Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

I not a Scientist or a Mathematician nor am I a Digital Engineer

Recently, as I have indicated I have tried to branch out to more modern form of composing. 

Up until recently, I used to compose in a very traditional and old fashion way. Get the idea, write it down on paper or Sibelius, and develop it.

Then I have downloaded several free DAW demos. To me every single one of them is like Egyptian Runes. Unintelligible, unclear, indecipherable. Only several DAWS are left that I still didn't try, the Albion and Cakewalk. The Albion to the best of my knowledge doesn't offer a demo, I'm not going to pay $500 and then not like the program and not use it. The Cakewalk, there is a demo through Steinberg, but it doesn't work on my computer. The only thing that I feel comfortable with is an online program called Soundtrap, I pay a membership fee of $12 a month and it gives me the tools to compose in the easiest and clearest platform that I have seen so far. The drawback on this is the quality of the sounds, though it is better then some, it is also less in quality then others. 

When I approach the art of composition, I want to concentrate on the melody on the actual content of the music, all those digital complications destroys it for me, as there are so many things one has to do in order to get one line of music mixed and recorded, what a shame.

The ideal thing would be, and this is for those who are looking to make a business out of this is to create something that has the simplicity of Soundtrap with the sound quality and flexibility of Albion and other famous high end sound libraries. What I also like about Soundtrap is that it does all the mixing for me which is amazing.

Until such an option will come, I will continue concentrating on Piano and also Sountrap. No other DAWs are good for me, until at least they simplify the process and provide the composer with the ability to concentrate on inspiration and music writing instead of becoming a digital engineer, which I am not and probably will never be.

For the love music, I have no idea how people are composing with things like Digital Performer and Reaper, and Studio One, etc, basically all of them, besides the ones I have yet to try.

This is not meant to be a debate, though I don't know which better thread this topic fits.

Cheers to all.

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Hello, Saul,

You are not alone. I suppose DAWs do a lot more than just let you compose music, like they record and give you many editing facilities. Yes, they probably take getting used to and I still find after about 5 years with mine there's more to learn.

But like you (once did) I still start composing on paper with pencil. I've watched Sibelius being used and once tried out Finale with their free try which was appalling! It let me do nothing if it wasn't in a common or compound time. 5/4? Nah, mate, none of that.

NONE of these can beat putting dots on paper staves for speed. There are other issues - pencil and paper doesn't crash; the publisher doesn't go out of business; and you can compose away from any computer. Perhaps I have a too short memory but if an idea crops up I want to jot it right then. Oh, and I never start with a time signature nor bar lines. No software allows me that except through some extraordinary work-arounds.

I suppose I'll have to get some kind of notation software in the end. They all seem a swindle to me. Upgrades each year at $99? I mean, how much has music notation changed in the past 4 centuries and they still need an annual upgrade? 

Even, as I think I understand things, one of their benefits is they lift out individual parts of a multi-part score - except they don't seem to let you put smaller cueing staves above an entry as you'd like, so even if I did get software I reckon there'll be much manual editing still to do. 

Yes, it's a problem all right.

cheers.

Hi Saul -  I certainly agree with you that composers using digital sound production face a difficult problem and I am not an expert on the subject by any means.

I would like to say that I use Reaper which is cheap ($60) last I checked, and the company provides an easy to follow video guide that will help you get started. Here's the first in the series.:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fz9wDv-mE0

Here's the rest:

https://www.reaper.fm/videos.php

Also Bob Porter is offering us all help with getting better results from Sibelius which I think is a great idea also.

Some things come to mind. Not to debate, but just to think about.

I keep hearing people say they want a faster, easier way to do things. They want software that will do a lot of things for them. 

But...

Composition is not easy. It never has been and shouldn't ever be easy. It's work, and lots of it. And today, composition is harder than ever. I think that people who want easy might be missing the point. It's hard to write good music. Sure, someone can throw some notes together and it might sound OK. Fine. But to craft something beautiful, if that's your goal, takes time, sweat, skill, and determination. Someone who plays piano, for example, and wants to write piano music has to, first of all, know piano inside and out. If that person wants to write for orchestra, well that's another world entirely. That requires a totally different set of skills. I don't play piano, so I either stay away from it, or write simple piano parts.


Seems to me that "easy" is the path to mediocrity. If you want to create a recording that sounds real, than the first thing you need to know is what those instruments sound like, are capable of, and how they blend with other instruments.


If you write in notation, it's not about how fast you can do it. It's about how well you do it. Seems to me that slower might be better because you get the chance to think about what you are doing. I write for small orchestra, so paper is useless for me. I don't start with an idea. I sit at the computer with a blank score and just start writing. If I waited for a melody to come to me before I started writing, I probably wouldn't ever write anything. But that's me.


And as far as letting the software interpret my score, like noteperformer, or mix for me? No thank-you. Those are things that some algorithm, or some programmer, might set up. Their ideas, not mine. But that's me.


It just seems to me that if I'm going to write music, I have to really know the instruments I'm writing for (if I'm after something that sounds "real") and most of all, I have to write good notes. Good notes should hold up no matter what software I'm using. The software will make a difference in the recording, but it can't, and shouldn't have to, make up for bad notes.


I notice that Soundtrap says they use "software instruments". I don't know what that means. To me it says Modified GM. Most sites say they have libraries that are recorded sounds. At least with MuseScore you can download a mostly decent library that is better that the stock sounds.


Of course I want my music to sound the best it can. But it won't matter if my notes are bad.
As far as having to be a sound engineer? Look at it more like getting to be a sound engineer.

I would never claim to be any type of expert at Sibelius. But I have picked up a trick or two.

Well Mozart got entire scores 'downloaded' in his mind all he had to do was to notate it, he was his own copyist in a sense. You don't mean to suggest that those who as you say sweat it out and work immensely that they're music is superior?

What sweat and work have to do with anything?

All we have is the end result, and the determination on the quality thereof is determined by the end result only, namely the music, final product. 

Said this, music composition is a journey, and the journey should be fun too. If I wanted to sweat it out I'll go to the gym. When I write music, I actually want to enjoy the process as well. 

All the DAWS listed above are not necessarily musical, rather it is a digital mechanical interface that doesn't need musical talent, it needs other forms of talent, computer savvy, digital audio engineering, and things of this sort. The field of music and that are not necessarily tied, and one doesn't have to do with the other.

If Beethoven traveled in time and tried to compose something with this setting, he would have probably failed, and not because he wasn't a good musician, but because it wasn't his field.

Now, its entirely possible to posses both, an affinity and talent with digital programing and engineering/ modern sound production and music, but from what it seems to me is that many people have a talent in this digital field and not in music per say, and whatever they compose may wow many, but the question remains how much of that was due to their musical talent or their digital knowhow...

In the famous 3 star French restaurants they have a very basic test to see how good a prospective chef may be before hiring them to service in their prestigious restaurants.

The test is the simplest dish on earth, and that is scrambled eggs. If a chef can cook scrambled eggs to perfection in the highest standard possible then he is considered and hired. One may wonder at this very odd and vague medium of screening but the point is that a eggs are a very difficult objects to hide behind if you can't cook.

But if they asked the chef to create a 'Beef Bourguignon' then he will simply download the recipe from the web and follow the instructions, and he might achieve something meaningful, while scrambled eggs has no real recipe, its simply how you do it.



Bob Porter said:

Some things come to mind. Not to debate, but just to think about.

I keep hearing people say they want a faster, easier way to do things. They want software that will do a lot of things for them. 

But...

Composition is not easy. It never has been and shouldn't ever be easy. It's work, and lots of it. And today, composition is harder than ever. I think that people who want easy might be missing the point. It's hard to write good music. Sure, someone can throw some notes together and it might sound OK. Fine. But to craft something beautiful, if that's your goal, takes time, sweat, skill, and determination. Someone who plays piano, for example, and wants to write piano music has to, first of all, know piano inside and out. If that person wants to write for orchestra, well that's another world entirely. That requires a totally different set of skills. I don't play piano, so I either stay away from it, or write simple piano parts.


Seems to me that "easy" is the path to mediocrity. If you want to create a recording that sounds real, than the first thing you need to know is what those instruments sound like, are capable of, and how they blend with other instruments.


If you write in notation, it's not about how fast you can do it. It's about how well you do it. Seems to me that slower might be better because you get the chance to think about what you are doing. I write for small orchestra, so paper is useless for me. I don't start with an idea. I sit at the computer with a blank score and just start writing. If I waited for a melody to come to me before I started writing, I probably wouldn't ever write anything. But that's me.


And as far as letting the software interpret my score, like noteperformer, or mix for me? No thank-you. Those are things that some algorithm, or some programmer, might set up. Their ideas, not mine. But that's me.


It just seems to me that if I'm going to write music, I have to really know the instruments I'm writing for (if I'm after something that sounds "real") and most of all, I have to write good notes. Good notes should hold up no matter what software I'm using. The software will make a difference in the recording, but it can't, and shouldn't have to, make up for bad notes.


I notice that Soundtrap says they use "software instruments". I don't know what that means. To me it says Modified GM. Most sites say they have libraries that are recorded sounds. At least with MuseScore you can download a mostly decent library that is better that the stock sounds.


Of course I want my music to sound the best it can. But it won't matter if my notes are bad.
As far as having to be a sound engineer? Look at it more like getting to be a sound engineer.

I would never claim to be any type of expert at Sibelius. But I have picked up a trick or two.

Saul

It's not a sliding scale. If composer "A" puts in a "7" load of work, and composer "B" puts in a "10" amount of work, the music of composer "B" is not automatically better. 

You said: "All we have is the end result, and the determination on the quality thereof is determined by the end result only, namely the music, final product."

In your view, what exactly is the final product? You brought up Mozart. OK. Let's consider the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro. Most would say that this is good music. But how do we know? Well, silly, you have an orchestra play it. Case closed. There are two problems with this. First, we have little idea how this music sounded in Mozart's time. There are no recordings from the 1700's. Second, modern orchestras do not sound like early orchestras. The instruments are vastly different. There are no violins built in that time that are being used in orchestras today, that have not been heavily modified. They have longer necks installed and have had the tops reinforced to use modern strings, and modern pitch. We don't know for sure about playing techniques. And that's just string instruments.

It seems clear to me that he wrote good notes. This is evidenced by the fact that he is still played today. It also seems that the orchestra was his DAW. I don't care for Mozart. Too predictable. Some say he was a genius. I suppose. Too bad his sister, who was musically better than him, didn't go into composing.

Yes, of course composing should be fun. I have a blast. But it is not easy. I don't write because of how easy or difficult the process is. I write because I enjoy the process and the result. If I write good notes I believe the process of producing a listenable recording is that much easier, and worth it. Notice I said "listenable". I'm not trying to sell my music or put out studio quality stuff. Whatever that is. Everyone has a different idea of what sounds good. I do it for the fun of it, which I take seriously. 

I'm not talking about a specific work by Mozart, but in general, its probably obvious that the composer of over 600 works which a significant amount of those are played and admired around the world by its sheer beauty and drama, are superior to probably all composers today. We don't have a Mozart today, and its not only about Mozart's prodigious abilities as a child genius, but his near effortless achievements as a composer. As to how Mozart's music sounded back then, well I believe that if you look at the score, it is clear that it was great music, regardless of when it was composed and for what instruments. I don't think that the Orchestra was his DAW, I think that the DAW was his mind, and the music that he had in it and then translated it into a piece of paper, he might of used the piano as something that resembles a DAW. I don't think that if he lived in our age he would have utilized the DAW, as he would have considered it outdated and primitive compared to his intelligent and talented mind.

As for composition been easy, no one is saying that it should be easy, but fun, things can be difficult and fun as well, to walk a 10 mile hike in the wilderness can be difficult and fun at the same time, but imagine that in order to walk the hike you were given 40 different maps of the trail, that is not fun , that's a waste of time.

Human beings, with all of our resources and technological advancement still didn't come up with something that is both revolutionary and sophisticated and yet simple at the same time. For if its not simple and you have to take geography classes for each map in order to understand it, it wouldn't be called a hike but a ride. In a hike you are doing the walk and you are having the fun, in a ride someone is driving the car, you follow his rules, and you also have to listen to all the nonsense he has to say all along the way.

I dont want to listen to all the nonsense of Digital performer and One studio and all the rest. Do this, and that, this and that, this and that, and this and that, and maybe in the end you will achieve what 'you want'. Maybe. But even their instructions are not clear, and the tools that are provided are too complicated and the process becomes unpleasant and boring. 

Saul,

I'm on your side. I don't want to use a DAW either. But there is plenty within the software you have that you can work with. Yet it is typical of younger people today to call something they think is too hard, boring. That's what this forum is for. If you're having trouble with some aspect of composing, ask for help. Post a mid. or xml. of the song you deleted, and maybe someone will have some ideas. You already trusted it to some online place you had to pay for. Here it's free.

No I do want to use it as long as it simple and musically based and not scientific and technological as it is right now. That was the entire point of the discussion. As I have indicated, the DAWs that are available now don't work for me, as it is an entire subject/profession that one has to learn and master and does not necessarily have anything to do with music.

Regards

I'm very much with you on the current fetish with tech, and probably a little guilty myself. On this site, as with many others, we often identify the quality of the recording as a failing, before we are able to begin to identify the music within.

I've previously commented on recent posts where the composer has been privileged enough to have real people play the music. Not all of us have that, so we make do with what we've got.

The truly great musicians of history are well documented as having the orchestra in their head as they compose (an inbuilt DAW) and would never have heard a note played without a human behind the instrument.

Of course, the greatest written work can be played with terrible performers as well. That doesn't mean the music is bad, it's just that the DAW (the conductor and orchestra) isn't being used to the full potential. There is, however, good reason to dismiss a performance that is so unlistenable that even the best score is undermined; Beethoven's 5th on kazoo would not receive a lot of listens.

The point I'm seeking to make is that we often fail to discriminate between composition and performance, digital or real world. The two skill sets are decidedly different and I think there is scope, and the skills, within this forum to collaborate between the music creation and the auditory realisation.

In answer to an earlier question, I won't be learning a dedicated DAW anytime soon. Life's too short as it is!

In the end it comes down to what works for us given our circumstances and aspirations. I'm never going to be a Beethoven or Brucker but a live performance even if less than optimal, or acceptance of a sample-produced piece to be exposed to the public brings some satisfaction. However, much of what I do will never reach the public which doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed the process and, with a fairly self-critical ear, got some satisfaction myself. 

Like some others I tend to work from my inner ear then have to write it out. Sometimes it's hard, others, easy. At this stage notation software is no use to me. At some point I mock up progress on a midi editor. I rarely get what I want first time so I can make adjustments. Sometimes I try things at the piano but the effect of long, sustained notes aren't as easily captured. The DAW allows me that. The samples I use at the mo are poor but something can be made of them. In this current age where most orchestral music is canned in CDs and streams I look on "musical instruments" as a sound sources among others. Doesn't deny that working with or playing in live ensembles isn't most enjoyable. But I don't have a problem with a sampled production. Let's face it most film and commercial music is produced that way nowadays. 

The point Graeme makes about the difference between an idealised and actual performance is so valid. Composers of all times have had to put up with bad performances that can trash a satisfactory work where in different hands the result is the opposite. It's worsened perhaps when producing an instrumental work with good samples and having to hope that a live performance will approximate it. As I've discovered, it doesn't always!

We all have our different ways. I don't see a DAW as different from say, a word-processor or olden-day typewriter. They're tools. 

Thank you Dane, Ingo and Graeme for your comments and insights.

Saul,

DAW, Digital Audio Workstation. I know you know this.This is software specifically developed to manipulate music. Because it works on computers, it has to go by the computer's rules. The best way for notation software users to get any benefit from a DAW is to write in notation then import to the DAW to put the finishing touches on the music. And you have to learn some new stuff. All of which has everything to do with music. Just like learning piano, which is hard. Or like learning theory. All that is hard enough, but the problem also is that in order to produce a credible recording, you need very expensive samples. There are free libraries. I use some when I play around with MuseScore. 

Dane,

A minor side note. Of course you can have compound (or any) meter in notation software. There are ways to have no meter or bar lines. I wouldn't pay a yearly subscription either. Maybe if I was a professional. I have Sibelius 7.5.1. This was the last version that was not on the yearly plan. The new versions are not all that different. There is now a free version of Sibelius, but it is so stripped down as to be almost useless.

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