when consolidating tracks.

In what direction would you like Finale to move in the future?

Hmm, I just want a functional music preparation program. My business or the effectiveness of it has changed very little with each new version of Finale. In fact each new version has been a hassle. I get all of my 3rd party macros or voice commands set up and functioning and BOOM! - Finale rearranges everything for no apparent reason. I am more interested in it remaining a stable platform for 3rd party programmers who are in the trenches writing useful plugins than I am in it trying to get the original program to be all things to all people.