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Hi composer fellows,

here is sort of a jazz rock song I am trying to mix. So far I am not so happy with the horns (which are Bb-Trumpet, Tenor Trombone, Alto-, Tenor- and Baritone Sax from VSL). In this version I did nearly nothing to them except for a low cut depending on the instrument between 50 and 100 Hz and a convolution reverb from a small room.

So here is the big question: How do you experienced engineers treat horns in a musical context like this? Comments to the rest of the instruments are welcome too of course.

Thanks in advance

Jochen

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What don't you like about the horns? For me, they do not sound real. They do not convey the emotion of live instruments. The number one consideration of any mix is- how does the performance itself sound? Is the timing stiff? Too perfect? Too consistent? Do the drums sound mechanical, in a bad way?  I like your compositional ideas. I like your arrangement. I think a big step up for you, would be to work with two or three live musicians, say, synthesizer, bass, and piano, or maybe three really good sounding samples. Choose believable samples and then work from those.... jazz rock often uses 'electronic instruments' like organ, Rhodes, synth, synth bass, mellotron, etc. These are a lot easier than trying to approximate a live player with a horn, although I think it's possible with a background Fr Horn, and I've recorded a short segment using an oboe sample with reverb and well-placed vibrato that makes us think it's in a real space.

Hi Doug,

thanks for listening and your reply.

Here you treat the problem in a more philosophical way. I admit that a live performance of my music would be great and probably sound better. Unfortunately I live in a small town where the few musicians are only interested in rock and blues. And they got normal jobs and families and everything. So, if someone asks them for a studio performance, which means spending time and energy, the answer is: "Make it easy or make it lucrative." Both is not possible with most of my compositions.
Working with samples is for me (and most members of this forum especially the ones who work in the orchestral field) the only way to turn my music into audio files. Do you suggest that I bury all this music (and I got lots) in the bottom drawer of my desk?

My intention here is to produce an audio file that sounds as good as possible and make it available to a possibly interested audience. With a judgement like yours: "Nice but not real." I can live very well. And I hope for a call from someone who tells me: "I like this song and I play saxophone and I can do much better than your samples can. Let's make a date for the recording session."

To make it short: What I expected was something like: " I work with horn samples all the time and I equalize, compress and reverberate them as follows...".

However, other ideas are still welcome.

See you later
Jochen

I think, for your purposes, this is a fine demo. Try experimenting with rolling off some of the lower frequencies of the lead instruments, including below 50hz. Try different approaches- add different kinds of reverb and delay. I think your ideas are coming across well, in terms of composition and arrangements.

Just an idea, you might go in the direction of hiring session musicians, and get into creating fine recordings at home in your small town. This will take time, money and energy, but maybe you'd get a lot of satisfaction from it and then start creating polished examples of your work. With the internet, it's possible to work with session musicians remotely. I've worked with a drummer in LA and a drummer on Nantucket. For saxophone, I often work with CF's Chris Alpiar in Atlanta. So, you might consider the option of producing your own recordings. I found a violinist here in town and plan to work with him soon. If you cannot afford to pay various musicians, I understand your reluctance to go that route. I do like your MP3 as a 'demo'. In fact, I'd like to hear it as a well-produced recording accomplished with session musicians.

Hi Doug, sorry for the late answer, but I am currently pretty busy (unfortunately not music related).

I tell you what my problem is: This project is not only one song but a whole album. If you suggest to hire session musicians for the five horn voices in the demo, I have to source out 36 parts including voices for flute, oboe, bass clarinet etc. As you mentioned before, this will take a lot of time, money and energy. And I am taking the risk that one or more performances are not the desired ones and I have to tell the musician to try again...and again...and...find another musician. Currently I'd rather tweak samples than getting a nervous breakdown. But I will think about it.

Doug Lauber said:

I think, for your purposes, this is a fine demo. Try experimenting with rolling off some of the lower frequencies of the lead instruments, including below 50hz. Try different approaches- add different kinds of reverb and delay. I think your ideas are coming across well, in terms of composition and arrangements.

Just an idea, you might go in the direction of hiring session musicians, and get into creating fine recordings at home in your small town. This will take time, money and energy, but maybe you'd get a lot of satisfaction from it and then start creating polished examples of your work. With the internet, it's possible to work with session musicians remotely. I've worked with a drummer in LA and a drummer on Nantucket. For saxophone, I often work with CF's Chris Alpiar in Atlanta. So, you might consider the option of producing your own recordings. I found a violinist here in town and plan to work with him soon. If you cannot afford to pay various musicians, I understand your reluctance to go that route. I do like your MP3 as a 'demo'. In fact, I'd like to hear it as a well-produced recording accomplished with session musicians.

Hi Ray, sorry for the late answer, but I am currently pretty busy (unfortunately not music related).

What do you mean with missing rhythm of the drummer? In the main theme for example the kick drum follows the bass line, I have snare hits on beat 2 and 4 and closed hihat 1/8 notes or as a variation open hihat 1/4 notes. Not much room for variations in my opinion if I want to keep a steady beat.

Sooo different are taste, ears and monitors. I was thinking of turning down the cymbals. I will check again.

Performance and sound of saxophones? This is why I posted the song. What can I do better and HOW?



Raymond Kemp said:

Here goes,

Your virtual drummer needs a drink or two then maybe they'll get some rhythm. Also the mix between kick, snare and overheads isn't good. Needs more hats and cymbals.

Sax? Not a very good sound and I don't think any self respecting player would be so flat on that A and pull it up like that then again on the D# to be honest it's painful. If you're going to do that it needs to be more subtle.

That's enough to be going on with.

Just my opinion you understand.

Ray

Like you, I am working on an album of original music. The big question is- what are your goals with your album?

Do you want your album to be compared with other jazz/rock albums that are out there?  Based on your posted tune, I think people will think, 'Mmmm. That's an interesting arrangement and composition, but it sounds like it's fake-sounding and mechanical. There's too much consistency in each chord hit. A moderately good sax player would sound much better than what you have here- because of the performance, not EQ or reverb.  I have heard amazing programmed drums in genres like trance, dance and electronica, but you are not trying for that sound, instead you are trying to create something that sounds like a real drummer with a drum set, but the best way to do that is with a real drummer.

As an artist, your goal should be to create the best recording possible and that includes the best performances possible. So you should work backwards. What can you do to produce a fantastic recording? You might start with a simple approach- play a metronome, record a composition based on your performance on piano, using great piano samples. If your playing is sloppy, re-do the bad sections, maybe add a little bit of quantizing, but make sure it doesn't sound mechanical. You don't want a recording where all five instruments strike a note/chord at exactly the same time- very unnatural. Then maybe write a sax part, and send the whole thing, with and without the sax part, to a real sax session player, where he adds his own sax track to your recording. Next, you might add an electric piano performance or a bass synth part. You'll end up with a small ensemble. It will sound a billion times better than the mechanical/fake sound that you are getting now. You can start this kind of process with an even more simple approach- write a piece for just two instruments, or record a few parts that are based on your actual keyboard performances, complete with dynamics and timing imperfections.

Hi folks,
okay, okay, I got the picture. As you might have guessed, my experiences in recording horn and string players in the past have not been that positive. Went all into the trash can. Maybe my ears are too sensitive for human imperfections in pitch and timing. However, I will try to find players at least for the melody instruments.

Do you know a website where session musicians are listed?

Any idea, what money I will have to spend on this? I was thinking of 50 $ (40 Euros) per instrument and piece. Too much? Too little? What do you think?

@ George: You mentioned the Zappa references. Okay, I have lots of songs which are influenced by Zappa, but very rarely in this project. I chose this song because it's the first one with a full horn section on the imaginary album. And there is only one more song which points obviously to the music of my master.
And concerning general lagging or leading the beat of the drums:I performed in many bands where the band leader (me or someone else) would have accepted a performance like that only sometimes as a special effect, but normally the command for the drummer was, is and will continue to be short and easy: "Keep the beat".

Perfectly stated. I agree with everything you've stated, while also agreeing that his good ideas do come across.

Just another example of 'real' vs 'fake'. This problem I have is a little more subtle. I did a recent mix that started as a cool drum solo. Next, I added elec bass and piano(sampled). I 'played' those instruments while using the drum solo track as a reference. Problem: The drummer would not and could not react to ANYTHING I played. That really does affect the entire production. Sometimes you can get away with it. Generally, it results in a less cohesive feeling. Another subtle 'fake' quality can be produced by having a steady click track or metronome through the entire piece. Sometimes the key is the injection of drama and emotion and good performances that counter any 'fake' qualities. Sometimes blatantly 'fake' can work. An example would be cheesy synth samples like mellotron, or Casio CZ101, etc. Honestly fake can be a cool thing. Donald Fagen: 'We do fake jazz and fake fake jazz...' or something to that effect. (with some outstandingly real solos)

It's almost an impossible task to make sax samples sound anything like the real thing, in my experience. I have had some success in a rock song context by having a real trumpet player on top of a VSL tenor and trombone but only as a background horn section quite low in the mix. 

For anything jazz/ jazz rock FORGET IT.

Nice piece Jochen, I would definitely do everything possible to get real drums and horns on it. 

There is a site called StudioTraxx for remote session musicians. I've worked quite a bit as an arranger/producer, or 'one man band' as they sometimes call it. You will definitely find some good players there if you can't get them to your place.

I've just finished a Jazz Rock album with my band MT Hedz and someone will tell me if this is bad forum etiquette but here is a link to the CD Baby page if you'd like to check it out.

Who are your influences?

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mthedz

Oh cool...will check it out!
Just did- about half the tunes. Excellent! Is a CD available? I'm also a HUGE fan of Steely Dan. I recommend their Aja DVD, if you don't have it. Great interviews, production insight, etc. Michael- Do you have a Facebook page? BTW, we're talking 'fusion', so I imagine it might be possible to do a more 'techno' version of jazz/fusion without a real drummer, and substituting synth for horns. Just sayin'.

Thanks Doug, yeah I've got, or had, that DVD, there are also quite a few youtube treats of various Dan line-ups. Do you know Fagen's 'Morph The Cat' album? There's some killer playing by the likes of Wayne Krantz on guitar.

Talking about 'real' v 'programmed' drums, I always feel the later Dan albums, post Gaucho, suffer from what sounds like programmed drums. Even though it may well be a real drummer ( according to the credits) I find the sound and playing  almost too pristine. 

I think it's definitely possible to do fusion with loops/programmed drums and synths but 'jazz' fusion must have a large amount of improvisation to justify the label, I believe.

I am waiting for my physical CDs to arrive so for now my album is only available online.

The band page is https://www.facebook.com/MTHedz and there is also a very basic site www.mthedz.co.uk.

Doug Lauber said:

Oh cool...will check it out!
Just did- about half the tunes. Excellent! Is a CD available? I'm also a HUGE fan of Steely Dan. I recommend their Aja DVD, if you don't have it. Great interviews, production insight, etc. Michael- Do you have a Facebook page? BTW, we're talking 'fusion', so I imagine it might be possible to do a more 'techno' version of jazz/fusion without a real drummer, and substituting synth for horns. Just sayin'.

For me, the later albums do sound too sterile, as far as the drums go. I'd like a messier Elvin Jones type of sound. It's amazing how much clarity there is on the Gaucho album, like every instrument is in a large vacant room, and there are no EQ conflicts. The way the drums are tracked adds to that spaciousness. It's good and it's bad...

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