The Pressure Cooker
Deadlines are a ubiquitous feature of any business. Things have to be done on time and there’s often a “drop dead” deadline for certain aspects of a project, or it can no longer move forward. Entire careers are based on being able to manage projects to meet deadlines, i.e. project managers. The pressure is always to deliver a finished product on time and on budget (but that’s another topic for another day).
In the music preparation industry, some of the most difficult deadlines are recording sessions. For example, recently at Engraver’s Mark Music, we had a situation where, following 4 days of 12 hour recording sessions for another project, there was 3,000+ pages of parts and 1,500+ pages of scores to prepare, print, assembly, bind and organize to deliver to another session in less than 12 hours for the following day. That’s right, we had less than 12 hours to finish this project and deliver to the studio by 9am for a 10am start time. In situations like this, there is a very obvious deadline; at 10am, the orchestra is recording and there better be music on the stand, it better be the right music and it better be correct. That’s a lot of pressure.
Even during the recording session, the pressure doesn’t let up. Let me give you another example: for the project mentioned above, we had a 60 piece string section and a 20 brass section. Additionally, there were engineers and assistance engineers, producers, orchestrators and various other people involved with the project that were at the session. And everyone there is being paid by the hour, including the rental of the studio itself. Let’s say we have 90 people at the session making $75 per hour. That comes out to $6,750 per hour. Divide that by 60 minutes and that makes $112.50 per minute. Add the studio rental cost and it could come out to more that $130 PER MINUTE. That is really expensive. And, it makes every mistake that costs time, or any part that’s missing, really stand out. If there’s a problem with the music that requires a rewrite or there’s a missing part in the 10th stand of violins, even if that only take 3 minutes to rectify, that would cost the client nearly $400. This is a really high cost for a simple mistake.
Similar deadlines are also present in the music publishing world. Engraver’s Mark Music works with many publishers and they all demand their music is perfect before making it available for their customers, because if they have to deal with constant customer service calls or complaints, their profits tank. Similarly, if the IT department is trying to deal with finding and organizing digital files that should have delivered in better condition but now are costing them time to fix before they are available for sale, it makes the company look bad and could delay the release of the product, all because of issues with the music preparation and delivery.
This is the pressure cooker of the music preparation industry; do you have the systems, the processes and practices and people to deliver. It shows all the flaws and inefficiencies in stark relief. Sometimes, there’s just no room for even the smallest mistake, whether that’s fair or not.
However, there’s something really awesome that happens because of this kind of pressure. Pressure and time can work wonders. Take a diamond for example. A diamond is rather ugly lump of coal that has been transformed over time by enormous pressure and heat within the earth. The intense pressure over time refines the coal, changes into something else which is far more valuable. Coal by itself is useful, but diamonds, besides being a girl’s best friend, are unique and rare in the natural world. In the jewelry industry, diamonds are even graded on just how close to absolute perfection they are.
In business, this kind of pressure results in companies learning to sink or swim. You have to deliver; no 2nd chances. Engraver’s Mark Music has been working under these conditions for more than a decade and it has refined us. What all that pressure has taught us is to be constantly ready to change and adapt, while also refining our systems and processes we have in place to ensure the most accurate and highest quality products possible are delivered, consistently, for every project, every time. And this kind of refinement is not only for those major projects. If fact, it benefits smaller projects, companies, composers and orchestrators perhaps even more than most because with Engraver’s Mark Music, they get more done, faster, with efficiency and dedication to perfection that makes their time and money well spent, and providing significant savings for both areas, especially when the budget is tight and the time is short.
Let Engraver’s Mark Music help ease the pressure on you and your project; we have the experience to handle the pressure, all the tools to accomplish what needs to be done, manage the workflow and delivery of your music, and provide the highest quality music preparation to make your project a success. Let us take the heat, we can handle it!
Can You Practice Music Engraving?
There are many sides to a lot of industries that don’t seem to have a lot to do with the industry itself. For example, General Motors (GM to the layman out there) makes cars. Duh. Well, GM has something called GM Financial, which is their in-house financing service, which started with the goal of providing loans for customers to purchases GM products. GM Financial now makes many other kinds of loans and, I would hazard a small bet, is far more profitable than the business of actually making cars. It seems strange that a entire part of a car manufacturing company, is actually a financial services company. Or maybe that’s just very smart business (which, incidentally, it is).
The music preparation “industry” can, at times, feel distant from the actual music we are privileged to work on. Largely, companies like Engraver’s Mark Music make sure the music in written clearly, cleaning up and editing scores and parts so there are no collisions with expressions and notes or articulations and alike, and then doing a vast amount of digital file organization, printing, taping, organizing, etc. etc. All these tasks are vital to getting well written and accurately engraved music in front of a player, but they are also very non-musical at times. Much of this can be done without ever listening at all to the music being engraved and edited. Most of the time, a music engraver, or copyist to use a slightly more modern term, can feel like a technician; someone putting all the nuts and bolts together in the proper way and sending the finished product out the door.
One of the most defining characteristics of being a musician is the dedication to the art of practicing your instrument. Musicians spend decades and decades refining their craft, getting closer and closer to their instruments, growing and changing with their instruments as time goes by. I remember times in my early professional life where I would play bass (my primary instrument and first musical love) for 12+ hours a day, between rehearsals, sessions and gigs. There were rarely a time during a day when the bass wasn’t in my hands. But as Engraver’s Mark Music grew and expanded and as I made the professional choice to be a music engraver, I struggled with the concept of practicing music engraving. Do you practice a technical skill, or is it just a matter of repetitive training, which, while there are certainly elements of repetitiveness in musical instrument practicing, involves so much more than just mindless repetition.
Well, for music engravers and copyists like myself, the music notation software we use is our instrument. Or at least, it's our primary instrument. So, taking the approach that music engraving was my instrument, I learned how to practice this new instrument. Some of my “practice time” involves experimenting with new composing techniques and finding ways to make them appear on the page the way I envision them. Other times, I’m working hard at refining and creates templates, or command scripts in various programs to create greater accuracy and efficiency. These kinds of things are not just our tools, but our instruments.
So does this mean we as music engravers let our years of musical training go dim and cold while we become more and more computer technicians. It shouldn’t and in fact, to do our job well, it mustn’t. Here are Engraver’s Mark Music, we get asked often to not only engrave a piece of music, but to edit it for publication as well. That means not only do we have to make sure all the notes are in the right place at the right time, but we have to judge whether it's the right note in the right place at the right time. This takes a very specialized skill set to do both. While a good copyist must know how to notate a passage of music correctly from a technical point of view, they must also know whether it’s written in the appropriate range for the instrument, or whether the instrumentation that is used in an orchestration will achieve the sound a composer and/or orchestrator is looking to achieve.
There are so many decisions that can go into a simple music engraving assignment that it is imperative that a music engraver practices his instrument. At times, this can seem like very un-musical practicing, but it all comes together to create the best version of a composer’s music, made as accurately as possible, with the speed and refinement that should go along with constant practice and refinement of the skill of music engraving. Here at Engraver’s Mark Music, we actually assign homework for our engravers, asking them to explore, create and reimagine our templates, workflows, scripts, editing practices, printing and binding processes and any other part of our business. This makes for an environment where we are constantly looking for ways to improve our understanding of our instruments, create new tools and methods to achieve the results we want and our clients expect from us.
The success and growth of Engraver’s Mark Music isn’t based on repetitive tasks done over and over again until they have become rote and require less and less thought. On the contrary, our business has grown from the moments and places where we really practiced our techniques and skills; honing them to the point where they display the value of our services and expertise to our clients in clear terms, with measurable results and pitch-perfect accuracy. Come and see how a dedicated team of music engravers can show you the results of their practicing, knowing that their dedication to their instrument, will make your music sound and look its best.
Sammy Sanfilippo, CEO of Engraver's Mark Music