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What is like working with Large Orchestras and Electronic Music in Post
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lu432
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8th October 2012
Old 8th October 2012
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What is like working with Large Orchestras and Electronic Music in Post

So I have a question, one that I am sure regularly pops up. However mine is not so much "how to do it" but what the atmosphere is like working in full feature production that involves heavy Orchestration and Electronic synthesis. Something like working with James Horner or Hans Zimmer, or Video games that involved heavy live Orchestration and Sound Efx Departments.

Is it an ecstatic atmosphere working with the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Lucas Film and Arts, or is it pretty stressful and downright time consuming with little gratification? What kind of hours do you put in? Are there ever arguments between the Sound Efx guys and the Music Composition/Production Departments? Do the directors frequent visits often and are they heavy handed or are they pretty hands off until the end? What do your days look like? What is the best part of your job what's the worst part of your job? When do you guys get the call to go 5.1 or Stereo or 7.1?

Just a curious spectator to the world of movie post production with an insatiable curiosity about that part of the sound industry!
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6th December 2012
Old 6th December 2012
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There are so many facets to your question, and I don't have time to address them all right now. But suffice it to say that film scoring is departmentalized, just like production of films. There are composer, orchestrators, music editors, copyists, musician contractors, recording engineers, scoring stage staff engineers/recordist a, ProTools engineers, production mix engineers, ADR and Foley recordists, music mix engineers, dubbing mixers....

Hours can be insane to relatively sane. Editing, for example, is a huge project, but recording a three-hour pickup session of guitar overdubs is not. But you can't have one without the other...

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6th December 2012
Old 6th December 2012
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the atmosphere is pretty intense on the recording sessions. There never seems to be enough prep time and you really have to nail down your procedures when its costing £80k a day to do.

I'm usually producer on large orchestral sessions - so the buck kinda stops with me. That is a heart attack waiting to happen in its own right!@! The biggest pressures I think are on the producer, conductor, orchestrator and of course the composer!!!
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6th December 2012
Old 6th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
So I have a question, one that I am sure regularly pops up. However mine is not so much "how to do it" but what the atmosphere is like working in full feature production that involves heavy Orchestration and Electronic synthesis. Something like working with James Horner or Hans Zimmer, or Video games that involved heavy live Orchestration and Sound Efx Departments.
I'll try to answer, but if you lay out SPECIFIC questions, I can answer much more specifically.....

The atmosphere? Much like the rest of life, it depends a lot on who you are working with. SPECIFICALLY - both on the film studio side of things (Producer / Director / Post supervisor / etc.) and the Music side of things (Music Supervisor / Composer / Editor, Etc.). There are some real ******** in this business and it can go from pleasant to pure hell. The stories are legend, but generally speaking, it is a significantly different process and time table than working on records. Music is generally the last element before the assembly of the soundtrack (the Dub), and since it's often the emotional driving focus, and the last thing up, there is tremendous pressure and tight deadlines. Not a recipe for a relaxed creative stroll thru the park.

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Is it an ecstatic atmosphere working with the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Lucas Film and Arts, or is it pretty stressful and downright time consuming with little gratification?
Mostly it's the latter. Writing, producing and recording 3-6 minutes of music a day that's sync'd to picture with approvals needed from multiple heavyweight people who have "your career in the palm of their hands" is not without it's stresses. On the other hand, standing in front of an orchestra and feeling YOUR MUSIC pulse thru their fingers is like nothing you have ever experienced. One of the few thrills of the "process" known as "scoring music for film".

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
What kind of hours do you put in?
Insane hours. You must be disciplined, you must write like a madman - no time for writers block, and you must be able take 20-40 phone calls a day, go to meetings with the Director, Producer, Post Supervisor, your Agent, etc. and continue to write 3-6 minutes a day. While scheduling sessions, doing overdubs, keeping track of constant picture changes, and balancing creative diva's who need constant handholding....

Oh, and you must learn to corral and guide your ghost writers. But we won't talk about that will we....

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Are there ever arguments between the Sound Efx guys and the Music Composition/Production Departments?
Arguments? Sometimes. I've never seen anyone actually throw down and duke it ouit thoiugh... But yeah, there are certainly conflicts. Hopefully you get a cut with dialog on ch1 and sfx on ch2 so you can clearly hear what's going on on the other end of the sonic globe. (SFX) If there are chase scenes, scenes that are going to be heavy SFX, etc. hopefully the director and film editor are up on it and keeping the composer in the loop as updates, direction, etc. as more sfx are added - so you can adapt and work together instead of each "hitting" the same things. Often this "adapting" means making the music weaker so the SFX can speak. Or thinning out the SFX and making the music bigger so emotion plays over "reality". It's all a balance, and ultimately, no one really see's the big picture until the Dub. At that point, there is often a wild rush to "adapt" and make things work the way you hoped they would. Thats why music stems and multiple layers of SFX make it more likely to get thru a rough conflicting scene.

Making a film is perhaps one of the largest collaborative efforts on this planet. Many creative people making a whole. It's good when those creative minds leave ego behind and work to make the film as good as it can be.

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Do the directors frequent visits often and are they heavy handed or are they pretty hands off until the end?
Completely depends on the director. They an be as hands on as "Hey, change that F Horn to an Eb instead of an E natural would you" or as hands off as, yeah, nice mood. Generally though, directors are much more in tune with the process of "sequencers & pro tools" and have learned that they can micro manage and control much easier than they could 20+ years ago.

Having HUGE mock up's that the director can hear and make final decisions on is standard for the course. That also has to be done in the 3-6 minutes a day, so there are programmers and electronic orchestrators, and people to write that music FOR you. Don't ask me how I know this.

All this means that there is more sitting with the director and making changes to fit their vision than ever before. You can see this as either good or bad. Good as there are less surprises at the dub stage or sitting in front of an orchestra. Bad as they hired you (the composer) for your expertise in delivering music that works, but they may be road-blocking every creative bone in your body. Ultimately it works out, but it can often be at the cost of a hugely bruised musical ego.

In reality, the BEST scores are the ones where there's a healthy balance both ways. Enough directorial input, and enough flexibility and lack of ego on the part of the composer. Again, it's a collaboration.

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What do your days look like?
Phone calls, meetings, writing music, small overdubs of important musical parts, more phone calls, more writing music. For a month to six weeks. No weekends, no Holidays, no days off. Grab a nap somewhere in the middle of the day if lucky, and hopefully get a few hours of sleep a night.

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
What is the best part of your job what's the worst part of your job?
Best part - recording with the musicians and seeing your score start to take shape - beyond the confines of your writing studio where you're constantly and myopically cranking out 3-6 minutes of music a day. Often those musicians are the best in the world and add such a joy to the process. Or they can wreck your day......

Worst part - when you get change notes from the powers that be that come in something like this (and no, this is NOT an exaggeration) :

Producer 1 : We need this really upbeat. Aggressive and Rocking, but kind of pop like Beiber.
Producer 2 : I though we were going more legit. A classical sound. Perhaps a string quartet? And maybe add a banjo. My dad loves banjo's.
Co Producer : I like U2. Can you make this like a U2 song on steroids?
Director : It's too fast, I need this to seem like a dream - flowing and no motion. I HATE motion. Can we make this section move faster, but with no motion?
Studio Music Exec : We need this to sound like a 90 piece orchestra, but there's no budget for musicians. Well, hey, my son plays guitar. Could you pay him double scale to help you write the Main Title? And then give him additional music credits?

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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
When do you guys get the call to go 5.1 or Stereo or 7.1?
On big films 5.1 is standard w/ multiple stems. Like Percussion, Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, Synth 1 (percussive), Synth 2 (pads), Sampled Percussion, Drums, Bass Instruments, Guitars, Vocals, Solo Instruments, Utility Oddball things. That's 13 X 5.1 (6) tracks. 78 Tracks just for your mix - not counting your RAW tracks - both Orchestral and Synth / Mockup / Overdub prelay's which could be a couple hundred. And that's a fairly minimal breakout/mix, It can get MUCH more detailed and complex. Multiply this times 20-50X's for a film.

I have never been called to deliver music in 7.1, and Stereo is still fairly common, although I certainly would break out into similar stems as the above breakouit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Just a curious spectator to the world of movie post production with an insatiable curiosity about that part of the sound industry!

Sometimes being a SPECTATOR is the way to go.....

Come to think of it, being a spectator IS the way to go. (j/k)

Cheers,

bp
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7th December 2012
Old 7th December 2012
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When it comes time to record the orchestra, hiring someone who works with orchestra regularly, is a good investment. If you hire such a producer and trust him or her, chances are you will have a relatively calm and successful session. (when I say relative, I mean not a s...t storm)

A good orchestral producer will get much higher quality results.

Planning and experience is key.


Often first timers will skip this and jump right into the producers chair which is a bad idea IMO.
lu432
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6th May 2013
Old 6th May 2013
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Wow awesome replies guys!! Thanks!! since I only work in the universe of mastering, I always wondered about some of the inner workings of post production with orchestral music. I'm a big fan of movie music and its nice to hear from another side of the industry. Cheers to you guys and thanks for answering some questions out of just sheer curiosity!!!
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6th May 2013
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Whilst I've not been part of this process, I have spent the day at Air studios during a big session.

Of all the people there, the composer seemed to be the most relaxed, probably because the score producer and orchestrator were taking care of everything.

I could tell that having a great orchestra made the process move along swiftly and the professionalism of those working at AIR made the film producers who kept popping in and out feel like a fish out of water.

Up until that day I always worried how I'd ever deal with a situation like that if I ever get the chance to work with a big budget, but hearing the mock up (this one was pretty bad, but the writing was great) being transformed by a team of people to something incredible made me realise you can't do everything on your own.
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6th May 2013
Old 6th May 2013
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I've never worked with orchestra on film but have done on pop records and it was really really stressful.
I quickly learned the importance of making friends with the whole team including engineers, conductor etc. You don't want someone showing you up because you don't know your crescendos from your diminuendos. As I am not a great reader I've always come clean about my abilities well before sessions and have to say it was a real god sent on both occasions having a conductor there who knew exactly what they were doing.
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16th May 2013
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Most often you have barely enough time to complete the score with most post production schedules. Management of time and resources is probably the most difficult aspect of score production, barring any creative differences between composer and film maker, which are very rare. It's a highly collaborative process, and getting the SFX department involved early is an important luxury we don't always get to enjoy.

Music for picture is essentially a problem-solving job, and figuring out the puzzle is very satisfying. All composers are different and their different styles of working all have a place. While some of the process can be draining, and you don't get a lot of time off or sometimes sleep, you often run on adrenaline; creation and production of music is why we do it. The approval process can be thrilling (in success) and as drBill quite rightly pointed out, hearing the work played by an orchestra or by talented instrumentalists is a real joy that has few equivalents elsewhere. Though not a composer, I do get to sometimes play on the scores I help produce, and that only augments my satisfaction and sense of investment. A scoring team is a tight-knit group of people where a lot of trust is required, and forethought and political prowess are mandatory. We rely on each other a great deal. But not everything goes as planned. A mentor and friend of mine describes the secret to success in Hollywood: Execute Plan B Flawlessly.

Orchestras are helped wrangled by some talented contractors, orchestrators, copyists/librarians and studio staff. The scoring mixers and engineers we work with are amazingly musical in their own right and we'd be lost without them. It takes a village.

Working alongside directors, producers and film editors is and enjoyable part of the process, and translating their direction into the abstraction of music can be a challenge, since everybody has their own language to describe how you want something to make you feel. There's a lot of dancing-about-architecture at times. Directors can be complex people, but mostly they have the hardest job in show business, with everybody pulling them in every direction, and I have a lot of sympathy. We try to make scoring the "fun" part of their job—the bit where they can forget about the more mundane aspects and feel a bit of emotion and watch their characters come to life.

The final dub is where you find out what elements from each department work or don't work. It's not uncommon to lose music cues altogether or need to repurpose what you've delivered in order to make the final product work as a whole. The sound effects department is often working on a schedule that means that film makers won't hear all of their final work until the final dub (Their approval process, like their working schedule, can be a bit different from music). It is at dubbing that you hear, for the first time, all the final elements come together, and not all of it can stay. Like all good mixing, muting is an important part of it. If you've been listening to the Avid's relatively austere guide tracks for 3 months, it can be a shock when you hear all the final sound effects on the screen because everything will be beefier, larger, with more depth and complexity, and sometimes preposterously so. There's no way to predict this during music composition other than to learn from experience where music needs to dance around big FX moments and let them have their day, just like we want ours! I get better at making these judgments every project, and do my best to guide the composer around contentious trouble spots and we discuss where music will need to come out on top. Push and pull is what makes a mix work ultimately. I'm lucky to work alongside many talented sound editors and mixers, and while competitive, it's more of a family atmosphere and we enjoy each other's company. Everyone is working to the same end.
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27th May 2013
Old 27th May 2013
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Temp Love,

When working on really big projects like some of the one's that you have worked on, how many engineers are usually present at the board when your working with a live orchestra? I would think it would be more than one engineer?

Also how much time goes into adding synthesis music in modern times? I'm sure that the amount back in the days from stuff like Krull or Aliens to stuff like the new Superman or the Batman movies had significantly more synthesis involved. Is that usually hashed out before recording the orchestra, or is the orchestra recorded and then synthesis added after the fact?

I'm sure a lot of that is still conductor and production artist dependent but I'm also sure that most follow some general guidelines. I would love to hear what your experience is with situations like that.
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27th May 2013
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Can't speak for all instances,

But at AIR, I saw maybe two engineers, one at the desk dealing with Pro Tools and Excel and one in the hall adjusting seating positions slightly and just trying to stand still and be quiet!

As for synth etc pre/post orchestra, I heard anything like that (ambient guitars, guitar, treated piano (distorted slightly) and I think some perc being played on Pro Tools so it was done before. I've heard the score and it doesn't sound like it was re-done.
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28th May 2013
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I usually have one engineer and one asst plus a couple of runners.
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6th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
When working on really big projects like some of the one's that you have worked on, how many engineers are usually present at the board when your working with a live orchestra? I would think it would be more than one engineer?
It’s always a single mix engineer. Assisted by a ProTools Operator, a stage engineer on the floor of the stage (live room) that handles the cue mix, and possibly a second engineer.

Also in the booth: Composer (if he is not conducting), Orchestrator(s), Music Editor, copyist(s), contractor (with assistant(s)), and possibly members of the production team (director, producers, writers, etc...)

At my studio, the assistant and mix engineer is at the right edge of the console running the cue mix, because we have a custom Neve cue mixer built into that end of the console. Other scoring stages have a live-sound type console on the actual stage running the cue mix.


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Also how much time goes into adding synthesis music in modern times? I'm sure that the amount back in the days from stuff like Krull or Aliens to stuff like the new Superman or the Batman movies had significantly more synthesis involved. Is that usually hashed out before recording the orchestra, or is the orchestra recorded and then synthesis added after the fact?
Sessions come in with prelay tracks that have the synthesized or already recorded parts of the score already in place. They can come up on the console any number of ways, but they are almost always monitored (at various levels) during the live scoring session. We may also listen to dialogue and/or production sound occasionally, so those are also available and are in the session. Typically, the score is the last part of the puzzle, and so everything else is usually in place.


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I'm sure a lot of that is still conductor and production artist dependent but I'm also sure that most follow some general guidelines. I would love to hear what your experience is with situations like that.
Almost all films and TV shows with what is now considered a considerable budget (big enough to include live, AFM Union players) will be using people from a pretty small pool of talent in Los Angeles. There are only a half dozen or so contractors, studios, and mixers that do this sort of thing with any regularity these days. So, the workflow remains a pretty stable, predictable arrangement, and everyone knows and plays their part extremely well.

Greg

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6th June 2013
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Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Temp Love,

When working on really big projects like some of the one's that you have worked on, how many engineers are usually present at the board when your working with a live orchestra? I would think it would be more than one engineer?

Also how much time goes into adding synthesis music in modern times? I'm sure that the amount back in the days from stuff like Krull or Aliens to stuff like the new Superman or the Batman movies had significantly more synthesis involved. Is that usually hashed out before recording the orchestra, or is the orchestra recorded and then synthesis added after the fact?

I'm sure a lot of that is still conductor and production artist dependent but I'm also sure that most follow some general guidelines. I would love to hear what your experience is with situations like that.
Just the one mixer, and a pro tools recordist, sometimes acting as assistant engineer, in the case of one studio I can think of. Maybe a runner. The American stages often have a person running a headphone feed in the room and another running a backup—a bit like running a DAT at all times, but probably 48 channels worth, either on PT or on RADAR. One of the last places you'll see RADAR deployed it seems.

By the time you go to record orchestra, you're bringing "pre-records" to the stage, which means all the synth elements are there already, plus overdubs you've done previously, so the orchestra can play to them. If you're composing in a sequencer, and most do these days, you've been composing synth elements along with fake orchestra up until the time you've got your score approved and orchestrated. Then you have to print slaves which consist of synth orchestra that will be replaced, plus all the other elements (non-orchestral) which make up the score, plus a click (or streamers).
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7th June 2013
Old 7th June 2013
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What is like working with Large Orchestras and Electronic Music in Post

From my experience, Air Lyndhurst and Abbey Road usually have one engineer, and two assistants. One operates Pro Tools & does take notes usually in Google Docs these days, and the other whatever else needs doing on the studio floor.

Dave
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