I realised that I released an album about three months ago and haven’t actually written much about it!
ZEPHYR is my debut album. Previously I’ve released a lot of material with bands such as Albatross Archive, though typically these would be EPs (with one full length live album, which was more or less playing lots of songs at some microphones and one stalwart sound engineer). After I released by own debut instrumental EP (“ABSOLUTES”), it felt time to finally put together a full-length record in my own name.
It was such an interesting project to put together; I hadn’t really worked with purely instrumental material much before, outside a few soundtracks. The majority of my classical pieces tended to be vocal, built around poems and the words of others. This album has been a celebration of writing without external stimulus and motivation, instead just enjoying the material for what it is.
The record itself was put together in Cubase Pro 10, primarily built around Spitfire Audio sound libraries with various iZotope plug-ins for production. Its entirely MIDI based, with the one exception of “Dream” which is myself singing as a four-part wordless vocal ensemble. I’d then occasionally export the whole track into Dorico Pro 2, print it out then edit it as I would do any other score, so it was great to build that workflow into the tracks themselves.
The album itself oscillates between full ensembles and chamber (small) groups of players; a track like “Climb” is fully orchestral, which then gives way to the piano ensemble of “Converse”, before moving into the string orchestra of “Pier”. This sort of freedom of digital instrumentation and flexibility was such a wild release; typically you find yourself writing for set ensembles (rock bands, choirs etc.), so to be able to just say “I want 3 contrabassoons” and then just be able to use them, without having to think through the old age issue of “where can I find three contrabassoonists?” was more liberating then I’d first realised.
Things I learned:
- The flexibility of digital orchestration
- Want 3 contrabassoons? You can have 3 contrabassoons! Want to change your 3 contrabassoons into piccolos? Easy! Budget for players? The cost of having one of each instrument! Take that live musicians! Seriously though, it’s a really great way for making mock-ups at the very least before committing to hiring actual players.
- How to program in irrational time signatures into Cubase
- This is a subject I might write more about later, but the track “Numbers” makes use of some bars of 5/6 (a bar of five crotchet triplets in the previous tempo) and between Cubase’s tempo and signature tracks you can just about make them work.
- The flexibility of digital releases
- Want to release onto Spotify? Sign up to Distrokid and away you go! The realities are a little more complex but that’s the long and short of it. I also strongly recommend everyone writing original music to release via Bandcamp as they’re just superb, though the site’s own UI can be a little bit clunky at times (this is being improved regularly).
- Mixing and Mastering of classical pieces are currently a weakness of mine
- I definitely felt that as I was mixing and mastering my own pieces that my perceived enjoyment of them decreased, so that’s definitely something I need to work on in future!
- Apple Music don’t accept classical pieces
- …or at least you can’t upload Classical works via Distrokid at time of writing.
- Various high-profile classically focused radio stations won’t play digitally-created classical music
- Without specifying too much, one of my tracks was turned down from radio play as it was ‘sequenced’, i.e. created digitally. This feels like just another obstacle for young composers who might not have the resources to hire and record actual players; when looking to record a clarinet quartet of mine the costs (which were entirely acceptable and reasonable) quickly mounted up to around £500 for the single track, which was simply not possible for me at this point.
So there we have it! If you’ve had a chance to listen to record then please let me know what you think about via email at email@example.com, and if you haven’t then please stream it through Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube.