Finally the composition factor has been wrapped up, John, Wade and I spent the better part of about 6 hours in the C24 studio going over the processing and putting together the arrangement as well as possible. Prior to this I had revisited some sections, mainly to tighten up timing issues and other anomalies, this was a crucial thing to have had completed beforehand and I am over the moon that I made sure it sounded as natural and well timed as possible, as it is a very time consuming task and it would have wasted a large section of studio time, which in the final project week is precious.
Since my previous update I have added and changed a few of the instruments in the arrangement. I have included a harp, mainly for the faster runs to add a bit of depth. As well as swapping out the second clarinet for a bass clarinet, I figured it was a better use of the track as the clarinet and flute don’t sit that far apart on the frequency spectrum, and are certainly not as deep as a bass clarinet.
(Earlier screenshot of mix)
So prior to walking into the studio, I had an arrangement of the first composition part, being the background music for the first scene, and the second part being the song A Whole New World. Both together in the one session and were synced up to the original audio. Each section in each part ran through a designated AUX track, then to an mix Reverb AUX track, and was then bussed to a SubMix audio track for the final mix. At this point the MIDI had been exported into completely dry audio, i had merely started EQing at home the previous day. Going into the studio I continued straight into finalising and EQing and then compressing. This took only an hour at the most as I didn’t want to change a great deal about the individual sounds, since they’re processed samples there isn’t much to clean up. EQ consisted heavily of getting rid of unnecessary low or high frequencies and pulling a bit out of the mid range from particular instruments such as the more mid heavy Viola, Cello, Clarinet, Trombone and even a bit out of the higher registered Flute, Violin or Trumpet, just for making space for the vocals. Compression was not 100% necessary either as MIDI samples lack the dynamics that the original instruments would have. However I still compressed everything lightly, I hoped this would smooth everything out a bit more and create a bit more of a full cohesive sound. Between all of the compression there was tangible difference to the mix, each element sounded less sporadic and everything seemed to sit more comfortably.
Of course the overall mix was still far too dry and robotic, next step was reverb, lots of reverb. I started by utilising the UAD Ocean Way Studios reverb, the only convolution reverb at my disposal. Luckily it is a phenomenal plug-in and created the effect I hoped it would. The plug in worked amazingly and played a crucial role in creating the human feel and that impression that the instruments were performed together in one room. This reverb was sitting on its own individual AUX track, and every sections individual AUX track is being sent into it. I put the preset to a strings layout as I thought it was probably the most appropriate considering the circumstances. The preset had 3 separate microphones which I could alternate to my liking and treat individually. I set them roughly at 6, 10 and 20 feet away from where the strings section was mapped in the room. Just at default, the reverb had a dramatic effect on the impression of the sound, it was much more real, almost as if it were recorded live.
Following this I created separate reverbs for each of the sections of the A Whole New World composition to wetten the sound even more, I didn’t feel as much of a need to put more reverb on the first part as it is background music and sits much farther back in the mix, it sounds fairly dry in the original as well. I used ReVibe 2 on each of the AUX’s, choosing a slightly different reverb type for each as I wanted a bit of variety in terms of colour. Each was set to a maximum of a 1 second decay time and a max of 30 or 40% mix dry/wet, this was because there wasn’t a need for a lot of thick long reverb tails, I only needed enough to make the signal less robotic and more short reverbs helped blend the different sounds together.
After the effects processing was finished we prepped for the live mix, this was the method I wanted to use from the start, I hoped it would add life and dynamics to the mix where MIDI just struggles to. John, Wade and I listened through the original composition a couple of times, writing down musical direction notes. The basic idea was to write down when an instrument or section(s) came up in level. To avoid a loss of the original scratch level that we set, we used Pro Tools “touch” automation, so that even after moving the faders on the C24 desk, Pro Tool’s would read the movement and then upon letting the fader go, it would return to its original position from the start of playback.
We did this once for the first section as we were very happy with the performance, it wasn’t terribly complicated as there were less instruments being automated. Only a Violin, Viola, Flute and Clarinet had full roles that changed continuously. A Whole New World, however was much more involved and had many more elements that required automation. This next part was a super exciting old school mix method. We split up the automation responsibilities between the three of us. Wade was in charge of the string section, John with the Woodwind section and myself with the horns, harp and glockenspiel. We took 3 full attempts to reach a take that we were satisfied with, everything was audible and brought up in the mix when needed to a clearer level. There were multiple sections when the either the Woodwind or Strings needed to cut through. When we listened over and over again to the original, we noticed a pattern in the song. There was a change in the lead instruments when the singers changed. When Aladdin was singing the strings section seemed to cut through more regularly, and when Princess Jasmine was singing, the Woodwind section seemed to cut through more. I have a feeling it was to do with avoiding any clashing between the vocal and the orchestra. Aladdin’s vocal has a slightly deeper register and Violin in particular is played in a higher register, arranging the playing that way would separate the the vocals enough for them to sit comfortably at the top of the mix.
I’ve learnt a lot about scoring, MIDI composition, Native Instruments and Post Production in general, and I’ve had a number of positive and negative realisations. One of the major ones of course, was the most time consuming, writing the MIDI. I should’ve have been making markers on the timeline for major chord changes, to guide the writing of each instrument. The continuous build up of not perfectly lined up MIDI notes, meant that I reached the end of my composing and had to revisit each individual track and realign the notes. Luckily I had previously lined up the Piano to the original instrumentation and was able to use that midi track as a reference for fixin up the strings, woodwind, horns and the percussion. However, overall it was a very tedious and time consuming part of this project. Needless to say when I next attempt this, I will be far more efficient and time aware.
Another issue I came across was the lack of range from certain instruments. To save time and keep tracks tight together, I copied MIDI clips between tracks if the parts were the same. One issue with that was difference in register between them. Such as Trumpet and Trombone, they don’t sound terribly different however they occupy different and smaller ranges than say a Violin. So when I came to copy the tracks, even after shifting up or down the needed amount of octaves, I had notes that were out of range. There was no real quick fix short of changing the notes to the needed octave, or just removing them completely. However, I felt it better to remove the unneeded instruments from certain parts of the composition, such as the beginning part of A Whole New World. I just removed some of the sections from the less dynamic instruments such as the Trombone, this removed any potential awkwardness from missing notes that are out of range, and infact it also opened up an element of variation to the sound, so not every instrument is playing non stop. I like to call this advanced technique, “saving it for later”.
I’ve been fairly pleased with my efforts for this project, it’s taken many hours of labour and it has shown in product. Still there are things I would change about it, however that’s just my inner musician/artist/engineer telling me that it’s not perfect, that it could be better. But when is someone 100% happy with there art? I will however happily move onto my next project knowing that I worked hard and ended up with a quality project on my portfolio.
Stay tuned! The final project will be getting upload in the next 24 hours. I’m dead keen for anyone and everyone to see/hear it.