Tag Archives: music

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.

Some new music

Fleshing out a musical theme I began last year.

Other pieces of music have been touched up and remixed. Some themes (such as the reggae one) are no longer in the game. You can hear 10 minutes of work in progress music from Scout’s Journey here.


Scout’s Theme
Esperanza’s Theme
Heroic Theme
Naruuk Theme
Goddess Theme
Herd Theme

Rundown: Music Composition

I’ll outline the steps taken to compose something like the SJ theme and get it into the computer. You will need a basic music education (high school level) and ideally you’ll dabble in playing an instrument.

  1. Come up with a simple melody. This is the hardest part, and it helps having a musical instrument around the house although this is not required. It doesn’t need to be a very long melody.
  2. Mull it over for a couple days. If you can still remember it, it’s probably good. Tap your foot along with it to figure out what the tempo is and if it’s a 4/4th rhythm or whatever (do the counting if necessary.) Basic musical knowledge required.
  3. While you’re mulling it over, perhaps come up with a variation or a continuation. This gives you a little more to work with so you can extend your musical piece over a longer time span.
  4. Get a MIDI sequencer, also called a digital audio workstation (DAW) program, on your computer. Reaper is nice, but there are many alternatives (Cubase for example.)
  5. Download sample packs (these are snippets of sound recordings that can be played back on a computer or MIDI keyboard / synthesizer.) The Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra sample pack is free and very good for this type of thing.
  6. Install a virtual instrument plugin into your DAW that can play these samples (such as the SFZ player), if necessary. The standard for these virtual instruments is called VSTi, this is something your software needs to support.
  7. In your DAW, try inserting your virtual instrument on a new track. Load a sample file into it if necessary (groups such as “first violins” are just one file in Sonatina.)Skærmbillede fra 2015-11-23 01:56:12
  8.  If necessary, select something like eight beats of time and create a new MIDI item or whatever your program calls it (the black bar in the image.) Then open that MIDI track in something that’s called a piano roll editor (or MIDI editor.) This editor is usually available in any DAW. Skærmbillede fra 2015-11-23 01:53:42
  9. MIDI is a way to store music electronically, like electronic notes that can be played back by any MIDI instrument. The VSTi plugin is a MIDI capable instrument.
  10. You should now be able to play that instrument (here the solo violin via the sfz player plugin) just by clicking the piano keys of that virtual keyboard. If you get sound, awesome, it works.
  11. Click and drag in the piano roll editor creates notes (DEL key deletes selected notes.) These notes are just long and short bars for long and short sounds. The vertical direction makes them higher or lower on the musical scale (different instruments have different ranges, so be sure to check further up and down the keyboard if you seem to get no sound – you might be out of your instrument’s range.) The horizontal direction is backwards and forwards in time. It’s almost like painting a melody (you can drag notes around the screen horizontally and vertically too.) Switch on the metronome (among the icons in the upper left) and press the Play button, and you will get a click track for timekeeping. If that’s too fast or too slow, find where it says “BPM” (beats per minute) and change that number. Try something between 80 and 100. Watch how a cursor moves down the piano roll as the music plays.
  12. Click and drag notes in the piano roll to create a melody of, say, four or eight bars (they are numbered at the top.) Feel free to edit them as much as you need to until it sounds good. You don’t need to pay too much attention to music theory here, I recommend just going by ear. If it sounds right, it is right!
  13. Close the piano roll editor.

Now you have a basic melody that can be played back, edited and saved.

At this point, you might want to do any number of things:

  • Add another 4 or 8 bars of melody, perhaps a variation. Create a new MIDI item/track if you need to. You can arrange all your tracks and MIDI items in the big main window just by dragging.
  • Change the instrument (load a different sample) you were using – the same set of MIDI notes can be played back by a trumpet instead of a violin, if that’s what you like. You might need to select all your notes and drag them into the new instrument’s range vertically.
  • Add another instrument on a second track. Perhaps you want the first violins or the cellos or the horns to add to your music. Perhaps you want drums or timpanis to make a rhythm instead. It’s the same process.
  • Save the project and think up a completely different part to your music – perhaps you want to bring in some flutes doing something, or a harp melody. Whatever you like.

Now for some general points.

It is possible to connect a physical keyboard (something called a MIDI keyboard) to your PC and use that to record your notes in a more direct way, instead of using the virtual keyboard / piano roll editor.

Try to come up with musical ideas while away from the PC. Doodle around on a guitar or something like that, ideally.

Learn what a symphonic orchestra is, what instruments or groups of instruments make up the whole, and try to mimic it with your electronic sample sets. Listen to a lot of orchestral music (soundtracks..) and see where the different instruments are often used, and how. Learn which instruments usually do melodies and use them in your work. Understand what instruments seem to work well together, which combinations are often used by the composers. This video explains the instruments:

Start small. Make a melody first with a solo violin for instance. Then add on more instruments if the music needs to sound fuller. Try adding 1st violins, cellos, and maybe horns. Have those play little variations of the main melody, or just pads (simple long notes that add a fundament to your melody.)

Use drums and percussions if you like. Don’t overdo it. Less is more.

Listen to more classical music. Known stuff like Mozart etc. Look all this stuff up on Youtube. Learn to identify the instruments / groups of instruments by ear. A matter of practice.

Watch live orchestras play cool music on Youtube. You might pick up some tricks.

Good luck. And remember: none of this is magic (well, except coming up with a melody in the first place.) It is a craft that follows rules. It can be learned and practice does work.