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Hi all,

I had an interesting visit from my eldest brother yesterday and we got down to talking about my compositions and how they are reproduced electronically. I compose using Sibelius software and enhance the sound with Note Performer - I haven't the time, money or inclination to go down the DAW route and am very happy with the way the sounds are reproduced via my PC (with good quality earphones). I record my pieces as MP3s via the standard facility on Sibelius.

Because he (brother) has what I consider to be a good appreciation of 'Classical' music I send him copies of my pieces in the hope a) that he'll enjoy them and b) be sufficiently excited to contact Victor Hochhauser (or some other impresario) telling them they'd be missing something special if they failed to listen to my compositions.

I sadly discovered yesterday that, specifically with reference to a piano piece, the music sounds dreadful on his computer and, in the past, he's simply been humouring me when telling me 'wow! that's great' or similar. I dragged him kicking and screaming up to my computer to listen to the piece again (It's called 'Norwich Promenade') and he was enraptured (well, that's what he said and I believe him) he said he couldn't believe what talent I have (I still believe him) and that he has misjudged me for years (I still still believe him!).

My point is, whilst I'm merrily enjoying my own stuff played on my own system I have been blissfully unaware of the rotten noises other listeners have been putting up with - what's the solution, can anyone help me out here?

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Stephen,

After re-reading your OP, here are some additional thoughts.

Because you are talking about piano, in this case, it doesn't make much difference if you mix with headphones, monitors,PA system, or cans connected with string. If your brother listened on laptop speakers, that could be most of the problem. My comments on the sound quality were only a superficial problem, and did not detract from the quality of the music. I would be interested in hearing this without NP mucking it up. I know lots of people like NP. But I'll stop there.

I suppose if you're sending him midi then his computer is using an internal sound set that isn't very good. Most computers 

will default to their internal sounds when they play a midi. These sounds aren't very good.

If you mix the sounds down to mp3 use at least a 256 kbs resolution. The file will still be small, however having the higher resolution adds more quality to the file. 128 mp3s are not good at all.

Translation of a file across multiple systems involves some degree of mixing ability and knowing what to listen for. IOW no matter how cheap the system playing it back is the goal is a file that sounds ok on every conceivable system it might be played on. I say "ok" because that's the best you can hope for on a poor sound system. Being ok in that case is good.

Thanks Tim, I must admit I never send midi files to anyone because to my ear they are uniformly awful sounds...I always send hi-res MP3's but, as you rightly point out, if the receiving PC has a lousy sound card there's nothing I can do about it.

Incidentally, I've just today upgraded to NP v3 and am looking forward to spending time tweaking my system in line with their recommendations to see and hear what occurs. 

Timothy Smith said:

I suppose if you're sending him midi then his computer is using an internal sound set that isn't very good. Most computers 

will default to their internal sounds when they play a midi. These sounds aren't very good.

If you mix the sounds down to mp3 use at least a 256 kbs resolution. The file will still be small, however having the higher resolution adds more quality to the file. 128 mp3s are not good at all.

Translation of a file across multiple systems involves some degree of mixing ability and knowing what to listen for. IOW no matter how cheap the system playing it back is the goal is a file that sounds ok on every conceivable system it might be played on. I say "ok" because that's the best you can hope for on a poor sound system. Being ok in that case is good.

Stephen,

Everyone's definition of what sounds awful, is going to be different. There also is confusion as to what midi is. I have heard whatever the working file of a piece in various software called a midi. Sibelius is not midi based. It is only meant to produce a score. It has some midi capabilities, but not many. It can export a midi file, as well as a music xml. Both only really useful for importing into other software. Any computer bought in the last five years or so, can play music well. It just depends on what it is using for speakers. Sound cards for playback are over rated. Heck, my phone does a good job. Recording is a different story. Consider how most people listen to music today. In the old days, people sat down in their acoustically controlled rooms, with their expensive speakers placed just so. And their mega watt systems set up just so. Those people are still out there, of course. Know your target audience. How are they listening. Mix to that. As I've said before, I've heard my music on many different kinds of systems. It sounds vastly different of all of them. I hear the differences because I am too close to it. I think I know what it's supposed to sound like. But mine is only one opinion.

I can't argue with any of that Bob. However, the only result I'm looking for is for listeners to jump up and down with excitement at the potential quality of my music if it was played by live performers - and that requires a sophisticated and educated approach (plus a lively imagination) that acknowledges the imperfections of the electronically manufactured version.

I'm sure the awful day will arrive where technology allows near perfect output that negates the need for live musicians - what a dreadful prospect!

Stephen,

Musicians don't exist to make recordings. They exist to play music. We tend to think that an mp3, be it of live musicians or VSTs, is what music is all about. What a static, dull, and unimaginative view of music that is. If I want people to be excited about my music, then I need to write music that transcends whatever form the output takes. If all I have is general midi, then I better write good music. Really good music. If other folks can't figure it out, I can't help that. It could well be the same no matter how great the output file might be. You might say that the chances of my music being well received are better with better sounds. Maybe, but if I write bad music it won't make any difference. Good writing comes first. I cant depend on quality sounds to make up for my lack of talent. 

My wife says that everyone should spend a year behind a cash register to get a feel for how to treat people. Perhaps composers should spend some time trying to write good music for General Midi.

Stephen I wish you the very best in achieving your goals. The last thing I would want is for you to go away feeling as if the whole thing just isn't possible with what you have and quit in frustration.

The quality of a midi recording is only as good as the player and the midi keyboard. 

Let me condense here.

Playing chops + decent midi keyboard = Good midi recordings 

Playing chops + low end midi input device = bad conversion and bad translation of players intent. Often needs correction in software. Bad controllers drop notes and occasionally play double notes etc.

Midi is a computer code for music. Doesn't make any sound in itself. Needs quality virtual instrument. 

Good midi+ Good midi controller+ good player + mediocre vsti = mediocre piano

Good midi + Good player+ good midi controller+ good vsti = good representation of a real piano

 Mp3 is a compressed audio format that came into being mainly because .wav files were too large for mass transport on old computer systems and networks. FLAC is said to be a better compression format, less lossy. Many sites allow a FLAC file to be uploaded. While still a compressed format it is usually a little better in terms of sound.

FLAC

Mixing on headphones .vs monitors gets us into another  deep subject. At one time all decent studios relied only on high end studio monitors. They are still widely regarded as the standard in mixing. This gets so complicated though because when using monitors we need to get into your room acoustics and  trim the room for a flat frequency response. You can have great monitors and bad room acoustics will throw all of your mixing decisions right in the waste basket.

Humans use bi location when they hear and listen to music, so mixing on headphones can be a challenge since you then isolate the ears and hence the only way to properly mix with them them is to add the effect of feeding one side to the other binaurally to give the effect of an open space. This is usually why it is recommended to mix on both studio monitors AND decent studio headphones. A bad headphone mix won't have the space it needs.   Stereo/mono, panning, space. All of this should be addressed. 

What we look for is a translation that most accurately represents the original recording in the widest range of systems possible. Everything from the mono bluetooth Alexa device in the kitchen to the beat up radio on the construction site to the android,apple phones, the car and beyond. If your BIL is listening on a laptop I don't think he can expect much. I have a high spec. gamer laptop I use for remote track work and even the sound in it isn't that great.

Incidentally, I'm working at this the opposite way from you. I just purchased a notation program but have been working with midi input for years :) Notation? What's that? :)

Timothy,

Good luck with notation. If you don't know what notation is, the learning curve can be tough. Notation software is not midi based and you can't use it like a DAW. Notation software in meant to produce a score for real players. It has playback so that you can "check" your work. But never really intended to produce a great sound file. That said, it is possible to use 3rd party vst sound sets to get better playback. Consider your motivation for learning notation. If you are only interested in producing recordings, there isn't any need for learning notation. If you think that you might get real players to play your music, sure. But there is more to it than putting some notes on a staff. Way more.

And you can't just open a file from your DAW. The result is always disaster. 

Seems to me that a piece that has some chance of being performed, ought to be written in notation first. That way that part is mostly done. Import that into a DAW to really tweak the sound and make a good demo.

Unless you are in need of learning something new to keep your brain active. I have nothing against that.

Bob,

I guess you may have noticed I can be a bit long winded. A writer I am.I actually condensed that last post. Thank you for your comments.

I am sorry I was misunderstood. I said that about notation partially in jest. I learned notation in school music class years ago. Mostly treble clef though. Not as proficient in bass clef.

I generally only use notation as a reference and when playing things on piano. In the Irish fiddle sessions I attend, no one reads notation. You are expected to memorize the music before you come. In Irish music the notation is a very rough guide because there are so many other things that make it sound Irish. Way back in the day when I was in HS band we read notation. Since then, I mostly use chord charts if I use anything. I know the melody so I figure I don't need most of it. Most of my DAW software has some kind of midi to notation conversion in it, albeit not as good as a dedicated program. I seldom use that.

I agree that notation should be considered when making something that someone else might play. I wanted an efficient way to transfer ideas directly so I bought Forescore for my iPad mainly for my violin lessons. It's really cool because you can write the notation in it on the iPad, import music etc.. I am contemplating Notion for iPad because it shakes hands so well with Studio One which I have.

It's taking me some effort though to think like this because generally I compose In Cakewalk laying down raw audio or midi, so all of my ideas are there to be had and worked on. Never needed notation other than learning new music. It's just a different way of thinking/working for me to originate an idea in notation. I'm thinking that if I can have quality notation alongside a good studio workflow, why not? Who knows, maybe a few years down the road I'll forget my own music an need it as a reference :)

Tim,

There's as much chance of me quitting composing as taking up flying without wings - I'm not really as frustrated as I might seem, just having a bit of a general whinge. I can't complain too much about what I produce electronically because it's resulted in several thousand sales of my sheet music over the past three or four years. My general beef is that what I hear in my head and on my PC via Sibelius and NP3 isn't very well replicated on other people's systems.

My brother is an intelligent fellah and, although he's not musically trained, has the ability to play many classical pieces on the piano by ear....I'm pretty envious of that as I certainly can't, and that's despite my (very) many years of professional development as a player (horn) and composer. The point I first made is that despite his talents he doesn't have the wherewithal to judge my musical output via MP3 played on his system: It was only when he listened to some of my stuff on my computer using my headphones that he decided my compositions are well constructed, melodic and harmonically interesting (almost diametrically opposed to his original thoughts). If he's struggled to interpret my stuff what are other less musically aware people going to make of it?

I totally accept your points about midi and so on because they are in accord with my own thoughts on the subject....(I'm not really as dense as I might appear). But there we are, back to composing for me...that's what gives me my kicks.

Timothy Smith said:

Stephen I wish you the very best in achieving your goals. The last thing I would want is for you to go away feeling as if the whole thing just isn't possible with what you have and quit in frustration.

The quality of a midi recording is only as good as the player and the midi keyboard. 

Let me condense here.

Playing chops + decent midi keyboard = Good midi recordings 

Playing chops + low end midi input device = bad conversion and bad translation of players intent. Often needs correction in software. Bad controllers drop notes and occasionally play double notes etc.

Midi is a computer code for music. Doesn't make any sound in itself. Needs quality virtual instrument. 

Good midi+ Good midi controller+ good player + mediocre vsti = mediocre piano

Good midi + Good player+ good midi controller+ good vsti = good representation of a real piano

 Mp3 is a compressed audio format that came into being mainly because .wav files were too large for mass transport on old computer systems and networks. FLAC is said to be a better compression format, less lossy. Many sites allow a FLAC file to be uploaded. While still a compressed format it is usually a little better in terms of sound.

FLAC

Mixing on headphones .vs monitors gets us into another  deep subject. At one time all decent studios relied only on high end studio monitors. They are still widely regarded as the standard in mixing. This gets so complicated though because when using monitors we need to get into your room acoustics and  trim the room for a flat frequency response. You can have great monitors and bad room acoustics will throw all of your mixing decisions right in the waste basket.

Humans use bi location when they hear and listen to music, so mixing on headphones can be a challenge since you then isolate the ears and hence the only way to properly mix with them them is to add the effect of feeding one side to the other binaurally to give the effect of an open space. This is usually why it is recommended to mix on both studio monitors AND decent studio headphones. A bad headphone mix won't have the space it needs.   Stereo/mono, panning, space. All of this should be addressed. 

What we look for is a translation that most accurately represents the original recording in the widest range of systems possible. Everything from the mono bluetooth Alexa device in the kitchen to the beat up radio on the construction site to the android,apple phones, the car and beyond. If your BIL is listening on a laptop I don't think he can expect much. I have a high spec. gamer laptop I use for remote track work and even the sound in it isn't that great.

Incidentally, I'm working at this the opposite way from you. I just purchased a notation program but have been working with midi input for years :) Notation? What's that? :)

Urrr Bob, I have never intimated that musicians exist only to make recordings - give me live music anytime (notwithstanding that recordings in a studio are more likely to accurately portray the conductor's interpretation of the composer's intentions).

Bob Porter said:

Stephen,

Musicians don't exist to make recordings. They exist to play music. We tend to think that an mp3, be it of live musicians or VSTs, is what music is all about. What a static, dull, and unimaginative view of music that is. If I want people to be excited about my music, then I need to write music that transcends whatever form the output takes. If all I have is general midi, then I better write good music. Really good music. If other folks can't figure it out, I can't help that. It could well be the same no matter how great the output file might be. You might say that the chances of my music being well received are better with better sounds. Maybe, but if I write bad music it won't make any difference. Good writing comes first. I cant depend on quality sounds to make up for my lack of talent. 

My wife says that everyone should spend a year behind a cash register to get a feel for how to treat people. Perhaps composers should spend some time trying to write good music for General Midi.

Sorry Stephen. My comments were just kind of a general rant.

So the question is this. What is your brother listening to your music on? If he likes the sound on your system, then there isn't much else you can do.

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