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Music Pro TOP 3 SECRETS for Synthesized Strings & Mixing

Music Pro TOP 3 SECRETS for Synthesized Strings & Mixing

Make the most of synthesized string sounds with these must-read tips from a music pro. Most beginning sound artists quickly fall in love with the sensuous lush string synthesized pads of Logic, Pro-Tools, Digital Performer, Garageband, or Cubase. The difference between sounding like an amateur sound artist and sounding like a professional musician involves just a few basic steps.

1. Don't "Record first, edit later"
Often amateur musicians follow the "Record first, edit later" approach when writing for strings. This involves recording various improvisations created on the fly, which is great for an organic sounding and "natural" track if, and only if, the musician improvising on the strings is a talented keyboard player and/or is a string musician. Why? When playing strings in a music software program, it is too easy to fall in love with huge, sweeping chords and ignore the finer nuances of the string family.

How can you avoid this simple pitfall? One way to avoid it is to familiarize yourself with the string instruments. By listening to actual strings, live and in recordings, you can familiarize yourself with the sounds that are natural to a string player. Another way to avoid sounding like a music hack is by putting in a little bit of preparation before you record. I am not talking about composing an entire symphony and playing it back like a parroting robot. No, what you need is a music sketch.

2. What is a music sketch?
Think of a music sketch like the storyboard of your song. Before the talented artists at Pixar put together an amazing animation, they storyboard it. A storyboard looks a lot like a simplified comic book version of the film, with main characters quickly drawn out in various scenes of the animation short. The storyboard keeps the animators on track. Sure, there will be many changes before the animation is completed, but at least there is a road map, a guide, to follow which saves a lot of time and gives the animation some much-needed professional continuity.

Your music sketch operates the same way. Improvise a few melodic and harmonic ideas on the piano or keyboard. Write them down. I often recommend writing away from the computer and the software (often times, it is too easy to write music around the software's limitations instead of the limitation of your imagination). Get a general outline of how the piece will unfold. It can be something as simple as graphic notation or as complicated as a carefully formulated lead sheet.

3. Now you can record!
Using the music sketch as a guide, assign the melodic lines to the strings best suited for the part. For example, long tones giving harmonic support can be assigned to the synthesized bass or cello software instruments. Choppy, percussive hits may be best served with the "pizzicato" settings of your music software while dark melodies can be doubled by the cello and viola or violin.

If you are in a hurry and have to work with quick chords or don't have great keyboard chops, it helps to record the strings into one track then split the track into several different tracks like bass, cello, viola, violin, violin solo and separate tracks for effects like pizzicato or legato. 

More String Options - Sampler Libraries and Live Musicians
If you have access to an entire sampled orchestral library like those from Easy West, you will be in the best position to create a realistic track.

I also recommend hiring a live performer for a few of the tracks. For example, you can find a talented violinist on that will play the melody or a solo for less than $50. You can also bring in friends, fellow music students or colleagues, and even church musicians to beef up the organic sounds.

The professionalism is in the details, and with a little bit of preparation, you can make a simple musical idea conquer the world.


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