What Does a Copyist Do?

The role of copyist has managed to adapt to the changes brought forth by technology and remain relevant. Copyists once were responsible for converting the scribble and scrawl of composers’ scores into clean final products that could be distributed to musicians and patrons. In a sense, the job is the same, but the methods have changed; today composers who work by hand are relatively rare because most have access to notation software such as Sibelius and Finale, and consequently the job has become involved with proficiency in such software.

Copyists must create, finalize, and bind individual parts for each musician or instrument, and in so doing must consider various factors including how the music’s presentation will affect each musician’s experience playing it. The scores copyists produce are not used solely by performers but also by sound engineers, recording engineers, and directors. For example, a music video or television director might want to work with a score when planning or shooting a scene.

Copyist at a Glance

Finding Work and Advancing

Many copyists get their start by apprenticing under a music prep person of some variety (copyist, arranger, orchestrator, or some combination of the three). Most copyists work freelance, making it important to build connections and a reputation in some other context. Successful copyists work with higher-profile artists and composers, and are paid more for it.

Employers

Copyists usually are freelance, working for artists or composers.

Professional Skills

Music notation, notation software, Sibelius, Finale, transposition, arranging, orchestration, composition, piano, instrument skills

Interpersonal Skills

Copyists are organized and fastidious. They are dedicated, speedy, and flexible, capable of working long hours on a single project that came in just that morning, but equally capable of dropping the work they’ve done so far if their client contacts them that evening with a completely new or changed request. As a freelance career, having a positive and likable personality is especially important.

Work Life

Generally, copyists work as freelancers, combining copyist work with some other form of music prep such as arranging, or work in music prep offices, where they have hours that might resemble nine-to-five. However, because music prep offices have been hit particularly hard by industry changes, even that is not a guarantee; many music prep companies today more closely resemble collections of freelancers who work from home than offices with hierarchy and advancement. Very few copyists enjoy a regular schedule. Work comes in at all hours of the day and needs to get done with a very quick turnaround. Outside of these options, some movie studios (e.g., Disney) have their own music prep department. A starting copyist might have similar per-page rates to those of an experienced copyist, but most likely will work slower and earn less. Rates differ based on industry.