Realism in your music

So obviously a machine playing a piece of music is never going to QUITE sound the same as real people doing it in a real environment, but I listen to some of the things people have done with there recordings from VDL (particularly some of the stuff you have done Jim) and I notice that it doesn't sound like the VDL I am using (let alone VDL at all!) lol... So are there any tricks out there that you use to give your music a certain realism?

- Sam
Sam,

Which specific aspects of the recordings you've heard sound more realistic than yours? Accent to tap balance, overall ensemble balance, ambience of recording (reverb et al), musical phrasing, perhaps stereo panning?

Many people use more than just the standard notation software + VDL2 (or 2.5) a la Kontakt Player setup, enabling them to have more control over how they can change the sound output or the end product. I am not a Finale expert, so I'm sure guys like Scott will be able to chime in with pertinent information regarding that.

Go back and make more notes about what you're hearing and perhaps you might find the answer to your problem. If it's accent to tap balance, or just balance within a particular instrument, there are ways of manipulating velocity values and whatnot to make them sound more refined--so to speak. If it's over ensemble balance, you can do the same thing or just adjust the instruments in the mixer of your notation software.  If it's musical phrasing, it might have to do with relative dynamic markings from one instrument to the next and how you pace hairpins when they arise. You would also be surprised how a little bit of panning (adjust the L/R channels of the output) will give a recording an added sense of realism.

Do a little more research then see if you can put your finger on what it is you feel you're missing in making your recordings. Hope this helps at least a little.

Hey, Sam.

Like Bryan says, if you can give some specifics as to what you feel you are lacking or what you would like to hear more in your own writing, we can certainly help you get there.�� Finale (and Sibelius) have a lot of things they can do from within the notation environment, but will not do as much as a sequencer will allow.

Let us know, or maybe even post a sample and we can help you improve your files and give you some suggestions.��
I certainly have not achieved the Zen-like nature of those who post their amazing demos, but have made great strides in this area. This is due in large part to my understanding of how to better manipulate dynamics in Sibelius. Being able to adjust the percentage of hairpins has been extremely valuable. Tinkering (almost endlessly) in the mixer has also yielded happy results. Even hiding dynamics to boost a voice while retaining a reasonable printed dynamic has helped a lot.

My experiments with panning sounds left and right has resulted in some really contrived blends. But as I improve on this, I suspect that it will help take my recordings to the next level.

And for what it's worth, I think it is important to remember what venue you are considering when you make your recordings. Mine is nearly always as a reference to pass out to my students, but if you are trying to essentially create a track ready to go on your next album, then you will certainly have far higher standards and priorities than I will.

Good luck in your endeavors. I'm looking forward to hearing other folks thoughts, too!
[quote author=erath link=topic=2045.msg10369#msg10369 date=1192587478]
Good luck in your endeavors. I'm looking forward to hearing other folks thoughts, too!
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Yeah, this is a great thread. All you folks smarter than me keep chiming in!
You can do a lot more if you use a DAW like Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, Reaper, and so on to do your mix.

This might take a bit more time, but you'll get some cool results from it.

1.) Remove all of your dynamics and panning info from your Sibelius/Finale score.  Export as you normally would (either MIDI or if you like to do each instrument one by one for audio).

In the DAW, you can automate dynamic changes quite easily and make them a lot more realistic.

2.) EQ is your friend.  You'll find out quickly that synths, timpani, bass drums, and the low end of marimbas all live in about the same frequency range.  When playing all together, these sections melt into each other and get lost.

3.) Compression can give you a lot of drive, but remember too much will kill any dynamic feel and can also ruin the rhythmic feel of the tune.

4.) Use reverb to your advantage.  Using a slight amount of reverb on snares, quads, basses, synths, lead mallets, bells, and so on will give your mix some depth.  Same as everything though, too much will make the mix muddy.

5.) When setting volume levels, think of your listening audience and physical depth of your ensemble.

6.) When panning, pan each instrument to the approximate area it would be when looking at the ensemble from the front.  Panning also helps separate each instrument into their own little area, and can solve a lot of frequency issues.
Wow well first let me thank everyone for all the responses. So yeah things that I might like to explore more thoroughly would be things like EQ and reverb and definitely accent to tap ratio. So for instance, some of you mentioned changing the pan settings for each instrument, how might i do that through out a piece so that it does it automatically during the playback?
As for an audio sample of what some of my stuff sounds like, if you guys go to the user submitted demos, I submitted the one of the westview high school drum feature. It sounds ok, but then go to the official demos and listen to something like the native echoes where he has it sounding like they are in a giant arena and the balance and blend is really well done, thats the kind of stuff I would like to know how to do. Thanks again for all the input everyone.

- Sam
Sam,

Well, the first thing you need is time and patience :-)

The reverb used in that Native Echoes demo is the reverb included with Kontakt 2 with the specs:

Pre Delay: 26.5ms
Size: 82.8
Colour: 61.4
Damping: 42.6
Setero: 80
Dry: 0
Wet: 2.3db

However, you can download a program like Audacity and tools around with the included effects--some of which are reverb and level/amplification related--and start to tweak your recordings a bit more.

The panning can be adjusted for a piece when you are in studio view in Finale (I believe that is what it's called), and those settings will apply throughout that particular file. 

I'm sure others will have more to offer.
Hey Bryan,

Thanks! :) thats kind of cool. I never knew you could do that stuff with kontakt.
Keep in mind, that since VDL 2.5 comes in Kontakt Player 2, all those cool effects are available without needing to upgrade to the full version of Kontakt!
What Jim said!  A lot of these effects don't require a DAW, so if you don't have one, don't fret.  Tinker with the VDL2.5 effects, and see what you like!  You'll be able to achieve results very quickly within the KP2 module.  Can DAWs do more?  Sure.  But if you're just writing with Sibelius, try turning off the reverb in Sibelius (!) and then fiddle with the effects that comes with.  You'll find that many crazy results can be achieved.

Samples are often intentionally ";dry"; with the expectation that you will ";sweeten"; their sound the way you want it.  The reason is that you can't un-reverb a sample.  Once an effect is in the sample, it's permanent, thus samples are made without effect so that you can do what you want with it.  The VDL samples are excellent out of the box, but if you get your hands dirty, you can do some amazing things.  I know with Kontakt alone I was able to reposition all of the drums so the basses sounded like they were on the right (I reverse my lines so I can see left hands of bass drummers), tenors on the left, and the snares wider, all with a better presence (eq), clearer, deeper bass, and an appropriate amount of reverb.
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