WHAT DOES A COPYIST DO?

‘Copying’ is probably one of the most confused and misunderstood jobs in our field of work, so what is this mysterious craft and how does it work?

In its most simplest form, the job of the copyist is to make the music as readable as possible for the session musicians who will be sight reading it. I’m always blown away when I hear London’s finest musicians playing music perfectly on the first take - music that they’ve never heard before in their lives.

WHY IS IT CALLED ‘COPYING’?

This term is taken from the olden days when copyists would literally copy from the conductor score and generate parts by hand writing the ‘dots’. Thankfully, we now have notation programs like Sibelius, Dorico and Finale to generate parts from. The parts are what we call the music that the players read from, and the score is what the conductor reads from, and those in the booth like the composer, orchestrator and engineer etc.

THE PROCESS OF GENERATING PARTS

As part of my bundle service, when I have finished orchestrating the score, I’ll move onto the copying phase of the job. This enables me to go through the parts through with a fine tooth-comb, checking dynamics that may have been missed in the full score and anything else that might look awry. If I’m working from another orchestrator’s score I will then apply my own custom house style to make it look easy and impressive on the eye (thus aiding the musician and making it more enjoyable to look at). Generally though, if I am doing the orchestration and copying, I will work directly into a Sibelius template which has all of my engraving and house style options set up. This saves A LOT of time and the client’s money.

What I’m generally aiming for is a clean look where there is some space both above and below each system. A system basically being a ‘line’ of music. The space is basically so that the player can scribble any adjustments around the music such as dynamic changes or a change of sound such as sul tasto or con sordino in the string section.

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PART PRESENTATION

Above is a sample viola part from LEGO: The Incredibles which I had the pleasure of orchestrating, copying and music prepping (a posh term for the collating and printing of all of the scores and parts). You’ll see that I’ve got bar numbers on every bar so that the player knows exactly where they are at all times, and if the conductor says to go from bar 28, they know exactly where that is. Some copyists put them at the start of every system but I’ve spoken to session players directly and they say they prefer them on every bar.

You’ll see that I’ve written ‘lazily’ in English and ‘espressivo’ in Italian. You might be wondering why I’ve mixed between two languages and that is because I go with the term that will be most easily understood. I have no idea what ‘lazily’ is in Italian, but ‘espressivo’ is a widely used term in Italian, so it’s best to use it in that language (though it would of course be okay to use it in English too - it’s just preference). I’m not that bothered about using Italian-only terms and nobody has ever questioned it as a session.

You ideally want to stick to the phrasing of the music, though that’s not always possible with film music if it’s underscore-y type stuff with music that doesn’t have set 4 bar phrases. I also try my best to keep hairpins on the same system so that they aren’t split, and with a hairpin any longer than 4 bars I use ‘cresc’ or ‘dim’ text to avoid hairpins from being split across systems.

SOUNDING OFF

Working as a copyist is one of those things that sounds easy, but requires a high degree of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t at recording sessions. I’m going to quote something from the Spitfire Audio website because I think that this is something incredibly important, and it highlights just how important a good copyist is.

You can scrimp on many things, but if you think copying is glorified photocopying, you’re mistaken. The single most important thing you need in order to record some music is a pad of music to be on the stands, with the pages in the right order, the cues in the right order. If you don’t have this, you don’t have anything.
— Spitfire Audio

To add to that quote. There is no point having amazing compositions and fantastic orchestrations, only to be let down at the last minute by an inexperienced and bad copyist. Don’t let it happen.