One of the great things about working at Time+Space are the many composers who are not only regular customers of ours but also people that we can talk to about the products they’re using, the projects they’re working on and the types of instruments and tools they feel we need to be selling more of.
We recently contacted one such composer – Chris Egan – while assisting Audio Media magazine with a feature they were working on about how composers use virtual instruments and sample libraries as part of their work. A short while later, Chris called me with an invitation we couldn’t resist – to visit Abbey Road Studios to experience some live recording sessions for a music library he was producing for Audio Network.
Scoring Sessions will be a series of eight music library ‘albums’, incorporating a total of around 64 tracks. Chris has coordinated the whole project and written every track collaborating with a number of other composers including Luke Richards, Andrew Cooksley, Trystan Francis and Jon Bourne.
The tracks cover a multitude of themes from crime drama, thriller and action right through to emotional drama and romantic comedy – all composed with the aim of them slotting seamlessly into film or TV productions. One of the key selling points of this particular series of music libraries is the inclusion of 5.1 surround sound mixes and the addition of stems, granting a degree of flexibility that allows the sounds to be synced perfectly to the visuals.
Chris explained that he had composed each track and mocked up parts of the scores using virtual instruments from brands including Spectrasonics, VSL, Cinesamples and ProjectSAM to name a few, and was now at the stage of converting those into live recordings.
The process as a whole mirrors the typical steps involved when scoring for a feature film, the only difference being that secrecy isn’t so much of a prerogative and we were allowed behind those normally tightly closed doors.
So who are Audio Network? When we arrived at Abbey Road Studios we were fortunate to meet with Chairman and Founder Andrew Sunnucks in the haven of the Abbey Road courtyard who explained that Audio Network began in 2001 with the primary objective of making it easy for production companies to license music.
Now with offices based in London, New York, Munich, Toronto, Sydney and Amsterdam and a back catalogue over 78,000 original music tracks, Audio Network is a global enterprise that releases around 18 new albums a month and continuously seeks to find and fill gaps in the market. In fact, during our chat, Andrew spoke of a recording field trip that was planned for the following week down to Chislehurst Caves in Kent. ‘Down’ being the operative word as several feet below the surface, the team would be recording tracks for an upcoming music library, all because of the natural 32-second reverb – a testament to the lengths Audio Network will go to in order to full fill a gap in the market.
Given that many Time+Space customers are Composers and Sound Designers writing music and creating sounds for various media applications, the question has to be asked – are companies like Audio Network making such work harder to come by as production companies turn to less expensive means of fulfilling their music requirements or do they open up a new channel of work opportunities?
With a dedicated A&R department, Audio Network receives around 30-40 demos a day from producers and composers wanting to create a music library, and according to Andrew only a tiny fraction of these – “about 1-2 a month” – go on to publish with Audio Network. So what’s the secret? “Skill-Up”, is Andrew’s advice, “offer something that people cannot easily do themselves.”
So, what’s the financial reward for music library ‘artists’ and how does it compare to composing direct for a film or TV production company?
“We give the composer an upfront payment and pay for all the third party production costs, mastering, distribution etc.”, says Andrew. “The composer also gets 50% of the performance royalties, which is fairly standard in our industry. If the composer writes for a production company they will also get a commissioning fee and generally will get a similar split of the performance royalty – sometimes, depending on the commissioning fee, they will get 100% of the back end.
Most things have to be composed with mostly computer-based production. Our idea is to record everything to the highest standards so that the music will continue to be used in many years’ time, providing both the composer and Audio Network with a good long-term revenue stream from our work.”
Shortly after our chat with Andrew, we headed into the control room of the world famous Studio One where Chris’ team consisting of Briony Allen (Scoring Coordinator), Trystan Francis (Music Mixer), Andrew Cooksley (Music Programmer & Co-Composer), Andrew Dudman (Recording Engineer), Paul Pritchard (Pro Tools Operator) and Jamie Ashton (Studio Assistant) were preparing for the next recording session.
Compared to the impressive Studio Two which I was fortunate enough to visit last year when I met with Gary Garritan prior to the release of the CFX Concert Grand Piano, Studio One, which is the world’s largest purpose-built recording studio, takes things to a whole new level – it’s not difficult to understand why composers want to record in this magnificent sounding room.
Chris was already in the studio with 35 musicians armed with a total of ten 1st Violins, eight 2nd Violins, six Violas, six Celli, four Contrabasses and a Harp. These players were all London’s top session musicians who Chris had hired via a contractor and he was quick to praise their ability to adapt quickly to his instructions and work impeccably well with click tracks.
Each musician wore headphones into which piped Chris’s pre-arranged backing tracks. Primarily electronic based, these tracks featured a variety of virtual instruments resulting in the completed scores being a hybrid between electronic and orchestral themes.
Spectrasonics instruments are heavily incorporated throughout with Stylus RMX having been used for a lot of the drum sounds. Chris explained how he uses Stylus as a launch pad, taking a loop as a source of inspiration, pulling the MIDI data into Pro Tools and manipulating it to a result that sounds nothing like the original loop.
When working with orchestral tracks, as is the case with Scoring Sessions, Chris explained that alongside heavier drum grooves, he will often take a full loop from Stylus, filter everything away except for the higher frequencies which then blend particularly well with the low-end sound of the orchestra.
“Stylus is so easy to get inside and manipulate and it is very rare that we will use a loop as it is. I also find the individual percussion menus really useful, particularly the shakers. I’ll load a shaker patch and then simply use elements of it to create something really unique”, says Chris.
“I’ve also got loads of personal stuff that I’ve recorded myself over the years which I’ve now Rex’d to use in Stylus along with some original loops from old sample CDs that I bought from Time+Space twenty years ago! I recently Rex’d some sounds from Zero-G’s Beats Working in Cuba, including a Conga groove which, by the time I’d finished messing with it in Stylus, had a new electronic energy that no longer sounded anything like a conga!”
The Scoring Sessions tracks also incorporate Spectrasonics’ bass module Trilian, which is used on virtually every track. “There are 6-7 real bass sounds in Trilian that are my go-to for mocking up bass,” says Chris. “I particularly like the Patitucci bass – a Jazz double bass that has loads of character. I’ll often use the electric bass samples to underpin the real contrabasses that I’ve recorded at Abbey Road for an action cue. You won’t really hear it, it’s there more for the energy but if I muted it, you’d notice it was missing, it just gives it that bite, that definition.”
Chris admits he’s not a programmer, leaving that side of things for his music team, but he is quick to point out that despite this, even he can get inside Omnisphere and program it easily, using the instrument as a springboard for ideas.
“I’ll sometimes use Omnisphere’s Hollywood Strings for a quick mockup, alongside the pads and atmospheres. We have a lot of fun with the arpeggiator, you can get your hands dirty and manipulate it very quickly. The quicker I can program the sound I want, the more time I have composing. Omnisphere is really fast!”
Moving on to other virtual instruments, Chris is a big fan of ProjectSAM’s True Strike 1 and 2, describing the snare drum ensembles as “fantastic”, and often uses elements of Symphobia for sketching ideas. As for pianos, Chris was a beta tester for Garritan’s Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand and admits to using that quite heavily with a mix of live recordings of the actual Yamaha CFX piano, which still resides at Abbey Road, alongside the samples. Synthogy’s Ivory II Upright Pianos, of which Chris speaks very highly, also feature in the Scoring Sessions libraries.
Moving back to Studio One and the recordings themselves, each piece of music was performed and recorded in full followed by the separate stem recordings, with Chris relying on the team in the control room to pick up on any imperfections and to suggest slight changes to specific musicians’ playing styles. Indeed, Chris himself adapted his scores throughout, with alternate variations such as muted/half-muted, although it was interesting to note how few changes were made, despite the fact that Chris hadn’t even mocked up some of the string sections beforehand.
Cue after cue was recorded with impressive pace and fluidity, although after being made aware of the studio hire and musician charges which ran in the several-thousands per hour, I imagine this brought much relief to everyone (financially) involved.
When asked how he decides which stems to record, Chris replied, “Anything you think you need an option for when it comes to mixing. Personally, I prefer as few as possible as the orchestra plays better together than separately so it’s a question of balancing options for the mix against what’s better musically. For example, if there’s a violin or cello solo, we´d stem that out. Likewise, if the horns were playing a big unison melody while the trumpets and trombones were playing staccato stabs, we´d separate that.”
Of course, a report about a recording session at Abbey Road isn’t complete without reference to the microphone set-up. The studios have one of the best microphone collections in the world and some of the many that were utilised for Chris’ recordings included…
• 3 original Neumann M50´s for the Decca tree
• AKG C12´s as outriggers
• DPA 4006´s as Ambient mics
• Spot mics include:
• Neumann M49´s
• Neumann U67´s
• Neumann U47´s
• Royer R121´s
• DPA 4011´s
• Schoeps MK4´s and MK21´s plus many others
Back in the control room, the orchestra was recorded on one Pro Tools 10 HDX rig using the new Pro Tools interfaces. The team then use a second Pro Tools rig to playback the programmed Pre-Lays and finally everything is mixed back at Chris’s Studio (also based at Abbey Road) in Pro Tools 11. From the mix, Chris and his team will create a set of mix stems (which if you play them all back at unity equals the final mix). They will then be edited to make all the alternate versions of the tracks and cut downs etc.
I particularly love the sound of strings so sitting down in the control room for a few hours watching and listening to Chris and the musicians was an absolute treat. We were also fortunate to get an insight into the brass recording sessions before we had to leave - a smaller ensemble than the strings, consisting of six French Horns, three Trumpets, two Tenor Trombones, two Bass Trombones and a Tuba – smaller but certainly no less magnificent.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Chris Egan for inviting us to the studios for what was a fantastic and insightful day and look forward to hearing Scoring Sessions when they are released in October/November this year. - Melanie Doidge, Time+Space