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Recording orchestral music for Massive Impact Vol. 14

Recording orchestral music for Massive Impact Vol. 14

At Shockwave-Sound.com we recently had the pleasure and honor of releasing the latest volume in our “Massive Impact” series of big, epic music. This album, and some of our others, feature recordings of actual live philharmonic orchestras, playing along with samples and electronics, for a grand, soaring, rich sound.

We thought it would be interesting to set up a talk with composer and arranger Iouri Sazonov (aka Yuri Sazonoff) to find out a little bit about what it takes to carry out a project like that. We spoke with Iouri about working with live orchestras and about the Massive Impact Vol. 14 project in particular.

Iouri Sazonov (aka Yuri Sazonoff) at the studio recording desk

Said Iouri, “I’ve been lucky enough to do a substantial amount of work with
orchestras in the past, as well as contracting orchestras for various
productions, from film and big symphonic productions, to instrumental
albums, recording for artists ranging from jazz, crossover, to pop
music.”

“Recording music with a real orchestra is such a treat… and at the same time, such hard work. Despite the growing number of high quality sampling libraries available to composers these days, the actual sound of a real orchestra is still superior to just using sampled sounds. The articulations coming from a group of real players are so much better pronounced, and even imperfections such as slight tuning problems, very slight timing inaccuracies and such, just make the overall sound more full, interesting and alive.”

So for a project like this, where do you start? 

“The process begins with composing the music, and that is something that goes on over weeks or months. I play with ideas using only MIDI / simulated orchestra sounds at this point, and I will usually come back to an idea or a piece a couple of days later, to see if it’s still good, if it’s worth continuing the work on this piece. When I have a rough concept for a track in place, I will send it to Bjorn (Editor’s note: that’s Bjorn Lynne, manager at Shockwave-Sound.com and executive producer for the project) for approval.

Ok, so a few months later you have a collection of tracks, all done just with MIDI and samples, you then start to think about recording with an orchestra. Can you describe the process from there?

“When I’ve got 10 ready to go MIDI tracks, I will start to talk to a couple of studios I regularly work with, to try to find an available time slot to accommodate my needs.

Careful planning is the key. You can never be too well prepared for an orchestra recording session. Without the utmost care and attention to every little detail in the planning stage, you are risking wasting precious time and money during the recording sessions.

I will usually block-book the studio for whole period of time I need. It’s not very smart to let some other studio clients in for an evening session, just to find out in the morning that your engineer has to do the whole setup of 48, 56 or even more microphones again basically from scratch. Been there, done that!”

How do you make the printed sheets of written music that the players read from?

“As part of the preparation stage, I do score and parts preparations in Sibelius, do few basic stereo stems, click tracks and MIDI files to be imported in ProTools into ready-to-go orchestral setup prepared for the sessions by my engineer. It all takes a considerable amount of time, but needs to be done, and needs to be done well.

I always quantize each part to be recorded live. (Editor’s note: “Quantizing” is the process of “correcting” each musical note to the exact musical time where it should be, rather than just before or just after, as a human would play it). Otherwise, the scoring program of your choice, usually Finale or Sibelius, is not going to recognize all that nonsense from the MIDI file you just imported, and it’s going to look like “mission impossible” for the musicians.

It’s easier to quantize notes in your DAW (Editor’s note: DAW = Digital Audio Workstation) than trying to figure out all the crazy notes produced by un-quantized MIDI files. People who are more inexperienced with notations will sometimes drop unreadable and unplayable scores in front of players, and this will definitely give you a big problem.

Playability, by the way, is another thing to consider. You want your score to be recorded quickly, and to sound good. For that you have to present parts that are playable by musicians. Mistakes in the score will always happen – bit it’s better when they don’t! So I double check, triple check and proof the read full score for any accidental mistakes that can happen just from the slightest wrong move you make with your computer mouse. Mistakes cost time, lots of time, and you can easily get behind schedule.

What would a typical “mistake” be in this setting?

“Let’s say the principle viola player says to the conductor: “There is something funny in bar 27”. You start checking the score and figuring  it out, but by the time you sort it out with the violas, the second violins have also got a question. And just when you’ve fixed everything relating to that problem, you find that the orchestra goes on their hourly union break, and after 15-20 minutes you are still there, losing precious time. I’ve heard a few times that film composers who record with orchestra on regular basis talk about time on the floor as hundreds or thousands dollars per minute. These people are usually very experienced and well prepared for the sessions.”

I’ve seen the players wear headphones that they have over one ear – what do they hear in there?

“When I produce my MIDI tracks at the preparation / composing stage, I usually separate the main groups, so that my engineer can create comfortable sub-mixes for the players to hear in their headphones. Different instrument groups often ask for different sub-mixes. I usually send them along with click tracks (Editors note: “Click track” is a simple audio track with just the ticking rhythm, helping the players to stay on time during the recording) and MIDI files with tempo and bar structure to my engineer. Hopefully he’s got some time to prepare the Pro Tools sessions before the actual recording. This will save us time while recording, and will let us have breaks when the orchestra players have their break.”

We’ve been talking quite generally, but can you tell us a bit about the actual recording sessions for our “Massive Impact Vol. 14” album?

“For this projected I decided to do the recording by instrumental groups – first strings and then on separate session I do the brasses. It’s quicker this way and makes everything more efficient. My engineer and his assistants usually give me a little break and build the setup the night before, if possible of course.

We’ve been experimenting lately with different sitting positions of groups within strings orchestra and positioning of the Decca Tree (Editor’s note: A “Decca Tree” is a group of microphones positioned in a particular way, often used with orchestra recordings) along with multiple room mics. Since I knew that prior to the sessions, I adjusted my writing accordingly — again, it’s back to how important the preparation is!”

“The string sessions went very smoothly this time, and I had enough time to do all the tracks and then go back to fix/improve couple of things I’d made notes of, something I try to do if time permits. I make notes on my paper copy of full score, the good old way with a pencil. You circle the problem instrument at the problem bar, write T2- or T3+ for take number, and so on. This way you are able to do it as you go along with the performance. I’ve seen lately many guys trying to make notes on the fly with their iPad, but the thing is that even if you are really fast at typing, the music goes faster and you’re missing lots of things to make note of.

Anyway, for my brass session, this time I hired 3 French Horns, a Tenor Trombone and a Trumpet. Even though it’s just 5 persons on the floor, we record them on all close and all ambient microphones (19 in totals) to capture the room ambiance. The brass recording went smoothly, and again because time permits it, I asked them to overdub (Editors note: “Overdub” is the process of making another recording of the same thing and mixing/overlaying that with the first recording) a few times, to do the higher range of the lower parts, and so on. After it was all done, we stayed at the studio for some time to transfer all sessions to a hard drive which I then take home with me.”

At this point you’ve let the players go home?

“Yes, now it’s just me in the studio, tidying up, organizing files and copying things to take home with me, to my home studio where I edit the live recording, stack up the strings and brass takes, and make it all nice and polished. These are the “Basic mixes” that I send to Bjorn for his final approval.”

What about the singing? In these tracks we can hear both huge choirs and a soaring soprano voice?

“Some time before I went to do the orchestra recording, I sent demo tracks to a great soprano vocalist I know – to sweeten up the sampled choirs and to do some solos on several tracks. It makes a big difference, again bringing out the articulations and making it sound more believable. I take some time to do all edits including soprano takes, and after it’s all done there is one final step to do, which is the final mixes, including the various “alternative mixes” such as No Choir version, No Percussion version, and so on.”

– – –

Thanks for talking to us Yuri, I think everybody will agree that the result is really great and you can hear more of Yuri’s work for Shockwave-Sound.com by following this link to all of Yuri’s tracks here on our site.

Massive Impact Vol. 14 released, with real live orchestra

Massive Impact Vol. 14 released, with real live orchestra

Here at Shockwave-Sound.com we are proud to be able to announce a new major release this week: Massive Impact, Vol. 14 – a collection of 10 epic, soaring, cinematic tracks, recorded with actual live philharmonic orchestra.

It’s not every day that we are able to release an album of real orchestra recorded music, because recording music with a live orchestra is complicated, difficult, time consuming and expensive. To be honest, you won’t find real orchestra pieces out there as stock music / production music at all. Not only because there usually isn’t enough money in the licensing opportunities, to justify paying for the recording sessions. But also because the people with the skills to pull off a real live orchestra session — preparing it, arranging it, recording and mixing it, just do not tend to be working on production music / library music.

So it’s not without reason that we are pretty proud to be able to release some exclusive, real orchestra music now and then. We do this maybe once a year, and this time we’ve arrived at Massive Impact Vol. 14. The 10 tracks featured on this album were composed by Iouri Sazonov (aka Yuri Sazonoff) and also feature a live human vocalist (a beautiful soprano voice) singing along with sampled choirs. We hope you enjoy these tracks. By the way, each track is also available to license individually, not necessary as the full album.

Over the next couple of days we’ll be publishing an article with a bit of an interview with Yuri, some insight into the orchestra recording preparation, and some photos from the recording sessions. Keep your eyes on this blog for more on that, coming up soon.

Live Orchestra recording with Shockwave-Sound.com

Live Orchestra recording with Shockwave-Sound.com

Today’s music composers and producers have an embarrassement of wealth available to them when they are trying to “simulate” an orchestral performance. It’s not like in the late 80’s or early 90’s when we had synth units with the sounds “Strings 1”, “Strings 2” and “Strings 3”.

Today’s composers tools consists of gigabytes of samples, where every possible note every musical instrument in the orchestra is sampled individually, and at many different velocity / intensity levels. The level of detail to which you can simulate an orchestra today is quite staggering. Just listen to some of the tracks, for example, in our “Massive Impact” series, all of which are created with very clever use of sampled orchestral sounds, MIDI, and one or two actual live instruments here and there to “sweeten” the sound.

Even so, even in this day and age, only a real orchestra performance is the real thing. Nothing beats the real thing. Humans putting fingers on strings, breath into reeds, fingers on piano keys, in an actual room/hall where they sit together, interact, the sound fills the hall and is captured there and then.

Recently we had the opportunity to take advantage of a real live
symphony orchestra, and we had two of our existing tracks re-recorded
with the live orchestra: “Arriving at Haven Village” by Jon Adamich and “A Grand Adventure” by Jack Francis. These tracks already existed in our catalogue, originally made with samples, MIDI, clever programming. We had them “re-done” with a live orchestra and we think they came out great! It cost us an absolute fortune (all those musicians want to be paid, and rightly so!), but I think it was worth it. Feel free to let us know what you think.

We will contact all existing Shockwave-Sound.com customers who bought these tracks from us in the past, and offer them a free download / license for the new real orchestra version.

The photo below shows the actual orchestra while recording our tracks. It was recorded in the Frankfurt Oder Concert Hall in Germany, January 2013.

Royalty-Free music with real orchestra

Royalty-Free music with real orchestra

The state of royalty free music / stock music has come a long way since the rather bland, generic sounding electronic tracks of the 1980’s. As the music library business has “grown up” so to speak, the talent, effort, time and money put into library music recordings have increased gradually.

We are now at a situation where some of our stock music actually features real live philharmonic orchestras. We think it’s pretty amazing. We took in 5 new such real live orchestra tracks yesterday and that’s what prompted us to write this little article – even though it’s by no means the first time we have this type of content in our catalog.

Of course, we already have a huge catalogue of classical music featuring hundreds of tracks with real live orchestras.  But increasingly, we are adding new compositions, non-classical works, film soundtracks and dramatic background music for movies, games and more, which are fully or partially recorded with live philharmonic orchestras.

Yesterday we added these some great tracks by John Herberman, and among them was this really amazing track called Vindication:

With its stabbing strings and horns, big booming timpani / orchestral percussion, this track is full of drama, guts and glory, aggression and pure fear, this track will go extremely well with an action scene, sci-fi or fantasy fight / battle, or all-out war. It will make the hairs in your neck stand up straight. If you want to license Vindication for use in your production, follow this link or just search for it by title.

Another track with perhaps a more “longing” sense, of dark drama, intrigue, intensity and orchestral climax, is this track called Return of the Warrior:

A truly beautiful track featuring real live orchestra, fragile string sections with grand, swelling crescendi. If you’d like to license this track for your film, game or other projects, follow this link or just search for it by title.

Moving on, we have this much softer track, of amazement and beauty: By Golden Pond:

Again, recorded with a real live philharmonic orchestra, this beautiful and poignant track will go well in a family movie, romantic drama or other touching, personal or thoughtful stories. I can’t imagine a better track for, say, a charity appeal or a cosy, touching, childrens story. If you would like to license this track
for use in your project, follow this link or just search for the track by its title.

All the above 3 tracks were composed by John Herberman – he has more too – here is a link to all John Herberman tracks.

But John is by no means the only one who’s done tracks with live orchestras.We already have the team of Dick De Benedictis (famous TV- and film composer for many years – check out his page at Internet Movie Database) and Thomas Stobierski, some 50 years his junior. Together they combined the classical, orchestral skills of Dick with the hi-tech, electronic, cutting-edge sound of Thomas, to create some pretty awesome music that crosses over between real live orchestra / Hollywood sound and the gritty, edgy sound of today’s hip-hop, electronica, industrial and funk music. Here are some of their great tracks:

Rebellion – awesome for war, fighting, chase, sci-fi / space battle etc:

And here’s one called The Toll, also featuring a real live orchestra combined with industrial / electronic / cutting-edge production techniques:

Those are two of the many great orchestral / edgy crossover tracks by De Benedictis & Stobierski. To see their full track listing – a lot of great tracks for science fiction, action, sports and more – click here.

In this blog post we’ve given you a small taste of the many different royalty-free tracks we have that utilize the dynamics and power of the live orchestra. You can’t really beat it with synthesizers and samplers – even though, I admit – you can get pretty close.

For a full overview of live orchestra recordings, see the Classical Music section, and also try these search terms in the search box: Live orchestra , Real orchestra , philharmonic orchestra, orchestral (the last one there will also bring up tracks made with samplers and synthesizers approximating the sound of symphonic orchestras.