Hi again, This is the third part in a small series of blog posts I’ll make about the real-world differences between orchestral mockups (or synth orchestras) versus real orchestras. As a composer who is fortunate to work regularly with live orchestras, I’ll try to help show the difference from a decent demo recording, to a mixed and mastered finished recording. For this example, I’ve chosen another Christmas advert I worked on – Morrisons 2013 campaign. Featuring a re-recording/arrangement of Alan Menken’s “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Here is the instrumental version only.
Here’s a jolly piece – synth orchestra versus a 92 piece orchestra and choir – who do you think is going to win? The synth orchestra feels lively and bouncy – several days were spent programming it. Apart from the obvious tonal differences, I don’t feel there is too much difference in terms of emotional impact between the synth & live versions, that is, until the high string lines come in.
Relatively speaking, the high string lines in the synth demo sound scratchy, tinny and pretty horrible – but this high, close string writing on a live orchestra sounds magical and exciting. You can hear the vibrato of the leader through the texture quite clearly, which is lovely.
The percussion also sounds very different. Punchier and direct on samples, but blended and more atmospheric in the live version. You get the emotional impact of the sleigh bells, but without having it shouted at you. Much more pleasant to listen to. Also, the drummer has a nice relaxed feel in the live booth – whereas you can’t even hear one in the demo.
Mix-wise, there is a thinness to the demo that comes with over-EQing (too much high, reduced lows). This is usually the case after having worked on the same demo for several days, trying to bring out detail at the expense of tired ears. There is a comparative richness to the live orchestra, and a tonal balance which fits across the whole frequency range. If the synth orchestra has a small edge, it would be in the punchiness of the offbeat staccatos. Very tight, very controlled. Still, the victory goes to the live orchestra.
Live Orchestra 3 – Synth Orchestra 0. (can you see where this is going?)