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.

2011 through the eyes of a blog

And just like that, another year is gone! Here is a look at my posts for the year. thinking web picThe blogging year started in March with my favourite book arriving, "Behind Bars", which I preordered in 2010. It is definitely the most used book on my shelf! I then talked about two approaching projects:

In April I introduced my new work, "blimp", and reviewed two projects - a song I helped a friend create and my work at the BOP music school:

May was a busy month, so in June I talked about what I had been up to - writing 31 microscores and the premiere of "blimp":

In July I posted the video I worked on with Sideways Productions:

In August and September I covered my involvement in the KBB Music Festival and some composition tutorials that I held in Kerikeri:

October was the kick off of the Rugby World Cup here in New Zealand, I talked about my involvement in the opening ceremony and also made a post about what exactly I do when "preparing music" and why you would need someone like me to do it:

December means Christmas and I posted some Christmas carols that I prepared for my students. I also composed a new "holiday" piece for my Christmas post:

Happy New Year everyone, bring on 2012!

Music preparation - what and why!

I often talk to people who are surprised at the types of music preparation jobs that can be done, so I thought I'd dedicate a post to talking about my work as a copyist and what I can do for you!

Why do people need someone else to prepare their music? Can't you just do it yourself? What do you pay for?

  • Expertise. Those experienced in music preparation have the eye to prepare beautifully clear and accurate music, and the ability to spot and resolve potential issues prior to it being rehearsed or performed. They also have extensive knowledge of theory and notation, the styles and conventions of different genres and specific requirements of different orchestras.
  • Meeting a deadline. Music preparers often get the music incredibly late (or be working on the start as the composer finishes the end!) and a deadline has to be met. Just recently I worked through the night to prepare the score and parts for a piece and a couple of hours later it was being rehearsed in Paris.
  • Efficiency. With extensive software knowledge, work can be done considerably faster and without hassles.
  • Assurance. You can pay many thousands of dollars to have musicians sitting there ready to record your music, or you could have worked hard for many years to have an orchestra perform it in a concert. Whatever context, when the players sit down or the conductor studies his score you need the assurance that everything is clear, accurate and very simply - it must work!
  • Ability. Many composers still write by hand and then pass it on to be prepared. Likewise, many composers and musicians don't know how to write notated music, and will pass on MIDI files from other software to be notated.
  • Independence. To publish your music, traditionally you would have had to pass your music over to a publisher to have it expertly typeset and prepared. But you would have had all of the commitments of having a publisher and would only get a fraction of sales. Now, with composers having their own websites, people are publishing themselves and just need their music expertly typeset, edited and proofread - that's where we come in.

What sort of things can be done?

  • Typeset music from handwritten manuscripts (or scribbles!).
  • Edit and/or proofread music that is already set.
  • Prepare instrumental parts - sometimes just as PDFs and emailed, other times I can provide the library service where I will print/copy and organise/distribute the parts at rehearsals/recording sessions.
  • Singers often need their pieces in a different key - I can transpose these with a very quick turnaround.
  • Tidy and typeset music from programs such as Logic or Pro Tools, adding all of the dynamics, articulation and other technical considerations.
  • Recreate a missing orchestral score from the instrumental parts - can be a lifesaver!
  • Transcribe music from audio.
  • Create reductions of larger scores - such as a rehearsal piano part for an opera.

How did I get in to this?

When I was studying composition with Anthony Ritchie at Otago University, he asked me if I would be interested in setting a set of Christmas carols composed by his father John Ritchie. I loved it, and gradually discovered that this area could in fact be a career in itself.

Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3)

Lying in the sun on the deck with your MacBook Pro in one hand and a cool drink in the other... Need to get the parts for your latest masterpiece? No problem. Stay where you are, open the score up in Sibelius or Finale and view them. Want to change a chord? No problem. Alter it in the score and breathe a sigh of relief as your parts are automatically updated. Ready to print? No problem. Click, click, head inside to the printer to collect the score and parts. Easy. Yes, your heart is joyful, but it wasn't always like that! Recently I've been thinking about a few topics. Firstly, what exactly did it take for engravers to set and print music one hundred years ago, or even before that, and what has developed to lead us to where we are today. Secondly, what exactly is the distinction between music engravers and copyists and why is it so often confused. Thirdly, how are these roles and this information relevant to today? Let's start by looking at the journey engravers have taken over hundreds of years in order to set and print music.

This is the first of a three-part post. See also Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

In the Middle Ages very little was written, both in music and generally. The only music that was notated was sacred, as the church was such a huge force on society and they felt that having it written in music raised its meaning to a higher level. It was notated by hand on red lines with a calligraphy-type pen.

During the 15th Century, woodblock printing emerged. This is where you would level off a plane of wood and draw the music on in reverse. You would then carve the wood so that the symbols were elevated, ink it and then press it to paper. The consistency of this technique varied greatly, due to the soft and temperamental nature of wood and the often inaccurate process of inking the carved plate.

In the mid 15th Century the printing press was invented and was very quickly adapted to accommodate music and other mediums. Music symbols were now collated on a plate and then prepared for printing. This process was more reliable and allowed for easier reproduction, but the finer details of manuscripts were unable to be copied. These limitations meant that a new method needed to be developed - engraving.

Engraving was more time consuming but allowed for every fine detail to be notated. This method used a gradual process of etching and hammering into either zinc or copper. Again music would be set in reverse and in this method, unlike those previously, errors could be corrected easily by hammering the back of the metal.

In the late 18th Century in a bid to lower the cost of printing, lithography was invented. In this method oily ink was used to draw on the stone (or much later, a metal surface) and then acid was applied to burn the image to the stone. Water was then added, but repelled by the oil and therefore creating an environment for printing.

Music Typewriter

Music typewriters developed over a number of years but became popular in the late 19th Century. They were known for their relative user-friendly nature and so were popular with copyists and everyday musicians - unlike earlier methods suited more to dedicated engravers. They worked similarly to standard typewriters, just with music notes and symbols instead of letters, although some had extra keyboards and similar additions.

Then during the mid 20th Century computers and software started to emerge. There were various programs created and to various degrees of success. One was called "DARMS (Digital Alternate Representation of Musical Scores)", what a brilliant title.

Later in the 20th Century Sibelius, Finale and many other smaller and lightweight pieces of software were created. These programs, now hugely powerful, have not only massively changed how music can be published and produced, but how we write music in the first place. This undoubtedly is the greatest step forward in this journey we have taken.

Of course, perhaps most importantly, is handwritten music. After the Middle Ages and through all of the developments in technology mentioned above, handwritten music has continued to develop. From beginnings only at the highest sacred level, handwritten music gradually became more common throughout the classes, just as society became more literate. Music engravers doing it by hand had extreme skill, accuracy and a mighty attention to detail. Firm opaque paper was always used with black ink. Until music typewriters and later music software was invented, copyists solely performed their craft by hand.

This is the first of a three-part post. See Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional

Musician? Got your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad? Well, what are you going to put on it? As a musician, sharing my time between rehearsals, conducting, composing and teaching, I have fine tuned a collection of amazing apps for my iPhone that I find are absolutely essential and I hope will help you save you a lot of money and give you some great tools. Just a note, I've used all of these on an iPhone but they are all available (if not now, will be very soon) on the iPad. Field Recorder - This is an outstanding digital recorder for the iPhone. One review of it says "Audiofile Engineering's FiRe application is by far the most advanced stereo audio recording application we've seen for the iPhone and iPod Touch, going far beyond the limitations of previous go-to apps...". It is a professional quality recorder and the list of features is huge so check out the link. It has a beautiful interface, the quality of recording is amazing, you can edit in the app and can export as WAVE, AIFF, CAF, AAC, Apple Lossless, AAC, Podcast, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC. So handy for capturing a rehearsal or auditions, taking field recordings and pretty much endless possibilities.

Dr. Betotte TC - There are many metronomes but few powered up for the music professional. Dr. Betotte TC has all the normal features of a normal metronome such as playing any time signature, beat divisions, the ability to save your tempos and settings to a playlist, tap in a tempo - but it has got so much more. For a start all of the rhythmic divisions have their own volume sliders, one click halftime feel, options for swing tempo, you can import your own audio samples and the playlist can auto advance. Some nice other features (which are so easy to access) include an alarm timer that syncs with the metronome and customisable gradual up/down, step up/down and quiet count buttons. These step up/down buttons are so handy for students learning a passage, as it gradually gets faster over time (or however you set it up). What I do like about this metronome is its visual capabilities - it's often really unhelpful just having a "beep, beep" metronome. For learning scores or for reference in rehearsals it is so handy to just have a ticking needle, or a huge "1, 2, 3, 4, ..." being counted on screen. This is by far my metronome of choice.

Stay In Tune - There are a lot of tuners available, a lot of good ones and generally they all have the same features. It's how they deliver the features which makes the difference. Stay In Tune is my favourite - it has a wonderful, clear interface, you can also easily produce tones, calibrate and select specific tunings for different instruments. It is also one of the most accurate and gorgeous I've found.

Backline Calc - It's a musical calculator and perhaps the last app you would think about looking for, but once you have it you'll realise how handy it is. There are six categories and some examples include: Length (sum times, compare tempos, song length, beats to tempo, time to samples), Pitch (MIDI note, frequency and wavelength conversion), Timecode (frames to timecode, convert timecode), Electric (power, voltages), Acoustics (distance to time, sound pressure level, panning) and Files (file size). These are only a few examples - a very handy little app.

Chordmaster by Planet Waves - The most advanced and intelligent guitar chord reference. You can make chords easily with sliders, you can strum them and the overall interface is beautiful. It's also nice to see a popular and well known music accessory company delving into apps.

SoundHound - We all hear a song on TV and want to know what it is and there are several apps who help you out with this, the most popular being Shazam - but these don't go much past the novelty factor of holding the device to a speaker and finding out the song. I like SoundHound as it provides a few more features such as effectively picking up you singing personally, or you can just type the title, album, artist or lyric. Also, in the results, it provides iTunes links, all the lyrics, YouTube videos and the ability to easily share.

Karajan® - Music & Ear Trainer - Karajan is by far the finest ear trainer. It is powerful and very customisable in each of the categories - intervals, chords, scales, pitch and tempo (bpm). It has detailed statistics so is great for students using in lessons or for your own interest. Personally, I use the tempo recognition all the time (great for conducting) and the pitch recognition is handy too. The pro version is entirely worth the money. (iPad screenshot below)

Oxford Dictionary of Music - Yes, your dream has come true. The entire Oxford Dictionary of Music is available on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. It has a wonderful interface, easy search and is regarded as the most up-to-date music dictionary out there. Also good to note that no internet connection is required to use the app. These guys only do dictionary apps so they know what they're doing. This is a must.

Circle Theory - Based around the Circle Of Fifths, this is a handy reference tool. I use it mainly with students using the more straight forward functions like seeing the relationships between notes, key relationships, key signatures, intervals and triads. But I've also used it myself for transposing between keys, checking notes of transposed instruments and as a reference for modes. A great little app.

Virtuoso Piano - Well we have to touch on some instrument apps. I'm sure the first app any musician gets is a piano but many are very basic. My favourite is Virtuoso Piano Pro as you can have multiple keyboards, easily flick between octaves, calibration and record/play features. Another really great app.

Guitar: Play and Share - Without question this is the finest acoustic guitar app. I've been playing around with it a lot lately and it is wonderful. Very clever, very easy to use and the sound quality is fantastic. Loads of features and ways to customise, different guitars - who needs a real one?

I won't mention any more instruments as there are so many good ones (and far more that are rubbish). But if you're interested in these, the video below is a great watch. It is from the Rend Collective Experiment featuring David Crowder and they produce the whole song from iPhone instruments. Awesome.

ProRemote - This is the only app I don't own due to the whopping price tag (NZ$124.99, US$99.99), but it gets my attention and admiration. It is a remote control for ProTools, Ableton Live, Apple Logic or Soundtrack Pro. They say it "is like having four Mackie Control Universal Pro's but better because it is wireless and much less expensive. You get almost $5000 of hardware for the price of ProRemote." Very impressive. (iPad screenshot below)

Well it is an amazing series of products that I hope you will all enjoy checking out and using. I have found them all to be essential with my day to day work, saving so much time and hassle. Please let me know any other feedback, any great apps I have missed or your comments.