Some Human, Sentimental and Spiritual aspects of our “Craft”.
(This is a lenthy essay that I hope you will find helpfull and inspirational. The tutorial CD is coming along. We are working on the Editor part now.)
I thought I would take this opportunity to share a few of my thoughts and some of my secrets concerning our craft of music creation, especially when it comes to using sample libraries.
I want to start off by sharing some comments that I read in Surround Sound magazine by Tom Holman (The TH of THX) He talked about the relevance of this business of sound creation in the aftermath…
Anyway, he mentioned that there was a whole new level of seriousness and professionalism in the mixing studios after that but that people wondered just how important sound and music creation was compared to the heroes in New York and overseas. He made a very good point using the passing of a legend in the speaker design business. This guys friends and coworkers set up his best-designed speakers at his funeral and played some well-recorded, beautiful music for his service. What better tribute to all these lost loved ones than beautifully recorded music performed in the most ideal way.
It’s no secret that music is very powerful and healing and can bring out emotions like nothing else on earth. Otherwise, nobody would pay composers so much for their film scores. I had personal verification of the power of music as a projectionist when Shindler’s List came through our theaters. No matter how many times I saw the ending (50 times at least!) I was always a bit tearful as long as I was monitoring the mix with the music. If I turned the sound down on my booth mix or even muted the left and right channels where most of the music was, the movie didn’t have near the impact even with the great acting, facial expressions and knowing the story by heart. However, I could turn off the sound and simply hear the music in my head and get some of that emotional impact back. Music does this like nothing else on earth. Even if advanced aliens were to land on this planet with fancy technology and knowledge, I still don’t think they would have our level of magic when it comes to music creation. It is one thing that us earthlings have to offer in this universe no matter how weak or insignificant we may feel. It’s the one thing that really sets us apart from our fellow creatures on this planet.
Another more recent experience was this past Christmas when I worked on a project for my wife’s family. It was a simple project of transferring their home movies to video to give as a gift to all the family members. As soon as I started adding music to the movies, it turned into a huge but rewarding undertaking. I created montages of each family member using various soundtracks as the background, mainly “Father of the Bride” by Alan Sylvestri. The music alone is very touching but combined with the sentimental movies, it was so powerful that I had everyone in the studio crying and they didn’t even know any of the people on the films! I went to town, creating special effects, titles, lots of dissolves and even brought out family pictures and new video footage for a very sweet and professional video gift. It was just supposed to be a simple transfer and minor editing project but the music completely took it over and made for a beautiful experience. In case you want to do anything similar, I must warn you that home movies are very powerful for family members. They basically bring deceased loved ones back to life momentarily in a way that still pictures and even memories cannot.
All right, on to the sampling business…
One of the noblest goals in creating sampled orchestrations is to try to create the same emotional impact that can be done with a real orchestra. If you can manage to evoke tears with a sampled orchestra, that is something special indeed.
One way to really get the most out of your composing experience is to have a love and reverence for the samples that you use. Of course you have to like the libraries to start with, learn to use them properly and know how to create music. However, you can take your music a huge step further if you can be mindful of what went into the creation of the samples you are using. It’s more than the intense amount of love and hard work by the library developer and the technology. It also includes the instruments and the musicians themselves. Think about this. Every time you play a violin ensemble sample, you are playing back the result of 11-24 human lives dedicated to music from childhood, not to mention the expensive hand crafted instruments that the most dedicated of musicians will use. As a Timpanist, I can vouch for the hard work that goes into mastering an instrument. I worked hard of course but I also watched the other musicians in my various bands and orchestras over the years from grade school on through to college. There are the years of indispensable private lessons, the daily hours of practice time, band classes before-during and after school, orchestra rehearsals, competitions for district, region, area and state ensembles, solo contests, band contests and football games, church orchestra and all this before college. Then things actually get hectic. Multiply that by the amount of musicians in your string ensemble samples and you have some idea of the value of what you are dealing with. This is one of the things I like best about the Garriton strings. He includes pictures and details about the instruments and he also credits the musicians that he recorded. I remember always wanting to know more about the musicians used on the beautiful Miroslav library, especially the soloists. I really wished I could know more about the human that I was using to create such beautiful music.
Let me share another story about having a closer “relationship” with a library. The first Cathedral Pipe Organ for the Giga format that I know of was the SOS (Symphonic Organ Samples) from the St Madalene Cathedral organ in Paris France. I helped Peter Ewers with some of the details and helped him make sure the release trigger ambience samples worked properly for it. The St Madalene cathedral is famous for it’s long reverb decay and it was very important to offer that in the samples. This organ is not nearly as detailed as the Post Organ construction kit libraries or some of the newer libraries but it does have the unique sound of the church and covers the basics for most composers. I always liked this library but I never really realized the value of it until a clinic tour that ended up in Paris France. My wife was with me on this rather hectic tour and we finally had a free day to ourselves in Paris.
Actually at this point in the tour we had become recently engaged. You see, we started the tour of Italy, Spain and France as a couple with the intention of engagement in our future. However, the Italy leg of the trip turned out to be rather hazardous. It involved chasing our Italian host all over Italy at German Autobahn speeds but without the German law and order and good roads and sane drivers. I love Italy and the people but they drive like drunken depressed, suicidal 2 year olds in bumper cars and they talk on multiple cell phones on top of that. Each day was a near death experience so somewhere in a small town in Italy (I have no idea which town either) I proposed just in case we didn’t make it home.
Anyway, on our day off in Paris, one of our priorities was to try and see the St Madalene Organ in person. We had a hard time actually finding the church because it looks more like a library from the outside. In fact, we thought we would just go look at that huge “library” before continuing our search for the church but once we got inside, we found to our surprise that we were indeed inside a rather large church. We still didn’t recognize it as the St Madalene until we turned around and finally saw the organ that we had seen so often in the pictures that came with the library. Due to the craziness of our trip, we had no idea what day of the week it was. Turns out is was Sunday! We walked in right at the beginning of the High Mass and would actually get to hear the organ and not just look at it. The sound was just beautiful. Every sound that was made had that characteristic 7 second long decay that I was very familiar with from the library. Some of the music was very cinematic and ethereal and took complete advantage of the room acoustics and the choir. We did not understand any of the service but still had to hold back tears the whole time because of the sheer beauty of the church and the sound. Talk about a huge amount of masonry, statue work and great craftsmanship all around. (Now I see why Free Masons became so influential. Masonry in Europe was like oil and computers today) They spared no expense on this church or the organ and everything was about as old or older than my country. The pictures don’t even come close to the reality. The Angels that are the centerpiece are a couple stories tall and richly detailed. It all combines for a very powerful and moving experience. When you realize the work that went into just this building (one of many throughout Europe) and instrument for the sole purpose of worship, it is overwhelming. Also, only the best organists are allowed to play this organ. Nobody can just walk up there and start playing it. That is how I experienced the St Madalene Pipe Organ. That library is infinitely more special to me now and I thank Peter Ewers for capturing it for us all to play.
Being mindful of what you are dealing with and having a great love and reverence for your sound is a good first step to creating powerful and emotional music.
Spending a few thousand dollars will also help you appreciate a library and master it. That has in the past been part of the value and secret of the infamous and expensive Miroslav Collection. Most of the people that acquired this library without paying for it have not mastered it to the extent of those who purchased it. (Like me several years ago)
Last but not least, I want to address some snotty remarks that sometimes come from Hollywood types regarding musical styles. I’ve heard it said several times to people that
“If Hollywood wants that John Williams sound, they will simply hire him so don’t waste your time with that kind of sound…bla bla bla…. ”
Perhaps that is true for some big budget films and I certainly don’t recommend sending in demos that all sound like John Williams to everyone in Hollywood. However, there are plenty of projects that can’t afford John Williams or any other A list composer. Also, even if they can afford him, he is too busy to compose for every project that needs him. So, be sure to work on your own original style and try to create your niche but don’t neglect the Hollywood orchestral style that people like John Williams have created or any other style that you really like. There are plenty of projects that would like that big sound but simply can’t afford it like low budget films, games and TV shows. Using our particular Craft however, we can deliver any style they need at a fraction of the cost and get the much-needed experience as we try to work our way up.
Also, to be quite frank, I have had the opportunity to meet and watch several A-List film composers at work behind the scenes. It’s very nice work but in the end, it is work. It’s very high stress and sleepless work and not all that glamorous. It pays well but so do many other trades with better odds. It’s also as much about the relationships as it is the music. From talking to various people, the best music in the world alone won’t cut it these days. You have to jump in and get to know the people in the industry and build sincere relationships with them. That’s why they say you need to move out to LA to really break in. (Knowing this, I’m staying in Austin anyway.)
One thing that all of the successful composers and music producers that I have met have in common is that they are extremely nice and well-balanced people who love music and love their families. They are talented and very competent of course but they wouldn’t get anywhere without their personalities. When you meet them in person, you can see how they got to where they are without even hearing a single note of their music.
The last story is about my favorite composer, Alan Sylvestri. He writes some of the most emotional music I know of and I can’t help but think that there is a sweet personality behind that music. I do know that he has been through a lot of heartache in real life. For example, while he was writing one particular famous score (I think it was my beloved “Father of the Bride”) he had to give his child insulin injections every few hours around the clock while he worked. This child was apparently very sick and teetering on the edge throughout. He must be real special person. I hope to meet him someday and thank him for the inspiration.
Have a special holiday and lets hope 2001 is a better and less tragic year. Don’t forget the importance of music. It’s not just an extracurricular activity or an unnecessary frill. It is the expression of our souls and probably more important than anything that humanity has to offer.
Thank you Dave for your very thoughtful and inspiring insights. Every now and then it is good to be reminded of the human factor.
I appreciate your acknowledging the musicians of the GOS library. You have a keen insight into what it takes to develop the skills that these musicians have.
What you write is so true: \"Every time you play a violin ensemble sample, you are playing back the result of ... human lives dedicated to music from childhood, not to mention the expensive hand crafted instruments that the most dedicated of musicians will use\". The musicians who played on the GOS library were incredible and extraordinary and it was a privilege that they shared their talents with us. Their dedication, their hard work and the tragedies they endured in New York City these past few months is inspiring. It is a gift to have them with us as we make our music. They truly deserve to be acknowledged.
The goal of the sample developer is to empower the musician to do what he does best. It is not so much about samples as it is about people and building those bridges between people. Samples are mere tools to help the composer or musician to express what lies within. Music is about communicating and goes far beyond what words can portray. While words are often like stones that are thrown across the chasms that sometimes divide us, music builds bridges. Again, it\'s the human factor that Dave speaks of. Bravo Dave!
Wishing all of you a wonderful, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Thanks for sharing this kind of Emotions. This entire world where we are all living needs to go up to this level of Emotions.
Yes, Gary it is the human factor and it reminds me an E-mail I just received 2 days ago from a good friend here in Spain. I translate:
\"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience\"