I'd like to start this post with a wonderful performance of "Libertango" for woodwind quintet by Astor Piazzolla....
Here's what I love about woodwind instrument:
1) Unique sounds and timbres (brass and strings tend to be much more homogenous--still love brass and strings, but boy do I love the tone colors of woodwinds)
2) Very expressive--the highs and lows (in pitch AND range) are flexible and fantastic
3) As a composer, I like the playable range of most woodwinds, and how you can use the different registers to your advantage
4) Really fast scales/arpeggios... this is kind of silly, but what a great effect to use--whether it be scales in all directions creating a really cool harmonic texture, or loud chromatic rips to create intensity, woodwinds are great
Now, in my world of exploring plug-ins for Logic Pro, I've noticed that it's difficult to find great woodwind plug-ins. The musician in me is thankful that this will hopefully keep woodwind players gainfully employed, but the composer and listener is worried because many composers have stopped writing for woodwinds. Now, please keep in mind I haven't carefully researched this notion, I'm just making an observation. As more and more composers look to DAWs to create their mock-ups (especially in the commercial/film world), we've seen much more brass and string heavy (the plug-ins sound WAY better) compositions. If you don't believe me, just listen to the two clips below:
Just listen to the difference in use of woodwinds... actually, in the Iron Man example, they're not even there (or at least you can't hear them). Now, this isn't a criticism at all. I love Brian Tyler's music. I'm just noticing a change in how things are written these days. I could have picked a lot of other film composers from the 80's like Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, etc. I could pick practically any popular film composer today. Whatever the reason for using woodwinds less, I think it is unfortunate and hope that as plug-ins get better, we see a return to lots of colorful writing for woodwinds!!
Now, you might wonder why I spend so much time talking about film music. Aside from the fact that I love it, it's important to note that film/commercial/video game music is what the OVERWHELMING majority of people listen to. People will hear film music long before they will listen to Beethoven or Mozart (or any classically oriented composer today). I'll elaborate on why I think "classical" film music is paramount to keeping the genre alive in another post.
I always enjoy talking and writing about great film music. Having grown up on the Spielberg/Williams collaborations, I certainly like when the score plays a central role in a film. (Side note: Spielberg always kept John Williams close when developing and creating movies, which I believe is why Williams creates such thematic and compelling scores)
I recently went and saw Jurassic World. It lived up to expectations, especially from the music end. I was very appreciative of how Michael Giacchino worked in the original themes, as well as created some new ones...it was very tastefully done. I really really liked when the piano quietly played the original theme while the kids were discovering the old visitor center--a very poignant moment. My second favorite part of the score was when the creepiness of the raptors was accompanied by a trombone (with straight mute I think) playing a dissonant melody...if you can call it a melody.
I recently heard a Giacchino interview on NPR that was enlightening as to how he developed his style of composition. He apparently used to take a cassette tape recorder into Spielberg movies and record the audio then listen to it over and over. I can certainly relate to this in the sheer amount that I listened the Lord of the Rings soundtrack a LOT when I was younger. It's safe to say that Howard Shore definitely influenced my composition. This incessant listening also explains why I always felt a familiarity in Giacchino's scores (especially in Super 8...great movie btw).
I'm also appreciative of the fact that Giacchino makes use of the woodwind section. These days that seems to be left out of many "summer blockbuster" scores...which sucks, because woodwind add such a rich color and are so flexible for melodic content (here's a reason why composers might be using them less).
I'm excited to see what else the summer holds for my symphonic and cinematic loving ears..
Today I'm discussing my frustrations with the fact that Apple computers no longer come with a program that natively and easily plays MIDI files. I remember when I first found out that Quicktime no longer plays MIDI files. This was a dark day for me as a composer/arranger.
Now, for those of us who don't know exactly what MIDI files are: Music Instrument Digital Interface. Surely that explains it...right? Basically, without getting too technical, it is digital language that can be created by electronic instruments (or software) and translated to a computer so you can hear the music/pitches/etc. The absolute best thing about MIDI files is that they are SMALL...TINY, compared to mp3's and other larger music files. Now, they transmit a different type of data than an mp3/wav/aiff does. This is why Quicktime no longer plays them... it no longer translates the data for immediate playback. You now have to use another program to open the MIDI file.
So... attention MAC users: you can open these with Garageband, the built in DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It may tell you at first that there's no program to open MIDI files, but all you have to do is right click (or control click) and select Garageband.
The thing I dislike about this, however, is that the instruments in Garageband are severely limited compared to what you might have in Finale or Sibelius. Garageband is largely set up for a more commercial sound, rather than a symphonic sound. And because MIDI files are small, they don't translate as much info as an XML file...because of this, there are something things lost in translation and the music ends up sounding quite wonky.
As I've read on many forums and blogs, Apple is known for killing technologies. The Macbook Pro I'm typing on has no cd drive...and Quicktime doesn't play MIDI files. Click here if you're interested to see what else has been killed over the years.
Now, in light of being an educator and not simply complaining about the fact that we Mac users can't simply click on the midi files and play them.. here's your options for playing midi files.
1) Garageband - as we already discussed.
2) Download a third party player. Google "MIDI Player" there's a bunch.
3) Find a copy of Quicktime 7 (the last version that played MIDIs)
The fact is you can still play the MIDI files, you may just have to do a little more than double click and expect it to work.
As an earlier post described my exploration of places to sell my commercial music, I've now been exploring my options to sell my instrumental and choral music, easily getting them in the hands of teachers and musicians. And this discussion brings me to the excitement of the post..
Recently, I Googled "sell PDFs online," just curious if there were platforms that existed. Fortunately for me, there are a TON of places to sell digital goods online. Now, these services are more for selling ebooks and such, but it totally works for selling music as well. I had contemplated using Paypal and just sending people music individually, but this takes the work off my shoulders. These third-party companies host my pieces and take care of the payment as well. After some research, I decided to go with Selz.com because there is no annual price, they just take a small cut of the profit (commission based). This will help in the times where I don't actually sell music..
So the great thing is that I can take care of everything on my laptop, from the comfort of my favorite coffee shop.. and it's summer and I have more time to write. I remember back in college wondering how I might brave the world of trying to get signed on with a publisher, and now I don't really need to. I obviously won't have the backing of a big company, but I own all of my own music and my copyrights. Years ago, I remember Eric Whitacre commenting on the benefits of owning your own copyrights, I now truly understand why that is a benefit.
So soon I'll have a bustling marketplace of sheet music to add to my commercial tunes! Time to write!
Tis' the season for band directors across the country to put together a marching band show for the upcoming fall. This also means it is the season I am glued to my computer for many hours putting together arrangements. This post is actually a bit of procrastination as I need a break from Sibelius at the moment.
I figured I would give some tips for band directors in order to get the best out of your show/arrangements.
1) First, you have to decide where you want to go for music. Obviously, you can go the stock arrangement route, but with that direction, you get what you get and you just have to make it work (stock arrangements help when $$ is an issue). For my purposes today however, let's say you chose to hire an arranger.
2) Pick a show concept. These days, most directors are going to want to pick something simple, yet effective. For a competitive show example, think something like "Darkness to Light." This concept works for many shows because you have the structure and concept built in and the audience/judges always know what's going on. If you're not worried about competing, maybe you want to tie together some popular tunes from the radio and come up with a clever title.
Also, know your audience. I think it's best to find a show that directors/staff, parents/students, audiences (at home and at competitions/festivals), and judges will find enjoyable. You may want to pop in the DVD from last year's Grand Nationals to get ideas... you also may want to Youtube some entertaining college bands. When picking a concept, you definitely want to weigh in all possibilities.
3) Once you've got a concept, think about how you want the show to progress. You always want to think about creating effective moments.. essentially how all music works. It's always going somewhere. In marching band, those moments tend to be the fff moments. I suggest making a timeline (like film directors will make a storyboard) of what you want to have happen. Include music and visual things you want to be happening at all the moments. Then, start picking pieces or parts of pieces that fit into the timeline.
**Note: When choosing music, remember that anything published after around 1920, you'll most likely need to obtain the rights to. Check out Tresona Music for more info. It's also a great place to take care of all your licensing needs.***
Finding Public Domain pieces can help with the $$ situation if you can work them into the show. Also, this is a great way to expose your students to some of the classics!!!!!
4) Know your strengths and weaknesses. Give specific information to the arranger so that they arrange for YOUR group (this is why it's helpful to foot the bill for an arranger as opposed to stock music.. you can get the music tailored to your ensemble!). Also, in terms of show design, think about where you might like to feature certain sections. Choose music that allows you to do this.
5) Once your get your arrangements, don't be afraid to play around with it. A huge difference between Concert Band Festivals and Marching Band Festivals is that you don't have to submit scores to the judges in marching band (...maybe we should have to?). So, make your group sound good. If your first trumpets frack that high A every time.. take it out. If you'd like to know how to tweak a show, just watch a drum corps rehearse. Watch how much changes from the beginning of the summer to the end.. it's a lot.
Also, if the vision didn't come across the way you intended. Make some changes to fix it. Hopefully, you've got an arranger that can rewrite a couple bars if necessary ..I know I've done this a good bit :)
For most band directors, this post is probably stuff you already know. Hopefully, it helps somebody out there! Good luck with the next season!!!
Lately I've been pondering how much I wished I had tagged along with my friends that used to build computers in my middle/high school years (back in the late 90's, early 2000's). I say this because those skills and the importance of knowing the nuts and bolts of technology and computing came to me WAY too late in life. If I knew then what I know now...
For example, designing my first website was an absolute nightmare. The only reason I have this website up and running as nicely as I do is thanks to www.weebly.com (if you're looking for an extremely easy to make a website, check it out!) Without this, I don't know that my website would be worth much of anything. The would of coding and HTML and CSS is just scary and looks quite foreign to me..
I would benefit SO much from being a bit more savvy with building a website, creating online tools, and just coding in general. One of the hardest things these days is to get my music out there. The would is literally a click away, but there has to be something compelling enough to click (i.e. a cool video). I truly never knew that computing would be so important...I can't say this enough.
Because I can't exclaim the importance enough, I go off on this in band class all the time. Kids should be learning coding. I can only imagine what the electronic world will look like in 10 years (just read Ready Player One, great but somewhat scary read). I tell my students that whatever profession they choose, mine clearly being educating and composing, having an intense knowledge of the language of computers is sure to give a significant advantage.
Enter Code Academy. I've already started learning. My recommendation is for everybody to start learning. Where the "coders" are always going to make many user-friendly ways to interact with the web, I think it'd be better to go ahead and learn how to code for yourself. I remember having to edit some HTML once, it was awful. Based of that experience, everyone should go learn how to code.
So, where coding has absolutely nothing to do with composing music...it actually has everything to do with being a successful composer. Kinda weird how that works.
This post is going to be be a bit different than the rest of the posts on this blog. It is geared much more towards being a composer in this contemporary age of music production/composition. This will also be by far my longest post as of yet.
In June, I finally found my way into a profitable medium and outlet for all of my Logic Pro X composing. I've spent a lot of time over the past 5 years adapting and developing my craft using Logic. I was originally classically trained as a composer, but have ALWAYS enjoyed listening to film music and also really enjoy music production. For I while I thought that it was just a fun little hobby, and most of the tunes I wrote in Logic didn't go anywhere and I didn't use them for anything. That has all COMPLETELY CHANGED.
I discovered a couple of Stock Media Sites (I use them for sync-licensing music) called Pond5 and Audiojungle (these are the two that I focus on the most because I've found them to be most easy to use and most profitable).
Below are some tunes from my Audiojungle page.
These sites have been just what I've been looking for!! I'm able to cook up a variety of different tunes and upload them for media makers to buy. It's actually a very easy process and writing music in a DAW like Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Cubase, etc streamlines the writing (differences from Sibelius/Finale will be another post). I'm a total fan of these websites because I've been able to get my music out to people who would have no access to my stuff.
Here's my process: I get surf these websites and find what seems to be the most in-demand style (at least of the styles I can/am willing to write). If you checked out my Pond5 page, you noticed that it's full of "suspense" and "epic action" and "epic drumming" music. Well, aside from the fact these are fun to write, its what people are purchasing. I really can't believe that as of now (2014), one of my "Rising Suspense" clips has sold about 40 times. It literally took me 30 minutes to write (granted its only 15 seconds long).
My next step is how to get my tunes to the top of the lists, where people are regularly purchasing my music. This is the hard part because I can't really find a whole lot of consistency. For example, I wrote at tune called "Film Noir," and it sold 10 times in two weeks! Awesome! So I wrote another one. It has sold a grand total of zero times. I decided not to write a 3rd tune in that style.
I also find myself reading how to optimize key word searches, getting friends to get me some views, and honestly just churning out more tunes. I figure the more tunes up there, the more likely they are to be found. The best part about sync-licensing music is that once I upload it, I'm done with that tune.
Needless to say, this is a very exciting development in my composition career...the first step from changing it from a hobby to an actual job. If nothing else, I now have funding for my music projects and samples. It can be hard finding my way into this world of professional composing. I do love it and I'm interested to see where I can take this lifelong passion. Happy Composing!
I clearly am a fan of John Williams' music. I love how he's brought so many people who wouldn't be orchestral/classical music lovers to the concert hall (even if it started in a movie theater). Now, I would like to rave about the music for the new Star Wars trailer. For most people, its all about the story, or characters, or special effects, or action, etc... For me, it's all about the music. The first cluster of tones (in the strings) takes us back to those early Stravinsky-esque scenes of which R2 D2 and C3PO wandered the deserts of Tatooine.
Then we get some action music like only a John Williams score can deliver: melodically and harmonically compelling, but I love the orchestration. I love the interplay between the brass, strings, woodwinds (I ESPECIALLY LOVE TO HEAR WOODWINDS SINCE SO MANY FILM COMPOSERS SEEM TO ONLY WRITE FOR CELLOS AND BRASS.........), and percussion. Top to bottom, it is an exciting orchestral epic, just as epic as the trailer itself. The music is compelling in an era of generic trailer music (which I love, but generic nonetheless).
When the Millennium Falcon flies out, we are obviously slammed with the Force Theme, the quintessential melody of the franchise. I'm sure many, many people probably cheered at that moment..I did. I'm so very excited to hear the score for Episode VII...in fact, I may see it a second time and just close my eyes and listen.
Today I showed my students a fantastic TED Talk featuring Evelyn Glennie. I found this video to be a goldmine for musicians (young and old). Aside from the fact that she's an incredible percussionist, she really goes into some interesting topics about musicianship. I love how she showed the difference between being a strictly "technically accurate" player as opposed to being a musician and doing a lot more with the notes (and even the instrument itself).
The reason I decided to write about this video, however, is because I was fascinated at how the different AGE of my students affected how they perceived the video. For any middle school teacher out there, you surely know how drastically different 11, 12, 13, and 14 year olds can be. Where Evelyn Glennie was talking about how different people in a space perceive "sound" differently, I couldn't help but think how differently the developing middle school mind viewed and experienced her message. My young, excitable 6th graders practically participated like they were in the clinic themselves, where the 8th graders we as stoic as statues. I do feel that the overwhelming majority understood what she was talking about, but experienced it in their own way.
I really love how she talks about and performs music. I spend so much time trying to teach students that there can be so much more than notes on a page (YES, I do teach that in middle school). It's all about the experience...and that's why I teach, compose, and perform music. And always will.
I feel like Tchaikovsky's music for the Nutcracker defined the mechanics of what much of Christmas music is these days. From the harmonies to the orchestration, a hundred years of composers, musicians, and listeners have grown up on that music, and it has clearly infused much of other Christmas music that has been written since. Every time I watch Home Alone (I was a kid in the 90s and have to watch it every year), I feel like John Williams was paying homage to Tchaik. I think what I like most about The Nutcracker, and really just Tchaikovsky, is his immaculate ability to orchestrate. The colors he achieves are glorious.
I will definitely be listening to plenty of the Nutcracker Suite this holiday season...music I very much believe is the "Christmas" sound. What a great piece of music from a great composer!