The PDF - a musician's best friend?

In this digital age of computers, devices and the internet, this wonderful thing called a PDF is becoming an asset that we really can't live without. We make them, receive them, explore them and store them - but as musicians, what are the ways in which we can use them and enhance our working environment? adobe_reader_logoThe acronym stands for "portable document format" and that describes them well - no matter what software application you are using, what sort of operating system you are on, or even what device, the PDF will look as it should as a fixed format. Also, it can't be edited, which is great for a whole raft of reasons. They have been around since 1993, but it's only in the last 10 years or so that they have really come to fruition, as we are sharing documents like never before and are using the internet to distribute our material. And because of all this, software is now also making it increasingly easy to export, save and share in this most wonderful format.

When I mention "devices" I am referring to things like the iPhone and iPad, which are of course wonderful standalone, but I often am referring to them an extensions of the computer. PDFs can be seamlessly synced between devices using services like Evernote.com and Dropbox.com, and so access to them out on the road opens up so many more possibilities.

I've categorised some thoughts about how PDFs will benefit three areas of the industry: writing musicians, performing and teaching musicians, and music consumers.

THE WRITING MUSICIAN

As a composer or arranger your ability to distribute your music, and the ease of doing so, is incredibly important. It doesn't matter whether you are on the other side of town or world you can quickly email PDF documents to your performers. All they need is a computer and printer and you know your music will be presented exactly as you wish.

I recently sent music off for a recording sessions in London - I finished and emailed it to them a few hours before it began and had complete confidence it was sitting on the orchestra's music stands exactly how I wanted it.

Professional orchestras have their own preferences when it comes to physical preparation of the music and so they often only accept a PDF master set - with the volume of music that goes across the music librarians desk, it's very efficient to just have the PDFs.

On your website or in your promotional material you might like to present samples and examples of your work, in which case you can easily add watermarks to keep it safe or add extra information.

Very handily, programs like PhotoScore (www.neuratron.com) can scan previously printed music and import it into the Sibelius, the notation software. I do this a lot - where someone may want an arrangement of a certain piece, or a piece needs to be transposed - I don't have to begin with hours of entering the original note by note.

THE PERFORMING AND TEACHING MUSICIAN

As a performer or teacher you generally need to carry large amounts of music around with you. Aside from potentially putting your shoulder out, the ability to call up music quickly in certain environments is very important. Having your music as PDFs on a digital device can mean huge amounts of space saved and the ability to bring up any chart in a matter of seconds.

For music not already existing as PDFs you can of course scan in music and keep all of your current collections. There are wonderful online music databases such as IMSLP.org which contain predominantly scanned royalty-free music.

The use of digital music stands is becoming very common (this is where you view the music on a screen rather than a printed copy), either by the use of dedicated systems or with devices like the iPad. Their use in band and orchestra environments is also becoming more common - they are not just restricted to the high-budget stages of American Idol!

I have written several posts on the topic of digital music stands and using iPads for performing on my website so check those out if you are interested.

THE MUSIC CONSUMER

I don't know about you, but when I purchase sheet music I want it right then and there. So the option to pay less and choose the "download as PDF" button always gets my click. As a person selling that music it is also my preference, as the transaction is completed automatically and there is no need for any packaging and posting - it's just money in the bank.

With this, however, there are potentially problems where your music could be easily distributed further once someone else owns the PDFs, but the argument is that you could always do this via a photocopier anyway - it just takes a few extra steps and may not be quite so pretty.

Even though with choral music is it common to charge per copy required, that really doesn't translate to other music and I don't see that working well for choral music for much longer - it is a little too trusting to ask someone to buy two copies of something rather than just buying it once and printing it twice. Generally now PDF music is licensed to the purchaser and they can do multiple copies as they wish. MusicNotes.com has nice way of indicating this by marking each page with a "Authorised for use by Ryan Youens".

So are PDFs a musician's best friend? Absolutely. With the internet, websites, email and various devices being such an important part of our work, distributing and receiving music is essential and it's essential for it to be done safe and efficiently - with a PDF.

This post was originally published on 17th March 2013 at www.flutefocus.com.

The best of 2012

2012 was a year full of great things, cool things, intriguing things, wonderful things and things to completely knock your socks off. Here's my list of the best (musical and digital) things of 2012. MUSIC BLOGS

Sibelius 7One of the first things I do each day is read all of the blog posts that are waiting eagerly for me in Google Reader. There are three feeds that, without fail, I will read and learn something from every time.

  • Of Note - a Sibelius and Finale blog by the legendary Robert Puff.
  • Sibelius Blog - hints, tricks and interesting stories about Sibelius by Philip Rothman (originally Daniel Spreadbury).
  • Technology in Music Education - if you're a music teacher of some description you'll love hearing about how the latest technologies can be used in music education.

MUSIC BOOKS

behindbarscover I'm usually not a big reader of actual books but there are some that sit pride of place on my shelf, actually, only when they're not sitting open on my desk.

  • Behind Bars by Elaine Gould - my bible of music notation. I'd really love a digital version too!
  • How to Write for Percussion by Samuel Z Solomon - the title sounds very underwhelming, but is a wonderfully comprehensive guide to writing for percussion.
  • Essential Dictionary of Orchestration - mine is looking old and tatty - a good sign! It's an essential reference for instrument ranges, general characteristics, tone quality descriptions, technical pitfalls and more.

MUSIC RESOURCES

SpotifyThe internet is just one big overwhelming resource! There are four in particular that I have used a lot this year and deserve a mention.

  • Spotify - gone are my days of wasting money buying music only for a specific occasion or to only listen to a few times. Now I can access everything, anywhere, for only a small fee.
  • MusicNotes - I've been buying a fair bit of sheet music lately and you can't go past MusicNotes for the best range, quality and easiest website.
  • MacProVideo - a massive range of resources for users of pro audio (and other) software.
  • MusicPrep.com - has wonderful resources for Sibelius and Finale and even links to books on scoring, notation and orchestration.

MUSIC INSPIRATION

YouTubeYou're procrastinating and you find yourself mindlessly surfing the internet - these are probably the places where I would end up.

  • Scoring Sessions - for any orchestral film soundtrack fan this is a wonderful site of photos, news and videos from scoring sessions in Hollywood, London and more.
  • YouTube - most of the world's pro audio software and hardware companies have channels on YouTube. A recent great watch was the Vienna Symphonic Library Artist Videos.
  • TED - amazing talks from amazing people.

MUSIC SOFTWARE

Pro Tools 10Most of my job would be a nightmare, or quite simply not possible, without the help of some wonderful computer software so a much deserved shoutout goes to them.

  • Sibelius 7 - they've had a rough year but a big salute goes to the number one notation software.
  • Logic 9 - the stalwart DAW in my studio, always impressing.
  • Pro Tools 10 - a new acquisition and some great projects done already, clearly some big steps forward since I last used it a few years back.

MUSIC APPS

FiReI rely on my mobile device rather a lot, here's my top three "I could not live without" music apps. I did a full post on musical iOS apps earlier in the year, click here to visit it.

  • FiRe - a professional field recorder wonderfully adequate to do a great recording when out and about.
  • Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music - dealing with music notation and teaching students all the time means I'm always checking this great app.
  • Dr Betotte - a metronome like no other. 5 volume sliders and mute buttons to, tap tempo, halftime feel, adjustable swing feel functions, multi beat mode...

CLOUD SERVICES

EvernoteThe "cloud" is a hot word at the moment and rightly so - there are some fantastic ways how you can have your data anywhere, anytime and on any device.

  • Evernote - probably my most opened app. Most databases, documents, lists and resources are all on Evernote and thanks to the cloud they are all universally accessible.
  • Dropbox - constant backup of my system and access to it anywhere via the iOS app. Also great to email large attachments to clients for download.
  • Xero - my in-the-cloud accounting software. I can write and send invoices, amongst other things, on my iPhone and have access to it at all times.

WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

mailchimp-logoEvery musician needs an online home and maintaining mine, learning about the finer details and marketing it is a real hobby - three things make it an absolute joy.

  • Wordpress - always makes developing the website a breeze. Special mention goes to Automattic who has produced many of my most loved plugins this year including the breathtakingly-good VaultPress.
  • MailChimp - I have a newsletter, which evidently you can sign up to here(!), and they always impress me with the service they provide.
  • SoundCloud - could easily fit into several categories mentioned in this post, but I'll add it here. I remember the days when it was such a huge deal (and sometimes expense) to embed audio on your website, but now SoundCloud makes it quick and easy and it looks beeeeautiful.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these. Got any to add? Leave a comment below.