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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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It’s a zither

I loved your reminiscences about your childhood, Tim. They kicked off two things for me:

The first is that I sometimes dream of old cars I used to have. Sometimes they get stolen, and I see them going down the street and try to contact the police so they can track it down. Other times, I walk into the back yard, and all of a sudden there is my old Plymouth Valient, or the Crickett I briefly had when the Valient died, which the city towed away finally because it wouldn't run. also, it had no brakes, which made for an interesting ride to Pittsburgh when I l finished up at WVU. 

The other is a recurring dream I have of being in Pittsburgh, and needing to get home to the suburb I grew up in. Some buses or street cars will get me part of the way, sometimes I actually walk, going up the massive hill called Mt Washington, where I used to live briefly, and is the one you see with the little cable cars going up and down during Steelers football games. Unfortunately, when I finally get to one of the houses where my family lived, I suddenly realize I don't live there anymore, or I don't have a key to get in.

I can't imagine what my dreams would be like if the houses themselves weren't even there anymore. Gives "you can't go home anymore" a whole new meaning.

Thanks, I knew it was something along those lines, although I wondered if it might be some even weirder ethnic instrument, known only in Transylvania or something. 

Gav Brown said:

It’s a zither

Interesting you mention you home town as Pittsburgh Michael. I could go into probably too much detail here. Suffice it to say I have some family ties north of there in PA. 

Interesting about the dreams. Maybe we all have those kinds of dreams? I haven't had the one I mentioned in a long time.I would guess a lot of people feel displaced as the result of being moved or moving far away from home.

There are some other peculiar details that maybe I'll save ubntil some other time so as not to go too far from the subject.

I ended up buying Sampletank MAX.Around 260 gigabytes all downloading online as I type this. I can update on how the sounds in it are if I ever get it downloaded (sarcasm intended).It might take me two or three days downloading a little bit at a time until I have all of it.

Interesting....! 

I formerly kept a dream diary by my bedside to write what fragments of a dream I could remember at the instant of awakening. It takes a bit of practice (both to remember and to write with eyes closed without crossing lines and turning it into an utter mess). I was also interested in Art in those days and surreal poetry. What I noticed was that after arising, I'd try to rationalise the content of a dream into a narrative that lost all the weirdities of the visuals. 

However, it was interesting. 1) I'd often repeatedly dream of a place or scene and people that I could never have experienced in wakeful life so somehow my imagination synthesised entire episodes; 2) Occasionally I'd go lucid and aim to get fragments of music (from people I met). Nothing much ever came from this, maybe fragments...

As to the daw, I've been thinking of trying out VSL's synchron player. As I have the Special Ed Vol 1 and 1+ they're offering it to me at a ridiculously low price - I suppose just the price of the player plus the few extra bits they've added. What stops me is how it will disrupt those pieces I've already rendered using this set. They haven't done a synchron solo strings yet. I imagine that will be massive. The VI series is 104Gb..............The plain Synchron String Orchestra is over 500Gb. It would mean moving up to 2Tb SSDs. I always download to 2 separate SSDs anyway to have a complete back-up. I mean, just doing a download that size would give me the heebie-jeebies! Jeez.....

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It's funny how we often forget those dreams right after awakening. Sometimes I feel as if I'm making a dry run for future events. I know that sounds odd. In other words the future is played out ahead of time. Then there's the other weird stuff. Maybe I should change my diet before I go to sleep :) Keeping a notebook close by is a good idea.

I just finished setting up Sampletank MAX last evening past midnight. It's a good thing I had taken the day off . I didn't count all of the files but I'm guessing it was somewhere around 60 or more zipped folders that had to be downloaded from the IK site. Most folders were around 2gb each. Some were a lot more than that. After I downloaded each folder had to be unzipped individually. Each folder had an installer that had to be manually opened and initiated. As you might guess this was all very time consuming. IK gives you 180 days to download the files. After that I think they charge a small amount to recover them if something happens which is why they suggest making a backup of the sounds. No dongles and no Kontakt necessary though. My internet connection isn't extremely fast. Neither is it slow. At average connection speeds it took all day and then some just to download it.My library files posted at 322 gigs because they include the new CS libraries and some updates. In MAX you get lots of strings sounds from Miroslav in many different articulations. The  brass and woodwinds are really good. You get choirs and lots of individual vocal patches.Tons of just about anything you could imagine. 8000 sounds.

The GUI sorts metadata very well so it doesn't take long to find a particular sound. Neither is it difficult to point the player to your library files. Sampletank 3 libraries are included in Sampletank 4 MAX. I was amazed especially by the pianos and acoustic guitars in it. 

Dane, that  VSL library reminds me of the new release by Spitfire called the BBC orchestra. It is the largest undertaking Spitfire has ever done. I read a review of it HERE. The reason I mention it is because the reviewer made it clear that you needed a powerful computer to use it to potential........and this is the market VSL and Spitfire are shooting for with those products. The full time movie composer. No matter how large the libraries are they just keep pushing the limits of the average computer.In a few more years they will have something even larger with more requirements.Spitfire also followed VSL and went with an independent player for this new library instead of Kontakt. I have the VSL syncron player but haven't played with it much.....my larger concern would be to determine how many instruments I could load before I bring my computer to it's knees. I say that about ANY large library like that. I have an overclocked 5820K i7 @4.5 ghz with 16gb of memory running all SSD. So far no issues but neither have I loaded large projects using lots of heavy libraries.My MOBO can accept up to 128gb of memory but it has never been necessary ...yet.

Tim, Good day.

I'll be back to talk about this Spitfire in a while. Just to say I had a look at the review and sample set, will listen to the demos. Very right it's THE Orchestra. Thing is, it's publicly funded so it can afford things like contrabass clarinets. I've been thinking about Spitfire recently re the choir.

In the words of the famous Big Arnie...I'll be back.

 Hey Dane, I know I can be a bit long winded at times. My apologies. I was just throwing that library out there as an example

of the mentality behind these libraries. If and when I build my next DAW computer I might consider it. Maybe it doesn't take as much to please me. I seem to be perfectly happy with what I presently have. 

To be clear to anyone reading this thread........Sampletank 4 MAX is not a primary orchestral composition tool. It's more of an "all rounder" that covers many genre of music. The Miroslav library in MAX is the CE version which I think is a smaller version than the IK flagship Miroslav product. If shopping around I recommend looking at the sounds list first.

Hiyah, Tim,

Well, I haven't had time to listen to the demos yet. I know the orchestra well, living in the UK. It has been the subject of a few off-air recordings I can tell you. And...great that you drew attention to it. It isn't particularly candidate for me at the moment  but at the price it looks middle-to-upper market for the determined amateur or (as they suggest, cinema hack) it isn't at all bad. About £900 in the UK. There are puzzling things about it, looking through the patch list. Example: brass samples have flutter tonguing and cuivré playing (VSL call it blaring) and is great for angry-sounding horns. But there's no muted brass. I didn't check if the strings have a muted collection. I'll have another look in the morning as well as a listen. I also wasn't enamoured by a surcharge of £250 to receive it on an SSD. I mean...is there no end to the ripping off of composers?!!! 

I've just returned from a rueful evening - looks like a dance project I've worked on will be scuppered - well, held in abeyance because of this damned virus. It's the sensible response but I can't help disappointment as initial rehearsals were due to start in 4 weeks. I finally wrote an "overture" piece which I may post here and which the "bosses" like - they seemed positively enthusiastic...good for the spirit!  It gives me more time to polish things. I just have to hope it isn't shelved altogether.

Talk later. 

Must say the BBCSO is excellent - aside from the lack of muted brass. How that came about one can only wonder! Aside from that it does seem well worth the outlay. It can't be compared with VSL except the full orchestral compliment, possibly the solo strings (the leaders in this library). In that respect it's cheaper than VSL and more comprehensive than the starter sets.

So really it's whether a composer is serious and/or determined enough to shell out £1000 or so (to have it on an SSD). For a new composer it'll probably be thought an extravagance. I'm also a believer in you learn nothing if you have it easy with instant orchestras and believe all the tripe about 'it plays out of the box'.

It might well but if I've got on at all with midi renditions it's because my first samples needed a lot of work getting them into shape - consistency etc., and working around a highly restrictive midi editor that was basically loop-oriented and with a limit of 8 primary faders. Surprises me that I got anything completed. .....I still have a long way to go, learning curves seem to compound but at least I'm ok with instruments and scoring. Some orchestral experience in the background has helped, so I'm not entirely new to that....thank goodness. 

Just my view that a beginner will make a lot of this BBCSO, experimenting and learning and it has the capacity to be very realistic. However, that means newcomers interested in writing good orchestral music have to learn about orchestral music. Books are good for reference but aspirants have to study scores enough to work out how things have been done. Useful to learn an ensemble instrument and join or create an ensemble. People don't need to be world-famous concerto players! A couple of years' practice will yield a lot. Choose an instrument in demand: viola, horn, bassoon... 

This sample library can be too realistic to be true. They've been a bit heavy on the reverb/ miking but a couple of the demos do sound like the BBCSO. One of them, a waltz thing, sounds more like the BBC Concert Orchestra but that's beside the point! 

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Good Day Dane,

 I'll admit, I'm like a kid in a candy store with some of this stuff. I have to watch it because the plug ins and libraries can add up fast. Granted it was my birthday and I did pull that card. My upgrade to MAX was only around 200.00 but my total outlay last month for software was over 600 US. I bought a high end binaural reverb and a few smaller sample libraries, a few plugins. It all adds up. I'm scanning over 1100 plug ins in my system. Installing MAX involved a 5th hard drive which wasn't included in that expense. If PSP put Xenon on sale I'll probably nab it. From that context looking at these libraries is probably something I shouldn't be doing right now. GAS. Yes I have it and need to push myself away from the computer sometimes :)

I'm glad you liked the BBCSO. It looks to be a very nice "all in one" library. I guess everything is relative when looking at these libraries and their potential. I would probably opt for the loaded SSD over download. I had to do a double take though. They only list 55 instruments? Amadeus lists 88 instruments though half are multis. Soundbytes review. Soundbytes is a free subscription BTW. No comparison in sound to BBCCSO, but I won't beat a dead horse here. 1 10th the cost and uses little cpu. 

I might at some point in the near future use different instruments and not give away where I got them from, then see if they can be identified as higher quality when compared to others. Sort of a blind test to see if the higher end samples are really that much better.

From my visits to the VI forum, it appears that many composers will use instruments from different libraries in the same project because they might like one part of one and another part of another better. I think this also adds to a more collective yet individual feel for the music. Using a violin from EW and another from VSL might sound more like two different violinists because samples were recorded slightly differently giving some different feel to the music. They have that luxury. I do to a limited degree.Nothing like them though.

You make all good points. Having some orchestra experience helps. I was in a school band to the high school level here in the US. We didn't have a strings section though. It was only drums, woodwinds and brass. When I think back I'm not sure why I was never offered to play a stringed instrument. I believe with these libraries it's really a dual education one must pursue. You can be a composition major and not do well in software.  I don't think this kind of thing comes any easier to me than anyone else. I just kept learning until I knew something. I'm still learning. The goal IMHO should eventually be for the composer to have the full vision of his or her compositions realized without too much involvement in technology. In the beginning large bites of software navigation and training are necessary if the composer is sending compositions out to movie houses.After that it gets easier. If the composer is simply making basic mock ups the programs I mentioned (or similar) will likely suffice in most cases. 

Basic beginning advice. A. Make templates. B See point A. :)

Have a good day!

Dead on. It's a good idea to explore different libraries and composers will find plus and minus about each set. (I've mentioned before that I started out with analogue synthesis; the machine I built (to "project 80" circuits) was given a lot of input control: preamps, envelope followers, and things) and the ideas of a daw as we get today was remote. I looked on my first sample library as another sound resource rather than an orchestra. 

Once things got going though the potential to make mock-ups was obvious even if far from perfect. Until then it was a piano mock up which with contemporary styles depending on sustain, didn't work well.

Anyway, coming round to it, the first set I bought was the Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra - probably a vintage contemporary with the first Miroslav - very expensive when they appeared, available on CD as 16bit wavs. By the mid 2000-2010 Siedlaczek had long been bettered and appeared dead cheap in sales. They took a lot of work to get them to work! Were spaced a minor 3rd apart, and needed a template "instrument" to turn them into VSTs.

But I still use those samples occasionally. I prefer their oboe and Cor Anglais to the VSL instruments.

Otherwise I went over to VSL - its reputation, the sales prices. I had to just get over my fear of technical stuff.

But as for trying out other libraries, I'm on the side of caution. It's more expense, capacity but above all, time. The dreaded learning curve which, like it or not, slows down things like composition and may just kill an inspired moment. Hence an ongoing reliance on pencil and paper in the early stages. There's always an m/s pad at my side here. Plus there's the additional complexity of getting different libraries and plugins to match. Consistency. Given time a user will establish their methods but it does take time. (I seem to be ok with mingling those old samples with VSL but I know I face an orientation period were I to buy the Spitfire choir).

For many, though, the Garritan or Miroslav is more than enough as you say. I haven't tried either but have had the chance here to listen to a few. A terrific amount can be done with those. I've tended to prepare works that possibly could be performed live, chose the route of ensemble rather than orchestra (as I know a few people who'd be prepared to try things out) so I wanted good solo instruments with a reasonable amount of articulations and good control of timbre. 

As for pianos (and soon, harps) it's exclusively Pianoteq. Just a few mega- rather than gigabytes. I've prepared my lounge portfolio using the Pianoteq Steinway via an 88-key keyboard. 

However, I'm still grateful to you for drawing attention to the BBCSO set. If I do choose to dabble with another set, that'll probably be the one. 

Until later, Dane. 

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