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!