Music Prep Ergonomics, Part 2

By • December 14, 2009

Last time we touched on the topic of ergonomics for the music prep musician, primarily from the standpoint of saving wear and tear on your precious body, the one piece of equipment you can’t replace or upgrade. Now let’s look at the issue from the standpoint of efficiency (meaning time) and organization (also eventually meaning time.)

We’ve all used the term “repetitive stress injury,” but have we ever considered something like “repetitive time injury?” When something wastes large blocks of time, like watching television or sitting in traffic, we readily acknowledge it. But when something devours miniscule nuggets of time, but exponentially more often, do we recognize and address that?

Most such moment-wasters are simply due to poor organization. If we spend 20 seconds every time we look for, fetch, recall, move around, and otherwise interact with the minutiae of our work, it adds up eventually, and the solution is better organization, which is to say better design and more disciplined use of it. All our lives, my father (from his career as a U.S. Naval officer in aviation maintenance) has consistently drilled into his sons the mantra, “Everything has a place and everything in its place.” Can you imagine aviation crews delaying a carrier jet launch because they can’t find the proper tool to attach needed ordnance (i.e. missiles and bombs) to the fuselage of a fighter jet?

I’ve seen literally thousands of electronic music production setups, both in person and through photo layouts in Mix, EQ, Electronic Musician, Keyboard, and the like. As most are variants of the same theme, the inventory and placement of the equipment are already well established. In the world of music prep (copyists, orchestrators, arrangers, proofreaders, etc.,) however, the needs of the job can be different and therefore require some different strategies (and when was the last time you saw a photo spread on the office of a copyist or orchestrator?)

Music prep differs from audio prep in one key way: paper. Wherever the session, as the sheet music person, you will eventually need to place symbols on, re-read, bind, and organize various sizes and copious amounts of paper. Even as the proofreader, you will often need to print out that which you are proofing, as doing it on the screen isn’t always practical or even desirable. Therefore, in addition to the requisite equipment used in digital music production which you will use to input and check your data, you must find a way to have your printer and paper supplies within arm’s reach. For obvious reasons, the printer (I have two, both for different print requirements, and as a backup) should have both manual feed and output tray(s) easily reachable or you will be forever leaving your work to fetch your work.

For paper supplies, some form of filing cabinet is an absolute must. Mine is one of those industrial-strength jobs, much wider than it is deep, legal-size paper capable, and with files that go from left to right rather than front to back. Hanging file folders allow for smooth access to many different sizes, types, and amounts of paper. Placed directly behind my ”throne,“ its three drawers are all accessible and content-visible from my chair without rising. This gives me the freedom and flexibility to change print capabilities on-the-fly.

A second, and arguably equally important function played by your cabinet is to hold all materials and documents of multiple projects in various stages of completion or archival. Remember my dad’s workplace mantra? Clutter is the enemy and your filing cabinet is the cure. Scores, incomplete print jobs, invoices, cribsheets, receipts, faxes, printed emails, project folders, CD’s or DVD’s, media labels, project notes, you name it. All can be stashed easily and quickly as they appear and before they can start accumulating into search-time-wasting piles of hodgepodge.

To give your hanging file folders maximum muscle and flexibility for this kind of temporary, changeable storage, dump those little plastic tab label holders that clip onto the folders (or use them for your blank paper supplies.) Undoubtedly designed for permanent archival, they take relatively forever to write the label, fold it over, sandwich it into the plastic see-through tab, and hook both ends into slots in the folder. Instead, cut some cardboard strips the width of a small “post-it”-style note pad and twice as long vertically. (If you’re really in a hurry, playing cards could function, I suppose.) Staple one to the inside surface of each folder so that the height of one post-it note would be visible above the top edge.

Now, every time you are finished, even for the moment, with any clump of papers, you can stow it quickly and reliably into an empty folder, scribble a label on a sticky note, and slap it onto the oversized cardboard tab. Periodically, you can empty out inactive folders, archive or dispose of the contents (shred, if there is sensitive data on it,) and peel off the label. Voilà! No more clutter! (Just make sure you follow through and use it!)

Using this mindset, scrutinize your setup for other sources of “repetitive time injury.” and for ways to keep your materials, tools, equipment, etc., organized and accessible, letting function prioritize their placement. When you find yourself having to think faster to stay ahead of your new organizational regime, pat yourself on the back for your vision and discipline. And always remember: Everything

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