"Sotto Voce" version control for composers, Part 1, how to name and organize files

By Bernie Zelitch  

Revised 11/3/19

A few months ago, I changed a passage in a Finale music document. But it wasn't the latest document, so I spent many painful hours to merge the two. 

I put on an engineer's hat next day during my morning run. That was easy. My day job of 22 years was a software engineer specializing in version control. My main responsibility was to make sure teams of up to 60 engineers always worked on the latest document. 

I quickly realized the software tools used in software versioning didn't immediately serve music documents. I'll discuss in a later blog why that is. But the underlying concepts of software version control were useful. What follows is a fine, simple and free way of naming and organizing your files to eliminate confusion and costly mistakes. 

I name this process "SV", which stands for my favorite-sounding musical term, "sotto voce" (under the breath). I like that it could also stand for "SaVe" documents and time. 

Well-named and no temptations  

Good document hygiene begins with a good folder structure and a good document naming convention. Here's an example using Finale and choral SATB pieces I wrote called "Taller than my Shadow" and "Feel Music Falling".

This is how it works. I use Finale-specific idioms such as ".musx" file suffixes, but the idea works equally well for other software:

  1. Each piece has its own folder, each with an optional "SV" subfolder.
  2. Work only in a file called latest-<title>.musx. See the yellow highlights above.
  3. Save your work ("save as" option) as appropriate in a file called <today's date as YYMMDD>-<title>-<optional description>.musx. Immediately, save that same file as latest-<title>.musx, overwriting the existing one from a minute before.
  4. Continue with step 2.

Here are screen shots of two successive "save as" operations. The first is as a file with a date prefix. The second is the latest file.

In this way, the "latest" file is always in play, both navigating to its location and in the dropdown list of recent files. There is no temptation to edit anything but the latest.

Here are some more details about naming the files. Some of these rules have to do with clean and obvious visual look, in sorting and organization.

  1. The date prefix has 6-digit form of year month and day (e.g., 190703). When the month or day is less than 10, we prepend a "0" so everything sorts in date order.
  2. For piece names, like "Feel Music Falling",  I prefer to use all lower case hyphens and periods instead of spaces. So I use "feel.music.falling". However, what's most important is to have a consistent naming convention, with the date identifier and work title consistent throughout.
  3. For the <optional description> in 3. above, I included examples like sent .to.jim and strong.candidate. The descriptions are intended to be useful, as in "Jim, how are you doing? Are you looking at the file that says, 'Sent to Jim?'". Jim could have multiple versions.
  4. The "SV" folder is optional. I use it for a history of the work in progress, for the files without the <optional description>. I use the top level folder just for the "latest" and files with descriptions.

Inevitably, a version will have supporting files like exported ".wav" and ".pdf". A beauty of this process is that these exported files automatically contain the same name and its information. See the example of the "sent.to.jim" files above.

To suit your needs, this layout can be complicated. Need to have an ISNM number or a sub-folder to indicate sections of a piece? That's no problem. Just remember to place your latest-<piece or section name>*.musx. file and the "SV" folder at the right level and everything else follows. Here is an example where the top level indicates the above layout (not expanded), works in progress and works containing distinct movements.

Subjects to follow: 

Bernie Zelitch is a choral composer and lyricist living in the Boston area. Listen to snippets of "Taller than my Shadow" and "Feel Music Falling". website: berniezelitch.com email: berniezel@gmail.com.

Leave a comment

Please or register to post.

Add comment