9 June 2020

Most music publishers no longer provide editing services. Composers are now expected to create print-ready documents. This is no surprise since music notation software is easy to find — and for the most part, these programs are user-friendly — but, once you get into full orchestra scores or more complex art music, things can get dicey. I’ve seen some pretty weird-looking published music in the last 15-20 years, and I definitely miss the days when publishers employed specially trained editors to comb through every new submission and make corrections according to industry standards. You could, at the very least, expect consistency within the same publishing company. That is no longer the case. I must do my own editing, and since technology makes it easy for me to send my own compositions to various music distribution sources, I have made the decision to self-publish.

In the summer of 2017, I began the process of getting most of my completed compositions recorded. Most musicians and conductors want to hear at least a little of a new piece before they are willing to order it. Many of the recordings on this website were created during that intensive summer project for which many wonderful friends and colleagues volunteered their time, talents, and energy. I was thankful for Haley Neilson’s mad engineering skills during that process. This summer, I am picking up where that project left off by getting some very detailed editing work done. This will be the final step before putting these works “on the market.”

What is involved in editing music? Well, here’s a list of just a few of the things good editors assess in any music score:

  • Spelling of words, font sizes, copyright format, capitalization, syllabification of lyrics. This goes for all the words in a piece of music — not just lyrics. Even instrumental pieces have words in their documents.
  • Stem length and direction on all notes
  • Note beaming consistency and clarity
  • Spacing of items on the page. Making sure dynamic markings don’t collide with articulations or lyrics.
  • Articulations, expression marks, tempos, bowings, slurs, ties, and dynamics all have specifications regarding size, placement and style.
  • Page layout considerations include number of pages (must be divisible by four to meet distribution center requirements), page turns (are they workable for the musicians?), system dividers, and general readability.

There’s much more, but I’ll stop there. I often say that finalizing a score is as much about preventing the performance you don’t want, as it is ensuring the performance you do want. Music notation and page layout can easily make or break a composition. It is a vital part of the process.

In the same way that it is difficult to proof-read one’s own writing, it is equally as difficult to edit one’s own musical scores. One of the best ways to get reliable eyes on your music is to have your works “vetted” by musicians and ensembles; however, this is very inefficient and time-consuming. So, a Manchester University Faculty/Student Summer Research Grant has made it possible for me to hire a capable student to proof scores and offer editorial suggestions for most of my completed compositions. The book pictured above is our main reference and will help us produce high-quality easy-to-read publications for sale. There are 653 pages of music notation rules and guidelines in that book, so we have our work cut out for us! My assistant, Ben Tipton, is just getting started on this project, but by the end of the summer we plan to have 33 pieces ready for publication. Several of these are large multi-movement works, so they will be especially time consuming.

Creating is actually only a small part of a composer’s job. If we can’t make our works accessible and readable for performing musicians, there’s little point in writing the music in the first place. This certainly isn’t the most fun part of composing, but it is absolutely necessary in order for musicians to lift the notes off the page and share them with the ears of the world. I’m very thankful to have Ben’s help this summer. Thirty-three compositions in just 14 weeks. Wow! Wish us luck!