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Realism in Orchestral Tracks

Discussion in 'Mixing, Post-Production, and Effects' started by AndroSheep, Apr 11, 2018.

  1. Replicant

    Replicant Senior Member

    Jul 16, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
    It's probably been said, but I'm not reading all the replies. But in my opinion:

    Good part writing, dynamics, tempo fluctuation, good reverb to send the tracks into, respecting the limitations of the instruments, and a decent sample library (most of them are) are all that's necessary.

    It should not be necessary to mess with EQs, compressors, etc. esp. when it comes to realism.
  2. Henu

    Henu Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2017
    As someone just going through his Template Balancing- video, Mike Verta disagrees with not using the EQ when striving for realism. And after been watching half of it now, I wholeheartedly agree with him and feel kind of stupid not realizing it before in the orchestral context. It's really essential for the depth of the sound!
    DoctorGuitar007 and PeterN like this.
  3. Replicant

    Replicant Senior Member

    Jul 16, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
    I'm sure Mike makes a compelling argument.

    Regardless, I will stand by mine.

    There is no way that EQ makes anywhere near as much of a difference as the things I mentioned in creating a realistic performance as to go as far to say that it is a necessary step.

    There is no shortage of product demos using the samples "untreated" that prove this. There are also product demos showing how to treat the samples with EQ (Cinesamples, Alex Wallbank) and honestly, the difference it made in general was subtle (to put it lightly) and there was no discernible difference in realism.
    Henu likes this.
  4. Henu

    Henu Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2017
    I think we're talking about different things here. While some nice surgical EQ will indeed get you rid of nasty resonances, buildups etc, it is not 100% necessary every time. And most of the time the samples are so well recorded that unless you need to match different libraries together, it's completely futile to start EQ'ing the living crap out of anything- you'll just end up usually ruining the original sound. Been there, done that. Nowadays when I mix (no matter the source or style) I EQ only when necessary, not for the sake of it, but I wish someone had told me that years ago, haha!

    But I'm talking about creating an imaginary distance using audio physics as a guideline. The further back you want your sound source to be in the field, the more it starts to lose low frequencies first and then highs later. Of course you also need early reflections and reverb tails too to make the illusion more realistic too, but carving the lows according to the source's wanted depth is essential in any sort of audio work when creating depth, and the orchestra is no difference on that.
    DoctorGuitar007 and Leon Willett like this.
  5. Replicant

    Replicant Senior Member

    Jul 16, 2016
    Alberta, Canada
    Fair enough. I dunno, I guess with orchestral libraries I've always relied more on the different mics for that sort of thing, but touche.
  6. bosone

    bosone Senior Member

    Sep 20, 2004
    regarding realism, as a "serious" hobbyst i can say there's no way to obtain realistic orchestral instruments phrases out of a VST without spending hundreds/thousands of euros in big libraries such as e.g vienna, or other.
    no EQ or mix technique could bring "life" to static samples.
    realism on VST orchestral instruments is not about "notes", it's about "how notes are connected", so you will be looking for legato, trills, portato, slurs, etc...
    i would suggest to not focus on realism at the beginning, but to learn how a DAW and how a sample library is made, and what you can do. there are tons of tricks that can be used to give life to a sampled instruments. you may want to learn how midi works, for example.

    a good starting and cheap point for a sample library is garritan personal orchestra. quite old but very effective as a learning platform. https://www.timespace.com/collections/garritan

    and, as a DAW, you may want to have a look at cakewalk by bandlab, a FREE high level workstation. https://cakewalk.bandlab.com/
  7. I agree about investing in a good library(s) to begin with. The bottom line? You can't polish a turd. I invite anyone to post some pieces composed with free VST's that sound like the real deal. Of course learning the "under the hood" aspects are essential, but if you don't have good tools to begin with, it's not going to sound convincing.
    goalie composer likes this.
  8. Samulis

    Samulis Versilian Studios

    The problem with your invitation is that 'the real deal' runs the whole spectrum from sugar-coated film scores and impeccable recording studios stocked with every 'U' on the planet to budget novice recordings done with $20 mics (there are even some genres and some libraries which are intentionally cheap sounding). While for the most part it is true you can't do all that much to improve upon inadequate recordings or poor performances, there always are things you can do to avoid the bad parts of the instrument and bring out the good.

    The benefit of sampling is economy of scale- one solo instrument sample library might mean one 1-20+ hour recording which can then be sold or distributed to hundreds or thousands. A $100 piano might represent $10,000 in recording costs. The same benefit falls down to freeware, especially freeware samples extracted from a commercial sample set, where tens of thousands of dollars in gear, performers, and studio time can reduce the only variable to sample detail.

    Sample detail in and of itself (i.e. number of pitches, rr's, vl's, articulations, mic positions) is often overrated. You probably use commercial sample libraries recorded in wholetone and minor thirds on a daily basis without knowing it (while there is some freeware even that is recorded chromatically), and there are countless expensive sample libraries with just two or three velocity layers. A sample library with low round robins can be used to great effect by avoiding ostinatos and repetitions in writing, and whether or not we really need articulations like 7 arco sul ponticello violas up-bow at pp with a paperclip 1/3rd the way down the D string is up for interpretation.

    I won't argue that the better quality recordings and performances you have at your disposal, generally the better quality your end result will be, but I will contest that all freeware is incapable of sounding convincing just because it's free. There are some bad freeware libraries, just as there are some bad commercial sample libraries, but there are also some excellent freeware libraries. Again, you can make great sample libraries at any price sound bad by abusing their weaknesses (try super fast legato/trills in a sample library with slow true legato transitions), but you can also make sample libraries sound fantastic which otherwise have zero good reason to do so.

    (the rest of the orchestra is real, but the trumpet is a very simple sample set (3vl, 1rr, chrom sustains)- what makes it sound remarkably decent is the phrasing and programming. While it appears fake in a few places to a brass player, I have no doubt this would easily fool a non-musician. This trumpet, however, fails in some other contexts, so again- my point that it is more about how well and in what context you use the tool rather than its quality is backed up)

    (I've heard live recordings that sound more 'fake' than those)

    (there's a reason I say most of the reason people buy sample libraries is the reverb on the demos... that's a ~10-sample harmonica patch)

    (I had to double-check this one was samples. Just goes to show how important good release samples are; honestly more important than transitions)
  9. The Haydn piece (I assume you meany Haydn, not Hydan) has a decent sounding trumpet patch, very nice. My point, however, is that free VST's on a whole are....well.....just plain awful for the most part when it comes to realism. If you could provide a sample showing the entire Haydn Trumpet Concerto sequenced using only free VST's (and have it sound remotely real), I would be impressed.
  10. dcoscina

    dcoscina Senior Member

    Nov 16, 2004
    This is an excellent suggestion. Also if you have the means (being a student should allow you lower admission prices) go see live orchestra performances. You will not only get to hear the realities of how love instruments sound together but also what is realistically attainable and you can even take internal notes about how the orchestra sounds in a live space.

    I’ve read a lot of responses here regarding production but please be attentive to performance applications too. If you play each line in, it will yield a closer sound to a real group since very few instruments are polyphonic. Also, adjust start and end times between instruments since orchestras never play perfectly in rhythmic unison. I always apply this even when vln 1 and 2 are playing a unison line because I’m reality, there would be slight differences in entry on a note.

    Working in a notation environment is beneficial since it makes one aware of potential static sections (lots of tied whole notes). Even breaking up a held note with some syncopated rhythms on the weak beats can give a sense of motion. Use of Ornaments are also your friend as trills and fingered trem can fill out your harmonies and yet again provide more activity. The biggest vice with composing using modern technology is that it’s keyboard based which can straightjacket one into a very limited approach and one that doesn’t necessarily translate well towards orchestral writing.

    My 2 cents
  11. robgb

    robgb I Have Strong Opinions

    Apr 6, 2016
    I've always found the "untreated" or "naked" tracks to be inferior to the treated tracks. The point of EQ is to make a sound more pleasing to the ear and render a track or instrument more cohesive with the tonal structure of the entire mix. So it only makes sense that proper EQ would lend a hand in making the overall sound more realistic, because by "realistic" we usually mean it sounds like a real RECORDED orchestra, which is what we're most used to hearing.

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