2nd Annual Music Technology Christmas Must-Have List

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This is the second Christmas in our industry where budgets have been really tight and whatever is purchased falls onto the must-have list. With that idea in mind, here are some must-haves in my view, not all of which I’ve reviewed but have tested.

Everything listed is shipping. And, for the first time in a while, you can put these offerings together to create one killer orchestral template on a single computer.

LASS has set a standard for a one package library. It has many aces in the hole including matching solo strings that you can layer over the ensembles, or use for string quartet and string quintet. It comes with a strong starting muted strings section, too. But the ultimate feature is the way Andrew Keresztes recorded LASS – using mini-ensembles to build to a larger ensemble. This approach enables you to do a level of writing not previously possible. If you have comps using div a 2, div a 3 and even div a 4, LASS is the only program that you can record with to create those textures. With a street price of US$1199, it’s a no brainer. www.audiobro.com

Poor Tim Smith took a hit with the demise of GigaStudio, but fortunately, this series is available in Kontakt 2.1 format. Tim sent me a download of his Flute to try out. I tested it with LASS and found Westgate sits in the mix behind the LASS string section quite nicely. With Westgate, you’ve got the full woodwind section plus French horns, concert harp and timpani. www.westgatestudios.com

Cinesamples is a company run by two composers, one in L.A. (Mike Patti) and the other in New York City (Mike Barry). What the two Mike’s have been creating are libraries that “fill in the cracks” for material not recorded in other libraries. For most composers, I would say that a good word for this company is indispensable. Check out CineHarp, CineToms, Drums of War, Iron Guitars, Session Drummer, and their most recent, Hollywoodwinds . And the pricing? Ho Ho Ho!

What of IK I’ve tested, I really like. To me, the “hot” programs fall into the AmpliTube series: AmpliTube 2, Ampeg SVX, Fender, Jimi Hendrix, and Metal. With these programs, you can produce any kind of rock piece or song demo you want. And they’re easy on RAM. And the wallet. www.ikmultimedia.com

The Sony Oxford Plugins are literally a million dollar mixing board for only a few hundred dollars. The deal and the steal are with the native platforms which include RTAS, Audio Units and VST. I compared the SONNOX EQ recently to see if it was possible to match exactly the EQ settings created for the L.A. Scoring Strings within Kontakt 3.5. Answer: absolutely. With other EQs, I could get close, but not an exact rematch. The reverb is a stereo modeling reverb, not a convolution reverb. See the video. When you look at what you get with Sonnox for what you pay for it, it’s pretty astonishing especially if you stick with the Native versions. www.sonnoxplugins.com.

So far, everything I’ve listed enables you to build a world class production system that will run in a single system with this caveat emptor – you have to check the specs for system compatibility, especially if you’re on the Mac, and especially if you’ve already migrated to Snow Leopard. Do your homework!

Last year at this time, EastWest took a savage beating in the marketplace. However, since the release of PLAY 1.25, nary a word of complaint. Because of this, I delayed posting of a number of product reviews. Some however, I’ve touched on.

Of all their new PLAY releases, I have to put Gypsy and StormDrum 2 in the must have department, especially if you’re doing film, TV and game work. What makes Gypsy compelling are the guitars and the solo violin. There isn’t a solo violin like it in any other package. With this package and the amp models from IK, whether I was in L.A. or Missoula, Montana, I could create a series of knockout studio “ensembles” to produce some pretty hot demos. And if I were a singer (which I’m not), the back-up band I’ve always wanted would be available 24/7. StormDrum 2 is critical for film, TV and games. It’s got the percussion sound those of us have heard live on the scoring stages of Los Angeles. Those of us who’ve been there, we know who we’re talking about. Having lead my own big band for many years, I pushed the drums in the package. Could I get a nice ride cymbal ping? Could I do Jim Chapin’s jazz drum coordination patterns and sound authentic? Could the toms do Gene Krupa’s Sing Sing Sing from a piano keyboard. Answer: yes to all.

EastWest has announced that in December they’ll be bringing out a three-mic version of QLSO Gold. For many, that will be an excellent ticket.

Summed together, everything I’ve listed is a components parts approach to building an orchestral template. QLSO + LASS + WESTGATE gives you an excellent set of choices that can blend well together thanks to PLAY’s mic sliders for QLSO which enables you to mix multiple libraries to create a unified sound. It also enables you to create vertical harmonies without phasing. Add in Cinesamples for the glue that binds. Last year I gave Symphobia the nod. This year, more so, but because of the special string, woodwind, and brass effects that can’t be duplicated in MIDI. Like Cinesamples, Project SAM produces libraries that fill in the cracks.

With these libraries and the Sony Oxford Plugins, you could be producing music for years and never have to update.

Now, if you want to move in specialty directions, that’s different. For jazz, Mojo from Big Fish and the Chris Hein Horn Collection from Best Service.

My wife knows about this love affair I’ve been having – with the Quantum Leap Pianos (fooled ya). We’re up to what, four dozen sampled pianos so far? But even so, QL Pianos are easy on the fingers and sound fabulous. If you’re crunching the numbers, it’s not a must have for an orchestral template. But it is one heckuva splurge! Just for the music of it. It’s a soul thing – when you just want to play, eyes closed, and make music from that which bubbles up from inside. If somewhere you have Lalo Schrifrin’s album entitled Mannix, yes, you can play just like that.

Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook by Henry Brant is a must have for those well beyond square one. I’ll do a full review of this text in the new year, but for now, know that Brant was one of us. He orchestrated eight movies for the late Alex North. This is legacy book from someone who’s been there/done that. It’s a challenging read, but worth the effort.

Merry Christmas!


  • November 24, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    Totally in love with L.A Scoring String, it deserves to be on top of the list but lets not forget Morphestra and symphobia, another two powerful tools to damage the bank for, ;)

    Thanks for listing

    Happy Xmas


  • November 24, 2009 @ 9:29 am

    Thanks for your input. Symphobia was mentioned last year and also mentioned in this column. I can only comment on product I’ve reviewed and tested.


  • Nate Biehl
    November 24, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    Do you compose in Missoula MT? If so, I would love to meet you sometime. I live in Missoula.

  • November 24, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    No, I compose in Virginia and net-commute to L.A. these days. Missoula, MT came to my head while I was writing to make the point that you can create top drawer work no matter where you live.


  • December 3, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    I just read your article and was wondering what, if any, input you may have regarding Steinberg’s Halion Symphonic Orchestra? I use this and so far I like the sampling but for piano, in particular, I have to use a touch of reverb to get real sounding sustain otherwise it does sound a bit digital. I must say for the price it is quite good overall. Would you recommend a good acoustic piano vst plug-in or another full symphonic program as mentioned above? BTW, I live in Bozeman, MT and I do agree with you. I collab with people all over the world.

    Kindest regards,

  • December 3, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

    Dear Phillip,

    Not to disappoint, but I really can’t make any recommendations. I reviewed the HSO a couple of years ago, and since then, haven’t listened to it or used it. My own work is with EW, Vienna and AudioBro. So I can only comment out of that experience.

    Peter Alexander

  • Ovaltine Jenkins
    January 13, 2010 @ 2:34 am

    Loved the article…straight talk about a lot of stuff I’ve been wondering about. Hit the spot. Thanks!

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