Finale Tips – Copyism #4 & 5: Reliable, Smart

In previous entries I talked about the nuts and bolts of copying/engraving: fast, neat, and accurate. As it is with most things, however, getting the job done involves more than simply doing the work; it involves those weird things that have nothing directly to do with the job itself, but everything to do with whether or not you’ll get that call. Getting the gig is only the 1st step; getting called back is the next.

Get Smart

First, I want to talk about being “smart”. What does it mean? The obvious answer is knowing your subject matter. You can never know everything about anything, but you can always strive to know as much as you can. For example, I don’t have as great a handle on jazz as I’d like, but I constantly strive to be better, and in the end I’m probably better with it than I give myself credit for. I make a constant study of all aspects of music, and I take lessons from whatever job I do. Every day, every gig is a learning experience, and I do mean EVERY – even the “bad” ones. Often times I learn more from the bad ones than the good.

Apart from the music, being “smart” deals more with the business aspect of what we do, like not needing to be told something more than once. The old adage is that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, however, having to have an answer repeated could qualify. Gauge whether or not asking will avert a disaster, because someone would happily repeat an answer before having something fall apart on a session because something wasn’t clear.

Being smart also means using a certain intuition. When you work with people long enough, you learn how they work, and how other people work. I once got a hand-scribbled mess from one of the arrangers I work with, who was pressed for time and in the middle of juggling a dozen other things. It was for a specialized ensemble I know very well. He gave me a few simple instructions, and then eventually said “you know what to do” (trust!). In copying it, there was a clef error; given the voicing of the rest of it, it was clearly the wrong clef. Was it worth calling about? No, not with something obvious like that; I know what he MEANT. Plus, I was making the reference score for the video booth, so it would be fixed anyway. It’s not uncommon for a copyist to be cross-trained as a composer or arranger, so we’re often relied upon to proof it as we go. I see nothing wrong with fixing the odd note here or there; I just make a list and confirm it afterwards so the changes can be made to the final score if needed. If you make the composer/arranger look good, they’ll call you again.

There is another factor to consider, and I may get some flak over this: it’s important to remember the importance of the bottom line. It is known throughout the industry that copyists can sink a project with extra costs. Music productions have limited budgets, so cutting costs wherever possible is always on the mind of “Captain Crunch”. This is, of course, not solely the copyists fault; an arranger who needs to make changes at the behest of a fickle or flighty director, conductor, board, etc. can have a direct effect on the total on that invoice. While it’s an inevitability, it’s a good idea to at least be sensitive to these things. Being flexible enough to work with people is absolutely crucial. By all means, make sure you get paid what your services are worth, but recognize that anything you can do to make someone else’s life a little easier can go a long way to ensuring future employment.

Here are some words of wisdom I heard once from Ed Neumeister, paraphrased:

1. Keep your mouth shut, your ears open
2. Play/work your ass off
3. Don’t be a (f-word) drag

The first 2 are obvious. You can’t learn much if you’re doing all the talking, and nothing replaces hard work. An overabundance of natural talent is a gift, but it doesn’t replace anything.

Not being a drag is a finer science. Think about the people you can’t stand working with, or people who do little things that annoy you. Now put those into a stressful environment and little things get magnified by about 100. Strive to be even-tempered. Get the drama out of your life. Be the person everyone wants to work with. That carries almost equal weight to ability. People will always hire someone they can get along with before someone who can play circles around everyone but is a pain in the neck.


The first rule of reliability is something I’ve heard others call “musician early”. Never be late. Never, never, never be late. Early is on time, on time is late, and late is FIRED. Although in the music world, “fired” is the same as “not getting called back”. It’s a little less dramatic, but just as meaningful.

I read alot of books about Special Forces of various services and areas of conflict. I just find them interesting reading, mostly because they talk about extreme physical stress, and pushing your body and mind to their limits. I also occasionally read field manuals and other bits of military trivia. One of the bits that has stuck with me was in the description of the Army Rangers, “100% reliable”. Think about that: can anyone of us truly say that we are 100% reliable? About anything? In their motto, they pledge to accomplish the mission lest they be the lone survivor; THAT’s dedication. Get it done – at any cost.

Of course, we’re talking about music here, not capturing airfields, but the message can be applied. I strive to be 100% reliable. I want people to know that no matter what, they can trust me to get the job done. “Late” doesn’t exist in my vocabulary. Once, in the middle of an all-nighter at the Kennedy Center, copying a huge dance number that was being copied as it was being written, one score page at a time, several hours before the 1st rehearsal, I came down with food poisoning. It was by far one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. Eyewitnesses can attest to the fact that I was hurling my guts out all night long (copy a page, puke, copy, puke, etc.). I was miserable and sick as a dog, but I still got my parts done, on-time. I felt like a sack of manure the next day, but I did it, and I can bet you that people took notice (well, a guy barfing his guts out is hard to ignore).

Thus concludeth the lesson.

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