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I've been using an old MIDI keyboard to compose in Sibelius 7. After I finish a piece, I export each individual instrument to a separate wave file, then insert each file into Reaper as a separate track and mix them down. When I export the file, Sibelius automatic uses the included Garritan orchestral sound library to voice the instrument. The finished mixes are adequate, but not professional sounding.

Yesterday I finally replaced my old keyboard with a Carbon 61. It works fine.

Included with the Carbon 61 was a Native Instrument software bundle, which I loaded onto my computer. The bundle contained Guitar Rig 5, Kontact 5, Reaktor 5, and Controller Editor. Apparently, somewhere among all this new software is a pretty extensive sound library. 

I don't know how to use any of this stuff. I don't even know how to tell Sibelius how to use an external sound library, but I have the manual and could probably figure it out. Included with all this new software are pdf manuals totally over 2,000 pages.

Here's my question: Is it worth the time to try to figure out how to use all this fancy new software, and if so, where do I start? Is any of this stuff going to help me get a more professional sounding product than my current approach? Right now I can't even get any sounds out of anything, so I'm really starting from scratch. Out of all the new software, what would you recommend to be the first thing I try to learn, assuming that I take my time and work my way through the manuals? Or am I better off just spending my limited time composing and not worry about the new gear?

Thanks for any suggestions that you can offer.

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Thanks for writing, Bob. I appreciate your advice, and I'll try to answer your questions as best I can.

I could easily export my compositions from Sibelius as MIDI files and then assign voices in Reaper, but the only sound library I had before yesterday was the one that came with Sibelius (which, as you pointed out, is no longer GPO, but apparently one unique to Sibelius), so I didn't see any point in learning how to do this, since it was so easy to just let Sibelius handle it.

I guess Reaper is the closest I have to a DAW, but right now I use it mostly as a mixer. After I import the .wav files, I use Reaper to add a little EQ, compression and reverb and to balance the various instruments.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that, to improve sound quality, I'd get the most bang for the (time)buck by improving my sound library, and you think that the sounds that I got from Native Instruments would not offer much improvement over what I already have with Sibelius. That being the case, perhaps I should just continue doing what I'm doing now and not get distracted by all this new software.

I have a couple of questions:

What is a sound set, and how is that different from the collection of sounds that came with my new software or with Sibelius?

How is a DAW different from Reaper? Is the DAW sort of like Sibelius and Reaper together in that I would play something on my keyboard into it, generating a MIDI file that I would then assign to a voice? (As I said, I don't know how any of this works.)

Is Kontact5 a DAW? Can someone tell me, in a nutshell, what each of these programs are supposed to do: Kontact5, Reaktor5, Guitar Rig5 and Controller Editor?

Kontakt 5 is a sample player, a very powerful tool and an industry standard in many different genres. A sample player loads a library of already recorded sounds, and gives you some (limited) amount of tweaking over the sound. While you can make your own sampled instrument in kontakt, assigning the different samples yourself (which you will record on your own), most people buy ready made libraries crafted by proffessionals. Available packages include pianos, orchestras, sound effects, vintage synths, drums, and so on.

I have never looked into reaktor, but this might shed some light - it does look promising http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/synths/reakt... . It seems like a highly configurable virtual synthesizer - it should open up many neat electronic possibilities, if you're willing to explore them.

GuitarRig 5 is a guitar amplifier, cabinet and effects emulator. When I had checked it out a few years ago it's quality was impressive-although i cannot comment on actual accuracy of the emulation. Essensially, you can apply this effect to recorded or live guitar/bass sounds and it will sound like a bulky, expensive amp studio, or so they claim. 

I assume controller editor can remap the default midi messages of your controller, to allow flexible midi control over NI's instruments, probably aimed towards live performance/jamming. Your controller currently has it's midi messages fixed-keys will just sent note and velocity messages. If I get this right, you can remap each note to do other stuff, like activate an effect, change instrument settings and so on.

If you're looking to produce more realistic recordings of real instruments, kontakt 5 is your first priority. There are incredibly many sound libraries available from third parties for you to choose (some are even free) and advanced features like scripting can open up interesting capabilities.

Sibelius should be able to load vst plugins, refer to your manual. The best method though would be to write in sibelius, then export the midi files in a DAW for producing. Reaper is a DAW and can be used for this task with good results.

This is incredibly helpful. I now know where to start focusing my energy. Thanks a lot, Spiros!

Possibly not, but I like Reaper because it gives me a little more control. Usually I set everything in the Sibelius mixer to center at 0 dB and then export it to a .wav file. I use Reaper to set my pans and fine-tune my EQ and reverb. Plus, Reaper allows me to add vocals (which is a bit of a shame because I have such a lousy singing voice that I end up ruining anything I sing on, but that's not Reaper's fault). I used to finish everything off in Audacity, setting the amplify function to give me a -1 dB peak volume and adding fade-outs when necessary, but I was never really pleased with the final sound. It seemed like Audicity was adding weird artifacts to the sound that I could never get rid of. I was probably just doing something wrong. But anyway, as I've learned to do more in Reaper, I haven't used Audicity much.

UPDATE:

     I've been messing around with my new freebie software. I've been able to get sounds into (from my Carbon 61 keyboard) and out of (to my speakers) Kontact 5 and Reaktor 5. Reaktor 5 is amazing--such great sounds! And Kontact 5 comes with some beautiful strings samples that I've love to replace the Sibelius 7 strings with. So now my next task is to figure out how to get these sounds into Reaper. I can export individual instruments to MIDI files or .wav files with Sibelius 7, and I can insert MIDI or .wav files into Reaper as separate tracks into the same project. So I'm almost there. The next step is to figure out how to tell, say, the violin I MIDI track to use the strings sounds that come with Kontact 5. If anyone has any advice, I'd love to hear it.

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