Music Composers Unite!
Hi ... James here again with another blog about digital orchestration and what we can get out of the tools available. I'm going to start blogging about my current template and the process I've been through to get it all working. I'm hoping that I can share what I've learned and help other people to avoid the pains I've been through. This specific blog post discusses the rationale behind building templates and what I was aiming to achieve. I'll elaborate upon the technical issues in the next post.
Why Use a Template
Templates are invaluable for saving time. If you imagine you have a brand-new orchestral track to create and you can simply start off with all of your appropriate instruments loaded, customised, produced (with EQ, 'verbs, etc) and already mixed/balanced then you've saved yourself a lot of time! You can hit the ground running. Even better, if you work with the same template all of the time then that familiarity will make you even faster when using it. Fast workflow is absolutely vital for media production so this approach can really help.
It's also worth asking why you might not use a template if they're so good. I can't deny that I put off making one for a long time for various reasons. Firstly, creating an orchestral template capable of handling most situations means creating a big template. I wasn't sure my system would even handle such a load. It also made me concerned that I'd always be fighting with the complexity of such a massive project. There is some truth in this and sometimes there are advantages to creating custom projects.
In the end, the massive advantages of templates won me over. They are worth using and it can be inspiring to know that you can load up a great sounding and easy-to-use template and just start composing.
What I Wanted From a Template
I had some fairly specific demands from my template in terms of sound and workflow. In a previous blog post I mentioned about a fast way to write with string patches and this became the backbone of my template. I used Treasure Planet as a reference mix and focused initially on muted strings. From here I built up a good string ensemble sound and then added the individual legato patches. I actually focused on the rest of the orchestra before coming back to my non-muted strings and getting them sorted.
I also had some strong demands in terms of playability. I'm not a huge fan of keyswitches so I set up all my VSL legato patches to respond to speed (in terms of switching between sus, legato and 'fast legato' patches) and key velocity (so that if I hit the key hard they became portato or staccato). I also tried to reprogram every patch to use the modwheel for crossfade and/or expression. This kind of uniformity is what truly makes templates work. It would be insane to program this level of customisation into a single project but for a template the extra effort really pays off.
What Constitutes a Template
Another point I want to raise right now is how to build up templates. I'm currently using Cubase 5 and it is possible to save "templates" within Cubase but there's no doubt that these are monolithic and all-encompassing. I'd highly recommend that you build sub-templates that you can use to create your full template. These would include things like Kontakt multis or saving projects from Vienna Ensemble. You can also save any customised virtual instrument individually for recall. I would definitely recommend doing this because it will help in the long run. Save off any customisations for plugins as well. It will help in the long run.
This also has the advantage that you may want more than one template. Perhaps you want a heavy-sounding template for action music and a lighter-sounding template for sentimental moments. Perhaps you don't want choirs in your basic template but want to be able to add them easily. Creating these sub-template components is a useful way of giving you this flexibility.
So What Did I End Up With?
Ok so my template ended up using the following instruments: -
A collection of ensemble patches from Sonic Implants, LA Scoring Strings, Symphobia and even Omnisphere. I also used section patches from VSL and LASS. Strings have a lot of articulations and I tried to cover most eventualities with spiccato, staccato, pizzicato, tremelo and even col legno in there.
I included ensemble patches from Cinesamples' Hollywoodwinds and from Symphobia. For individual patches I used exclusively VSL this time. I included pretty much as many as I could including the oboe d'amore and the Eb clarinet. I like using woodwind and it's nice to have this all available to me.
This included ensembles from Symphobia. The individual sections were a mix of East West, Project SAM and VSL (Epic Horns, Fanfare Trumpets, Bb Trumpet).
Most of the standard orchestral percussion came from True Strike. For piano I used Tonehammer's Emotional Piano. Project SAM Orchestral Harp and Cineharp Glissandi. Celesta, glock and xylophone all from True Strike.
I've only used a little choir in my main template and these are basically pads. I've used a couple of patches from Omnisphere and the solo Soprano from VSL.
I'm really just using some EQ and some reverb throughout. I might consider adding a little compression here and there. I'm using a limiter on the final output bus as well. I've used a couple of exciters here and there. For reverb I'm using Altiverb and a Lexicon PCM 90 external hardware unit.
It's worth mentioning that I'm using usually at least a staccato and legato version of most instruments. For some of the percussion I'm also including things like crescendi as well. For strings I've not bothered with most effects as I'll add them on an ad hoc basis.
... and Now the Adventure Really Begins!
What?! This sucks ... Yes, I'm afraid much like the end of The Fellowship of the Ring I have to leave you awaiting the true adventure. Next blog post I'll go into the great fun to be had from trying to implement your template and what I ended up doing.