Cats Have Taken Over My Cottage Industry Studio Facility

My cats have assumed control over my audio equipment as I was coming up with this musical idea:

 

Sadie: “I don’t care what you’re doing. I’m taking a nap over here. I could care less about your volume controls or your effects pedal.”

Willow: “Nice bouncy keys. Interesting….”

Alex: “Wanna wank, wank, wank? Forget about it! It’s time for me to chew on these nice looking cables.”

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Getting Your First Freelance Job as a Music Transcriber

So, if you think you are qualified to be a music transcriber, the next question you will ask is, “Where and how do I get some jobs?” In many ways, getting a job as a music transcriber can be difficult. Given the advances on the Internet, however, it’s never been easier to promote yourself as a music transcriber and apply for jobs.

The Two Most Important Items in Applying for the First Job

The two most important items you will need in your attempt to bag a music transcription job is your portfolio and your resume. Your portfolio should contain a variety of samples of sheet music. You should have at least one of these:

  1. A piano score
  2. A lead sheet (For the uninitiated, a lead sheet only contains melody and chords)
  3. A full score
  4. Guitar notation + tab

I would consider these kinds of sheet music as the most universal. Here are some reasons why you need to have these kinds of

Piano scores can easily demonstrate your attention to detail as well as how well you can translate a way a pianist plays music into the written format.

As for lead sheets, I would say that they can be used by all sorts of musicians. Some groups (such as one of the organizations I’ve worked with named MSE Music Services, an entertainment/orchestra provider in the Philippines) even prefer lead sheets as they are faster to read along. I would call a lead sheet the Swiss knife of sheet music as any musician with considerable sight reading skills can play along, even if it’s just reading the chords.

Full scores tend to serve well in showcasing your transcription skills. It gives the impression that you are knowledgeable with writing and transcribing for a wide array of ensembles.

What I think is the most popular now are guitar notation/tablature and lead sheets. The reason for that is the guitar is a very popular instrument meaning that there are many guitar enthusiasts who’d want to learn how to play like their heroes.

As far as writing your resume, be honest. You don’t want to give your potential clients false impressions. Just show on your resume that you have the skills. If you have a degree in music, you can showcase that to attract clients.

Applying for Freelance Music Transcription Jobs

One of the best (and probably the safest) ways of applying for music transcription jobs is by setting up an account in a freelancing website like oDesk or Elance. Upload your portfolio, write a good description about yourself, set up a profile, look for music transcription jobs and then start applying.

When you start applying or bidding for a transcription job, remember to write a good cover letter. It should be brief but it should highlight your skills, experience and qualifications. Make sure to direct your potential client to your portfolio in order for them to see the quality of your work.

You can also put up your own website or place you ads as a music transcriber in online classifieds. You can get a few leads by putting in some time for that task.

Financial Matters Concerning Your First Music Transcription Job

You should expect that your first job would only have a price of about a few dollars. Remember that at this stage you are trying to establish yourself and so you will need to build up your reputation first. As your reputation improves, you’ll gain some leverage to charge more.

Despite saying that you should try out first some cheap jobs to gain experience, don’t work for free. If a potential client asks you to transcribe a whole song as a test, you need to get paid for the time you spent. If they’re not willing to pay for the test, bargain with them that you will transcribe perhaps a few bars as a sample. If they insist, tell them to take their business elsewhere. Working for free cheapens the profession and gives people the wrong idea that music transcription is easy. Music transcription is definitely not easy and you don’t want to be treated like a slave as they profit from the hours you’ve spent trying to nail those weird piano chords into standard notation.

Final Words

Do some research about transcription rates so that you can set up a competitive rate for yourself. In determining your rate, you have to establish one that will shoulder the costs of your operation and other things while providing the best price possible. In these times, you’ll be lucky to find someone give you a job that allows you to charge your hourly rate, especially if you’re a freelancer on sites like oDesk. There are numerous cases of clients getting ripped off by unscrupulous freelancers, so my advice is do not go that route. If you’re lucky enough to get a transcription job that pays by the hour, make sure to deliver your goods on time and with excellent quality.

That’s all of what I can think of for now on how to bag that first job. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

The Qualifications of a Music Transcriber

Since music transcription is a very exciting field, there are those who ask what are the qualifications of a music transcriber. If you haven’t had the opportunity to understand how that works out based on my previous entries, this entry will tell what I think are the qualifications for a freelancing music transcriber.

If you’re expecting to say that you need a music degree to be a music transcriber, then I will tell you that I am living proof that you don’t have to have one. I certainly didn’t attend a conservatory, and all the knowledge that I gained in music transcription and music in general is through practical means. However, let me say that in all sorts of jobs in the music industry, having a music degree is an advantage but it does not guarantee that you’ll be a pro at music transcription or any music job. So, if you’re planning to take up music in college or are already taking up music, by all means try your best to complete your degree. Again, it’s definitely an advantage but it’s not required.

Now, in any sort of job or occupation, the most important thing is that you can demonstrate that you can do the job well. Unlike in the healthcare sector where having a license is necessary, music jobs in general do not require that. It all boils down to whether you can do the job or not. One of the best ways of demonstrating that is having a portfolio of your works. Now, the question would be, “What if I don’t have a portfolio?” You can always try to transcribe some samples on your own first, save them as PDF files and then you can use them as samples when you try to hunt for music transcription jobs.

Another qualification you’ll need is good working knowledge of music theory. You have to understand how standard notation is written down. You have to be able to read standard notation. This is absolutely necessary as a music transcriber. When you jot down notes onto piece of manuscript paper or input them in a program like Sibelius, you have to be able to produce sheet music that’s neat and very easy to read. No matter how complicated the music might be, the simplest manner by which you can interpret musical ideas into paper is the best way, and you certainly need to be grounded on music theory for that.

If you can already transcribe music and have a portfolio, it’s already enough evidence that you have a good ear for music. Most people offering transcription jobs would be convinced that you can handle it. There are also those clients or employers who want to make sure that you can really pull it off, and so you will be subjected to a transcription test. A transcription test is something you shouldn’t be afraid of. By all means, go for it. If you already have a portfolio and enough chops to produce a quality transcript, then I’m sure you can tackle such tests.

If you plan on being a music transcriber, have a good understanding of how music is arranged and played. You should be able to at least sing in tune and play an instrument, preferably a keyboard instrument. The more you know about how instruments work, the better you can become a music transcriber. Other than trying to learn how to play musical instruments, listen to a variety of music. It will definitely help you become familiar with all the sorts of genres you might have to transcribe.

So to sum it all up, your qualifications as a music transcriber are the following:

  1. A portfolio
  2. A good ear for music
  3. Good working knowledge of music theory
  4. Knowledge of musical instruments and various genres of music

As long as you can demonstrate that you have all the qualities of a good music transcriber, I don’t see why you can’t get a music transcription job if you don’t have a music degree.

New Music on a7records – “Taal Lake” and “Tranquility II”

The record label, a7records, has just released two of my latest compositions on YouTube. One of these is under the “Relax My Dog” brand and is perfectly suited for a relaxing time with your pooch. It’s entitled “Taal Lake” and you can listen to it below:

 

 

The next piece is under the Easy Sleep Music brand and is just perfect to listen to when you’re going to bed. It’s a piece influenced by music from the Baroque Era (Bach, Handel, Telemann, etc.). I call this “Tranquility II”, a sequel to the more minimalistic “Tranquility I”.

 

I hope that all of you will have a peaceful and relaxing day.

A Dream of Crocodiles, Pigs and Worms

As I slept through the night, I had a dream before waking up. In that dream, I was in a place that resembled some town in Greece. It was a hot summer day where the air seemed like how it usually is in many provinces in the Philippines during the dry season. It seemed to be a traditional town where I was exploring the place’s art and culture. In that dream I was working with some artist that looked like Vangelis and it appeared that I was apprenticing for him.

This bearded man was asking me for some photographs of his villa. And so, as his apprentice I obliged. As far as I can remember, I took photos during the daytime. I also tried to take photos at night. This is where it gets interesting.

I was with some other person in this next dream sequence, exploring the old man’s backyard. There was what seemed to be a big pool which seemed to be used for waste disposal. It piqued my interest and then as I approached closer, the pool seemed to be filled with what looked like worms that had a segmented appearance and the color of maggots. As I moved in closer to take a picture, I saw many pigs wallowing in it. All of the sudden, as if it was a scene pulled straight from a monster or horror movie, crocodiles started to emerge from the pool of worms and what looked like a herd of pigs and crocodiles started chasing me and my unknown companion. As a natural instinct, we started running to safety. My mobile phone then started to sound its alarm. It was at that time that I realized that I was already awake without realizing the conclusion of my dream.

Most of the time, we do not have control of the contents of what we’re dreaming. This dream to me seemed absurd, disconnected from the reality we experience every day. I don’t know what to make out of it and I don’t understand its meaning or if it even means something. It probably is just one of those dreams that would baffle me or probably serve as some sort of inspiration for some piece of music I have yet to write. And now it’s time for me to prepare my morning coffee.

The Value of Consistent Practice as a Musician

This is pretty obvious for people like me but you just can’t take for granted the value of consistent practice as a musician. As an instrumentalist, I would always like to build up my chops. By doing so, it takes me one step towards realizing musical ideas in a more tangible manner.

I was reminded of the value of practice when I was watching an episode of Matt Groening’s Futurama. This particular episode featured Fry in his attempt to become a performer and composer. He was trying to learn an instrument called a Holophoner (a sort of clarinet that also produces holographic images). He sucked at it and so he made a deal with the Robot Devil which involved exchanging his human hands for the Robot Devil’s hands. It was an amusing episode with plot devices similar to every work of art involving a deal with the devil and redemption.

With all the humor aside, what struck a chord in me in that Futurama episode was the fact that Fry said, “There’s so much music in my head but my stupid hands can’t keep up.” Well, I could relate to that very well. As a composer, I want to accurately express what’s in my head using my hands playing my instruments. It is very frustrating when you find yourself being unable to do that. Should I go on a bargain with the Devil for that? Of course not. Whatever is acquired without hard work often fades away fast. Becoming a virtuoso doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s why practice is very important.

Consistent practice is the only way any musician can take their chops to the next level. As an example, all of the musicians in Dream Theater wouldn’t be the virtuosos that they are if they didn’t practice. Unlike stories people typically hear of rock stars, these guys have practice rooms with instruments and metronomes backstage. Their bassist, John Myung, is an excellent model of commitment to practicing. He warms down by playing bass before a show and then cools down by playing bass again after a show. That’s the reason why he can shred like John Petrucci and keep time like Mike Portnoy.

So is the point of practicing just for building chops and be able to perform face-melting wankery? Of course not. It’s just a means to an end. Imagine how it could be easier to be able to write and record music if you could play in an instant what’s been ringing inside your head. As a composer, achieving such is a dream come true. Nothing could be more satisfying as a composer and musician than hearing your ideas come to life as you hear it in your head.

Whether you want to build your chops on the piano or guitar or you want to build your compositional skills, practice will always get you closer to becoming the best that you can be. That is the value of consistent practice as a musician.

Now, please excuse me while I get back to practicing piano, guitar, etc.

How to Become a Music Transcriber

There probably is no single way about how to become a music transcriber.

One would say that every serious musician in the planet has had to do some music transcription in one way or another. A good examples would be one of my guitar heroes, Steve Vai, former music transcriber for Frank Zappa. Jazz musicians have been known to do this in order to figure out the improvisation methods of their influences. It’s easy then to say that to be a music transcriber one should start by having great love and dedication for music.

Let me tell you a little story about how I became a music transcriber. As far as growing up as a musician, I had limited access to sheet music and so it was helpful that I relied on my ears to learn new songs. What I would consider my first entry into music transcription would be jotting down chords of various songs I wanted to play while I listened to my cassette tapes. Being able to transcribe music came out of necessity. I am not very good at memorizing pieces (I must have some sort of memory deficit) and so transcriptions of music became great memory tools for me. That was the start of being a music transcriber, the desire to learn new songs.

When my playing skills and my knowledge of music theory further improved, I transitioned from just jotting down chords to actually transcribing songs, whether it be in MIDI or in a scorewriter such as Sibelius. Sometimes, I still do it by hand, especially when an idea for a composition starts popping into my head.

Going back to the topic “how to become a music transcriber”, one may be able to simplify it in a few steps:

  1. Learn and practice how to play a musical instrument – Before you can transcribe, you will need some basic knowledge about how to play a musical instrument or be able to sing in tune. If you are confident in being able to discern that you can follow rhythm and melody, that is a start. You will also need to constantly practice how to play your instrument. You need to develop considerable technique that will make you understand how songs are composed and how they are arranged.
  2. Learn and study music theory – By studying music theory, you get to have a better understanding of what exactly is you are playing or what you are hearing. Studying music theory also helps a lot in how to jot down your transcripts to paper or an application like Sibelius properly.
  3. Start transcribing – Once you have some skill on musical instruments and have a good working knowledge of music theory, you can now begin to transcribe. Start out with transcribing the rhythms of the piece, and then followed by the bass line (to have a good understanding of the piece’s harmonic structure as well as provide a “skeleton”) and the melody.
  4. Practice transcribing – Practice always makes perfect, and so just like playing an instrument, music transcription requires practice.
  5. Keep a portfolio – If you want to earn some money from music transcription, you need a portfolio. Try to select the very best from your  collection. This portfolio would serve as a great way to prove that you can do it.
  6. Be patient – Any aspiring transcriber has to be patient. Imagine having to listen to the same song over again for more than 20 times. I can tire out your ears but it really is part of music transcription.

There’s not a lot of steps, but just as I said in my previous piece about music transcription, it takes a great deal of patience.  If you have a music degree or currently studying in a conservatory, music transcription will always help as an additional skill. If you do not have a music degree, don’t fret. I don’t have one but I sure can transcribe music and play an instrument relatively well. Whether your goal is to be able to study and analyze your favorite artist or composer’s works or to become a professional sheet music provider, the knowledge of music transcription will always be helpful.

So, why are you still reading this? Prepare your manuscript paper or your scorewriter and start walking the path on how to become a music transcriber.