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(I do like typing that. It's a good name for an orchestra. Brandenburg State Orchestra. Mmmmm)

I finally did the thing and got some music recorded with an orchestra (the Brandenburg State Orchestra . . . mmmmmm). Videos are embedded below, less than 2 minutes total, and the final session scores are attached. I hope you like or appreciate them! The following rambling is potentially of interest for anyone into doing this themselves and unsure of the kind of pitfalls that might come up.





As I've said before, my goal is to get into film and game scoring, as much because it would allow me to work with orchestras and live ensembles as because I love a great score. The background to these pieces is essentially "I've no idea if what I'm writing will function in the real world without samples or context to rely on, and I need to discover that." Hence my quartet recordings last year and my trumpet/horn recordings this year.

So before committing to a much larger session, I tested some of the core aspects of my preferred style and tried to jam as much into 90 seconds as possible. I feel the orchestra got about 95% there in the time I could afford, which was easily good enough for me.

I wanted quite a natural live sound and got it, but the recording setup led to some restrictions at the mixing stage. The orchestra didn't use screens between sections as would be typical in a score recording, so isolating sections or instruments to raise or lower in the mix wasn't always possible - the harp, for example, is almost inaudible at all points. The string section, especially violins and violas, isn't always as prominent as I'd like (my ideal orchestra would have more strings, but I wasn't able to add musicians for this session). Tubular bells likewise tend to disappear in the mix. Recording with screens and baffles would solve some of these issues, but I still love the final mix sound.

Unsurprisingly the recording also indicates a few areas that I need to change or adapt in my writing and orchestration. A couple of things could have been fixed in the session which I listened in on remotely, but with the time restraint it was either make some small changes on the fly or do another take. I had to sacrifice a few elements to fit with the fixed lineup, mainly percussion - I typically write for up to five concurrent musicians and had to pare things down to two, plus timpani.

The remote session setup is another point for anyone doing this kind of thing - my feed was a single microphone capturing the entire room, not the desk mix. It allowed me to hear only the general impression, so I went away somewhat disappointed and was overjoyed when the mixes came through far better than I'd expected.

I learned a lot about notation and layout, confirmed things I wasn't sure about but which were performed perfectly on the day (the time needed to change instruments for percussion and woodwind, retuning for timpani, pedalling for harp), and went away happy and ready to do it all again but much bigger.

So, lessons learned from live recording so far:
It'll probably sound better in the mixing stage
It'll probably take longer than you expect or budget for
If you've paid to have your work recorded you are probably a hypercritical perfectionist, try and take a step back
Attend in person if you possibly can

Recording two short pieces doesn't make me an expert, but any questions you have on the process I can try and answer!

Additional thanks to Mike Hewer for his generosity in experience and time toward these recordings. GO MIKE

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Very nice Dave.
You certainly have no chance of such a sound from virtual instruments no matter how skilled in their use.
I suppose most here would not have the disposable income to fund such a venture never mind the chops. I certainly don't on both counts. Thanks for sharing the result with us.

Ray
Thanks for the acknowledgement Dave.
They sound great on my iPad, I'll listen tomorrow on the studio monitors.
I use to overdub sampled percussion if I needed to and sometimes added some extra sampled strings. With careful choosing and balancing of samples, a lot can be achieved. It might be fun for you to experiment in that vein as you may well have to do it for real soon.
Check out how the bows move in Revenge Strategies and remember it for future use.

Well done, the first of many I hope.

I find it interesting that the cymbal works well for me in Revenge Strategies but sounds silly in Valency. As if lacking some minor amount of glue instantly makes it stand out as completely out of place. Even though the writing for it is in a very similar vein.

Or maybe it's just the mix?

Either way, great job. You sure are moving forward in this at a solid pace. :)

Ray - thanks. If one used a more realistic piece of music (ie, less fiddly that didn't require more takes and rehearsal) and didn't want it filmed, a finished minute would be about €800. Certainly not cheap, but not a ridiculous notion either, if taken as an investment. As for chops, the music of yours I've heard suggests you'd get a great result.

Mike - my pleasure. I hadn't considered adding samples as on principle I wanted a completely natural sound (it's a service the company offers in fact), but of course it's not as if such experimentation would undo the original recording in any way. Some touches of harp and extra percussion could work. And there's of course the electric guitar I'll doubtless track in.

Greg - thanks!
The cymbals in Valency are indeed one of the mentioned issues which I wasn't quite quick enough to change during recording. While they don't ruin the mixes for me, they're the biggest "fix this" the session presented with my writing. It's probably down to the timpani, which is more or less doubling the cymbal in ERS - in fact the rhythm of ERS generally is far more delineated, which will make a difference too - but has a more independent role in VoV. The double beat at 0.18 sounds empty as the timpani is rolling underneath it but I thought accenting the melody would carry it (no); then the triple beats at 0.24 and 0.27 are perhaps too much. I could reduce to 2 or just 1 hits. And the cymbal is almost impossible to lower in the mix. But that said, it's essentially a polished live mix, and percussion is always a little invasive in performances in my experience, so sounds "real". If I could remove just one cymbal beat cleanly, it'd be 0.20.

Hey Dave. These pieces sound Great!! I especially loved the first one!  Really wonderful!  (i could hear a touch of Williams, - {Strange that :) - with that raised 4th.. :)  Wow, the orchestra did a bang up job!  You are ready for the big screen!

Thanks for posting. What a pleasure!

@Bob

If you think it's cool, chances are it is. In case I understated it, I'm very happy with the recordings, more so as time goes on. This is more or less what you'd hear in a live performance in a good space, and you put that very well - warts and glory (mainly glory, if I can make so bold, the issues are generally minor and most muggles would never notice them). Purely in terms of a recording session though, I paid for harp (and tubular bells) and got very little. I know it's there, somewhere. It's part of the learning curve I paid for so I'm fine with it, but in a different context - a larger orchestra in a longer session for a specific purpose - the ability to control the mix to a greater extent is part of what's being paid for in a studio. The ideal compromise is the lightning-in-a-bottle feel that can then be manipulated to some extent.

@Gregorio

Well thanks, that's really kind! And I don't even know what the raised 4th is, though I could guess. Clearly Williams is an inspiration, certainly orchestration-wise, but musically the first piece doesn't evoke him that much for me - that theme is almost too "easy" for Williams. The shorter piece though, albeit accidentally, got a bit Williams. As I've perhaps said, it's hard to write in this idiom without sounding like the crumbs from his table. Ready for the big screen if I had a sympathetic director on a long deadline, maybe :)

Dave, a passing thought from Raymond,

Would it not be more professional on such works to sign as David Dexter?

Ray

(my mother and my wife would never call me Ray)

Very impressive Dave! I've enjoyed both pieces very much, it sounds quite professionally done as a recording, and as compositions for the medium you wrote them they don’t seem to need anything else.
There is no comparison with any mock up, even the best programmed one. Real life is real life.
Thanks for posting, I hope your investment opens the desired paths for you.

Impressive indeed! I am looking forward to experience all that with my compositions one day. It must be an empowering feeling to hear your own compositions to come alive with a group of professional players. I watched the videos a couple of times and will watch them again in the future when I need a moment of motivation with composing. The music itself was catchy and I am sure that you will reach your goal with this in your portfolio. Thank you for sharing your experience!

@Ray

I'd not considered that. But everyone calls me Dave, including myself, and it's been the name I composed under for years. Dave might only seem less professional if I started out as David then changed it once everyone was used to it. Now, calling myself "Big D"? Nope.

@Socrates

Thank you! They have ruined samples a bit for me, even though I have a commission that depends on them at the moment.

@Bob

That's true. The harp was mainly there for those glissando rushes accompanying woodwinds, and I added in other parts to make it more interesting - you can hear it in the quiet middle of Revenge. A screened off or close-mic'd harp would solve that, and in scores at least it's common to have a harp audible at points that in a live performance would be buried. I recall Mike predicted some of the harp wouldn't be heard but I pressed on regardless - had the company used the other orchestra and studio available, the mix would have been more easily controlled.

@Lasse

It's quite a feeling and could easily become an expensive addiction! It's like magic to think "I put this on paper and somehow these people are turning it into music". Though the correlation is that hearing your music played imperfectly (if you paid for it) feels awful. Thanks for your compliments. As I said, if my minimal experience putting this together can help, I'll answer queries as best I can. However when your day comes I would start smaller, I recorded with string quartet first to get a feel for live writing, and then trumpet/horn to assess how what I wanted would translate in real life.

Alright, come on 'Big D', fess up,  'how much did you pay John Williams to write these for you?

Just kidding... it has to be a huge honor to have a work performed by something other than

software. Congrats.

Were these written for a project, as in... commissioned ?

@Bob

Big D is for when I venture into rap/orchestral hybrids and alienate my core audience in 2035.

@Roger

I'll take that. Thank you.

Not an honour exactly as I paid them to do it, but certainly a damn fine feeling. These were personal pieces to test out my writing outside the comfort zone of samples, which sense they went well I can use for potential leverage with future commissions or simply write a whole bunch more for a bigger session. Or both. Not sure yet.

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