Christmas Music Contest: Christmas Elves at Work

Hi there,
it was a funny coincident that I started working on a Christmas track, just a day before Mike announced the new Contest so I’m already here with my entry to the contest already. :slight_smile:

Creative Vision:
I imagined Santa’s workshop at Northpole and his elves quality-checking old-fashioned wooden Christmas toys at their conveyor belt (thus the clockwork ticking). Then, after the first half, when the key changes, the boring work is done, the Toys are being loaded in Santa’s Sleigh and after that -when the more adventurous Brassy part starts- our big, beardy friend (not me :wink: ) starts flying away.

Constant 4/4 in 120BPM. I start the piece alternating between Bm and B° and switch to an alternation of C# and C#° in the third third.
I decided to use a lot of Woodwinds again, as they give us the magical touch we already discovered in the last Contest :smiley:

Samples used:

  • Hollywood Brass (Trumpet, Horns, Trombones)
  • Hollywood Harp
  • Hollywood Orchestral Percussion (Timpani, Sleigh Bells, Glockenspiel, Cymbals)
  • Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds (Piccolo, Flute, Alto Flute, Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Oboe, English Horn, Bassoon, Contrabassoon)
  • Hollywood Strings (Violas, Celli, Basses)
  • Symphonic Choirs
  • StormDrum 3 (Clockwork)
  • Goliath (Tubular Bells)


  • Metropolis Ark1 (Violins)
  • Damage2 (Big Drums, Snares)
  • Forzo (Tubas)



Really fun track Chris! I can completely see your image you’ve described.

My only real critique here would be to expand your reverb a bit. It sounded like all the instruments were crammed into a tiny studio. I used to use the “studio X” reverb settings on my reverb plug-ins, because I wanted that “soundtrack” sound (they record in a studio, right?!) but found that it doesn’t spread the instruments enough. So I started using the “concert hall” settings with my own tweaks and, while I have to mix better, I get closer to that “soundtrack” sound.

I don’t know what you used here, but I think it wound sound even better with a wider reverb space. Otherwise, bravo! I thought the composing was great!

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Thanks for your reply, Matt and especially for pointing out the reverb issue. Alexey (@jlx_music) pointed this out in the other thread I started some days ago, where I linked some other tracks I uploaded to Soundcloud.

I have the feeling that the MP3 compression by Soundcloud kills some my reverb… also it seems to completely change the sound of the wav so that it sounds like listening to a grammophone recording and totally overpowering the contrabass. :thinking:

For Reverb I am using EW Spaces II and usually go for one of the Concert hall presets and adjust the dry/wet setting a bit. I think you can quickly get the track sounding really muddy when the reverb is hitting just a bit too big.
I will try applying some more/wider reverb and check if Soundcloud messes around with it, too. :slight_smile:

One more question to you and our fellow composers: What’s your way to go here, do you apply one reverb on your whole mix or do you apply different reverbs on each instrument/bus separately?

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Yeah, I’m not too sure how Soundcloud normalizes tracks–I think when I first started uploading I used MP3s and the results were poor (and iTunes squashes the hell out of them :grimacing:) so when i export my finished track, I do it in AIFF and the results are better—also, I use Izotope Ozone9 to master and use the built in maximizer to set the true peak to -1.5db, which is right around Soundcloud’s preset, and then put the threshold to a point where the loudest peaks of my track just tickle the threshold and kick in the maximizer. I’ve only once tried using Soundcloud’s “master” feature and the results were garbage, to my ear anyway.

As far as vebs, Mr. @Geoffers is good with that stuff and would do a better job than I explaining it, but as far as I do it, it kind of depends and the library and how the built-in verbs sit in the mix. If I use Dorico to score a piece, every instrument is perfectly situated already in the mix and I just put all of them through one reverb. With sample libraries, I usually run all my strings through one reverb, woods and brass it depends and percussion mostly with the built-in verbs, but I’m terrible mixing percussion :sweat_smile:

Also, a neat trick I learned from Geoff was to put an EQ plugin after the verb plugin and low cut everything below ~300Hz and hi cut everything above ~4KHz; it really cleans things up nice!

So, I just discovered that I forgot including the reverb plugin in the new template I set up. :roll_eyes:
I uploaded a new version of the song which I put in the original submission.
Thanks @MaestroX for sharing @Geoffers great hack, I think this works like a charm (though I tweaked the frequencies a bit. :slight_smile: )
Also I just noticed that the underwhelming sound seems to be caused by the combination of my notebook and a crappy Bluetooth protocol. Checking with my DT770 Pro (80Ohm) I use for composing, it sounds quite nice. :smiley:

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I think your track has a contemporary feel to it. The Christmas Elves’ proceedings seem to be a bit chaotic and on the brink of collapsing.

Uhm, OK? :thinking:

There is no right or wrong how to use reverb. Some people say you can only use as a send-return, and as direct insert it’s „forbidden“ kind of. If you hear something like that, remember it’s what get you the results you want them.

For example: if you find that some instruments need to be a little bit far away, you can just insert a reverb with small space, almost a delay, and push it back using dry/wet. Of course you could send-return, but then what some people miss is that a send-return Signal is a copy of the original Signal and if you have a copy over copy your instrument becomes louder. But here is the catch. Louder means more forward to your ear, but not far away. So here is a little trap.

That would the case where a would use direct insert as I don’t copy my signal. Just manipulate it’s position.

Generally I like not doing much with orchestral instruments as single instruments, as reverb can add up quite heavy when using more than one instance, and you must control all of them, so it works and makes sense. So I like keeping it far easier and start backwards, so first going for the main bus and looking if it already works as I want / like. If something needs to be fixed, I start adding single instrument reverbs if needed.

But the biggest mistake what can be done with reverb is to overuse it. People sometimes completely drown their tracks into infinity and you back have punch and clarity.

Mixing reverb should be done by using at least 2-3 sound devices so you are sure it’s not too much or not little. If use just right, your track will benefit a lot.

I hope that helps.

To your success,
Alexey :slight_smile:


I agree with nearly everything you’ve said bar one thing. There are definitely more than one way to get reverb right, but there’s also a lot of ways to get it wrong.

For instance, shaping a reverb with EQ so that it doesn’t mask instruments or frequency bands is a good habit, not always essential, but it’s good. Knowing how and when to use this is what distinguishes a good a great mixer.
A bad habit would be not doing any of that at all… or using only one reverb, or only using one reverb type, or not using ff de mimic reflections, or not automating your EQ. The list goes on… but there are an awful lot of ways to get it wrong… much more than how to get it right.

My point is this, those are only right and wrong In specific scenarios. If you are
Hoping to get industry standard mixes then yes this applies… it also applies when that is just an aspiration. My point is this, if your doing this fir fun then there’s no bar to hold yourself to, except your own.

Usually if I ever give feedback then I try to make this clear… because as soon as you step outside of your bubble (as in the confines of your own expectations) then a whole lot more is expected of you, and this is when right and wrong stops being subjective… to the right people. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the mention @MaestroX!

As far as reverbs go,it’s best practice to use multiple reverbs that for different functions. Long verbs for strings and horns. Mid reverbs for woods and drums, short room verbs for drums and string etc. Mixing them up is a great way to add dept to your piece. Then automate them in terms of amplitude within sections and that will get you 90% of the way there. Then I always like to take my reverbs with EQ. Initially taking out the lows and highs and then shaping the mid range, so everything sits well, and doesn’t mask anything.

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I think that there is one huge trap when using reverb, especially when thinking about orchestra and that types of set ups.

It’s totally right that having the option to adjust early reflections could be a very powerful technique to help instruments to move through space but it’s for very advanced people who know stuff about it. That’s first.

Second, I don’t think it’s always necessary to use advanced reverbs at all, as it always depends what you have in front of you as material to work with. I wouldn’t use it when I have a pretty wet Library in front of me, because it already gives me the reference how to adjust the other tracks around it.

Reverb is a very complicated thing, and there is a tone to learn about. But I wouldn’t suggest anyone to start thinking too much about „realism“. In private I would first teach how to adjust instruments with reverbs the super simple way starting with wet/dry and choosing the best type of reverb for a scenario. Only then when I see that people have results we could talk more in depth about other stuff that can be included and used to fine-tune the settings.

Let’s make a separate thread and discussion about reverb, and share some things we like to do with it. So people can see where to start and what other advanced things there are out there. What do you think @Geoffers ?


I think reverb can be complicated if you’ll look at it like that, but really it’s the same as anything in mixing. If you are using your ears then it’s not hard at all. Most aren’t happy with one reverb when they listen because it doesn’t give the character they’re looking for. This is simply because they’re not mixing verbs, but when we mix reverbs or simply use more than one then it needs shaping, and we do that just by listening to what we aren’t hearing.

Sure make a thread and we can talk about it. I personally think reverb is easier than people give it credit. :slight_smile:

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Hello Chris. This is really fun to listen to. I like the alternating major to diminished progressions and animated orchestrations. Adding the backbeat really sold it too.

My only feedback is re the reverb already discussed at length. Just dial it back about 20-30% all around, and the elves will be happy. :laughing: :elf:

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Good soundtrack atmostphere. I hope you have a really good days, after this ugly year. Enjoy when possible.

Hey Friends, thank you all again for the detailed feedback!
I tried to use it to overhaul the setup of my reverbs again. Luckily, FLstudio v20.8 was released recently, introducing a nifty frequency splitter plugin, which came in quite handy.

What I did was to create sub-buses for each section and insert a patcher instance (a plugin for creating effect pipelines with graphical routings. I did this for each instrument section for example high strings and low strings

Here you see what the routes look like for every sub-group.
The Parametric EQ shapes the sounds and filters out the unwanted frequencies. The output is then routed directly to the section bus to have the dry signal, the second one goes into the frequency splitter, where you can… right… split the frequencies. :smiley:
You can then adjust the volume of each band, fed into an instance of EW Spaces 2 which provides concert hall reverb for each section. The wet signal is then fed to the output.

Here’s the version which I now consider the final one. I am sure that there is still some room for improvement but I think it sounds much better than the two previous versions. :smiley:

I would really appreciate it if you would give me some feedback on it!


Thanks a lot Vicente! I wish you a nice Christmas time, too! Stockpiling on single malt and beer will help me through this time. :wink:

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What a fun piece of music and some very cute melodic content. I think the choir takes this into a real odd place to my ears. I might have done something different to broaden the soundscape with synths or percussion even. You have such clever and complex melodic content, I would develop those ideas and skip the choir. Either that or give the choir a bit of the Wassail bowl and let them go chromatic and crazy. Nice work!

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