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Hi guys - ok so, I thought it would be good to share some music with you.  This piece here is a favorite of mine - hard to say why exactly, but I'm pretty satisfied with the way it turned out and finalized. That is, from the perspective of the music anyway. Technically, it isn't what I was after. As I've read in others' discussions here, I got to a point where my being 100% happy with the final product wasn't as important as just finishing the damn song so I'd have something to share. So I buttoned up the last sentence, mixed it so it was somewhere better than horrible sounding, put my foot down and kicked it outta the house lol. That was about three months ago.
      Now, I'm aware that this kind of music isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I was kinda surprised at how few times it's been listened to, and how little was said. I'm sure I was projecting somewhat - just because I have fun listening to this song shouldn't mean anyone else will too! I think I have pretty good taste but... well, you know what I mean  Tongue
      One of the things that sold me on your forum here, was that everybody seemed to be very down to earth, friendly and have an honest willingness to help any way they can. That's pretty awesome - good on ya guys for that! Bonus points too for being talented, knowledgeable craftsmen  Wink 
      So, besides a great deal of stuff I stand to learn here, I'm really hoping for some honest feedback too. I don't want to sound snooty but the truth is that any thoughts you might give here are much more heavily weighted - because you also compose - than the thoughts and/or opinions of those who don't. And while I do appreciate those pat-on-the-back comments from random listeners on social networks and the like, I'm not at all after that type of recognition. I'd like the opinions and thoughts of someone who knows what he's talking about. Be they good or bad, I'll listen - I want to grow and evolve. 
      Please give this song a listen. If something comes to mind - from any aspect at all - I would appreciate hearing what you have to say. With some things in particular I'm well aware of the apparent deficiency, which I'd be happy to go over later but for now I'd like to stay quiet in that regard as not to muddy the waters, as it were. Unbiased thoughts are sure to be more beneficial, I would think.

      Thank you in advance for your time - I look forward to returning the favor..  Smile

Here's the song --  Original GarageBand Song "Spellcaster"
One of the things to think about with the shape of a work is how to transcend the loop through variation. Say you have an 8-bar phrase, and in that the harmony takes up 2 bars (which is a case during the "chorus" of your piece). We COULD repeat the same idea four times, but it is better to, say, every other time, change the ending slightly, or alter a chord- so if we break down the four loops in the eight bars, we have loop A, loop B, loop A, loop C. Of course loop C should have the most exaggerated and ornamented cadence, and loop B should have a slightly exaggerated cadence. Alternately, we could change the 3rd and 4th loops- 3rd slightly, 4th much more.

This piece I did for a score last year is pretty close to your piece, and shows how that sense of variation can work out-
https://samulis.bandcamp.com/track/clockwork-army

Another thing to consider is the "short-short-long" conccept- that is, a very easy and effective way to make a meaningful figure is to have two short figures (say, two measures each), and then an elaborated longer figure (say, four measures). You see this all the time in classical music.

This piece has a very clear case of the idea. You can hear how it introduces the idea "bum-buh" then elaborates on it after a rest-
https://soundcloud.com/samulis/gossnertrio3

Another key realization is that the time you have to "hook" a listener is often only 10-15 seconds. If your piece isn't going anywhere by that time, someone may not be driven to listen more. So, while a longer lead-in is nice, I often like to do my lead-ins as two four bar stages- eight bars of one instrument can often overstay its welcome on the ears without anything joining in.

One thing I noticed is that you have instruments changing pannings during the piece. This isn't very common, as rarely do musicians move around on the stage during a performance, but the artistic choice is ultimately yours. One thing I might recommend is consulting a few images of orchestral seating charts and come up with a basic plan for how you think an orchestra should sit. Even today in our world of standardizations and regulations, it isn't really standardized, but the basic idea is, low instruments to the right, and highs to the left. Here's my thoughts from a forum post on Newgrounds a few years back:
Quote:Pan direction-
Textbooks and live orchestras will conflict themselves endlessly. In general, high instruments go left, low go right.
Here's one possible layout that I see most commonly used:
1st Violins: about 50% left
2nd Violins: about 20% left (sometimes rarely placed far right to contrast 1st violins)
Violas: very slightly left or right
Cellos: about 20-30% right
Basses: about 50-60% right (sometimes rarely placed center)

Flutes: slightly left (piccolo slightly more left)
Clarinets: slightly left (bass clar slightly more left)
Oboes: slightly right (english horn slightly more right)
Bassoons: slightly right (contra slightly more right)

Horns: slightly left (in back)
Trombones: moderately right
Trumpets: slightly left or moderately right
Tuba: Between cellos and basses in distance right

Harp: behind 2nd violins (about 30-40% left)
Piano: next to harp, unless solo, in which case, up close and center
Celeste: See harp

Percussion: panned to taste throughout back. Timpani typically behind trombones to right. Mallets, TB's, etc. to left. Drums in center.

Also, I don't think we can talk about panning without talking about Mattias' fantastic articles on panning and reverb:
http://mattiaswestlund.net/?page_id=29

Oh, and don't be afraid to use woodwinds. Bassoons are often considered the instrument of witches and evil deeds (in the low end) and clowns and comics (in the high end).

I definitely think you have a good sense of rhythm and a strong sense of the larger form of the song. It's somewhat rare to hear someone using triplets anymore with everyone and their mother just banging on 8th note arpeggiators, so it was very pleasant to see. Overall the pieces reminded me of the music from games such as Age of Empires I/II and Civilization III (particularly this piece). We just have to Brainwash you into using better samples. Big Grin

Keep compos(ed/ing)!
I'm going to keep this brief, as Samulis has already covered pretty much all my remarks already.

I'll just leave you with this: putting together complex areangements is fun (and it's probably a phase everyone who gets into virtual orchestration goes through -- maybe even HAS to go go through) but: never underestimate the importance of a good hummable melody. I understand that this is meant to be something sinister-sounding rather than a stirring emotional piece, but nonetheless. Memorable themes and dark/evil are not mutually exclusive -- Imperial March being a perfect example.

All in all I think this shows a lot of promise -- it is certainly more musically competent than my own attempts during my first two years!
What Mattias said about a good hummable melody. This is something of a core idea that I keep to as well, most of the time. Smile

Also, what Samulis said.

Still, I'm gonna have to say that I think this does hold on its own already. With the vamp taking the spotlight, the piece is a solid underscore, kind of like game BGM, or something to go with a menacing voiceover. Smile

Since you're using GarageBand, a DAW I'm somewhat familiar with, I've got a couple quick tips.

First, IIRC, GarageBand does not have stereo width inserts available, but you can grab a freebie called MSED and insert it on tracks. Pulling down the side gain helps make woodwinds, brass, and percussion sound like they're behind the strings, just like in a real orchestra.

Second, under Audio Units->Apple, there's a plugin called AUMatrixReverb. This is probably the best built-in algorithmic reverb effect, and the Medium Hall 3 preset can be a good starting point for dialling an orchestral reverb.

Apple's samples are fairly close and dry, so there's room to be quite brave with panning, stereo width and reverb.

Finally, keep up the good work. Smile
Overall, I like this.  It sounds neat!  One reaction I have, which may or may not be what you intended, is that it sounds like background music to a video game.  That is, it feels more like it's there to support something else, rather than to be the main thing you're paying attention to.  That's partly from the lack of a clear melody, and partly because I don't feel any strong emotional arc (if that makes any sense) from the music.  It provides atmosphere and a driving rhythm, but the music itself isn't driving toward anything in particular.

The performance sounds very mechanical, which is probably part of why it sounds like video game music.  It's like a player piano rather than a set of live musicians.  Here are some things that would make it sound more natural.

First, have a lot more variation in the note velocities.  This happens on many different levels.  Downbeats should be louder than off beats.  Some notes within a line are more important than others, and a musician would naturally emphasize them.  Then you want crescendos and diminuendos to give shape to the music.  Pretend you're a conductor and wave your hands to the music as you listen to it.  (It's ok if you don't know how to conduct a real orchestra.  No one's watching!)  You'll start naturally wanting to indicate swells at certain points.  So go ahead and put them in.

You may also want to add some tempo variations.  Though possibly not: for some music, absolute metronomic regularity is exactly what you want, and this may be one of those pieces.  But again, conduct along with the music and see if there are places you find yourself wanting to hold a note just a tiny bit longer, or have a gradual accelerando, or anything like that.

Another thing to think about is slurs and articulation.  GarageBand is a bit limited in what you can do in this respect, and also it's not relevant to most of your piece.  But there are a few spots you might want to think about it, such as the section starting at 2:33.  Notes can be clearly separated with gaps between them, which is what you have.  Or they can be more continuous, with the end of one note exactly coinciding with the start of the next.  Or you can create a slur by overlapping them slightly, so one note ends a fraction of a beat after the next one starts.  The goal is to create a natural sounding line, so use all of these.  Think about which notes should be slurred together, which ones not, and where you actually want a clear break between notes.

And definitely keep composing!  I like what you've written!
Two more things that struck me at a second listen:

- There is a somewhat odd lack of high end throughout the entire piece, almost like a 2-3k LPF on everything. I'm guessing this isn't what the samples sound like originally. So... why? Smile

- The Garage Band samples aren't terrible -- I actually think the staccato strings could work well for a small ensemble piece but for grander stuff like this one begs for... no. They're a bit to timid.
(10-09-2016, 08:16 PM)peastman Wrote: [ -> ]The performance sounds very mechanical, which is probably part of why it sounds like video game music. 

HEY!

Big Grin
(10-09-2016, 08:17 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]There is a somewhat odd lack of high end throughout the entire piece, almost like a 2-3k LPF on everything. I'm guessing this isn't what the samples sound like originally. So... why? Smile

I almost think this IS what the samples sound like originally. :X

They almost sound like Apple licensed them from old Vienna or EMU stuff, especially that Timpani roll sounds really classic hardware sampler. At that point in time, space was precious, and it wasn't uncommon to see samples at 22.05 kHz or even 11.025 kHz. Arguably, many instruments sound shockingly okay at these rates, but it does have a serious effect after a while. Also, if they were not properly transferred in their original quality, they may have been essentially "ripped" by recording the samples as played- the problem is most old hardware has filters on which greatly improve performance by simulating quiet dynamics (and very nicely too, I might add), so some high-end content gets lost in this method.

For example, this is at 22.05 kHz sample rate:
https://instaud.io/zuJ (which still manages to capture a pretty normal sounding performance until the very high notes)

It's also possible an algorithmic reverb is being left at 100% with a LPF- it's very common to put such a filter on a reverb to give it a warmer sound, but at 100% it will remove all the highs from the original mix. OP, I recommend mixing your reverb at no more than 50% wet to dry and adjusting rather the length of and volume of the reverb to create a larger hall if desired. Smile
Samulis, they do not sound like that. I use the same samples (got the DVD when it originally came out, back in the day), and while they're slightly muddy in the low mids and slightly dull in the highs, they're still fully fledged 16-bit 44.1kHz samples.

SineEyed, if you have indeed EQ'd aggressively, you should try reworking that part of the setup. In my experience, buildups in the 200-400 Hz muddy area and the 2-4 kHz harsh area are the main culprits with Apple's samples. Other than that, just let them ring. Be sure to play your tracks back to back to some reference music to get a good idea of what you need to work on in the mix. Smile
(10-09-2016, 08:58 PM)Otto Halmén Wrote: [ -> ]Samulis, they do not sound like that. I use the same samples (got the DVD when it originally came out, back in the day), and while they're slightly muddy in the low mids and slightly dull in the highs, they're still fully fledged 16-bit 44.1kHz samples.

SineEyed, if you have indeed EQ'd aggressively, you should try reworking that part of the setup. In my experience, buildups in the 200-400 Hz muddy area and the 2-4 kHz harsh area are the main culprits with Apple's samples. Other than that, just let them ring. Be sure to play your tracks back to back to some reference music to get a good idea of what you need to work on in the mix. Smile

Aha, my bad. Thanks for the correction. I do know several other soundsets that do sound like that, so I was not sure, haha. Smile
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