Sounds & Sam­ples

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Spit­fire Au­dio’s prod­uct range and user base has al­ways been heav­ily skewed to­ward film and me­dia com­po­si­tion, and as such it’s not sur­pris­ing that they de­vel­oped a range of li­braries in col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­posers work­ing in this area. Fore­most among th­ese must be Hans Zim­mer, who has al­ready put his name to two of their pi­ano and per­cus­sion li­braries. The lat­est, and big­gest, in­stal­ment in this col­lab­o­ra­tion comes in the form of ‘Hans Zim­mer Strings’, an or­ches­tral string col­lec­tion that is big in just about all senses of the word. You will, for starters, need 180GB of disk space to store the more than 200,000 sam­ples and as­so­ci­ated con­tent. Un­com­pressed, this would be more than 400GB of au­dio files! If down­load­ing this amount of data fills you with dread, then you may wish to opt for hard disk de­liv­ery (for an ad­di­tional £59). You should per­haps also bud­get for an SSD if you don’t al­ready have one.

The sec­ond ‘big’ fea­ture in this li­brary is the num­ber of play­ers em­ployed dur­ing its cre­ation - 20 vi­o­lin­ists, 20 vi­ola play­ers, 60 cel­lists and 24 dou­ble bas­sists. How­ever, this rises to 344 when dif­fer­ent po­si­tions are taken into ac­count. Record­ing took place at Lon­don’s fa­mous AIR Studios, and made use of ex­ten­sive mul­ti­ple mic place­ment strate­gies. This means some of the pre­sets em­ploy up to 26 microphones, al­low­ing ex­ten­sive re­bal­anc­ing at the mix stage. Twenty long and short play­ing tech­niques are cov­ered, with fur­ther ad­di­tional ‘FX’ across the col­lec­tion (with var­i­ous forms of clus­ters, slides and ‘chat­ter’).

In or­der to make this large li­brary as easy to use as pos­si­ble, Spit­fire have es­chewed the lim­i­ta­tions of Na­tive In­stru­ments’ Kon­takt soft­ware and cre­ated their own vir­tual in­stru­ment plugin (in AU, VST2, VST3 and AAX for­mats). As I have made clear in pre­vi­ous re­views of Spit­fire prod­ucts, their Kon­takt-based in­ter­faces could be hard to see, and fid­dly to use, at times. Thank­fully the new in­stru­ment win­dow is scal­able and much clearer than its fore­bears. I’m hop­ing this is adopted by their other li­braries as well.

The win­dow it­self is split into a num­ber of sec­tions. The Main Con­trols sec­tion is al­ways vis­i­ble and deals with Vol­ume, Dy­nam­ics and a third con­fig­urable dial that can be al­lo­cated to pa­ram­e­ters such as Re­verb, Re­lease Time and Vi­brato. Be­low this, you can switch be­tween Tech­niques, Sig­nal Mixer and Con­troller sec­tions. There is a lot of flex­i­bil­ity here, al­low­ing you to cus­tomise just about ev­ery way in which the in­stru­ment is trig­gered and played-back. Just tweak­ing the nu­mer­ous mics is an ed­u­ca­tion in it­self. For the faint-hearted among you, ‘Ad­vanced Mode’ can be dis­abled, al­low­ing you to fade be­tween ‘Close’ and ‘Far’ mic mixes.

Some may come to this li­brary ex­pect­ing to find full-on bom­bast through­out. How­ever, for me, the main power of this new col­lec­tion comes from its more sub­tle play­ing tech­niques. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t do ‘huge’, but if your bread-and-but­ter is epic film trail­ers, then you may come away a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. How­ever, if you value sub­tlety com­bined with im­mense flex­i­bil­ity, then this is well worth a look. Bruce Aisher VER­DICT 8.9

How can I make ab­so­lutely sure that I’m not us­ing il­le­gal sam­ples?

If you’re wor­ried about the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of sam­pling, it’s es­sen­tial that you make sure that you’re aware of where the au­dio ma­te­rial that you’re us­ing comes from and who owns it. If you sam­ple a beat or hook from a record and then put it in a com­mer­cially-re­leased track with­out get­ting clear­ance from the rights hold­ers, then it prob­a­bly won’t sur­prise you to learn that you’re leav­ing your­self open to the po­ten­tial threat of le­gal ac­tion. Sim­i­larly, if you just down­load a sound ‘off the in­ter­net’ with­out know­ing its ori­gin, you could end up in trou­ble. In cases like this one, ig­no­rance isn’t re­ally ever an ex­cuse.

If you want to prac­tise ‘safe sam­pling’, you have a num­ber of op­tions: the golden rule is to source your sounds from rep­utable places. There are loads of ven­dors sell­ing sam­ple packs th­ese days; just make sure that you’re aware of the li­cense agree­ment that you’re mak­ing when you buy them. Re­mem­ber that you don’t ac­tu­ally ‘own’ th­ese sounds – you’re just pay­ing for the right to use them in your mu­sic, and you may be re­quired to credit the own­ers, too.

If you’re a sam­pling purist, the down­side to go­ing down this road is that you’ll know that th­ese loops have been pre­fab­ri­cated in a stu­dio some­where and aren’t from a dusty crate-dug record. If you want a more ‘au­then­tic’ so­lu­tion, you could try a new ser­vice called Track­lib. You can think of this as an on­line mu­sic store for pro­duc­ers – not only can you buy tracks, but you can also pay for clear­ance to sam­ple them, with prices start­ing at $50 for the lat­ter op­tion. It’s not ex­actly Spo­tify at this stage – only around 60,000 tracks are cur­rently avail­able – but at least you can be re­as­sured that your sam­pling is le­git, and hope­fully we’ll see the cat­a­logue grow­ing soon.

One fi­nal point to be made: even if your sam­pling pol­icy is be­yond re­proach, re­cent events sug­gest that, if you are lucky enough to have a hit record on your hands, sim­ply sounding a bit like an­other song could be a prob­lem. The Blurred Lines case – in which the Robin Thicke and Phar­rell Wil­liams song of the same name was deemed to have in­fringed Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up – could leave you with the im­pres­sion that even get­ting close to the feel of an ex­ist­ing track may land you in hot wa­ter. So go care­ful out there…

What are the dif­fer­ences be­tween a hard­ware synth, a stage pi­ano and a work­sta­tion?

If you’re new to the hard­ware key­board mar­ket, work­ing out what the var­i­ous types of in­stru­ment in it are can be a lit­tle tricky, which is hardly sur­pris­ing when you con­sider that there’s a cer­tain amount of cross­over be­tween them.

Let’s start with the eas­i­est cat­e­gory: synths are used both in the stu­dio and on stage, and are typ­i­cally de­signed to cre­ate elec­tronic sounds. Yes, some of them do con­tain sam­ples, but if you buy a synth it won’t be be­cause you want a re­al­is­tic em­u­la­tion of a Stein­way grand pi­ano.

They come in ana­logue and dig­i­tal forms, with some mar­ry­ing both of th­ese sound gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies.

Work­sta­tions are slightly more com­pli­cated: they fre­quently con­tain synth sec­tions – usu­ally dig­i­tal ones – but they also em­u­late ‘real’ in­stru­ments and come with their own se­quencers. Some will en­able you to record au­dio, too – the idea here is that you can pro­duce all of your mu­sic with just a sin­gle key­board. Work­sta­tions are less pop­u­lar than they were at one point in time, with most of us now do­ing our pro­duc­tion work on a com­puter… but they do still ex­ist.

Stage pi­anos are pre­cisely that – por­ta­ble pi­anos that can be used on stage. A fully-fledged stage pi­ano will have a large-weighted key­board and give you a re­al­is­tic pi­ano sound, but again, there’s cross­over. To­day’s stage pi­anos are also ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing synth and other sounds and, just to con­fuse you even more, you can also buy high-end work­sta­tions with ham­mer-ac­tion key­boards that can be used as stage pi­anos.

So, while th­ese la­bels can be use­ful when you’re try­ing to de­cide what kind of key­board to buy, you need to judge each prod­uct on a case by case ba­sis.

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