Music copying used to be called 'engraving', which involved etching into metal for mass reproduction of professional-looking sheet music.
These days, computers do the job, but the computer operator still has to know about the conventional writing process in order to avoid errors, and to optimize the sheet music in terms of comprehension by the musician. Thus, music copying tends to involve a fair amount of inner hearing and relies on one's musical experience. The best music copyists are artists, because music copying is an art!
When I was taught to compose, the way you wrote down ideas was considered part of the skill of composing. I remember using a fountain pen, making my own manuscript paper, and sticking "Notaset" letraset dry transfer symbols on my staves! I still draw from this experience when preparing sheet music on the computer.
TYPES OF MUSIC COPYING JOBS
There are different reasons people hire a music copyist.
One reason is simply for the "engraving" service, i.e. to turn someone's illegible manuscript like this:
Into something that the composer (and others) can read, like is shown at the top of this page. (Yes, it is the same excerpt for piano!)
Once professional-looking sheet music like this is prepared, the composer or producer can hire musicians to perform and record the music in the studio, safe in the knowledge that the composer's original intentions are going to be communicated as clearly as possible. Poorly prepared sheet music seems to have a negative effect on professional musicians. Even if they can read and interpret it, it reflects poorly on the composer, and musicians tend to take the project less seriously and put less energy into the project, be it a recording or performance.
Another reason to have your composition/tune/song "engraved" is to enhance and support it's origin as your original creative work. That is, having your music professionally presented can be a positive step towards establishing the connection between the work and the composer.
A music copyist may also act as an arranger, taking a composition on one instrument or set of instruments and translating it into a wholly different ensemble. Take for instance, this fragment for bass and guitar, on the left below, which has been "exploded" out to a chamber orchestral arrangement of mine, on the right:
Musicians also hire music copyists to help them create sheet music from recordings. The act of transcription relies on a very well-developed ear, but can do something that no computer can do. Musicians without literacy and aural skills of this kind can create written compositions from their own performances. I find that singer/songwriters and more self-taught musicians that have a great "feel" for music and a talent for creating tunes and songs benefit greatly from having their music committed to paper. It not only aids its dissemination into the greater music scene but also helps with maintaining concrete records for copyright and authorship purposes.
Furthermore, musicians often find great advantage from working on other people's music. Often this is not available in written form, so a transcription of, say, Charles Mingus bass lines helps the bassist to enter into the creative world of Mingus' music. Again, it gives the musician something concrete to focus on in their practice.
There are some examples of my transcriptions on the right section of this page under links to scores.
Very often two pairs of eyes are better than one. Given the complexity of music, and the sometimes severe time restrictions a composer/arranger has in creating music, a music editor can be very handy when it comes to checking scores and parts. A good music editor makes a composer much more respected by his or her musicians and employers, because of the elimination of errors. Recording sessions go more smoothly, saving time and money.
"To all you singer/songwriters out there: If you are looking for a top-notch service to transcribe/transpose your songs, look no further. Jonathan Dimond does excellent work at affordable prices. He is very efficient and can usually have your fully notated song back to you within a week's time. This guy is a winner!"
Michael (Boston, MA. October 2005)
"You're so fast and so gracious; I really value our working relationship."
Dave Stern, pianist/composer (Cambridge, MA. November 2005)
"Jonathan did a great job transcribing some Paul Chambers solos for me. I recommend his work to anyone interested in exploring the jazz language. His transcriptions are clear, precise, and educational. I look forward to having more transcriptions by him in my music collection."
Paige Smith, bassist (Melbourne, Australia. September 2014)
"I am delighted with the sheet music. I look forward to working with you on another project."
Beecher Wood, cellist (Louisiana, USA. June 2015)