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Blog // Sounds
January 4, 2010

The Seduction of Scoring and Sequencing

Ben Newhouse recently posted some excellent thoughts on composing music; Scores and Sequences – Separate but Equal. Ben’s thoughts directly address some major workflow issues I’ve been facing in the last year and a half. I tend to write music in a program called Sibelius. It is one of a number of programs that allow […]

Ben Newhouse recently posted some excellent thoughts on composing music; Scores and Sequences – Separate but Equal. Ben’s thoughts directly address some major workflow issues I’ve been facing in the last year and a half.

I tend to write music in a program called Sibelius. It is one of a number of programs that allow you to write stave music, much as you would have done with paper and pencil, expect harnessing the power of modern computing. Sibelius plays back the music you compose and whilst the results from this get better with each new version of the programme, they aren’t really good enough (in my hands) as a final product. The real power of scoring programs like Sibelius is their ability to jot down ideas, to edit and arrange musical parts and to create visually beautiful and easy to read printed sheet music.

In Sibelius I can write and arrange really well, but the quality of the music I output is not compelling.

When it comes to recording, and recreating the music I’ve written in final form, I use a program called Logic, which is one of the major Digital Audio Workstations. In conjunction with Logic I use a number of sample players and sample libraries that hold hundreds of Gigabytes of files – recordings of real instruments played by real musicians. Programs like Logic are computerised recording studios; tremendously powerful and able to reproduce music with stunning authenticity and realism, as well as combing programmed and automated parts with real life recordings. Whilst I can create music in Logic and improvise with the software instruments, the interface is not as good, for me, when it comes to arranging. I like to look at staves of music and the notation editor in Logic always feels clumsy and slow compared to Sibelius. Moreover, the printed output from Logic, whilst useable, is simply not on a par with the output from Sibelius, which rises to the level of professional engraving and publishing.

In Logic I create great sounding music, but, as things become more complex, writing and arranging gets slow and the quality of the sheet music Logic creates is nowhere near as good as what Sibelius delivers.

So, I write in Sibelius, producing great looking, well worked arrangements, then I create music in Logic. Typically, I export a MIDI sequence from Logic (an automated collection of notes for each instrument). In a perfect world, you could use one program to cover both tasks. But we don’t live in a perfect world. As Ben summarises it,

creating the best possible score and the best possible audio recording are two different processes. While it would be nice to do them simultaneously, doing so inevitably compromises one or the other…and you end up with the perfect recording and a less-than-perfect notated score, or the perfect notated score and a less-than-perfect recording.

What does that mean for me? Well, it means that to improve from where I am now I will have to make two changes.

First, on some smaller projects I will just have to learn to do the whole job in Logic. For a lot of jobs I don’t need to have professional quality sheet music, if no-one else is going to play on the project or see the score. If I need to create a bunch of short, punchy cues for a game developer, then skipping the Sibelius stage would save a substantial amount of time.

Second, on larger projects I need to get better at playing the parts into the sample players in Logic, rather than working from a MIDI file. This means on a project with, say 60 tracks of sample instruments, playing each instrument in as a live MIDI performance, rather working from programmed parts. This means creating a stage that interprets the score, much like an orchestra does.

This sounds like a lot of extra work, but really it is a disciple and workflow issue. Right now I still spend a lot time cleaning up and tweaking the MIDI that Sibelius exports to make it sounds as good as possible in Logic.

Right now the challenge I’m facing is to sound better and get good results faster. In music, as in most creative fields, once you have good skills the improvements only really come with great efficiency and better workflows. Embracing this difference between what I can and should do in Sibelius and what I can and should do in Logic is an essential step forward in the next few months.

Responses
Mike Mahoney 13 years ago

Herein lies the frustration of my level of musical understanding: I completely understand every single word and idea of this (great) post; yet the thought of doing such a thing is so far above me as to make my head hurt. 🙂

Software (among many other things) is a series of compromises and specilizations. After all, if one program did it all perfectly, would we need more than one program?

Mike Mahoney 13 years ago

Herein lies the frustration of my level of musical understanding: I completely understand every single word and idea of this (great) post; yet the thought of doing such a thing is so far above me as to make my head hurt. 🙂

Software (among many other things) is a series of compromises and specilizations. After all, if one program did it all perfectly, would we need more than one program?

Acolea Moore 12 years ago

Thank you for this article. I would like to refer to some of your points during a short presentaton that I am doing on Thursday. It is an introductory lesson on basic principals of music technology. This will be interesting for our composers who are presently using Finale for both scoring and sequencing.

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