Thanks for these kind words, Alun! I’m really glad that people actually find some use in the stuff that I’m writing here :)
Welcome to this little section of my page. Here you can ask me anonymously any music career etc. related question you might have.
“Cinematic Orchestration” as you call it is first of all essentially not different from “normal” orchestration but is merely a specific style to orchestrate. So all the hard rules of orchestration apply anyway and can be learned from books or orchestration courses. When it comes to really learn how orchestration is used in a filmic context, the biggest problem is that it is so rapidly changing what is currently in style that no book or course could really cover it. My personal way was to really learn traditional orchestration in every detail. When I was young I read every book on orchestration that I could get my fingers on, some several times. Later on in music university I had several courses on “classical” orchestration as well. Once you understand what is going on in “traditional” literature it is actually pretty easy to analyze the orchestration of most film scores by ear. Even if you cannot hear every single note, you simply know “it has to be this way”. So I basically learned the stylistics of all my favourite film composer just by listening to their music with my background knowledge of classical orchestration. Later on I got the chance to read through actual score sheets by several film scores I loved seeing most of the things I already heard being confirmed but still also learning a few interesting strategies to orchestrate. So the essence is to not presume that cinematic orchestration is massively different but simply learn to orchestrate. The stylistic feeling will come with that and with listening to a lot of film scores.
If you’re trying to get an understanding of the orchestration of a piece that you admire (which is by the way quite different from analyzing the composition itself) you should start by having a look at the big picture. How many different elements are present, who presents the main musical idea, who is providing harmonic backbone, when going more into detail have a look at instrumental combinations, which instruments are coupled with each other, next step would be looking at the orchestration of chords/voicings – how the tones are distributed in the orchestra, which functions of chords are where, which are doubled etc. It is also quite interesting sometimes to individually have a look at all sorts of orchestral “effects” – weird sounds, special playing techniques etc. That covers the basis, but it is always depending on the actual piece. If you analyse music from the classical/early romantic period, you will pretty much get a general idea of orchestration strategies with just a few different pieces while music from later periods needs more studying and more different pieces to look at as many composers developed individual orchestration styles which sometimes differ heavily.
Regarding your questions on sample libraries: Yes, I don’t like VSL because of the dry and especially close miced recording. It is practially impossible to get a close mic recording to sound like an ambient recording, no matter how much reverb you pour on it as instruments sound different when miced close than when miced at a distance. For instance with close mics you have the bow noise on string instruments very present – a sound that gets lost just a few feet away. Also the lack of position in the stereo field of the VSL samples makes it very different because panning them very often means to crop their stereo width which very quickly makes the sound of the orchestra very narrow. I do see certain use for VSL samples, it’s just not the sound esthetics I like.
Regarding which sample libraries to recommend – it really depends on your personal taste. I like the Berlin Series by Orchestral Tools but also the Hollywood Brass/Strings by Eastwest quite a bit. The Spitfire libraries sound great from what I’ve heard but I don’t own them so I can’t really comment much on it.
Self-doubt is part of a composer’s job description :)
Depends on how long you’re experiencing this situation already. If it’s just an acute situation, it usually helps me to do something completely different. Take off my mind from music and do a long walk, visit somebody or something, just generally try to relax and give it another go later on or maybe after a good night’s sleep. That usually helps me in every of such cases. But everybody has to find his/her own way with this.
If you’re experiencing such a feeling for a longer time, it is probably much trickier to handle and might have several reasons. Putting too much pressure on yourself might be one thing. It is easy to simply feel completely uncreative with the possibility we have nowadays to instantly listen to music from the greatest musical minds ever and this can be intimidating. But maybe acknowledge that none of them were born with their ability but acquired them over years of hard work. I always enjoy listening to John Williams early works because it brings him back on a human level for me and makes me realize that he just simply kept getting better and better by just doing it. Just understand that not everything you write can and will be a masterpiece, and even if you don’t like something that you’re working on that much at the beginning you might be able to see it as a challenge to still make something you like out of it or at least use it as a source to improve your skills and do better next time.
Something else that works for me is, to listen to a lot of really diverse music, just soaking all these things up like a sponge. If I stumble over something that I like and cannot immediately identify, I might even go to the piano and find out how this works. Sometimes you have these eureka moments and find something that you can store in your “musical vocabulary” to maybe use it in something of your own in the future.
You could also try just not doing any music for a week or whatever period until you actually really feel like you want to make music again. Of course this only works if you’re financial income is not depending on your musical output…
Without any context there is no guideline. The decision to double a line usually has two reasons: 1. to get it louder 2. to give it a different colour.
If your goal is to get it louder it is depending on the context around it. To stay with your example: Sometimes adding a single flute to the violins might be too much and sometimes throwing all woodwinds on the same line might be too little. There is really no hard rule for this.
If you want to colorize it is a little more delicate. Note that it will not make much of a difference in the sound if you double that violin line with one, two or 3 flutes. Usually the violins will dominate that mixture with the flutes adding a little bit of air. Doubling something is a twofold issue. If done right, you get nice interesting sound colours. If done wrong or too excessively it is the acoustic analogy to mixing too many colours resulting in an ugly gray. I think the best way for you would be to get an idea of what works best by studying score sheets and listen to respective recordings. You will eventually get the hang of how good doubling works. Unfortunately you will notice that it is all very depending on context. So there is no rule that always works and is alway appropriate.
Really tough question. I feel like I’m in the incredibly fortunate position to have practically everything I write being performed by a real orchestra. Once you establish this, it is actually not too tricky to have more of such work coming your way but I have to say, I consciously chose to shape my career this way. At one point a few years ago, I started to only continue taking jobs that allowed me to work with real musicians as I hated doing mock-ups so much and enjoyed working with musicians way more. This brought me close to a point of bankruptcy but after a few years it eventually paid off and I became “the guy to call if you are doing a project with real orchestra”
I’m not saying that this is what you should be doing and if it actually is a particularly clever way to force your career into a specific direction, but maybe you can try to slowly develop your career towards this direction by maybe trying to squeeze in to record one real musician on the next project, maybe a couple on the project after this etc. If you work a lot with returning customers you should try to push them into the direction of investing more money in the production. I had a few successful meetings where I showed differences between “in the box” and real orchestra recordings which eventually lead to raising the production budget.
It could be. As you know the jurisdiction in practically every country works the way that even if you do something wrong by accident, it doesn’t protect you from punishment.
I’m no lawyer but theoretically you should only be liable if it is clearly the same melody. But as you might have noticed Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke have been sued last year just because they created a song that had the same vibe as another song. So you’re never really safe. But you also shouldn’t worry too much. As long as there is nobody who sues you nothing will happen. And unless you’re making a fortune with this track even if someone who thinks you stole from him notices it, he/she might simply not see a point in sueing you.
Wow, now that is a long question :)
To be honest I don’t know any book that covers such a thing. I personally doubt such a thing exists for the simple reason that every individual reacts differently on music and just because you feel a certain emotion with a certain progression doesn’t mean everybody does.
But I think you’re absolutely on the right track with what you’re saying: You’re building up your own musical vocabulary. And that is the most important thing. Of course it takes years but the more you do this the more you can fall back on things you already know. Just continue absorbing all these things and build your own musical dictionary – because that is and will be what defines your style and voice as a composer. If there was a book that said “do that to create this emotion” what would be the reason for anybody to look for new and interesting ways to say something in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I do think so, yes. If you for instance sort the modes of major from bright to dark, lydian is way brighter and uplifting than phrygian. Just as with happy major and sad minor, you get very different shades of brightness with different modes. If you include the commonly used modes of melodic minor and other scales you get a whole set of emotionally very diverse scales and chords that can be used effectively to create certain moods.
I personally feel that even single different chord voicings of the same chord can change the mood of it dramatically…
These questions cannot be answered in a general way. On some movies one theme might be too much on another 10 might be too few.
The decision of whether a character (or something else) needs a theme is usually depending on how prominent the character is (or maybe NOT is but should be) and also heavily depending on the genre. Usually genres that require a lot of themes often have very stereotypical characters like superheros or villains, so it is pretty easy to find a tone for these themes. On more complex characters I usually look for things in the character that are not that obvious on screen. Just doubling what is obvious already doesn’t really lift the music to a higher level. Well written movies have characters develop during the movie so often a good point to start looking for a theme is to hint earlier in the movie where the journey of the character is going (unless you give away essential plot points with that). The in my opinion important thing with a theme is to try and give the character another level or to highlight a character trait that is important to understand its motivation…
Very broad question and hard to answer. One of the most important things would probably be to also write music that would be realistic to play on these instruments. Endless sustaining notes on brass/ww will take away any realism.
I think one of the best ways would be to get a score sheet of a piece where you have a recording from and try to reacreate it with midi mockup. The real recording will give you a great benchmark of how the balances between the instruments are as well as how ambient certain instruments sound like. Always do an A-B comparison when working on it to get as close as possible. You will learn alot from such a thing even though it is a lot of work…
Really tough question as I don’t really know how the music world in Australia works. Here in Germany you might be able to approach youth or university orchestras and try to connect with them. You might not get the most professional result from it but it is a good starting point and by the way a really great way to learn the instruments as less professional players will give you a way clearer idea of where the limits on the instruments are…
It’s really depending on the medium. If it’s for film, obviously the structure is dictated by the visuals. I usually do these cues by laying out the tempi and then trying to come up with something that connects all the structural elements/hitpoints musically.
With music that is not connected to a visual, I usually work with rough concepts beforehand. I have an idea of where I want the piece to go but I don’t have a strict plan of when exactly to reach these moments. If during the writing I feel for instance that a certain buildup needs more time to work most effectively, I will extend it without slavishly sticking to what I initially wanted to do. I personally feel that experience helps alot with this. You get more secure with doing decisions that could lead a piece into a slightly different direction than what was planned originally. However the concepts that I use are way more than just basic structures that I fill out with chord progressions etc. It’s more of a sound or general musical feeling that I hear in my head than just a structural element. Hard to descirbe actually…
Study Jazz Harmony – particularly chord extensions and modal harmony. You will get a lot of great possibilities by understanding this. Check out the book: Twentieth- Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti as well, which will also give you a few cool ideas on modern yet tonal chord progressions…
That is an incredibly complex question that can’t be answered in a few sentences. Writing proper dissonances that sound great is really tricky. I would recommend studying Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRINGS for extremely effective use of dissonances. Particularly pay attention how he very often writes structures that are pretty consonant within individual sections but create strong dissonance with other sections…
Can’t comment much on Berkeley. I have tutored a few years for Thinkspace but they just recently changed alot of their structure. Generally both courses should probably give a good basic understanding of orchestration but will probably not replace proper orchestration lessons. You might also want to check out Thomas Goss’ Orchestration Online course.
Sehr schwierig. Das wird dich wahrscheinlich eher noch mehr verwirren. Am besten wäre, wenn du dir einen Lehrer suchst, der weiß, wovon er redet und dir sinnvoll und strukturiert beibringen kann, wie man mit diesen ganzen Dingen umgeht…
Unfortunately only you can answer this question. The truth is – as a media composer a degree will not get you anywhere. Nobody really cares whether you have studied this whole thing for years and graduaded with flying colours. All that counts is what you have done and if you can deliver what the client asks for.
My personal reason to get a degree was twofold: I just felt that I wanted to know as much as possible about that thing that I’m earning my money with and never get into the situation where somebody doubts my professionalism just because I don’t have a degree in it and secondly: studying will give you a lot of tools that help you be faster in certain things when writing music.
Doing weekend seminars/workshops and maybe private studies will probably be just as effective from the professional standpoint.
Tricky question, and there is definitely no standard way of what to do next. Networking is key, try to connect to people who might need music for their projects. Currently a good way to sustain a basic steady income is to sign up with music libraries and produce music for their catalogue to be licensed later on. If you are good at creating something that is currently sought after you can create a pretty decent continuous stream of income. However it will take a while and you will need to keep feeding these libraries with new tracks in order to keep the income. Many composers are really happy just doing that, however depending on what you are looking for to do in your professional life, you can use this as a starting point to network for other projects. Unfortunately, it has a lot to do with being at the right time at the right place and having luck. Don’t expect to jumpstart your carreer instantly. It always takes a lot of time and patience, but if you are persistent you will eventually get there…
Officially the limit would be a Bb major in root position starting a ninth below middle C. However as I stated several times, those are limits that are just rules of thumbs and guarantee that the resulting chord sound will not be muddy.
Beethoven’s 7th is a great example how to break these rules for a specific reason: he wanted to create this dark quality at the beginning of this movement. I personally love going below the limits as well as you can get some fantastic dark colours by doing so. However it is much more challenging to balance these chords properly and an excellent intonation during recording is key to get them to really sound amazing.
I’m sorry, the rights for the composition lie with Anna Karkowska who recorded the piece. If you want to get hold of the score sheet(s) you need to contact her.
I had a mentor who is a composer in my hometown and I got his contact from my music teacher at school. Later on I studied composition and had 1-on-1 tuition with my composition professor for four years.
I don’t think that’s technically possible with my limited knowledge on this subject :) How about setting an alarm clock just for the tips? :)
I’m no lawyer, so I can’t really give any qualified input on that. But as you might have heard just a while ago the trial against Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams, which was won just for the song creating a “similar vibe” as another song. While it is completely impossible to avoid similarities as our brain actually gravitates towards the same musical structures over and over again, it is definitely not a good idea to incorporate a melody from another song into your own.