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A brief overview of acheiving realism with programmed orchestral music

JTJohnson

Active Member
I think it would be a great idea for members to post "simple" ideas of how to make orchestral music sound more realistic.

For example Im a guitarist by so could tell if a programmed guitar was indeed programmed by certain charicteristics or in orchestral music having the brass higher than the strings is a give away etc etc. Bad examples but you get the idea from composition, arrangements, technical playing, who plays with what and at what end of the spectrum.

Real simple stuff that will help me and others write more realistically
 

Flaneurette

Active Member
Few tips I gathered throughout the years:

Most simple trick is to layer different patches from different products, instead of relying on one library. The layering makes it difficult to tell which product is used and adds slightly more realism due to different dynamics, similar to overdubbing. So instead of dumping 20 tracks full of EWQLSO strings, layer them with, let's say, Spitfire.

Use an uneven number of patches. 3 violin patches sound better than 2 or 4. I do not know why. Maybe crowding the frequency spectrum? phasing? would love to know the reason for this.

If you play an instrument, use that instead of samples. I play guitar so that is helpful to give more realism to the whole. Vibrato is something that most guitar libraries lack, and as you know, very important for guitar. So only use samples when you have no access to a real instrument.

Automation: vibrato, volume, expression, dynamics, articulation is probably the next best thing. Then followed by processing: imaging, tape, distortion (warmth), even adding noise can make something more realistic.

And indeed, stay real with instrument ranges. And consider the woodwinds/brass by giving them small parts instead of endless, endless melodies. They have to breath!
 
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JTJohnson

Active Member
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Few tips I gathered throughout the years:

Most simple trick is to layer different patches from different products, instead of relying on one library. The layering makes it difficult to tell which product is used and adds slightly more realism due to different dynamics, similar to overdubbing. So instead of dumping 20 tracks full of EWQLSO strings, layer them with, let's say, Spitfire.

Use an uneven number of patches. 3 violin patches sound better than 2 or 4. I do not know why. Maybe crowding the frequency spectrum? phasing? would love to know the reason for this.

If you play an instrument, use that instead of samples. I play guitar so that is helpful to give more realism to the whole. Vibrato is something that most guitar libraries lack, and as you know, very important for guitar. So only use samples when you have no access to a real instrument.

Automation: vibrato, volume, expression, dynamics, articulation is probably the next best thing. Then followed by processing: imaging, tape, distortion (warmth), even adding noise can make something more realistic.

And indeed, stay real with instrument ranges. And consider the woodwinds/brass by giving them small parts instead of endless, endless melodies. They have to breath!
That is very good advice and thanks for the tips. Can you tell us if you have any issues blending all these libraries as they will all be recorded in different rooms i imagine?

I totally agree about mixing them though, blending may be an issue but you will crate a unique sound regardless.
 

marclawsonmusic

Senior Member
Good orchestration and MIDI programming cover a multitude of sins!

If you take the time to set up a template that is balanced volume and pan-wise... and then program something from known orchestral repertoire - and program it well... you might be surprised how little reverb and 'room' issues matter.

You could do this with the Kontakt Factory Library and still achieve a good result. I have heard examples of this on this forum.
 

Flaneurette

Active Member
Not really a trick, but equally important is:

Simplicity: Know when to stop.

Probably the most difficult thing to learn is knowing when to stop. We have an infinite palette, plugins, samples... many choices. It's really difficult to keep things simple. When I listen to member compositions, sometimes I hear too much complexity. Wanting to be clever, wanting to do something left-field, too contrived. While it sounds good on it's own, amazing even, the story or footage usually calls for something simple.

Do what the story and footage calls for. Bad composing is writing what you want, instead of writing what the story and footage demands. I think that the film composer and the composition should be invisible. It is not about you, it's about the music and the listener/viewer. If you can move someone without calling attention to yourself, then the composition will be believable, even if you play it on a cheap keyboard and pots and pans.

If you can take the breath away from an audience, making them happy or tear up, then you've done a great job. And who knows, they might start to wonder who that composer is and go buy the OST.
 
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Saxer

Senior Member
Don't just load an articulation and play. You will get used to what you have recorded. Before you record something: sing it. Most musical phrases will need more than one articulation. If you know what you want: start playing and look for dynamics, note attacks, note length, vibrato, rests and sound.

Always write for musicians if you want musical results. Imagine how a musician would play the part you are working on. No copy/paste ostinatos, play all parts.

If you write for monophonic instruments: play them monophonic. A string pad is a keyboard sound. A string section consists (mostly) of five monophonic lines. Write it that way and play it that way. Same with brass and woodwinds.
 
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gsilbers

Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com
Simple is a deceptive word. it maybe simple for some but not others. OR some parts of the production might seem simple on some areas not others. Or its the sum of a lot of simple things to make a real whole, which seems to be the point of this thread. And mostly to achieve realism in an orchestral pieace there is orchestration, theory etc. same as in guitar but for every instrument of the orchestra. not easy.

There these type of courses:

http://courses.evenant.com/
(cinematic music)

and then checking out random composer videos
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVYnPi4wXiLOcwLqZBHvsGE7vo03h9iF

you can extract those simple things that help create realism.
 

John Busby

Musician/Composer
Before you record something: sing it. Most musical phrases will need more than one articulation. If you know what you want: start playing and look for dynamics, note attacks, note length, vibrato, rests and sound.
I love this tip!
 
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JTJohnson

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Not really a trick, but equally important is:

Simplicity: Know when to stop.

Probably the most difficult thing to learn is knowing when to stop. We have an infinite palette, plugins, samples... many choices. It's really difficult to keep things simple. When I listen to member compositions, sometimes I hear too much complexity. Wanting to be clever, wanting to do something left-field, too contrived. While it sounds good on it's own, amazing even, the story or footage usually calls for something simple.

Do what the story and footage calls for. Bad composing is writing what you want, instead of writing what the story and footage demands. I think that the film composer and the composition should be invisible. It is not about you, it's about the music and the listener/viewer. If you can move someone without calling attention to yourself, then the composition will be believable, even if you play it on a cheap keyboard and pots and pans.

If you can take the breath away from an audience, making them happy or tear up, then you've done a great job. And who knows, they might start to wonder who that composer is and go buy the OST.

Probably the best advice i have seen so far. Reading forums and watching videos will sometimes have a negative effect on people in terms of overcomplicating things when all you are really doing is creating something that sounds good. Whether that be with 3 instrumnets or 20. As a guitarist i know that writing a beautiful son can come from one man/women/dog and his guitar. That's all it takes sometimes. I find Zimmers stuff is a reflection of this, he never tried to be something that he is not. It is simple, concise and always beautiful.

The composer should always be invisible is a fantastic quote everyone should remember.
 
D

Deleted member 422019

Guest
I think it would be a great idea for members to post "simple" ideas of how to make orchestral music sound more realistic.

For example Im a guitarist by so could tell if a programmed guitar was indeed programmed by certain charicteristics or in orchestral music having the brass higher than the strings is a give away etc etc. Bad examples but you get the idea from composition, arrangements, technical playing, who plays with what and at what end of the spectrum.

Real simple stuff that will help me and others write more realistically

Consider these 6 characteristics of every note:

pitch
articulation
location relative to the beat
envelope (primarily attack and release time)
velocity
duration

The more programming you do, the more musical your piece will sound. Think like a player, imagine how a player would express phrasing, gesture and intention. Also, slight adjustments in tempo can also help, in some passages, to create a feeling of not rigidly adhering to the exact tempo, something live players don't do, albeit some styles keep the tempo more constant than others.

Rather than think of realism, I think of musicality. A virtual piece doesn't have to sound exactly like an orchestra to sound musical and to sound good. In some cases, the pursuit of absolute realism is a fools game because it really is impossible to get a MIDI recording to sound exactly like a live performance. Comparing a recording of a live ensemble with a MIDI recording is more reasonable, but even then, differences in sound do not necessarily equate to differences in musicality or expression.

Jerry
www.jerrygerber.com
 
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sazema

Senior Member
Don't overuse instrument ranges, know real range of each instrument (so, do not play cello notes with viola, most libraries has spread note range).
Write like it will be performed live by real musicians.
Do not play something impossible to real player to perform.
Some impossible piano passages (for 6 hands) or violin passages with some impossible chords (pore violin :)) or some bass trombone exhibitions.
Always separate violin sections like in real orchestra and think about what each section plays.
I remember, one mentor told me something when I wrote some percussion lines - great, but it's impossible to play by any percussionist, you must watch on left/right hand combination etc... Here you must have 6 people :)
 

Ron Kords

Active Member
If you find yourself saying "that'll do" on any part, no matter how small, scrub it and do it again. "That'll do's" quickly add up... :)
 
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