Opus 1

Only three things are still bothering me: percussion, mixing, and copyright.

The percussion has been giving me lots of problems. I usually don’t pay much attention to it when I listen to orchestral music; I’m a glutton for the strings and the brass. As a result, I have next to no idea what good percussion sounds like.

I’ve systematically clicked my way through every single sample that Hollywood Orchestral Percussion offers, and nothing seems right. Did my favourite composers use samples from other libraries? Or are the differences I hear due to mixing?

Which brings me to the next problem. Should I try to mix my first composition, or should I just hand the whole thing over to an experienced audio engineer?

Every article and post I’ve read tells me that mixing is the most difficult part of creating music. I have just enough knowledge to know what reverb and panning are, so I can expect a very steep learning curve ahead. I’m not sure it’s wise to try mixing hardware-wise, either. Reaper regularly freezes now.

Finally, there’s the tricky issue of copyright. I’d love to become an ‘official’ composer someday and sell my music on Amazon and iTunes. But I also want my music to be accessible, and I don’t really mind people listening to my music for free as long as they don’t profit from it or keep copies of it. I don’t want my music associated with any form of politics. I don’t want it used it for obscene or vulgar stuff.

The reasonable solution seems to be to upload my music to SoundCloud and YouTube and forbid people to download it, sell it, or use it for their own projects. That sounds slightly more conservative than what the average amateur musician goes for. But copyright is really important, so it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

Of course, all of this worrying is probably over nothing, since people aren’t likely to be interested in the first composition of a nobody. I must be paranoid or something.

Opus 1

I’ve been hard at work. I’m about halfway through the guide to making epic music. The first half wasn’t that difficult to follow, actually. I skimmed the second half, and it seems to be more technical—but it doesn’t look unmanageable.

Since my last post, my composition has expanded to a whopping 13 tracks. It sounds more lush and powerful than it ever has, although it’s still a long way off from perfect. What with all the extra tracks and instruments, running Reaper is really starting to take its toll on my computer now. I regularly hear skipping when I play my music on my DAW.

I think it’s going to be impossible to make my first piece sound excellent on the first try. I simply don’t have the experience and insight necessary to make music sound professional. The melody is solid, though, and that’s the most important thing for me at this stage. Half a year from now, I might return to it to polish it—to make ‘the final version’. I hope to be a more sophisticated composer by then.

Opus 1

I saved my composition as a MIDI file and loaded it into Reaper! I have now officially started using Reaper.

Here’s a quick list of everything I learnt today:

  • Reaper is much faster at loading EastWest’s VSTs than Studio One Prime. It might be worth using Reaper for the speed alone.
  • I thought Studio One Prime’s interface was overcomplicated until I began using Reaper. Reaper’s interface is terrifying.
  • Reaper’s interface is also quite ugly.
  • When I saved my composition as a MIDI file, all ASDR tweaks I’d made to its instruments were lost. But when I listened to it again on Reaper, I realised it actually sounded better without the changes. Lesson learnt: ASDR editing isn’t always necessary.
  • Studio One Prime wouldn’t let me listen to anything on it if it wasn’t the active window. So I couldn’t browse the internet and listen at the same time. Reaper lets me do it, though.
  • I’m using the 64-bit version of Reaper (I double-checked), but I can’t load the 64-bit version of EastWest’s PLAY into Reaper. Strange.
  • Reaper’s user guide is over 450 pages long. I wonder if anyone has ever finished reading it? I know I certainly never will.

I also spent some time looking up and following musicians (mainly composers) that I like on Twitter. One of these days, I’ll have to follow people and make playlists on SoundCloud and YouTube as well. I hate setting up new accounts, so I’ll probably procrastinate for a bit before I get round to it.

Opus 1

I found a guide for composers of epic music. It seems to be just what I’m looking for: a step-by-step tutorial which doesn’t try to explain every DAW function that exists. The last thing I need is to feel overwhelmed.

Of course, it’s still a long guide, and at least half of it is jargon to me. It’ll probably take me at least two weeks to fully understand it and even longer to follow it.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my first composition isn’t going to get finished quickly. The only way I’m going to upload anything soon is by uploading a sub-par file which sounds like a bad MIDI from the 90s. Since I refuse to do that, I’ll need to spend a hefty amount of time learning how to polish music.

Besides which, I actually like my composition, and I want to give it the treatment and attention that I think it deserves—even if it makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

I have a confession to make. My two passions are writing fiction and composing, and I went on a composing spree because I desperately wanted to finish something original. I thought writing a novel would take a long time, so I decided to make a 4-or-5 minute track first to give myself a boost of creative self-esteem before slugging my way through my novel.

But the learning curves for DAWs and VSTs are so steep that it turns out that writing a novel might have been faster after all. At least there’s no learning curve to pen and paper.

Ah well. I suppose it’s too late now. I think I’ll migrate my composition from Studio One Professional to Reaper before I make any more changes to it. My one-month trial of my current DAW won’t last long, so it doesn’t make sense to keep using it.

Opus 1

I have a problem: I have more musical ideas than I know what to do with. I’m still trying to make my first piece sound good with Hollywood Orchestra. Meanwhile, I’ve mentally composed at least 4 other works that I’m itching to make audio files out of. I feel like a cashier having a long conversation with a demanding customer who’s holding up a queue. Only in this case, I’m the one who keeps adding shoppers to the queue.

It’s strange because usually, composers seem to have more problems with the creativity. There appears to be quite a few software-savvy composers out there with lacklustre melodies. I come up with melodies that I love, but then I try put it all together on my DAW, and it doesn’t sound as realistic or powerful as what I heard in my head. The software defeats me.

The obvious solution is to be patient and go on. I’ve only been using Hollywood Orchestra for a grand total of four days.

There’s another problem though. I’m getting bored. To be more exact, I’m getting sick of working on this piece. I like it, but I’ve listened to it so many times that I’m not even sure what it sounds like anymore.

I’m not going to abandon it, but I’m increasingly tempted to start a new composition, just to give myself a breath of fresh air. The rational part of me thinks that that’s sensible, since I have no deadline and no obligations, other than to myself.

But a part of me resists because it feels too much like giving up. There’s a voice in my head telling me that I wouldn’t be bored if I had more self-discipline. It’s the same voice as the one that urges me to finish every book I start reading.

Despite what I’ve written here, I’m not anti-technology. I’m just anti-new technology. For the moment, I think I’ll work on my first composition in short bursts and try not to get stressed over it.

Opus 1

Trying to make sense of Hollywood Orchestra is driving me insane.

When I first played my music on Hollywood Orchestra, it sounded bizarre, like there was a room full of talented violinists being forced to play like stupid robots. Listening to my composition on a good VST has shown me how much work I still have to do. I’m noticing thousands of things about my piece that I didn’t when I was using my free ex-VST.

Composing with the free VST was like drawing on a patched, stained rug. Imperfections didn’t matter because the horrible rug hid everything. Hollywood Orchestra is white silk. Every mistake I make on it is painfully visible.

I’ve also noticed that there are too many violins in my composition. Why didn’t I realise that before? Probably because it all sounded so dissonant that it felt like every instrument was unique. Hollywood Orchestra makes all the violins run together into string-instrument mush. I need more diversity. I have so much work to do!

This must be bad karma for the times that I grumbled to myself about all the less-than-perfect music out there in the world. I swear that if I make it through this experience alive and with a half-decent audio file, I’ll never criticise other composers again! Unless they want me to.

Every time I get frustrated, I tell myself that composing gets easier with practice. Years from now, I’ll be so good at VST navigation that it will be like second instinct to me. But right now, later can’t come soon enough.

Opus 1

My computer can run EastWest’s virtual instruments! It’s alive. He lives!

The loading speed is likely slower than it would’ve been if I’d actually met the minimum hardware requirements, but it works, and my computer isn’t dead or dying. Nothing crashes as long as my DAW is the only program that’s running.

I assumed that once I got EastWest’s VSTs, my music would automatically sound wonderful. Actually, it sounds different, but I have more work to do because new equipment comes with a new set of rules.

As an obvious example, the time I spent tweaking note velocity with my free ex-VST was wasted. I have to edit velocity all over again.

I also have to change the pitches of a lot of the notes. EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestra uses the recordings of real instruments, which means that its instruments have real ranges. My ex-VST was probably computer generated because the notes went insanely high and low. I took liberties with that artificial range that I have to correct now.

I’ve learnt my lesson: VST hopping is a lot of work. From now on, I’ll choose the VST before I start editing.

Opus 1

I just realised that Studio One Prime doesn’t support third-party plug-ins. That means that I can’t use EastWest’s VSTs on it.

I only realised this after I downloaded all the libraries and tried to add them to Studio One Prime. It said on Hollywood Strings’ specification page that the VST was compatible with versions 2 or higher of Studio One. My Studio One Prime’s version is at 3, so I assumed that it could use Hollywood Strings even my DAW was freeware.

It turns out that it isn’t so. Perhaps I should have double-checked with PreSonus, the manufacturer of Studio One—but really, isn’t it enough to check one trustworthy source? I have half a mind to contact EastWest’s support and tell them to update their specifications tables.

It’s not a complete setback, but it does mean than I’ll have to buy a DAW. (If Studio One Prime turned out to be compatible with EastWest’s VSTs, I wasn’t going to buy one, ever.) Since DAWs aren’t cheap, I’ll need to shop carefully, which means that I’ll have to do some research before I choose one. And that means I won’t make the actual purchase for a while.

Meanwhile, I’ll be installing the trial version of Studio One Professional to run EastWest’s VSTs. My one-month subscription of Composer Cloud is ticking away, and I don’t want to while it away just agonising over a DAW! Besides which, I’m dying to hear what my music sounds like with Hollywood Orchestra. I actually woke early this morning to check if the orchestra had finished downloading because I was so excited. Haven’t done that since I was a young girl waking up on Christmas.

Opus 1

I subscribed to EastWest’s Composer Cloud! I really hope that my computer is capable of running their VSTs.  I don’t want to have to replace my computer. I’m downloading the orchestral libraries right now. Exciting things are about to happen!

I also took the time today to create accounts on Twitter, SoundCloud, and YouTube. I’ve been meaning to do those things for weeks, but I kept procrastinating because I don’t actually have a finished piece of music to upload yet. I finally galvanised myself into doing them today, before all the Mirinaes got taken.

There’s not much I can do now besides to wait. I live in Korea, so apparently, I benefit from the highest internet speed in the world. Even so, I’m going to have to leave my computer on all night to download the full orchestra.

I could compose something else on Studio One during the downloads, but I don’t want to tax my computer more than necessary. It already crashed once while it was downloading the strings. Very ominous. I think I’ll call it a night.