Category Archives: music

Old dog, new tricks.

Here’s a snippet you probably haven’t heard. I tried to introduce more dynamics, having these strings swell in and out to mimic a real orchestra.

I picked up a few new tricks recently, such as  using pink noise to balance the mix (google it) and doing better gainstaging in Reaper, meaning the meters aren’t flashing red anymore at all. I now mix closer to -18dB than 0dB. This gives one additional headroom, which makes things a lot more relaxed. I also started to use mid/side processing on the mix bus (this allows me to control the middle and sides of the stereo spectrum separately).

On top of that, I’m trying to measure loudness with a LUFS meter on the master bus. If you’ve never heard of LUFS, I can’t blame you, it’s something used in broadcasting to determine average loudness. Youtube and other streaming services actually limit the LUFS your video can have. Now, if I could just find out what their actual numbers are. They seem to change these limits unpredictably. If you’re too loud, your video gets limited (try right clicking on a youtube video and click “stats for nerds” if you’re interested).

Furthermore, I’m using some new plugins. I might as well mention what they are:

I also now use a dedicated mix bus in Reaper, so I can have the Master set at 0 db and measure the loudness there more precisely. All the effects have moved to the mix bus, except the loudness maximizer, LUFS meter and Pink. This became necessary because you can’t have post-fader plugins on the Master in Reaper. Loudness needs to be measured after the last fader, though.

So, a whole bunch of esoteric music stuff is being done right now. Other things as well. I’ll continue to post updates.

 

… And, of course, there is an easier way to do the swelling strings effect. Buried in the depths of Reaper, there is a plugin that allows to simply do it with bezier curves, aka envelopes. It’s called ReaControlMIDI and I don’t know why they don’t make that the default on new MIDI tracks. Reaper is awesome, but a lot of its functionality is hidden in obscure plugins or menus.

reacontrolmidi

Of course, I only find this plugin months later, while watching random youtube videos. *sigh* Feels almost like Linux! Home sweet home!

 

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New Theme WIP

 

New WIP of this theme. It contains quite a lot of new music and should also sound much better than the version from last year (it’s two and a half times as long!). Let me know what you think in the comments.

If you’re wondering who the heck Esperanza is, she’s the main impact character in the game, an enemy who befriends Scout and turns into an ally. A strong but tragic character with a lot of moral greyness to her.

I’ve been adding snippets to the themes and intend to use those on their own wherever appropriate to underscore moments in the game. That’s why there are lots of different feelings collected under the roof of one theme.  They’re a little like a library.

 

Edit: There is a high quality Ogg Vorbis version of this music available here. In case anyone doesn’t want to stop short of the full sonic goodness. Youtube isn’t too kind to the quality of uploaded music. By the way, this is classical music, which means it doesn’t conform to the standards of the “loudness war”, which translates to: turn it up some.

Edit 2: An alternative Ogg Vorbis version using convolution reverb (based on characteristics of real-world concert rooms) instead of algorithmic (“digital”) reverb can be found here.

The sound is different because the virtual orchestra is playing in a “real” space. I’m impressed by convolution reverb – it sounds “richer” where algorithmic sounds “cleaner”. Not sure which way I prefer yet. (The convolution reverb plugin used was Liquid Sonics Reverberate LE. The algo reverb plugin was Variety of Sound Epic Verb).


Well worth watching

Music producer and composer Rick Beato sounds off with game composer and programmer Brian Schmidt.

From 1999-2008, Schmidt was the program manager of the Xbox Audio and Voice Technologies division at Microsoft and was responsible for much of the audio architecture for the Xbox and Xbox 360. He created the start up sound for the original Xbox console, using ‘old-school’ techniques to create an 8-second sound using only 25 kilobytes of memory. (Wikipedia)

We learn about the history of the craft and working on game audio using tools such as FMOD. Highly recommended if you’re doing audio for video games. Rick Beato’s entire channel is very good for people interested in music.


Check this out

Those of you interested in orchestral soundtrack stuff may want to check out the new version 2 of Paul Battersby’s Virtual Playing Orchestra, a free VO sample library in sfz format.

A beautiful sounding full virtual orchestra at your fingertips for free, VPO pulls the best samples from Sonatina and a few other sources to create a pretty well rounded library that lets you compose complete orchestral scores in software such as Reaper.

Free as in beer. The new version is very nice and not such a big download.

Grab it while it’s hot. And maybe join us at Scoring Central Forums.


Musical Prison Break

This piece of music was originally done a couple years back, in a software that doesn’t allow exporting the MIDI data. Since I now work in Reaper, I had to reprogram it by hand from start to finish. The upside of this spectacle is that I can finally continue working on it.

Most of the strings part was done by the violins in the old version, because I didn’t know a whole lot about how to orchestrate things, i.e. spread them out across all the different instruments. So I wrote a violin part that should have been a viola part, and kept wondering what to do with the violas. Turns out the joke is on me.

The old version had eight instrument tracks; the new version has 23, i.e. most of the orchestra. There’s now trumpets in there, tuba, full woodwind section, solo oboe, celli, and viola. Plus the relatively new mixing and mastering chains and seperate reverb units done per section of the orchestra. Plus a decidedly non-orchestral effect: artificial stereo echo on the harp. I figure I can take some liberties like that if it adds some kick.

Best of all, I’ve got the raw data now, so FREEDOM!


Do That Again, With More Boom

Current WIP.

For those interested in this stuff and owning a working set of ears, here’s the progress:

  • Dynamics (MIDI velocity, expression etc)
  • Tempo (it varies now)
  • Mixing (clarity, separation, room)
  • Effects
  • Mastering

Channel effects: VoS BootEQ, Tesla (harmonic saturation), TDL Kotelnikov compressor on drums. EQ was mainly used to add brilliance to horns and snares. The Kotelnikov is actually a primo drum compressor IMHO, clean but punchy.

Mix effects: VoS EpicVerb (1 per section of the orchestra). Doing it per section really adds room.

Mastering effects: VoS Thrillseeker XTC (exciter), Thrillseeker LA compressor, VladG Limiter 6.

The use of a limiter makes this quite a bit louder and more even in loudness than previous mixes. This is heresy for classical music fans, but since this is a game soundtrack, I opted for loudness for the hearing impaired and to compete with booming guns.

Writing has made good progress as well. I feel I’m on a new level with my writing. Which is good and man, it’s about time all that elbow grease paid off.

Note: It recently came to my attention that Firefox may not always display videos on this blog. If that is the case for you, kindly try without Adblock for this site?


Sound work and thoughts on free orchestral sample packs

Tweaked and expanded theme from SJ.

Things learned:

  • Using separate reverb sends (to the same unit though) from each channel, in order to simulate brass being further back, violins more to the front etc
  • Not using extreme left/right pan to leave room for the reverb
  • Using the entire orchestra, even woodwinds…
  • Using slight compression on the drums and in mastering (yeah I know, it’s classical music but I figure people expect this from videogames)
  • Using staccato patches where necessary (makes a large difference)
  • Blending solo instruments into the sections for thickening
  • Not going full tilt on the strings all the time
  • Using an envelope in Reaper to vary the tempo on the master track

I think I’m getting better at orchestration, too. I avoid clogging up frequencies too much.

What I want to try in the future: Fader automation and tweaking the MIDI velocity and expression even more. For the most part, velocity is already varied on every single note, but possibly not enough.

Plugins I use are still Variety of Sound. I’m most impressed by the EpicVerb and the Density stereo bus compressor, which is very subtle. The simple-to-use Thrillseeker LA compressor is also excellent, it’s what I used on the drums. His EQs and exciters don’t really do it for me though. He has a delay unit that’s very cool but I can’t really find a place for that yet.

New free stuff

I learned recently that there are two new free orchestral sample packages. One is the Virtual Playing Orchestra, which is based on the excellent Sonatina, and the other is a community package from a commercial maker, Versil Studios. Both are available in the free sfz format, so use the rgc:audio sfz player or Plogue Sforzando to get them into Reaper (or Logic or whatever else MIDI software you use).

Obviously I downloaded both and compared them to my trusty Sonatina. I feel the VPO package is very polished and useable, but the samples often seem overprocessed compared to Sonatina’s, which sound more natural and restrained to my ear. Especially the trombones, I thought, sounded almost like a synth. Other samples are possibly better than the Sonatina ones (flutes come to mind). All in all, a mixed bag. When I want EQs and harmonic distortion on my instruments, I prefer to do it myself; that’s why I prefer more natural sounding samples.

The Versil package was slightly disappointing; it sounded good but not orchestral. Horns and brass in Sonatina, for example, have the ability to go “full tilt” depending on MIDI velocity – the Versil ones appeared *too* restrained for my liking. The strings were adequate but I thought there were too many unwanted noises in the loud notes. I get the impression that they wanted to create a chamber orchestra, though, so maybe that’s why it sounds pretty tame. They have some very nice vibrato patches and somesuch, though.

It’s crazy times we live in, isn’t it. Making orchestral music is now basically free. High quality reverb plugins cost less than food. How strange is that.

I’ve also begun to work on atmospheric background tracks. Those are a lot more restrained and droney than the themes. The themes are basically collections of snippets and motifs that can later be picked and used as appropriate.