Rock EP Project: Update 3 ~ Mixes DONE

Since my previous blog addressing my first attempt at mixing I have been really trying to work on getting as professional a sound as possible. If there’s one thing that really grinds my gears about mixing band’s as a student, it’s the constant yet somehow incredibly difficult to reach at times level of quality and professionalism in the mix. Armed with my desire for a better sound and a mild frustration with my current efforts, I hit the C24 studio again…… and again. I’ve been in a couple of times, I want to finish these mixes before reposting them on soundcloud and probably Youtube. Please bare with me I know the wait is absolute torture! I will have them completed by the beginning of next week though.

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The main thing bumming me out about the track’s was the electric guitar tone and the drum sound, particularly the kick and snare that were fairly dull and not cutting through. I was able to steal a full 7 hours in the studio just over a week ago, which was great, I could finally lock myself away and experiment with more processing. I started with the guitar tone, it was not the best tone recorded to begin with, quite muddy and lack generally clarity in the high gain tone. I started us the guitar amp plugins such as the UAD Marshall and Friedman amp modellers, even some of the stompbox pedal plugins, however they didn’t seem to give the effect I wanted. I then started using the UAD preamp and boost plugins, which pointed me in the direction I was after. I found the Tube Preamplifier 610-B plugin and tried to bring out the high’s and try to drive the guitars a bit harder as I felt there was a lot of room for gain. I rendered the plugins onto each clip using the audiosuite versions.

The drum sound was my next battle. Starting with the kick’s on the two tracks, I really just wanted more, more punch, snap and boom. I personally love a kick drum that you can feel when it hits you in the chest. Luckily at this time my lecture, Guy, came in and basically solved my issues with that, and then went on to fix the snare too. It baffles me why I didn’t think of this, he created Auxiliary tracks for both the kicks and snares, and put an EQ and compressor on each and pushed them to get a lot more cutting through the full mix. Using the EQ’s, particularly on the snare Auxiliary, to bring back a tiny bit of the high’s as there was a lot more level in the snare than before. The extra bit of compression mainly helped to boost the overall level of the kick and snare, getting a more consistent sound, and using a slow attack and release time to get the extra punch.

A trouble I’ve been pondering throughout this mix (and since I started the course), is how on earth professional recordings get the general warmth that mine or any other students seemed to have. Part of me says that it’s the quality of my recordings and probably a number of other variable, for this project mastering… blahblah… It’s definitely something I’m gonna focus on in the future, as well as my ability to record quality tones, particularly with drums and electric guitar, personally I find those 2 things the hard to record well, all musicianship aside obviously.

It’s been awesome just being able to mix songs that I enjoy, to follow my own mixing ideas and instincts. It’s really annoying having to mix something that you don’t like to hear, a style that just isn’t likeable. It’s been a blessing to have a mate to create this music with and see it through to the end of the production. To the big question though…… Would I deem these songs release worthy?

….Ahhhh not really. I think my recording abilities let me down to a degree, having not fantastically recorded tracks makes the process far more difficult from the get go… Recording quality audio is definitely my main focus heading into next trimester.

Please check out final mixes below.

(P.S. I chickened out in my first blog called our song “Don’t Say”, it’s actually called “Falling Out of a Tree”… Just as a bit of a random joke, I was just kind of embarrassed hahahaha. What can I say……… enjoy!)

Peace!

Aladdin Project Update 7: Project Finished ~ Reflection.

Well that wraps up our major project for Trimester 4, just to revisit the project grounds. Fellow group members John, Megan, Wade and myself, have over the previous weeks been doing our Post Production project, which involves recreating all of the audio elements for a 6 minute section of Aladdin, including the song A Whole New World. It’s been a fairly sizeable project despite there being 4 in our group, probably because I chose to take on the task of the composition. Other aspects included the Foley sounds, sound design and ADR.

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Overall I’m fairly happy with my performance and efforts with this project, I personally put a lot of hours into this project and I’m confident that everyone else has played their role in making this project happen. Throughout this project I feel as if I have acted as a team player, showing up to as many studio sessions as I could, even when I wasn’t needed as much earlier on. We all felt it was important to be involved to a degree in all factors of the project, even if we had been assigned to a specific factor of the project. I’ve held a fairly positive attitude throughout this time, I wasn’t confronted with very many issues to test my problem solving thankfully, prior preparation with session file management and time management.

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With my time management, I think I could still improve, possibly in area’s just like setting aside time beforehand for study, as opposed to just “getting around to it” when it’s convenient. It would improve my productivity as well. I think my adaptability was tested a bit as I was in new grounds, composition is something I’m interested in and passionate about, however had to learn a lot about the technical and theoretical factors along the way, such as how to use native instruments, orchestral arrangements, orchestral mixing and composition in general. As well as a plethora of Foley and ADR knowledge and techniques, particular in capturing Foley audio.

I was fairly confident in my ability to complete this project at a good level of quality, I feel that I had a good foundation in musical theory and songwriting to approach this project with a good amount of confidence, which aided my positive attitude greatly.

Overall this was an awesome experience, something very new but not too much out of my element for discomfort. I had a fantastic group of mates that put a lot of time and effort into this project and into making a good as possible, going the extra mile to make the quality just that much better.

Please check out the video in the link below…

Peace!

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Aladdin Project Update 6: Composition Completed!

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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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”.

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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.

Peace!

Aisle 6 Live Sound Work: Update 3

Australian Irish Fund Gala Luncheon

This was possibly my last gig for the trimester with Aisle 6, but I’m confident that the work will continue as I have formed a pretty good relationship with them. This one was a bit of a fancy event, it was basically a lunch event for the Irish Australian community, a chance to raise some money with raffles and auctions and some musical entertainment. This gig was also a bit of a milestone event, as I had finally been given the responsibility of controlling the audio through the event. This included taking care of setting up and micing the musicians and speakers/MC’s correctly, giving a good foldback mix, using effects and processing and just being aware of the all the audio. This wasn’t a terribly complex task, however it felt like a big job to do at the high standards at which I set myself, not to mention that it was a much more formal and corporate style event.

The venue was a large hall style room with a small stage, we sat the PA system on the ground on either side of it. At the back of the room we set up all of the gear, including the wireless system, the Allen & Heath Qu16 desk and the visuals for the projectors. My boss Richard was in charge of the visuals and I was in charge of all the audio. I was fairly nervous with the role, but i was excited to have a little bit of a progression from the cable monkey status.

The day started with the guest arriving and taking their seats, from this point I was running some quiet background music through the system, it helped the atmosphere feel a little less empty. Simultaneously I was making sure that when the MC or anyone else was talking on stage with a microphone, that they had volume and could be heard above the conversations and chatter. Later throughout the day there was a panel conversation with 4 people. This was a bit of challenge as we were using by request, 2 lapel mics as well as the 2 wireless mics. Anyone who knows anything about lapel mics will tell you that they’re notorious for being crap whenever there is more than one sound source in the room. This meant that I was constantly riding the faders throughout the panel. As I brought up the mics they would feedback unless I brought down the levels of the mics not being used at the time, the lapels were phasing with each other and there was a distinct lack of low and mid frequencies if both were up at the same time. However, I feel as though I managed to ride the faders well enough.

The musicians at the event were and Irish folk acoustic duo, they used an acoustic guitar as well as a bouzouki and fiddle. The Instruments were simply DI’d straight into the desk, other than the fiddle which we just mic’d up with the wireless vocal microphone, it filled the room fairly well even with a lot of chatter.

Overall, it was a successful day and we received much thanks for our efforts from the people that organised the day. I’ve really enjoyed working with Aisle 6 of the past couple of months and the work will continue throughout the future, I’m sure of it. In terms of industry experience, recognition and work, it’s been a real foot in the door.

Things I’ve learnt about Live sound this Tri, or have expanded my knowledge and abilities on…

Hard Skills:

  1. Live Signal Flow and routing methods
  2. Appropriate micing techniques to suit a scenario
  3. Basic knowledge of a live desk
  4. Techniques to avoid noise and feedback
  5. How to run cables in a safe and neat way
  6. Basic Dynamic and Spatial effects for a live mix
  7. Taking a multitrack recording
  8. Sending foldback mixes
  9. Wireless microphone systems

Soft Skills:

  1. Problem Solving and active thinking
  2. How to talk to clients and musicians
  3. Having a polite manner, positive attitude, and being a likeable approachable person (basically no one is gonna hire you if you’re an asshole)
  4. Getting shit done is the main thing

Peace!

Leopold’s Treat: Trust Feel Mix

After receiving the recording session following the day in the studio, we were given a week to mix and master the song, before handing our mixes over to the band to decide for themselves, which one they would use. I felt like this would be a sweet experience to try mixing a different style of music, something more acoustic and airy than the more energetic mixes that I have done in the past.

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I made a start on the vocals for a change, I usually start with the kick, which is just a force of habit, and also there wasn’t and drums now anyway. But my logic and the logic I have accumulated is that the vocal is the most important part of the mix and I shouldn’t have to mix it against anything, all the other elements should work around the vocal.

So starting with Kate’s vocals, I wanted to make them warm and bright with a really tasteful reverb. I started by cleaning up the track an EQ, just bringing up a little bit of low mid of 200 Hz, cutting out a few dB of the nasally 1K and boosting up a couple of dB with a shelf from 3K. With a UAD LA-2A I added a little bit of compression, not reach much higher than 7 dB of reduction. It helped smooth out the track and some warmth. Going with the very colourful vocal sound I created a duplicate, with that I did some parallel compression with only a small level from the track blended in, I guess less was more in this scenario. The colour doesn’t end here though. With one of the prior unused vocal takes, I added a reverb. I wanted it to be bit of weird sound with a fully high end tail. I used a Bathroom style reverb with a 1.4 second decay time and soaked it. Then i just blended it to taste with the original, I’m quite happy with the effect it created, it was just a spontaneous creative spark that I though might enhance the vocal a bit.

Following was the acoustic guitars, on the theme of warm and bright I used a Neve 1073 EQ and brought up the levels to add some more life in the high’s. Compressing to smooth everything out again with an LA-2A.with Kate’s guitar I added in a blend from the room microphone which created some nice space. The DI for the second acoustic had some noise in it, so I just got rid of it as the tone wasn’t quite nice enough through the DI anyway.

The Slide Uke was played through a Strymon Bluesky reverb pedal, so it had its spatial effects fairly well taken care of. It had a nice and long echoey tail and a lot of ambience, I didn’t feel like I needed to added much more space. The harmonica was a very dynamic and obnoxious sound. It need a lot of compression, I used the dbx 160 and brought in a lot of gain reduction, it just seemed to piece through at an uncomfortable level. I also brought some of the highs out to help bring down the harshness.

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Mixing Leopold’s Treat was cool, different experience, and an opportunity to explore the creative side of mixing. Not having to worry so much about the quality of the recording was an absolute blessing, it free’d up the process a lot.. I’d be keen to find out which student’s mix they chose to release.  

Peace!

 

Aladdin Project Update 5: Composition layering and writing

It’s coming to week 11 of our 13 week trimester soon and the project is unfolding fairly well with sound design coming together during the week, Foley being near finished recording, the ADR synced and cleaned up, and the Composition still being written. Coming into the composition I’ve realised just how much labour is involved in the process. It’s an extremely tedious and time consuming task, too late to quit now though.

Dublin_Philharmonic_Orchestra_performing_Tchaikovsky's_Symphony_No_4_in_Charlotte,_North_CarolinaThe background composition for the initial dialogue scene is going to include the following instruments…

Strings:

Violin – containing the main lead lines and sitting front of mix

Cello – main low-end in the strings mix, will cover mainly the chord progression

Double Bass – will feature rarely in select parts, but has no strong role

Woodwind:

Flute – Following similar lines to 1st violin

Clarinet – Following similar lines to 1st violin

Percussion:

Glockenspiel – features in some of the lead lines just following the melody

A Whole New World is a fairly complex song, there is a lot going on in terms of melodies, layering, harmonies and dynamics. I have been trying to put a lot of focus into giving each instrument a separate role, as opposed to just copying and pasting the MIDI region for each instrument. A full orchestra has great deal of depth and variety, it would be a waste to make every note the same. It has come to the point in the project (although I think I knew this all along), that I have realised that it is just not possible to get that Disney sound with MIDI and plug-ins. However I am still learning, and this definitely a challenge for me and an opportunity to expand my knowledge and skill variety. The composition arrangement is going to include (to an extent) the following instruments…

Strings Section:

1st Violin – containing the main lead lines and sitting front of mix

2nd Violin – mildly different tones and varying lines to 1st violin

Viola – Sitting main in the mid section of the strings and thickening out the 1st Violin

Cello – main low-end in the strings mix, will cover mainly the chord progression

Double Bass – will feature rarely in select parts, but has no strong role

Woodwind:

1st Flute – Following similar lines to 1st violin

2nd Flute – tonal variety with different melodies from 1st Flute to create depth

1st Clarinet – Following similar lines to 1st violin

2nd Clarinet – tonal variety with different melodies from 1st Clarinet to create depth

Brass:

1st Trumpet – Following similar lines to 1st violin

2nd Trumpet – tonal variety with different melodies from 1st Trumpet to create depth

Trombone – mid range and thickening the brass section

French Horn – bottom end of the brass section, complementing the cello.

Piano: consistent drive to the song, sitting mainly at the back of the mix, but will be brought up in the duller and and quieter parts

Percussion:

Glockenspiel – features in some of the lead lines just following the melody

I hope this arrangement, whilst lacking a great number of instruments, manages to capture the essence, dynamics and emotion of the original song, towards the mixing phase I may experiment more with duplicating tracks and panning. Disney haven’t made it easy for me though and I still have to write the Brass section, and of course, mould them all together into one cohesive performance.  

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Over the past few weeks I have been looking into different ways to achieve a more “human or organic” sound with the MIDI notation. Most of my efforts so far has been spent on rewriting the score and trying to match it put to the original instrumentation, in an effort to make it sound as similar to the original, which is of course the goal. Otherwise I have been looking into things such as reverb or more importantly, Reverb’s (hint: plural). Convolution Reverbs in particular, although I am yet to source a plug-in on campus that will allow me to use this technique.

A convolution reverb plug-in is like any other reverb plug-in, in how it aims to create an artificial spatial image. However, it uses pre-recorded audio samples of an impulse response from a certain space, which is combined with the incoming signal that is being processed. It uses the impulse responses and to simulate the space at multiple points. So for example, a single convolution reverb can include a reverberation from 3, 5, 10 and 20 metre distances all at once to create a more realistic and spatially deep sound. I hope to gain access to one by the time of the mixing process.

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From the get go I can definitely say that I underestimated how much work rewriting a Disney film score would be, I honestly somewhere missed that, now I think about every individual instrument, its individual role, its individual tone and it’s individual position in a massive scale mix. Had I had this thought a few weeks ago, I definitely would’ve put some of the harder yards in then. I aim to have all the parts written and fitting together by the end of this coming week. In the week following I aim to have the mixing completed, I will be putting a major focus into the tones and dynamics of the instruments in the mix. Keeping the dialogue/vocals at top of the mix and blending the specific instrument sections to a good balance, using manual volume trim automation. I will be back next week with another update on the progress of the score…

Peace!

Aladdin Project Update 4: Foley cont… and Composition cont…

So this week has been a solid week of progress with our project, in class we got the opportunity to show our progress, a rough edit including the first part of the composition, 70% of the Foley audio, and all of the ADR. The class feedback was really positive and offered their feedback.

Currently, the Foley is near finished recording, there are a few parts with the dialogue of the scene, and a few scattered throughout the song. The most recent session has been mainly focused on the several swoosh sounds throughout the scene, there has been a great deal of time spent detailing each of the sounds. John, Wade and Megan have been using mouth noise to create the effects and thus fair has worked fairly well in simulating wind noise.

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I have been putting majority of my project time into the studio session with the rest of the group over the past few weeks, partly because I felt I needed to be in the studio with my sister, Kati, so she could’ve felt a little more comfortable with me in the studio environment. Only this week have I really put more time into the composition and I have made some good progress. However as I am progressing, I am discovering how much work I have actually taken on. It’s definitely manageable for me, however I am going to have to really knuckle down now.

The composition has been broken into two main sections. The first section is the composition in the background throughout the dialogue, this covers roughly the first 3 minutes of the scene. The section consists of orchestral strings, woodwind and glockenspiel. At this point I have written the MIDI notes for the strings and glockenspiel, woodwind for this section will be my next focus for this section. Most of the time being put into this composition has gone into the rewriting of MIDI which I have been doing in the Pro Tools MIDI editor as it is available at home. it has been quite challenging to identify individual notes when the dialogue is masking the score. However, considering its so far back in the mix, I take the opportunity on occasion to trust my instincts and get creative with the noting. If it flows and fits with the emotion I’m generally happy with it. One thing my lecturer pointed out was the lack of human feel in some sections, I will going back to the drawing board and hopefully adding more notes and smoothing out everything.

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I have been using Native Instruments, Kontakt 5 Session strings for the strings and orchestral glockenspiel sounds for the glock, I plan to use the Kontakt 5 for the woodwind as well. I’m happy overall with the tones, my main priority with the writing has been to make it sound human and NOT like a robot. It’s very time consuming to go through and “humanise” the sounds though, I use mainly variations in the velocity and note timing shifts to create a human feel.

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The second section is the song, A Whole New World. This part has much bigger sound with more elements such as piano. Again I have been sticking with the Native Instruments plugins for piano as well, using the New York Stagesound piano patch, it has a fair organic feel with some of the “overtoney” feels to it. For the other elements I will be using Kontakt also. Currently, I have received the MIDI notes for the piano recording and have been editing them today. However, I discovered also how big an idiot I am, for taking 2 hours to realise that the entire track of MIDI was a semitone flat, which was why it sounded so weird initially. I have a theory that it was recorded on a transposed keyboard, so maybe it recognised all the MIDI notes as a semitone down. Either way, it sound right now!!!!!!! Unfortunately, it’s out of time, so one of my next tasks will be (what I spent a while doing today) editing the timing to the original song, whilst maintaining a human feel. 

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There is a large amount of editing and writing to do, however the end product i believe will be of a high standard, and I have set that expectation for myself, in the hope of maybe achieving it!

I’ll be back with more info on the project status next week, get keen…

Peace!