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I have written a lot of music over the years and even scored two feature films, one getting a theatrical release. However, all the music I’ve ever written went directly from DAW to tape (finished audio file). One of my biggest fears is that someday someone might ask me to score a film and want to use a live orchestra. I watched an interview with Danny Elfman on YouTube at and I was thinking to myself, if I could just have 30 minutes with him to ask these questions: How do you get your mockups off your DAW and to the scoring stage? What are the steps you take to get your DAW cues into the hands of an orchestrator and then into written parts for each player in the orchestra? Do you give the orchestrator a mix of each cue as an audio file that they “transcribe”? It’s obvious you don’t hand write out your cues; plus you mentioned that a lot of what you have on your DAW stays in the final mix (especially percussion) and that you only replace the strings, brass and woodwinds samples. This has always held me back from really going after more film scoring work. Not too many film scoring mentors here in Minnesota . . .

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I erred in my last response to Bob. I should have written, "the composer's tools are his or her imagination, creativity,  and whatever he chooses to use to express his musical ideas, whether DAW or pen and ink. His product is the score". My opinion is that the DAW is a better way to do that, owing to its instant audition capability, except that that is offset by the difficulties of producing a score. 

That's really all we're talking about, here.

Just my $0.02: I firmly believe that the hallmark of an excellent composer is one who does not need to hear audio feedback as he composes, but who has acquired the skill of being able to write down exactly what he hears in his mind's ear and have the confidence that the actual performance will sound exactly as he intended it.  While I am yet far, far off from this ideal, I strive towards it every time I compose. And therefore I find instant playback capability quite superfluous. ;-)  (In fact, in my current setup, I have the production done as a batch process, meaning that the rendering of notes into sound is done as a single operation over the entire piece, and that takes more than a few seconds, so that I am usually writing out entire bars, sometimes even entire passages, before even hearing a single note. Of course, I do go back and tweak individual notes afterwards if needed, but the idea is to train myself to be able to compose in my head without reliance on instant feedback.)

H.S., the skill of which you write is certainly one that I don't have. I'm sure I could probably write a simple ditty for 2 or 3 instruments and have it realized as I imagine it, but there would be no discovery or experimentation since I don't have any keyboard skills. In essence, the DAW is my keyboard . . .  or flute, or whatever instrument I would like to try out in a given passage. Many of my musical themes that I think are  the best were discovered during the MIDI process. They would have never emerged straight from my brain had it not been for experimentation and discovery. Are you saying that you write your music without even listening to it, at least on a piano, to see if it works?

Bob, the architect actually does design whatever he (or more appropriately, his client) thinks will be cool, but within traditionally accepted boundaries of sound engineering practices. Your view on those "buildings that look nice, but have wasted, unusable space" would be analogous to music criticism, another field in the music business that we haven't even acknowledged.

What is music? That's a good one. It's as old as time, and has moved people  in profound ways just as long. The Greeks attributed moods and tempers to the various modes. I'd have a hard time coming up with an answer to that.

@Art: I can't say I have that skill either, but it's one of my goals. It's not without precedent, because that's how Beethoven composed (most of his greatest masterpieces were written after he had become clinically deaf -- he could only hear them in his head!).  As for experimentation and discovery, I'm certainly not saying that you can't sit down and improvise to see what comes out. Many of the themes in my pieces came from random improvisation sessions at the piano. I also use the piano sometimes to figure out chord progressions while in the middle of writing something. But there are also a good number of themes that came straight out of my head. It's sorta like I have an orchestra in my head and I'm simply transcribing what it plays. Of course, that's usually only a raw initial idea; it takes a lot of work afterwards to mold that initial idea into something presentable.

And I'm certainly not at the level of Beethoven, being able to just write out the entire piece without hearing it even once.  Quite often I would write something and then when I hear it for the first time, realize that it needs a lot more work. Sometimes I would scrap it entirely and rework the entire passage; other times it's a matter of tweaking just a few notes or articulations. For the latter case, instant feedback would be helpful, but at least for me, I still try to work out in my head what would work / solve the problem before I actually put the notes down. It's part of training myself to know the effect of writing certain notes down, so that in the future I'd know how it would sound without needing to hear it first.

There are also times when after I have finished a particular passage, I would listen to it in its entirety and realize that it could be improved by adding more notes / instruments to certain parts, e.g., to thicken the texture a bit more, or to strengthen the melody line, etc..  Again, I could just take the instant-feedback approach: just try X number of combinations and pick the one that sounds best. But I prefer to think carefully about what might actually improve the music, write it out, examine what I've written and try to "hear" it in my head, adjust it if necessary, and then check the audio output afterwards to see if I was right. This way, in the future I would be able to guess more accurately what notes to write / which instruments to use to achieve what I want without needing to start from scratch and try all possible combinations.


Isn't every listener a critic? Doesn't every listener judge whether the music pleases him or not? "Music Critic" with capital letters would be somebody who does it for a living. Some are also wonderful composers, like Deems Taylor was. Most are just audience members. It can't be denied that there is sound all around us all the time. Most COULD be interpreted as having a musical quality if put in the proper context. After all, all sound waves have frequency and amplitude, which is all there really is to a musical note. So, OK. I'll answer that in this way. It depends on the context whether it is likely to be perceived as musical.

H.S., Beethoven's 9th is one of the great magic tricks of all time. I doubt that it could ever be duplicated. Certainly not by anybody with a brain as poor as mine. I suppose you could say that a DAW is a kind of crutch, or maybe a prosthetic brain device. Whichever, it helps me to invent what I never could without one. It was a device I had been in search of for many years. Then I discovered the sequencer, but that could only go so far. the DAW was a much-awaited godsend for me.

I'm not sure what "music" of that kind would refer to, unless we would classify the play of light waves on a pond (or something like that) as "music". It would take a certain amount of synesthesia to draw that connection, but then, the current contest suggests that kind of connection. How to depict "heat" in musical form? Heat is a thermal phenomenon, and while there are certainly audible events that are connected with heat, how to depict heat in a musical form? It's a pretty fun exercise.

I don't think there's much more to a musical note than frequency and amplitude. As to the musicality that any given instrument lends to that note, that's a different matter. Any instrument is going to add overtones, all which have frequency and amplitude. The flute projects probably the most pure tone, free of overtones. Almost a pure sine wave. Only the vibrato makes it more interesting, but that's just a modulation of the frequency.

The sound of a hammer hitting a nail would be a very complex combination of basic sound vibrations, each with its own frequencies. Nonetheless, it CAN be musical. Somewhere in the percussion section. Think about Verdi's Anvil Chorus. (Not one of my favorite music passages, but music, nonetheless).

It's a common misconception that a flute emits the "purest" sound wave.  That's just false.  All instruments add overtones to the fundamental pitch; it's just a question of what combination of overtones are present. The flute only sounds close to (not exactly!) a sine wave when played pianissimo, but as you play louder, the upper harmonics become more and more important. (This is why timbre changes depending on how loud the instrument is playing.) Meaning that most of the time, i.e. when the flute is playing anything above pp, you're not hearing anything close to "pure" sine waves.

Also, one of the main differences between a hammer hitting a nail and an instrument sounding a steady tone, is that the instrument's sound consists of a single fundamental frequency with a regular pattern of harmonics overlaying it (i.e., the harmonic series, f=1/n); whereas the sound of a hammer strike usually has more than a single prominent frequency that might be considered a "fundamental", and the higher-frequency components (the "overtones") don't follow a regular pattern, but are "messier" in terms of frequency distribution. Because of this, while our ears can easily pick out the fundamental frequency of the tone sounded by the instrument, the hammer sounds just like an indistinct jumble of frequencies, i.e., a "thud"-like sound.  In some cases, it may be possible to perceive differences in the average distribution of frequencies, e.g., hammers of different sizes may produce sounds that are approximately "higher-pitched" or "lower-pitched", even though you can't assign exact pitches to the sounds (there not being any single frequency that stands out above others, but a cluster of more-or-less equally-prominent frequencies).  Other such sounds like explosions also exhibit this "indistinct blob" of frequencies, which is why we generally don't assign pitches to explosions. :-P

You get a similar effect when playing cluster chords.

I'm amazed at how this discussion has grown. Good stuff. I wanted to add that in the 80's I did a student apprenticeship at  Studio A in Dearborn Heights, MI A well-known recording group came in to record one day. The leader of the group sat in the control room and would sing each part for each performer over the talk back mic; even for the drummer. Not one piece of music was written down. They produced ever song they did in this way and made an excellent living selling records made this way. I'd tell you the name of the group but I think the NDA I signed is still in effect. Then I asked the engineer how many artists make records in this way. He said that the majority of recording artists in the Detroit area do it this same way and that the studio musicians in the highest demand are all experienced in taking musical direction in this way. In a similar way, we use to do all-night Jazz jam sessions with local jazz musicians. Someone in the jam would give the rest of the players some lick to jam on, by playing it to us. Then we would expand on it over the next 30 minutes. I think you can see my point. Though I have been trained in classical piano and Jazz, there is a very large portion of musicians all around the world that have no knowledge of music notation and still make a living at it; entertaining thousands of people. I have also heard back from some others since I posted this and I can confirm that it is our Hollywood orchestrators and arrangers that make our current and wonderful film composers sound great. Most composers today do not have this skill set as part of their music toolbox and even if they do they don't do it for lack of time. Example:

Grmph. I was beginning to think that this was a thread that only I, Bob, H.S. and Dave Dexter were even aware of. I hope I haven't written anything terribly embarrassing. 

I am in awe of people with your background, Clinton. Motown is alien territory to me. Hence, I know nothing of the process there. I've had studio experience as a VERY minor pop musician, but nothing that would qualify me as any kind of a pro. I would love to read anything you could share about your experience.

Basically, I'm just an amateur DAW composer who likes to make pretty sounds.

I've seen a flute sound on an oscilloscope. It's pretty damned pure when compared to a violin wave.

Whatever it takes to create jobs. Orchestrators have families to feed, too.

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