A Roundup of Black Friday Deals

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve gotten a number of emails in the last few days with all sorts of early holiday promotions. Here in the U.S., these typically begin the day after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Black Friday. Here’s a partial list of discounts. Go get yourself some cheap merch!

  • Native Instruments is offering 50% off all Komplete instruments and effects, 50% off Maschine expansions and 50% off Traktor Pro 2, through November 26.
  • EastWest also has 50% off most of their virtual instruments, everything but the Complete Composers Collection and Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds. Their sale lasts all the way until December 31st.
  • Waves is having a Black Friday sale but are keeping the details secret until November 23rd is giving away their One Knob: Louder compressor/limiter for free and offering up to 80% off the rest of their collection. Looks like most bundles and plugins are 40% off.
  • Sweetwater’s 8 Days of Black Friday Sale has lots of great deals on hardware and software. Highlights include Toontrack EZdrummer for $29.99 and 70–75% off select Alesis products.
  • Slate Digital is offering all their products for 20% off throughout November, including their new Virtual Tape Machine, which is getting great reviews. Plus, if you own other qualifying Steven Slate products you’ll get an additional $50 off VTM.
  • Lastly, Plugin Alliance is having a sale this week: 30% off one or two plugins and 50% off three or more. Follow them on Facebook for even more deals.
  • EDIT: Look for other deals from Ilio, Soundiron, McDSPeSoundz and Vintage King Audio (for those of you looking for hardware).

Again, this is just a small sampling of this weekend’s sales. If you know of any other good ones, leave a comment below.

Quick Tip: Setting a Compressor

Here’s a quick tip on setting a compressor properly so you’re not overcompressing the signal. I got it from reading through the excellent posts like this one on Production Advice (mentioned in an earlier post). I’ve been using compressors for years and I can’t believe I never knew this bit of wisdom! Here it is:

In normal use (i.e. not for a special effect), set your compressor’s threshold so the gain reduction goes back to zero a few times each measure.

That’s it! That way you know you’re only compressing the loudest parts of the signal and not crushing the whole thing. It also ensures that the release time isn’t too long and the compressor has a chance to “let go” of the signal before the next loud bit. Continue reading

Steal Like an Artist

A good friend of mine recently loaned me this excellent (and short) book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by writer and artist Austin Kleon. In it, Kleon lists the things he wished he’d learned in college, things like “Don’t wait to know who you are to get started,” “Be nice (the world is a small town),” and “Creativity is subtraction.” As you can tell from some of my earlier blog posts, I’m especially fond of that last one. Limiting your options and stripping your work down to its essence are great ways to raise the quality of your output.

Obviously, with a title like Steal Like an Artist, Kleon spends a good part of the book talking about stealing (er, borrowing) effectively, and has great advice about doing so ethically and in a way that serves you and your work. His central thesis is that nothing is original and all great work is inspired by something else. The trick, he says, is to borrow things you can legally and ethically use, like techniques, moods and colors, and then work with them until you make them yours. Don’t try to become John Williams, take some aspect of his work that moves you and filter it through your personality and experience. Learn from him and then move on. Continue reading

Production Advice

Photo by Thomas Helbig

Just found this great blog on recording, mixing and mastering: Ian Shepherd’s Production Advice. Shepherd covers all aspects of achieving great-sounding mixes, from getting the best sounds at source, mixing them effectively, and making the end result loud and punchy so it competes with commercial mixes. I stumbled onto the site a mere 24 hours ago and I already feel like I’ve spent a month in engineering school (in a good way).

Being a professional mastering engineer, Shepherd tends to focus on that end of the chain. But I also feel like that’s more misunderstood than recording and mixing anyway, so it’s a welcome addition to my trove of resources. Witness his discussion of dithering, an esoteric and confusing subject if ever there was one. Shepherd maintains that one should dither whenever you bounce, whether it be to 16 or 24 bit. This goes against conventional wisdom, at least the conventional wisdom I’ve read, but it does make sense when he explains it. Continue reading

Two Composer Interviews

First, apologies for being away for so long. I was working on a score for a feature that only seemed to get larger and more complex the closer we got to the deadline. Unfortunately in situations like that, the blog is one of the first things to go (along with free time, sleeping and going to the gym). More on that particular job soon.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of composer interviews that were broadcast this past week. The first is a two-hour retrospective of John Williams’ long and storied career from Classic FM. Williams talks about his creative process and about composing some of the most iconic film music of our time. He is his usual generous and gracious self, and he’s candid and open about his life and his work, from composing for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to playing piano on To Kill a Mockingbird and many other classic scores. Definitely worth a listen.

The other interview is with someone a bit less well-known. NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday talked with ad composer Keith Kenniff this past weekend about his work on spots for Apple, Prudential and Toyota. It’s a revealing look into the world of ad music, and Kenniff’s work demonstrates how to use live recordings of acoustic instruments to get a wonderfully contemporary sound.

John Cleese on Creativity

Photo by Peter Boothe

Co.Create has a wonderful summary of John Cleese’s recent talk at the Cannes International Festival on Creativity. In it, he shares four ideas on ways to maximize and enhance your creative endeavors. He talks about giving your ideas time to “bake,” the importance of playing, making use of the two kinds of thinking, and the danger of anxiety and interruptions. All told, a very worthy read. Read the full post here.

If you’re interested in more, there’s also a great 36-minute video of another Cleese lecture here, at BrainPickings.org. Many of the ideas are the same, but it’s well worth watching to pump up your creative inspiration.

Sloppiness

Photo by Heinrich Klaffs

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and posts lately about the importance of fixing timing and tuning, most notably in Sound On Sound’s excellent Mix Mistakes article from last September. There, author Mike Senior talks about how many amateur mixes he hears that have sloppy timing and dodgy tuning which ruin the impact of otherwise good songs. He does mention the importance of not going too far in this department, but knowing when too tweak and when to step back is a subtle art and definitely bears more discussion.

Listen to The Band’s awesome “We Can Talk” and imagine it would sound like in the hands of an overzealous Pro Tools user. Nothing in that recording lines up, and it’s an absolutely glorious thing. If you listen closely there are loads of “mistakes”—slight timing errors, missed notes, and general sloppiness—but none of it sounds wrong. Every smudge and inconsistency contributes to the overall impression of a hootenanny happening in the studio and the band having a ball doing it. Continue reading

Daily Film Scoring Bits

Photo by Melissa Gruntkosky

Here’s a great site offering (as the title so obviously implies) daily bits of film scoring wisdom. The posts are written by Dresden-based composer Robin Hoffmann, who heroically crafts a paragraph for his blog nearly every day. Robin covers all sides of film scoring, from composition itself to orchestration, marketing and delivery of final cues. The pieces, although short, are almost always useful. Here’s a recent example:

“When you write a cue, make sure to sustain a ‘musical language’ throughout the piece. It will feel very strange if you use simple triads all the way through and suddenly use one very complex chord. Also, melodic and rhythmic complexity should stay in a certain range throughout a piece. This might seem simpler than it actually is and often one idea might not really fit together with each other or you might stumble across a chord that you like on its own but which doesn’t fit into the rest. So when finding ideas, it is not only a decision whether it is a good idea but also whether it fits to the rest of your music.”

Check out the daily bits here.

Creating the Best Score for Your (Documentary) Film

Photo by Steve Rhodes

I stumbled across this blog post on Documentary.org while wandering the Web. It’s an interview with six film composers about the peculiar art of scoring documentary films. They talk about the idiosyncrasies of the music in documentaries, when they typically get brought on board, schedules and budgets, and much more.

By being involved earlier I had a longer time to conceive of the music…. You can’t speed up the process of just ruminating on something creatively.”

As a composer currently working on two docs, I found numerous bits of wisdom to take away. One of my favorite parts was the lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of temp music and how best to deal with temp scores (always a hot topic). They also talk a lot about the power of music in documentaries and what it can bring to the table—great fodder for your next negotiation with a client who’s balking at your bid.

While geared toward documentary composers, there’s plenty in the post for dramatic composers and filmmakers as well. Much of the discussion centers around the composition process and every film’s need for great music. These are universal topics, and the composers in question speak eloquently about the subject. All in all a worthy read.

Composers Confab: Creating the Best Score for Your Film

Making Things Small

Photo by Brian J. Bruemmer

I am happy to announce that I’m now an official writer for SCOREcast. My first post went up today, talking about how to make a cue small. I’ve attached an excerpt below. Enjoy!

When it comes to film scoring, size definitely does matter. The trend in big-budget Hollywood films has been toward a bigger and bigger sound—enormous string and brass sections and 20-person percussion ensembles, all backed by massive beds of synths and samples. But often, especially with indie projects, what’s required is a much smaller, more intimate sound. Even a modestly sized orchestra might be far too large for a quiet drama about a family, a couple or a child.

It’s important for a film composer to know how to match what’s happening onscreen not just musically, but also in terms of size, feel and scope. Scoring The Avengers with just acoustic guitar and flute would clearly be wrong, just as using the orchestra from Pirates of the Carribean to score Juno would have also been a mistake. In this set of posts I’ll explore various ways to get your cues to sound really huge or really tiny. I’ll start this week with making things small.

Continue reading…