Composing : First DAW mockup by Daniel J. A. Opolot

Daniel J. A. Opolot

First DAW mockup

Hello all, I have been composing for 5 or so years now, and just starting to work with DAWs properly. This is one of my favourite pieces, the whole composition is 4 minutes long but I've only managed to do the first minute so far. Looking for some advice/help with arranging, mixing and mastering! Have a listen and tell me what you think!

P.S. had to re-upload

Joel Irwin

I listened. I see you are a student so presumably you are taking classes that are music related. I'll try to be as brief as possible with some general suggestions:

1. If you have not yet taken the two years of theory and ear training do so. Being able to score for 4 simultaneous 'voices' and learning 'voice leading' is quite an important skill to learn regardless of your musical genre.

2. While any expression of music is legitimate, you may want to consider at least for now, writing/composing music which 'hooks you in'. Ask yourself, will the listeners still be interested in your expression of music after say 30 seconds. What is the music trying to say to the listener?

3. Compose taking advantage of the functionality and 'idiom' of the instrument(s) you are using. For example, don't create a score for a violin section which is merely the notes you play on a piano split across the strings. Violins can do things, for example, that pianos can not. Even if you are planning a single keyboard instrument like a piano or synth - try to refrain from 'stacking your notes' and just moving from chord to chord. My teacher has for years advocated writing 'horizontally' and not 'vertically'. Every note in a group of notes needs to move in a logical way to the next note (we call that 'leading'). If you are using multiple instruments staffs/tracks - each one should make sense by itself.

4. Refrain from a constant tempo throughout. Same goes for articulations and dynamics/velocities. Vary them.

5. Make a realistic sound. Otherwise it will come across as amateurish. One can debate how realistic it must sound (especially if you specialize in synth music). And one can debate how much money needs to be invested up front, but I would expect that in addition to your DAW/Composing tool, you should invest in high quality samples (and possibly a sampler if you want independence across multiple sample sets). Spending over $1,000 US is typical. I have spent a few times that and I am still not happy with everything I have. Your 'sound' is quirky with that constant 'dip' between each change in notes and chords and is probably related to your samples and sampler. Try to refrain from relying on the samples that come with your sampler (like Kontakt) or DAW. Buy them independently. I started with Miroslav, then I went to Cinesamples, and recently I went to EWQL Platinum. Some composers tweak forever imho to get the sound as close to live as possible. I am happy if my filmmakers and directors/producers are happy even if the 'purists' are unhappy. Every composer's situation will be different.

I am going to leave you with two examples. As I compose with SIbelius and not a DAW, you can message me for the PDF score if you can read sheet music and are interested in following the score.

I am not a synth based composer, but I have occasionally scored with a Yamaha Motif. This track is not particularly sophisticated but does move with a melody and backs up a film in its entirety about online bullying. Interestingly, the film received 6 nominations at its premiere festival - one was for this score 'best sound design'.

and for a more orchestra example, check out my current project:

notice that scores do not have to be all slow and easy. The cues have to match the action of the film which could be a chase scene, a fight, etc. But music can also be ethnic such as the 9th cue which has a 'latin flavor' and mixes latin instrumentation, a drum set and an orchestra.

Daniel J. A. Opolot re-uploaded with a new master on soundcloud, but forgot I had linked it here :s Here is the new master, although both are available on my vdeo/audio page!

Daniel J. A. Opolot

Thank you so much for your feedback Joel Irwin ! Yes, making a realistic sound with DAWs is the tricky part. I made this with the limited BBC Orchestra version which they released for free, it was better than anything I had at the time and was good enough that it gave me the confidence to put a draft of this out there. I was planning on getting the full BBC Orchestra Library in a little while to make a proper mock-up. The dream is to work with a live one, one day.

I wrote this piece 2 years ago or so, way before I had a clue about DAWs, but yes you're right. I think I need to consider the individual voices more, rather than making a straight transcript of the piano progression.

Thank you for sharing your scores with me also. It's always great to hear other composers' work I've never heard before, and the best to learn from!

Joel Irwin

It is always 'good' to have what I call a benchmark piece. The one you can occasionally listen to see how far you have come in composing, arranging, and the 'implementation'. Remember having a great and powerful DAW and samples does not necessarily mean you have a tight score - whatever that means to you.

So here is my own personal 'benchmark'. I am a late bloomer. I started in the summer of 2003 (at age 52). To that point I had no music training at all other than piano lessons I took as a child that I had forgotten. I started that summer with a 'music fundamentals' class followed by two years (four semesters) of theory and ear training and then some number of years of orchestration followed by composing and arranging for 'jazz big bands'. So I did this 'benchmark' totally by ear with no idea on how to use the DAW or the samples/sampler - I just threw everything in. But as you listen, keep in mind that the arrangement and implementation are weak, but there is some sort of 'potential' borne out by the melodic flow and the structure of the piece. At the time I was 'enamored' with the beauty of the Seychelles - off the east coast of Africa - considered one of the top beaches in the world. This was my musical interpretation of a place I had only seen pictures of:

Now compare that to the one I am currently doing 17 years later - that's what a 'benchmark piece' is all about.

Jonathan Price

Very nice, Daniel! Can't wait to see what you do with it once you've got the BBC core. The legato patches should help a little. But you can also do a lot with what you have. I'd say the biggest things to work on would be a rubato tempo and more dynamics. Check out some live string recordings and see what they do with variable tempi. Maybe milk your caesura, but add a little more reverb to help fill the pause. Also, check out how they tend to swell into and out of a note. (You're doing some of that, but I think you'll find live players do more.) And lastly, the dead giveaway of any mockup, listen to how the notes connect. That's where a legato patch can come in handy, but your modwheel can do a lot in helping out regular longs. You want to avoid a harsh cutoff of one note before attacking the next. You know, this might sound crazy, but maybe lay down a scratch track of yourself singing the piece as musically as you can, and try to match the dynamics and tempi to that scratch track. I'll link Barber's Adagio, but check out Copland, Hanson, Vaughn Williams, and Walton. Best with your compositions!

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