This is the 1st article I've ever written in my life. English is not my primary language, you'd have to forgive any mistakes. I tried to write this article AS simple as possible. While this article might also prove useful to any person who wishes to use virtual instruments in his work, I primarily base it around writing movie score music. This is only the 1st part of the article focusing on what you need to have and know, it only focuses on what you need to, it doesn't explain how to, if it turns out well, I can write the 2ond part already depicting how to actually USE what I described you need, that is in my opinion, and advanced features of VSTi to write a score. Let me know in the comments whether I should.
IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT MOVIE SCORE IS, SCROLL DOWN, I give a brief explanation, and also some samples of my own.
Here's some common terminology I'll be using in this article:
VSTi- virtual studio instruments, basically just virtual instruments
VST- virtual studio, we could consider the program a virtual studio environment
Operator/host- this is how I call these programs which will contain the tools with which we create the composition, edit it, add effects, master it
Score- in this genre movie score, I like to refer to compositions as scores
Hello, I'd like to start this article with a bit of a introduction. My name's Andre, I'm a pretty active user here on UG and a lot of people don't like me. I'm 18, 1st year student in the Tallinn University of Technology studying computer systems. I went into music 2 years ago and I started with the guitar like most of you did, with time my ambitions grew and soon, after a few months of practice I started writing music. I started writing in guitar pro, I added a few guitars parts and thought it sounded too dry. So I added drum ensembles and orchestras, and once I finished, I thought that is sounded great. But I also asked myself: How would I be able to record this? That's when I went into the world of VST and VSTi. I was downloading various digital music editor, which I like to call either hosts or operators, because such programs I'd use as a medium, through which I'd connect all my virtual instruments and work. I tried all sorts of such programs: from low-end amateur 2GB programs to high-end professional ones of over 60GB. So it was a trial-and-error type of a run. Anyway, after I settled in on a very simple program called Magix Music Maker, I thought I could finally start working. The reason I chose it, is because it does not demand much in terms of CPU, it isn't too big, approximately 4GB, and it's very simple to use. After I found this operator, I now had to go find some VSTi. Fortunately for me, though, this program had some in-built ones, so I could start working right way. Needless to say, those VSTi weren't of the highest quality and one would easily spot this as something that doesn't sound quite real. But it didn't matter to me, because I could finally start working on something. I actually abandoned the 1st composition I wrote in guitar pro, and started writing music RIGHT in the program, because it's more comfortable to avoid using additional software. I released some music, it sounded well musically, but in terms of arrangement(how instruments sound, how they blend, how they are played), it was screaming amateur all over the place. Nevertheless, it was excellent practice for songwriting. I do realize that this introduction is getting quite long, so I'll start with why we're here.
What do you need for the PLEASANT experience of writing a score
1) The operator
First thing's first. To write something, you need something to write this something in. Generally I assume that most of you don't want to write sheet music and then distribute it to your personal orchestra, which none of us probably has, so I'll skip the sheet music part. You need a program in which you will start writing your scores. The most popular of such programs is Cubase, as an example. But I, personally, don't like it. Regardless of whether you had any experience in using digital music editors,
the operator you choose MUST be
1.1) Able to Support plug-ins
This is the most important aspect of your operator, because most VSTi are plug-ins. You download a VSTi, and you can't just open it and start writing. Just like you can't make a composition in the operator. In the operator, you can write music, but there isn't anything to play it with. The VSTi must attach itself to the operator and only then can you begin working. I will explain how to do this a bit later.
1.2) Easy for you to understand
I understand that any program you download for the first time would be more-or-less confusing to you. But you need to pick one that would be relatively easier for you to understand. This is also the downfall of high-end operators, they are too complex to understand to use. You should also understand, that the quality of the operator would not generally affect your composition. Getting a professional operator wouldn't make your composition sound professional, any operator could do it. You are the one who can make it sound great. A professional operator DOES not grant you potential to write great sounding scores, your VSTi and your musical prowess are that potential. If every program you open looks confusing, how will you understand whether it will become natural for you to use it? Just look around it. Look for the export and import features, check which formats are supported, check what the operator offers: mixing tools, equalizers, effect presets, perhaps even built-in VSTi. If you can understand SOME of these features, then keep it for now, you can always replace the operator anyway.
1.2) Suitable for your computer
Digital music editors are known to be quite consuming in terms of hardware, they need fast computers to function properly, so obviously you would want to find a program that wouldn't crash every 5 minutes because your computer can't handle it. How could you check whether a program is suitable? You can simply read the system specifications of your computer and compare them to what the program demands, or like I did by trial-and-error.
I recommend: Magix Music Maker
1) IS NOT EXPENSIVE, 60$
2) IS VERY EASY to learn and understand
3) Includes low-quality VSTi, which is enough for you to GET familiar with writing scores
4) Includes GREAT effect presets and mastering tools
5) Supports plug-ins
6) Can export in a wide variety of music AND video formats
7) Is used by me
Link to buy: http://www.magix.com/us/music-maker/
To write scores, you need virtual instruments. Even if you're lucky enough that your operator includes some VSTi, they are most probably of low quality. What does it mean, that the VSTi is of low quality? Simply, it means that it sounds unrealistic. High end VSTi sound great, and even if they don't sound realistic, they still sound PLEASANT. Sounding realistic is not your primary concern, your primary concern is to make sure that it sounds pleasant to the ear. However, I believe it right to assume that most of you are new to writing movie scores, so I don't recommend you buying anything unless you practice a bit with some free ones. Note that, great sounding VSTi are not just instruments, it's a library, meaning it containts many instruments. Another good thing to notice, is that there are some good free libraries available. Why am I saying for you try out before buying the very best? Because the MINIMUM price of a good library will be around 150$. Do you really want to spend that kind of money on something you might not even like? Also, good VSTi can also be tweaked: setting up the tone ,effects, and many other IMPORTANT things. I will explain how to do it and how to connect the VSTi to your operator in the 2ond part of the article, should there be one.
FOR NEW users, I recommend: ANYTHING BY DSK
I use: DSK Virtuoso, DSK Asian
2)Contain medium-good quality instruments
3)Can be set-up(tinkered with)
4)Are sometimes used by me
Link to free download of these libraries, and many others released by DSK are here: http://www.dskmusic.com/
FOR EXPERIENCED users, I recommend: ANYTHING by EAST WEST QUANTUM LEAP
I use: Symphonic Orchestra Silver Edition
1) Highest quality, high-end virtual libraries
2) Contain countless instruments
3) Contains ONLY the highest quality instruments and librares
4) Can be FULLY tweaked and set-up
5) Are used by me
Link to buy: http://www.soundsonline.com/Symphonic-Orchestra
3) Midi Keyboard
Note this, I included the word PLEASANT. This midi keyboard I am speaking of, is not absolutely required for you to write scores. But if you do not own one, you will most probably find yourself very annoyed and frustrated in the process of making a score. Therefore it is a good idea to get one, because the process of songwriting and arranging can be quite frustrating on it's own. What's a midi keyboard? It's, to put simply, a digital piano-ish thingy that you plug in into your computer, I will even help you find a good cheap'o one. Why would you need it? Because, if you don't have it, you'd have to play parts and improvise on your ACTUAL PC keyboard or by left clicking on the piano roll you see on the screen. It's simply much more convenient to use a midi keyboard for this. What type of a keyboard would you need though?
the keyboard you choose MUST
3.1) Look like a piano
The general keyboard, with which I am typing this article, would not be a very good keyboard for writing a score. I am refering to the musical keyboard which would generally look like a piano.
3.2) Have AT LEAST 2 octaves of keys
You don't know what an octave is? Then just remember, it must have AT LEAST 25 keys. Why? Because it would be very annoying and frustrating to write a good score without at least 2 octaves of keys. Why? Because I might explain it in the part 2 of the article, should I write one.
3.3) Have a MIDI-out/be able to connect to a PC
What is a MIDI-out you say? Look for round hole in your keyboard that says "out" and then you're good to go. Or it should have a USB cable that will connect to a PC. Why "or"? Because there are special cables that can connect from your "MIDI-out" to a PC, but generally it's better for the keyboard to have a socket to connect directly to a PC, because when you buy a keyboard that supports a MIDI-out but doesn't support a direct USB connection, you'd have to find the cable yourself.
it is a good idea to buy a keyboard that is
This means when you press softly on the key, the sound played will be quieter, more mild, non-agressive. Why is this important? Because you could write much more diverse tracks, and improvise much better when you have this option of "dynamics" when writing. It needn't be absolutely included, because you can manually adjust the velocity when writing a track, like I do anyway, because I don't record myself playing, I only improvise on the keyboard and then just put in the notes manually. But when improvising and looking for some sweet tune to start writing from, it will play an important role.
I recommend: M-Audio keystation 49e
1) IS NOT RELATIVELY EXPENSIVE, around 120$ brand new
2) Has buttons
3) Has buttons to quickly go up-or-down an octave
4) Shows notes above the keys
5) Is velocity-sensitive
6) Is used by me
7) Can be connected directly to a PC with an USB cable
7) Looks great
Link to buy: Amazon
The concept of the songwriting remains the same. VSTi simply offers you the potential. You need to have an idea in your mind, which can also be spontaneous if you're improvising. But I also found it quite easier to transfer the ideas that I have in my mind to the piano, than to the guitar. Why? I've no idea. Sometimes I have the whole composition written in my mind, and all I have to do is just find the right note to begin it with. And it goes from there.
What do you need to know to start writing a score?
1) Absolutely nothing
That's right. You don't NEED theory, you don't need to know notes, you don't need to know anything. Not even how to play the damn piano, cause I don't. However, you will most probably write something hideously appalling if you have ABSOLUTELY no idea of what you are doing. So it is a good idea to know SOME basics in music.
What would you WANT to know?
1) Notes? Octaves?
What does it mean to know notes? Finding them on a keyboard? That would hardly be a problem since, at least on my keyboard, there's a small letter telling me what note the key is. I can't really explain what it means to know notes. I suppose it doesn't matter much to me. But what I found quite important is this genre, is the use of octaves. Quite simply, C on 1 octave is the same C on another octave, it just sounds either higher or lower. I really have a hard time explaining this, considering I have no idea what I'm talking about. To put it VERY bluntly, look at the piano, and try to notice a repeating pattern in the placement of black and white keys. You will notice that the pattern is made out of 7 white and 5 black keys, and that the pattern constantly repeats. Well, those 7 white and 5 black keys is an octave, what kind of an octave? It doesn't matter, all you'd have to know if you move the melody or note playing in this octave to another octave, it will still sound good along with it as it is the same melody.
I didn't actually learn any theory, but I do believe it can help those who struggle with songwriting. I never had trouble with songwriting, I guess it came a bit naturally to me.
3) Sonwriting method
Everyone has their own. You need to find yours. How? Just try to write songs and you'll notice that you, just like the octaves, follow some pattern in which you create a composition. The reason you'd want to notice how you write songs is because you can spot some flaws in it, and fill them up. What could a flaw be? Perhaps you are stuck in a box using same chord and note patterns, perhaps you're always writing scores that are either slow, or fast all the time. Perhaps they lack dynamics. Analyzing your work and letting others analyze it will greatly help in your development as a score writer.
What would you want to do?
1) Listen to other artists
Amongst all the genres, I believe that inspiration is at most importance in THIS very genre. Having a full orchestra in my command, I could write virtually anything that would come to my mind, but it's all so overwhelming that you lose the track of your ideas, one replacing another every 10 seconds. So what do you do? Try to listen to some other artists, get some inspiration from it. Then try to write something similar. Writing similar? That seems like copying, but I don't mean write the same melodies, use the same notes or rhythm. No, in this genre, you don't do that- you capture the mood. Movie score music is mostly atmospheric, it is MEANT to create an environment for the picture. Look at some paintings and try to capture the idea of music suitable to this very painting. If you look at the painting of a winter? You would create something "cold", but it's not just about the general painting, look INTO the painting: the weather, the characters, the story behind the picture. Every little detail you notice would serve as AN IDEA for you. OR, you could go the other way around. I, for example, first write the music, and THEN I look for the painting that I believe would suit the music. Why do I do that? Simply because I like to experiment, I like my music to be in charge of my music, not the painting.
What is this "movie score" genre?
If you read all this article about some genre you've never heard about and came all the way to the end, I congratulate you. I'll use wikipedias definition. A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film, forming part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes dialogue and sound effects. The score comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question. What does it mean to you? It means that you CAN'T listen to scores as you do to normal music. Because they carry different meanings. I found that very many people enjoy movie scores in movies, but when they listen to them without the movie, just like they would a normal song, they don't like it, they don't know what this is, they are confused. Please do not make such mistakes, and when making a movie score and showing them to your friends you'd very oftenly have to explain the background behind the music.
Movies with movie scores: lord of the rings, star wars, inception, 300, narnia, harry potter, avatar and others which fit under the genre "epic".
I thank you for reading the article, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it. I'm sorry I couldn't cover the "theory" section behind the music, but that is simply because I have no idea myself. If you wish me to make the 2ond part which focuses on how to UTILIZE and how to USE what you could have bought for writing score music, write so in the comments section which I would check regularly. The reason why I didn't include part 2 right in here, is because I currently don't have time to write such a long article and I'm not entirely sure people will be interested. I also apologize if my article seems completely biased an irrelevant, I am simply stating my opinion, if you disagree with it, it is your choice.
All my recently recorded samples, 3 of them at the present, can be found in my youtube channel.