Composing : Curiosity killed the cat, but brought life to chat by Alexander C Torri

Alexander C Torri

Curiosity killed the cat, but brought life to chat

I am curious. How many of you all focus more time on making your music sound amazing than composing it? I find myself doing this at random, but not so much anymore. A composition, in itself, can be made greater with time, but mixing seems to cause significant detriment as more time is spent. If too much time is spent mixing, then mastering becomes a nightmare. Finding the ideal curve is what it's all about, but if something doesn't sit right in the mix initially, you will find it sticking out like a sore thumb when mastering. I found myself running into that brick wall tonight before I had the "oh duh" moment come back. Does anyone else find themselves doing this?

Joel Irwin

Actually, you left out the middle part - the arranging. The amount of time I spend on composing is dependent on the time constraints of the project. On my last project, I had to score 6 1/2 minutes OVERNIGHT (between 10pm and 730am). Not much there to spend on composing at all. In that case, if it seems to fit, I don't tweak it and I move on. The arrangement, if done for a film, has a lot to do with texture and sound which is not the same in my mind as the audio engineering and what you call 'mixing'. Deciding what and how much instrumentation to use has a lot to do with the cue needs, where the hit points are and how the cue will be used along with dialog, adr, sound effects/foley. A simpler texture can be much more effective, for example than a whole orchestra made pianissimo (though sometimes that is what you need). When I 'tweak' and arrangement I am more concerned about getting the parts tweaked should it be used for a live performance - that is where the most costly waste of time/misinterpretations could be. For the indie film people here, they are NOWHERE as picky as many who come to this website are. They are so grateful to get anything at all sampled that sounds real. No one I have dealt with so far in the directing/producing end cares which sample set I use or any of my other software tools. The closest this has ever come to that was 2 years ago in a short there was a person in the film playing a live old broken down upright piano which I needed to back on the score (the actress could not play piano). My standard sample was a Yamaha Grand which needless to say did not match the sound of the on screen piano. We went through about 10 different piano samples until we found one which 'came close'. So bottom line for me is I spend very little time in the mix (for which I am often criticized). Every now and then my composition teacher (been taking classes now 12 years at Houston Community College), makes a comment about the 'sound'. Most of the time, I am being critiqued about the notations and structure of my orchestral parts. By the way, for my non-film works, the need for mixing is even less - the MP3s are actually there as rough estimates to help the performers learn their parts. And when I do Jazz lead sheets, I don't create MP3s at all usually.

Pontus Ullerstam Tidemand

What Joel said - most of my "mixing" begins with arranging and texture. That's the part where I also will make sure to use the tones and timbres of the different instruments so that the frequenses blends without much conflict( sorry for my bad english). After that I might tweak with some eq and compression and such, but only if it's needed or to match it with the sound I want. If it doesn't need to be fixed, don't fix it. Allthough I'm very carefull with the reverb settings.

Alexander C Torri

Joel and Pontus, I forgot to mention arrangement. I tend to arrange and compose at the same time, which tends to make me forget about mentioning it. In all technicalities, I compose, orchestrate, and arrange at the same time.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Alexander, I do the same. Especially in television where the deadlines can be brutal. It's now become a part of my process regardless if deadline. :)

Alexander C Torri

Do you try to use a customized template to improve the workflow? I am working with a template, but find that even with Orchestral music, slight variations in EQ and Compression are required. I find it speeds up the process some. :-)

Timothy Andrew Edwards

I use templates sometimes.

Jonathan Price

I mix as I mockup/record now, so that my mix is pretty close by the time I'm done, but it took me years to get to that point. And brutal deadlines helped. When I was working on THE SHIPPING NEWS, I was recording and mocking up the composer's demos on any given day to be sent out to Lasse Hallstrom on the east coast that evening. It forced me to cut to the chase in my mixes. My process was a continuous repetition of "does this sound like a professional recording?" and the answer was "no" a hundred times until it was "yes" and then on to the next cue. Of course, the tools necessary for me to go from "no" to "yes" took years to learn, but it was that deadline process that forced my conviction and commitment to a mixing decision. It was another Hallstrom movie, AN UNFINISHED LIFE, that reinforced that process. We were recording the score at Abbey Road, and I got a chance to see the old four-tracks that the Beatles used, where they'd mix four tracks from one machine down to 2 or 1 on another machine, bouncing tracks until they completed their arrangement. That process requires a commitment to the material and the mix, because it can't be tweaked later. I think it's a great way to work, even with the unlimited tracks we have today.

Brian Gaber

In my experience, solid orchestration really cuts down the mixing time.

Alexander C Torri

I find composing/orchestrating/arranging/mixing at the same time helps, but when I am having to focus on mixing each time I create a project and adding 50 or so tracks of MIDI data (EWQL Symphonic Orchestra and Choirs), which takes about 1.5 hrs to create (loading time), it becomes less time effective than using a template. From the template, I export the MIDI to audio, which is then brought into Pro Tools for Mixing. The dynamic difference from each composition makes having a template in Pro Tools a little less effective because I seem to get a different sonic quality, which is what extends my mixing time. Does anyone have any suggestions to help me make the mixing time more time effective?

Jonathan Price

Alexander, I don't know what your DAW setup is, but if you're getting a different sonic quality in ProTools (causing you to remix what you've already pre-mixed), you might want to see if it's possible to mix in your DAW (or, conversely, enter MIDI in ProTools). If you can run your mastering and effects processing from your DAW (or bus to it, if it's off-board gear) you can be inputing and mixing simultaneously. Then you only use ProTools for delivery. That might not work with your DAW/processing setup, but I find it's faster if you're working in the mixing environment from the beginning.

Alexander C Torri

Johnathan, I do the composing, orchestrating, and arranging in Logic Pro X, which is beautiful for MIDI Automation, but a disaster for Mixing. I notice the sonic qualities are changed when I change how many tracks I am using. When I orchestrate a section with nearly every instrument playing at the same time, the template is effective across the whole piece. When I orchestrate a composition with only various instruments and without the full blown orchestra throughout the whole song, the mixing template falls apart. As long as I have nearly every instrument playing at the same time, it's golden, but I have been working on more minimalistic material lately. The reason I use Pro Tools for mixing, is because it produces beautiful and professional sound. Beauty and professional sound is something I fought with in Logic Pro for years before I submitted to using a far more superior mixing platform. Pro Tools is great for mixing, but subpar for MIDI.

Jonathan Price

I'm a Digital Performer person myself. Maybe there's someone in Stage 32 that's had success mixing in a Logic environment.

Samuel Estes

Alexander, It is very, very important you have a good template set up (or multiple if you are writing in different genres) that you are happy with so you are not spending so much time on a demo getting the mix right. Thats why I buss out all of my stems to start with, so when I'm writing strings, they have my "settings" applied to them, or brass or synths, etc... Saves me a lot of time, and if I am demoing or just mocking up cues, it sounds 80% okay out of the box, good enough to get to the approval stage. Logic is a bit rough to mix in sometimes, I have found Cubase and Protools to be infinitely easier.

Bruce Bray

It's all about workflow for me. Took me a while, but now it's the same. Idea, then arrangement, then EQ, then panorama, sends, unity gain and volume treatment, and then I listen, listen, listen. After that, it's final compression, dynamics, bus EQ. I approach each one the same way. But for me, the first two are the most important. I spend MOST and I mean MOST of my time on idea and arrangement. A lot of times the EQ and Panorama will come as part of that, so I don't have a lot to do regarding that point. But I don't do a single thing until I know the first 2 things are just perfect.

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