Editing music, part 2: What makes a good music editor

January 1, 2019 By Adrienne Montgomerie ACES News

In Part 1, we heard from four music editors about the kinds of work they edit. This time, they tell us about the background that makes them good in this niche. That is, on top of their editor training.

Each of these editors has a background in music. Some still perform and teach music.

“A musical background is important, even for editing writing about music,” says Pam Smith, an editor specializing in music, the arts and humanities, management, and corporate work in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “That background might not be a formal music education or an actual qualification, but an editor would need to be able to read music (obviously), have knowledge and understanding of technical terms and, ideally, have a good understanding of notation, harmony, historical style, etc. I have a PhD in music and pretty broad general musical knowledge.”

(Spencer Imbrock, Unsplash)

Smith got her experience as a classical music promoter/manager for over 25 years. “I thought my music specialism would help me find an editorial niche. But it hasn’t – at least, not so far.”

“It is essential that the editor have a good grasp of music theory,” says classical-musician-turned-editor Michele Satanove. “It just wouldn’t be possible to catch errors or to know what to question without a solid understanding of it. In Canada, anybody who has gone through the Royal Conservatory of Music system would have sufficient expertise, and certainly anybody with an undergrad degree in music should as well. My experience having taken courses such as the one the book [I edited] was written for and also my performance experience were helpful as well.”

“With the exception perhaps of concert reviews or program notes,” says Satanove, “most books about music will include music excerpts. A copy editor would need to be able to read music.”

“I personally think that anybody editing anything about music should at least have attended concerts and listened to recordings in the genre that they’re editing, but that may be the musician in me, not the editor, saying that.”

“While I think it might be possible for someone to proofread this stuff without a background in music,” says Katherine Noftz Nagel. “I wouldn’t encourage anyone to jump into copyediting or substantive editing in the field without some experience in the particular musical genre involved.” Nagel is a freelance technical writer, editor, web designer, personal tech coach, and mezzo-soprano. “I’ve been performing medieval, renaissance, baroque, and classical period choral works since I was 13,” she says, “so I’m familiar with the history/theory/performance practice issues in the field. I wouldn’t attempt to work on theory or performance practice of jazz or R&B or 20th century orchestral works, for example. Although I could probably manage a historical survey paper if I had time to read up on it first.”

There is some training available to interested editors, Smith mentions. In the UK, the SfEP runs training courses for music proofreading and editing, which include the opportunity for mentoring.

Read other stories in our 5-part series

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website.

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