Finale User Spotlight: Tim Davies

Tim Davies photo by Paulina Friedel

By day Tim Davies works as an arranger, orchestrator, and conductor in the Hollywood film world. By night Davies leads the Tim Davies Big Band, which features his compositions and drumming alongside top L.A. session players.

Born and raised in Australia, Tim first dreamed of leading his own big band at the age of 12. He moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to study at USC where a lesson with bassist/composer John Clayton led to a three-year gig assisting Clayton in his role as the Director of Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl. Orchestrations and transcriptions for concerts followed, including work for the likes of Jimmy Smith, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, and Take 6 as well as albums for Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, and Michael Bublé. Tim continues to arrange and orchestrate for a broad spectrum of top performers today.

Tim has also channeled his orchestration and arranging skills to the world of film, television, and video games. His success here has resulted in conducting work has well, including current films like Couples Retreat and the upcoming Percy Jackson and the Olympians. A complete list of his extensive credits can be found here.

In December 2009 Tim was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Instrumental Composition for “Counting to Infinity,” a track from the most recent Tim Davies Big Band recording, Dialmentia. His big band music is as diverse and varied as his list of credits, including elements of classic jazz as well as hip hop, heavy metal, and more.

Tim also enjoys lecturing and conducting master classes, and this side of his personality surfaced quickly in our conversation – he was eager to discuss his setup and share his tips with our readers.

“I have been a Finale user for 16 years: I think version 2 was my first. I am always amazed when I pull up an old score and see how similar it looks to my current work – the biggest difference is how much easier everything is to accomplish today. I have very particular ideas about how I want things to look and the greatest thing about Finale is that I can make anything look however I want. I have a highly tweaked template and this ensures that everything I do comes out looking the way I want, without any effort.

I like to think of Finale as my instrument: I have even been known to practice! Some of my friends think I am a little crazy, but when they realize I can work twice as fast, and more accurately, they quickly change their tune. The goal is to get all of the technical things out of my head and be automatic, so all I have to worry about is the music and being creative.

I use keyboard shortcuts for everything. If Finale doesn’t include the shortcut I make one in QuicKeys: I never go to a menu with the mouse. I use QuicKeys a lot to automate tasks and make menu and tool selections with keystrokes as I do not have the main tool palette open when I work.

I also use Quickeys for things like making selections of items in the Edit Filter. I’ve assigned specific keystrokes for copying only expressions, slurs, lyrics, etc. No mouse-clicking means it’s very quick. It took a while to work out how to do it all, but it is just part of what I just mentioned, getting all of the technical things out of the way.

When I am orchestrating, I start from an imported MIDI file. The more I can do by pasting and working with that source material, the fewer chances I have of putting in a careless wrong note. I do a lot of re-transcribing, imploding, exploding, and transposing. I have a set-up designed to make my job as easy and ergonomic as possible. I use three monitors: on the left I display the composer’s original file in Digital Performer, Finale appears in the middle, and the right-hand monitor manages things like e-mail, iChat, and Internet tasks.

For entry I use a Kensington track ball. I find this much better than a mouse, I can fly from one monitor to another with the flick of a finger and it has extra buttons I use for things like double-clicking, keystrokes like Escape and Enter, and another button brings up the Speedy Tool.

For playback I use Garritan Personal Orchestra but host it outside in Finale in the Plogue Bidule. This means the sounds are always loaded in the background and I never wait for them to load in a file. I open too many files to have it load the sounds in Finale. I have an HP5100 printer for printing large scores and a spare one just in case it decides to stop working at the wrong time.

Here are two of my favorite Finale tips:

  1. Create your own default file
    By creating a custom default file, all your customized settings will appear each time you create a new document. Once you’ve created the file, go to Finale’s Program Options>New indicate to indicate which file you’d like to use as your default. [See some related blog posts here.]
  2. Use hidden text in staff names
    Finale has very powerful tools for naming staves. One school of naming involves using a group name for instrument and then the staff name is just a number. If you do this though, you cannot see the name of the staff in any lists in the program, it will be just “1” or “1&2” etc. By calling it the “Oboe 1,” for example, but hiding the “Oboe”, you get the correct look on the score, and the full name in any lists.
    Creating hidden text is just like creating underline text – when you’re editing the staff name, select the text you wish to hide, go to the text menu and choose Character Settings, then specify “hidden.”

For more information on the Tim Davies Big Band and Tim’s jazz writing visit – details on his film, TV, and game work can be found at

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