Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

following from conversations on other threads, I was encouraged to start a new topic that I find quite interesting:

On one hand, I can't help noticing that the amount of comments and reviews of compositions (not just on this site, but widely on the internet) is directly proportional to the quality of the MIDI rendering. Trivial music that is well produced, with good sounding libraries will get far, far more attention than sophisticated music rendered by say Microsoft Wavetable Synth or MuseScore's basic soundfont (btw better soundfonts are available for MuseScore).

Maybe it's an age thing, but back in the 90s we used to show our work to colleagues, directors, producers on the piano. And if you were a lousy pianist like me, then you would play very basic lines and explain "this is meant to be the strings or the french horn", etc. That was followed by sequencers that had that awful sound that most people associate to the word MIDI. They were synthesised emulations of real instruments, but it was almost as much of a stretch of the imagination as playing on the piano and asking the listener to "imagine" what the real thing would sound like,

We jump forward to the last 10-15 years and we have become completely intolerant to anything that doesn't sound virtually real...

The comparison to CGI becomes very tempting. Computer generated imagery started back in the 70s and... Well, it hasn't aged well. I was surprised when I caught a glance of Terminator about 5 years ago and realised man that looks really fake, but when I was a child I remember believing it fully! (Surprisingly Star Wars has aged fairly well). But the point is, like early synths, there was a time when we accepted it and now we find intolerable! Low budget films today will often feature CGI that is of better quality than any massive Hollywood production of the past. However people will just laugh out loud and say things like "that's so fake".

Finally this opens up a whole other can of worms: decent libraries are expensive and producing a realistic playback is extremely time consuming (I certainly never bother unless I'm getting paid to do it). So in a way this is a form of discrimination, where only the  wealthy (or the wealthier) who can afford these technologies will ever get a chance to have their music heard.

I could go on, but I'm very curious to hear people's opinions on this!

Views: 264

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

"we have become completely intolerant to anything that doesn't sound virtually real..."

This is certainly not the case for me, with one exception. When I listen to a recording, no matter how it is made, what I am listening for is the originality of the music. I have heard many finely-rendered realistic sounding recordings that do not hold my interest because I don't hear anything original in the music. On the other end, I have heard some low-fi renditions that have held my interest because the underlying creativity is there. The one exception is if the recording is so low-fi that it interferes with my ability to really hear the piece, then I can't really comment at all. 

I am reminded of when I owned a 4-track cassette recorder. The manufacturer sponsored a contest where other owners submitted recordings of songs they had written and recorded on the 4-track. One time the winner was a guy and his band. It was a gritty tune recorded with a low end mic. The recording was fantastic, even deemed so by the professional judges. This guy new how to get the most (and then some) out of his equipment. 

The point is that, as Gav says, talent trumps the equipment. Sure, good equipment matters, but not without the spark. 

As for a DAW, every once in a while I open the one I have with the eye of figuring it out. No luck. I think it would be easier for me to walk naked through Time Square. Although I did finally succeed in importing an xml (or was it a midi), sigh. But no playback. But for now, I really don't care about a DAW.

But, I write for the fun of it. Therapy. But that doesn't mean I don't take it seriously.

I find a problem for me with using this site is that some people assume that if I post a computer-generated sound file, I am asking for comments on the sound file.  This is an understandable assumption, giving how ubiquitous computer music has become, but it's not what I'm doing.  I compose (with a very few specific exceptions) music intended for human performance.  The only reason I post computer-generated audios is that not having performers to work with regularly, I have very few recorded performances of my work, and some of those I don't have permission to post on the internet. My sound files are intended as demos,  to help the listener imagine what the music would sound like if performed by actual humanoid entities.

(I often add a comment to my postings that the sound file is intended to be a demo, not a performance.)

My justification for doing this is that if I didn't, then for the great majority of my compositions, I could only post scores without any audio examples at all., and scores unsupported by audio files tend to get few comments. If I ever get live recordings I can use of any of my pieces, I will certainly post live performances instead of computer-generated files.

This shouldn't be construed as a criticism of people who compose music meant to be played as computer-generated audio files.  If that's what you want to do, fine. But it's not what I want to do, and surely there must be many composers in my position -- seeking advice on compositions which are intended for live performance, but unable to provide many recordings of performances.  I think this web site should have a place for us too.

If we want to profit from our music ( or just post it for others to listen to ) we have to participate in the market in its current form.  Technology has made good quality sound available to anyone who is willing to make the effort to get it. So that is the standard we all are judged by; if we choose to participate.

If you have a work that is appealing it can rise above other factors; so there is room for works with bad sound, performance or outdated technology to be successful, but those works will be the exception.

The cost of quality equipment has always been a problem for anyone who produces a product.  If you were a dentist, or a rock musician or a gardener mowing lawns you would need equipment that will do the job and it probably won't be cheap to obtain. But you won't be able to compete in the market without it.  So why would a serious musician or composer expect his/her profession to be any different?

I think what bothers me with the push in new technology is that our whole music experience is becoming more and more encapsulated in recordings. And those recordings, by the nature of the tech, can and need to be perfect. Even if I get hired to score movie music to be performed by a live orchestra, the end goal is a recording. If I write a piece for the Boston Symphony, The end result would probably be a recording. All of which is fine, but it never used to be that way. Yes we need to update our tech. Consider this: Before recordings and computer generated music, composers had to be great to survive. They had to write memorable music because folks couldn't hear the composers work any time they wanted. This urgency is not present anymore. The need to write good music for it's own sake is less present. Sure, composers have always been paid or at least sponsored by a patron. Yet it was a pretty elite club. It is the beauty of technology that anyone with a computer can produce pretty good stuff. 

But not every composer is out to make a living at it. And many aren't sure yet. So someone just feeling out composing, posts something with less than stellar sound quality. Some listener replies that the posters sounds are so bad that they can't tell if the music is any good. Or, as Claude pointed out that he can't tell what instrument is playing. I kind of reject both those views. I tend to agree with the person who said that what if your trying to show someone an orchestra piece, but all you have to demo it on is piano. Surely we can all tell if some is good from hearing it that way. Even though piano sounds or interacts anything like an orchestra. Why? Because the goal of the composer was to write good music.

So what is "better" technology, and who is it for? It's not unusual for composer A to say that sound library 12 is the most realistic one he's ever heard. But composer R says library 12 is junk. Who do we believe? Can we afford to buy every library out there? Listen to examples? Is that the best answer? Hard to say. 

Frankly, I can't afford the new technology. And because I'm not interested in making a living at composing, it's easy for me to say that. But that doesn't mean I don't want good results.

If you are a dentist, chances are that you work for a company that provides most of the equipment you use. Your fist lawn mower may not have been the greatest. Your determination to show up and do the best you could mattered more. To play in a rock band any more all you need is your guitar. The more beat up, the cooler. There have been double blind tests where judges listen to violinists playing a Strad and folks playing something more in the 20 thousand dollar range. Often the judges picked the lessor instrument. Sure everyone wants a Strad, but the reality is that a good player can make almost any well setup instrument sound good. 

I have posted things and had someone say that my music would sound better if they ran it through their software. So they do and most of the time the result is something that sounds better to them, I'm sure. But not what I was looking for. Not so much better as different. 

For me, I need to use what I have to the best of my ability. 

The cost of a good sample library is not that great when considered as an investment by a professional. It's not a case of wealth it's a case of persistence and getting yourself to the point where you can afford what you need.

The best technology is a system consisting of living human beings using physical instruments and voices to project music into the ears of other human beings who are physically present. Everything else is a substitute.

I agree. But as I said I'm not a professional, nor in any danger of becoming one. Still I am held to a standard that I can not hope to attain, and really aren't interested in anyway. Now if my music totally sucked, as opposed to just kind of sucked, well that would be different. Those of you trying to make a go of it, I get it

Charles Holt said:

The cost of a good sample library is not that great when considered as an investment by a professional. It's not a case of wealth it's a case of persistence and getting yourself to the point where you can afford what you need.

Maybe someone should create a program -- call it AudiEnz -- which would have the sole purpose of "listening" to computer generated music sound files.  Then you could just connect your sound file to AudiEnz and go out for a beer.

This question has been kicked around forums for years now. IMO, the bottom line is: if you plan on being a published and performed composer (hope you're either a genius or well-connected), stick with notation software. Otherwise you will waste years fooling around with DAWS, which can simulate a performance, but  will also consume massive amounts of your time and energy. At the expense of actual composing.

There is a chance that as technology evolves, there will be someday a much easier route to getting excellent playback on computer software. Things move fast these days, so stay tuned.

I want to reply to all of you, but I don't want to clutter the thread so I will just use the popular @ to address points:

@Gav, yes I think that's about my threshold too. Although renditions that have no dynamics can also deter me.

@Bob, better renditions do not necessitate a DAW to execute. I have heard many, more than reasonable, posts here on the forum on what I think might be NotePerformer(?). I think I recognise it because the sounds are very clear and they represent the composer's "intentions" quite well, but the legatos and mechanical interpretation still gives it away. But at least personally, in my book, these are what I consider to be on the good side of renditions. On a further point, if you use a DAW like I do, which is like a conductor not a composer then it's extremely easy and intuitive.

@Jon, no I don't think that is the case ("judge the soundfile not the music"). I think, and this my humble opinion on the matter, that in the past when things were presented with just a piano the music was still imbued with musicality. Even a crappy piano player like myself I would play a string line in a certain way and a brass line in a different way. There was execution, dynamics, timing and feel. The problem with these modern "bad" renditions is that they are completely devoid of humanity and they possess nothing, besides pitches, of what we consider musical. This is just a hypothesis, not even a theory...

@Ingo, I completely agree with you. The way I saw it was, as many have pointed out already, you have two options: 1.- you are already so well connected that you can have actual real recording of your music or 2.- You don't and therefore you need to find a way to convey your music in the best possible way. And there's no excuse in today's environment not to do it. Back in the 90s or earlier we had no way of doing it, now we have thousands many of which are completely free.

@Bob again, the sample library question has been widely answered a long time ago in many other forums. A good sample library is one that can do what YOU require it to do. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there are different types that are aimed at different people. Us composer represent a very small chunk of the clientele, most customers play their libraries on either a DAW or live, so the vast majority of sample libraries are targeted at those people. Some companies overlap (like VSL), other are just for us (NotePerformer), some are nearly impossible work with within a notation software. The main issue is not how they sound, but how YOU make them sound (if they are able to do it to begin with). You can't just "run something through a software", I know because I have offered the service to many composers over the years. It's very similar to rehearsing a band... It's long, tedious and time consuming.

@Michael, I cannot agree with that, I think you're confusing subjects. You CAN compose on a DAW, I personally find it impossible, but you don't NEED to. The DAW comes in at a different stage which I equate with the rehearsal and performance, after the composition has been finished. Now with lovely Dorico on the scene I'm not even bothering 90% of the time with even going to the DAW.

A further point about DAWs. If you watch any rehearsals with good conductors you'll find that there's an enormous amount of work involved in getting a good performance out of people. They talk about phrasing, dynamics, intention, etc. Hopefully technology will never reach a point where it can substitute the conductor (AKA the composer's greatest ally). Working with a DAW is almost exactly the same process, hence why notation programs can't do it. A triple forte on the brass will not be the same as a triple forte on the woodwinds, unfortunately notation programs treat this as a blanket dynamic. Also, sample libraries differ in their dynamic range, surprisingly just as humans do! Furthermore, it's not even a matter of consistency but rather of Context. A mezzo piano can mean many different things, and it has been said many times that it's not meant to be a decibel, but rather a performance attitude or an intention. Forte doesn't mean play this loudly, it means play strongly.

So taking all of this into account, working in a DAW should feel like rehearsing your own personal orchestra/ensemble/soloist, that is completely devoted to you, never tires, never makes mistake, never plays out of tune, but just like real people need instructing on the meaning and the way to perform your piece...

Reply to Discussion


Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!


© 2019   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service