Music Composers Unite!
(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
I dunno, Big D has a certain ring to it. I'm on my third marriage, and have certainly been called worse things.
Fun to see the third trumpet player using a rotary-valve trumpet.
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
Were these written for a project, as in... commissioned ?
Big D is for when I venture into rap/orchestral hybrids and alienate my core audience in 2035.
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.