I’ve always enjoyed practicing my guitar while watching TV and trying to imitate various things from the music. I often noticed some familiar guitar parts and grooves used in various shows and TV ads and think to myself “hey, that sounds like something I could write in my studio, … how does a person get into this business of licensing their music for film and TV? Sign me up!” As with most other things in life, sometimes you need a spark of inspiration to move you from dreaming about doing something to actually doing it. In 2010 I was lucky enough to attend South-by-Southwest in Austin as part of my day job in the software business. For those who haven’t attended SXSW, it’s a combination of 3 overlapping conferences: an independent film festival, an interactive technology conference, and a music showcase for indie recording artists. It’s a great place to meet all kinds of creative people in addition to seeing a slew of up-and-coming bands from all over the world, invading downtown Austin to play their hearts out. In between my job duties as demo boy for our company’s booth at the show, I attended numerous sessions about the music industry including panel sessions about composing for film and TV (only a pipe dream in my life up to this point, I had no idea even where to start). Attending those sessions had a major inspirational effect on me, lighting the spark that started my crazycomposer blog site and sent me on a quest to become one of those people who make music for TV and film. Being around all of
the creativity and energy of SXSW (along with the great Texas BBQ and friendly people) left me completely inspired to pursue my lifelong dream.
In part III of my article on using virtual instruments for composing, I’ll talk about some considerations to humanize your parts using the Vir2 Mojo Horns plugin and Spectrasonics Stylus RMX as examples, and lastly I’ll provide some basic guidelines for good system performance.
Tip #8: Look for VI plugins that provide ways to “humanize” the sounds to create a less machine-like and more musical sounding parts
One of the examples of this is the way the Vir2 Mojo Horns plugin provides an automatic way to use a different sound sample for an instrument when you repeat several notes in a row (in a round-robin fashion). Say for example, you have a horn part that repeats a note several times in succession in a fast sequence. If the same sound sample is used for each note, your ear will perceive this as “mechanical” and unnatural sounding since a real horn player will have slight variations in tone for each note they play in succession. This is part of the human element that adds to the feel of a phrase. The Vir2 Mojo Horn plugin tries to account for this by swapping in different samples for each note in sequence form the same instrument, adding some variance in tone from note-to-note, making the part sound much more realistic. They also provide a wide variety of articulations for each instrument in the library to allow you to dial in the attack and decay effects you need to make the horn parts sound and feel real. You may be wondering why you can’t just use the same horn instruments from an orchestral library to do your Jazz and Funk horn parts as well? The reason for having separate Virtual Instruments for these different types of horn applications boils down to the articulations mostly. The Vir2 Mojo Horn VI contains all of the commonly-used articulations that would be used in Jazz, Funk, and Soul, whereas the East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra would cover the horn articulations (and recording space) used for symphonic music.
In part 2 of my article on using Virtual Instruments, I’ll have a closer look at some of the aspects of orchestral VI plugins and also provide some musical examples of the sounds I’m using in my compositions that demonstrate the features I’m talking about.
In recent years the quality of orchestral VIs has increased dramatically. There are now a wide assortment of companies offering full-orchestra VIs as well as solo versions of specific instruments in the orchestra such as Violin, Cello, Flute, Trumpet, Piano, etc. Depending on your needs you may need one or both options. For much of the music I was working on, I needed that full-orchestra sound that I’d heard in my head that I could never achieve with the plugins that were pre-bundled with my DAW software. Some of my cheaper plugins approached the quality I needed but still had major holes in the orchestra. I had decent string sounds but no woodwinds other than flutes and a few saxes, no brass unless I only wanted salsa-trumpet sounds and basic fake-sounding trombones, and nothing in the way of harps sounds. After getting East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, I was kicking myself for not getting it sooner.
Tip #5: Use your VI plugins as a tool to learn arranging techniques
One of the side benefits to having a high-quality orchestral VI plugin is that they can be a great educational tool for arranging/composing for various instruments that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. There’s no better teacher than your own ears for learning what can work in an arrangement when you have access to the right sounds to demo your ideas. Imagine having a full orchestra at your disposal, anytime day or night, to play your arrangements, no matter how badly they might suck, as you experiment with different groups of instruments. Through the magic of midi you can demo various instruments playing against each other, swapping out parts with different instruments of the orchestra, editing the voicing of your harmony, previewing options along the way, and improve your ability to “play the orchestra” as you become more accustomed to the most effective ways to use the different sounds in each section. This alone is well worth the price of buying a decent orchestral VI. As a matter of fact, after getting mine I’ve found myself listening to more orchestral music to get better ideas for arranging music for the different sections of the orchestra. (this makes my wife happy on long road trips when we have to agree on music).