Squids 2 – draft/polished music comparison

Squids 2 – draft/polished music comparison

As Squids – Wild West (aka Squids 2) came out yesterday, I thought I would publish this. I wrote this post about 4 weeks ago while rushing to project completion to keep myself motivated, but I didn’t have time to post it. It’s intended for people familiar with computer made music and its jargon (fancy words like “patch”), and let’s face it, mostly other composers.

With orchestral music you need to know what you’re doing in advance for many reasons, so making mock-ups is important. Voicing and orchestration can become a headache quickly. You want to have the music figured out before you move on to tedious MIDI programming and editing. So I often just load generic strings and brass patches and jam away with those. That said, it’s important to still think of how it will translate to “real” instruments, and think carefully about how chords are going to be shared across a section later, for example.

The following is a pseudo-western action tune parody. As usual with Squids, I’m achieving some of the lightness and humorous feeling using synth leads. Here’s a “before / after” showing how I went from a draft to a well produced piece  (please note that the song is looping seamlessly  in game). All instruments are roughly the same in both the mock-up and produced versions, except for the strings and brass sections. So listen to those two carefully because they are what makes the production here. I’m using the word “production” loosely here to describe the process of replacing crappy sounding instruments with higher quality ones that will sound much better and will bring the music to a more “professional” level of polish. It is not necessarily a quick process of just “replacing” a plug-in with another. Strings and brass are notoriously difficult to produce convincingly using a computer.

Let’s do it backwards. Here’s the “after” version, polished and with high quality instruments:

And now here’s the “before” version, from which the one above came, with mock-up quality strings and brass, and rougher in spots:

What’s important here is that the crappy craft version already has the right energy. The polished version only enhances emotions that are already there. If a part doesn’t have the right vibe or energy at draft level, it will be very hard and time consuming to fix it during production.

Composing using simple sounds makes me focus on the actual writing, perfecting the melody and the flow without relying on “effects” and “textures” to cover for my lack of imagination. It doesn’t need to be perfectly arranged for me to decide that I can begin actual production*, but each part needs to at least “work”, and the basic structure of the song must work too.

I hope this was remotely interesting to someone. Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions. For those wondering, here’s a list of the VST instruments used in the polished version. Those are responsible for as much wonder as they are headaches:

– Brass: Brass I,  (Vienna Symphonic Library)
– Strings: Los Angeles Scoring Strings 1.5 (Audiobro)
– Synths: Halion Sonic (Steinberg)
– Guitar 1 and banjo: Chris Heins Guitars
– Guitar 2: Real Guitar 2L (MusicLab)
– Percussions: Kontakt 4 library (they’re from VSL) + Stormdrum 1 (Eastwest)
– Woodwinds: Woodwinds I (Vienna Symphonic Library)

My sequencer is Cubase 6.