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Many steps are necessary to release a new album. The beginning of every album is of course writing the music. We talked to our composer Matthias Wolf, who has written many tracks for the Strata albums series. Here is a look behind the scenes:
How can one imagine your daily work? What is your workflow like?
I mainly work as a commissioned composer and write music for games, series and movies. In these cases, the tracks are written with special requirements for a specific setting or occasion. It is different with creating licensed music, because you ask yourself which music is most needed on the market. Which style or genre is universally applicable for image films, commercials, trailers, etc., and that makes the approach more free and uncommitted. For commissioned work, there is always a customer who has specific ideas that you, as a composer, must meet accordingly.
Do you have a precise concept for a new piece or does everything happen intuitively?
In my case, it’s rather intuitive. I often get inspired by existing tracks (spotting tracks). Listening to music over decades has caused something inside of me to slumber that can create new harmonies and melodies at any time. Especially as a beginner it is not reprehensible and very helpful to be inspired by well-known and successful composers or bands. Once the intended use is known and the style has been determined, I open a template with the appropriate instruments and sounds. In almost all cases the first step on the piano is to create harmonies and small melodies. This usually results in a rough musical concept. This is usually from the gut, but partly it is also due to the experience gained over the years. Once this process is mastered, you have a good template to continue designing this piece by finding clearer melodies, establishing tempos and rhythms, defining a structure and flow, and then the actual work of producing begins. You breathe life into the whole piece with selected instruments and try to create a certain dynamic. Once this is done, it’s all about final production and finishing. You work a lot with automations, pannings, filters, reverbs and so on, until you get the feeling: «that’s it.»
Which sample libraries do you use to compose tracks for SmartSound?
It depends on the genre, but the range of my libraries is huge. With an orchestral sound, I make sure all strings come from a library, so the sound and the surround sound are homogeneous. I currently like to use the Cinematic Studio Strings. With horns I am still stuck at the Hollywood Brass of East West. I use many different percussion styles to get a live character in my pieces and I play either guitar or flute myself. If that is not possible I like to use the Lyrical Cello Phrases and Lyrical Vocal Phrases from Sonuscore, very cinematic phrases that can be perfectly integrated into my tracks and convey the emotion.
What plays an important role for you in composing?
A very important role is the feeling that should be conveyed — no matter what purpose. Music is always a transmitter for emotions. It gets under your skin and affects you — either positive or negative, it should do something to you while you’re listening. That should always be the focus. Insignificant or emotionless music will never reach the listener, especially when he/she only has the chance to hear it once or only very briefly. You should always try to bring in a special note. With series or computer game soundtracks this is a little different since the music has to work very subtly. It can also be a little more generic or inconspicuous. Nevertheless with the ulterior motive that the music has a certain purpose that needs to be fulfilled.
The second important point is the sound and quality of the piece. A piece should always be a listening experience. Even the best composition never lives up to its true potential when it is badly produced or has extreme weaknesses in sound. You should always take your time to work on the sound so that you think yourself: Yes, I like listening to that and there is no passage that sounds fake or cheap.
When are you satisfied with a track and know it’s final?
A track is final when I no longer find any bugs. You don’t always have to have the trickiest arrangements to make a piece special. Especially the simple and subtle things have their effect. I can tick the box when everything sounds coherent and defined — balanced and tidy in frequency spectrum, panning and depth graduation. I often reopen a project and change it, if I dislike only a single note.
That’s also a good tip: Sleep on it after the whole work process and then listen to it the next day with fresh ears. Then you notice some things you haven’t heard before — of course, only if the deadline allows it.
The World Cup is just around the corner — which album would be best suited for video material about this spectacle and why?
The Good Life includes some titles that are very well suited to evoke emotional goosebumps. Especially with Best Of and Highlight Compilations these tracks fit perfectly, also to make slow motion footage even bigger and more impressive.
These albums are also suitable: Motion & Pulse, Massive Dramatic Trailer and Nu Sports Machine Vol 2.
After the music has been written, our work is not finished yet. What needs to be done for a new album to go live? Our music encoder Hannes Gottschall will tell you:
How many people are involved in an album and how do you make everything sound harmonious in the end?
Of course we rely on the composer first and foremost to deliver us the music with alternative beginnings and endings to ensure the user gets more flexibility and variety in their choice. Furthermore, we don’t just encode a mixdown of a track but receive the track split up in its stems – audio tracks which contain few or only one instrument of a full track -so we offer even more flexibility not just in terms of duration but also instrumentation which can play a crucial role for the intensity of a passage. Stems get specifically mastered for the use in Sonicfire Pro, so playing all stems at once does not cause any clipping.
The whole process of encoding music for Sonicfire Pro is called blocking. It means, the music is chopped into blocks, which is what you can see in the bin of Sonicfire. During this process we have to decide a reasonable block length and match those with other blocks of the track. Obviously, not every block can just transition into any other. The content of compatible blocks needs to be matching in harmony, melody and instrumentation. Every jump needs to sound as musically natural as possible. Our algorithm determines which durations can be built with the current data and we do not release an album before every track has a sufficient number of durations available – even if this means lots of additional audio editing. At this time, there are three people responsible for music encoding.
After an album’s encoding and mastering process is through, it has to be added to our database so it can be bought off the homepage or the internal store. Before it gets released to the public, however, it needs to get tested for functionality within the Sonicfire Pro whether different durations work and sound good. Only if it passes, the album can get released.
How is a SmartSound album different from other platforms?
This leads us to the advantage you get over purchasing an album for Sonicfire Pro over any other service: Each track is customizable in length and instrumentation to your choice, just a mouse click away. You won’t need to carefully cut your music through an editing program running into the problem of accidentally skipping a beat or making a harmonically questionable edit. All those things can happen when the schedule is tight! Albums for Sonicfire Pro will take that work from you and ensure that you’ll always have a musically coherent piece that has a beginning, a middle and an end, no matter the duration.
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