How to optimise your deliverables and help your orchestrator help you

Share this:

Often, when working with a composer (especially one who hasn’t had much experience working in a studio environment with session musicians), I’m asked what the deliverables are to make the process as streamlined as possible. The following may not seem particularly important, but it is definitely something to get right as early as possible in the process to avoid any confusion for either yourself or the orchestrator.

Getting your DAW template set up correctly

Undoubtedly, one of the most important things a composer can do at the start of the process when working on a television series or feature film etc is to get their template set up in orchestral order. Take note of the following and I will explain my reasoning shortly.

From the top of your template to the bottom, your orchestral template should look like this screenshot below:

I prefer sessions to be laid out this way because, as an orchestrator, I am required to sort through a seriously large amount of tracks and when I copy the quantized MIDI from Sibelius into my template Sibelius file (the file where all of my custom engraved fonts and instruments are laid out), I can almost copy line by line from top to bottom, rather than having to keeping scrolling up and down and then copying into the template file.

For example, if the flute part is at the top of the session and then the oboe is down at the bottom where the double basses are, it means that I’m scrolling constantly trying to find where things are which wastes time. I’m happy to do that myself and this certainly isn’t a complaint, but it’ll cost the client more money and mean that the time I spend sorting through means I inevitably spend less time actually orchestrating.

It is really important to remove any variables and potential things that could be confusing which might slow an orchestrator down. For this reason, it’s far easier to set up your DAW session in orchestral order from the start.

What files should you send to an orchestrator?

– A MIDI FILE PER CUE/DAW SESSION PER CUE

I actually prefer that the composer sends me their whole DAW session if they’re working within Cubase, which is the DAW I use to quantize MIDI. It means that there can be no errors with the MIDI and usually all of the tracks have been coloured and are easy on the eye rather than an imported session of pure grey MIDI. I would recommend making a duplicate of all of your DAW sessions and adding ‘_ORCH’ at the end.

For example:

CUE ID_CUE TITLE_ORCH

1M23_DARK FORCES_ORCH

This ensures that your original DAW files are always untouched. If I end up rebarring anything in my Cubase session, I tell the composer about it so that they can change it in their original DAW session for later reference.

– TEXT FILES

Sometimes MIDI can bare very little relation to the actual audio that you’re hearing and sometimes it can be wise for the composer to write a quick text document describing what particular sound they might be aiming for. This can be useful when the audio isn’t exactly what they’d like to be recorded live, and the MIDI is no use to the orchestrator either. If you didn’t write a text note here, the orchestrator would use their initiative and do what they think is best for the context, or they would call/email the composer and potentially waste their time or distract them from something important. 

Often, if something in particular keeps appearing in a score, it is wise for the composer to inform the orchestrator that this is going to keep occurring. For example, on one film I worked on, the composer mentioned that whenever a certain theme was used, the minim in the second half of the third bar was meant to be two crotchets. The reason the composer had just played a minim instead of two crotchets was because of the slow attack of the string samples.

Name your tracks correctly

If you name your tracks ‘Kontakt 1’ and ‘Kontakt 345’, the orchestrator will more than likely have no idea what that instrument is supposed to be. If it’s something like a solo flute line which you can clearly hear then it’s not a big issue, but if it’s something buried in the texture which is not easily audible, this can pose a problem. As a matter of good ‘DAW-keeping’, it’s best to keep your tracks clearly labelled as a helpful reference as to what is on that track. For example, when I’m working as a composer, I’ll name my tracks like this:

  • SAMPLE LIBRARY NAME (always use an abbreviation of the library name to avoid the text getting too long)
  • INSTRUMENT
  • EFFECT

If I was using Cinematic Studio Strings with a first violin sul tasto patch, I would write:

CSS Violin I Sul Tasto

Hopefully this has cleared a dark cloud of confusion as to what you need to provide when working with an orchestrator!

Share this:
Tristan Noon

Tristan Noon

Tristan is a British TV composer based just outside of London. He studied briefly at the University of Surrey and has gone on to orchestrate music for high budget productions such as the AAA rated video game 'LEGO: The Incredibles' and ITV 1's flagship drama 'Endeavour'. He also orchestrated, music prepped and music copied the music for synth-pop/electronic legend Gary Numan’s UK tour with the Skaparis Orchestra in November 2018. As well as his work as an orchestrator, Tristan has had music published by prominent production music companies such as Audio Network, EMI and Universal leading to a large variety of prime time syncs. In 2017 he wrote and launched an eBook called From DAW to Score - if you like the content above, you can visit his blog or purchase his book at a discounted price by entering the code FILMSCORINGTIPS during checkout (valid until the end of January).

Leave a Reply