Monday, December 31, 2012

New Prominent Instrument selection: Hang Drum

Recently we added a few new instruments to choose from when you are browsing our royalty-free music / stock music catalogue based on Prominent Instrument (e.g. you click on the blue "Prominent Instruments" button on the right-hand side over our site, or choose instrument from the Advanced Browse panel).

One of the instruments we added was the Hang Drum. This is a very unique and nice sounding instrument which has got a lot of new fans over the past year or so. It is a melodic / pitched percussion instrument with a really beautiful and interesting tone.

Despite the instrument having a very "earthy", almost exotic, ethnic tone, it is actually a Swiss invention. It has a really natural, ancient sounding timbre which makes us think of ancient cultures, rainforests, African landscapes, South American / Inca / Maya ancient civilizations etc. This instrument sound wonderful in Ethnic / World type music, especially if you are trying to create an earthy / natural / tribal tone but without connecting the sound to any particular country or region.

As the time of writing this, we have 9 tracks of Royalty-Free Hang Drum music, featuring prominent use of the Hang Drum, including two tracks that are available in pure, solo, Hang Drum versions without any other instruments. I'm sure more tracks will come over the coming months and years, as more of our producers discover the versatile and beautiful sound of this instrument.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Using Reverb to enhance your productions

by John Radford

Reverb in productions is probably for most composers the first ‘go to’ plug in and after effect, yet just as reverb can add a great professional quality and depth to your music, and can just as quickly ruin the production and make it sound ‘over produced’ and unprofessional. Reverb can often make or break a song, too much fills it with too much space and you can’t hear what it’s all about and too little just kills the emotion of it. So you have to take particular care in your appliance of reverb, and also be open to a lot of experimentation. In this article, we are going to look at some great tips for when using reverb and also take a look at some great reverb plug ins.

What is reverb?

Reverb, short for reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is removed. Unlike a delay, the original sound is not replicated, rather it is created when the sound is echoed in a confined space and the reflections are absorbed by the walls and air. In real terms, this is defined by the sounds being produced bouncing of nearby objects and refracting to cause the reverb. This is why in plug ins, there are many factory settings that allow the recreation of certain situations and places such as a church, or a cave or a small room. So in effect, a reverb used in productions is essentially a room simulator. What this does when added in a skilful way is enhance your production and give a more real sound to your music. There are quite a few different types of reverb. You can call them reverb modes, or room types. Some of the more common types include; Room, Hall, Chamber, Spring, Plate, and Convolution. In our age, we have access to digital reverb simulators which can simulate, quite realistically, all of these programmed room or reverb modes. Compositions that sound flat and one dimensional can often be lifted and given more depth just by the use of reverb. We are now going to look into differing types of reverb and how you can use these to enhance your production music.

Adding reverb: Tips and Tricks

Adding reverb properly takes a delicate touch and caution must be used not to get too carried away when using it.

Know your instruments: Reverb when applied to certain instruments can have a great effect, however when applied to others, can ruin the sound. Some instruments sound better with little or no reverb. For instance, I always think it best to use a short room ambience to dry electric signals such as synths and guitars. This to an effect can simulate the effect or recording a room. Usually, bass and reverb don't mix too well, unless you're specifically after a warehouse sound. Unfortunately, this effect results in a loss of definition among the bass regions. Run your reverb returns into a couple of spare channels in your mixer and back off the bass EQ, or add a high-pass plug-in EQ.

What kind of track: Obviously the overall kind of track you are going for will indeed play a part in what kind of reverb you are going to use. Ambient music is a popular format for composers of production music. Often in this type of production, composers like to make the piece of music sound ‘bigger’ and more ethereal. Using a large reverb with a long tail can be a very effective way of creating this effect. It can be particularly effective when used on the drums in a way similar to that of Sigur Ros. This leads onto another point about getting the balance and level right. An often asked question when referring to reverb is ‘how much?’ A simple answer to this would be to turn it up till you hear it and then turn it down again. This method however, only works if the decay time is right in the first place. If for instance the decay time is too short in the first place, then simply turning it up won’t help. The length of the reverb and its amount needs to be balanced against each other and needs to vary for each element of the mix. A nice simple way around this is to run 2 reverbs over separate buses both with varying decays. You can then adjust the amount you want to add for each one.

Reverse: Continuing on the electronic music theme, a classic technique used with reverb is the reverse reverb technique. This is employed particularly regularly in trance music, often in vocals where it sounds like the main vocal is ‘coming in’ when beginning a phrase. Trance music and vocals is not the only use for reverse reverb and it can work equally well on pads or a string section. To create the reverse reverb effect, reverse your sample, add reverb, then reverse your sample complete with reverb back around the right way again. This way, the reverb trail leads up into the sample, instead of trailing away from it. If you want to get really creative with your reverse reverb, follow these instructions: Have the reverb trail panned left on a separate track, then the original sample centre-stage (i.e. mono), followed by a regular reverb trail on another track panned right. The result is a reverb that leads up into the sample and trails away afterwards, while panning across the stage, left to right.

Less is sometimes more: Don’t use any reverb. Sometimes in a mix, there may be no need for reverb. If for instance you are recording instruments live and already have a great room with great acoustics then it may not be necessary to add reverb to that element of the track. Simply add a couple of extra mics to the recording and try to capture the natural reverb. Similarly, some things just sound better dry. Vocals are a good example of an element of the mix that can often work better with a delay rather than a reverb.

In summary, it’s important to recognize the power of reverb and its ability to make or break a mix. Next time you are mixing a track or adding an effect, maybe don’t just go for the factory preset on your favourite plug in and spend some time trying different things and experimenting with the amount, attack and decay time and types of reverb. You may just surprise yourself. We are now going to look at a couple of the leading software reverb plug ins.

Lexicon PCM Native Reverb

Lexicon hardware units take pride of place in many pro studios, and over the company's 39-year history it's become the gold standard in digital reverberation.

The PCM Bundle utilises the algorithms and presets from the Lexicon PCM96 hardware reverb. Buying one of these units will set you back over $2000, so thinking logically, the PCM Bundle offers better value for money at around half that. The reverb plug in comes as part of a bundle of plug ins.

The PCM Bundle plug-ins are easy to get a handle on, taking a direct and professional approach to the controls, with functionality being the key.

From times gone by, plug in reverbs used to be very poor conversions from their hardware counterparts, however recently vast improvements have been made and the PCM bundles and no exception to this rule. In fact, they are a superb conversion and fully justify their price tag. Admittedly this is right at the high end of plug ins, however what you are paying for with the PCM Bundle is the fact that it's unarguably the 'real thing' rather than merely an attempt at a Lexicon-style reverb - it goes without saying, then, that it sounds incredible.

Logic Space Designer

Space designer is a high end reverb now shipping with Apples Logic sequencer software. Personally this is my plug in of choice and it has excellent presets available to get you started and begin tweaking from.

The principle behind the convolution process - the key to achieving the most realistic reverbs - is that an impulse response is captured by recording the total reflections that occur after an initial signal spike in a given acoustic space, be it cathedral or cave. This recording can then be merged with your song's audio files, so effectively the audio sounds like it was actually recorded within the selected space.

Space Designer comes with 1000 professional-quality impulse responses (IRs), covering all manner of indoor and outdoor spaces (everything from bathrooms and large halls to pine forests), as well as hundreds of responses from legendary hardware reverb and delay units that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds.

Criticisms are that the plug in can only be used with Logic and that it can be a drain of CPU resources. However in my experience this is a small sacrifice to make for such an excellent plug in.

Whatever plug in you choose, be sure to experiment all the time and don’t just settle for the first preset you come across. You may just surprise yourself.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Surviving your first composing gig

By Richie Nieto

Getting paid to compose music is every hopeful music composer/producer's dream. Some make it into a full time job, others land one or two gigs and sees their dream fade away, yet others never even get a single paid music composing gig and give it up work in an office instead. Sad, but true.

In this article, our contributing writer Richie Nieto shares some tips and advice for the would-be full time video game composer or film/TV composer on how to behave and interact towards your client.

So you have finally landed your first paid gig as a video game composer. The first thing you do is call all your friends and try to excitedly explain that you’re going to work on a real game, but you can’t really talk about it because of the Non-Disclosure Agreement you just signed. After the initial rush of joy, you start to realize that you haven’t really done this before. Not the composing part -- you got that down pat, no problem! It’s the part about working with a live, breathing, paying client that you start feeling nervous about. A lot is riding on this; someone has money to lose if you don’t deliver what is asked from you. You can easily ruin your reputation even before you start building it. Panic sets in.

Have no fear! Here are some pointers that will help you sail through the rough seas of composing for money for the first time (or the second time, if you blew it the first time around). These tips won’t help you write an award-winning score, but they will help take the stress out of mostly everything else in the process.

Remember that most clients are just like you. They want to make a living doing what they enjoy, just as you do, and they also have a lot of concerns about working with someone for the first time. They want to be certain that you are responsible, efficient, organized, cool under pressure and hopefully fun to work with. You ability as a composer is a given by this point. They have your reel, they’ve listened to what you can do, and they have agreed to your rates. The focus now is on work dynamics.

First things first. Communication is paramount. Make sure that you put together a contact sheet with all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the people involved in the audio for the project. Be sure of who you report directly to and who gives final approval of your music, but never dismiss anyone as unimportant for any reason. You can’t possibly know if the opinionated guy in the background is a relative of the company’s CEO, so always be professional and polite to everyone.

If you were not involved in the pre-production stage of the project, you should receive a music asset list, detailing all the cues you need to write and their lengths, a description for each one, if they are one-offs or loops, and the final delivery format. Ensure that the list matches your contract, and if it’s a longer list or it’s bound to grow later, ask for an addendum to the contract that specifies that you will be paid for the extra music.

It’s also very important to ask for any visual materials that the art department can provide, unless you’re composing to linear media (i.e. cutscenes or cinematics), in which case you will most definitely receive video to work to. A drawing or a short video clip showing how a character moves can suddenly trigger a bunch of ideas about the feel and direction of a music piece.

If the descriptions on the music asset list are too vague or you’re still unclear about the music direction for any piece, ask for actual music references that you can listen to. Some inexperienced composers are afraid that their client will think that they have no ideas of their own if they ask for a reference, and therefore, are not up to the task. The truth is that using a reference, or "temp music" in film, is very common in most projects, even the really high-end ones. It saves time for everyone, which of course means money, and it makes the communication process more fluid, especially for clients who are not too familiar with musical terms.

Along with a reference, ask the producer or director what they like about that particular reference piece that suits the scene or level so well. It’s easy to just listen to it by yourself and decide that, for instance, the tempo and the percussion’s energy is what you should go for, but it turns out that what the producer really liked was the melody instead. This seems very basic and rooted in common sense, but when you’re trying to come up with an idea quickly, it’s very easy to get on the wrong path if you don’t have enough information. Asking questions is a sign that you care for the project. If a client seems impatient about your inquiries, tell them politely that you only want to do the best for their project and that you want them to be happy with the results.

Once you’ve finished composing a first pass of a cue, deliver an good quality MP3 to the appropriate team members through previously agreed-upon channels (FTP, e-mail, etc.), along with a short explanation of key aspects that you would like to highlight about it. This can seem trivial, but don’t send a big honkin’ three-minute 24-bit WAV file for review -- it’s a waste of time for everyone, and again, time is money. Always follow up after submitting any music or materials. If you don’t get feedback within a reasonable time period, try again. An e-mail lost in a Junk folder can mean the difference between a smooth project and absolute chaos if redundant measures are not taken. A single quick phone call the next day takes little time and keeps things under control.

Always expect to have to write more than one pass for a piece of music. Only composers with a lot of experience who have previously worked with the same client for a while are able to consistently nail a cue right off the bat, and even then some tweaking may be required. Love your work, but do not fall in love with your music -- it can get ripped apart if it’s not what’s needed for the project. Therefore, don’t take any requests for changes personally; it’s all part of the process and, after all, they are paying you. Even if you think their idea is ridiculous, give it a try. You may find that something really cool comes out of it.

Unfortunately, there will be the odd occasion when you run into an unusually difficult client, who keeps asking for endless or unreasonable changes, or starts requesting fixes for pieces that have already been approved. Here is where a previous written agreement becomes invaluable. You can politely but firmly show to the client that their requests were not part of your contract and they will need to compensate you for the additional work. This can get tricky, especially if they have already dug in their heels, but in most of the cases it becomes a matter of re-negotiating, and both of you meeting halfway. It’s not ideal, but it certainly beats contemplating getting into a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

Once all your music has been signed off on and your final mixes delivered, make a point of personally thanking everyone on the team for their work and their help. Without brown-nosing anyone, send a short email to the team highlighting a couple of things you enjoyed about working on the project. Some people who are starting out just disappear as soon as the last cue is approved and delivered, and while that isn’t inherently frowned upon, they are wasting an opportunity to leave a long-lasting positive personal mark on the client. Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing, and your reputation as a great person to work with can be spread around among a lot of potential clients very quickly.

So, that’s about it. Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Maximizing Composer Agreements

by Kole Hicks

*First and foremost, while this may be potentially applicable across various freelance disciplines, I’d like to mention that this article is being written from the perspective of a Composer who mainly works in the Game Industry (with some additional experience in the Production Music world). Furthermore, it’s always recommended to hire legal help from an attorney with experience in your specific field of work.

We’ve all been here before, many (or dare I say "most") of us dealing with this situation more often than we’d like. The people involved are great, the project is inspiring, but that budget... oh those numbers just don’t add up right. It’s true that most of us would prefer to keep the "creative hat" on and delegate the "business hat" to a manager or attorney. While it’s always wise to hire someone knowledgeable in the inner workings of legalese and contract construction, negotiations may cease before you even get to that point.



So in situations where the Company/Developer/Producer doesn’t have a large enough budget to cover the "standard" fees and terms of an Agreement, it’s essential that you facilitate creative negotiations that’ll be beneficial to each party. Agreeing on something that quells their budgetary concerns, while maximizing your potential benefits.

Here are a few ideas that may help you maximize the benefits in your Agreements.

I. License Your Music

The game industry has a reputation for wanting to own everything they possibly can and it’s understandable as to why, because the legal side evolved from software. It’s easier to just pay more money upfront to own something than have to deal with potential legal problems down the road. However, royalties don’t exist at the moment for Game Composers and we’re very much use to that from the Film and Television world. So how do we potentially bridge the gap?

One idea is to License the music you create so that the developer can use it in their game, but you have the option of selling or using it elsewhere after the game has shipped. There are many talking points involved in a Licensing Agreement and all of these can be negotiated. For example, what will this initial License cover?

Will it only cover usage of the composition for the game on one platform, how about any trailers or promotional videos, DLC or sequels? All of these points are negotiable and will allow you to define a License coverage (and re-licensing fees) that both parties can feel comfortable with.

II. Soundtrack and Bundles

Another idea, in addition to or replacement of a Licensing Agreement, is to retain all of the revenue from sales of the Soundtrack. If the developer doesn’t have a large enough budget to pay many of the standard fees upfront, then it may be possible to recoup (or possibly exceed) some of that monetary risk later down the line with Soundtrack sales.

Even if you’re working under a WFH Agreement I would urge you to try and hold onto as much of the soundtrack revenue as possible. It may be nearly impossible with larger companies, but smaller studios may be open to the idea. Especially if you take care of everything (perhaps using something like CD Baby) and report monthly with sales data. Eventually sending them a quarterly check based off the percentages you negotiated.

In addition to separate sales of the Soundtrack, it may be possible to negotiate a potential "Bundle" package that includes both the game and soundtrack. Usually the Soundtrack and Game are offered at a discounted rate, but the lower price tends to make up for itself in a higher number of sales. The thought behind this strategy is that a decent percentage of gamers may not ever think to buy the soundtrack separately from the game (unless they really love the music). However, if it’s offered for only a few dollars more in a bundle, then they may be more willing to part with that amount of money for additional value in the form of a soundtrack.

III. Exclusivity

If the developer is open to a Licensing option, then they may request that the composition you create remain exclusive to the game for a certain amount of time after the initial release. This amount of time can vary drastically and numerous factors must be considered before both parties can agree to an exclusivity period. Every month that the composition remains exclusive to the game, is another large handful of days that you can’t license it to another project or possibly sell it to a music library.

If you’re finding it difficult to agree to a specific exclusivity period, then it may be easier to write in language for two possible scenarios based off the performance of the game. If the game is doing quite well after its release then perhaps the composition shall remain exclusive for a little bit longer; however if sales/downloads of the game are lacking then it would only be fair that the exclusivity period be shortened.

Furthermore, it’s essential that you get a clear answer on the actual release date of a project, as many modern games (especially PC) will release an Open Beta yet still charge customers or have already implemented monetization. By traditional definitions this could be considered a full release, but the company may not see it that way, so make sure to get an official release date in writing if you plan on re-licensing the composition after the exclusivity period.

IV. Revisions and Creative Control

Revisions and iterations are a part of any creative process, but some developers (if not restrained) can micromanage a piece of music into the ground. That is why it’s essential to write in a specific number of revisions on a single piece of music into the Agreement. Any revisions over that amount should warrant additional compensation. I personally like 3 revisions and work that into as many of my Agreements as possible. It’s a high enough number to facilitate efficient feedback so I can create something special that resonates with the developer, but also low enough to guarantee that any overly extraneous work or revision requests are additionally compensated for.

Furthermore, based on the budget of the project and what you can negotiate, it may be possible to retain creative control over the music’s direction. This not only gives you the power to revise cues at your own pace, but also the additional benefit of deciding on the overall palette/feel/goal of the music. Obviously this would require an enormous amount of trust from a developer, but in the right situation it’s possible and very much worth pursuing.

V. Right of First Refusal and Future collaborations

Sometimes if a project doesn’t have an adequate music budget, but is currently pursuing funding/investors, then they may (at some point in the middle of development) acquire additional monies for the game’s development. In this situation, it’s essential that you write in the Right of First Refusal on creating (or re-creating) any of the music for the game. It’s hard to imagine a developer disrespecting all of the time you’ve invested up to that point and throwing you by the wayside for another Composer, but it can happen and is best to have covered.

Furthermore, in some micro-budget situations it may be pertinent to write in language that guarantees you to be hired for any sequels, ports, DLC, or maybe even wholly different projects. All of which are assumed possible because of the original game’s financial success, at which point you should be rewarded for your investment.

VI. Bonuses

Lastly, but certainly not least, as there are tons of options I’ve yet to mention, we have the option of writing in Bonuses into the contract. The traditional bonus structure is based off the number of units sold and is usually attached to a specific dollar amount the Composer shall receive.

However, it’s entirely possible to base the bonus structure off of different goals like: Total downloads, Youtube Video Hits (if you did the Trailer/Promo music), etc. Furthermore, the bonus compensation could be a specific dollar amount, or (if the developer would like to make sure it gets invested right back into the quality of the game) then perhaps it could go into the funding of live recordings. Paying for professionals like a recording engineer, studio, session musicians, mixer, etc. All of this should be on top of your initial creative fee of course.

In a world of diminishing music budgets for projects of all sizes, I hope you’ve found this article helpful. We don’t always have to just accept an Agreement with the provisions written in by the Company / Producer / Developer. It’s guaranteed that those provisions heavily favor them and if they don’t have an adequate budget to pay for the lack of beneficial provisions for you, then you have the prerogative to suggest creative solutions. Thanks for reading and I wish you all the best in your future Agreement negotiations!

Some older tracks being pruned today

This month we have added a huge amount of new music to As per our tradition, we follow up by removing some old tracks. We call it "pruning the catalogue".

Why do we do this? Because we made a decision when we started this business back in the year 2000, that we would not turn out like other old, established music libraries, having thrived for 15 years, to still be selling that 15 year old music and thus starting to sound outdated. For this reason we pro-actively hunt down tracks in our catalogue that have existed on our site for a long time and have fulfilled their potential and outplayed their part in our business. We are committed to keeping the catalogue fresh.

Rest assured, we add at least 10 new tracks for each old one that we remove -- so far, anyway. So, our catalogue still keeps growing at an immense speed, even though we are removing some old tracks.

Today we are saying goodbye and thank you to the following tracks:

8th Day
Alegria Passion
Bottom Feeder
Dirt Underneath
Fun Theme
Guitar Slinger
Level H
Morning Sun
Network News
Race Car
Stimulation Three
Super Samba
The Squirrel
The Zero Song
U R So Deep
Welcome to the Machine

Saturday, November 17, 2012

YouTube, Copyright notices and YouTube Safe Music

Got a "copyright claim" on music licensed from us?

If you have licensed a music track from and you get a "copyright notice" on your video, where the music ownership is claimed by some company (e.g. CDBaby, AdRev), first of all, rest assured that you're not in any kind of trouble. You are not being accused of copyright infringement. You are simply being informed that our music was found in your video.

Copyright claims on YouTube are completely automated. YouTube's automated systems do not know that you have bought a license, so that's why you're getting the "copyright claim". The claim can easily be removed by using the "Dispute" feature on the YouTube copyright notice page to provide documentation that you've purchased a license to use the music in your video. Within 24 hours, the copyright notice on your video will be removed.

In an ideal world there would be a way to provide License information at the time when you upload your video to YouTube, but so far that is not the case. So the process is: (1) You upload the video -- (2) YouTube automatically finds our music in it and generates a "copyright notice" -- (3) You use the Dispute link on the YouTube page to provide documentation that you have licensed the music -- (4) The copyright notice is removed from your video. It's a little bit of a hassle, but takes less than 2 minutes, and it's not dramatic.

If you still have trouble with this, fill in our contact form and let us know (A) the link/URL to your video, (B) details of your license order, such as order number or customer name so that we may find the order, (C) information from the copyright notice screen on YouTube which displays the track title being found in your video, the artist and the company claiming administration of the track. We will help you to look into the matter, possibly contact the artist to get them to help as well. If you are a paying customer, we will definitely get the copyright notice removed from your video(s).

Classical music copyright notices

With classical music recordings, the situation is messy. The thing with classical music is that the actual composition is in the public domain (it belongs to no one and everyone), but who ever actually makes their own performance and recording of a piece of classical music automatically owns the copyright to that recording. We have the rights to our version of Chopin's Nocturne. But another company may have made their own version of the same composition, and they may have put that recording into the YouTube audio recognition system. And that fully automated system often cannot tell the difference between one version/recording and another!

If you received a "copyright claim" message when using classical music that you licensed from us, most likely some company, somewhere, has made their version of the same composition, and they own the rights to that recording. They don't own the rights to the version that we sell, but YouTube's automated systems cannot tell the two versions apart from each other, and the track that you licensed from us is wrongly being matched to a recording of the same classical composition made by somebody else.

It's a real mess up there at YouTube with classical music, and in some cases, several big music publishing companies are claiming the rights to the same piece of music, even though that recording doesn't even belong to any of them. This thread over at Google Groups illustrates some of the problems people are having with companies claiming rights to public domain and classical compositions that they don't own the rights to.

There's not really much we can do about this, other than to recommend you use the "Dispute" feature and, if necessary, provide the license documentation that you got from our site when you made your purchase. You may explain during the dispute submission process that this is a case of mistaken identity and that this version so-and-so composition is a recording that is licensed to you via and it is not the same recording as (what ever company is claiming the rights to it). With a bit of luck, this process will lead to the claim being removed from your video.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Custom Made Music service

We are happy to announce that as of this week, we are officially offering a Custom made music (also known as Bespoke music) service at

Truth be told, we have sort of had this service available for a few years, but we have just dealt with it as and when the question came up from customers, without offering it, or handling it, in a concerted, organized way. Well, now we do.

The way this works is that you first discuss the basics of your project and your requirements with us here at the Shockwave-Sound office. You will listen to some music demos and describe to us what you need. We will discuss which composer / producer to use for your project. When we have got a reasonably clear picture of what you need and how much it will cost you, will will put you in direct contact with the composer, who will then be working directly with you on your project. From there on, you will discuss the project directly with the composer, via email, phone, Skype, etc. At this point, we here at the Shockwave-Sound office will not be involved with every detail of the project. Only when the project is fully finished to everybody's satisfaction, you and the composer will check back with us here at the Shockwave-Sound office, to let us know that the project was completed.

We are in the privileged position that we are able to work with many different composers and producers from all over the world, with different backgrounds, different specialities and skill sets. What they all have in common is that they impressed us sufficiently to start working with them in the first place! (We accept only about 1 in 50 composers who apply to have their music sold via our site).

For music demos, basic terms and prices, please see our custom made music page.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Choosing the right music for a Documentary

by Simon Power

Now that there is a huge variety of mood music available, choosing the soundtrack to your documentary video project can present some exciting opportunities. This article gives some tips & guidance on how to use music to add vibrancy and impact to your production and still bring it in on budget. 

How do the experts do it?

Many of the high end filmmakers understand just how important good music is when it comes to adding expression & symbolism to their documentaries. Liberal commentator Michael Moore has produced 4 of the highest grossing documentaries of all time and his style has become a benchmark of modern filmmaking. Music choices often include popular songs alongside effectively chosen extracts from movie scores.

Often the music will be used to bring new energy to the programme, shifting gear from a whimsical piano aria to pounding Thrash Metal. Or a 1930’s Music Hall ditty to a Danny Elfman-style fairytale theme. Each of these styles & genres has something new to add enhancing the narrative in a number of different ways.

The BBC is World renowned for its documentaries covering a vast range of subjects from science, politics and nature to sport, travel and the arts. Their series such as ‘Imagine’, ‘Horizon’ and ‘Blue Planet’ often employ bespoke composers who produce sync music in a variety of moods that perfectly integrates with the visual presentation. Huge orchestration may be used for wide dynamic establishing shots and intimate arrangements for thoughtful pensive moments. The BBC can guarantee large returns from foreign placement and can afford to budget accordingly to secure some of the top composers who may be under contract to produce whole series of documentaries. Or who in some cases will demand large fees for original composition.

On the big screen, other successful documentaries including ‘Jesus Camp’, ‘Grizzly Man’, ‘Enron: the smartest guys in the room’ and Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Supersize Me’, all utilise a menagerie of music genres to create a rich tapestry of sound that drives the narrative and helps lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

However, these music beds are covered by copyright or are very expensive to produce. So where does this leave the amateur or semi-pro filmmaker who makes documentary style programming with little or no budget for the music? Well, there are a number of alternative solutions available to published works and bespoke composers that will get great results, but not end up costing the Earth.

Let the music tell the story

First of all, let’s be clear about the role of music in documentary filmmaking.

Essentially its primary role is storytelling. Driving the narrative along through a variety of moods. Scene setting. Building bridges between interviews, stock footage or animated sequences. In fact, for the majority of the programme, the music is playing a secondary role to the voice over. Only taking centre stage for brief moments before the voice returns to the forefront.

Therefore it’s important that your music creates the required mood within around 4 to 8 bars (perhaps 8 to 10 seconds) as the scene is set and the narrative prepares for the change of pace. This is not necessarily the first 4 bars of the composition. You may choose to use a section from another part of the tune when the instrumentation has built in pitch or reached a crescendo. Therefore it’s always good to listen through a track you think may be suitable to make sure you are utilising it to its full potential.

Make sure it has room to breathe

Of course, because it will often be playing under the voice it is good to choose music that suits this role. Certain instruments include frequencies that clash with the human voice whereas others enhance it. A lead instrument often jars with speech whereas rhythmic passages with no lead instrumentation will flow along with it. Make sure when the music is added there is still plenty of space in the sonic spectrum for the voice frequencies and any other sound design you may be incorporating.

Set the scene

Scene setting is a hugely important task for music. An arid desert looks 10 times as hot and dry if it is accompanied by a sinuous slide guitar or a remote wailing Harmonica. Night time City Streets may benefit from the hustling shuffle of an Urban bass loop. Whereas sporting action will look rougher & tougher with the addition of distorted guitars & driving, thrashing drumbeats.

Then of course, these ideas are just acceptable triggers and shortcuts and sometimes, the complete opposite may be more appropriate for what you need to convey...

Play around with the rules

In fact, creating a paradox with the music can be an extremely effective device.

An argument between a car owner and traffic warden is accompanied by cartoon-like orchestration, immediately removing any threat. A teenager tidying his unkempt room could be recorded in fast motion and accompanied with Ragtime music. A politician who has lost his way whilst attempting to justify an unfair policy becomes ludicrous if he’s fumbling & stumbling over a backing track of a forlorn tuba or trombone.

These humorous juxtapositions rely on a shared knowledge of musical triggers between the filmmaker and his audience and can add exciting contradictions to a variety of scenes.

Choose from a variety of styles

What styles & genres to use relies heavily on subject matter. Travel shows may cherry pick their soundtracks from the indigenous music of the country in question. Established art may use classical music and modern art may have a more experimental approach.

Science & technology programmes often rely on futuristic synthesised soundtracks.

Then, of course there are examples of when directors have chosen to bend these guidelines in search of new and evocative ways of filmmaking. In the documentary ‘Web 3.0’ whose subject matter is firmly set in the science & technology genre, we hear an accompaniment of Eastern European folk music complete with accordions and violins. Somehow it fits perfectly with imagery of state of the art internet environments & row after row of giant air-cooled servers. Just by the very nature of being its polar opposite.

The documentary ‘Bush Family Fortunes’ also utilises a variety of styles and genres. From the opening scene’s ‘Dallas’ theme music, to Hip Hop, laid back jazz, Soul, Gospel & Blues. Not styles that you would associate with former president George Bush, but each enhancing the narrative. Each playing a particular role & bringing the truth of the storytelling to the forefront.

Don’t let Restrictions limit your imagination

Using published music and recognised songs is not a feasible option for amateur & semi-pro film making, as this can prove to be hideously expensive and extremely time consuming to administer. It’s a subject that has been addressed before in these other articles ‘Cue the Music’ and ‘Choosing Music for a Short Film’. Although collection agencies, publishers and artists are beginning to sort out the issues involved, it is still best to steer clear of published music.

So what can we use in place of recognisable songs? How can we tap in to the collective consciousness of our audience without playing them Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin or Coldplay?

Find Alternatives to published works

Thankfully these days there are plenty of alternatives to using copyrighted music.

Many buyout music sites offer royalty free alternatives and sound-alikes that offer a similar evocative feel to famous well known songs and instrumentation. But sometimes the choice can be over whelming. To help decide on what to use, in the privacy of your studio, you could try using a temporary track by a well known artist. Check whether it works well with the visuals and then remove it. Next, use some advanced search terms on a buyout music site to find something royalty free that has a similar feel & groove.

As an example, let’s say your temp track is a feelgood uptempo Motown song which has been used to illustrate action footage of a volleyball event at a beach resort. In this case, using an advance search engine you could enter searches such as ‘feelgood / happy / joyful / positive / R’n’B / Pop’ and prominent instruments like ‘vocals/songs with lyrics/drums/guitars’.

At Shockwave-Sound.Com, these focused search terms may lead you to a long list of tracks including the likes of Dan Gautreau’s ‘Shake it’. This track would be a perfect feelgood, uptempo alternative to your Motown original. So with these intelligent advanced search options it’s now becoming ever easier to find viable alternative music that will perfectly convey the essence of your original temp tracks.

Finishing your project

Current trends show that the marriage of music and visuals has never been more exciting. The excellent ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ documentary by recluse graffiti artist, Banksy utilises a hugely diverse number of tracks from underground dubstep & new wave punk to Latin jazz & French cafĂ© music. All providing their own unique qualities without interfering with the storytelling process. Other documentaries with interesting innovative soundtracks include ‘Capturing the Friedmans’, ‘Man on Wire’ and ‘Spellbound’.

All these examples show that choosing the right music and soundbeds for your documentary project can be extremely satisfying and an enjoyable part of the film making process.

I hope in some way that this article inspires your choices, fires your imagination and offers one or two tips and a little guidance towards making the job a little easier in the future. Fingers crossed that your musical choices will help put you on the way to producing a smash hit, award winning documentary in years to come!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Some older tracks being pruned (removed) today

Saying goodbye to some old tracks... I guess we are probably the only stock music site that actually removes old tracks. We always set out with the aim that our catalogue should be fresh and up to date - also12 years after we launched. Too many other music libraries have fallen for the tempation to just let their catalogue grow and grow, keeping all the old music as well as the new music (or in some cases, not even adding new music, just keeping the old stuff) which, after some years, inevitably leads to the music catalogue starting to sound outdated.

For this reason we remove some old tracks from time to time. The criteria for selecting tracks for removal (or "pruning" as we call it) is a combination of how long the track has been on the site, how much it has sold (ever), how much it has sold (over the past 12 months), and just our personal feeling about the track.

Here's a list of the tracks that were removed / pruned today:

Urban Cool
Heavy Skitz
The Viper
Crossing Over
Spanish Rumba
Blue Rumba
Nascar Mayhem
Le Mouchoir
Wish You Were
From Inside
Hope Eternal
Sit Down Jam
Dont Look Down
Meet the Beat
Inner Spiral Light
Journeys End
Udu You Think You Are
Breathe In

Of course, we have also added many, many brand new tracks. Probably 10 times as many as those listed, over the past month alone. So even though we are removing some old tracks, the number of tracks to choose from in our catalogue is still increasing fast every month.

Audio previews now available from Checkout and View Cart pages

Hi all,

We have a small new feature / improvement on our site today. You can now play an audio preview of the product(s) you have in your shopping cart, from the "View Cart" or the "Checkout" page. Use this feature to take one more listen to the products you have in your cart, before finalizing your order.
Many thanks to your good customer David Cottrell for suggesting this feature. :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tips and curiosities from computer games music, part 1

By: Piotr Koczewski

I would like to introduce you to some curiosities from the world of game music, but before we start, just a few words about the beginnings of game music.

The first composers started by creating partitures using Midi sequencers, like Protracker. Probably the most famous composer, and also the pioneer of game music is Tommy Tallarico. He created his first MIDI soundtrack (completely free) for Prince of Persia when he was 21 (in 1991, shortly after moving to California).

It’s hard to believe, that Tommy Tallarico would start from such a small project and finish in the Guiness Book of Records in 2009 as the creator of soundtracks for 266 games. Tommy Tallarico is also a founder of the worldwide festival Video Games Live (you can find more of his work on Video Games Live Official Web Site and also on his own homepage).

All your Score are Belong to us

There is a Polish accent featured in Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It's a sample voice - "Nie, Nie, Nie" (which means "No, no, no") included in "The Mud Remix" tune. This was Frank Klepacki alluding to his origins - he has Polish roots. Frank Klepacki is a pioneer of interspersing movie quotes into game music.

Another example is a quote from the movie "Broken Arrow"-"Real nightmare", appearing in the "Blow it up" track from Red Alert 2. In "Hell March 3" you can hear a German soldier saying "Die Waffen - liegt an" which means "The weapons, at ready".

From the Home Studio...

You can hear a lot of japanese instruments while playing Red Alert 3. My first impression, when I was listening to these pieces which invoke the images of the Land of the Rising Sun, was fantastic. I was convinced that James Hannigan had had to employ a japanese choir of several dozen voices. Yet, the vocals used in "The might of the Empire" were recorded by only one person, but multiplied to create the impression of a female choir. Japanese phrases were sung by Miriam Stockley, better known for the song "Adiemus"

...and the Score

Creating the soundtrack for Red Alert 3 was divided into symphonic records (including sinthesizer tracks) and recordings of virtual instruments. However, before the pieces were put together as a soundtrack the musicians had to prepare samples of the music using notation or virtual instruments’ audio tracks. Than the notation was checked by a conductor working for Skywalker Studio, which then takes us to...

The Recording Studio

Mixing Audio with Orchestra for Red Alert 3

Sampling... Sampling Never Changes

Mark Morgan, when he created the soundtrack for Fallout 1, used voices from the movie “Dr Strangelove”.

In “Second Chance” you can hear a quote of Major Mandrake a few times - "Certainly, General.Why do you ask, sir?"

What’s even more interesting, you can hear the influence of Aphex Twin (Richard David James) all over the soundtrack. In one of the interviews, Mark revealed that he received an Aphex Twin CD from Black Isle as a guideline.

Tips and Hints from Computer Games Music

To be honest, it’s hard for me to start recording a new tune when silence surrounds me, so first, before I start inventing a new melody, I listen to one of my earlier records, which I personally consider a good track. It puts me in an appropriate state of mind. Then I make a choice from a wide selection of instruments, that will be fundamental in my music, and of course I decide about the melody itself (you can even record solo tracks, then mix instrument by instrument). I've even created a whole piece beginning the recording from the end.

Writing the music for an image or story

A good musician should be able to create the main theme for a game knowing only its title and genre (knowing the story and concept arts is helpful, but one can do without them). While working on a strategy game about War on the Pacific, I would draw inspiration from movie shots and photos of battles (Russians fighting Japanese, Chinese - Japanese, Japanese - American and so on). Creating the music for "Storm over the Pacific" took me a few months, during which I learned a lot, because until then I had never recorded an entire soundtrack for a WWII game (Creating something brand new is a challenge).

When listening to a song with false notes, you can feel uncomfortable. Hans Zimmer called it sumbliminal messaging that appears in one’s throat. On the other hand, I call it a signal received by the ears and brain as an in-balance in the envirnoment (hence the unpleasant feeling in my mind while listening to discordant tune).

Sometimes, when I'm having doubts about the selection of a new instrument for my song or after finishing a compliation, it is time for some mastering. I save the song as a new file with a number documenting the progress of my work.

Let`s get back to the past for a while. One of the most popular MIDI synthesizers in the 90's were Edirol Orchestral made by Roland. You could hear it's sound in the following games: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Planescape Torment, Turok 2 and Heroes 3.

At one time PC's had a quite constant computing power and only a limited number of MIDI instruments could be implemented. Now the quality of music depends on the budget of the company creating the game, or its investor.

A higher budget is a requirement when it comes to recording music with the orchestra, but working on your partitures with live musicians gives you a quality incomparable with any synthesizer or orchestra sample libraries. Working on music may be fun, but it's also time-consuming. The amount of the time spent by a musician ranges from 8 to 16 hours per day (including mixing and mastering). In my opinion, it's appropriate to reward yourself for all the effort put in the work, for example with a nice meal and a brew (after work only, of course). Remember to constantly save the corrections and remember to use the autosave option. Many a time this option saved me from a serious nervous breakdown.

Knowing the setup of an orchestra is a minimum necessary musical knowledge. A good understanding of it will be necessary for you to “seriously” engage in recording (knowledge of instrument articulation will be a must soon). The setup of the orchestra plays a role in routing instrument channels (left, center and right). The only exception is the position of the piano.

Second Strings?

The first violins play legato (slow) and second violins play staccato (fast). This also applies to the sections of contrabasses, cellos, and wind and percussion instruments.

Do not be afraid to delete already recorded notes that do not fit. If you are worried about your creativity, just move them to the end of your track as backups. I once extracted 3 songs from one project. Why so much? It was simply because I moved unused melodies beyond my track, to use them subsequently in other recordings (when working on a 60 minute soundtrack, every good idea lost means delays in your work, and you can’t let that happen). After an hour or so, save your project and take a break, then listen to it once again. A good method is to write it to your mp3 player, phone or external drive and play it outside the studio (or wherever you are working).

Reset Your Ears

While recording, avoid music of the type you create. If you’re working on a symphonic tune, it is better for you to listen to fast Dance or Disco, rather then symphonic music. Immerse yourself in imagination, let yourself be creative. If you take too much inspiration from some track, you can be accused of plagiarism.

Another method is recording the track on the fly, with nobreaks for silence. Revising notes, mixing or mastering while listening to the track will help you finish the project quicker. So do not waste your own time for making breaks, turn it on and fix it. It is natural to take notes when you create or enhance the mastering. Personally I use special laminated paper (some sort of whiteboard), since searching for a particular piece of content and throwing away A4 pages takes too much time. You can also color-code good notes or fragments.

If you have no inspiration for finishing the current track, work on another one (within a week of work you can create a few recordings without getting bored and losing the energy to complete the tune).

Do not send samples of your work to anyone before finishing it, and never rely on opinions of other people – it is You who started the base of it in your mind. Also, do not ask “what to do” – just use your imagination! If you are away from your instrument, for example at work or school, go further even in thoughts – think it over, what to change, what sounds are needed to be added, what emotions the next track should evoke. Try to put as many different sounds as you can into your track. To be honest, that is one of the things which make professional Hollywood composers special.

And Now Some Tips from Mix and Mastering

Work on studio speakers only, because they sound best (even compared to headphones). Listen to your music in Wavelab looking at a working Spectrum Analyzer and Level Meters. Remember, that the volume of the track and frequencies can’t exceed 0 db. Do not listen to the radio! It usually emits high trebles (this makes the songs more catchy). There is nothing worse than to start mastering a track, with a distracting Macarena or Chiuhuahua song in your mind. It's best to listen to your music at low volume because then you can catch the most mistakes. You can catch more bad sounds when the music isn't too loud.

You may also want to read part 2 of this article.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Some older tracks getting pruned today...

Dear friends,

Every week, of every month, of every year, we add new music to We've always deliberately set out to be a place without "old, outdated music", so in parallel with adding new music all the time, we also remove some old music.

It's a bit melancholic. Some of the following tracks have been with us for many years and some of them have been customers' favorites and made part of the staple of quality music here at Shockwave-Sound. But it's time for these "oldies" to make way for new music coming out. It's not that we don't have the "space" to keep the old music on our site. It's just that we deliberately don't want too much old music on our site. We want our catalogue to be fresh and updated. If a track has outlived its natural shelf life, even if it's a good seller, we "prune" it (e.g. remove it) after a few years.

The following tracks were removed today. Some of them were composed and produced by me personally (Bjorn Lynne), back in 2000-2005. It's sad to see them go. But I'm glad I made them, and I'm glad that they have been part of what has made so successful through the years.

So it's goodbye to the following tracks:

  • 30 Seconds
  • A Lifetime of Moments
  • A Simple Love Song
  • Alices Worst Dream
  • At the Bar
  • Autumn Mist
  • Bass Culture
  • Beetlemix
  • Beijing Moon
  • Bonfire in the Desert
  • Bossendorfer
  • Cocoon
  • Communication
  • Cosmic Winds
  • Cowboy Kartin
  • Dissolve
  • Dont Fret
  • Evil Pulse
  • Expensive Mood
  • Fall
  • Fantasm
  • Fast Information
  • Full Throttle
  • Fusion Drive
  • FutureCorp
  • Haunted Galley
  • Hotel Martinet
  • I Can Do That
  • In Good C Switched On
  • Indianshop
  • Ka-Hora
  • Kool Club
  • Leisure Class
  • Lifeline
  • Memories
  • Moroccan Roll
  • Mysanthia
  • Nicaragua
  • Nice Day Out
  • Nocebo
  • On the Morrow
  • Onwards and Upwards
  • Open Pod
  • Party in Rangiroa
  • Peru
  • Playtime Boogie
  • Prayer Warrior
  • Reconnaissance
  • Ripple Wire
  • Ripples
  • Romania
  • Scary Fairy
  • Send And Return
  • Senoreta
  • Sentimentale
  • Silent Hunger
  • Slow and Serious
  • Space Precinct
  • Spiral
  • System
  • Systya
  • Talisman
  • The Brits
  • The Giant
  • The Magic Spell
  • The Meeting Place
  • The Ringmaster
  • Under The Bards Tree
  • Understatement
  • Viande Rouge
  • Wagon Wheels
  • Water
  • While You Were Sleeping
  • Whomp
  • Sunflowers Dance
  • Xandracos

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ideas for Effectively Using Sibelius and Pro Tools 8

A Method for Streamlining Your Workflow to Maximize Creative Output

By Kole Hicks

Pro Tools has never had the reputation of being (MIDI) Composer friendly, but with the upgrade to PT 8 I’ve found that it’s now my preferred sequencer when composing. The method I’ve been using and will share with you today has some great benefits to it, but also a few drawbacks... lets go over them below.

First the negatives... The main drawback to using this method is that it’s quite time consuming at first. So if you have very strict deadlines and not enough time to familiarize yourself with this method, then it may not be for you (at least not at this time). Also, somewhat related to the previous drawback, you must be fluent in both Pro Tools 8 and Sibelius 5 +. Otherwise, using this method will just be frustrating and inefficient. I wouldn’t call this a negative, but this method is not really necessary for loop-based/electronic composers. This method caters more towards the crowd of composers who like to notate their work and tend to write orchestral pieces. Last but not least, if you’ve just purchased your first few virtual instruments or sample libraries then this method may not be for you. This method works best for a composer who is familiar with his/her libraries.

With those negatives out of the way, it’s time to talk about the benefits of using this method. If you are familiar with Pro Tools 8 and Sibelius 5 +, then you’ll be able to use this method to more accurately compose for your project and have a notated copy of your most important parts! I’ve found that when I sit down and focus on every aspect of notating something (as you have to in Sibelius), my ideas are more complex, richly detailed, and accurate towards what I want to express (especially if it’s an instrument/section I can’t play or in a style that is not improvisatory in nature). It’s also fantastically convenient to have a majority of the parts already notated for those times you’d like to have some studio musicians come in and record their parts to help your mostly sample-based Composition sound alive.

So with that little intro out of the way, lets get to the method...

First off, I like to start with a few of my own personal Pre-Compositional "rituals" which usually consist of watching the video, looking at some concept art, or other inspirational project material, and describing everything in detail. (Perhaps my own personal Pre-Comp rituals would be a good topic for a future article, but I’ll spare you the time in this article :)) After this is completed to my satisfaction, I would begin to work in Sibelius.

If it’s a video you’re working with, then you should go through and map out the hit points and decide which ones are important (downbeat hits) and others which shouldn’t carry as much weight (less emphasized upbeats etc.) {Ex. 1}. If it’s concept art or something else that doesn’t need to be time synced, then imposing a "big picture" form on the entire thing is a wise decision. Which really just means that you’d be making a rough blue print on where important changes are to occur and how long you’d like the piece to be. All of this is subject to change when the "ink hits the paper".

{Ex. 1} (This Example is already notated, but yours won’t be at first)

Next, it’s best to actually take a step back from Sibelius and choose your instrumentation based off of all the information gathered in the Pre-Composition process. By this time, you should have a rough idea of when certain instruments will be used, what will be your primary/focus instrument, your background instruments, etc. All of this is important to physically write down for three reasons. One, studies have shown that a majority of people remember and learn better if they physically write down something as soon as they think of/hear it. Two, you’ll have something to go back to later as reference in case you forget. Three, if your piece becomes huge and yourself famous, then this little piece of paper could be worth a ton and you could sell it on E-bay :-P.

Once this is done, all of the organizational markers and structures are in place for you to begin composing. How you do this though, is completely up to you. I know many people who like to just improvise on their instrument (keyboard, guitar, etc.) until they come up with something appropriate. However, I know of many others who can already hear a majority of the piece in their head, so they immediately begin notating. I personally have used both methods, as the situation always dictates my process. For example, I will always "toy" around on the guitar first to come up with a metal groove or jazz chord melody. If I tried to notate either of these two things before playing them, then it will almost always come off as contrived. This is almost never the case when I write for something like a choir or string quintet. I always try to hear those parts in my head first, and start with notation. I’ll only go to the keyboard/pick up a guitar if I’m lacking inspiration or can’t hear the complex harmonies in my head. As a wise man once told me, "It’s all about context."

Now, the great part about using Sibelius first (besides the fact that you have a hard copy of what you composed for future performers), is that you can go into rich detail and add articulation, dynamics, etc. Although some of your details may not translate into transferable MIDI data, the important part is that you were thinking about your composition in more depth (something you may not get if working outside of notation). You can always "tweak" later in Pro Tools to accurately express the detail that your Sibelius MIDI left out. However, most of the time Sibelius can pick up these nuances and is able to translate them into importable MIDI data. This will make your job in Pro Tools that much easier.

{Ex. 2}

It’s also important at this point to think ahead of the libraries you’ll be using to record these parts (I can’t stress enough the importance of familiarity with your libraries when using this method). For example, I may want an unmeasured tremolo articulation in the string section of this piece, but by being familiar with my libraries I know that I already have a great sounding unmeasured tremolo articulation. However, it only works over a sustained MIDI note. Sibelius will literally chop up that unmeasured tremolo articulation into many MIDI notes and will almost always sound "robotic" if used as is.

So, in my Sibelius notation I will leave the string section without the unmeasured tremolo articulation and instead add a note right above saying "U.Tr." for unmeasured tremolo. {Ex. 3} (Measured tremolo is different and can usually be used as is). Then, when you import the MIDI data into PT 8, all you have to do is remember where you wanted to have the unmeasured tremolo articulation and switch up the string patch for that section. Little things like this can either make your workflow consistent and seamless or be utterly frustrating to the point of discarding this method entirely. That’s why I stress the importance of being familiar with your libraries.

{Ex. 3}

I know a few of you are probably thinking right now. "Are you saying we should notate every single instrument out and do so before we even play/record anything? I don’t have time for that!" The answer is actually... "No".

I recommend only notating the instruments that: Aren’t improvisatory in nature (sometimes stylistically dependent), you might have a session musician come in and play later, or you can’t accurately articulate while playing through a MIDI keyboard/controller. For me personally, I’ll usually just notate the Orchestra’s "foundation instrument sections" like the strings, brass, and woodwinds or whatever other instrument/section is most important in this piece. It may be all of them or just one... it completely depends on the length of the piece and my deadline. Context :).

So lets say during the notating process you run into writer’s block, are getting bored, or decide that some "non-notateable" instruments have a larger role in this composition. At this point it’s perfectly fine to begin working in Pro Tools and recording a few of the parts which don’t need to be (or aren’t able to be) notated. This will help break up the monotony of the notating process and may even inspire new ideas! Just make sure to have your PT session "mapped" out like you did in Sibelius before you begin recording.

That segues to our next important topic in this method... map out your PT session :). That means making markers at hit points/important sections, changing meters/tempos, and all of the other little things you can do to help reference back to where you are (and what should be happening) in the piece. As long as your not asking yourself "Where was this part supposed to go again... or where the heck was that hit in measure 43?" then you’ll be fine.

{Ex. 4}

Now that you have your PT session mapped out, it’s time to convert your Sibelius Notation into MIDI data and then import all the MIDI data to your PT session. I prefer to have just one Stereo Aux Track with a VI loaded as a plug-in and then bus it through to its appropriate Audio and MIDI track. {Ex. 5} However, you can also take the imported MIDI data and use instrument tracks instead... it just tends to take a lot more work and CPU if you have a ton of tracks to work with.

{Ex. 5}

Once your tracks are all set up how you like (color coded, grouped, etc.) I would recommend going through and slightly altering the velocity on each one of your MIDI tracks before recording. Even though your Sibelius dynamics will be included in the MIDI data it’s not always perfect and doing this will help "shape" the piece and feel more realistic in the long term. At this point, your ready to load up the appropriate virtual instrument(s) and record all of the audio. Of course, as you listen to the piece and it begins to take form, you’ll find that some of the parts you wrote aren’t necessary any more or that you may even like to add a few new ones. That’s perfectly natural and a part of the Composition process. If you feel that this method feels too "robotic," then I would recommend playing only the main melody/focus line on your keyboard and keep the rest true to this method. You’d be quite surprised at how that tends to "rejuvenate" the other instruments.

The end result of using this method (after mixing/mastering which would be a completely new article) is something that you not only have a hard copy of, but have probably thought more about as well. Thus helping it feel more authentic and accurate in expressing yours (or the project’s) intention. In fact, if you’d like to hear the result of one of my pieces using this method, just Click Here and tell me where to send the track.

Thanks for reading, take care, and keep composing fellow artists!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bamba kids games line with audio from

We recently worked with Mezmedia - a full-service interactive and multimedia studio, to create a unique "Audio Logo" for the animated logo for their line of kids games, "Bamba".

The brief was to create an audio stinger that was unique and that matched the animation: Fun, bright, a bit childish, and it had to incorporate the vocal element: "Bamba!"

We got our composer Bjorn Lynne on the job. He came up with a simple and recognizeable musical "theme" and combined it with a recording of his young daughter and one of her friends, for that fun/japanese inspired "two kids in unison" tone, which you'll nod in recognition when you hear this result:


It was a fun project to work on and it was carried out over a few days. The client, Mezmedia, received all the rights to the audio, exclusively, unlimited, and in perpetuity, for a few hundred dollars. We enjoyed working on that project and we think the client was happy with a result, as they wrote up a recommendation of our company on their website - which we appreciate!

Here are pictures and links for a couple of the Bamba games for kids:

Bamba Ice Cream (Free)

Bamba Pizza

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ideas for Creating Unique Musical Colours

By: Kole Hicks

If you’re like me, than you probably love to write music. However, you may eventually (if you haven’t already) run into the following issue: “Normal” sounds are not accurately expressing your muse’s intention.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of a masterfully played grand piano or open chords strummed on an acoustic guitar, but sometimes that just doesn’t work. Perhaps you’re writing just for yourself, a commission, or a media project… either way, these 4 tips will help give you refreshing ideas for creating unique musical colours.

1. Write it Different

What exactly do I mean by this? Well it’s actually quite subjective (as most of this article will be) because I don’t know what “normal” is to you; I can only assume that there are a set of “rules” that we are all familiar with and tend to follow when writing (whether it be consciously or not). So, when I recommend writing differently than you’re use to it could mean any of the following.

  • A good composer should know what it is idiomatic on the instruments he is writing for, so I recommend consciously writing something that isn’t. For example, certain closed piano voicings are ridiculously difficult or almost impossible to play on guitar (quite obvious when you have 10 fingers available vs 4). However, you can change the tuning of the strings on the guitar so that you (or the performer) is now able to play these unique voicings.

  • Do you always tend to write huge thematic melodies that soar sky-high? How about switching the roles of the musical ranges and using the bass clef for most of your melody work? I just recently did this for a project (as I was developing a theme through multiple ranges) and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. A simple change like this (even when keeping the melody/harmony exactly the same) can give you drastically different results and evoke dramatically different emotions from the listener.
  • Change your writing location/time! I just recently became aware of the fact that I write about 70% of the time around midnight or later right in my home studio. My whole studio has a unique “mood” to it and has seemed to permeate through everything I’ve created from there (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just not “appropriate” for certain projects). However, my home studio is not the ideal environment for a “Sunshiny-Bubbly-Happy-Time” type of piece. For that, I forced myself (as if it were difficult haha) to write while sitting outside under the shade of a tree. The results were quite different and I believe a large chunk of that is owed to the change in my physical location when writing.

2. Play it Different

A majority of us here are performers as well as composers and most likely play at least a few different instruments. So, I’d like to talk about a few different ways you can “play” your instrument differently or more accurately instruct your performers/session musicians to play the written notes in a unique way.

  • First and foremost, if you tend to write a lot of Arco/Pizz. string lines, then why not switch it up with some Col Legno or maybe even instruct them to play at the bridge (Sul Ponticello)? As a general “rule”, if you’re playing an instrument that has been around for centuries, then there have been quite a few composers before you that have gone through a ton of different experiments to find unique musical colours. So, use this to your advantage and do some quick review reading in your instrumentation books!
  • Use a different “attack” device. If you play guitar, who says you have to use a pick or just your nails? Why not use that pick for some heavy duty Pizz. Picking on a viola? Perhaps you could do some “ricochet” w/ the wood of a viola bow on your guitar while holding down chord shapes? The possibilities are endless, so use another instruments “attack” device or find something that wouldn’t normally be considered a musical device at all!
  • Approach the instrument differently. I have a few friends that prefer to play their guitar like a piano (using both hands as well). The unique colours (not to mention melody/harmony combinations) they create are phenomenal. Perhaps you can think of your piano more as a percussion instrument for a certain piece, rather than that which would usually play melody/harmony? I bet with that mindset, you could come up with some great new colours. In fact, HERE is a link to a song I composed using “slap” techniques on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.

 3. Record it Different

Just like everyone has a unique compositional voice, everyone seems to have a different opinion on recording. Many believe that there are set rules/guidelines that must be learned and followed a majority of the time to create great recordings. Then there are others who believe it can’t really be taught at all, but must be learned through experience and a majority of the “rules” are garbage. My opinion lies somewhat in the middle.

  • Use different mics. There are tons of mics out there which are “specialty” mics and are usually only used for recording vocals or only guitar, etc. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use those mics for anything different. Why can’t you use that high end vocal mic to record a cello? Who is to put a limit on how many or what mics you use if you end up liking the end result?
  • Use different mic positions. Have a huge basement or garage and want some more depth to your snare or other random percussion instruments? Setup a mic at the end, one in the middle and one up close. Do you like to hear the percussive attack of a guitar? Position a mic closer to the picking hand and fret board (if you like to hear the slides from chord changes) to hear more of the performer come through on the track.

4. Mix it Different

This can cover everything from effects & EQ to Reverb & even your system/method of mixing. First I’d like to talk about the more obvious and perhaps more easily changed options when mixing. Mixing (as pretty much everything else I’ve spoken about) is quite subjective, as I know many guitarists that would boost certain frequencies when EQing their lead guitar track and yet there are many others (just as “qualified”) that would scoff at their choice. So, I recommend becoming aware and keeping track of your tendencies when mixing.

  • Do you tend to roll off the bass of all your violin tracks? Is there one reverb preset that you tend to use more than any other? Do you tend to use the same distortion/pedal effects for you guitar parts? Keep track of all of this (physically writing it down is recommended) and identify the things that are a part of your sound and which tendencies can be “manipulated” to help you reach the goal of creating unique musical colours.
  • There are of course many other factors that come into play when mixing, but the other major “event” in the process that I recommend changing, is your system of mixing. I know that when I mix, I like to have everything very organized in their unique groups (aka strings, brass, electric percussion, etc.). However, if my goal is to create something completely new and unique I may tweak (don’t need to necessarily overhaul the system) those groups. So, now instead of organizing the groups by instrument sections, I could perhaps organize them by their relevance or importance to the piece. Perhaps the first violins would be grouped with a sitar and thus my whole approach to the individual (and the entire) mix would be much different than if I had kept my previous system intact.

  • I’m sure that there are many more variables in each one of these topics that I have not addressed (Probably many more topics as well!). However, this should be a great starting point to help you create some unique musical colours and anything I have left out could perhaps be material for a later article ?. Until then, I wish you all the best and if you learn anything at all from this article, let it be this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Take care and keep composing, fellow artists!