I recently worked on my new track 'Awakening' which was modeled off of 'Star Sky' by Two Steps From Hell. I had to use spaces in the links to post them because it wasn't letting me. Just remove the spaces when copying and pasting the links into your browser please. If the links don't work, to listen to mine, type into your browser 'Daniel Cann Awakening', and to listen to theirs, type in 'Two Steps From Hell Star Sky'

Here's star sky:

Here's my piece:

As you can tell, mine is terrible compared to theirs.

If you go to 4:10 in star sky, that's an example of what I wanted. 3:32 in Awakening was what I got.

Mine feels incredibly dry, bad, muddy, and most of all it's missing life and personality. I have ideas of where the problems are that stops me from making my pieces good but I'd like some alternative inputs.

Are the errors I'm making in my mix and master, my orchestration, my sound quality? Where are they? I get good comments on my video but I know that my music isn't as good as a professional's, and that's what I need to work towards, and I can't do that unless people criticise me.

To be honest I think the errors are everywhere. I poorly orchestrate my music for a start, and I think that's definitely part of the issue.

I do acknowledge that Two Steps From Hell are the professionals of the professionals, and have professional mixing and mastering and record all of their music with live instruments, alas, I still want to be able to get a sound like them.

In short, my music feels dead and their music feels alive. There's no other way to put it.

How can I bring my music to life? Please note I've made this with sample libraries, not live recordings.

I hope you can help to me. I will try and use all criticism to improve. I've achieved my ABRSM Grade 7 on the piano a couple of years ago (I don't do grades anymore though) so that leads me to think that my problems are more in the technical side of things than compositional. But then again, I think I'm orchestrating wrong too.

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    I think that you're too hard on yourself. Without listening to the reference track, yours was much better than your description had led me to believe. The dynamics vary throughout the piece. But it's too long for the small amount of melodic content. I also think that this question should be closed as it's not suitable for this site. – No'am Newman Dec 30 '17 at 15:38
  • If it's not suitable here, where can I ask it? Also, thank you :) @No'amNewman – Featherball Dec 30 '17 at 19:01
  • "How can I bring my music to life? Please note I've made this with sample libraries, not live recordings." If you are ABRSM 7 on piano, I don't understand why you wouldn't perform the music using virtual instruments. Or is that what you're doing? – Todd Wilcox Dec 30 '17 at 20:00
  • Because I can play the piano but I don't have an orchestra. I use sample libraries to mock up an orchestra to create my trailer scores with. I have recorded my piano playing in the past but in this piece I used a sampled piano @ToddWilcox – Featherball Dec 30 '17 at 20:58
  • Is this a question or an informercial? – Stinkfoot Jan 30 '18 at 10:05

When you're working with sample libraries, it's hard to make it sound like a real orchestra. Most professional productions (especially in film) have access to some sort of ensemble, although it seems to me that the reference track you provided does not use a real orchestra.

If you really want to improve from where you are now, one thing you can do is learn more about acoustic instruments. This can be from a textbook (like the standard works on Orchestration by e.g. Adler, Piston, Rimsky–Korsakoff, ...), or by spending some time around the actual instruments.

Notably, what I encourage you to do is imagine you are actually playing the instruments. For instance, in the opening violin passage, how would they actually play that? Are all notes downbows, or is it alternating (these sound very different!)? How would a real player phrase such a part? (At the very least put a very subtle emphasis on the downbeats.) Similarly with the horn passages: where would a player breathe, and how would they phrase the part? You can work on the parts individually until you are convinced you are listening to a real person. One way to achieve this is to sing the part into a microphone first, the way you want it to sound, and then try to mimic that with the samples. (It helps if you have some experience performing classical music, because it has a much greater awareness of subtle phrasing than pop music does.)

You can also put yourself in the shoes of a conductor. If this is what your ensemble produces, what would you encourage them to work on? Think especially in terms of longer phrasing; sample libraries have a tendency to sound a bit monotonous. (But: it takes a lot of work to fix this. Scoring for real orchestra is undoubtedly easier than for samples, but the catch is you have to find people willing to play... Plus, recording is a bit of a nightmare, especially with the quality that you're looking for.)

There are also some slight timing issues between the strings and percussion in the opening section; it seems that these might result from a slow attack in the violin envelope (so you should play them a bit earlier).

Finally, in terms of production, if you want to go for that movie sound, you should step up your compression game. There are a lot of tools available for getting a sound with more 'punch' (or other adjectives you might like), so explore a little. Another fun tool that can liven it up quite a bit is a stereo enhancer. Don't be afraid to spend a little (but not a lot of) money on effects and mastering tools. (Alternatively, you can outsource this altogether, which is more costly but will probably produce better results than you will be able to achieve yourself — it's really a whole art form of its own.)

  • Feel free to email me if you want to talk more about this (you should be able to determine my email address). – Remy Jan 30 '18 at 5:29

I agree that you are too hard on yourself. For what it is, it sounds great. The orchestration sounds great too. I might suggest that you could be a bit less repetitive (add some other melodic interest within the piece). Also, you tend to be in one tonal area pretty much throughout, apart from when you modulate up a step towards the end. Try moving away from your base tonal area from time to time.

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