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Believable Orchestration

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Breed
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Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:01 PM Reply

Greetz NG

I've been wanting to write this for a long time, but I've been too lazy to gather my thoughts into an organized form.

There are a LOT of things to consider in orchestration and I'm going to share with you what I know, to try to help better your symphonic pieces.

1 - BREATH. Your flutist is not a god. Any wind instruments(horns, reeds, choir) need phrasing that allows a player to breath. Add commas(spaces for breath) to the middle or end of your phrases. An easy way to do that is to have your phrase end half way through the last measure of that particular phrase. Once you start thinking about it, you start to realize how unnatural it sounds for a wind instrument to just play infinitely.

2 - NUMBERS. You do not have a thousand person orchestra. Be wary of stacking up too much harmonies with something like a "String Ensemble" patch. These are mostly recordings of, or emulations of a full orchestra playing one note. Every time you stack another note to create a harmony you are doubling the number of players. This becomes a bigger problem with samplers, because a simple triad might turn your piece into a 210 player song and the mix will muddy quite quickly. A solution to this is to use separate string sections that each play one note of the chord you are trying to play. For example you have your violins playing a C, violas playing a G, cellos an Eb, and double basses a C, and you have your a nice rich and grand sounding Cm chord. Also, it's safer to stack these individual string sections harmonies as doubling the players won't be as extreme in terms of numbers.

3 - DIVERSITY. You are not Phil Spector. A wall of sound is il-advised. It is very important to have a diversity of dynamics and articulation to have a believable score. Not just the song as a whole, but each individual line as well. Try to imagine the dynamics of each instrument as a single weave on a basket, they should go over and under according to the placement and emphasis of other instruments. Proper use of dynamics can effectively solve transitional problems, and help to create deeper texture to your piece. Having various articulations can easily liven up a piece. First off, it can help solving the problems of need breath by switching from legato to staccato. Secondly, the role an instrument plays at any given time is mainly defined by its velocity and articulation. A loud legato horns will likely play the main melody, where as a soft staccato one is more likely to be part of the accompanying harmonies in the background, or part of thee rhythm section. A side note to those who fake articulations (for example using a legato string patch for what should be a staccato note), try to realize that intonation is very important in creating a believable fake. Good use of ADSR filter and volume envelopes can really help here.

4 - PLACEMENT. The orchestra you are listening to does not live in your speaker. Placement of instruments is extremely important to the over-all quality of your piece. Proper placement of instruments in a stereo field not only helps space out your mix, but also helps to "worldize" (make it seem more like youre there) the piece. Orchestras have a general seating layout that is pretty universal, with some minor differences in things like solo instrument placement for concertos and percussion placement in pieces with a lot of percussion. It's pretty simple to place an instrument using panning. I suggest, that you reference the picture below, or look up orchestral seating charts if you have a disagreement with this particular one. To add ontop of all of that, you need to put your players all into the same room by use of reverb. Discussing which types/products of reverb are best for this is a whole topic of it's own, but using a very subtle convolution reverb on the master track can effectively solve this problem.

5 - SCREW UPS. Nobody plays perfect, so if you really want to add that final humanization to your piece,it is important to add small variations in rhythm accuracy and velocity. Even if everynote of one line is supposed to be the same velocity, please don't do it. Many DAWs have variation scripts to allow you to easily randomize the settings of velocities and rhythms by a certain small amount. This final touch is key to creating a believable orchestra.

Now if only I could force all the symphonic composers on NG to read this! Blarg! Feel free to add any other tips you've collected. I'd love to hear them. And as always,

Cheers!

Believable Orchestration

Usernamemyarse
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:31 PM Reply

*Bookmarked*
Thanks for writing this out, im trying to expand on my orchestral knowledge and this one really helped out :D

Cheers.


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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:34 PM Reply

Great topic with some very useful advice. I've seen far too many orchestral submissions that sound bad due to lack of humanization, too little panning, missing depth, and occasionally overly-layered instruments that don't sound good when combined.

Not really too much to discuss here other than stating that not every piece needs a super quiet string-laden intro that lasts a freaking eternity. Sticking in an exciting, scary, or attention grabbing intro featuring a freakin' sitar and jazzy, tinny horns never hurt either, as the layout of music is not a universal constant, otherwise it would become boring and sterile after a while.

Variation, as the OP stated, is highly important in your pieces, and nothing helps more than creating a mood with odd and exotic intruments and scales that aren't traditional for said instruments. Hell, stick a phaser and autotune on your violas if it sounds good to you and your respective audience, there are no real restrictions - just listen to the relatively unrealistic oddity that is the first official Minecraft album! While not purely orchestral many songs feature real but sampled elements and are fairly dynamic compared to pop, rock, and most electronic music, creating a cool, chill overall vibe.

Again, great yet mildly obvious guide at some parts. Thanks for putting in the effort and really enlightening me with #2.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:39 PM Reply

VOICING & LEADING: Good voice leading is a phenomenally important part of orchestration. Generally, you want to move to the closest possible note in the next chord within a single voice. For example, if my chord progression is C minor to G7, my voice leading for each part might look like this:
First Violins: C - B (natural)
Second Violins: Eb - D
Violas: G - F*
Cellos: C - G

*Usually, you would try and keep the 'G' in the violas. However, since we're going for a G7 chord, and since G is the root (and is therefore in the basses), we move to the next closest note in the G7 chord, which would be F.

For lush, Romantic-style chords -- film composers, listen up! -- you can try the tried-and-true voicing (from cellos, up to violas, to second and then first violins): root, 5th, 3rd, root.

SOUND & TIMBRE: Just because you have a VST allowing you to use every single instrument in an orchestra doesn't mean you have to use them. Try doubling different combinations of instruments: for soaring first violin lines, try doubling it with a flute or -- better yet -- a section of strings playing 'con sordino' (muted strings, which lends string sections a lovely, airy Romantic sound).

KNOW YOUR RANGES & YOUR PLAYERS! I can't tell you the number of times I've seen people write lines that are simply out of the range of the instrument. While libraries like LA Scoring Strings and Symphonic Orchestra aim to record every note playable on each instrument, that's not necessarily believable. Violins can produce beautiful harmonics by lightly pressing down on the string, but that's not necessarily something your typical high school performer can do unless he or she has spent years practicing the instrument.

Other problems stem from soundfonts and default VSTs -- especially those that come loaded with programs like Logic, Finale, or Sibelius. Because these 'free' sounds generally use synthesis to approximate the sound of an instrument (as opposed to libraries like VSL, which uses recordings of real instruments), they often let you play notes that are well out of the realistic range of the instrument.

LEARN THE TECHNIQUES! There are plenty of instrument-specific techniques for writing. More so than I can cover here. If you're interested in this sort of thing, which can add more expressiveness and realism to your scores, I'd recommend Alfred Blatter's "Instrumentation & Orchestration."%u2020

(%u2020 By the way, this book also has a lot of great examples of typical part writing for each instrument.)

That's all I can think of for now.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:42 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 03:34 PM, DonCarrera wrote: Variation, as the OP stated, is highly important in your pieces, and nothing helps more than creating a mood with odd and exotic intruments and scales that aren't traditional for said instruments.

Agree 100%. I tried to stray from advising composition stuff by sticking mostly to mixing & arrangement aspects but adding electronic elements or otherworldly elements can always add great uniqueness to a piece.

Again, great yet mildly obvious guide at some parts.

What may be obvious to some, isn't to others. Everything I added in this I took from experience hearing others, as well as myself, making these "mistakes."

Thanks for your input!

Rampant
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:44 PM Reply

Also:

If you're using a string section, and nothing else -- e.g. a typical film scoring string section -- you can change up the panning a little bit.

Rather than having Violins I - Violins II - Violas - Cellos, for example, you can have the orchestra set up as Violins I - Violas - Cellos - Violins II.

This latter technique works really, really well when the first and second violins are doubled (that is, playing the same melody): it lends you a full, warm sound and makes the melody stand out even more because it's playing out of both speakers/headphones.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 03:54 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 03:39 PM, RampantMusik wrote: VOICING & LEADING

Very true! More composition them arrangement/orchestration which was my focus but true and golden information none the less. Voice leading is a whole topic on it's own for sure.

SOUND & TIMBRE

Also very true! Although to be honest I hear a lot more people using just string/brass ensemble and percussion instead of a good variety of instruments.

KNOW YOUR RANGES

I meant to add this as #6. A lot of soundfounts have the ability to play any note. If anyone is doing this and doesn't know the range of an instrument, reference a range chart like the one below.

LEARN THE TECHNIQUES!

Also very important for good composition. A lot of instruments have particulars runs and ornamentations that are natural for said instrument.

Thanks for all the info! Great stuff!

Believable Orchestration

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 04:25 PM Reply

this can be expanded upon if you open a soundfont up in nnx-t or nn-19 in reason - you can alter the range of any sound to cover more notes. I used to do this all the tiem to get more depth.


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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 04:28 PM Reply

Honestly this is much better for understanding than the one on GPO Forum. Thanks a lot man!


What comes around goes around...

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 04:29 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 04:25 PM, Chronamut wrote: this can be expanded upon if you open a soundfont up in nnx-t or nn-19 in reason - you can alter the range of any sound to cover more notes. I used to do this all the tiem to get more depth.

I actually mostly advise against this. A few notes either direction from the natural range can sound alright, but I'd rather layer in another instrument if I need to get those notes--that way I avoid strange or unnatural harmonics. I mean if you end up with a good sound, then more power to you, but in terms of believability it doesn't help much.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 04:37 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 04:29 PM, LogicalDefiance wrote:
I actually mostly advise against this. A few notes either direction from the natural range can sound alright, but I'd rather layer in another instrument if I need to get those notes--that way I avoid strange or unnatural harmonics. I mean if you end up with a good sound, then more power to you, but in terms of believability it doesn't help much.

yeah only in specific circumstances is it adviseable - some soundfonts simple didn't go below a certain range..


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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 05:05 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 04:37 PM, Chronamut wrote: some soundfonts simple didn't go below a certain range..

In digital music anything works as long as it sounds right in the end, but that isn't the case here as this is orchestral stuff. Crazy genre-blurring mindset of mine kickin' in.

But yeah, without effects pitchshifted intruments that try to sound realistic sound miserable. This is doubly audible when using a tracker like I do where notes can be played with the keyboard like a piano, so don't shift the sound beyond a few tones or semitones. Please. It just sounds terribad.

What I do recommend, as aforementioned by myself and every other post in this thread, is switching things up - but with obscure yet realistic soundfonts, XRNIs, and similar things in combination with your standard intruments and the other techniques shown in this thread. If no one recognizes what you're using - how can they determine precisely whether the intruments are real or not? I've had several people comment on my "playing", only to have to tell them I humanized the VST piano or guitar track about nine times and varied the volume of each and every note.

I'm telling you, people don't like hearing sounds they recognize from a DAW or other places, unless its a particularly fitting spoken vocal sample from a classic movie (not usually found in classical though, just saying) or your "signature sound". There are plenty of people who make it into the top five and get bashed by equally or more experienced musicians due to the uncreative usage of presets, synths, and other stuff. Being a soundfont hipster, as long as the quality is still present like in more popular soundfonts/VSTs, is PERFECTLY acceptable, if not encourageable. It's all part of diversity and percieved creativity on the listener's behalf.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 06:59 PM Reply

Awesome thread!!

Breed
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 07:01 PM Reply

At 8/17/11 06:59 PM, jarrydn wrote: Awesome thread!!

Those are the only types of threads I make.

/flex

lol but thx
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 07:55 PM Reply

Very helpful. I have been experimenting lately with orchestral instruments in dance music but I'm never happy with how it sounds... I never considered seating arrangements etc.


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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 17th, 2011 @ 09:39 PM Reply

that range chart doesn't display the extremes of each instrument. you can go an octave higher (or two) on almost every brass instrument past the stated range. trumpets can definitely hit C7 (although you have to have amazing skills+air control)

but aside from that,im a scorer,so the only way this thread helped me out was with the panning lol. cool thread though,i might bookmark it just for future reference.


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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 19th, 2011 @ 12:09 PM Reply

not every peice needs to be nice quiet classical music to listen to while your pregnant in order to make your baby smarter. You can take inspiration from odd places like aphex twin, flying lotus, babatunde olatunji, nusrat fateh ali khan, paco de lucia etc.... herbie hancock did a jazz reworking of nirvana's smells like teen spirit. Even the use of weird instruments such as a didgeridoo, a harp, a dulcimer, or a hurdy gurdy, can really tie a peice together


apparently I'm clever enough to declare myself as a dumbass

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 20th, 2011 @ 01:34 PM Reply

At 8/19/11 12:09 PM, dontpanic01 wrote: not every peice needs to be nice quiet classical music to listen to while your pregnant in order to make your baby smarter. You can take inspiration from odd places like ...

You are displaying an ignorance of classical music, which is strange because from your other artists listed it seems that you are musically inquisitive into many different artists. All kinds of classical and orchestral music exists in just about every range of expression imaginable.

Additionally, there are far more "odd" works in later classical repertoire than anything Paco de Lucia has ever produced, not sure why he was mentioned as a far-out musician.

In any case I like the spirit of the idea, definitely searching out influences from all kinds of genres and great artists like the ones you mentioned is a smart idea. I believe that any composer worth his salt will draw upon influences from as many unique places as possible in an effort to create a unique voice or musical vision.

....I hate how pretentious I sound when I type on forums

dontpanic01
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 20th, 2011 @ 02:50 PM Reply

At 8/20/11 01:34 PM, NickPerrin wrote:
At 8/19/11 12:09 PM, dontpanic01 wrote: not every peice needs to be nice quiet classical music to listen to while your pregnant in order to make your baby smarter. You can take inspiration from odd places like ...
You are displaying an ignorance of classical music, which is strange because from your other artists

Yea I know, I'll admit I that am ignorant of most classical music, that being said I only posted this as a reminder to any beginner musician that might see this.


apparently I'm clever enough to declare myself as a dumbass

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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 20th, 2011 @ 02:54 PM Reply

Playing music for your unborn baby has no proven long term effects on them. It's really more for the parent then the kid. I'd tell a pregnant mother to listen to Beethoven simply to listen to Beethoven. After birth however is a completely different story. Google that shit.

Also, nice thread. I never thought about that layering issue.

"Shit, here comes another chord. Notify the auxiliary orchestra to get ready for their C sharp..."

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dontpanic01
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Response to Believable Orchestration Aug. 20th, 2011 @ 03:04 PM Reply

At 8/20/11 02:54 PM, Quarl wrote: Playing music for your unborn baby has no proven long term effects on them. It's really more for the parent then the kid. I'd tell a pregnant mother to listen to Beethoven simply to listen to Beethoven. After birth however is a completely different story. Google that shit.
.

I did google that shit, I only found a bunch of shit


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Response to Believable Orchestration Sep. 11th, 2012 @ 01:50 PM Reply

This helped me alot! I've been puzzled over this exact thing and wondered why my orchestrations always sounded... flat, and not in 3D space. (And it is possible to do in a DAW, cause its done all the time.)


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Response to Believable Orchestration Sep. 11th, 2012 @ 04:33 PM Reply

Thanks for this, Breed! Really solid advice here with some of stuff I haven't come across yet even through my years of personal study on orchestration. I've added some additional comments to each section regarding my own personal findings and some stuff that people might also find helpful.

At 8/17/11 03:01 PM, Breed wrote: Greetz NG

I've been wanting to write this for a long time, but I've been too lazy to gather my thoughts into an organized form.

There are a LOT of things to consider in orchestration and I'm going to share with you what I know, to try to help better your symphonic pieces.

1 - BREATH.

Creating phrases that flow cleanly into each other, and also "passing" the motif onto other instruments can help with this. Also note that repetitive figures- rapid sixteenth notes as embellishment or long whole-note chords- can be annoying and "boring" to players. Even in those scores of band music for young musicians you see variation and movement in the piece (unless you play French Horn or Tuba, in which cases, the primary is stuck with off-beats and/or melodies and the latter is stuck with low notes and nothing very fun whatsoever).

2 - NUMBERS.

Also note that by using different groups, the individual timbres of each stringed instrument or part of whatever ensemble you are using "pops out" better. For example, a piece where you just plop some nice chords in with a string ensemble patch, you will hear all the stringed instruments which have that range playing in unison, either recorded live as such or digitally put together from sectional recordings. On the other hand, writing individual parts allows you to both tweak the individual elements (for instance, you can make the contrabass have a bit more oomph to it or move just the cellos onto holding the melody). In classical orchestration, you can even try using partial sections (say, 6-8 violins) and pair those together to create divisions with new timbres- (2nd violins and 1st violas, for example), which can alter the sound to get a nuanced feel.

Also, for those with VI banks that have both solo and ensemble sounds, check out the differences between having a group of notes played by solo vs. a group of notes played by ensemble. Usually the timbres of the instruments stand out better with solo, while blending is better with ensemble.

3 - DIVERSITY.

Once again, you must craft your phrases to flow and ALWAYS use transitions. I cannot tell you how many songs I have just clicked away from because they don't bother creating motion towards a transition- whatever it is, dissonant chords, 7ths leading into new keys, cymbal rolls, pick-up notes, etc. it is necessarily to keep your listener engaged. When you smack them with a sharp cut, the illusion of continuity will be broken (unless you're writing for that kind of feel).

Also be sure to keep an eye on the overall form of your piece- sometimes it is a good idea to shape the piece around a change in moods- for example, sad to happy. Creating that effective transition takes practice and a lot of guesswork and attempts, but keeping the listener engaged with new patterns/motifs and parts that weave in and out will go a long way in making people enjoy the music better.

4 - PLACEMENT.

I find the best placement is to NOT go too far to the edges... you want to keep it within the central 2/3rds of the panning bar. Reverb can do a ton, but only use it with care. Use your ear to determine how much reverb is good for each instrument. I find that strings, woodwinds, and chime-percussive just soak it up nicely, while brass and drums (especially snares and timpani) can get VERY muddy very fast. Staccato notes should get very little, if any reverb.

With panning, also note that you can achieve a feeling of distance through slightly more reverb and a little quieter sound. Be sure to pan your percussion too- even just slightly. Spreading and/or doubling is a nice effect, but should only be used subtly.

5 - SCREW UPS.

I know that Finale for one has the Human Playback engine, which does phrasing, timing, velocity, speed, and all sorts of other changes to make your piece just a little more believable, depending on the "style" you select. If you are using a different program, do consider playing around with the velocity bar for each note- emphasis on certain beats can create neat feels and imitate adding accents. Even adding little things like quiet off-key grace-notes can turn your MIDIzed piece into a recording of a middle school band with a crappy mic (if you ever do find yourself in need of that feel...).

=====

Thanks again for writing this man, some great stuff. :)


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Response to Believable Orchestration Sep. 11th, 2012 @ 05:47 PM Reply

We need more tutorials up in here. I haven't seen one in a while. Very nice one Breed, this is very helpful for musicians in the genre. As for me, I've been developing my own placement methods for ambient soundscapes. It's very interesting to place certain frequencies in certain areas in the stereo mixing. This inspired me to go back to doing that, as I haven't really messed around with it for months. Thanks.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Jun. 15th, 2014 @ 07:53 AM Reply

Bump to this awesome thread, but not a simple bump ;)
Here are some tutorials that I find extremely useful, with examples and solutions for many problems of our cheap digital sampled world.
Some address the lack of RR, some address the lack of attack on some strings patches...etc:
The Ultimate List of Tips for Producing Sampled Strings - by Gareth Coker
A Guide to Producing an Epic Orchestral Track - by George Strezov (the guy behind Strezov Sampling, go get the freebies)

Some people use a small more soloistic patch of strings to add more "bite" to their strings, I totally recommend Embertone Intimate Strings Lite, a free Kontakt patch of a string quartet.

in the end, I'll let you those awesome video tutorials for Danny Elfman style:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWBIIb7pwRo

http://youtu.be/1vAZCysu824

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Response to Believable Orchestration Jun. 17th, 2014 @ 12:48 PM Reply

Well shit this is a good thread. Can't believe I missed it.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Jun. 18th, 2014 @ 07:07 PM Reply

Indeed - cool thread! I think i will need some time to check out all the links. Btw - what do you guys think is the best midi orchestration book out there? I wanted to try out the one by alexander publishing "Professional Orchestration". Maybe the mancini or rhimsky korsakoff are still better? ... dont really know where to start :D

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Response to Believable Orchestration Jun. 21st, 2014 @ 06:48 PM Reply

Theres so much good advice! Im going to give this ago for my first attempt at an orchestral track.

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Response to Believable Orchestration Jun. 21st, 2014 @ 07:12 PM Reply

At 6/21/14 06:48 PM, 8-bitheroes wrote: Theres so much good advice! Im going to give this ago for my first attempt at an orchestral track.

It's something I have been learning lately too. The mainstream way of defining a real orchestra track is by the 'quality' of the instrument. While the actual way is to create the true believable orchestra work.