This is another term which is largely misunderstood by many in our community, not out of sheer ignorance but misunderstanding. For instance, I remember when I first started out in the business, I had no idea what a fixer’s job was, or even that they existed at all.
THE DARK ART OF MUSIC PREPARATION
So, what is music preparation? Let’s break it down into a typical job that I might undertake if I was working as a copyist/music prep guy for a client.
I would receive either PDF’s or a notation file such as Sibelius from the copyist or orchestrator. I prefer to receive Sibelius files if at all possible because it’s quicker and therefore saves previous time and money.
Once everything is printed, I then start the part taping process. In a studio environment, parts are taped when they’re longer than an A3 page spread which is obviously two pages of A4 but on one A3 landscape spread. This is basically to reduce noise when page turning - any noise from a page will be picked up in the recording.
The score that the conductor reads from is also taped to reduce any page turn noise, but the scores that are read by the engineer, orchestrator and composer in the booth are bound for aesthetics and because the noise created from turning a page in a bound score isn’t a problem in the control room.
As a rule of thumb, the conductor, orchestrator and composer have an A3 bound score, whilst the engineer and pro tools op have A4’s because they’re not looking at the score as in-depth as orchestrators and composers are - using it as a guide more than anything.
The conductor scores feature one-sided music (because the score is taped), and the bound scores in the control room are printed back-to-back. This saves paper and money!
Once I have taped the parts, it is then time to ‘collate’ them and ‘pad up’. This means that the parts need to go (generally in chronological order, unless stated otherwise on the cue sheet) into individual folders such as FLUTE, VIOLIN I, ‘CELLO etc. This means that every desk of strings have their own music to read from and so forth across the whole orchestra. At this point, it is imperative to check and check again to make sure no parts are missing and every part is in order. You don’t want added stress by having to reprint parts that are missing at the session!
Once the parts have been collated and taped, I will then sort out the binding or hole-punching of the scores and the taping of the conductor scores. This can be quite a time consuming process. If it takes you 6 minutes to tape (to a high quality) a 15 page A3 score, times that by potentially 30 or 40 cues for a big movie and you’ve got yourself several hours of work there just from the taped conductor scores alone. Sometimes string parts can be quite long and involve lots of taping. If you times that by how many desks there are and how many cues there are, you can see how the hours begin to tally up.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MUSIC PREPARATION
You’re probably thinking right now how this seems like the easiest job in the world. All you have to do is print and put paper into folders. Well, in a way, you’re correct, but the reason this job is so important is because without it, music will not be recorded, regardless of how well the music is written or orchestrated.
This is the final piece of the puzzle and if you cut corners here or try to save money by getting your mate from the pub with a desktop printer to do the job, the whole project will likely come crashing down and you’ll have pumped thousands (potentially even hundreds of thousands) of pounds into a project that has fallen short at the last hurdle. Music preparation is about being organised and methodical. It’s not uncommon to have a thousand odd pages lying around and if you’re not careful you can easily get bamboozled by the sheer scale of a project. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the pages taped correctly and having every page of every cue in its folder in the correct place on the day of recording.
One thing to bear in mind about this job is that there are material costs involved. Printer toner (which is VERY expensive with a high quality laser printer), paper (again, very expensive if you’re going for thicker paper), printer maintenance, binding coils, tabs, folders, stickers. The list goes on and all of this adds up. This is bundled into the music preparation budget/quote and is why the fees can be quite high for this part of the job.
This is just a brief insight into what’s involved, but be rest assured that this is one of the most important parts of the whole process and is often overlooked. Be sure to leave enough of your budget for music preparation and your session will run like clockwork!