Chronology of a perfect music printing job

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On the Scoring Notes podcast, Philip Rothman and David MacDonald talk through a specific printing project and illustrate the various steps along the way to set it up for success. Listen now:

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We talk a lot about technology on Scoring Notes. Technology takes many forms, but it’s not just pixels on a screen, or 1s and 0s flying around electronically. Paper is a technology, and a really good one for music. There’s a reason it’s been around for a while!

At NYC Music Services we literally print tons of music each year, for performance and publication, and I’m so lucky to have fantastic clients and colleagues who trust me with their important projects. One of the very best in the business in Jon Senge. Jon’s a Paul Revere Award-winning engraver who has been the go-to music preparer for many music publishers and composers. His shop is called Five Line Productions — a clever reference to the music staff — but it may as well be called “five-star” for the outstanding service he provides.

One of his regular clients is Angélica Negrón, whose unique compositional voice is making an important contribution in a variety of musical genres. Jon recently contacted me to print a set of scores and parts for a new orchestral work of Angélica’s, and he set it up so perfectly that I wanted to share it with Scoring Notes readers, to demonstrate how to make sure that your music gets the attention it deserves, regardless of who is doing the printing.

Communicate

It all starts with communication. Part of the key to Jon’s success is outstanding communication skills. Ours is a time-sensitive business, and it’s understood that things sometimes happen very fast.

Still, any lead time or advance notice will go a long way towards making sure that your project is taken seriously and approached thoughtfully. In Jon’s case it started with a brief message stating the who/what/when:

Wednesday, 11:56 am. Can I do the gig?

In just a few sentences I’m totally on board with what’s needed:

  • full orchestra
  • general number of pages for score and parts
  • approximate timeline

It’s OK if specifics aren’t settled here; we’re just establishing general availability and capability. I understand that the timeframe as well as total page count could change based on how the music comes in, but in principle this all sounds fine. I’m good!

A couple of days later, Jon’s sent the files along with another message. Everything I could hope for is here:

Friday, 4:42 pm. Time to get printing!
  • Size of scores, and number of copies
  • How the file is set up with the cover
  • Size of parts
  • Type of binding method for score and parts
  • Number of copies of each part
  • A confirmation of the number of string parts — Jon means that this is the number of copies needed; sometimes the string count refers to the number of players, some of whom double on a part, so I appreciate the extra clarity
  • Delivery address
  • Requested shipping speed

I mean, this project practically prints itself!

Don’t worry about over-communicating. I am always happy to have more information rather than less. So often I need to follow up with one or more of the above items, and while it’s no problem to do so, each volley back-and-forth adds time to the process.

File setup

Communication is just the first step. Setting up the files for print is the next and critical step.

Jon sent me a zip file, which works well if you send an email attachment. Sending individual files over email increases the likelihood that a file might get overlooked. (Sending files via a transfer service such as WeTransfer, Google Drive, or Dropbox is also fine, since when you download files from those services, they are automatically zipped).

When I opened the file, I could not have been more pleased to see this:

Friday, 4:45 pm. What have we got?

All the files were there, in score order. On this web site and on our podcast, we’ve talked about the importance of good file naming.

In an article called Creating PDFs from Sibelius 7 from way back in 2013, there are some tips that are still fully relevant to help you automatically generate files this way from Sibelius, by using Sibelius’s “tokens”.

Dorico has a similar function, in the Export File Names Dialog, where you can create a “recipe” for the filename.

You can’t quite export PDF and get the filenames to appear in score order directly from Finale, but you can use a renaming utility like Name Mangler to take care of that for you.

Regardless, Jon’s got it done right, and moreover, he’s also specified the number of copies per file needed in square brackets, if more than one is needed, like Violin I [9]. Sure, he already put that information in his email, but remember what I said about communication? More is better than less. I’m happy to have that additional confirmation, for reasons I’ll show in the next step.

Printing setup

Even the best plans can go awry; a printer can jam, the folding machine misfires. Fortunately, Jon accounts for these circumstances by ensuring that each page of every part has a running header with the title of the piece and the name of the part:

Friday, 4:52 pm. Checking the files.

This way, if a page gets misplaced, I know exactly where it needs to be.

Furthermore, all the files are set up correctly for booklet printing. Jon didn’t assume that just because a part started on page 2 (for page turn purposes) that I would know to print a title page. He included the title page directly in the part itself. (See how to do this in Sibelius, Finale, and Dorico, as well as how to fix a common problem in Sibelius.)

This way everything will be automatically “bookletized” (imposed) correctly.

And that’s my favorite part! Thanks to PDF-MusicBinder, the amazing utility originally developed by Abraham Lee and co-commissioned by Robert Puff and me, the tedium of setting up PDF files for accordion-style and booklet printing is now a one-click process:

Friday, 4:56 pm: Imposing the booklets for printing.

You can get PDF-MusicBinder from Notation Central. There are other booklet imposers out there, but none that I know of that are specifically adapted to the idiosyncracies of music printing, including the ability to choose either booklet or accordion-style printing that separates 2-ups from 1-ups, and specifying the number of copies per part.

On that last point — notice how, because Jon labeled the filename with the number of copies in brackets, I could quickly enter in the number of copies in the right column, so I didn’t need to refer back to his email.

The result

Friday, 5:18 pm. Printed and bound!

36 minutes after receiving the files, we had a set of two scores and orchestral parts printed and bound, according to specs, with no mistakes. (And I did keep my promise to write a blog post about it!)

Following through

On my end, when I packed the music up, I included a packing list for the destination orchestra (in this case, the Detroit Symphony). After all, I couldn’t have Jon be so detailed with me and not hold up the bargain on my end!

Friday, 5:30 pm. Making a list, checking it twice.

This ensures that the receiver knows exactly what should be in the package, and, if something appears to be missing, that there is a way to check for it.

The reason I said “NYC Music Services did not prepare this music and is not the rental agent” wasn’t because I wasn’t proud to be associated with this project — on the contrary, as I would be very happy if I produced this music. It’s because, since NYC Music Services often acts as the rental or sales agent for pieces where orchestras are instructed to return the music to us, that in this case the orchestra knows that they are receiving music that’s from us but printed on behalf of someone else.

Now, it’s time to pack it all up…

Friday, 5:41 pm. Tornasol, I hardly knew ye.

…where it joined the three other projects also getting shipped that day. What a way to end the week!

Friday, 5:48 pm. And they’re off!

Comments

  1. Andrew Taylor

    Jon seems to be the perfect customer! How often do you get such good information like this, and how often is it, shall we say, sub-optimal? Perhaps you should do another blog post with an example where everything goes wrong…

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Andrew! David and I will actually be discussing this more on this weekend’s podcast episode. Stay tuned!

  2. Taran Plamondon

    Great guide, especially for someone like me who’s relatively new to the printing biz! Now, how to send this to clients without it coming across as passive-aggressive…

    1. Philip Rothman

      I’m happy to be the bad cop and let you be the good cop :-)

  3. Harry Derrett

    Thanks for the insights into an ideal working day. Very interesting.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Harry! I wish I could have taken this post back in time 20 years ago to myself to read! Hopefully it will help the current generation of music preparers learn from our experience.

  4. Engela

    Brilliant post, thanks Philip. I think communication is definitely number one! Sometimes one has to take the lead, as often a new client is not exactly sure of what he/she wants. In such case, one could consider sending a check list for the client to complete?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Engela, you must have been eavesdropping on the podcast taping I did with David for our upcoming episode where I mentioned just that, that it’s something I should be more proactive about in the future! Yes, that would indeed help. The challenge is with projects that can vary widely there is often not a one-size-fits-all checklist… but some of the basics would help streamline the process, for sure.

  5. Bruce Baker

    I have not read all of the comments about check-lists, but I assure you and everyone how brilliant the idea is for generating a concise check-list of all possible or related notation variables for the particular job and suggesting the client use the checklist along with the Copyist. I have a few check-lists each designed for the job type. It has proven to be a time saver and a life saver. In addition to realizing the interests of the client, it opens the door to communications that would not have necessarily occurred during the initial job definition meetings.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bruce! Sounds like a follow-up podcast episode in the making.

  6. Platon Graphics

    The article is very interesting and creative. I also like the way you mention in your writing that a perfect music printing job would be one with an interesting chronology, which can make for some great stories!

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