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DMT Produktionen

The obsession about real sounding composition

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What I really dont understand  is how some people will always mention how a piece sound mechanical. Yes, too much mechanicalness  can sound reptitive and dull. But even when the song is really good, people still comment on how it doesnt sound "human". But what yall need to understand is most people cant play an instrument really well, or have access to really good recording equipment or a good sample library. If try to make everything "human" by hand, it will take hours and hours and hold up song writing. The only way to fix this is by buying a keyboard, and have at least 2 years of piano playing under your belt, but most people starting out dont have that skill.

I mean, if you listen to some songs made by Nintendo, you'll see they have the same problems as most other music made on a computer. And no one cares about that. I think we shouldnt focus to much on humanizing instruments as long as the music is not repetitive.

 

 

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i don't think any good composer wants something to sound completely mechanical (100% perfectly-quantized rhythm, zero variation in velocities), because it sounds stiff and lifeless. It's not an "obsession"; it's the product of a trained ear.

Mechanical notes are the equivalent of a real person playing with zero emotion, and evidently, a person cannot have 100% perfectly-quantized rhythm, nor can they have perfectly even note intensities in real life - that would be extremely unusual. For pianists as an example, a real person does not plunk down notes at the exact robotic intensity or rhythm on every single note (unless they truly try to play badly by slamming a finger onto a piano for every single note, which is not how anyone is supposed to play piano, even beginners who don't have experience using all their fingers on a piano).

When we on the forums ask for humanization for a track to be submitted to OCR, we usually aren't saying, "go make it so no one, not even the best digital music composer in the world, can tell it's a sample." We're often saying, "make it so it's not so stiff in rhythm and intensity, so that there are actual dynamics in the song."

The point of humanization is to give a sensation of dynamics, and that doesn't always require realistic rhythms and intensities. As long as the rhythm is not 100% quantized, and as long as the note intensities are varied, that's a step towards humanization - at that point, you should ask yourself, "is this how a human being would play it [approximately]?", and adjust further until at the time, you think it sounds good. It doesn't have to be convincing to everyone, but the "general audience" shouldn't be able to tell that much.

Sometimes the rhythm and intensity adjustments are subtle, or sometimes they're kind of obvious, depending on your experience in rhythm. For example:

You should also consider the context - is the instrument in question exposed, or mixed down pretty well that it becomes harder to hear the qualities that tell you it needs humanization? So, for a solo piano performance, humanization is absolutely crucial; for something that features a piano but not at the forefront, probably not as necessary to be uber-realistic...

With certain OSTs, people don't necessarily shoot for "man, I can't tell if this is a real band or not." As long as it fits the mood, era, etc. for the game, and the composer and other participants are happy with it, I think it's fine. It's what they were going for, probably. But I would say those standards are associated with the fact that the relevant OSTs are probably pretty old, like 8-bit, 16-bit, stuff that's pre-2000s - early 2000s. Or, it's based on dated styles. I don't think anyone expects something crazy-realistic from, say, Pokemon Sapphire's OST, but it fits for a GBA game.

If it "holds up song writing", then it just means you need more practice working faster. It honestly doesn't make me slower, because I'm used to it, and I adjust velocities and rhythm as I go, instead of putting it off until the end. That way it doesn't feel like a lot of work left to do later. You don't want to grade 48 lab reports the day before they're due; you want to grade a few every day until you have to turn them in later, so that it's not such a pain for you.

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Pretty much exactly what Timaeus said. Also, a keyboard is pretty much essential in this avenue. You don't need anything super fancy if cost is an issue. As for the "2 years of piano playing", most composers I know, professional and amateur, are mediocre at best, pretty crappy at worst. They're good enough to find chords, play basic melodies and arpeggios, but that's really all. If you just practice a little each day, you can get proficient enough to make your work quicker without having to edit too much or re-record.

But look, this is an art. It takes dedication and, most of all, patience. If you don't have either, you're not going to get far. You want a pass because you're bad at playing an instrument, you don't have the equipment, or you're slow in the editing. You remark about "2 years" as if that's ridiculous. Well, everyone else spent those "two years" (and many more), so why do you think you shouldn't have to?

Practice. Learn. Realize that it takes time to get better as a musician and don't expect to automatically get to where it has taken years for others to get. Make your music better rather than telling people to evaluate music differently.
 

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6 hours ago, DMT Produktionen said:

But what yall need to understand is most people cant play an instrument really well, or have access to really good recording equipment or a good sample library. If try to make everything "human" by hand, it will take hours and hours and hold up song writing.

Well, yeah - before hyper-realistic samples were available(even to professional composers) a composer who wanted it to sound realistic would, if necessary, spend hours and hours doing what they could with the tools available. It was either that or hire actual musicians. As timaeus says, though, humanization is usually done as the song is written and as necessary rather than as an afterthought. I would venture to say that it's an integral part of the song writing process, whether you aim for realism or just what sounds good to you. It should never "hold up song writing" because it is a part of the writing process.

Even working with realistic samples you'll still often have to put in hours of work to make them sound realistic.

6 hours ago, DMT Produktionen said:

The only way to fix this is by buying a keyboard, and have at least 2 years of piano playing under your belt, but most people starting out dont have that skill.

I'd hardly say 2 years of piano playing is necessary. Anyone with a little time can pick up a MIDI keyboard(even a cheap one) and with a little practice have enough of an understanding to translate basic ideas into actual sounds. There are portable MIDI keyboards for $30-$40(or cheaper even) that connect via USB and do the job just fine. It's not huge investment but as Neifion put it, it's an essential one.

 

 

 

 

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8 hours ago, DMT Produktionen said:

If try to make everything "human" by hand, it will take hours and hours and hold up song writing. The only way to fix this is by buying a keyboard, and have at least 2 years of piano playing under your belt, but most people starting out dont have that skill.

Nope. Most DAW's have "humanization" options. I actually don't use a keyboard for most of my compositions. (Though I do have 2+ years of piano playing under my belt.) And it's not hard to just go through a track and give it a dynamic rage via velocity controller, especially as you're writing it.

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I don't 100% agree that instrumental skill is irrelevant to composition. I'm aware no one directly said that - the idea is that you don't need to play like Beethoven to make realistic MIDI or compose, but more often than not, I still see a causal link between quality of composition and instrumental proficiency.

If you try to compose music with an instrument you suck at, the instrument is now a bottleneck in your workflow. It makes it difficult to play the ideas in your head before they disappear and improvising limits you to what is within your limited skills. If I have an idea, I want to get it in recorded or written format ASAP with no mistakes and no chance of forgetting any part of it. That's why I prefer to write with sheet music and my guitar whenever I can. I'm a much better guitar player, so it's effortless to play and notate the ideas as they come to me and improvising yields satisfying results, more elaborate melodies and counterpoint, and intriguing discoveries with far greater frequency.

Afterwards, I can orchestrate it and half ass play it in on MIDI controller with quantization. The end result is a much better piece of music than I would have made if I tried to come up with it in the DAW with the keyboard. Most professional composers I know, even if they're crap pianists, can sing their ideas quite well.

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4 hours ago, Neifion said:

 

"Pretty much exactly what Timaeus said. Also, a keyboard is pretty much essential in this avenue. You don't need anything super fancy if cost is an issue. As for the "2 years of piano playing", most composers I know, professional and amateur, are mediocre at best, pretty crappy at worst. They're good enough to find chords, play basic melodies and arpeggios, but that's really all. If you just practice a little each day, you can get proficient enough to make your work quicker without having to edit too much or re-record."

I say two years because that's how long I expect to get good at piano with a teacher.


"But look, this is an art. It takes dedication and, most of all, patience. If you don't have either, you're not going to get far. You want a pass because you're bad at playing an instrument, you don't have the equipment, or you're slow in the editing. You remark about "2 years" as if that's ridiculous. Well, everyone else spent those "two years" (and many more), so why do you think you shouldn't have to?"

I never implyed two years is stupid. I said two years to get to a respectable level inorder to make good music on the fly. Yes, I'm slow at editing. And that's partially because I like to take my time and not rush music. Please dont say things I never said.

"Practice. Learn. Realize that it takes time to get better as a musician and don't expect to automatically get to where it has taken years for others to get. Make your music better rather than telling people to evaluate music differently."

My music is not the centerpiece of the discussion.  

 

I agree with every body in this thread, Dont take things the wrong way. I was just observing all the comments on other people's music.

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2 hours ago, Slimy said:

Nope. Most DAW's have "humanization" options. I actually don't use a keyboard for most of my compositions. (Though I do have 2+ years of piano playing under my belt.) And it's not hard to just go through a track and give it a dynamic rage via velocity controller, especially as you're writing it.

 

I know FL studio has a humanization option, but I can never find it. I just edit things by hand.

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My apologies, I somehow thought you were talking about critique aimed at your own music sounding mechanical.

I get what your overall point is, but it's pretty weird the way you're backing it up.

12 hours ago, DMT Produktionen said:

But what yall need to understand is most people cant play an instrument really well, or have access to really good recording equipment or a good sample library. If try to make everything "human" by hand, it will take hours and hours and hold up song writing. The only way to fix this is by buying a keyboard, and have at least 2 years of piano playing under your belt, but most people starting out dont have that skill.

Basically, you're saying the reason people shouldn't focus on humanization is because most composers suck at it, don't have the equipment, or don't have the time. I think your topic is valid - not focusing so much on humanization - even though I don't necessarily agree with it. But your reasoning is strange. Personally, I'm not going to overlook the issue of mechanical lifelessness because in the back of my mind I'm thinking since most people suck at it, it doesn't matter.

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2 hours ago, DMT Produktionen said:

I know FL studio has a humanization option, but I can never find it. I just edit things by hand.

I do too, but I never use it, because it's not an insta-solution, per se. No computer algorithm quite matches the "randomness" of a human's rhythm, sustained-note length, and playing intensities (especially if the same humanization preset is applied each time), so having a MIDI keyboard helps me get over those barriers. Yes, I do have 8+ years of piano experience, but honestly, I could be much better at improvising. I still have enough ability to play chords (for the human rhythm), solos/melodies (hoping for that happy accident!), and short passages that I can touch up later. However, I'm not one of those guys that plays things in perfectly the first/second time, and I could probably play what I play today, just as capably with 1 year of piano experience or less. I'm not bragging, by the way - I actually mean that in a humble and encouraging way.

You can feel free to apply the advice to your own music or just discuss it, but I think many people (including you) can benefit from applying what was said in this discussion. ;) IMO, it's one of those skills I think you or others can learn early, and it can be a nice tool to have while you work on other related things, like hearing chords in your head, picturing soundscapes before you write them, imagining melodies before writing them, etc.

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Let me rewrite your first post:

What I really dont understand  is how some people will always mention how a piece sound poorly mixed. Yes, bad mixing can sound unfocused or flat. But even when the song is really good, people still comment on how it doesnt sound "mixed well". But what yall need to understand is most people cant mix a song really well, or have access to really good listening equipment or a good effects library. If try to make everything "well mixed" by hand, it will take hours and hours and hold up song writing. The only way to fix this is by buying a flat-response studio monitor, and have at least 2 years of audio engineering under your belt, but most people starting out dont have that skill.

I mean, if you listen to some songs made by Nintendo, you'll see they have the same problems as most other music made on a computer. And no one cares about that. I think we shouldnt focus to much on mixing instruments as long as the music is not repetitive.

The same could be said about any aspect of music. Yes, it's nice if the song is good. Yes, people don't always care about the sequencing or mixing or whatever. But no, that doesn't mean it's not a problem, or that we shouldn't point it out and encourage people to solve it. Especially when that's the purpose of the post-your-music boards. You post there for feedback. If the feedback says your music is mechanical to the point where it bothers your listeners, then you should do something about it, right?

I know it's a bit of a slog sometimes to learn and improve, especially if you already think your music is pretty good. Same for music that you hear good things in, and don't hear those bad things people are talking about. It sounds like a non-issue, because it doesn't matter to you. But as you get better at this stuff, it will matter to you. I don't listen to my first remixes on the site, because I hear so much wrong with them. I'm sitting on half a dozen otherwise finished mixes because there are small annoying things I'm not happy with, thing I know will bother me later if I don't deal with them somehow.

I don't think the music needs to be realistic, but it needs to have an illusion of performance. My basses are often just quantized to a groove. That's enough illusion of performance for them, most of the time. But that's in mostly electronic music. Other sounds need other levels of performance illusion. That illusion of performance provides groove, dynamics, emotion beyond what the notes themselves provide. And that's important.

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Something else on the topic of humanization in general. When you write with non real (fake) instruments, you indeed have to add all those tiny articulations and stuff and it takes up a lot of time, which might seem a bit of a wasted effort. But don't forget that when you use non fake (real) instruments you do the exact same thing. The art of phrasing isn't something as naturel as it may seem. When I write for ensembles I spent hours and hours on articulation notation. Singing the lines, seeing whether the third note needs a tenuto or an accent. The difference between a staccato and a marcato note is huge. The whole humanization concept is basically the same thing as when you're writing for non real (fake) instruments, and takes just as much time. When I play in an orchestra or combo or whatever and my sheets don't have any articulations on it, well, I just don't know what to make out of it. Humanization is an important part of music, whether you're using a midi keyboard, a symphonic orchestra, or if you're playing all instruments by yourself. Denying or underestimating its importance is a very dangerous thing which can't ever be good for your music. I'm not saying that you're doing that, but it's just generally a good thing to not see non real (fake) instruments as a different thing than non fake (real) instruments. Because, in the end, when you're writing for those instrument, you have to get into the instruments and player anyway, and try to see how you'd play it if you were actually playing. And then try to mimic the impression of the sound you have in your head and convey it either on paper, or in your DAW. 

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i think what most people miss is that 'stiffness' is a property of rhythm that can be as expressive as any other. in the right place, used deliberate. that's a very neat point that DMT Produktionen brought up with the way Nintendo music tended to sound (for example).

stiff can sound expressive, relaxed can sound expressive. both together is fun

(this is just swing and no swing in one song, there's no humanisation in that sense of the word today, but it's pretty funky)

 

we just got the trouble with computers that 'stiff' is so easy to do now, as in exactness. so it's not as appreciated anymore. but really, listeners don't care in the end. rhythm is free, and slavish rhythm is another part of that freedom. it's all awesome depending on context, genre, juxtaposition of different rhythmic stuff....blabla.

btw humanization was literally the ONLY thing i heavily practiced in the last months when i was sequencing. it's worth it to really really try out everything. grid sequencing sucks. the problem with stiffness is really just that there's too much of it and it is not deliberate. learn to sequence un-stiffly, then learn to sequence stiffly and then you have the FUNK.

STIFF

 

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@Nase has a good point; For example, depending on the sample, I actually sometimes like stiffly-sequenced chords when I write electric piano chords that are processed through a wah pedal, since it creates a spikier transient that has more presence, whereas having slightly offset notes softens the transients a little. Or, sometimes I like to gate big chords for effect, which is a way to "sequence" stiffly.

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It's all based on the business side of it all. If you're composing for a director for an indie film, and they want it to 'sound just like this other epic adventure film here' or whatever, you're gonna have to emulate it, because it's a business and you're helping to produce a product that will be sold. 

This is why 2d rpg video games are likeable, even though there's very little money in it usually, though this is why they suck when the director says "I want hollywood big trailer music in this".

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I stopped viewing these things in terms of "realness" long ago. Rather, what a lot of peope would label as "real" or "human" or "expressive" I just view as additional musical components that I like and want to incorporate into my own work, and that just happens to be via sequencing/programming cause that's what I'm comfortable with. Whether something is played or sequenced is completely beside the point for me, as long as it sounds good. I enjoy listening to stuff like Joe Satriani, but the performance/virtuoso aspect is pretty much a complete non-factor for me.

 

On 2016-08-26 at 1:43 PM, Nase said:

i think what most people miss is that 'stiffness' is a property of rhythm that can be as expressive as any other. in the right place, used deliberate. that's a very neat point that DMT Produktionen brought up with the way Nintendo music tended to sound (for example).

stiff can sound expressive, relaxed can sound expressive. both together is fun

(this is just swing and no swing in one song, there's no humanisation in that sense of the word today, but it's pretty funky)

 

we just got the trouble with computers that 'stiff' is so easy to do now, as in exactness. so it's not as appreciated anymore. but really, listeners don't care in the end. rhythm is free, and slavish rhythm is another part of that freedom. it's all awesome depending on context, genre, juxtaposition of different rhythmic stuff....blabla.

btw humanization was literally the ONLY thing i heavily practiced in the last months when i was sequencing. it's worth it to really really try out everything. grid sequencing sucks. the problem with stiffness is really just that there's too much of it and it is not deliberate. learn to sequence un-stiffly, then learn to sequence stiffly and then you have the FUNK.

STIFF

 

Speaking of funk, the quality of the original Toejam & Earl soundtrack probably has a lot to do with how it was recorded live via MIDI input with little to no quantization after the fact. Them not being beholden to programming via a completely rigid step interface as was the case with typical video game music just makes it that much funkier.

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