Composers' Forum

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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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I mentioned it but didn't mention names- "Some companies have started a monthly rental fee to make using these libraries more attractive to more composers."

I am ot a fan of subscriptions but have nothing against those that are :)


Rob Burnley said:

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned EastWest yet, I pay £13 a month and you get every single sound pack and all the new releases as they arrive.

I know lots of people are not fans of the subscription model for software so there's that, but it offers great value if you are starting out and can't yet afford the more expensive libraries

So....with these subscription things what happens if you stop subscribing (for whatever reason)? I mean, it could be a flaw in the financial systems, not necessarily the renter? Do you lose the lot? Or do you keep some stuff in proportion to the value of your subscription to date? 

Oh no you lose the lot haha, that's why it's not very popular I think and rightly so. I started a subscription with the view of trying the libriaries and buying the ones I actually used - then not needing the sub anymore.

It allowed me to use many more libriaries than I would have ordinarily and pick up the ones I wanted in the sales.

Dane Aubrun said:

So....with these subscription things what happens if you stop subscribing (for whatever reason)? I mean, it could be a flaw in the financial systems, not necessarily the renter? Do you lose the lot? Or do you keep some stuff in proportion to the value of your subscription to date? 

EastWest will also sell the products. Sometimes they have sales making ownership easier. Dongle is required though and it isn't the same dongle as Cubase/Vienna.

For a long time EastWest were the defacto sound in Hollywood productions. Spitfire was and is steep competition. Native Instruments has some great upper end libraries, many divided into sections such as brass, strings and so forth comparable, sometimes better all depending. The main advantage to that is you know it's going to work well in Kontakt.  Some of EastWest product line is beginning to show some age which I think is GOOD because I see some of it at reduced prices. This is veering from the "affordable" ranges of libs though for many.

Many of the less expensive libraries I mentioned have these "all in one" combinations similar to Spitfire where playing a few keys lets you play a whole section or similar  often set to some kind of motion. In Vienna it's called the synchron player.. I especially like the one in Amadeus. The one in "The Orchestra" is quite good.The trade off there is you then are using some of the pre scripted orchestra capabilities instead of composing more of it as the user. Movie music composers like it because it saves time. Probably not so good for a composer who wants to give a more individual sound to their works.

Of  dongles and fees...

I have no problem with dongles, they are a way to prevent piracy, which is stealing and should be beneath all real artists. It's a small one-time expense. I've been using East West Symphonic Orch. gold for several years, and the dongle has never given me any trouble. I also have vienna sp. edition, and that one also continues to work. however, if it breaks you are up the creek until you replace it. This is more a concern on laptops, which get moved around a lot. I use a desktop, the dongles are in the back and out of the way.

Fees on the other hand don't make sense to me. I want to own it. I have always had a beef with microsoft for being so stingy with their license. But I use Linux now for everything but music; for that I do need Windows. I use windows 7 as I prefer not being spied on, especially by my computer's operating system.

Generally, you should get the best sounds you can for the money you have to spend. you of course have to decide what are, for you, the best sounds. I suspect most people use a variety of things, as each library has its strengths and weaknesses. I only use a handful of Garritan sounds now, likewise EWSO Gold. I have over time gravitated more to the vienna libraries (I also have Appasionata Strings from them). I use Cinematic Strings as well. For a beginner, it does make sense to start with one library which is fairly easy to use, and learn how to use it, before going on to something else. It takes a lot of work to make these libraries sound good. You have to learn to mix effectively, which means adjusting volumes, velocities, controller events, reverb, EQ, compression and more. It's like, if you learn one Romance language, all the others are easier. With this in mind, any of the ones discussed here are good choices, it comes down to what you like, how much you can spend, and how user-friendly the libraries are. GPO and EWSO sound good out of the box. Vienna Sp. Edition takes some tinkering, but the sounds are then considerably better. I don't have experience with any of the others. 

That iLok key is an absolute rip-off at nigh £43....and it looks like it sticks right out of the USB slot. Ideal for knocking and breaking! The Steinberg/Vienna key is a mere half-a-rip-off at £20 and far smaller! 

That's one of the reasons I haven't tried EastWest - forty quid for a key on which to hold the one or two licenses???...Obscene.

I basically like the idea of the key. It means I can load the player software on other computers and use it with a portable drive (not a multiple license because I'm not at the stage of using multiple computers at the same time to make music).

 I have never cared for the iLok either and for years I had decided I wasn't going to buy one. A few events caused me to go that direction eventually. Recently I found a couple of truly good plugins. Particularly the McDSP line that were something like 299.00 EACH normally and were on sale for less than 100.00. That's when I finally went with iLok because it was worth it to obtain those plug ins for me. A few notes about iLok. There is a "cloud" version of iLok that I used for a few years. The way it works is it dials up a server for verification every so often. I found that this process seemed to be slowing my computer down. Lots of other people who buy iLok products have not reported these issues. With a hardware iLok everything just loads right up and fast. iLok cloud is free. Whenever I see a sale for an iLok product there's really nothing holding me back. Dane FWIW you can get those usb extensions so the device  has some movement in the event it gets bumped. Not ideal I know and I can't say I blame you at all for being skeptical of it. I was for a long time.

I ended up with my syncrosoft dongle almost by a fluke of events. A long time ago, like at least 10 years I bought a hard copy of Korg M-1 software that came with a dongle. Korg no longer uses a dongle and has since gone to online registrations. I almost threw it away several times thinking I would never need it again. Recently I wanted to download the Vienna free software but it needed a dongle. On a whim I plugged in the old dongle and it registered. I could buy Cubase and be set with it too. Even though they have updated the dongles they are all very much backwards compatible so long as it can load a license you're good to go.

Michael, I think you have followed the progression that many have. I think it's about 20% the library and 80% how you use it.

I mostly buy these on some kind of discount or sale. Words to anyone who might be looking at any of these products from low to high end. Go to their website and register with a valid email. You will get some junk mail that way, but the benefits are they will notify you by email of sales and discounts. I have picked up lots of my software like this. Other places to register are JRR, plugin boutique, Kontakt Hub and similar. There are often codes that will get you an extra 10 or 20% but you need to follow sites like the Cakewalk deals thread, CClarry over there stays on these deals like white on rice and he regularly posts them. VR forum, gearslutz, kvraudio and similar are all good places to lurk. They all have a deals section. Believe me this works. I have saves hundreds of dollars on plugins, DAW software and sample libraries over retail prices. It seems it's mainly the German software manufacturers who are really tough on pricing compared to the rest. Cubase seldom goes on sale or is discounted. Reason has a discount for existing users at 129 I think but no deals for new users. Still like 299.00. Cubase stays at 599.00 for new users while Cakewalk is free and you can buy Reaper and Mixcraft pro for a pittance in comparison to Cubase. Mixcraft has developed into a mature DAW. Cakewalk is owned by a very wealthy Asian interest who apparently see it as a sideline to boost their other interests. I am a bit concerned what will happen to the German interests if they don't begin to lower their prices.

If you own a Mac....and I know many do. There have been issues with Cubase on some Macs.Seems to run just fine on PC.If I had it to do all over again I would sill be using PC, mainly to avoid the steep costs associated with pro Mac ownership. If i need to fix my PC I can change and obtain the parts myself. On a mac, repairs are often more expensive and you can't do it yourself.JMOP.

Tim, I started with the Vienna Special Edition Vol1 and Vol1+ when offered at sale price and I haven't looked back.  Well...I have occasionally....until then I had some samples bought very cheaply from Time+Space on CD. WAVs. They were all sampled at intervals of a minor 3rd. You know C then Eflat then Gflat , A etc. It meant dissecting them then fitting them into a DAW device that acted as a VST except it wasn't, it was an FX chain. The absolute sweat was absence of keyswitches so a string section with just 3 articulations per instrument meant 15 tracks. It also took lots of work getting them consistent at the same volume and on. Thankfully those days are mostly past though there are times I prefer one or more of those FX chains.

The other issue is that almost every supplier I've looked at instantly tries to drown me in a tsunami of hyperbole (sometimes known as BS) assuring me that their product will inspire me to genius creativity and turn me into the greatest composer of all time. It's all vieux bolleaux musicaux! Vienna didn't do this. It had just demos, including one of the entire Rite of Spring.

Like Michael Diemer I've found that I can do most of what I want with that beginners set. I've mopped up a few more collections during their monthly sales, mostly single instruments and strings. So, as hobbies go (because it's mainly that with me) it hasn't worked out too expensive over about 14 months so far. A lot cheaper than photography! 

I recoiled with terror though over the Big Bang Orchestra. Talk about pre-cooked, just add water stuff. Just joining chunks together in a line. The Epic Orchestra was bad enough (LOL, good as no doubt many aspirants thought it) - pre-bundled orchestrations, loops, press a key and hey presto, your grand movie score is there. Does a Windows paper clip suddenly spring on the screen...?  "I see you're starting a Symphony. Would you like help!" So you just press Anykey and there it is! (I didn't actually buy it, by the way...just speculating!)

Saves time, goes the blurb. Sure, it saves work and by the sound of it saves composing. Certainly saves the bother of learning orchestration. Perhaps that's why some score emanating from it sound so muddy. However, like I say there are those who like that and no doubt they can explore and come up with the drama and who's to blame them? They're at least working with music..............not for me, though.

.

I'm glad you found something you can use Dane. Didn't the Vienna sample company make the samples included in Kontakt full? It seems I read that somewhere...or maybe the company grew from that? 

I agree.....I don't much care for the pre-cooked, just add water stuff and much prefer something I can guide in an intelligent way without it guiding me. If, on the other hand, the setup takes one of my ideas and allows me to add lots of musical muscle to it in a way that I would have anyhow, then it's icing on the cake. More often though I find unusable "round robins" . Sure I could make something with it that might sound like music from the last Batman flick. I don't think this is what most composers are really after with the exception of those who have been offered money and a timeline. Couple that with the need to eat and I guess the proposition becomes more acceptable. This is why I also want more exposed instruments. I don't want to play a string section with one finger most of the time. This appears to be the short coming in a few of these libraries. They offer plenty of group energy all played with one key but lack that transparent sound you get when hearing only a few instruments in a more exposed way. I have Albion One and it seems to be very group oriented. I wanted violin solos so I bought the Joshua Bell violin. It is great in many settings. I am looking into Cinesamples at some of their libraries for solo instruments.

Programs like Garratan, Sampletank 4, Amadeus and similar are very nice starter paks especially for beginners. I see that you might have moved slightly beyond those with Vienna. I have looked at Vienna but not in detail because I wrote them off as another company that sells sections in paks and charges a lot of money for each one. It seem that you may  have had a good deal on one of their offerings.

If anyone was about to consider VSL they're advertising a sale until end of March, up to 50% off almost everything including single instruments.  Now, THAT'S good. Remember that the Instrument player comes free and must be downloaded. It's pretty powerful too. One of its features I'v come to rely on is the slot rack and slot crossfade.

They're also offering a single license V Instruments Pro at about £50 which is truly powerful so I might get it next payday, providing it isn't going to disrupt my current projects. I'll ask on the forum or Michael Diemer who I believe has made the conversion. 

The highlight for some here are the strings available complete or separate bundles. Solo strings are going at 425 and 655 Euros for the standard and full libraries respectively. A bargain given the list price yesterday!!

Thanks Dane for the heads up.  But now this forces me to actually seriously consider a purchase and it's still a lot of money even though the USD to euro is pretty close now, 10% when I looked. I'm seeing solo strings 1 is 165 euro for the standard library when I look at the page now.

Can you get an ensemble sound by layering solo strings or do you really need one of the ensemble packages like 'chamber strings'?

Dane Aubrun said:

If anyone was about to consider VSL they're advertising a sale until end of March, up to 50% off almost everything including single instruments.  Now, THAT'S good. Remember that the Instrument player comes free and must be downloaded. It's pretty powerful too. One of its features I'v come to rely on is the slot rack and slot crossfade.

They're also offering a single license V Instruments Pro at about £50 which is truly powerful so I might get it next payday, providing it isn't going to disrupt my current projects. I'll ask on the forum or Michael Diemer who I believe has made the conversion. 

The highlight for some here are the strings available complete or separate bundles. Solo strings are going at 425 and 655 Euros for the standard and full libraries respectively. A bargain given the list price yesterday!!

@Ingo. Not sure layering solos always gives you good results — you must almost rely on the "half tone trick" to avoid phasing due to same sample being played at different pitches, bla, bla…

If you are interested in VSL, the Dimension series offer ensemble building capability with per-player tweakability.

If I'm right, the Honourable Jos Wylin here is VSL Dimension user; if so, he can certainly tell us something about using it in real life.

Best


Ingo Lee said:

Can you get an ensemble sound by layering solo strings or do you really need one of the ensemble packages like 'chamber strings'?

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