DAW Project Template and its maiden run

There are many others out there who have done a lot more projects and have published video and commentary in detail on setting up a template, I’ll let you seek those out for more experienced nitty gritty, but I am just documenting my journey here so I’ll share my perspective as one who is just doing a first pass at setting up a template, not one who has years of experience with it.

I am working more with large ensemble projects and so I recently created a default project template for Logic. I’ve been using the program for years so it may be a little surprising that I’m only doing this now but I didn’t actually consider this option till about 2 months ago. The majority of what I did in Logic previously was using guitar/bass inputs or mic’d instruments and voice, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been working on larger projects with many recurring midi patches and orchestral type arrangements so the time is quite right for me to use a template now. I’ve grouped my instrument tracks in sections: Winds, Percussion, Keyboards (and misc harp, synths, etc.), Guitar and Bass, Voice, Strings and I’ve got them in order from top to bottom as you would see them reading down the score (flute, oboe, clarinet…. strings at bottom). I see that this is the way to work, each instrument can have its own FX patches preset, and then the section groups can also be preset through a chain. For projects with many instruments this is such a timesaver. For better or for worse it will also have the effect of maintaining a specific “sound”, if you always use the same instruments through the same types of routing and such. I haven’t decided if I’ll use one super master template to cover all projects or a handfull of templates each covering one specialty. For this first template I want it to be a catch all, and after I play with it for a while I’ll decide where to go from there.

This first template is the most comprehensive, with the idea that if I’m going to score for full blown orchestra this will cover me, for mock ups. I’ve left it open to sweeten it up with some mic tracks to add live instruments but the majority of it is samples and such. I’ve got the winds and strings and bells and whistles at my fingertips here including my favorite keyboard sounds and some instruments that are non-traditional orchestra. My favorite extras are vintage electric pianos (so useful for a lot of things), a little B3 organ, celeste, some bassy and ambient synths (I don’t use a lot of synth at the moment), the Spitfire LABS music box and felt piano are really cool, and a few drum machines. I’ve got some favorite electric guitar and bass patches at the ready too. Guitar is one of my main instruments so I like to loosen tracks up with a bit of that when it’s appropriate. Having an actual electric bass performance instead of a midi performance of a bass sound is important for me but that’s the bread and butter of my background so I’m biased in that regard. I usually don’t do anything too fancy with the electric bass signal chain as I like a simple vintage type sound. I want to get myself a double bass soon, I played it in college but I need to find myself an instrument. I have some midi triggered sounds that do well for the plucked bass sound but the real deal is the real deal.

My string section is the Spitfire Studio Strings, which has been doing the trick for me, but when I get the chance I will upgrade this. Before I do that I will get a woodwind library as that is the weakest link in my setup. I like the default mallet percussion sounds in the Logic package and I’m using some other percussion that works really well, timpani and others. I have an acoustic drumset in the studio that I use a lot, even for some of the orchestral things. The snare is quite useful for many styles of music and you can get a really dramatic cymbal swell by doing a crecendo roll with soft mallets so I’ll mic live percussion sounds frequently for all styles of music. Shakers and tambourines add a lot of good vibes to tracks and you can readily add these instruments and play them yourself even in the smallest studio without having to do years of study on them, while it does take some practice to do it well, it’s a lower bar to hurdle than learning the bassoon or horn.

The maiden voyage of this template was an 8 minute orchestral score for the GIL Family Estates Soundtrack contest. The brief is for a traditional orchestra score for a short film emphasizing themes of family, home, land, and passing on history and legacy through generations. Quite a heartfelt film with a lot of room for music. I had not scored for such a large ensemble up to this point, I utilized the strings of course but also had a fair amount of harp and piano along with sections of winds and brass. Percussion was minimal, but there was a good amount of glockenspiel and just a bit of other percussive elements here and there. The project was quite a success! I spent about two weeks in the composition and recording of it. I will be able to share it here with you in the near future. A lot of the melody was written just in my head as I was imagining the feel of the film and pondering what kind of music it was asking for. Then I would later take these themes to the piano and then to my digital orchestra part by part layering upon a piano guide track. I didn’t use metronomes or clicks for this one.

Transcribing the written score for it was the tedious wrap up work, but really not too bad. I composed a lot of it at the piano and then from there to tape (or DAW really) so getting it to paper came last in this case. I do write some of the themes and ideas down initially, so I don’t forget it. I will usually write the parts out in detail later and sometimes I will make some voice leading and harmonization changes and edits as I write the score out in full. It’s easier to get a grasp of how all the instruments are working together when they are all laid out on paper sometimes but it’s really only necessary if it makes a noticeable sound improvement, otherwise I don’t care how textbook my score ends up because all that matters is how it sounds. Trust your ear but sometimes seeing the harmony on paper helps you get to the right answers quicker to give you a chance for your ear to confirm it.

Finishing that project was great for me, I ended up realizing the vision I set out to accomplish and in the process I created version 1 of my orchestral template. This will I’m sure be the first of many versions and updates it will go through, but I just think, all the tweaks I make this time around will be already set for me on the next project so it starts paying off right away.

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