Hey all! The last tips post deemed to be really popular i thought id try and upload one or two posts a month with a little tip on improving your production skills in specific genres.
As most composers usually focus on Epic/Hybrid composition i thought it might be best to start there with a small, but quite powerful selection of string programming techniques. So here are my Top 5 Tips for Hybrid String production.
1. Create a strings multi patch inside of Kontakt
Often we assume that we need to have separate stems for each part, and classically, or with smaller ensembles this works really well. To get that really big sound we actually need to go against that and mix our libraries within the Kontakt window.
This gives us a more full basis to build upon later. I usually use one full orchestral library for my main sound and also use a smaller ensemble in the 4 individual instrument patches (vln1, vln2, Vla, Cl, Bs) to add back the detail that the larger ensemble will often lack. So let’s start by making a long strings Patch.
2. Levels and panning
Now That we have our 5 instruments loaded into Kontakt we need to first make sure that they are all playing when we record/play our parts. We first do this by Changing the midi channel for each of the instruments to 1.
Now we can focus on panning and levels. I personally find it easier to mute the orchestral patch and mix the levels of the ensemble first, then un-mute the orchestral library and blend it in until you get a big full sound.
Now that leveling has been done we can then Pan our individual instruments accordingly. Again, we are doing all of this inside of the Kontakt window. There are a few ways you can choose to pan your instruments but here are my favourites.
The Classical approach: This involves panning your vln1, vln2, Vla, Cl and Bs Across the stereo field from Left to right, much like you would see in an ensemble or orchestra. My method panned the 1st violin 20 to the left, second violin all the way to the left, viola down the centre, cello 20 to the right and Bass all the way to the right. Though the Bass instruments aren’t in the centre this gives a wide feel to your strings and is a very good approach for making room for other instruments.
The Modern approach. This is more typical to what we might see in a modern mix. We simply keep the bass in the middle, Cl 20 to the right, Vla 20 to the left and Vlns panned hard right and left. this gives quite a wide feel to the section but keeps that power that we expect more central. typically this helps with mastering the track later as generally we try to keep low frequencies down the middle and the higher frequencies pushed out to the side.
Neither of these approaches are right or wrong, they just give a different flavour to your piece. Try them out and see what you feel is the best for you. Don’t be afraid to tweak them to what you like too. experimentation is key, and these do change slightly from piece to piece.
3. Save and repeat
Now we can save that patch as a Multi instrument inside Kontakt and recall it whenever we want to use it. This is really useful as it speeds up our productivity. Remember that we will be adding to this with solo instruments later as this is just a foundational Pad.
We can now do exactly the same with other string techniques such as Spiccato, Pizz, Legato and whatever other patch combinations we desire. It’s good to build a catalog of these so that you can recall them whenever you need to. you can also do this with other ensembles such as percussion, Brass and Woodwinds.
This isn’t an area i’m going to dwell on as there’s lots of information out there that is great on this topic. However, here are a few small points that will help you to create more natural movement within your string writing.
Use both your expression wheel for modulation and vibrato in the way that the instrument would be played. Strings often have a tendency to be louder at the start of a bow/note and gradually get quieter as the note is held so this is a good place to start. Take into consideration your swells though, as you may get louder at the end of some notes if the dynamics are rising to a climax (crescendo).
Also take into consideration that the vibrato on strings is often played more strongly towards the end of the note, and gets stronger towards the end of phrases… this is generally a good place to start.
Avoid writing straight lines up and down in your automation. make it as fluid as you can, so either play your expressions in, or manually put it in so that it is flowing. This gives a more natural sound.
Learn where the transitions are more prominent in your libraries. Every library will have a point in the modulation where they come alive, it’s the sweet spot if you will. Learn where this is so that you can gradually move between these points smoothly while inputting your automation.
Attack and release times within the library are really important. Longs should have a slower release, shorts have a faster attack etc. If your instrument has these options then try to make full use of them when necessary.
5. Finally, EQ and Verb
Well, we’ve made it. Quickly let’s just look at a few things regarding EQ and Verb. We often think that our strings need to be HUGE in our mixes… but the reality is that they don’t need to be as huge as we think.
We then need to shape them to sit well with the rest of the orchestra and hybrid elements. The general brush strokes that i would suggest is to take out the low end up to about 150hz, cut a little out of the mids around 500hz and add a high shelf of around 4/6db to brighten up the section. This will help them cut through the rest of the mix while also creating more room for other instruments.
EQ your Verb. I often take out the low end from my reverb up to around 350hz and take out the reverb from the top end down to around 5khz. This lets the reverb breathe a little while also taming those areas that can make your mix either too muddy or too airy.
Also, a darker verb sound is good for this. If you have Logic then Chromaverb does this quite well, though Valhalla make excellent verb plugins that you can shape easily.
Well that’s it, we made it to the end of the Top 5 Tips for programming Long strings in hybrid pieces. I hope this method is useful for you, Please let me know how you get on with it. Its always fantastic to hear your experiences.
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