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Anmol Mishra January 23rd, 2012 04:25 AM

Using public domain compositions in a film
I had some questions about composing music for my film.
I have some foxtrot arrangements from the early 20th century that I wanted to use in my film. These are royalty free, so the composition is public domain but the performance is not.
I have to choose a notation program and then an orchestral samples pack. I looked at Garritan Personal Orchestra for high quality orchestral samples and Sibelius or Finale for the notation program.
Does that sound correct ?
I dont want the compositions to sound midi-like. And I've heard that Garritan has excellent samples.

Jon Fairhurst January 23rd, 2012 11:43 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Garritan's GPO is a few years old now. It's a complete orchestra at a low cost. There are *much* more professional solutions, but the price goes up quickly.

A notation program is really made for creating printed music and for composing. Having GPO allows you to check your work for completeness, but it will not sound human. For a human performance, you would want a sequencer program and a keyboard with mod-wheel and possibly other linear controllers. Sequencers include Logic and Digital Performer for the Mac, Sonar for the PC, and Cubase for either. Some offer free demos that you can try before you buy.

For best results, you'll create a click track, and play the parts in by keyboard. Using the mod wheel is absolutely critical for GPO. Keep in mind that strings, brass, and woodwinds play from soft to loud - and can do that within a single note. If you use a notation program or don't use the mod-wheel, you'll be playing all notes with a single intensity and it will sound like cheap MIDI. A challenge is to learn how to "perform" for the different instruments. Trumpets, flutes, and cellos all play differently. Strive for idiomatic playing, based on the instrument at hand for best realism.

You will also want a good reverb package. Real orchestras play in large halls and that's key to getting a full sound.

The pros tend to see GPO as a bit of a joke. It's fine for students, but you can do much better. Top pros spend thousands on libraries. At the top level, some composers will pool resources and create their own custom libs that aren't available to the public.

Probably the best step up from GPO is Vienna Special Edition. VIENNA SYMPHONIC LIBRARY > PRODUCTS > SPECIAL EDITIONS It's something like 360 Euros to get Strings, Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion. It works with Mac or PC.

For more information check out Welcome to the VI Control Forum! Musicians helping Musicians!. That forum specializes in electronic samples for composers.

Warning: sample libraries can be like lenses. You never have enough, always want to upgrade, and they are expensive. At least lenses hold their value. Sample libs become obsolete, and often the licenses don't let you sell them.

Best wishes on entering the world of sampled music performance!

Anmol Mishra January 23rd, 2012 03:56 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Are there any good books that take you through the process of sequencing ? Through the entire process of creating a song, entering it into a notation program, adding reverb, effects, etc.

Jon Fairhurst January 23rd, 2012 05:27 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
I believe that some such books exist; however, the more technical they are, the more quickly the become obsolete.

One book that I have and enjoy is The Reel World, by Jeff Rona. Here is a newer edition than my copy:
However, don't expect this book to give you the nuts and bolts of how to build a system, choose your software, and operate the software. It won't hold your hand from inspiration to final render. But it will give you the big picture. For the details, it's best to read posts and ask questions at Welcome to the VI Control Forum! Musicians helping Musicians!. And pay close attention to the post dates. Last year's "must buy" sample library might have been superseded by something cheaper, easier, and much more advanced.

For instance, ideally your libs will have "legato transitions". In this case not only have all the notes been sampled at many levels and played in various ways (fast, slow, intense or no vibrato, tremolo, trills, pizicato...), but the transitions from each note to every other note within a range are sampled. So, when you play middle C followed by a C sharp, you not only hear the two notes; you hear the movement from one note to the next. This is really important for strings, woodwinds, and brass. Without those transitions, the notes can sound computer generated.

For percussion, you want round-robins. If you hit a snare drum and get the same sound each time, it is the "machine gun effect". If you play a slightly different sample for each hit, it sounds human.

Anyway, there are many experts over there and many, many posts with such knowledge.

Vincent Oliver January 25th, 2012 12:57 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Thank you for all the info Jon. I am keen to get going with some music composition (ex professional violinist) and have just purchased Garritan's GPO as a starting point. I only need to compose some small sound bytes, but would like these to be unique rather than off the shelf. The big question is, what other equipment do I need (Keyboard, midi sampler etc.)

I am a total novice for this line in virtual music making so any advice on what to buy will be much appreciated..


Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 02:33 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Hi Vincent,

You will want a sequencer and a MIDI keyboard with a mod-wheel and a USB output. You will also want a dedicated hard drive for your samples, a good audio card, and good monitors. You want a PC with lots of RAM. Fortunately, GPO isn't too hungry, so a modest PC/Mac will get you going.

* Keyboard - You want USB, a mod-wheel and probably a pitch-bend wheel. 49 keys would be the bare minimum. I prefer 61or 88. Take a look at Alesis and M-audio. Behringer also makes keyboards. You will want to choose between weighted, semi-weighted, or unweighted keys, based on your preference. If you will perform piano pieces, get 88 weighted keys. Consider a used Kurzweil. You can still get replacement parts. My Kurzweil is about 20 years old and I replaced the full keyboard mechanism and battery for under $200 about five years ago. Still plays like new. It doesn't have USB though. I have a Midiman 2x2 for interfacing the MIDI cable to the PC.

* Sequencer - I use Sonar on the PC. Most people prefer Logic on the Mac. Since you're just starting, invest in a book or two and maybe a DVD course. There's a lot to learn here.

* Computer - GPO isn't too hungry, but as a string player, you will quickly want to upgrade your strings. To host a large lib, you want as much RAM as you can possibly get. A large lib has tens of thousands of samples and the first split second of each sample that you want to play has to be loaded into RAM for instant response. Before the sample "head" is done playing, the "tail" streams from the hard drive. Speaking of the hard drive, get a good 7,200 RPM drive that won't go into energy saving mode, if not a 10k RPM Raptor or SSD. If your hard drive can't keep up, you'll get clicks and pops. Again, GPO won't be too bad, but GPO is just a "gateway drug" to bigger samples...

* Sound Card - I use an M-Audio Audiophile 192. The MIA-MIDI is good too. You want a card that supports the ASIO interface. I haven't shopped in years, so there may be much better cards now. SoundBlaster does not qualify. With a non-ASIO card, there will be a long delay from the time you play a note to the time that you hear it. Play too many notes with a cheap card, and you'll get pops and clicks.

* Monitors - Get something decent, not just PC speakers. There are lots of choices. Many like KRK as an entry level monitor.

Time to get out the credit card!

Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 02:55 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
The last post was about hardware and the basic software. So what's beyond GPO?

VSL (Vienna Symphony Orchestra) and EWQL (East-West Quantum Leap) are the big players. They both require that you purchase USB keys for copy protection, and they include their own, proprietary players.

Vienna is more intimate/classical and is recorded "dry". You need to apply your own reverb. You can get the Special Edition and upgrade one (expensive) instrument at a time. The samples are very deep, including col legno and sul ponticello. Vienna pioneered legato samples.

EWQL has many diverse libs. EWQLSO (Symphonic Orchestra) Gold is a good place to start. EWQL samples the sections "wet", but you still need to add reverb to smooth the note transitions. Not too long ago, EWQL released their Hollywood Strings package, which is a pro favorite. EWQL has a bigger, more aggressive Hollywood sound, compared to Vienna.

Kontakt is the main standalone player (after killing off Tascam's GigaStudio that created this whole market.) Some 3rd party players bundle the Kontakt player. Others require that you own Kontakt.

AudioBro is a company to watch. Their LA Scoring Strings is phenomenal. You can play a chord and it performs auto-divisi. Rather than recording each string section together, it was recorded in smaller sections. Play one note and all the first violins play together. Play three notes and they automatically play a small section per note. With most libs, when you play a chord for one section, it triples in size!

VSL has a nice solo violin. Audio Bro has a "First Chair" product that is meant to layer with the sections. It's not meant for virtuoso solos. It simply gives each section a more distinct voice. EWQL just recently released a new solo string lib. I have yet to check out their demos, but it's probably excellent.

For Reverb, VSL has the MIR product. EWQL has "Spaces", which is simple to use and sounds fantastic. AudioBro just recently introduces LASS 2.0, which has built-in stage and space controls.

These products go way beyond what you can create with GPO.

Speaking of GPO, you MUST use the mod-wheel to make it sound decent. This is true of all the libs, but especially true of GPO. Without the mod-wheel, GPO is totally lifeless.

Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 03:40 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
I've covered hardware and software, now for the process.

Step one is to "lock the edit" on your video. You can continue to color correct and add effects, but the timing needs to be 100% done. Render to a 1/4 size MPEG-2 or h.264 file and import this into your sequencer. You don't need a full feature. You just need enough for a given cue - and some time before and after in case you will transition from one cue to the next.

Timing is everything in music for picture. I use three approaches:

1) Just wing it. If I'm not using a lot of instruments and the timing is fairly loose, I might just watch the picture and play. This works well when the piano is the main instrument and you just have some legato woodwinds over the top. If you plan to add percussion and staccato notes, this is the wrong approach.

2) Fixed meter, varying tempo. For drama, you might want to stay in a melodic 3/4 or 4/4 meter. However, the timing might need to change to have the melody start and stop and the end points, but peak in intensity at just the right moment. Ironically, one slows the tempo to add suspense. I've gone as far as a 20:1 change in tempo in a trailer, never deviating from my core time signature. I generally put in a click track with a basic melody, then I edit the tempo map to fit the desired timing. Once that's done, I play in all the parts live over the click track. If I flub it badly, I play it over. If I flub a couple of notes, I fix them with the mouse. The key is to play is as humanly as possible. Never quantize. Learn to love the imperfections.

3) Fixed tempo, changing meter. This is great for action scenes. You keep a driving beat during a car chase or fight scene, but to hit the right timing, you might start with 4/4 and go to 5/8, 7/8, 3/4, or whatever in order to have the music hit the right timing points. This is a fun challenge musically. Ideally, the audience won't have any idea that the time signature is changing. The key is to emphasize the beats musically and to create coherent melodies and counter melodies. It's all about the driving pulse, and hitting the right moments in the music. To do this, I figure out my tempo, and start editing the time signature measure by measure. To complicate matters, you won't sync perfectly with the hit points, so you end up tweaking the meter subtly. Sometimes you have to choose between a slower measure of 6/8 or a faster measure of 7/8 - or maybe go with 13/16 if you can work that in. It's all about combining math and music to best hold the tempo, hit the sync points, and keep it musical.

Here's something I wrote some years ago. (My son directed this just out of high school.) The first part is a car chase (case 3 above) and the last part is a requiem (case 2 above).

Colonel Crush - Sword in the Stone OF ACTION!

And here is a freehand piece (case 1) that we did for a 48-hour film project. I just kept improvising and practicing various melodies and chords until it came together. It's slow and legato, so I didn't need a tight beat. I listened to the dialog as the leading instrument. I played in the bass drum by hand, but as I recall, I tweaked it in MIDI to tighten it up to the bass of the piano. By avoiding a click track and playing the parts live, I was able to keep this score from sounding mechanical. I did my best to ride the waves of the performances.

Colonel Crush - Us and Them

There. That's my introduction to sampled music for picture in three acts. :)

Vincent Oliver January 25th, 2012 11:02 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Jon I give you a standing ovation and a big bunch of flowers (virtual) Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response.

Roll over Beethoven, here I come :)

ps just taken delivery of Garritan, I guess we all have to start somewhere.

Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 11:44 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Hi Vincent,

Glad to contribute. Just do me one favor - use that mod-wheel! :)

This video from Mike Verta shows the technique much better than can I:

Sustain instruments:
Mike Verta's V.I. Techniques - Part 1 of 2 - YouTube
Percussion, levels, ranges:
Mike Verta's V.I. Techniques - Part 2 of 2 - YouTube
Regarding GPO, it doesn't have crossfading. It uses filters to change from ff to pp. It also doesn't include sustain legato, but it does synthesize legato. The good news is that it responds to similar playing techniques as the better libs. The bad news is that it won't sound as vibrant as what you will hear in that video. The good news is that you have broad coverage. If you want to upgrade just the strings later, you will still have the rest of GPO to fill in the gaps.


Vincent Oliver January 25th, 2012 01:15 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
This is excellent stuff Jon, he is very good and explains things well. Must get a keyboard with a Mod, although can't quite make out how you can play the keyboard with two hands and still operate the wheel.

Was hoping to start on my first symphony this evening, but alas there is a problem with registering Garritan "Please contact Technical Support" etc. I guess I will have to start work on it when they wake up in Orcas (Washington I think)

Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 02:08 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Garritan was recently sold to Make Music. The transition might make registration a pain right now.

MakeMusic, Inc. - Notation Software and Interactive Practice Tools for Musicians

Regarding "two hands", that's only for percussion instruments like drums and piano. For sustain instruments, play single melodies or close chords at most. You can't really play a whole orchestra at once effectively.

In fact, a key concept that I support is to think horizontally (in terms of melodies), rather than vertically (in terms of block chords.) Sure, you can develop a chord progression including voice leading, but that just defines the constraints for the melodies and counter melodies. Guitarists often write music like a series of strummed chords. When I hear "vertical" compositions, my first thought is, "so, what model guitar do you own?"

Fortunately, as a violinist, you are more likely to focus on the horizontal line. Perfect music for me means that you can listen to any inside harmony as a solo line and it sounds musical and motivated. I've never been able to write perfect music. ;)

Another tip is to allow the music to become sparse. Just because you have an entire orchestra available doesn't mean that everybody should play at the same time. For instance, in Psycho, Bernard Herrmann used only strings. And even then, each of the five sections can have long rests. Not everybody in the orchestra gets to play the two note Jaws theme. :)

Finally, write idiomatically. I took an online composition class where we wrote a solo piece for every important instrument in the orchestra. The instructor gave us a poem as an inspiration for the mood, and listed required articulations (trills, double tongue, vibrato, non-vibrato, etc) that were required. Not only did this require us to write melodies for mood and story, but it forced us to focus on the instrument at hand. For instance, a flute plays runs quickly, while the contra bassoon is slower. Brass is more likely to play chordal arpeggios. Stings play flowing melodies and can do double stops, harmonics, pizzicato, and other "tricks" to make things interesting.

Listening to the other compositions in the class, a key problem was too much or too little complexity. Too complex and the piece sounds like a random collection of notes. Too simple and it's boring and childlike. The key is for the solo line to imply a dynamic chord structure and to repeat motifs that make the notes meaningful. By varying the motifs (even by just dropping one note), the piece stays dynamic. It's hard to achieve. So many of the compositions were either JABON (just a bunch of notes) or nursery tunes. And the class included many accomplished and professional musicians.

Finally, there is the question of an identifiable melody. Peter and the Wolf is a great example of leitmotif. Star Wars follows this approach. However, much modern film music isn't hummable. Listen to the underscore for a Star Trek episode. Aside from the main theme and the famous original fight music, the typical score is a collection of melody snippets that don't finish their phrases. It sets the mood, but you couldn't really put lyrics to it. Personally, I like melody and leitmotif. I have a hard time taking the melody out of music. But that's a great skill to have when you want the audience to focus on the story, dialog, and actors.

Vincent Oliver January 25th, 2012 04:23 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
Jon, words cannot justify the amount of gratitude I have for you. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with me. It will certainly help me onto the right road.

You are right about registration being a pain, I can't activate my product, I have an email from Garritan asking for date of purchase and which company I purchased it from. I hope I have not been a victim of some fraudulent company. I was caught out with a purchase of Windows 7 64bit, that was also purchased through a market reseller on Amazon.

I'm sure it will be sorted soon. Maybe I will put Symphony No 1 on hold and write a Tragic Overture instead.

Thanks for all the advice.

Jon Fairhurst January 25th, 2012 07:51 PM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
I'm glad to share. Frankly, I'm amazed at how little attention is paid to film music on DV Info, aside from the occasional thread where somebody wants to get music for free. It's no surprise. The composer generally enters the project well after the budget has been spent. The schedule already slipped, but the release date is firm, meaning that the composer doesn't have the time to do a good job - or to sleep! I enjoy film composing, but I'm glad that's not how I feed my family.

BTW, an established pro composer can complete about 1 to 4 minutes of fully completed, original music per day, on average. I can approach that when I'm in a groove, but it's not going to be John Williams' quality (understatement). Those are long days.

The most I've written in a short time was when we got "Musical" at the 48 Hour Project. In that case, we wrote the script, which included lyrics. From there I started composing before we shot any film. (That's backwards!) The initial compositions were simple beat tracks with string chords and piano melody. We then recorded the actors signing in the "studio". We put this rough music on an iPod and boom box, and the crew went off to film. From there, I worked to fill in the instrumentation for each "song". After the editing was done, I still had to compose the intro, outro, and all of the music for action parts and connecting bits. Doing seven minutes to completed film would be much easier than this continuous composing piecemeal mode!

Here's the result. We won Best Score in Portland, Oregon. :)
Colonel Crush - Heart Break Break In

Vincent Oliver January 26th, 2012 12:58 AM

Re: Using public domain compositions in a film
I totally agree with you Jon, composers always seem to be playing "second fiddle" in any production, yet the music score can easily make or break any film. I have been using Royalty free sound tracks for most of my productions, but these are now starting to sound like "elevator" muzak, hence my interest.


I have invested a fair amount in new hardware including a Presonus DAW and Yamaha studio monitors. I still need a decent keyboard.

I was interested to read your previous post on using a combination of single instrument lines, and don't over populate the orchestra this makes a lot of sense. Hopefully I should be able to get going soon, just waiting for Garritan to send me the activation key.

I enjoyed looking at your award winning short movie, brings a nice twist to Tea for Two, a nice idea - did I hear undertones of "Hernados Hideaway" (Pyjama Game Musical)

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