That Orchestral Sound

I was wondering, and I would like to really hear what’s on the minds of composers. When you compose, what is the “sound” you’re looking for. The reason I’m asking is because it seems like everybody (not just on this site) is composing that big, sort of, “Game of Thrones” big battle/opening theme sound. What are other sounds you hear, or compose, that leans towards other styles, but can still have a orchestral sound.? I’m not knocking, criticizing, or complaining. I’m just curious about who’s doing Orchestral composing but has other creative ides. Again…this is not a knock on what anybody is doing. I’m just curious about how vast orchestral composing can be.


it is a good question
well i my case, i am not a pro, each composition has a different color and orchestration, you can have only a piano with string, or a big full classic orchestra, it depend on your composition
by exemple when i have made the cover of the trailler of star wars rise of the skywalker, i try to have an orchestration near the original for that i study the original full score of star wars, and reading the scoring and listening to check and see how John williams create his color, i have done the same with stravinsky for the firebird, and other gret classical piece from mozart, bach, brahms, and so on
i never find a course explaining clearly how to build a specific color with the classical instrument, you can find course on instrumentation to learn about instruments, but there is no course that explain if you put a clarinet with a flute it sound like this, or if you have a tuba with a trombone and a double bass it is sounds like this
the main problem for me is to find the color, you can consider that each instrument is a single color, and like a painter you had to mix them to get a different color but it is very hard to define with a high level of accuracy the color you want
another example, you want this kind of color , but how i can start, woodwind, brass, string ? woodwind + horn ? woodwind and string ? very difficult and for me you can only use your ears to check the final color if the color you want is done or not


Of course, that massive, impressive sound of epic film scores and classical pieces is probably what inspired many of us to start learning about orchestration in the first place - and since that sort of sound is heard in lots of trailers, movies, games etc, I suppose many just keep going for that, either because that’s what they’re paid to do, or because they just love that sound.

Personally, I’m (still) doing this mostly out of passion, and it’s always been part of my life on some level, varying between slumbering dreams, and total obsession. So, I don’t really care what “flavor” of scores the industry is looking for this week. If I were to “make it,” it most likely wouldn’t be by copying everyone else anyway!

Also, I love everything that sounds great, and hope to eventually be able to write, sing, play, and produce basically anything that comes to mind. Classical, ambient, big band jazz, EDM, opera, progressive metal… So, it comes quite naturally to me to just go by “feel,” and use whatever instruments and articulations that will produce the sound I have in mind. Naturally, I’ve learned the basics of layering strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion etc, to create the “standard” timbres, but I’m never deliberately copying solutions from specific pieces or anything.

The orchestra, it has a huge range in both dynamics and timbre, and the way I see it, it’s not all that different from sound design with synthesizers. Also, you can scale up to “extended” epic orchestra configurations, or scale down to chamber, string quartet, piano + soloist etc… And of course, you don’t have to (shouldn’t!) use all instruments constantly throughout the piece. A bigger orchestra just means you have a bigger palette to play around with, and one (myself included!) has to constantly resist the temptation to add more parts - at least until the massively epic finale! :slight_smile:


Excellent response. The sound that moves me, above ALL, is James Brown Funk, and Bebop Jazz. I do get a rush when I hear the Hollywood orchestral sound, and I like to challenge myself to see what I can compose. What peaked my curiosity about the orchestral sound is when I, accidentally, composed an instrumental with that “going to war” sound, and dubstep. I have it on a particular site, and every month, when I get my monthly statement, between that piece, and my jazz track, those two are my best sellers. So I told myself…“how can I combine the two?” Then it dawned on me…“THAT’S BIG BAND!!!”


Oh I love combining styles and genres. EDM, Beats, Dirty Guitars…or perhaps cool and unusual percussion such as latin percussion. I don’t think it’s ever good to be “stuck” in one style of music, as music is such a wide language that you should explore more. Well, that’s my few cents on this at least. :slight_smile:

So you ask, what is the “sound” I’m looking for. My answer is that it can be completely new on each and every track I compose. It doesn’t even have to be orchestral at all to be honest. The main focus is always the mood, emotion and character I want my music story to have.


I think I’m going to try my hand at a War Drums Orchestral track combined with some cool Jazz. Kind of Like Jon Snow (GOT) meets Matt Helm (Google Matt Helm for those who don’t know). I have to see how this comes out.


Yeah go for it. Post it in the music feedback section when complete. :slight_smile:

I think people want to start making money from music, so for that to happen you either need to be on trend or ahead of trend.

That big sound is mainly made by mixing libraries and them EQing them to sit well with eachother. It’s a big skill in itself so most are attempting to learn.

I’d also say that you need a background in sound design to make that style work well… plus you need a bit of money behind you for the libraries.


yep you’re right Geoffrey
a lot of people think that a very good library is enough but there is a lot of work when you have finished the composition, there is the mixing, the mastering
sound design take a big part in the process, and for the instrumentation i think to have a big sound it is necessary layering instrument from diverse library by example if you want a huge string ensemble the factory library from kontakt is not enough, you had to make a string layer with different library to bring a huge dimension and power, and i think it is the same thing for woodwind, brass and choir
the composition is really the first step, but the road is long to get a powerfull track ready for audience and radio diffusion


definitely. i think you can manage a huge sound without the laying of libraries but I’ve found that the easiest way is to have multiple libraries that fill gaps.

i think a lot of people fall into a trap with the processing of the orchestra too. knowing exactly how to EQ and compress each section is paramount for a piece to sound full and vibrant. often, ive noticed in a lot of orchestral tracks from other composers, they make the strings the biggest part of the orchestra. on their own strings should definitely be the biggest and fullest sound, but when mixed with the orchestra the sound that you need is actually a much thinner and more top end heavy sound, especially when you are writing that super intense and hard hitting music.

something I’ve also realised, is that a lot of that heavy sound actually comes from the mastering and compression of the track. if you don’t have the right type of compression then the big sound is lost very quickly.

i think the way a lot of pro composers work these days, is to write with more lush sounding orchestration and then mix that with a heavy hitting library such as Met Ark1 in the heavier sections. for me right now i automate the EQ and use compression to the track to get that sound, but ultimately there’s no right or wrong way to do this. you just need to utilise the tools you have in the right way.


the thing i don’t understand is why some people think that strings are the most important instrument in an orchestra and in theirs compositions it is often impossible to hear the other instrument like the woodwind or the brass, i have the chance to study in a music conservatory and for the second time to work with a real symphonic orchestra, after orchestrating three pieces one for children choir and two for a little opera in one act, and when you are in front of the real orchestra with the classical layout, you can hear all instrument if your orchestration is balanced properly, for the balance i will say that in your score you have enough woodwinds compare to the strings and the same for the brass, more than that the articulation is very important it is impossible to play all the time in fortissimo, you must put nuances in your composition, some part need to be pianissimo, mezzoforte, mezzopiano, or some time you need an orchestral hit in sforzando, for me that is the power in classical music, and to go back to the work in a home studio i think that the compositor must think as a player, and must listen and listen again his composition,the compositor must know perfectly the instrument and the play capability of each of them, the range, if this work of a good writing during the composition is done the composition will be right balanced with all the instrument, then you can add EQ, compression for the mastering and the export of the project.
my orchestration teacher always says try to hear what you are writing and the first question he always ask to student is does your orchestration is good balanced ?
and lot of people think that if they have the best of the best library that cost a lot there is nothing to do more, i have a teacher in my conservatory that use two DAW , one for composition and the orther for mastering , he exports each track in a wav file, then rebuild the composition with all wave file in the second DAW and process to the mastering, mixing, EQing and other process

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i haven’t really seen compositions where the strings take over tbh, but then again i haven’t looked out for it. if that does happen then i can only surmount to thinking its because the strings take up 2/3 of the orchestra, mainly because they are one of the quietest instruments. historically though the strings section was the first section to have been finished in its production, then the woodwinds section and then the brass… with valves coming much later. the percussion has always been a staple with pitched percussion being established in the mid 16th century and introduced in a bigger way in the late baroque.

Dynamics are hugely important in orchestral composition, though when approaching as piece in you DAW you have to take a different approach. so its great to use all of your dynamic range, but that doesnt mean that the section still needs to be quiet. this is because the touch and feel of the sound is just as important as its played volume. inside your project we then have the power to go and turn up that instrument to audible levels which are comparable to the rest of the ensemble. So yes we really do need to think as a player, bu we also need to be creative with our creation too. for instance i would say that if i were to write a strings long/legatopart that was expressive and dynamically quiet, i wouldnt just play in a soft dynamic on a long patch in my library. i would also maybe layer in a harmonic layer as in real life you get subtle harmonics from playing quieter of a stringed instrument… maybe add a very quiet tremolo layer which would add more movement and even add a flautando layer to make it sound airy. all of these layers would also be automated so that they were more prominent when they were needed and if the library had other functions such as vibrato then id automate that too. i would do this for every section and every part of the piece. after that id take out whatever frequencies were getting in the way of the other instruments so that they sit better in the mix. a good tip is never to solo the track when you are carving EQ or compressing. always do this type of mixing in the context of the piece, unless its taking low end out, you can be excused for soloing for that as low frequencies get lost in the mix.

a lot of people have 2 DAW’s for this. i think its a technique brought in from the 90s. i personally don’t think you need 2 places to do this but if it helps then go for it. i personally write in one project and then export into a new project so that i’m working in audio stems. this really helps as you can do a lot more with audio stems. midi is very limiting when it comes to mixing, but it does help to have two projects for sure.


I’m not sure why, but it seems like a lot of composers on all levels more or less forget about the woodwinds… In classical pieces, strings are almost always combined with woodwinds, which is what actually produces that full, rich sound that everyone recognizes as - and here’s probably where the problem is - strings. It’s easy to come to the incorrect conclusion that you’ll be able to get that sound if you just have the right strings library.

To some extent, this happens with brass too. Some have asked what brass library I’m using, and sure, I have some nice ones, but the “trick” is that they’re always backed by strings and woodwinds. It’s not obvious, as brass is so loud, but the resulting change in color is quite significant.

On that note, when doing pure orchestral, I don’t use much EQ, compression or anything at all. I prefer to do most of the “mixing” on the orchestration level, and by using libraries that already have the right sound (space, mics etc) for the job. I find that processing needs to be very subtle to maintain a realistic impression.

Also, properly utilizing the dynamic range of the orchestra reduces the need for processing to achieve that “over the top” sound in the fff sections. You can only take the processing so far anyway, as too much compression starts to have the opposite effect. Of course, there is the constant issue of loudness, but the loudness war is over, so there shouldn’t really be an excuse to turn everything into sausages…

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Everywhere I can! Orchestral sounds are maybe the most natural sounds that can be make with instruments and everyone loves them… Whenever the feel demands it in whichever genre I am composing at the moment, I may add some “motives” or a full background, even leads sometimes…

I love it, I have the Albion, although kind of old now, its cool and I love this libraries… Spitfire have a new one with the BBC, but I didn’t want to spend 1000USD and also be in need of another External SSHD off a Therabyte (I believe its a little less than that…) So at the moment, even more than for the price, its the heaviness in storage that keeps me adding more libraries…

Also, not just orchestral, but Coral I add whenever I can… mostly female voices.

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