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How to give sampled instruments more variation in sound?

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I'm currently working on an orchestral remix, and one thing that really bothers me is that any sampled instrument (especially strings and brass) sounds boring. There's no human element to it. I'm already carefully varying the note velocity to add a bit more spice and rhythm, and it's not helping much sound-wise.

Are there any little tricks you use to add more variation between notes?

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lfo controlled vibrato is good if you don't use it TOO much.

otherwise layering different string sounds (like first a strong attack fading into a quieter string).

It's hard.

Get a cooler sample library :D

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Reason is not exactly known to have great orchestral samples included, but they are definitely moldable into something that sounds 'alright', if you know the necessary things about processing and articulations.

In my experience the strings from Reason work best by layering them extensively, to create a lush soundscape. If you're just using the strings as a 'pad' then you'll only need to correctly segue between the different chords, which can be done by applying legato (i.e. smooth transitions between the chords).

Play around with the ADSR-envelope (mainly the attack is of importance) and try to procreate crescendo and decrescendo (I think this should be done by automating the channels level, but there might be a more obvious and simple way).

If you want a more flattering role for the strings, be prepared to load up all the different articulations (legato, staccato, marcato, string runs, tremolo, glissando, etc, etc, etc.). You'll have to understand how to use each of these effectively, and yes, this can be a huge pain in the ass.

Even worse is the brass. Without decent samples, this will never sound convincing, but with correct articulations etc. this can come close to 'decent' even with sub-par samples. In short, same here with the articulations (sforzando crescendo, staccato, legato, glissando, and oh so much more).

To sum it up, orchestrating can be quite a bitch, both in terms of composition as well as the production, but it really isn't so much about decent samples as it is about the processing and articulations. Even the most expensive sample library will sound like crap if you don't pay attention to those.

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To sum it up, orchestrating can be quite a bitch, both in terms of composition as well as the production, but it really isn't so much about decent samples as it is about the processing and articulations. Even the most expensive sample library will sound like crap if you don't pay attention to those.

Quoted for truth.

My one "argument" (but really, still is in support for what Tensei-San has already said) is that the brass instruments that come with Reason are crap beyond crap.

Check into the Quantum Leap Brass. Nice and pretty cheap, and they're good quality!

One of the most effective ways that I have found to orchestrate something with Reason is to choose a composer and take a track or two from that composer and try to replicate the sound. I can tell you that one of the most talented orchestrators (not sure if that's even a word) on the site, Steffan Andrews, draws heavily from Danny Elfman, and Steffan's sound is wonderful because of it!

Yours truly practices this same method.

Practice makes perfect. Good luck mate!

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Im fairly sure Steffan also sounds awesome because he has Gigastudio, not that that makes him any less of a genius. His orchestration is crazy good.

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Automate the master volume on the nn-xt ALONG WITH setting static velocity levels for notes in the sequencer. Gradually make some long notes, chords or chord progressions get louder or softer while being played. I don't know how crazy you've gotten with setting note velocities, but changing the velocity of different notes in chords and chord progressions, such as gradually making the fifths louder while keeping the root at the same velocity in a chord progression (assuming you're using triads, but you get the idea) can create more of that humanization feel you're going for. Adding some reverb and a little delay never hurts either, if you haven't done that already.

But like everyone has already mentioned above, using LFOs to modulate certain parameters like pitch or volume to give the strings a bit more life. Layering strings or using different string samples at different velocities (can be programmed in the nn-xt if you're savvy with it, or done manually in the sequencer if you're not) is good advice too. Just don't go wild with all the advice and make the strings sound crappier than what you've started with, use your ear.

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I haven't played around with this too much yet, but what I've done so far seems promising. I've picked apart the NN-XT patches (for each of the string sections, so far) and set each of an instrument's various articulations as a separate zone in an new NN-XT patch. I've set each of these zones to use a different output on the NN-XT. This basically means that I can use a single MIDI track to trigger every possible articulation, and then automate each articulation's level using a mixer.

I guess you could do the same thing by combinating a bunch of NN-XTs with the different articulations, triggering the Combinator with a MIDI track, and mixing the NN-XTs' outputs, but there's duplication of data between a lot of the standard patches, and cutting that out and minimizing the number of NN-XTs (like the method above does) would make a file with an entire orchestra load much more quickly.

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I haven't played around with this too much yet, but what I've done so far seems promising. I've picked apart the NN-XT patches (for each of the string sections, so far) and set each of an instrument's various articulations as a separate zone in an new NN-XT patch. I've set each of these zones to use a different output on the NN-XT. This basically means that I can use a single MIDI track to trigger every possible articulation, and then automate each articulation's level using a mixer.

I guess you could do the same thing by combinating a bunch of NN-XTs with the different articulations, triggering the Combinator with a MIDI track, and mixing the NN-XTs' outputs, but there's duplication of data between a lot of the standard patches, and cutting that out and minimizing the number of NN-XTs (like the method above does) would make a file with an entire orchestra load much more quickly.

Combi patch plz

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Some advice, from someone who knows how to do the stuff but is too lazy to do all of it ever :-P :

First, note velocity: it's not just a matter of changing it randomly but to adjust it to fit the mood of the song at a current time. To accentuate certain verses or progressions, to give prominence to some instruments. doing random note velocities will only, as a friend told me a long time ago, make your intrument sound like they are being played by an inexpert and crappy musician.

Instrument volume: same as above, listen to some music and get a feel of how instruments get more prominence depending of the mood. Maybe you want some legato notes to gain strenght after being played, so a note velocity adjust won't help here, but a volume adjustment will.

Note timing: It's impossible for real performers to get every note spot-on with the tempo. keep that in mind, as writing music entirely quatitized will ruin the human feeling of your song, unless you're working on less organic music such as some electronic music types.

Positioning: Arranging your instruments in the stereo field helps a lot to give that orchestra feeling. There's a general concensus of how instruments are generally positioned on an orchestra, so knowing that helps too.(damn, I had a link explaining this but lost it, if anyone has some reference to this please link it)

range: Every instrument has a note range that you must respect. Some patches allow you to go over or under the instrument's real range so be careful with that. Also, know your patches. Some patches sound better in some note ranges than in others. Knowing the strengths and weakness of your patches will help you build a more beliavable and human piece.

As i said, I don't follow these much but the times i feel less lazy and I do use them (which is rare!) they do work.

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ok, you guys are gonna think im crazy.

I too think that the brass sounds incredibly terrible in reason, with the exception of SOME of the french horn patches. To be honest i have a little secret that works for me, and makes it a little more convincing if you really need a good brass sound.

ok heres why your gonna think im crazy. Ive found that using a STRING patch actually works as a better sound for BRASS if you apply the right Scream device to that string patch. Mess around with it until you get the desired sound you want, and then layer it under one of your real brass patches. If done right it gives the brass the right amount of crunch and makes it less wimpy. And being a former trumpet player, nothing is worse to me than a trumpet that sounds whimpy! lol

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ok, you guys are gonna think im crazy.

I too think that the brass sounds incredibly terrible in reason, with the exception of SOME of the french horn patches. To be honest i have a little secret that works for me, and makes it a little more convincing if you really need a good brass sound.

ok heres why your gonna think im crazy. Ive found that using a STRING patch actually works as a better sound for BRASS if you apply the right Scream device to that string patch. Mess around with it until you get the desired sound you want, and then layer it under one of your real brass patches. If done right it gives the brass the right amount of crunch and makes it less wimpy. And being a former trumpet player, nothing is worse to me than a trumpet that sounds whimpy! lol

Oh I used to play the trumpet to. It was for band class and all the other trumpet players had dropped the class. I played the Indiana Jones song by myself without the help of other trumpet players and despite that, I did a good job ^^ Sorry about the irrelevant subject =/

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Or you could just hire a brass player ;-) They're cheap if you feed them cookies.

I'm doing an experiment now where I've done a demo up entirely with samples, and then I'm re-recording it with a live symphonic string section to replace the strings with live performance. The funny thing is that at the end of the day when you compare the two, the demo may sound awesome on its own but next to the live recording it withers in comparison, even with the best combination of sample libraries and finessing.

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Or you could just hire a brass player ;-) They're cheap if you feed them cookies.

hey stef, it says that you're a remixer, but there's no tracks listed made by you on the site :S

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