Incorporating technology into your music arranging process is essential if you want to work more efficiently. It’s basically a given that you will use some kind of music notation software (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Musescore) and/or DAW (ProTools, Logic, Cubase) but there are a lot of really great tools out there that will help you work in these programs more efficiently. This article outlines some of my favorites.
JetStream Finale Controller / Stream Deck
The JetStream Finale Controller, developed by Robert Puff and an open source community is a FREE collection of pre-programmed Finale shortcuts and scripts designed for use with Elgato Stream Deck, a platform with 15 buttons that can be customized and assigned various commands. The mobile platform allows me to replace many cumbersome shortcuts and functions buried deep in Finale menus with a single touch of my iPad. The JetStream Controller itself is easily customizable, which allows you to group commands however you wish. The hardware version of Stream Deck currently costs $149, but I use the mobile app on my iPad at a cost of $24.99 per year (worth EVERY penny). (Notation Central sells Stream Deck profiles for Sibelius and Dorico.)
Finale supports the ability to import 3rd party plug-ins made by developers and there are several prominent ones you should know about. Whether or not these will be useful to you will largely depend on the kind of music you are arranging. All of the websites look incredibly dated, but the developers have kept the plug-ins up to date and they are very widely used amongst professionals. (Sibelius users find your plug-in list HERE.)
JW Plug-ins for Finale
TGTools for Finale
Patterson Plug-ins for Finale
Perfect Layout for Finale
Transcribe! is a cheap ($39) and easy tool for listening and transcribing music on a desktop computer. When you open an audio file the first thing you see is the waveform, making it easy to visually click around or loop any section of a song. It also has sliding bars that let you slow down or speed up the track (without altering pitch) as well as transpose into all 12 keys. There is also a “karaoke” feature which sometimes lets you hear more of what is happening behind a lead vocal in the accompaniment.
3rd Party Audio
Unfortunately we live in a world where no one will take you seriously as an arranger if your demos or mock-ups don’t sound good. In a perfect world we’d have live recordings of everything, but we can get pretty close by taking the MIDI from Finale and editing it in Logic, ProTools, or Cubase and taking advantage of better sound libraries and audio editing capabilities. But did you also know you can use those same virtual instrument libraries directly within your notation software? If you’re detailed with your articulations and other markings you can get really great results.
What kind of instruments you need depends on the type of music you’re writing. With my show choir arrangements I use Kontakt, Session Horns Pro, Studio Drummer, and Omnisphere to get really great results. For orchestral music I use NotePerformer, which is a sound library designed specifically to integrate with Finale/Sibelius/Dorico.
This is one of the rare instances an amazing app exists only for Windows, not Mac iOS. To be fair, iOS has much better print to pdf functionality built in, but I have PDFCreator set up as my default printer which makes it easy for me to merge pdf files into one document as I print. It’s also an easy way to add covers, title pages, program notes, or other graphical material to an arrangement without having to wrestle the formatting in your notation software.
A web-based design program, I use Canva to create all of the cover images, thumbnails, logos, ads, and other visual content I need to market my arrangements. It’s by far the easiest way to add graphics or text to an image or to resize an image (for example, that pesky octavo size). I’ll have more to say about this in the future, but if you are self-publishing your music this is a game changer. The scaled down version is free, with the pro version costing $9.99 a month.