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altYou may not know Jeff Arnold by name, but if you have ever bought a guitar book from Hal Leonard you definitely know his work. As a high ranking editor within the guitar department, Jeff oversees the development and release of dozens of books each year, many of which we are all familiar with. Aside from his work at Hal Leonard, Jeff is an accomplished performer who has been a mainstay on the Milwaukee music scene for decades.

 Jeff sat down with us recently to talk about how he made the move from performer to editor, and what role he sees Hal Leonard playing in modern music education.


MW: You started off your musical career as a performer and teacher. How did you make the move to publishing, and was it a tough transition?

JA: I started taking guitar lessons at the age of nine and continued for the next twelve years, which includes my years at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. I also was an alto sax player through high school. My private lessons and schooling included a lot of theory, ear training, and reading. Being in the school band, and even choir, was very helpful too.  Both teaching and playing in local bands started in my teens.

One of my former students, Jeff Schroedl, did a sample transcription for Cherry Lane music for which they hired him. He eventually went to work for Hal Leonard and contacted me about doing freelance work. After studying the company style manual, and asking a lot of questions, I began transcribing, arranging, proofreading, and editing various guitar books in-between playing and teaching.

When an editor position opened up, I applied and was hired. There was, and still is, a lot to learn on the publishing end, but my years of training and experience paid off. I still play in a local band on the weekends.

MW: Can you talk a bit about the process that a new book takes from the initial idea to final publication?

JA: I’ll give you my role in the process as an editor: Once a project is conceived, a PCR (product clearance request) is drawn up outlining projected costs, size, legal issues, etc. The PCR is then given to an editor to assign to a transcriber or arranger, depending on the book. The editor assembles recordings, and other source that would help the arranger.

When the manuscripts come back, the editor checks over every aspect and makes red marks to indicate changes. The edited manuscripts are then sent to an engraver. When the engravings come back, the editor assigns the project to a proof reader. The proof reader’s task is to compare the edited manuscript with the newly engraved version. The proofer makes his/her red marks on the engraved proof.  The proof is then sent in for corrections. After this stage, the editor usually does any additional proofreading until the music is considered clean.

I also put together an art request form outlining the concept of the book for the art department. This request also contains information needed on the front and back covers, pagination, series logos, etc. A business affairs person checks copyright notices and other legal issues, and a production person sets up all the information needed to send the book to print.

MW: What are the different types of books found within the Hal Leonard guitar catalogue?

JA: I’m in charge of the song book area which includes: easy guitar, fingerstyle, classical, EZ rhythm, and author arranged books. I also oversee all the Real Book projects.

The most popular series is the Guitar Recorded Versions (GRV), where guitar parts and vocals are transcribed note for note from recordings. Guitar Play Along is another popular series. The concept is taking a GRV and arranging it for one guitar. The play along series comes with a demonstration CD.

Other series include: Signature Licks, Guitar Chord Songbook, various method books, and countless instructional DVDs, just to name a few. Hal Leonard just started a website called Guitar Instructor where you can purchase lessons and songs. We also put out Guitar Edge magazine. As a contributing editor, I play through all the songs with the recordings as a last step – kind of “road test”.

There’s a series for just about every style and level of player.


altMW: As well as being an editor at Hal Leonard you have also published several books of your own. In regards to the chord melody books you have written, did you find it difficult to write musically interesting arrangements that appealed to guitarists of varied experience levels?

JA: We have many chord melody books in the catalog, but most of them are quite advanced. We saw the need for a chord melody series designed to fit a guitarist who’s just getting into that style of playing. The goal was to have professional sounding arrangements that used most of the standard chord voicings players first learn.

We were going to hire this out, but the company decided to have me to do it instead. It was challenging, and gave me a chance to use my jazz training. It’s not policy to give arranging credits to in-house editors. I was surprised that they allowed it.


MW: In your opinion how has technology, especially the internet, changed the landscape of music publishing in recent years, and where do you see it headed in the future?

JA: When I was first trying to copy licks from recordings, I’d use a turntable that went down to 16 rpm which allowed you to take a vinyl 33 and drop it an octave. You were lucky not to ruin an album after numerous times of dropping the needle trying to figure something out. I was in heaven when ½ speed tape decks hit the market! Transcribers now use programs that allow you to do about anything to a CD.

The most common program is Transcribe. All the editors have it on their office systems. I use it every time when editing with a recording. YouTube is also a valuable tool as you can often view guitarist’s hand positions on videos. Lyric sites can be helpful if there’s a question involving lyrics. All of these advances result in better and more accurate books.

With the internet you have sites such as Guitar Instructor which allows a person to purchase single song transcriptions. It’s like the iTunes of guitar music. Sheet Music Direct is another site that functions the same way.

There are, of course, many guitar tab sites on line. The issue here is that Hal Leonard, and other publishers, have paid for the legal rights to publish certain songs and these are sites are a violation of copyright law.

Engravers and arrangers also use the internet to send files back and forth which saves both time and money. As long as there’s music, there will be a need to write it out. How that’s done and access to it may change, but the need still exists.

MW: In your opinion, what role does a company like Hal Leonard play in the landscape of music education?

JA: There’s a whole section in the catalog devoted to instructional books. Hal Leonard publishes all the Berklee Press as well as the Musician’s Institute books. The Hal Leonard Guitar method, which has been around forever, was recently given a facelift with input from Greg Koch.

On top of that, there are the band and choral departments that supply music to school systems worldwide. Just like any other series, there’s a book for everything.

MW: What advice do you have for people who are interested in pursuing a career in music publishing?

JA: Publishing is the written part of music. As an editor, being able to read and write music, along with a strong foundation in theory and ear training is a must. Understanding musical presentation, such as routing and page layout also matter.

Being familiar with what’s out there is a good idea. When interviewing a new editor, the question always comes up: “Are you familiar with Hal Leonard books?” Engraving skills are helpful. Many of our outside arrangers engrave in the same format as we do and are often paid for both arranging and engraving.

Send a resume to a publisher listing your training and experience. We often receive sample transcriptions from people wanting to get in to transcribing. Hal Leonard uses freelancers in all areas: arranging/transcribing, editing, proof reading, and engraving.

If contacted, take the time to send in your best work as first impressions do matter.

MW: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.

JA: Anytime.

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