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How to gain extra realism from your sample libraries

How to gain extra realism from your sample libraries

This is a question that comes up time and time again, “how can I make my sample libraries sound more realistic?” Of course starting off with a premium and usually very expensive library is generally a good start, but that option is not always available to everyone. And let’s not forget, even the top shelf virtual instruments don’t always sound as you might expect right out of the box, some can require a whole lot of tweaking to get the best possible sound from them. So what do you do? well, below we shall give you some tips and tricks to help coax the authentic sound out that you’re looking for.

 

What makes sample libraries sound realistic?

When you hear the sound of an instrument in real life, many factors come into play that you may not even realize. One of the main traits is that of the ambience of the room you’re in, the sound bounces off of the nearby walls before it gets to your ears, and using a good reverb plugin that mimics the resonance of different rooms can help achieve this.

 

The importance of reverb

There’s that word again “Reverb” and for good reason, it can be very important when used correctly in your mixes to give you that added realism. Unfortunately there isn’t really a substitute for a good quality reverb, because a low grade one can literally destroy your composition. They are clever little things, but do need to be used sparingly. Taking an orchestral piece of music as an example, one extremely important aspect when giving your mix that special something or “je ne sais quoi” as the French would say, is really thinking about how a real life orchestral is laid out.

If you imagine that you are standing where the conductor would be, closest and on your far left is where the 1st Violin section is situated. Moving from left to right come the 2nd Violin section, followed by the Viola’s then the Cello’s. Again from left to right, the Flute’s and Oboe’s sit comfortably behind the Violin and viola section. Double Bass’s are usually seated behind the Cello’s on the right hand side and the Clarinet and Bassoon’s are next in line behind the flute’s and Oboe’s.

Toward the back we find the Horn section, comprising of the French Horn’s mid left, along side the Trumpet’s, Trombone’s then the Tuba’s again from left to right. Contrabasses’ are normally even further behind verging to the right hand side. You may well notice that there are some instruments missing from the list, and you’d be right, they can include instruments such as the Piano, Harp, Orchestral Drums, Cornet’s, Organ’s and much more, and they are covered below.

If you take this positioning into account when mixing and adding effects, you will find that you’re presented with a much richer and dynamic sound.

We have produced an example image of the layout of the entire western style orchestra for you to use as a reference when tweaking your sounds, please enjoy!
Right now we have a better understanding of how the orchestra is positioned, we get started on producing that awesome sound we want. Using the panning feature of which ever DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) you are using, we can start to pan each instrument slightly to the left or right depending on their location within group. So for instance you might pan the sound of the 1st Violin section slightly to the left to re-create their positioning in the virtual space. you can then do the same for the other instruments using the above diagram to indicate the relevant locations, if and instrument is on the far left/right then pan the sound further that way accordingly.
Ok, left and right is fine, but what about backwards and forwards?

Indeed, we seem to have hit a stumbling block, we now know how to pan left and right but how do you pan backwards and forwards? That’s where our friend Reverb comes in as well as some other changes we need to make. As an example, the further back an instrument is the further the sound has to travel in order to get to your ears, therefore in addition to possibly sounding ever so slightly quieter it also has more of the rooms walls to interact with. So the trick is to play around with the Reverb setting to give a tiny bit more of the effect to the further back sections, and of course not so much if at all on the closest instruments. Applying the above will certainly help you add an extra layer of realism in your music.

My hope is that this will help you during your composing adventures!

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