A colleague of mine recently asked me how I managed to keep all of my music organized. We both play in several bands, do subbing work, and teach high student loads. In addition, I teach group classes and workshops.
I asked her what system she was currently using. She laughed and said each “project” had it’s own stack of music somewhere in her house. Sometimes they were in binders, sometimes they were lying on the bedroom floor. Her husband, a well respected drummer, has his teaching materials and drum magazines organized in a few Rubbermaid containers near his drum set.
I told her that most of my music had made it into binders, (and I spent hours organizing the music in those binders). Between binders, trade magazines, and books, my apartment had filled with nine bookshelves (to hold all that bulk) over the years. Plus there are two filing cabinets and various file boxes, both in my office and in my storage unit. I also have a closet in my bedroom with boxes of papers I still have to sort from another music studio I once worked at. There’s a shelf with binders of music from bands I had subbed with…just in case I got another phone call to fill in. Problem is, each binder just sits on a shelf as they wait for the call, taking up space. Space I could use for…instruments. Hmmm. We’ve got a problem here.
So there are plenty of paper tigers in my home, and I had no good answer to offer my colleague. Those paper tigers have been packed up with every move and brought to every new home, for fear of losing important documents. My blog title refers to the popular book/audio book “Taming the Paper Tiger” by Barbara Hemphill. I bought that book back in college to make my first serious attempt to tame the paper and sheet music mess. Despite numerous file systems and various organizational systems involving binders, I still have not tamed that paper tiger.
Like many musicians, I’ve been using Musicnotes.com from time to time to find sheet music. I have always liked their “search-able database” approach to looking up sheet music. So fast and easy. Within seconds, I could find what I needed during a student’s lesson, and have it printed out.
Last year, I ripped all of my CDs to an external hard drive. It took about three months, working an hour or two every day. Once the project was finished, I appreciated how quick and easy it became to find the song I needed. I wanted that at easy file retrieval in my home with my sheet music collection. For free. Okay, I’ll settle for cheap.
I could scan all these documents, but my document scanner (like most home office scanners) does one sheet at a time. And I’m not an employee at a large corporation with access to a heavy duty bulk scanner. I also don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a commercial scanner.
Before the holidays, all the online tech e-tailers were sending me adverts for their sales. Cool. I look these ads over as time permits, watching prices and planning my purchases (since I am a tech junkie). My sheet music quandary was still gnawing at me, when an ad came up for an HP Scanjet 8250.
It has a document feeder. Wow. It does 15 pages per minute. It has a duplexer (meaning it can scan both sides automatically). It does color. It will fit in my office. It is affordable. It is tax deductible. Hmmm…
The HP arrived last week, and I eagerly unpacked it. It set up quickly, perched on top of the now endangered bookshelf in my office. I am fortunate to have several computers in my office, and I assigned my laptop the job of being a full time archiving machine when it is not traveling around with me. (This was just the configuration I chose, this scanner does not need a full time stand alone computer.) I hooked the laptop up to the scanner via USB and installed the drivers. After a few test scans, I configured the scanner to convert all my documents to pdf format automatically…literally at the touch of a button.
The physical act of scanning is convenient. I place a stack of sheet music to be scanned on the floor next to my bookshelf each morning. (After all, there is no room for the stack on the bookshelf!) As I go about my day, I will throw one song in the document feeder at a time. I press a button and walk away. The scanner feeds the document and names them automatically in numerical fashion, allowing me to scan quickly. At the end of the day, I name all the documents and move them into the appropriate file folders. So just I throw some music in the document feeder before making breakfast, while cleaning, while reconciling lessons, before I get a shower, in between lessons…just whenever I think of it. A two inch stack of documents is scanned in one day, just scanning whenever I found it convenient.
I have the option to scan the entire pile all at once. However, I am looking to make every song a distinct file, so I scan each piece of music individually. I am naming my sheet music files so that they can be searched by song title, instrument, or composer. So for example, I would use the title “Purple Haze – guitar – Jimi Hendrix.pdf” for the file of that song.
There are numerous applications for this device. I’ve been backing up chart books for all the groups I am currently gigging with. Now, if a book is stolen, lost, or destroyed while out on a job, I can just print a new one. That alone is bringing great piece of mind. And that piece of mind comes using less space and is cheaper than making duplicates of all those binders.
I am also getting my sheet music library scanned in. I have many older sheets with historical significance, so I will save them and perhaps frame some of them. (Using the scanned copies will help preserve the originals.) But anything that is photocopied from a book, clipped from a magazine, or anything that has been organized into a binder is getting scanned.
The scanner has also been great for sending large magazine articles to students as I find them. I just put the article in the document feeder, press a button, and then a few minutes later I can mail the pdf file to whomever needs it. Less paper for me to hold all week until a student comes in for their lesson. Same for forgotten homework…put the homework in the document feeder, scan it and email it.
I can also store the articles and sheet music in a system that is logical and redundant. For example, I have folders like “Christmas Music”, “My Bands”, “Group Classes”, “Teaching Documents – Music Careers”, “Live Audio Workshop”, and “Sheet Music.” I might have an article on careers that I file under “Teaching Documents – Music Careers”. I might find that article useful for a particular group class I am teaching. Click on the file, select “Copy” and make another copy to place in the “Group Classes” folder. I no longer have to photocopy the article so I can “file” it in two different binders with two different copy masters.
I am scanning all of my group workshop materials into the scanner, and I will now use my laser jet printer to handle printing the packets for class. This is much cheaper than using Kinkos or my Lexmark inkjet copier. I also have the option of handling out the class content on a CD-R or emailing materials to the students. Now, when a student loses their class materials, I can also replace their handouts quickly via email with no cost to me.
As a result of my experiences with the document scanner, I am researching using Music Reader again. I saw this technology at NAMM a few years ago, and I was intrigued by it. The link below goes to a demo video:
When I saw some of the original music tablet PCs, you had to buy a software system and the tablet PC that it was installed on. You also purchased a foot pedal to control the PC for live performance. And then the PC had a unique music stand that the tablet mounted to. With a stylus, you could write on the tablet to make notes and changes to your music. And those changes would be saved.
The benefit is this system stores thousands of pages. The idea of having a MUCH lighter briefcase when I travel to other locations to teach and play was very appealing. There would be far less weight and I could carry a huge supply of teaching, gigging, and practice material. However the price for an entire system and the software was a bit too high for me at that time. So I left the NAMM show intrigued but empty handed, waiting to see if the price would drop.
Now the software is available for use on any laptop, tablet or desktop PC. Since the software can convert my pdf library into Music Reader format, I can turn any laptop into a digital music stand. Any computer can be controlled with a foot pedal for turning pages during live performance, you just need a USB interface. I can even buy a stylus pen and reader so I can convert any laptop to a touch screen style interface, if desired. Even better…all of this technology has come down in price from that last NAMM show trip. There’s more info at www.musicreader.net. (If you have experience with this system, your comments are welcome.)
Of course, my document scanning system hasn’t eliminated the need for redundancy. But computer storage is currently very, very cheap, and a lot smaller than paper backups. As such, I am adding several external drives to my home system. I am also looking at online/offsite storage, since these documents are very important to me. I am currently finding Network Solutions has the cheapest rates for such storage. (Feel free to comment if anyone knows of any cheaper services.) So in addition to having spare backups in my home, I will either store my files online, or store a spare external drive at someone else’s house for safekeeping.
Comments are welcome, and I’ll keep you posted on where this all goes.