Dude, are you trying to compete with Step? In that case, you're actually doing quite well, because you've already left some seriously detailed and super long reviews. Great work!
I agree with pretty much everything you're bringing up here, but as I think it's only fair for the receiver of a review to reply thoroughly, I will proceed to do so and go more into detail, hehhe. Let's see what happens (Edit: Prepare yourself >:D).
To start off with, I was very surprised to see that this is the track that you gave the highest score. I was sure that you'd be the judge to take away the most points for production, and especially for the percussion. But I totally misjudged your judging (so funii), but am very happy to have been proven wrong!
It's okay if no other judge agrees with you fully on this point, because you're easily the one out of the judges that I am the most happy to hear enjoyed the track ;)
I think it's mostly about preferece, which aspect you decide is the most important to judge. And good production sure does help a track get that extra awesome sound!
But anyway... Time to begin :p
I feel like I've always had a relatively good grasp on melodies in general. I mean, of course I've improved over the years and so, and I am striving to make both more complex and more simple stuff, but I've never had a period in which I didn't really realize what sounds good in terms of melodic value. I guess that is because I've always been around a lot of music. With that context in mind, I've become quite fast at making everything from modulations to variations to interesting chord choices and progressions. For tracks like this, I tend to try to either use the same chord progression (in whatever key I'm currently in, as that tends to change), with a variaion of the melody, or the same melody, but a variation of the chord progression, or both. I like this kind of less obvious repetition.
The solo piano verion of this track is actually one of my quickest works ever to be this good. I focused very little on left hand arrangement for the piano, as the rhythm pretty much IS the arrangement, and made all the compositional and melodic parts in about 3 hours, in one sitting. The reason I kept the intro as it is, is because that is what I started making this track with, and then I just kept going until I was done. I feel it would've been unfair to remake the intro after it sparked so many ideas in me :p
Alright. I actually would say that this track is built out of three parts. There's one rhythmic theme that is there 3 times (of course, with variations), kinda to lay a base for the rhythm and the track, and to have something to return to other than the main melod/y, -ies. Then, there are the main melodies, which are similar to eachother. I was actually afraid that people wouldn't realize just how tied together they were, but apparently my fears were unfounded.
The third aspect is the parts that are there just to fill in, and to get some variation other than variation, if you know what I mean. That is parts like the intro, 0:43-0:54 and 2:33-2:46, which are kind of unique for the track.
So I'd actually argue that the first time the main melody enters is at 0:25. The closest variation of this specific melody (a variation with the same chords but different yet similar melody) doesn't show up before the end of the track, at 2:57.
I would agree that 0:56 is the main expression of the melody. It's the most full one (what I mean is, it is pretty clearly defined, and stays rhythmically the same through the different chords). Other than that, it was the first melody I came up with during those three hours when I made the composition that I was happy with and knew that this would be a thing. Originally, this track was meant for the first round, but things would've gotten too complicated and rushed if we would've tried to work with it, so we saved it for here.
My own favorite variation of the melody from this track is probably at 1:33. It's the most free one, and it's the one that most easily sticks with me. Most of the different parts of this composition were inspired by several different JRPG battle themes, and while the 'main expression' was inspired by the battle theme from Final Fantasy X, I'd say that 1:33 was inspired by the battle theme from Final Fantasy XIII (one of the few really good tracks from the game). The main rhythmic parts that repeat were inspired by the battle theme from Final Fantasy VII. The intro is mostly inspired by Dancing Mad from FFVI, and there's some Clash on the Big Bridge (FFXII version) over the track as well, mostly in the snares and the marimba. Other than that, there is a lot of Kingdom Hearts hidden in miscellaneous aspects of the piece. So as you can see, I had quite a heavy list of inspirations for this track. Of course, there are some other (mainly retro) games that were part of my inspiration as well, but those are the main ones :p
As for 1:06, I wouldn't call it a variation. You're right in that there is a modulation there, but as it's the exact same intruments as before, and the same rhythm, I'd say it's tied together enough to be a part of the same main theme. But that's free for anyone to interpret how they like to :D
The variation at 1:17 with the flute and the piano is one of my firend's favorite parts. It uses different (and longer, such as B minor add 9 [but the 7 can be included if one wants to], and C# minor 7 and such) chords than some of the simpler parts of the track (though most of the chords in the entire track, now that I think about it, are rather complex chords). This gives it a bit of a separate mood from the rest of the composition, somehow. I'd say that this is even more prominent in the solo piano version :p
Interesting how we noticed that the basic melody from this particular part is actually not that rare XD
1:50 to 1:55 is indeed a bit different, though I still feel it's connected. Here, I actually used some pretty neat chord changes (again). The three chords from 1:48 to 1:55 are Badd9, D6, and C#7, which are only used in this particular way at this point in the composition.
2:00 is one of those spots where I take a short break from the main melody, and instead return to the rhythm I originally included at 0:20, but of course, with variations in the melodies. I have that same base running, but I also play like 3 different melodies on top of each other, while the marimba has some fun (and is actually moving its panning live, which would be very difficult to replicate in real life).
As for how I make every melody remind you of the earlier melodies, I'd say it's all hidden in the rhythm. I mean, part of it is in the melodies, of course, and part in the chords. But I'll see if I can do a montage here...
0:26-0:27 | 0:56-0:57 | 1:01-1:02 | 1:06-1:07 | 1:17-1:18 | 1:34-1:36 | 2:10-2:11 | 2:59-3:00 | and 3:06-3:07 |
Yeah... By listening to those parts, one can actually hear exactly how the melodies mainly tie together. Another thing that unites them are those two cool notes that usually comes before that quick upwardsgoing thingey that I don't know how to explain. Come to think of it, I totally missed out on that same rhythmic melody going downwards instead! Now I made myself a bit disappointed... Those two first notes could go from down to up instead, and then that other thingey could go down, and then there's be another awesome melody... Oh well, maybe next time XD
I'm actually not happy with the volume balance at 2:33. Maybe I'll return to this track in 20 years when I actually know what I am doing?
But otherwise, yeah. What is it, 9 modulations in 11 seconds? I'm not even sure if that counts as modulations, but it sounds pretty cool. Actually, I made something similar in my pirate track earlier, but with different chords and a different rhythm. NO KEY CAN CONTAIN ME!
I try to return to the original key by the end of a track though, unless there's a storytelling reason for me not to. Of course, as this is a loop, I made something that leads back to the first chord at the end.
I'd say that if you ignore the percussion, this is the part I spent the most time on. I tried using as many instruments as possible out of the ones that were available to me, as long as they fit the track. Thus, I couldn't really use clarinets and such, but different kinds of strings, and some horns and trumpets. And apart from the piano version, I actually added a lot of secondary melodies below the main ones, to keep this interesting to listen to several times. So when I didn't use the french horn as a main melody, I tried to have it do interesting things on another layer, like at 0:55 or 2:58. And at parts like 2:09, you can actually hear the entire backing track playing a separate melody from the main one if you focus on it. Other than that, there's the main rhythm that keeps everything together, as well as the piano at parts, a well hidden harp, a well hidden timpani (I only wanted it to give some extra power to the rhythm, so I kept it super silent but strong enough to make a difference), the marimba, as well as a few atmospheric effects that are just kinda there at two hidden parts, but don't take much room. The percussion, alas, is indeed severely suffering :(
That is the intrumental part of the arrangement. Other than that, it's the structure, but I've already gone over my thoughts about how I feel it works and goes.
"...production quality low."
=> HOW DARE YOU!!!
Jk, of course. I already knew I'd lose a lot of points due to this and the percussion. But given the time we had, and how overly complex I chose to make the track, we didn't have time to make dem0lecule's version much good.
As for humanization and such, I really didn't have time to do a full job of it. The attack is indeed the same for most of the trumpet hits at 0:56, and the same goes for many other intruments at many other parts. The velocities, I had time to vary the most, and for some of the solo strings, I did do a few things to make them less stale. But for the most part, I would've needed much more skill, but mostly, time to do this properly. It doesn't help that this track is divided between 7 different Cubase projects, due to several reasons either XD
As for the mix, I barely managed to make it work at all, so making it good is a whole new step. I should really practice by using less intruments to learn the basics, instead of by cramming 20 different ones together at the same time!
For 1:57, the problem is probably that I have the harp (the very backgroundish harp) from the earlier section here, as it plays all the way until 1:56, and I probably forgot to kill the volume of its remains, so to say...
The other intruments leave something in the air too, so you probably have a good point here :D
At 2:20, I intentionally made the solo viola (*cough* oboe *cough* such was the day when johnfn decided never to guess orchestral intruments again [I mean, I know the quality is not good, but dude...]) quieter, but maybe I shouldn't have. I did this because I wanted the backing track to grab some more attention here. Now if that is what you were talking about, it's a french horn, some trombone (basic brass) hits, as well as a few other things.
I actually think that 2:33 is worse in its balance though. It just feels like the track gets quieter for no reason when the percussion goes away. Should've done something about that...
Either way. I agree with everything about the percussion. There are 3 problems the way I see it. I don't have much in way of percussion vst's yet. I am really not good at using percussion yet. And I definitely didn't have time to use much else than the snare, the closed hi hat, the crashes and a gong. I should (and will) definitely do my best to improve on this in the future. I'll make sure to check that video (track) out as reference!!
As for 1:20, I see what you mean, even though I don't feel it is a huge issue. Especially not as my friend said that it's one of his favorite parts :p
Oh, I'm entirely out of characters, hahha XD
Man. This may well be the most awesome review I've ever gotten. It made me super happy, and it is constructive as well. Thanks a million johnfn!! Made my day both yesterday and today ;)