If their performance really suffers from clicktrackophobia (I made that word up), you might try a pass without the click. Now its the job of the conductor (you?!?) to keep them in tempo. Actually, this makes recordings much more natural, but it takes a great deal of practice on the part of the conductor. Try rehearsing it at home with the aid of either a live recording or a file from your notation software. It also helps - and I recommend it - to have all players leave one ear uncovered. This allows them to hear much better what those around them are doing as well as hear their own instrument better. But remember: If you are recording seperate sections, you need the click track!
I have found that with most small percussion instruments, in the context of a large ensemble, you can get away with only moderate playing skills, enabling you to do the part yourself. What I like to do is use sampled big percussion (timpani, bass drum, tamtam,...), but record the small stuff (bongo, triangle,...) myself. You can find lots of nice percussion on yard sales for unbelieveably low prices. Lots of people sell perfectly fine instruments this way. Get out of the house (scary thing to do for a composer, I know) and buy a bunch of percussive instruments for your arsenal. Get a nice microphone (I love my Oktava MK 012) and start recording.
Of course, percussion samples very well, so almost all of the sample libraries you can get are very, very good. But still, I think nothing beats a live performance.
For light drum tracks try recording yourself playing a cajon. Done right and with a bit of post-production it sounds very much like a real drum kit and for quieter tracks works very well. Playing errors can easily be corrected later on with Flex Time in Logic, so if you are not always dead on, don’t worry.
Have a listen to the track UH Gameplay 3 on my Soundcloud channel. There is a live cajon, heavily EQed. For the most time, programming all the subtle dynamics and maintaining the groove involved in a percussion track takes far longer than just playing the thing in and correct a few timing errors. Try it out for yourself!
If you want to learn more about Orchestration, you have lots of possibilities at your disposal. By far the best of course is to take private lessons (preferably with me - shameless plug^^), because nothing beats pestering some real person with questions.
The second best approach are books of which there are many, some of them I will discuss in a later post.
One famous book is by composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, called „Principles of Orchestration“. You can buy it as a book, but the fine folks at Northernsounds took the time to painstakingly prepare an online version, which is available on their forum. You get the real deal, with lots of interactive content. Korsakov’s book primarily deals with classical romantic orchestration, but 99% of this applies to film music just perfectly. Reading the book will give you a deeper understanding of how the orchestra works and your music will most certainly benefit from it.
So head over to Northernsounds - Principles of Orchestration and become a better orchestrator!
When deciding which instruments to record live and which have to done with samples, there are two big questions:
1) What is your kind of music? If you feature a solo instrument quite heavily, you should record that one live under all circumstances. For ensembles, think about using one or two real instruments per type and making it bigger with samples.
2) Which instruments can you replicate will with samples. In most cases, percussion can be done with samples, if necessary. One exception would be the timpani, they tend to sound better with real players. A piano, if only used for support and adding rhythm, can also be sampled pretty well. I'd tend to retain the brass section; if your piece has lots of soaring brass, it might actually be cheaper to hire real players then to spend ages programming samples.
Also never forget that any piece will only sound as good as its arrangement - if your piece is not arranged very good, even the best live players cannot make it sound good. So double check your arrangements before recording :)
Leaking means that you can hear a bit of the headphones on the recording. Some people then proceed to use totally sealed headphones. But these make your players play badly because they cannot hear themselves when wearing them. If you have big problems with leaking and need to use sealed headphones, at least let them wear it only over one ear and leave the other uncovered. If you have the technical possibilities to do so, better automate the headphone mixes so they go down on very quiet passages and go out nearly completely when the players have a very long break (you can of course just edit those parts out anyway). You can have them come in with a count-in a few bears before the player has to resume playing. This is complicated, though and you need to make sure the technology performs up to your standards!
It is quite funny to see how lots of people seem to forget there are other modes, too. Use them! Take minor, for example: Even if your piece is not set in minor, you can and should nevertheless use minor chords in it. The minor parallel of a chord can easily be used as a replacement. If you want to use F Major, but do not want to stress this resolution to the tonic so much, use the parallel minor chord of d minor instead! You can also use minor chords for starting modulations into other keys. Also, keep in mind that minor chords sound different from Major chords, but not necessarily "sad". This is what they told you in elementary school, because it simplifies things nicely. Trust your ear!
Not to mention the existence of church modes... these are a totally different world and incredibly useful and will be the topic of a later tip.
I then remembered the new Flex Time in Logic 9 and liked the results so much I wanted to tell you :)
If you set the Flex Mode on an audio track, Logic will analyze the material depending on the mode you are in. For percussion, „Rhythmic“ is the correct mode. You can then move single notes/hits around just like you can do with MIDI data in the Piano Roll. Very, very useful and the results are great.
Maybe that’s old news for you, but I was pleasantly surprosed and secretly vowed to from now on make sure I try out ALL new features on software.
In some cases, however, the instrument itself may just not have the right sound for the project. With stringed instruments it usually comes down to the strings used. Use different ones and try again. Woodwinds and brass have temperature issues. Besides affecting the tuning, they also sound different when they do not have the right temperature. If the sound of the instrument doesn't fit at all (happens rarely, but it can), try to get another instrument. EQing and editing later doesn't do the trick most of the time, unfortunately! You can also try to add some samples instruments later combining the best of both worlds.