The tale of the tape


How was your weekend? I hope you had a good one, whether you spent it relaxing, doing housework, or catching up on projects.

Most often, my weekends involve a mix of all of the above — hopefully more of the former. Sometimes, though, the weekend is the only time I have to drill down into a very specific task without being interrupted.

Such was the case this past weekend, when I needed to print and tape parts. This was actually one of about a dozen printing projects I had on my plate, and it was the last one of the day.

Often, I’m racing against the clock to make the last FedEx pickup, but thankfully this weekend the only real deadline was self-imposed: I wanted to get home in time to catch some football games on TV, so in my last half-hour of work I figured I would turn the camera on myself to capture a bit of the pre-game action.


Since I haven’t yet been asked by The New York Times about how I spend my Sundays, I decided to scoop the paper of record and instead share my diary directly with the best reader base in the world — the Scoring Notes audience!

What you’re seeing is about half of a taping and collating job for a project involving 22 instruments (big band plus strings) and 16 charts. I didn’t do any of the music copying or engraving; this meant that I had to rely on whatever was delivered to me in whatever order and, and then figure out how to organize, print, and collate the material.

Organizing the digital files

First, I organized all of the music into folders in Finder, the Mac file manager. I assigned each instrument a unique ID so that all of the files appeared in order by instrument, and then by chart name (there was no set sequence for the show, so they were alphabetical by song title).

I used Name Mangler to help me organize the files in order.

Then, I took digital inventory of each chart by song title and page count. Tacets were not supplied by the preparers (note: it would have been easier if they were), so I needed to figure out for which charts and instruments I needed to create tacet sheets, so that every instrument was accounted for, for every song.

I didn’t create the tacet sheets individually — there were more than 100 of them. Instead, I created an Excel document and used it as the source for a mail merge that I did in Word. I also set up a formula to concatenate the elements of each tacet part into the file name that would eventually be used.

The spreadsheet used as the source for the tacet sheet mail merge, and the eventual file name
The sounds of silence

Once I created the tacet sheets, I made a single PDF and opened it in Acrobat. Thankfully, Acrobat has an Organize Pages tool that allows you to extract each page of a PDF into separate PDFs.

Extracting individual pages from Acrobat Pro

That made it easy to drag all of those into Name Mangler and Sequence by Arbitrary Terms — the filenames I had created in Excel. Because the Excel document was the source of both the mail merge and the file names, I was confident that the mapping of the file names would be totally accurate.

Name Manger, renaming by arbitrary terms (terms that I defined, from my Excel document)

Then, I dragged all of the newly-created tacet sheets and all of the files into one folder, knowing that I would have exactly 16 charts for each instrument, all in a consistent order.

I took these files and brought all 352 of them directly into PDF-MusicBinder, the amazing application that I co-commissioned with my late colleague Robert Puff, and originally developed by Abraham Lee, that in one click can enlarge files to any desired size, impose them for booklet or accordion-style printing, separate 2-up pages from 1-up pages, and combine the PDFs into one file (or two, in the case of 1-ups and 2-ups) for easy printing.

You can get PDF-MusicBinder, and other PDF batch utility apps, from Notation Central, for both Mac and Windows.

Dragging files into PDF-MusicBinder
Setting up PDF-MusicBinder to generate 1-up and 2-up PDFs for final printing

Printing and taping the music

Finally, it was time to print, fold, and tape!

I printed the 9″ x 12″ 1-ups and 18″ x 12″ 2-ups separately, and used my folding machine to fold the 2-ups.

Here are the tools and products I used (clicking on these links may take you to an affiliate site, which Scoring Notes may earn a small commission from):

The hardware

The tools

The supplies

If you watch the entire 30-minute video — and believe me, it’s OK if you don’t, since it’s only mildly more exciting than watching grass grow —you’ll notice that at least a couple of times I made a taping error and needed to remove and re-tape a part. This is because in many cases, the parts did not have complete headers — either the song title, instrument name, or both, was missing from some pages. Always make sure that your parts have all of this information, to reduce the risk of printing errors!

Thankfully, PDF-MusicBinder always creates the PDF in the correct order, so I just needed to carefully reverse my steps to sort out my misstep, and double-check other signifying elements of the music like clef, key signature, and bar numbers, to make sure I appended the pages correctly. But, if the paper accidentally fell on the floor and got out of order, those missing headers would have been costly.

In summary

Reflecting on this project, it’s remarkable what goes into a seemingly standard music printing job, and how niche and special this work is, when it’s done correctly.

I counted five different software applications, not including the Mac Finder, and none of which were music notation software (remember, I didn’t do the music copying for this project): Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat Pro, Name Mangler, and PDF-MusicBinder, and I would have been impeded had I not been able to use one, or any of them, to get the job done.

Then, there’s all of the hardware, tools, and supplies, and, finally, the planning and technical knowledge needed to get the job done, in service of the ultimate mission — to make the rehearsals and the concert go as well as possible.

Did you learn anything from this tale of the tape? How do you approach similar projects? Let me know, in the comments!



    Tremendous presentation, Philip! ♥ Thank you for sharing your efforts with us!

  2. Michael Koschorreck

    Thank you Philip, such great insight!

  3. Peter Roos

    Terrific. Looks simple but organization is key.

  4. Philip Benjamin

    Call me weird but for me this may be your most impressive post ever. The way in which you laid it all out for us so that it was easy to understand. The unselfish way in which you are passing on skills – if we want to keep professional music notation standards alive we need some people to share their knowledge.

    I hope it brings you work Philip.

    Thank you.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Philip, and to all who have commented. It is not weird :-) I document these things as much for myself as for others, so that I remember how to do it next time! There is no one “right” way to do any of this, but I hope the mix of both general principles and specific information that I have provided are helpful.

  5. David Lukaszczyk

    Awesome, so useful

  6. Lou Johnson

    Incredible that you were able to get all the software and hardware functionality to cooperate on this complicated project Philip. It speaks volumes to your capabilities! Whenever I work with digital stuff or hardware it usually
    Goes something like “what the hell is wrong now!.”
    Your video (and our past work together) convinces me even more that any one who engages your services is slways going to get more than there money’s worth when they work with Philip Rothman!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Lou!

  7. Mike Halloran

    Most informative! Thanks especially for listing the tools that you use.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Happy to help and share!

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