How to make string samples sound real
In today's world composers, producers and clients are getting more and more demanding about the quality of mockups. There is an ocean of articles, videos and tutorials on the internet about how to tweak your VSTs to make them sound presentable and professional. But the reality is, they are just samples and they have certain limitations.
1. Get a Real String Orchestra
Today there are websites that you can use to book a string orchestra recording session for a few hundred dollars. If you are investing your time and career in a project and your client is investing his money, what could make him happier than getting the real thing? You will be surprised to learn that you can probably fit an orchestra recording within your budget. Musiversal is an online platform providing this service with several recording locations like Lisbon and London. www.musiversal.com
2. Get a Producer or MIDI Orchestrator
Depending on your capability to produce your own music, getting a producer can improve the quality of your work a lot. You can be a brilliant composer, but if you want people to notice and enjoy your music it also needs to be well produced. A MIDI orchestrator is also really helpful to make your VSTs sound as best as possible. Even if you have a real recording of your piece, in today's industry is probably wise to use every tool at your disposal to make your music sound like it came from a big Hollywood studio and mixing live and VSTs is a well-known method called Hybrid-Scoring. www.soundbetter.com
3. Remind Yourself You're Writing for Strings, Not Piano
Many composers use keyboards and sequencers to start their composition work. However, you need to keep in mind that you'll need to make the voicings natural-sounding for strings. For example, many composers write really fast string parts and sometimes large melodic jumps within a string line. That's going to sound very artificial because no real string player would ever be able to perform it in real life.
If you're willing to go the extra mile, study some orchestration from an industry-proven book: The Study of Orchestration.
4. Keep It Simple
Less is more. Orchestration is a lot like cooking. When the ingredients are good, an experienced chef will tend to approach them with respect and unclutter everything to make room for that particular flavor to come through. The same happens in orchestration. Check your score view on your sequencer or check your notation program. Do you see a lot of black in there? (a lot of short rhythms?) Check if they are there for a good reason or if you're making your music too complicated without any good justification. Usually, having a simple, clear looking piece means that you're doing things right and that you're very clear about your ideas. If you see a lot of clutter that may mean that you're trying to compensate for a lack of inspiration or just piling things on top of each other as you look for the sound you want - That's usually a dead end as things get increasingly complex until you end up with a piece that doesn't make sense anymore.
Your home studio is the place where you get inspired and get hard work done, but music is a collaborative art and the more experienced and talented the people you collaborate with are, the more your music will improve. You better believe it. Collaborating builds careers, makes hit songs and is a lot more fun. There are many ways of collaborating these days and they range from calling a friend to check your orchestration or lay a few cool chords down to getting musicians to record your music online (orchestra, soloists etc..) and turn your mockup into a recorded piece of music ready to broadcast on TV and start earning you the reputation you deserve and of course, the royalties.
6. Final Thoughts
What would your favorite composer do? Do the same thing! Go big! Find solutions to take your music to the next level. Invest in yourself and your music. Write and produce your music like you're already the composer you aim to be - If you behave like you're a better version of yourself, you'll become a better version of yourself.