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Feedback on a work-in-progress old school swashbuckler!

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Jamie Treacher, Apr 24, 2019.

  1. Hello folks

    New to the forum and delighted to join! Seems to be a wealth of talent and good advice swirling about!

    This is a kind of old school (un-zimmery) swashbuckler thing I'm working on right now.
    It's very unfinished compositionally, and it also needs lots of work in terms of expressivity and stuff.
    And it's already nearly 9 minutes long. Sorry!
    A bit nervous to ask... but it would be great to get some feedback!

    I'm just working through Mike's template balancing masterclass (excellent btw!) and although I haven't applied any of that wisdom yet, I'm hoping it'll help balance out and clarify the soundscape a bit!

    Anyway... here 'tis...



    Thanks!
     
  2. Welcome to the forum, Jamie! And thanks for sharing the piece. Nine minutes is a serious investment on your part for the composition. Unfortunately it's also a nontrivial investment to give detailed feedback consistently throughout the piece. I did listen twice through it and was really impressed with your texture control. You applied quite a variety of textures across the piece and you moved between them quite smoothly. Bravo for that. It's a skill that I lack but admire.

    The primary feedback I have is a broad one that applies across the piece which is related to focus and anchors. As a swashbuckler of a piece, I expected to come out of the first listen with the main them stuck in my head and I didn't. On the second listen I more readily recognized its presence and repeats, but I found it often feeling buried. I think you have some latitude here to bring it more to the front and ensure the focus element that you intend is the focus element that we hear. Related to this would be that I felt you could have brought back stronger anchor points of bringing the main idea back into full clarity throughout the piece that be sure it feels connected across the nine minutes.

    Hope this helps. If it's unclear, let me know and I'll try to give more specifics on the weekend when I have a bit more time.

    -John
     
  3. This is excellent feedback - thank you John!

    I always tend to prefer music that rewards a bit of digging, but that shouldn't be at the expense first-listen-appeal - and that is where I've failed here.

    In terms of remedying it...
    Hopefully balancing the clarity of the orchestral soundscape (something that Mike's Balancing masterclass addresses) will help bring statements into better focus. eg. applying judicious EQs to instruments that are further back in the room etc. (I'm so ignorant about this stuff!)
    Also, as is obvious, the piece is not finished. After the part I'm working on at the moment (galleon battles, swordfights, chaos, etc) has run it's course there are going to be numerous clear statements of the full theme, even before the big final climactic statement. Having a sense of the shape of the piece as a whole and it's distribution of thematic statements should also help with clarity.

    BUT I also agree that I should have some more anchor points. And that's going to be the challenge because I don't want to be conspicuously crowbarring statements into an existing structure. But already I can think of a couple of moments where such additions/extensions could comfortably sit.


    Thank you so much for the advice. It now seems such an obvious flaw but, as is so often the case, it needed fresh ears to point it out.
    Thanks also for the thoroughness of your listening. You listened through twice! I really didn't expect that because, as you say, it is a 9 minute piece!
    I expected nothing more than for people to have a quick, cursory listen; and then say a word or two about what they liked or didn't! So your response has been very useful!

    Thanks!

    Jamie
     
  4. On this point then I think you succeeded. I definitely enjoyed it more on subsequent listens.

    Certainly not recommending that you need to retrofit theme statements into places where they don't already exist. More just about being conscious about where you let the theme come fully to the foreground. As you say though, it's not finished, so the current form may make sense in the extended arch. But just as a point of example, consider the build up to 6:19. Here's my rough annotation of how "forward" the theme feels at each time with 1=foreground function -> 4=background function up to that point.
    • 0:11 -- 1 (quiet but clear)
    • 0:24 -- 2
    • 0:53 -- 2
    • 0:56 -- 2
    • 1:08 -- 3
    • 1:20 -- 2 (sectional balancing away from bringing up to a 1)
    • 1:39 -- 3
    • 1:45 -- 2 (sectional balancing away from bringing up to a 1)
    • 2:08 -- 2
    • 2:28 -- 1 (quiet but clear)
    • 2:40 -- 1 (quiet but clear)
    • 3:20 -- 3
    • 3:30 -- 4
    • 3:40 -- 4
    • <break>
    • 4:20 -- 4 (loud but background function)
    • 4:25 -- 3 (loud but background function)
    • 4:45 -- 3
    • 5:18 -- 4 (loud but background function)
    • <break plus mysterious build>
    • 6:19 -- 2 (loud, mostly clear, but alternate rhythm)
    The dynamics of previous buildup into 6:19 was as high/higher than the theme statement here, so it feels anticlimactic. This can be partially mitigated just by balancing the building up. But I do remember feeling let down at 6:19 on first listen. I was ready at that point to be hit with the boldest, clearest, most tutti statement of the original theme since it had been more than 3 minutes since the last one (which was quiet).

    I am curious now to see how you bring this piece to closure given all the places it goes. Good luck with it.
     
    Jamie Treacher likes this.
  5. @Jamie Treacher that was WOW. Of course, I was already prepared to like it when I read "un-zimmery" in your description. :)

    Kudos for using a wide range of dynamics. Also, your track has strong elements of drama, which is excellent.

    If the piece lacks anything, it is a strong form. A strong form will help guide you as well as your listener. It could be that you have a specific story that you are telling, in which case the story is your form, but we don't know what the story is, except that it is a swashbuckler. Does the hero have a love interest? If so does the love interest have a theme? What about a comical sidekick?

    You get the point, I do not want to send the wrong message here. The piece is good and shows a lot of skill, and I'm sure you can make it even better. I sure want to hear the ending!
     
    Jamie Treacher and John Eldridge like this.
  6. Wow! Thanks John for such thoughtful analysis!

    I'm hoping that when I start applying some of the techniques from Mike's Template Balancing workshop it will address some of the points you make. For example the statement at around 1.20 is meant to be the big bold clear extended statement of the whole theme, but as you say it's getting a little lost.
    This, I think, is largely due to my template being a little out of balance in some ways.
    I mean, how do you think the balance sounds?
    I just don't think things are quite sitting correctly. I have yet to apply the 'narrowing the EQ' technique from the workshop to create depth, hopefully that'll improve things a little. And I don't know if the reverb sounds as good as it could (I'm using the So Cal section verbs from SPACES)
    But I really appreciate the time you've taken to help me out here! :)

    Paul - Thanks very much for your enthusiastic response! I'm glad you liked my piece.
    And very good suggestions for improvement. I do enjoy a bit of chaos, and that extends to my structural planning - but I really do need to learn when to keep things in check! Hopefully, when it's complete, the arc charted will help with that sense of form. But I should also see if I can tame some of the mess elsewhere!
    Thank you!
     
    John Eldridge and Paul T McGraw like this.
  7. @Jamie Treacher although you were not directing your thoughts about your template to me, I would like to share a few thoughts with you about templates.

    The best thing you can do to teach yourself is to do a mockup of a famous piece that you enjoy. Unless you are awesome at doing transcription by ear, like @Mike Verta you should use a piece for which you can get the score. You load the actual recording into your DAW, then you can A/B the real thing and your version. It is a BIG shock at first. This can be a very intense process. You will also find that doing different recordings from different genres (classic vs movie score) and different eras (1980s vs Now) that real recordings have a wide range of sound styles. Doing this will truly open your eyes to orchestral balance and tons of other issues.

    There are many postings of mockups of various pieces here and over on VI-Control. I have completed several midi mockups and believe that I learn a little more each time.
     
  8. Paul, thank you. Again, really good advice.
    I've never properly sat down to transcribe a reference piece to test template balance, and I really should!

    Generally, how does the orchestra in my piece sound to people?
    I'm wondering if it lacks a bit of low end. And this will surely only be exacerbated if I attenuate the low end of EQ curves to help put instruments in their correct space (as suggested in the masterclass).

    Also, any more comments about the music itself would be most appreciated.
    I've got too close to it over the last week or so and I've lost perspective on it in a slightly disheartening way!
     
  9. Getting "too close" is a very big danger. It happens to me on nearly every piece. That is why doing a mockup of an established work can be so helpful. You can keep yourself grounded by going back and checking the original.

    OK, for this particular piece, what should you do? Set up a new file in your DAW just for testing volumes and balances. I assume your DAW has good metering of volume? I start with the flutes and work my way down in score order. Record a long, held note using a sustain patch in the middle of each instruments usable range. Use the same velocity, expression value and CC1 for each note. Use G above the treble staff for flute, E in the fourth space for oboe, Bb in the middle of the treble staff for clarinet, and so on. Compare the instruments by ear, and by looking at your metering. Adjust your sliders so that the instruments for each section all match in volume. All the woodwinds match, all the horns match, all the trumpets, all the low brass, all the strings. One horn should roughly equal two woodwinds. One string section, i.e. viola, cello, should equal two woodwinds. One trumpet or low brass instrument should equal two horns in volume. This will get you close.

    With your template balanced, you then make reasonable volume adjustments during your performance, just as real players in an orchestra do, so that the primary theme or idea can be heard. But a full forte tutti will sound balanced using this technique. I would be willing to bet that your track is fairly close to this ideal balance as it is. The strings sound a bit too soft. The woodwinds seem very slightly too loud. Just my own guess. But we are talking about some subtle changes, nothing huge.

    Regarding the music itself, I like it. I think it is very good as is. Obviously, you need an ending. One way that I know it is a very good composition is that the time flies by when I am listening. It is never dull and lifeless. You can be very proud of this work. Write a good ending, then move on to the next composition.

    If you are still not sure about your template and the mix, hire a pro to mix it for you. I have worked with @Aaron Venture in the past. He is very good, and his fee is extremely reasonable. With a pro mix of your piece, you will have another source for comparing and contrasting which will be a further learning opportunity.
     
  10. Nice piece, enjoyed that!
     
  11. Hello Paul...
    Yep, that is pretty much my balancing process. I'm glad you feel that process has led me to a reasonably balanced orchestral sound. Although I do agree that maybe the strings are a bit quiet and the woodwinds too loud. I'll tweak!
    And I'm glad that you like the music itself! Thanks very much!

    And Jure, thanks for your comment too. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    I honestly expected this piece to be torn apart much more than it has been! :)
     
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  12. Hello folks

    Just wanted to see if there are any more thoughts on this piece before I let it sink into forum oblivion!
    Further opinions on the composition/orchestration and the sound of the mock up would be most welcome.

    Thanks
     
  13. #13 Jamie Treacher, Jul 2, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
    Hello again folks

    So, if you listened to my piece here, could you help me with my conundrum...

    Having enjoyed the Template Balancing Masterclass very much I'm now thinking of buying one or two more.

    I've already got Chord Voicings in my basket as I know this will be of use to me, but what do you think I should get next?
    It's always logical to start at the beginning - so I'm looking at the Composition 1 and Orchestration 1 masterclasses, but - and I really don't mean this in an arrogant way - I don't want to pay for something that I already might be a little bit beyond. So maybe I should dive into level 2?

    Listening to my piece here, and judging my 'level', what level of Composition and Orchestration masterclasses should I begin with? Or indeed what others... Structure? Counterpoint?

    Thanks very much
     
  14. Could anyone help me here please?
    I want to take advantage of the 4th July Masterclass discount - and time's running out!

    Thanks.
     
  15. Jamie: I think Mike's approach to basics are quite important for people to go through, even if experienced. Most schools don't teach this way anymore, and mastery of the bare bones basics is what separates the greats from most of us. Tchaikovsky's genius isn't fanciful orchestration, and neither is Williams'. I'd recommend Comp 1 and 2 for concepts, and for getting at what John recommended -- namely, anchors and focus. I doubt your compositions will be slowed down by re-visiting those basic structure and subject elements. In the end, it's $18, and probably a good refresher either way.

    Counterpoint is basically Comp 3. Mod Squad is helpful too. I really think with Comp 1-2, Counterpoint, Mod Squad, Structure and maybe Orch 1 and 2 (along with transcription) you could literally be set for years. Structure was quite helpful to me as an amateur both because Mike demonstrates the mirroring of good structure in every art form, and breaks down more complex structure to highlight the value of interconnectedness, anchors and subject in a piece. It's probably the one I've watched most. Template balancing is really helpful, although yours sounds pretty solid already.

    All That Jazz is pretty helpful if you're unfamiliar with that branch of things.
     
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  16. Thanks very much Rohann!
    I went with your recommendation and just bought every masterclass you suggested!
    Eek!
    Thankfully the discount is still active, so that at least softened the bruising of my impecunity!
     
  17. #17 Rohann van Rensburg, Jul 8, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
    My pleasure. At the very least I'm generating business for Mike ;).

    The quality of what you're getting is more than worth the entry. As Mike says, if you take the intro courses and just transcribe a lot you probably don't need all of them, but the others emphasize the importance of the underlying philosophy so importantly.
     

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