Watch out! These can be powerful, dangerous, and illegal in many states! So proceed with caution, but be prepared to emerge with some explosive new weapons in your music production kit bag!
These are a number of "Garritan 101" bits of info, and maybe some aren't all that "101ish"--In any case, it's a list of tips and info I've been putting together since last week with the hopes of sparking some inspiration and new ideas here at the Forum:
The Player Instruments in GPO -
As the GPO manual explains, the "Player" ("Plr") versions of instruments are derived from the same samples as the Soloists.
"Plr instruments are lighter versions and do not share samples with each
other but must not be used with the solo instruments from which they are de-
rived to avoid phasing problems; e.g. don’t use Flute 1 Plr1*, Plr2*, or Plr3* with
Flute Solo instruments (of the same number.)"
When the manual says these are "lighter versions," that translates into instruments which have a duller tone than the soloists, and aren't as complex sounding. It would seem the samples are shorter and more tightly looped, and there are fewer samples in their pools.
There's nothing wrong with these instruments, but they were intended to be used in ensemble, not in the spotlight as soloists.
So, when composing a piece for a small woodwind ensemble, for instance, it's the solo instruments you should be using. Those soloists are more complex and natural sounding. If you're composing for a larger group of instruments, the players come in handy for building that larger group, but use caution about doubling soloists with associated players, as it says in the manual.
Insert reference to earlier "Tip" - Having an additional Library like Concert and Marching Band or Instant Orchestra makes it much easier to build larger sections. A GPO soloist backed by a CoMB or IO group or two (or three!) gives you that ensemble sound much more easily than trying to piece together groupings of instruments only from GPO.
Sometimes I'll hear pieces using the Players in a way too prominent for what they're intended. Recordings like that aren't as effective as they could have been. A few times I've seen it argued that the GPO soloists are too distinct to blend well in settings like a woodwind quintet. Based on comparisons I've done for myself, I don't think that's true at all. The GPO soloists sound more like natural real-world instruments, and work perfectly fine together in small groupings, making for recordings which are closer to a live performance.
I've also occasionally noticed that people sometimes use the Player instruments by mistake. They grab an instrument from the long GPO menus, not really noticing what they're using, or being aware of what the difference really is between the available instruments.
For the reasons above, I was inspired to make this bit of info the first item in this potpourri of Garritan tips: Choose your Soloists and Players wisely!
Var 1 and 2 -
These are located on ARIA's Controls window for brass, woods and solo strings. Next to the knobs in parenthesis are the MIDI controller numbers for these parts of GPO's programming. CC22 controls Var 1, CC23 controls Var2.
These are under-utilized in GPO recordings. One reason for that could be that a very small amount of these controls goes a long ways, and users may get scared off from using them after a time or two of bad results.
Quoting the manual:
"Automatic Variability Controls: These controls automatically create tuning and timbre variability from note to note. The VAR 1 knob controls intonation with random tuning variations, adjustable from a few cents to an entire semitone. The VAR2 knob introduces random variations in timbre quality by adjusting a filter on the instrument. The combination of both controls proves a more human result in the quality of the sound. The VAR 1 and VAR 2 controls can also be adjusted or varied throughout a piece by using MIDI controllers CC#22 and CC#23, respectively."
It's possible to set one or both of these knobs to a low amount, perhaps between 1 and 10%, and just leave them that way for an entire piece. You could try that on an instrument which is doubling another instrument from the same family, with the original track left un-touched. This would be in lieu of using the Tune knob available in ARIA's instrument slots which can be a handy control, but doesn't have the subtlty of these Var settings, and can't be dynamically controlled like the V knobs.
A more effective use of Var 1 and 2 is to do as the manual says, and record MIDI controller data for them. If you use a keyboard with an assignable wheel or other control, simply set that to CC22 or 23, and make a pass through the project, recording what feels like appropriate amounts. A general guideline is to bring in some Var1/2 on fast passages when live musicians tend to be more inaccurate in their pitch and intonation. Another good use is during sustained notes, having one more instruments vary slightly in pitch, again in emulation of how a live band sounds.
CAUTION - It's easy to get the badly out of tune "Middle School" effect with these controls. That's why it's best to record or draw only small amounts, and only occasionally throughout a project.
Default panning -
The programmers give us a starting point with the panning of instruments. Various positions are part of the default settings for the instruments when you load them. But more often than not, you want to set up your own panning as per the needs of a given project, and your own taste. Leaving instruments all at their defaults can result in a stereo image which isn't as open and full sounding as it could be. We've all heard music in the Listening Room where instruments seem to be bunched together in an ineffective way, and invariably the person who made the recording will say they just used the default settings.
Make it a habit to always see what you can do about spreading your instruments out more so each has its own little niche in the stereo field.
Length control -
This is controlled by CC21. It's another control which is under utilized. I find that many of the Garritan instrument default settings are overly short, and I find the results unnatural. Audition an instrument by pushing a key on ARIA's keyboard, or using your own keyboard. Listen to how the instrument sounds when you release the note. If it's sounding unnaturally cut off, simply move that control knob in ARIA up a bit.
A more sophisticated approach is to also record CC21 in your project, changing the length according to the needs of a given passage. When you're not getting your legato to sound as smooth as you want, having the notes die out more slowly with the Length control helps a lot, coupled with lowering the velocity values so you're not competing with the legato effect with too sharp of an attack.
Auto Legato and Trills -
One of the benefits when Auto Legato was added to ARIA quite awhile ago now, is that true, playable trills are possible. Hold one note, rapidly play the next, and you have a very natural sounding trill. That's a sound impossible to get when an instrument is in polyphonic mode. And so note that when you have AL turned on, that the instrument is then in mono mode. For many lines to sound natural, it's a must to have them monophonic like the actual instruments are.
The old way of doing legato in Garritan still works, and actually can produce smoother legato than AL, but it is time consuming. You leave the instrument in polyphonic mode, then hand edit the lengths of notes so they are just barely overlapping. Inserting a pedal On event (CC64 to 127) directly After the first note of a legato passage, and then inserting a pedal Off event (CC64 to 0) after the last note does the trick. The manual has images that show you the clever programming that's involved. The initial part of the samples are truncated to avoid the unnatural On On On effect when triggering the full envelope of a note over and over, ala old style synths.
Notice that you can combine old-style Garritan legato with Auto Legato by turning AL on and off with CC102. That way, you could do a nice legato passage, then temporarily switch to AL to perform a natural trill.
ADSR Control -
"Attack - Decay - Sustain - Release." Those are new controls in ARIA first implemented for Instant Orchestra. This is a powerful group of tools for shaping sound which were introduced in the earliest synthesizers decades ago. You can set each of those through the Controls page, or control them dynamically with MIDI CC control.
This isn't available in GPO, but it is in Instant Orchestra, and will eventually be available for all Libraries.
Attack is the control you'll use the most. Controlled by CC20, varying this gives an even bigger variety of attack control than available just through velocity. Attack is how fast a sound starts, and usually softer notes also have a softer attack. Traditional Garritan programming ties velocity with the attack, so you can vary at least to some degree how soft or hard the attack of a note is. But with the Attack control available now in IO, you can gain a whole new level of control. Experimenting with the rest of this envelope generator's knobs, decay, sustain, release, will give you the aural feedback you need to understand what each control does to a sound.
Greater control with bounced audio -
In DAW software, there's a broader dynamic range available through audio control rather than keeping a project only in the MIDI realm. Audio work can be done through the original tracks in your software connected to ARIA, or to the bounced audio track versions of your MIDI tracks.
Not everyone is interested in becoming a sound engineer for producing demos of their music, and that's understandable, since it can become very complex and time consuming. And some have relatively modest needs, and are content with "rendering" an audio copy of their work either through notation or DAW software. Others get to a point of wanting to squeeze more oomph out of their demos, and go about developing their engineering skills at least to some degree.
I'm typical of a large group of people who routinely bounce their individual MIDI tracks to audio, then produce the final mix from those bounced tracks. The primary reason I do that is because I discovered long ago that I can have much control over the final results that way.
Here are the main points:
--I record my instrument MIDI tracks, making multiple passes to record all the CC data I need for a particular piece. That at least includes recording a volume performance and AfterTouch vibrato control. Note that I use CC11 for volume which ARIA interprets exactly the same as CC1 control.
--I edit the results as much as I want in the Piano Roll View. That means touching up any CC curves which could be more accurate, and any velocity values that could be improved.
--I bounce all the project's tracks to audio, then mute and archive all the MIDI tracks, turn off the ARIA instances and any other synths I used, and also hide all those tracks so they don't clutter up my work space.
--I start working on the project's mix, using automation control on each of the tracks, recording that data one track at a time.
--In doing that, I can without fail vastly improve everything I created in the MIDI realm. The most frequent example is that the fluctuations in volume which I recorded with CC11 can be even more dramatic. The peaks can be higher, the lows can be lower. Stray bits here and there always come out louder or softer than intended, and they are easily fixed in the audio realm.
--Even though I attempted to get a good balance between instruments while working just with MIDI, I always find I can fine tune those balances to a much more precise degree through working with the audio tracks. Besides volume automation, that also involves working with the positions of the volume sliders in the recording program's mixer.
--That kind of volume work with audio can be done on the "empty" audio tracks which are in a project while still in the MIDI realm, but with one big disadvantage - you can't see the waveform of the sound unless it's been bounced to a solid audio track. To be able to zoom in and see the detail of an instrument's sound means I'm able to easily see exactly where I can do volume envelope work to tame volume spikes or boost notes or parts of notes that came out unintentionally too soft. Seeing the waveforms on all of the tracks at the same time helps me immensely in working up my mix.
Percussion control -
Here's something that can still trip me up when working with GPO percussion. It's tempting to load that one "Basic Orchestra Percussion" patch and go to work. When I do that, I usually end up frustrated over trying to balance the various percussion instruments, both with each other and the rest of the project's instruments. Tympani, for example, is quieter than the cymbals. If I play the Tympani and add a cymbal crash, I invariably have to do extra volume tweaking to balance the disparity of volumes, but it doesn't quite work since the two sounds are usually overlapping. The solution is to use the ARIA menu to load the specific percussion instruments separately. Give the cymbals their own MIDI track, the Tympani its own track, and so forth. It's much easier to balance the results that way, setting the volume sliders in ARIA to correct the balances as a starting point.
--Bonus tip on the Tympani - Bringing up percussion reminds me of one of the most common percussion topics in the Forums - doing good rolls. There have been various threads with both questions and ideas on what to do. Here's a thread from 2009 where Graham Ketich re-posts my MP3 demo of a Tympani roll, and where I explain my process in reply #3:
How to do a convincing Tympani roll
NOTE that one of The Keys is to use the two octaves of alternating samples programmed in GPO. If you're using DAW software, there's no reason to have the dreaded "machine gun effect" which happens when the same sample is triggered over and over during a roll at the same velocity level. That's an effect we've all heard in non-humanized notation renderings - this mysterious booming sound starts shooting away in the background, and it's almost impossible to tell that it's supposed to be a Tympani roll. In GPO, each note is repeated two octaves higher. The lower keys are the left hand hits, higher keys are the right hand hits. If you play those alternating hits, you're emulating the way a kettle drum is actually played, and you've already vastly improved your roll's chances of sounding natural. The thread posted above gives the rest of the details on how to achieve good rolls.
A non-Garritan tip:
I'll wrap up this grab-bag of tips with something every musician could use, no matter what software instruments are in their arsenal.
When you share an MP3 by email, or by download on line, it opens in the listener's Media Player. Hopefully you always include the ID3 data with at least your name, and the name of your piece of music. But haven't you ever wanted a nice image to display in that media player, instead of the default graphic?
Here's a tool that makes it incredibly simple to add whatever artwork you'd like to your MP3s. All you have to do is direct the app to the MP3 and your chosen artwork, and instantly, the MP3 has the image embedded on it. When your friend or visitor plays the MP3, they're looking at what you want them to. It's very slick. Tiny app - just install it, keep it handy on your desktop, and your MP3s don't ever need to be naked again.
EMBEDDING ALBUM ART IN MP3 FILES
Any idea for future Garritan tips? Post your requests here in General Discussion, or if you have a mini-tute for one of your own tips, start that as a new thread!
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY AMERICA!