How to breathe life into your sampled instruments and make your music sound genuinely authentic

Luckily for us, we live in a time where the quality of sampled instruments has gone through the roof. There are a trillion mindblowingly good sample-libraries out there, and as a film-composer you’ll need a nice little palette of them to enrich your compositions.  

Choose High-Quality Sample Libraries

The foundation of realistic-sounding instruments lies in the quality of your sample libraries. Invest in reputable, well-sampled instrument libraries that capture the nuances of real instruments. These libraries often offer multiple articulations, velocity layers, and round-robin variations to emulate the natural dynamics and timbres of the actual instruments.

Dig Into The Articulations

Most instruments, at least strings, has a range of articulations that define how the sound is produced and shaped. Familiarise yourself with the articulations available in your sampled instrument library, such as staccato, legato, tremolo, and trills. Using the right articulation at the appropriate moment can significantly enhance realism

Use and Embrace Velocity and Expression

Pay attention to velocity sensitivity and expression controls in your virtual instrument. By varying your playing dynamics (velocity) and modulating expression parameters (e.g., modulation wheel, breath control), you can mimic the natural ebb and flow of a live performance. At Wrongtools we’ve use Haaken controllers.

Try not to quantise the midi

Realistic music isn’t just about playing the right notes but also about adding human imperfections. Slightly vary the timing, velocity, and duration of each note in your MIDI sequences to simulate the nuances of a human performance. This subtle randomness can make a significant difference in authenticity.

Ride The Automation

Automate various parameters like volume, modulation, and pitch bend throughout your composition. This adds dynamic changes to your music, making it sound less robotic and more expressive. For example, automate vibrato intensity to mimic the natural fluctuations in a string player’s vibrato

Blend and layer instruments and sounds

Layering multiple virtual instruments that complement each other can create a richer and more authentic sound. For instance, combining a sampled piano with a physical modeling piano can yield a more realistic and nuanced piano sound. But beware that sounds loose character if too much is layered. A good rule of thumb is to not surpass three layers.

Pay Attention to Breaks, Silence, Phrasing and Dynamics

Music isn’t just a sequence of notes; it’s about how those notes are phrased and articulated. Focus on the musical phrasing, crescendos, decrescendos, and subtle changes in dynamics to make your compositions come alive. Make things breathe and use silence and breaks as a contrasting tool.

Create depth and glue things with reverbs or delays

Simulate the acoustic environment of a live performance by applying convolution reverb to your sampled instruments. This will help place your virtual instruments in a realistic acoustic space, enhancing the overall authenticity of your music.

Study Real Performances

Listen to recordings of skilled musicians playing the instrument you’re trying to replicate. Study their techniques, dynamics, and nuances to gain insights into how to make your virtual instrument sound more authentic

Experiment and Iterate and have fun

Keep on experimenting and have fun, Be brave! Go for the unexpected. Keep refining your skills, experimenting with new techniques, and seeking feedback to improve your chops
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