YoungProdigy

Composition vs Production? Which matters more?

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Which do you guys think matters more to people, composition or production?

Would you rather choose a full blown orchestra piece with okay production or a more minimal piece with great production?

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Depends on genre.  If it's an orchestral piece or say garage rock, composition would be more important.  If it's a genre like house or hip-hop production is more essential.

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15 minutes ago, Skrypnyk said:

Depends on genre.  If it's an orchestral piece or say garage rock, composition would be more important.  If it's a genre like house or hip-hop production is more essential.

So particularly on orchestral pieces it would be more important to focus on composition then?

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With orchestral pieces, you can do all your mixing ahead of time and save it as a template. That usually is enough, and you can focus on composition. But the mixing won't necessarily be perfect for every future composition, so you will have to do some tweaking to the mixing every now and then.

As an example, obviously, if you have a lot of reverb, a fast orchestral composition will sound worse than a slower, more ambient orchestral composition, because faster notes will reverberate more often and smear together more.

So, while the focus is still on composition for orchestral pieces, neglecting the mixing would be careless.

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And it depends what you mean by "people."  I think in most cases, a general listener would be more inclined to listen to a unique and enjoyable composition with mediocre production than a mediocre composition with fantastic production.  Audiophiles are often critical in the other direction, though.

I read through almost all the posts in the Judges' Decisions forum here, and it's much more common for them to say, "This is a great arrangement, but the production could be improved" than "The production here is great, but the arrangement is dull."  But when they get one of the former, it's always, "I really love this, please improve it so we can get it on the site," but with the latter it's more like, "meh, this isn't really what we're looking for."  It's an interesting contrast--they seem to be much more enthusiastic about composition but much more critical about production.

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3 hours ago, timaeus222 said:

With orchestral pieces, you can do all your mixing ahead of time and save it as a template. That usually is enough, and you can focus on composition. But the mixing won't necessarily be perfect for every future composition, so you will have to do some tweaking to the mixing every now and then.

As an example, obviously, if you have a lot of reverb, a fast orchestral composition will sound worse than a slower, more ambient orchestral composition, because faster notes will reverberate more often and smear together more.

So, while the focus is still on composition for orchestral pieces, neglecting the mixing would be careless.

I've actually never considered mixing ahead of time. I may try that in future compositions.

Neglecting mixing is careless as you said. But I find personally that if I put more time into the actual composition; I have less energy to do the actual mixing.

3 hours ago, MindWanderer said:

And it depends what you mean by "people."  I think in most cases, a general listener would be more inclined to listen to a unique and enjoyable composition with mediocre production than a mediocre composition with fantastic production.  Audiophiles are often critical in the other direction, though.

I read through almost all the posts in the Judges' Decisions forum here, and it's much more common for them to say, "This is a great arrangement, but the production could be improved" than "The production here is great, but the arrangement is dull."  But when they get one of the former, it's always, "I really love this, please improve it so we can get it on the site," but with the latter it's more like, "meh, this isn't really what we're looking for."  It's an interesting contrast--they seem to be much more enthusiastic about composition but much more critical about production.

When I say "people" I'm mostly referring to game developers and casual listeners. Would an indie developer really care if the production was mediocre, if the arrangement was great?

From what you've gathered from reading the judges' posts; it seems that composition matters more.

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1 minute ago, YoungProdigy said:

When I say "people" I'm mostly referring to game developers and casual listeners. Would an indie developer really care if the production was mediocre, if the arrangement was great?

But from what you've gathered from reading the judges' posts; it seems that composition matters more.

I don't think that game developers and casual listeners are looking for the same things at all.  If I were developing a game, a good fit with the rest of the game's aesthetics would be the #1 criterion, but production commensurate with those expectations would be extremely high as well.  Memorable, enjoyable music in a game isn't so much a requirement as it is a nice bonus, unless music is a critical part of the game for some reason.

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Composition of course !

 

Otherwise people would have shunned every SNES/Megadrive / NES / soundtrack , they did what they could within the limitations and people (Including myself) STILL listen to those old tracks (Thunder Force IV anyone?)  

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Composition, regardless of genre. The false assumption here is assuming that composition is orthogonal (independent) as a concept to production, as if they don't influence each other.

In genres like orchestral, the production is simpler because the arrangement takes care of filling the sonic space and providing interest. In genres like EDM, production itself becomes an element of composition as it begins to shape the timbre and dynamics of the music.

"Composition" isn't just notes. That's, well, notes. Composition is literally a mixture of composite elements, the notes are primary, but rhythm, timbre, dynamics, articulation etc. are also compositional aspects. There are tradeoffs, and you can supplement deficiencies in one by enhancing another. Complextro, for example, is an advanced form of composition entirely based on rapid firing between different musical fragments with various timbres. Some people would consider that production, though, since it's often done by chopping up and processing different wave files.

However, if we're just talking about production as a means to an end, i.e. "mixing and mastering" where we're EQing, balancing, just trying to get an overall good "quality" of sound, that's secondary to composition and its performance. You can still communicate a good idea through a murky lens. What you can't do is expect a bad idea to look shiny through a crystal clear lens.

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I would agree with what Neblix said, but I think there are cases where production is more important.

For example, there is a composer on YouTube named JJay Berthume, dude is really good with "traditional" scores and he's really good at that John Williams, classic style. He said something in one of his videos that I think is definitely true. In a lot of video game scores, they tend to be more concerned with the composition aspects of the music. For example, Twilight Princess (lots of Nintendo in general) or Demon's Souls didn't really come out that long ago and people just love the music. The samples they used are absolute garbage, though. This is something I've still noticed in games and tons of soundtracks have an intentional retro aesthetic. 

In film, the purpose of the music is ultimately to support the picture and to do so on incredibly tight deadlines. In such work, your ability to create something that sounds both very realistic and contextually appropriate timbres outweighs writing elaborate, memorable melodies because a lot of it can just be chords, drones and ambience. I think this is something that is obvious in modern film scores: They tend to be very minimalist, but hire the best orchestras and easily have some of the best sound design.  

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1 hour ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

I would agree with what Neblix said, but I think there are cases where production is more important.

For example, there is a composer on YouTube named JJay Berthume, dude is really good with "traditional" scores and he's really good at that John Williams, classic style. He said something in one of his videos that I think is definitely true. In a lot of video game scores, they tend to be more concerned with the composition aspects of the music. For example, Twilight Princess (lots of Nintendo in general) or Demon's Souls didn't really come out that long ago and people just love the music. The samples they used are absolute garbage, though. This is something I've still noticed in games and tons of soundtracks have an intentional retro aesthetic. 

In film, the purpose of the music is ultimately to support the picture and to do so on incredibly tight deadlines. In such work, your ability to create something that sounds both very realistic and contextually appropriate timbres outweighs writing elaborate, memorable melodies because a lot of it can just be chords, drones and ambience. I think this is something that is obvious in modern film scores: They tend to be very minimalist, but hire the best orchestras and easily have some of the best sound design.  

I... am confused at how any of this is disagreeing with what I said. Your second point seems to imply that all of those considerations aren't compositional ones, which I explained isn't true. Both "composition" and "production" themselves are nebulous terms, so in my post I clarified that concerns of timbre, dynamic and articulation are counted into "composition" when I say "composition" is more important. Performance is also in there by extension of "articulation", and humanized samples (or a good live recording) falls under performance.

 

But I mean... yeah, there's a baseline of bread and butter production (like, the mixing and mastering kind, not the sound design kind) where you won't get gigs if you're bad. But as a general question, or career advice, I'm kind of confused what the thread is asking for. For career advice, yes, probably bread and butter production trumps composition if other composers serve as an example. But I'd say only to a point, there's a point where it's good enough that the layperson (game developers count too, just because they're paying you doesn't mean they know what they're doing) thinks it sounds good without noticing maybe stray frequencies or a slightly muddled reverb tail and it stops helping. If you want the career to grow and have CONSISTENT gigs (being a composer devs go back to, devs recommend to devs, and composers recommend to devs), you need to create a sonic identity, and that starts delving back into (my liberal referral of) compositional aspects.

 

Would also point out that the film industry example is a little moot, because films (at least ones with budgets for live orchestras you're talking about and proper management, so not indie films) generally have audio handled by a team, and the composer isn't really solely responsible for the production aspects. Obviously the ones who do multiple jobs well are more valuable and see more work, but the way it tends to happen is that there's a dedicated audio engineer(s) making everything squeaky clean. If talking about indie films... the bar is lower (lower than you'd think) for production, considering what a lot of indie filmmakers dig up from licensing websites and are satisfied with.

Otherwise, a composer with good production is well-equipped for those in-betweens, tight deadlines, TV, games, low budgets, etc. There's no reason *not* to get good at production.

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1 hour ago, Neblix said:

I... am confused at how any of this is disagreeing with what I said. Your second point seems to imply that all of those considerations aren't compositional ones, which I explained isn't true. Both "composition" and "production" themselves are nebulous terms, so in my post I clarified that concerns of timbre, dynamic and articulation are counted into "composition" when I say "composition" is more important. Performance is also in there by extension of "articulation", and humanized samples (or a good live recording) falls under performance.

 

But I mean... yeah, there's a baseline of bread and butter production (like, the mixing and mastering kind, not the sound design kind) where you won't get gigs if you're bad. But as a general question, or career advice, I'm kind of confused what the thread is asking for. For career advice, yes, probably bread and butter production trumps composition if other composers serve as an example. But I'd say only to a point, there's a point where it's good enough that the layperson (game developers count too, just because they're paying you doesn't mean they know what they're doing) thinks it sounds good without noticing maybe stray frequencies or a slightly muddled reverb tail and it stops helping. If you want the career to grow and have CONSISTENT gigs (being a composer devs go back to, devs recommend to devs, and composers recommend to devs), you need to create a sonic identity, and that starts delving back into (my liberal referral of) compositional aspects.

 

Would also point out that the film industry example is a little moot, because films (at least ones with budgets for live orchestras you're talking about and proper management, so not indie films) generally have audio handled by a team, and the composer isn't really solely responsible for the production aspects. Obviously the ones who do multiple jobs well are more valuable and see more work, but the way it tends to happen is that there's a dedicated audio engineer(s) making everything squeaky clean. If talking about indie films... the bar is lower (lower than you'd think) for production, considering what a lot of indie filmmakers dig up from licensing websites and are satisfied with.

Otherwise, a composer with good production is well-equipped for those in-betweens, tight deadlines, TV, games, low budgets, etc. There's no reason *not* to get good at production.

When I said "I would" I mean to say "I do", but it's one of those things where the tone in which I imagine myself saying it doesn't translate in text.

My second point is that in music that supports the emotional impact of a picture, you do not have to be Bach to create something that works well. A simple chord or drone in lots of cases would be perfect. In such cases the "presentation" for lack of a better word though I want to say "production" and overall awe-inspiring sound is going to be more important because you can't rely on flashy or memorable melodies like you could in say, a round in a fighting game. 

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49 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

My second point is that in music that supports the emotional impact of a picture, you do not have to be Bach to create something that works well. A simple chord or drone in lots of cases would be perfect. In such cases the "presentation" for lack of a better word though I want to say "production" and overall awe-inspiring sound is going to be more important because you can't rely on flashy or memorable melodies like you could in say, a round in a fighting game. 

Right. This is Scoring 101. Melody is often inappropriate in many dramatic contexts.

But I have two things to say:

1) Just because you can get by in the career by playing some Omnisphere presets or a piano + harp doesn't mean it's the only way to do it. It's certainly the minimum effort way to do it, sure. Subtlety doesn't have to be simplistic, it can still be creative and designed according to thematic sound identity, and a huge sign of a good score is how good its subtle parts are with respect to the rest of it.

2) There's way more to composition than melody. Like, way more. Melody is actually one of the simplest/most exploitative mechanisms in composition; it's everything else that's really advanced/complicated. And sure, you can argue that stuff is unnecessary to get by, too. But I find the discussion on how to "get by" kind of bland and unnecessary. I guess it's worth observing for those who aren't really in the know, but personally I'd never give advice to someone to settle as a "low-hanging fruit" composer, so to speak. Their careers never really go anywhere. No, they don't have to be Bach. But the great thing about creative work is that there isn't some ridiculous dichotomy where everyone is either a super-smart academic fugue composer or someone who plays some drones. There's a lot of in between talent, you know, and that's a perfectly okay place to aim for. :P I'm not asking people to be the next John Williams, I'm just asking them to put some thought into their work.

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1 hour ago, Neblix said:

Right. This is Scoring 101. Melody is often inappropriate in many dramatic contexts.

But I have two things to say:

1) Just because you can get by in the career by playing some Omnisphere presets or a piano + harp doesn't mean it's the only way to do it. It's certainly the minimum effort way to do it, sure. Subtlety doesn't have to be simplistic, it can still be creative and designed according to thematic sound identity, and a huge sign of a good score is how good its subtle parts are with respect to the rest of it.

2) There's way more to composition than melody. Like, way more. Melody is actually one of the simplest/most exploitative mechanisms in composition; it's everything else that's really advanced/complicated. And sure, you can argue that stuff is unnecessary to get by, too. But I find the discussion on how to "get by" kind of bland and unnecessary. I guess it's worth observing for those who aren't really in the know, but personally I'd never give advice to someone to settle as a "low-hanging fruit" composer, so to speak. No, they don't have to be Bach. But the great thing about creative work is that there isn't some ridiculous dichotomy where everyone is either a super-smart academic fugue composer or someone who plays some drones. There's a lot of in between talent, you know, and that's a perfectly okay place to aim for. :P I'm not asking people to be the next John Williams, I'm just asking them to put some thought into their work.

I'm not disagreeing with any of that or saying that people shouldn't aim to be good at both if they can. I'm just simply saying, depending on what you're doing, X may be more important than Y.

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16 hours ago, Neblix said:

Composition, regardless of genre. The false assumption here is assuming that composition is orthogonal (independent) as a concept to production, as if they don't influence each other.

In genres like orchestral, the production is simpler because the arrangement takes care of filling the sonic space and providing interest. In genres like EDM, production itself becomes an element of composition as it begins to shape the timbre and dynamics of the music.

"Composition" isn't just notes. That's, well, notes. Composition is literally a mixture of composite elements, the notes are primary, but rhythm, timbre, dynamics, articulation etc. are also compositional aspects. There are tradeoffs, and you can supplement deficiencies in one by enhancing another. Complextro, for example, is an advanced form of composition entirely based on rapid firing between different musical fragments with various timbres. Some people would consider that production, though, since it's often done by chopping up and processing different wave files.

However, if we're just talking about production as a means to an end, i.e. "mixing and mastering" where we're EQing, balancing, just trying to get an overall good "quality" of sound, that's secondary to composition and its performance. You can still communicate a good idea through a murky lens. What you can't do is expect a bad idea to look shiny through a crystal clear lens.

I agree that composition certainly can influence production. If a lot of  instruments are clashing in the arrangement; it will definitely effect the songs production.

When I talk about "composition"; I'm referring to the actual notes and instruments of a midi sequence. Perhaps "sequencing" would be a better word. However, you are correct when you say that articulations and dynamics are also apart of composing. But usually I add articulations, dynamics and realism later.

15 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

I would agree with what Neblix said, but I think there are cases where production is more important.

For example, there is a composer on YouTube named JJay Berthume, dude is really good with "traditional" scores and he's really good at that John Williams, classic style. He said something in one of his videos that I think is definitely true. In a lot of video game scores, they tend to be more concerned with the composition aspects of the music. For example, Twilight Princess (lots of Nintendo in general) or Demon's Souls didn't really come out that long ago and people just love the music. The samples they used are absolute garbage, though. This is something I've still noticed in games and tons of soundtracks have an intentional retro aesthetic. 

In film, the purpose of the music is ultimately to support the picture and to do so on incredibly tight deadlines. In such work, your ability to create something that sounds both very realistic and contextually appropriate timbres outweighs writing elaborate, memorable melodies because a lot of it can just be chords, drones and ambience. I think this is something that is obvious in modern film scores: They tend to be very minimalist, but hire the best orchestras and easily have some of the best sound design.  

I've also noticed that some recent games do use unrealistic samples. So in a 2D retro RPG setting, would super-realistic sequencing be necessary?

I understand that it's different for film music though. In modern film scores, film makers want something close to the real thing.

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On 7/2/2016 at 6:30 AM, Nathan Allen Pinard said:

Not just composition, but orchestration and arrangement. In any piece, if you do proper voicing it makes everything easier in the production stage.

I've always considered orchestration and arrangement to be apart of the composition process.

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10 hours ago, YoungProdigy said:

I've always considered orchestration and arrangement to be apart of the composition process.

Yes and no. If you are a DIY'er then yeah it could be, however many film scores and video game scores are orchestrated by other people other than the composer that provides "sketches". John Williams is a good example of this, or Danny Elfman.

Also composition to me is a basic lead sheet. The melody/lyrics and chords. With orchestration/arrangement coming in later. Depends on the genre in some cases.

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1 hour ago, Nathan Allen Pinard said:

Yes and no. If you are a DIY'er then yeah it could be, however many film scores and video game scores are orchestrated by other people other than the composer that provides "sketches". John Williams is a good example of this, or Danny Elfman.

Also composition to me is a basic lead sheet. The melody/lyrics and chords. With orchestration/arrangement coming in later. Depends on the genre in some cases.

John Williams orchestrates his own stuff. I've seen his handwritten scores for Hook and Jurassic Park, film versions with full orchestra, each section written out. Also, the John Williams Signature Edition scores from Hal Leonard are all orchestrated by him as well.

A better example might be Alan Menken, who just did the basic melodic sketches for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc. on the piano and then had his music arranged and orchestrated into the symphonic expansions heard in the movies.

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I'd like to point out that films require music to be done on an extremely tight deadline - often just a few short months at most. There is just simply not enough time for a composer to compose, mix, sheet music, get all the recordings back to mix them again, etc. Hence, the labor is divided and the recording facilities have the people and means to take those recordings to a finished mix asap.

That doesn't the composer isn't able to do these things and that you wouldn't be expected to deliver a mockup that sounds really close to the finished recording production-wise. To paraphrase Paul Haslinger in an interview on YouTube a few years back, "the only way you could probably still sit and play a piano piece for a director and convince him to record it, is if you're John Williams". As far as I've seen, the only people scoring major motion pictures that still work just with pen, paper and piano are the guys who've been doing this since the 70s and have their own staff. James Horner had people who just did VST and Synth mock ups of what he wrote on paper. So if anyone reading these last few posts take-away here is that you can make it as a film/game composer with your Sibelius mock-ups and saying "it'll sound great when it's played by an orchestra" because someone else will do the "production" and orchestration parts later on high-budget projects that only a minority of composers ever get to work on anyway, you'll likely be disappointed. 

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Anime soundtracks tend to focus more on catchy stuff with fairly obvious VST/synth use - hell, some of them are STILL using Roland JVs on them!

I'm sure they have just as tight deadlines to accomplish all that, if not more so.

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3 hours ago, Meteo Xavier said:

Anime soundtracks tend to focus more on catchy stuff with fairly obvious VST/synth use - hell, some of them are STILL using Roland JVs on them!

I'm sure they have just as tight deadlines to accomplish all that, if not more so.

I don't watch anime series, so I don't know, but any anime movie I've seen from the last 20 years has used just as high budget, usually orchestral, production values as any other animated film. At least, to my memory.

Perhaps the oldschool sound is something trendy or just characteristic of anime soundtracks? In either case, I doubt most are going to be doing many anime scores - so I'd still be cautious in suggesting that composition, in reference to "notes, chords, etc." is always going to trump "production" values. 

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I doubt most of us are going to work on ANY movie soundtrack, even independent VODs, what does the focus on cinema matter to the central question?

I suppose I could just read the topic for that answer, but since so much of it is just quoting ENTIRE MULTI-PARAGRAPH POSTS and wanking off academically, I might not find it.

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1 hour ago, Meteo Xavier said:

I doubt most of us are going to work on ANY movie soundtrack, even independent VODs, what does the focus on cinema matter to the central question?

I suppose I could just read the topic for that answer, but since so much of it is just quoting ENTIRE MULTI-PARAGRAPH POSTS and wanking off academically, I might not find it.

Read the topic.

People are having a thoughtful discussion. Don't reduce that to "wanking off academically."

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