Your approach to programming

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Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:53 am

Hi Guys,

Just wanted to start a discussion about how you approach your programming of music.

I don't know about others, but the process of programming, I find, can be very sterile and un-inspiring. Even with the simple stuff I'm doing I often find it can kill an idea dead in tracks if I'm not careful. You spend an hour working on a part, to find that it's not the right part in the end.

As such I'll sometimes procrastinate before diving in on programming, as I'm not sure it's going to be worth the time it will take.

What are others' thoughts and experiences with this? How do you approach it?
Dwane Hollands

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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby Chinagraf » Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:15 pm

Hi D-wane,
what exactly do you mean when you say programming? Are you talking about midi drums like bfd etc, or virtual instruments and the like. I assume you aren't meaning analog sequencers but maybe you are?
Other than step type sequencers I just play everything in realtime then maybe do a little editing if it needs it. With drums I don't quantize to hard, like only about 50 percent except for the kicks. When editing most stuff I try to stay out of snapping to grids and just eyeball it as it gets a more human feel.
I do agree though, with things like VSTi's unless they are synth parts, usually simpler is better because once you get to complicated with it it sounds less and less realistic. I always find that a sloppier part on a real instruments beats a complicated neat part on a fake instrument.
Also depending on what you are using host wise, have you looked at things like extracting grooves from real performances or loops and creating groove templates you can then apply to your programmed midi?
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:42 pm

Hey Andy!

Yeah I mean working with the virtual instruments like BFD and VSTi's etc.

It's more of a 'write and record' kinda work flow too. I find that hard. You're kinda banging your head against the wall with what the piece is going to be, then trying to get the instruments to sound natural at the same time.

But I hear you about recording natural performance to get that 'organic' feel. Sometimes when I'm working with strings I find that it's a little more 'living' than when I scored in midi. But when it comes to drums, I have one of those nanopad's, and I bash away on the pads, but usually my timing is atrocious. haha. So I'm then spending a little time cleaning it up. But I've found it to be a very liberating device that nanopad. I tend to write a little more interesting drum parts when I'm using it.

I kinda have to lock everything to the click tempo, so that when I use rhythmic cello parts, it's in time to it. That's one thing that's kinda hard. Sometimes I'll play a piano piece that has good feel, but when you want to sync it with some cellos' playing staccato, it's a bit ordinary. lol.

But then you hit that 'mechanical-loop-sound' issue. Ugh.

I haven't extracted grooves from performances for midi stuff before. I don't know how to do that.

But man some of these VSTi's have so many parameters to tweak. I've actually finally managed to get the keyswitching working in Reaper with Kontakt. Every time I would set a C0 or any key switch, and then wrote it on the Midi grid, it never worked. But I learnt today that there is a discrepency between the kontakt 'middle c' standard and reaper's 'middle C' standard.

So I had to actually use C1 for the trigger on the midi grid, while using C0 in Kontakt. There's an option in the preferences to offset the labels, which I believe I put in -1, to get them both on the same standard. But I have thought for ages that reaper could not do key switching! So a little breakthrough today!

I'm starting to learn that it's a lot about planning. Where you want to go with the song, so that you can work quickly. I've done a small amount of TV commercial work (shooting and writing), and I'm find that locking into that 15 second (minus 1 second of silence and minus another 1 second for reverb tail), is a tricky thing. I mean saying something musically and relevant that will work with the footage etc.

I suppose if I've learnt anything, it is sometimes less instruments and less going on, can be more fitting, particularily when you're competing with voice over. Sometimes movement in the piece is distracting from what is being said. Man it's such a small window to get through with being appropriate, relevant and just generally great sounding.

So I suppose it's about how you guys approach it. I think it's a very broad topic! lol.
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby Chinagraf » Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:59 pm

I play my drums on a midi keyboard. Tried a nano pad, hated the dynamic response and got rid of it.
It helps to setup a template for stuff like classical VSTi's where you have all the articulations loaded. You can use separate midi channels for each articulation or expression maps if your stuff supports them. Rythmic parts like staccatos can sound mechanical, the East West stuff has round robins where it uses a bunch of single bows and randomly varies them which helps some. Then again you should hear a real solo cello doing staccato, it sounds kinda crappy compared to VSTis but maybe thats the thing, samples are way too perfect.
As far as TV ads I'll often write much longer stuff, jam it out then edit all the good bits together to make a 29 or whatever it is.
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Fri Dec 20, 2013 6:43 pm

Yeah I know what you mean about the lack of dynamic response on that nanopad. I've put the snare across two pads in the past to help with rolls. lol.

So I've been trying to get used to using the key switches today, but switching between two different rhythms in a staccato part. I thought I'd do an avengers intro style passage. But yeah it still has that mechanical feel to it.

But I had to nuance everything from the velocity of hits in the midi item, to the velocity of the hits in the rhythm engine in kontakt, the Mod wheel, the length of the notes. I probably spent over an hour nuancing this to get it where it is.

Then you go so far and realise - hmm this is not the right part. Arghh...

(I thought of using one of the rhythms from the Avengers theme as an exercise for the key switching)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/v6h0226qbpx40 ... ockOff.mp3
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby jkhuri44 » Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:13 am

hi dwayne....
from the sound of things...u program on computers out of necessity...
ie. if you had the space to record drums and a drummer/bassist (not sure what you play and dont), you wouldnt be messing with this stuff in the first place.

How does me saying that help you? im not sure...haha. but basically, people who are into electronic music, like myself enjoy programming...and rather than fight it, i'd recommend trying to utilise the benefits of "non human input" rather than make the process more human.

From my personal experience, ...i AVOID playing parts....as i usually get stuck into "remembered patterns" or "muscle memory". i create using different things depending on the end goal...but if i like an idea, if im not happy with the sound, i'll go back and sometimes play it with a keyboard to humanise it, if that sound is called for.

1 good trick is to use groove templates, in cubase for example, which humanise the click/grid.
Using this technique u should be able to put a kick on 1st beat and snare on 3rd, slap on some reverb and delay and really hear something awesome coming back out the speakers......u can do the same with ANY kick snare pattern, the key is to make that back beat sound awesome...when you do it...u'll be amazed how easy it is to complete a tune.....keep the back beat on its own set of tracks, and then add the salt and pepper ontop....fills, hats, tom rolls, whatever. clearly name everything andn then mess around with arrangments...slide things around...

Do not fall into the trap of "finalising" a part , ie. getting into nitty gritty modulation and velocity, until the part works in the song....deleting hours of programming will make a grown man cry :P try instead to use VSTs which have a good live sound, and already automatically humanise the performance, JUST so u can lay down a groove....go back later and replace the VST or whatever....

Finally, make sure you're excited to sit down and write!....if you're not inspired to write....just dont...
i havent turned on a music PC for 1 year...
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:56 pm

Hey Jamil!

Yeah I definitely look at programming as a necessity and not a joy. Ha!

I think you've really hit the hammer on the head. Yeah I don't have the space/setup to record drums and I'm not a drummer either! Man and I just can't do keyboard drumming. I'm such a frustrated drummer. Lol.

Thanks for the tip on not programming too deep too soon. I totally relate to having to delete a carefully nuanced part as it no longer fits the new direction of the piece. Also when you try and change direction of a score that has 16 instruments playing different parts. Ugh.

The groove template and humanize function, I'm not aware of that. I'm using reaper, does it have that feature? (I know you are a mad reaper user. Haha)

And I think all of these obstacles and issues just cause inspiration to evaporate! So I'm not the only one who struggles with finding and maintaining inspiration!
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby jkhuri44 » Sat Dec 21, 2013 9:31 pm

im TRYING to be a mad repear user, afraid im not one...i mainly use cubase...never bothereed with ussing groove templates myself, i find its easier to just slide shit around freely and play it by ear...
here's an sws groove extension i found with a bit of googling:

https://code.google.com/p/sws-extension ... .cxx?r=730

if that makes sense to you, plug her in and see what it does...
but... i think this is not really a solution, i think maybe perfecting guitar and vocal parts might work best for you?
THEN, perhaps when they are 100%, go in and do your programming??

if you're the type that neeeds a beat though....there's also pre-recorded drum loops u can use, fully mixed....with fills in different loops ETC...u can buy them in genres...that best suit you, they could be great for getting ideas down....

One MAJOR thing with programming is that u MUST develop a sense of vision....as you will need to commit to certain things to be able to get anywhere within a song.

One hint/tip i have which majorly helped me is actually using markers to map out a song....
before even reaching for a single sample, sit there, and imagine the song playing through, and stick a marker anywhere where something happens...maybe even hum things into repear, cut em up and layer them around....nothing is more disposable than humming a short ditty!
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby Manning » Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:28 pm

I'll pretty much echo what Jamil said. Make sure the big picture works first.

My work tends to be orchestral or at least "pseudo-live" in nature and I definitely work on the basis of refinement. My first pass at a piece typically sounds quite mechanical and insipid, but at that stage I am just trying to get the arrangement and the instrumentation roughly correct.

If at the end of that rough "prototype" stage I hopefully have something which works. If I do then all subsequent steps are polishing and improvement. But if the piece is NOT working at this stage, then no amount of fancy patch tweaking or MIDI editing is going to change that.

For orchestral writing I start with Sonokinetics Da Capo which is just four (decent sounding) section patches. I've made the mistake before of starting with the VSL library (with its hundreds of individual articulations) and I just got bogged down so quickly.

Likewise for horn work, I now only allow myself to write using the "horn section" patches in Kontakt which are very mediocre. I force myself to use these because those sexy Sample Modelling libraries can fool me into thinking my parts are better than they really are.

To me programming is really no different to recording and mixing - no amount of gear or fancy techniques can make a bad song good. And conversely if the song is good, then a lot of "questionable" programming/recording/mixing decisions can be forgiven.
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:50 pm

jkhuri44 wrote:im TRYING to be a mad repear user, afraid im not one...i mainly use cubase...never bothereed with ussing groove templates myself, i find its easier to just slide shit around freely and play it by ear...
here's an sws groove extension i found with a bit of googling:

https://code.google.com/p/sws-extension ... .cxx?r=730

if that makes sense to you, plug her in and see what it does...
but... i think this is not really a solution, i think maybe perfecting guitar and vocal parts might work best for you?
THEN, perhaps when they are 100%, go in and do your programming??

if you're the type that neeeds a beat though....there's also pre-recorded drum loops u can use, fully mixed....with fills in different loops ETC...u can buy them in genres...that best suit you, they could be great for getting ideas down....

One MAJOR thing with programming is that u MUST develop a sense of vision....as you will need to commit to certain things to be able to get anywhere within a song.

One hint/tip i have which majorly helped me is actually using markers to map out a song....
before even reaching for a single sample, sit there, and imagine the song playing through, and stick a marker anywhere where something happens...maybe even hum things into repear, cut em up and layer them around....nothing is more disposable than humming a short ditty!


Hey Jamil!

The mapping out with markers is a great idea. I can insert an 'empty item' in reaper and put a small amount of noted in it and then set the length of it. That might help me to visualise the structure of the song. Intro/verse/chorus etc. And thanks for the mention about having a vision for the song. I think that's what I really need to do. I'll have a look into the groove script too.

Yeah I think I just need to develop that discipline to "let go of finessing" until the structure and whole idea is down.

And I appreciate what Andy said about jamming it out for ages and then distilling the best ideas down to 29 seconds.
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Re: Your approach to programming

Postby DwaneHollands » Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:56 pm

Manning wrote:I'll pretty much echo what Jamil said. Make sure the big picture works first.

My work tends to be orchestral or at least "pseudo-live" in nature and I definitely work on the basis of refinement. My first pass at a piece typically sounds quite mechanical and insipid, but at that stage I am just trying to get the arrangement and the instrumentation roughly correct.

If at the end of that rough "prototype" stage I hopefully have something which works. If I do then all subsequent steps are polishing and improvement. But if the piece is NOT working at this stage, then no amount of fancy patch tweaking or MIDI editing is going to change that.

For orchestral writing I start with Sonokinetics Da Capo which is just four (decent sounding) section patches. I've made the mistake before of starting with the VSL library (with its hundreds of individual articulations) and I just got bogged down so quickly.

Likewise for horn work, I now only allow myself to write using the "horn section" patches in Kontakt which are very mediocre. I force myself to use these because those sexy Sample Modelling libraries can fool me into thinking my parts are better than they really are.

To me programming is really no different to recording and mixing - no amount of gear or fancy techniques can make a bad song good. And conversely if the song is good, then a lot of "questionable" programming/recording/mixing decisions can be forgiven.


Yeah I think being able to cringe and bear it while you work on the birds eye view of the song, sounds like a discipline that I need to develop. I just get too specific too soon! Finessing until it sounds realistic, but then all your creative energy is used up.

Gotta try and change my writing habits!
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