Since the release of the Spectrotone Chart: Visual Orchestration video courses, this has become a rather persistent question in my e-box. To be sure, it’s a difficult question to answer because everyone’s needs are different. And what makes it so difficult is that those most often querying me are amateurs looking for “the answer” and my answer may be more expensive an answer than they were hoping for. So, to the best of my ability, I’ll give some starting points with which you can begin your decision making.

The System Is STILL The Solution
IBM said it right many years ago, and like, “You deserve a break today,” it’s still true. There are three component parts to your system: the sequencing program, the computer and your audio card. Of the three it’s the computer that’s the most significant because it powers everything from creation through mixing.

You must grasp and hold on to this: there is no such thing as am amateur’s/beginner’s/starter’s computer system for digital audio. The system’s that appear at this writing to have the most tested experience are 6-core systems.

EastWest has graciously posted the specs for their test system and where they bought it from. It’s here. And this is my personal starting point. As a comparison, my wife is a superb graphics person and subscribes to the Adobe CS series. You cannot get from Adobe what you can get from EW for specificity in system specs.

The Vienna Symphonic Library has some specific SSD recommendations and you should consult them. VSL system requirements for MIR are specific and they also recommend VSL approved systems.

Next, and seriously important, forget having the kid next door or your buddy build you a system. It’s not just the building the system. It’s understanding system integration to make all the software and hardware work together.

To ease system integration when working with virtual instruments, then you absolutely need Vienna Ensemble PRO. Skip it, and enjoy the heartburn…

Mac or PC?
The answer to this question is the same as the day it was first asked: pick your sequencing software first and go from there. Logic is Mac only. Cubase, Digital Performer 8.0, and Reaper are cross platform. Samplitude, Sequoia, and Sonar are PC only. Cubase, DP, Logic, and Sonar started life as sequencing programs to which audio was later added. Consequently, MIDI implementation is quite strong. Cubase, DP, and Logic have the strongest notation elements.

Pick the one you most relate to visually and feel you could work with for eight or more hours per day. After that, pick Mac or PC.

At Last: Orchestral Sample Libraries!
There are two broad approaches. You can get a complete orchestral library, or you can do it by component parts. If you go by component parts, by default you’re placing yourself into an advanced mixing situation before you’ve even learned a single library.

There are two time tested choices with a third emerging. From EW, there’s QLSO Gold. From VSL, there’s the Special Edition Bundle. By Christmas 2013, a third choice will be available, the Hollywood Orchestral Series Silver for strings, brass, woods, and percussion.

Pick one.

Learning Priorities

You have to learn what articulations/bowings are available, how they sound, how the player works and how to setup a template.

Next is learning how to do a MIDI mock-up, possibly spatial placement, then the final mix which at minimum requires adding a reverb with a tail of 1.68 to 1.9s

Next, is learning how’s and why’s of EQing and other tools used in a mix.

The Big Leagues
Amateurs choke about this, but the next step are the more super pro libs. This is not to say that QLSO Gold and VSL Special Edition aren’t. They are definitely pro libraries and have been used on tons of TV shows, movies, and in game scores. So you’re travelin’ in the steps of pros with these libs.

The libs I’m talking about here are the full versions often with multi-mic positions. So not only has the price gone up, as would be expected, but the learning curve has increased, too.

But, if you’ve gone through the Learning Priorities as listed, moving to the Big Leagues isn’t a very big leap because you already know how to approach what you’re trying to accomplish with your music and music production. Obviously, the entire range of the EW and Vienna libraries open to you as do Audiobro (LASS), Berlin Woodwinds, Cinematic Strings, CineSamples, Project SAM, Realivox The Girls, Sample Modeling, Spitfire Audio, Vienna Dimension Brass and Strings, Wallander Instruments, along with the ever popular More.

How Long to Learn
This is another question I’m asked and it’s another hard one because the answer always depends on what you bring to the table. The person who comes to the table with solid music skills, can learn to sequence and do effective MIDI mock-ups within 3-9 months. But they have to do it everyday. There’s nothing intuitive about this.

Afterwards comes a brand new discipline: learning to mix your own work. Mixing is ear training. So this takes as long as it takes to train your ear and practice. And practice includes learning about the audio plug-ins that come with your sequencer and how to use them.

What I can tell you is this. If you start simple and build up you’ll have a lot less stress and a lot more fun along the way, along with enjoying the aural fruits of your labors.

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