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If you are a professional movie composer you likely have quite an investment in computers and detailed sample libraries. These libraries are often priced in ranges that  make them prohibitive to the beginning composer or even a more seasoned composer who isn't presently funded in any way for their work.

Though it should be said that most of the better sample library companies offer entry point software, sometimes for free in order to get you started. These beginner packages often don't offer enough capability for serious composition. This is the beginning of a long expensive road to acquisition of everything needed for large scale orchestra composition using these libraries.Some companies have started a monthly rental fee to make using these libraries more attractive to more composers.

Thankfully there are products that fill the gap between those libraries and soundfont/rompler kinds of sounds that often just sound cheesy and unrealistic when coupled to a composition you have worked hard to make.Some of your choices might be limited to either use of a DAW for composition or notation software. DAWs offer more flexibility here over the end result of the sound in particular. Many notation programs offer sometimes passable included soundsets or the capability to mate the notation program to a DAW which is in my option, the best of both worlds if you write notation. Much of this depends on the composers personal standards with respect to the quality they demand for their work.

Thankfully there are sound libraries priced at points much more attractive to the budding composer that faithfully reproduce a good facsimile of the instruments. Since this is mostly a site dedicated to orchestral compositions both small and large I will omit the smaller instrument dedicated libraries and save that discussion for another time. Instead I will concentrate on the "all-in-one" kinds of libraries that a composer will need in order to make entire orchestral mock ups. It should be noted that it is of prime importance to make sure your computer specs either meet or exceed the expectations of the software requirements. Often the minimum spec isn't enough for serious work and so I recommend a computer that far exceeds these expectations. This is also a subject for another time. This isn't to say you need the very best, but old OS using 32 bit programming languages on computers showing some age are probably not good hosts for this sort of thing.

In order to use these libraries one either needs notation software that hosts them or a DAW. Many Libraries also require a program made by Native Instruments called Kontakt since it is the shell they load into. Here's a plug of one of my favorite free DAWs- Cakewalk by Bandlab. This program is miles ahead of anything else free out there.

Here are the libraries not listed in any particular order.

Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra

The Orchestra

Miroslav Philharmonic- Note Kontakt is not required.

Garritan Orchestra

As a general rule these libraries sound ok. Some better than others What they often lack in comparison to their more expensive siblings are mic positions and less command over the sounds. Sample quality sometimes isn't as good.

Having said that they are excellent in many composition settings and work well as sketch pads or examples that sound mostly realistic in comparison to sound fonts and often are useful in some professional applications.

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Dane, I think the most important factor in your decision is whether you like the EW sounds. If so, the ilok is just a one-time expense that, as Tim said, you will almost certainly never even think about, unless you happen to break it, in which case you will have to replace it.

As for the sounds, my only experience with EW is Symphonic Orchestra Gold and Hollywood Brass. At one time, I used a fair amount of EWSO, but now only use it sparingly. As for HB, I almost never use it at all. For one thing, the volume is way too low and hard to increase, and the samples just aren't that good. There is a multitude of other EW products, however, and it may be that one or more will suit you. The best one I have heard is hollywood Strings, which I have considered, but it is a monster in terms of size, plus it is supposedly buggy. but the sound is gorgeous. I can't comment on the other stuff. 

some people love EW. I have found it to be a rather insular community, however. Very fanboyish.

I still need precise answers. I gather there's probably an insurance payment in the event of a lost key but iLok's site is pretty vague about the pricing and what you get for it. And, like, they say they'll give you temporary licenses if something happens to the key. Fine but how long does that take, etc? How much work time do they give? There seem to be certain levels. With VSL the answer was there in one spot. the key guarantee, the insurance against loss and the way the 'plan' works. I had a weird message come up on the ilok site (something about "your session is about to expire. Click here to continue..." Oh sure, I'm going to click there on a site with which I'm not familiar!) so I got out just in case. I'll have another look later. 

There's no chance I'll get involved with the cloud personally. If suppliers want to keep specialised data of mine on it that's up to them. I tend to be obsessive with backing up so I doubt I have need of it.

So anyway, we'll see how it goes.

BTW, the Spitfire choir is a contender as it includes humming. I have to ask myself if I really need wordbuilder. It can't be used with soloists in EW anyway (which incidentally doesn't include a coloratura). 


 I am no fanboy for iLok either way. I personally have had no issues. In fact,one plugin I use that once used iLok cloud was always slow to load. After I bought the hardware iLok it runs like greased lightening. Some people I talk with dislike them and some have no issue. Most sound for picture composers have at least one and seldom any worries. Maybe 5 years ago iLok had a software update that upset a lot of customers because there were issues with some systems. Those issues have since been worked out. As for the legalize and "what if" scenario. I never read the fine print. I never felt the need to because my licenses are both  on the iLok server and on my iLok dongle. If I drop my iLok in a pond , I'll simply go by another one and reload it. If the iLok server is attacked by terrorists and blown up, they have a backup server in another location. If they loose all servers I can still go to the software vendors and prove ownership. Nothing is ever a sure thing, but this is about as close as it gets.

There are composers who have timelines for delivery of 4000 track projects to media outlets that have their careers resting on the reliability of these things. If iLok didn't deliver they wouldn't be in business. The really nice thing about it is I can load another DAW, download the files on it and go back and forth with iLok so long as I have it with me. 

Probably the larger issue when dealing with these libraries is how capable the computer is. I have 4 2tb SSDs and one waiting to be installed. They are filling up fast. It isn't just storage. The computer needs to be able to handle large mixes if you mock up full orchestras in great detail. Many movie composers are in fact running 4000 track templates using 7 or more slaves running from a master computer. As I mentioned, that is another whole subject that very likely doesn't affect the average composer and why I think the mid level "all-in-one" kinds of orchestras are good for the rest of us. Sure I can run EW and Spitfire on my present computer with barely a grunt from my cpu so long as I keep my mixes smaller. I never tend to make huge mixes in surround. I like to compose smaller mixes mostly but I like to have a degree of realism in my sounds.

The average Joe can get by and even sound pretty good to convey their ideas without taking out a loan on a computer and sample libraries :) Here's a mix I mocked up awhile back using nothing but the orchestra factory sounds in Kontakt. No it won't make the grade for Hollywood movies, but I think it went ok all things considered.

I truly appreciate what you have to say, Tim.

I'm one of those who hopes to get by with simple resources. My only gauge of success lies in the reception. I've had a few pieces used here and there (and a few rejected. That's how it is).

I've never wanted to be a film/cinema composer (and have been warned off enough though I'm ok working with local movie-making groups). As an occasional "impressionist" I'm sometimes invited. But one surrenders too much artistic control with the big time.

It's bad enough locally. I'm working on a project that'll lead to public exposure. The "committee" chose 4 of my pieces but they need a fifth. There was a hint that they might throw it over to someone else. Thankfully I'm a great friend of the troupe leader who's asked me to run up a new fifth piece. I'm not petulant so not likely to throw in the towel if they involved someone else - besides, they may have to pay and that's an offput! So they can have just my 4 if they want. I thought I'd seen the back of it but I suppose, now they have the thing in shape they realise they need a new opening number. (All this was out of 12 available pieces, the 7 I wrote specifically and another 5 for similar resources. Ironically 2 were items I presented here.) 

Otherwise, as long as I can mock pieces up enough if there's a chance of consideration for concerts, I'm fine. I write out the scores by hand aided by the daw notation view. I might get notation software in the future but for the sake of about 2 scores per year it's not the top priority.   

However, I'm not a technical person. Music is still a series of instrumental lines rather than tracks (although, ok, there are sometimes tracks needed for "noises off" or whatever, or for non-conventional-instrument sound composition (concrète) but I balk at 30 tracks let alone 4000). That's probably why some film scores sound so claggy! But I'd get livid if a license key went down and I can't near-immediately get a temporary license, never mind the admin hassle of getting the key fixed. I have a spare Vienna key just in case - but a pair of iloks would cost close on £100. That's a rip-off so I'd need a very good reason to indulge it.  

My bottom line feelings about film music (which I've said on this forum before) are that I wish the music was put on a sub-channel so that I could turn it off.  With little exception I just don't like it! Once cinema moved beyond the silent era I see no need for it (unless it features something musical).


Dane, Thanks for sharing some of what you are working and what your requirements are. I think there is a comfortable middle ground that might be slightly different for everyone when it comes to these libraries. 

If I seen the need to invest in a bunch of these libraries I would certainly do that. In some cases I have simply seen sales that were too good not to go after and bought a library or two that way. At between 10 and 20 gb those smaller libraries mentioned as "mid level" are nice for the average computer with an i5 or greater and at least 16gb of memory installed. You could load a bunch of large libraries on a system with an i7 or greater and at least 32gb of memory. More serious power users are overclocking an i7 or i9 and loading in 128gb of internal memory with multiple large it isn't just the expense of the libraries it is also the extra spent on a computer. 

I have several systems. The one I use most I built  myself several years ago. I went modest for a composition DAW on the last build.

A decent large scale composition can be made with Kontakt factory instruments. For those who use notation software programs like Sibleus ,Notion 6 and Overture have little "mini daws" added to the notation section . Those included sounds aren't the best but they get the job done and often sound fairly realisitic. Notion 6 has an iPad version which I downloaded and it had sounds you could purchase for it. I was surprised how good some of them sounded. This means you could take the iPad anywhere and compose hearing decent instruments sounds to your work.

Going into the large libraries can be a rabbit hole that will suck you into it. VSL, Spitfire, Cinesamples, East West can all add up over time if a person were to fully equip their setups. They all come up with new packages to whet your appetite. For the longest time  Spitfire Albion One was considered a very nice go to orchestra. Now they have Neo and a bunch of others. Native instruments have a new version of Komplete every year and they partner to sell Metropolis Ark 1&2 among others. It never I just shop around and pick up things here and there. Soundiron Hyperion Strings has won an award for one of the best string libraries of 2019. IK just announced yesterday that they have a free version of Sampletank called "CS" short for custom shop. It looks to be pretty decent although it is a portal to buy more sounds as well.

This just in as well-UVI Orchestra suite

Dane said:

"My bottom line feelings about film music (which I've said on this forum before) are that I wish the music was put on a sub-channel so that I could turn it off.  With little exception I just don't like it! Once cinema moved beyond the silent era I see no need for it (unless it features something musical)."

Very interesting comment, Dane. For the most part I'm OK with film music, as it has become so tightly integrated into film that we have essentially a hybrid form now in the world of movies, and it's hard to imagine a movie without the corresponding soundtrack. The two work together to  create the desired responses by the viewer.

What bugs the hell out of me is how film music has crept into almost everything on TV. I like watching shows about the universe and nature, but I hardly can watch them anymore. From the wordless choirs (Carmina Burana playing on a show about how bridges are built) to the room-filling drums accompanying supernova explosions, I am basically unable to watch this stuff anymore. And another thing, it's special effects in general that bug me, like the blinding white light they constantly throw at you in space-type shows. Generalizing even more, the special effects revolution that began with Star Wars has engendered a generation of adolescent hero movies, the plots of which are all the same. Talk about the dumbing down of culture....

I enjoy hearing film music in a movie theater with a nice sound system. Nothing quite like hearing a sound track in surround with those surroundings. I guess some of that has worn off for me over time. When I was new to it I had no idea they weren't using real instruments. Now that I know it's all done with sample libraries by probably one or maybe two composers, it takes some of the life out of it for me. Still sounds very magnificent in that setting though. Can scare me to death or make me tear up all depending on the movie and the music.

I can certainly see why you both feel that way. What I really dislike is that many of the more recent  sound libraries add so many automated processes that the composer can simply shoot for a certain mood or feel and likely find a package with that mood. Without too much effort can have something together in minimal time. There are horror packages, epic battle kinds of libraries, soothing combinations for romantic movies. You name it. It's becoming more automated, more A.I. and seems to be in everything like Michael says.

Tim said " You name it. It's becoming more automated, more A.I. and seems to be in everything like Michael says."

Yep, the idea that machines are taking over the world is no longer conspiracy-theory material. It's actually happening. Because we're letting it. Want to fight it? Write real, original music. 


I absolutely agree with you about the gash music thrown into just about every TV documentary these days. Most times I turn it off too. It's hardly music - inane prattling, burbling away even during talking. God alone knows where it comes from. Whether computer or human it's appalling. Fact of it is I don't really enjoy TV nowadays. Probably never did but it notices now.

It's true that music has become so integrated with the visual of film, so formulaic and in action scenes so annoying. You get explosions, machine guns rattling away, people barking orders, vehicles rumbling...and fighting the scene is this cacophony of music, a brace of horns blaring away underpinned by the obligatory trombones/bass trombones and with fiddles fiddling away over the top. I once happened on the film "Lone Survivor" and...what? Almost no music. Wonderful!  

Tim, I'm more ok with classic films and scores that were performed, composers like Malcolm Arnold, Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, the Bernsteins and their ilk. Sure, the music in modern cinemas can be pretty exciting (if a little too loud for me), not that I often visit Cineworld these days. I dare say at least part of the reason I'd be happier without it is as you suggest. It's plonked together these days. Instant composing. Formulaic.

However, I have a liking for an occasional weird film - more surreal than drama, action or horror. My favourite film of all time is Last Year at Marienbad. (L'Année dernière à Marienbad). Some of Resnais' other films aren't bad.

Since we're on a bit of a digression: One film I wish I could watch, but cannot, because of the music: "The Third Man." I like Orson Welles alright, but the constant background of whatever that stringed instrument was, is just inane. It's some kind of zither or something. It just drives me nuts. Not that I don't like zithers, but you can only take so much, and it just never seems to stop.

Speaking of zithers, when I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to go into the attic, which was really just a crawl space, you couldn't stand up in it. There was a zither, clarinet and violin in there. Not in playable condition, and what became of them I'll never know. I think they all got thrown out, along with my baseball cards and other assorted junk. Now, decades later, I find myself wistfully thinking of them. Kind of like Citizen Kane - "Rosebud, Rosebud..."

I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is recalling in detail names of composers associated with films other than maybe Hans Zimmer and John Williams. I even had to go to Google to make sure I had their names right. This is because my brain didn't think it was important enough to remember. I wish I could change that sometimes. I remembered that Hans is a Cubase fanboy because he endorses that DAW. I could buy Cubase but there would be no comparison. He has a studio larger than my house lol.

Composers as such were never my rock stars coming up either. My exposure to music was varied and still is. I don't often listen to music during the day even when I have the opportunity. I could say that's because I'm making my own inner music, but that isn't often true either. My whole way is probably very odd in that regard, though I am a musician and play on a regular basis. I think maybe I have things going on in the back of my mind when I don't entirely realize it. 

Dane, I think I read or seen somewhere that there are still some films using real orchestras..This isn't some genius recall of mine. I found the link on good old Google. It goes back to 2018 though so it isn't recent.- Real Orchestra Films

There have maybe been a few since then as well. I had maybe falsely assumed all new releases were done with sample libraries. It's probably not a large percentage though. I tend to like the weird films too, though I feel as if my cable TV bill is mostly money wasted because I seldom sit down and watch movies anymore. My wife does though. If my phone, internet and TV weren't all part of one  package I probably wouldn't have cable TV.

Micheal, Wow, I would probably be forever curious about those instruments...and probably the baseball cards too.

I recently did some work to my house that involved an addition and there is this little attic above one garage that was accidentally "time capsuled" because I didn't get everything out of there before they closed it up.I plan to hopefully cut an access hole because I need to run a few lines through it, but I'm not sure I can get everything out. Unfortunately the past owner died on the property while splitting  wood and we bought the house from his widow. I only mention that because he had some of his things in that attic as well. No instruments though ;(

For awhile I was having this dream about when I was just a kid in Georgia and had a few motorcycles. My father liked to tinker and was always picking up those kinds of things, so by default I ended up with a few that I rode though woods that were close by....In my dream, I still have one motorcycle and it was forgotten in a storage room somewhere. I suddenly remember it's there after all of these years and I'm trying to get it back again.In reality the house I lived in no longer exists and was bought by a palm reader and moved about 10 miles up the road after it burned and was restored. Another really odd thing is both of my childhood homes were actually relocated. The first was moved about 20 miles away to a lake. These were houses not mobile homes and moving houses is not common in that area unless it is a mobile home.

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