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Topic: Getting that realistic string sound...

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  1. #1

    Getting that realistic string sound...

    Dear Forum,

    After listening to some unbelievable VSL demos by Jay Bacal, Maarten Spruijt, and Guy Bacos, I've been struggling to achieve a similarly authentic string sound.

    (If you haven't heard Jay's demos, visit the VSL site immediately: http://www.vsl.co.at/en-us/67/3920/4699.vsl# ... His version of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite is phenomenal)

    I think the digital orchestrator's strongest asset is the ability to coax a realistic sound from the string section.

    This is something I've been struggling with a lot lately-- my mixes come out sounding weak and thin, and I think the culprit is my strings.... I was hoping to get some advice from my fellow NSS users!

    An example of my string work:

    http://www.alexdavismusic.com/demos/...retMeeting.mp3

    My questions:

    1) What is your string library of choice?

    2) When creating a legato passage, what combination of string samples/libraries have brought you the most success?

    Also, if anyone has general tips/tricks to share, it would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks in advance for your input!

    -Alex

  2. #2
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    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    I am afraid that I do not have any "tricks" for you, but rather a couple serious suggestions. Most important, learn something of the mechanics of each string instrument. Learn what a player needs to do when fingering notes, the various bow techniques used, and when the different bowing styles are appropriate. The greatest library may sound absolutely awful when used in a way contrary to the way a passage would be played on real instruments. Lastly, if you have not done so, study scoring for strings. In the end, honing your craft will provide you with far greater gains than simply learning a few tricks.

    Jim

    And yes, I play strings.

  3. #3
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    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    "I think the digital orchestrator's strongest asset is the ability to coax an a realistic sound from the string section."

    You hit the nail on the head there. Use combinations of samples, learn to use MIDI controller data, amd the most important thing, IMHO, is the space that the strings (and everything else for that matter) sit in. Real strings recorded dry with no ambience will still sound like real strings. Samples of real strings that are dry, or do not have the right ambience will sound alot like samples. Samples of real strings that have the correct ambience, will sound like samples, but will be alot more realistic. Listening to your peice, it is evident you need to play with the release of your samples. They simply cutoff very un-realistically, and the transition between notes is what really makes it sound synthy. That said, I like the peice - keep it up and you'll get it.

    Cheers.

  4. #4

    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    Noldar,

    Thanks for the suggestion-- I know that it is always important to think about the acoustic and physical characteristics of the instrument in use... (I keep the Adler text by my side at all times!)

    Knowing proper orchestration/instrumentation techniques is only half the battle! Although the greatest library may sound absolutely awful when used poorly, without the right collection of samples, even a well-orchestrated piece can sound like #$%^.

    Your advice is much appreciated, but I suppose my question leans on the technology side of things-- what samples/ combination of samples give you the best results?

    -Alex

  5. #5
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    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    The only string I have are from VSL's opus 1. I have the same problem, but I like layering the performance legato with the basic long note patch. Combined with the right ambience, this gives me a legato transition which is not too noticeable, with the fullness of the long notes patch. I find the legato patches a bit nasal. So really, this is a step away from realism, as I am am increasing the number of instruments in the sections, but I find it more pleasing than either one by itself.

    Belbin

  6. #6
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    Talking Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    Ok, I'm going to get lynched for this but I don't care, because someone has to say it. Everyone talks about legato and all that but honestly, I believe that it's more about the performance of the strings and how they are mixed (and of course orchestration).

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDavis
    Dear Forum,
    (If you haven't heard Jay's demos, visit the VSL site immediately: http://www.vsl.co.at/en-us/67/3920/4699.vsl# ... His version of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite is phenomenal)
    Well, it was hard to tell anything about these clips because a) the strings where pretty far back in the mix (I would have probably missed them if I hadn't been listening for them) and b) what I heard sounded didn't sound all that real (no offence to Jay). So in comparison with your piece (which was very nice BTW) there is your first culprit. You had the strings right out in front, and that is where a string library can shine or drown depending on how you use it.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDavis
    This is something I've been struggling with a lot lately-- my mixes come out sounding weak and thin, and I think the culprit is my strings.... I was hoping to get some advice from my fellow NSS users!
    The first thing I noticed about your clip is that it sounded quite nasal (for lack of a better term), and this is something that can be fixed very easily with different EQ settings. Actually, this is something I hear on a lot of work that is using convolution reverb (even when I tried to use it). Anyhow:

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDavis
    1) What is your string library of choice?
    EWQLSO, but I don't believe it is any better than any other string lib.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDavis
    2) When creating a legato passage, what combination of string samples/libraries have brought you the most success?
    Basically, I just try to find the most expressive and natural sound that I can instead of worrying about legato and such. One thing that is going to kill any semblance of realism in your piece is if the playing is dull and flat. Listen to recordings of your favorite orchestral works and pay close attention to how the strings are played. They are not static and droning with barely noticeable vibrato, but dynamic and changing. Then dig through your string collection and see what you can find.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDavis
    Also, if anyone has general tips/tricks to share, it would be greatly appreciated!
    Read orchestration books and know the limits of your samples. For example, don't have your 1st violins playing 3 notes at the same time because it will sound very nasty unless you have a way to make the ensemble smaller. And one of the biggest things I can say to anyone: work on your mix! Listen to your favorite recordings and match them to the best of your capability. I have never had a string library that I didn't have to completely rework when it came to mixing because instrument A was louder than instrument B (when it shouldn’t have been), the instruments didn't sound like they where in their proper place (reverb issue), or the instrument needed extensive eqing to make it sound like I want it to sound. Using reverb and eq will save your life if you can manage to use them well. And through I am sure people will flame me for this: interval sampling does NOT make a piece sound realistic. Static samples with legato still sound static and lifeless, so try not to focus on that too much. Just keep trying and you will get where you want to go (though it might take awhile, I've been working on mine for about a year so far ). Best of luck man, and I hope you find something in here useful.

    Regards,
    James W.G. Smith
    "PRODUCER TO ARTIST: I don't care if that grace note on the snare hit in bar 9085 works! This is dub 'n bass acid house penis, not ~~~~ing house dub 'n acid bass penis with a twist!" - Nick Batzdorf

  7. #7
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    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    Alex,

    I actually enjoyed your short composition. It's BarberMahlerZimmerlicious! (Hmm. Your influences do seem to end in "-er" to a suspicious degree... are you German? ) I didn't find the sound to be 'thin'.

    To me, the biggest problem with the realism of this specific piece is a no-brainer: since crescendo+cutoff is the major device of the piece, you REALLY need release samples for this to work.

    Adding reverb would certainly help in masking the suspicious dead digital-zero silences that issue from each instrument following cutoff, but I would go so far as to say that if this were recorded with release samples, the biggest problem would disappear and this could sound fine nearly as-is.

    Some improvement of the way the sound envelopes during legato lines would help as well. Use of real time control of volume within notes, and careful listening to the way expressive line is played with strings will help, as Jim & James suggested.

    VSL strings have release samples that ring nicely at cutoff. Other libraries may also have this feature but i'm not specifically aware of any.

  8. #8

    Talking Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    Thanks jloeb and James for your great advice! I'll look for samples with releases built in, think more about EQing, and most importantly, try and compare my work to some pristine orchestral recordings in my collection....

    I really, really appreciate the time it took for you to listen to my work and critique my work!

    -Alex

  9. #9

    Re: Getting that realistic string sound...

    Very nice ideas, here. What string library are you using on the demo?

    I have scored for live string sections. The trick for midi strings is placement. With the right room/reverb plus proper mix, you can create really natural sounding ensembles. When you bring midi strings to the front of the mix, it becomes more crucial to know how to program realistically.

    Here are some very helpful links:

    http://www.northernsounds.com/forum/...splay.php?f=77

    http://www.northernsounds.com/forum/...splay.php?f=41

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