So, in my previous post I mentioned the basic tech you needed for music engraving (click here if you have not read that blog). Now, I wanted to give you a bit more insight into the specific tech (mostly hardware, but some software) that we use here at Engraver’s Mark Music. These tools have changed and transformed over the years as the music notation programs we use and the demands of the industry have changed.
Without further ado, here we go:
1. Elgato StreamDeck – this is such a good tool, whether you are using it in conjunction with programs like JetStream (for Finale, see my blog post on that particular program here) or Notation Express (for Sibelius and Dorio) or just using it as a trigger for your own custom hotkeys or macros, it can really open up new options and workflows. There are so many possibilities depending on how you are using each program that it can be intimidating, but it is worth the effort to think through your workflows and how a tool like this could help eliminate steps or dozens of mouse clicks. Get one and have some fun with it!
2. Keyboard – not your midi keyboard, I mean your actual computer keyboard. This might seem like a very small detail, but if you’re going to be spending hours and hours a day using it, it should be a good one. I recommend getting a gaming keyboard that suits your style and feels comfortable. Yes, they are bit more expensive than just a standard external keyboard, but the build quality, sensitivity of the keys and the ability to customize functions and keys is worth it. I use a Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard (not the newest version, but still functions fine for my purposes). I also prefer a wired keyboard (more on that in just a bit). The Sidewinder has a great feel, very rugged build and tons of other features. Again, if you are going to be using something all day, make sure it is high quality. This keyboard certainly is.
3. Mouse – as with the keyboard, this tool should also be another place where you invest in quality and really take your time finding the right one the fits your hand. It is no fun at all to have constant wrist pain because you chose a poor mouse that didn’t fit your hand. I have gone through probably half a dozen mice over the years, from basic ones to high end gaming mice. Again, I would recommend using a gaming mouse; they are better built, customizable and generally have a host of other features that make them much more useful than a standard 2 button mouse. I use a Redragon m901 Perdition gaming mouse and could not be happier. It has customizable weights, and 18 programable buttons. I use these to set up custom hotkey triggers for different often used functions in either Finale or Sibelius. That way, I do not even have to take my hand off the mouse to reach for a button on my StreamDeck; I have so many additional functions literally at my fingertips.
4. USB Switch – as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we use PCs and Macs here at Engraver’s Mark Music. On one particular project, I had to use Finale and Sibelius, on both PC and Mac (that’s right, 4 different programs essentially) simultaneously as there were multiple composers and orchestrators who all had their own systems. Man did my brain go nuts trying to remember all the key combinations and shortcuts across all those different platforms. The nice thing with this switch is that I can use the same mouse, keyboard, midi keyboard and my StreamDeck with both my PC and Mac, switching between the two machines with a simple press of a button. I even reprogrammed a few keys on my Mac Mini to mimic the same keys as my PC, so I do not have to remember completely different sets of shortcuts. Another simple tool that allows me to adjust to any system my clients have with literally the press of a button.
5. Bulk Rename Utility (PC) and Renamer (Mac) – these two files renaming programs are super powerful. When you have a large project, there can literally be hundreds or thousands of files to manage. Having a consist file naming system is critical. These two programs allow you to do multiple file name changes to any number of files simultaneously, saving potential hours of time. This has been especially helpful for me with different publishing companies we work with and having to update older files.
As with all new tech, or “new to you” tech, there can be a learning curve and it may feel like a step backwards. Remember, sometimes the benefits of a new workflow or piece of equipment do not show up immediately. Take your time and see what truly works for you. The benefits might not only be in time saved doing a specific task but may show up later in a project where now you have new options and workflows available to you because of an adjustment you made early on. Good luck and enjoy some new tools in the New Year!
I get asked a lot about what tools or tech we use here in the shop at Engraver’s Mark Music or requests from new music engravers, orchestrators and alike about what tools they need in their office to get up to speed. Well, there are a lot of different resources, how-to’s, and opinions out there on what you need or what is worth your time and money. What works best for you may not work as well or be as valuable to others (see my review of the JetStream Finale controller for a fine example of what I mean).
What I can say is after 15+ years of music engraving, editing and printing, there are some important/essential tools that I feel anyone in this field should have. It’s actually not that much so don’t get too concerned! If you want a blog about the different music sample libraries to spend thousands of dollars on, this is not it.
Ok, so here’s my list of essential tools for everyone:
These tools are really all the basics that you need. There are dozens of other tools and tech you can get into like the Elgato StreamDeck, Keyboard Maestro, AutoHotKey, and others that can make you more efficient “power-user” for Finale, Sibelius or Dorico. Again, all these tools are great and provide amazing functionality, but they are not essential.
In addition to these tools, here are some of the digital resources I follow to help me learn more about the latest ideas and tools in the industry:
As part of your New Year’s Resolutions, check out all these different resources and tips and try some new ideas and tech! This is a great time to evaluate your workflows and make the changes that will save you time and frustration.
If you need any help or advice, get in touch with us here and we will be happy to assist and guide you. Also, if you are interested in one-on-one Finale instruction, we offer custom tailored lessons to your specific needs for $30 per half-hour, or $50 per hour. Just reach out to us and we will take care of everything!
Recently, I had an interesting experience that helped remind me of the central ethos (if you will) of Engraver’s Mark Music. In an email exchange perspective client, an arranger wrote:
“Currently I use Sibelius Ultra software to create the arrangements, both octavo and full score. This also allows me to extract and edit my own parts for the bands…
in view of my Sibelius use and the clients I work with, I’m wondering what Engraver’s Mark could actually do for me.”
To which, I responded:
“I totally get what you're saying about the use of Sibelius. It's such a powerful tool. It can certainly make things easier overall, though, like most things, there's quite a bit of learning involved. My company treats Sibelius, and Finale, like instruments that need to be practiced and techniques that need to be refined.
Most of my clients use either Sibelius or Finale to write and orchestrate from the very beginning. Where my team comes into their workflow can be in a number of different places, from template design for a specific project or instrumentation, to score cleanup, part creation and editing and custom printing for recording sessions, live performances or retail sales. We know what the needs and requirements are of professional organizations and publishers so we can tailor our services to help the composers and orchestrators we with work deliver their best, on time and with less stress.
Sometimes our clients need all of these services, sometimes just a few; it depends on the project. We integrate with any workflow and help the composers and orchestrators we work with to stay focused on their art and not all the other details.”
In any business or service, there’s a point at which you have to answer this question;
“Why/How do my potential customers need/want my company’s product/service?”.
The answer to this question is the central focus of any fully developed business plan, demonstrating that the needs of your prospective client can be met by the product or service you are offering. Whether it’s a plumber or a high-tech product, the question is still the same and the thought, planning and execution of the answer can often be the difference between a successful business or one that doesn’t grow beyond a certain point.
I took this question from the arranger not as an attack on the value of my skills or the business of Engraver’s Mark Music, but as an opportunity to fully explain our business model, highlighting our skills and assets while creating an image of a new reality for the client, one where their needs could be met and new possibilities would be available to them by partnering with us.
Yes, music notation software has come a long way. These tools are extremely powerful and allow even novice user to achieve good results. However, more advanced skills and processes are needed achieve faster and more consistent results. Just as being able to install a toilet or change an electrical outlet or other more basic tasks around the house doesn’t take away the value of a fully trained and experienced plumber or electrician, the same thing goes those who use Sibelius or Finale to handle every aspect of a project themselves and those who use Engraver’s Mark Music or other music preparation services in their workflow. Each has its place and function.
So, maybe for a small ensemble or personal project where your skills are equal to the task, you may not need Engraver’s Mark Music, and that’s ok.
Maybe all you need, rather, is a teacher; one who is an expert in the area you are studying and is able to offer both knowledge and experience to help guide you on the next steps in your learning process. Engraver’s Mark Music can help you there too. We offer Finale instruction to beginners and advanced users alike to help refine and take their skills to the next level. (Contact us to learn more about Finale lessons)
Maybe you are spending too much time on score clean up or part creation and formatting that it is taking time away from the content creation you need to be doing. Or driving all over town to print shops trying to get them to understand the specific needs of musicians and hoping they’ll be able to turn your project around on time and without messing it up. In either case, know that Engraver’s Mark Music has a solution for you; one where you gain that precious time back and partner with an experienced team that knows the challenges of the deadlines and creative tasks you have in front of you.
No, not every project or person will use our service. However, Engraver’s Mark Music can create a custom solution for every project or person. That’s the focus our everything we do; to help all those we work with to stay focused on their art, not all the other details and partner with them to bring their music to the world.
Here's a link to a great interview with Christopher Willis and how the music preparation process was a large part in his workflow on "The Personal History of David Copperfield"
There have been a few speed-enhancing and production-enhancing tools for music notation software (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico) out in the marketplace for a while now. Some of these are macro programs, allowing you to write scripts to perform repetitive tasks or other functions, i.e. FinaleScript or Keyboard Maestro. Others, like Elbsound’s Perfect Layout or the various Bob Zawalich plug-ins for Sibelius are really more like separate programs that function on an even deeper level than macro scripts. All of these tools can be amazing time-savers and really make your engraving much more professional.
One of the latest is the JetStream Finale Controller. This product, which can be used with the Elgato StreamDeck or with a mobile app, is a synthesis of the powerful JW Lua programming language and the physical interface of the StreamDeck controller. For those of us mere mortals who don’t code (myself include at this point) or haven’t even written a FinaleScript, (I can help you learn how to do that BTW) this is a great tool. It provides hundreds of features and shortcuts to almost every task you can think of in Finale, making everything from tool selection to even complex functions more accessible and streamlined.
I purchased a StreamDeck last year to help expand some of my FinaleScript triggering and to help automate several file naming tasks or other simple repetitive functions. Now with the newly released JetStream software, I have been using them both in my work even more in the last few months. There are so many functions and possibilities that it can almost be overwhelming and knowing where to start can be a bit a puzzle, but with some trial and error, the vast power of these tools can really start to shine.
One of my favorite aspects of the JetStream controller is that it comes with a default StreamDeck profile but also another preset profile for you to use to create your own custom workflows or button arrangements. This is extremely useful as now you can have the best of both worlds, where you can copy functions from the main profile, without altering it, and copy those into your new profile all with a couple mouse clicks. This brings the vast list of functions and tools down to a manageable level where the most common functions can be grouped together in new sequences that fit your desired workflow for any given project.
There are so many other customizations and possibilities with these tools. I could go on for days, but better still, check out the JetStream Controller website and YouTube page for more details, tutorials and tips. These are great resources to keep handy as you begin to explore these new tools.
All this being said, you may be wondering whether the JetStream Controller is only for professionals or Finale power-users. Actually, I would say the opposite. JetStream can be as useful and effective for a novice user as a seasoned pro. The ability generate custom tool sets will inspire pros to rethink how they perform various tasks, while the novice will find the physical interface helpful and easy to navigate and will reduce time spent looking through menus or dozens of extra mouse clicks.
So, in the end, has the JetStream changed the way I work…. somewhat. I have found it to be more useful for working on my Mac in Finale than on my PC, as I have several tasks reprogrammed using the TG Menu Shortcut (check out my blog post about that tool here) that perform some of the same functions with keyboard shortcuts that are faster for me to use than pressing a button and taking my hand off the keyboard. On a Mac, that TG Tool plug-in isn’t available, so I have shifted a lot of those functions over to the StreamDeck/JetStream ecosphere with great success and efficiency improvement.
Mainly, these tools have inspired me to continue to refine and rethink my workflows. There are lots functions that for me as a copyist (which is my main job) aren’t really useful. However, they would be used far more by an orchestrator or composer, who is entering notes and other information from the beginning. I am often cleaning up or reformatting scores and parts, so I start at a different place, which makes some of those tools less valuable to me. However, when I am engraving a hand-written score, or a score from a PDF or other file that is out of print, I definitely use the JetStream controller more often.
All in all the quantity and quality of these tools is too high to pass up. Oh, did I mention that the JetStream controller software is free; and the StreamDeck has various options, all of which are very reasonable, so there’s really almost no risk of you wasting time or money. My advice is to try them out and have some fun exploring new ways of working and I bet you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Again, definitely check out the YouTube channel for some how-to videos and longer explanations of all the various functions. Happy JetStream-setting!
Sammy Sanfilippo, CEO of Engraver's Mark Music