• André Miranda

How to prepare for a studio recording session: complexity

Tired of using VSTs and looking at using real instruments to give your compositions and even better sound, but not sure where to start? Well you’ve come to the right place!

Here at Musiversal we receive plenty of scores and while they’re all amazing, there are always small fixes that can make them even better! Writing and score preparation for an orchestra is extremely challenging to master, even if you have been doing it for a number of years!

We have put together a new series of articles to help you take your score writing to the next level!

Creating overly complex compositions is a trap that even some of the most experienced composers fall in to. While it is very tempting to show off your skills as a composer, there are many other components that need to be considered when writing music for a studio recording session.

What makes a piece of music complex is a much debated topic, for example, is pop music less complex than classical? For the sake of this article we are using complexity to mean something that is technically challenging to play or takes some time to learn. With this is mind, a composition can still be experimental, forward thinking and creative without being too complex.

The first line is an example of a violin part that is possible to play, but very difficult to learn in a short time frame. The second and third lines show a simpler, yet still effective, way of writing a similar part

When composing a piece consider how much time you have to record it in the studio. If you have an unlimited budget and access to an orchestra then make it as complex as you want! Generally though you will only have limited time in the studio so you don’t want something that is going to take too long for the musicians to learn. Compositions should be “easy” to play by sight-reading for a skilled musician. However, when we say “easy”, this doesn’t necessarily mean the piece is basic, less interesting or uncreative.

Avoiding complexity isn’t just for practical reasons. Trying to be complex for the sake of it can have an adverse effect on the sonic quality of a piece. While innovation is crucial, unless you are deliberately aiming for an avant-garde or challenging sound, then it is also vital that the composition sounds good for the listener.

Even experienced composers will sometimes include techniques that may have an adverse effect on the sound quality of a piece. Too many meter and time signature changes in a piece, or having too much divisi should be avoided in most cases.

The left hand side shows a piece with lots of divisi that is complex and likely wouldn't sound very good. The right shows an example that is simpler yet would sound much better

Consider how many musicians are present, because if they are all playing different lines then certain elements may be drowned out by other sounds and lost in the mix. Unlike with VST’s, you can’t just layer on sections and receive the same sound levels. At the very maximum, three different things happening at the same time is the optimal amount for a high quality sound.

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