Have you ever wondered what makes a good sounding mockup? Here are five of our best tips for improving the overall realism of your musical scores!
The first thing to consider is that the aim of a mockup is to create a realistic sound. A great piece of music that is badly arranged is never going to sound good, and in the film world it will usually result in getting the cue rejected.
Make sure that you fully understand the nature of the instruments that you are using. Having access to virtual instruments is great but lack of technical knowledge might work against you. For example, if you are a pianist who is composing an acoustic guitar chord sequence, you should learn how a guitarist may voice these chords, rather than how you may naturally voice it as a pianist.
The way a performer strums the guitar may naturally affect the rhythm, and this may differ from playing the same idea on a piano, where you are using both your left and right hands to contribute to the rhythm.
This should be applied to anything, from brass, strings, woodwind, percussion instruments etc. Something as simple as correct voicing can really make a difference and ensure that the basic idea sounds correct.
One of the best exercises you can do to learn the way an orchestra works is to go and see one.
Whether or not you know the piece of music, seeing the way an orchestra plays together and really taking note of the details can make a huge difference to the way you will approach writing especially since you will probably have an assortment of virtual instruments at hand.
For example; how many players are there in each section and how are they spread around the room? Are the playing unison or divisi? Is the ensemble all playing at the same time, or taking in turns? Which instruments are filling which registers and frequency ranges within the piece of music? Take this into account when writing music with the virtual instruments and sample libraries.
Experiencing and then learning from existing music will help to improve your knowledge of what will work.
This is an aspect of music composition and mockups in particular which is often overlooked. Dynamics work because they have emotional impact, and completely change not only the overall volume of what you're hearing, but the intensity and timbre from the instruments themselves.
Having 12 horns blaring at you at fff for 5 minutes straight is neither pleasing, nor impactful because you're not experiencing what is inherently natural for the instrument. However, really hearing the true dynamic range of the instruments is where the interest is. So when using sample libraries and virtual instrument pay particular attention to the velocity of each instrument, it will add life and expression to you musical compositions.
Let's take an example we all know, Time by Hans Zimmer. Not only is this cue admirable for it's wonderfully simple yet effective melodic and harmonic structure, but it is the perfect example of the emotional impact you get from the timbre change due to the dynamics.
There are many styles where a metronome is necessary, but classical and orchestral music is not generally one of them.
In the film industry, a metronome is not usually something that can be avoided due to edit changes and quick deadlines – unless the composer is experienced in this area, but the emotion that can be created by a musician through the use of rubato (playing freely) is unparalleled.
Notice how digital audio workstations inherently putting you into grid and perfect timing. Even if you use best virtual instruments and sample libraries available, it renders potentially wonderful compositions - lifeless.
The way the music is performed can be as important as the notes themselves, so creating a “performance” within your mockup is a key step in creating realism. This is where you can truly express the way you want the music to flow, so that you can get rid of that metronomic feel which most likely is working against you - making your music sound robotic and unnatural.
This can either be achieved by rapid or subtle tempo shifts during the cue, or simply by adding in extra beats or some swing where it feels musically appropriate. If used within the right context, this can be extremely effective way to enhance the realism of your music.
A mistake a lot of people make is over mixing. Frequently composers don't realise that mistakes are actually in the way something is written or orchestrated, but will try and mix their way out of the situation.
Before starting to mix, it's best to take some time away from the track, then return and listen with a clear head. If it sounds bad, really try to analyse why it might sound that way, and if it's something within the orchestration or voicing which we covered above, might be the thing that needs fixing instead.
If you are purchasing a string library from a reputable company, there is a good chance that those strings have already been mixed by a professional, and applying drastically different EQ will usually do more harm to the sound than good.
It can be difficult to mix virtual instruments and sample libraries from different developers together, but in most cases we've found that as long as the creative ideas and orchestration is correct, less tweaking is necessary and it will generally sound better.