Today I’m going to talk about sample libraries – digital recordings which are loaded into virtual instruments for use by composers/arrangers/producers. There are hundreds out there. Huge full orchestras, tiny finger cymbals, guitars, pianos, pretty much anything you can think of. I mainly use products by CineSamples, Spitfire Audio, Orchestral Tools and Cinematic Samples. The range and quality of the sample libraries out there is amazing. I often layer them up, so I’ll put Cinematic Studio Strings on top of Symphonic Strings or the full string staccato patch from Inspire over the Cinematic Studio Strings playing staccato. This creates a full, thick sound and allows me to choose the sort of sound I’m getting from the strings – or whatever instrument I’m using.
Sample libraries like Orchestral Tools’ collections allow you to quickly create realistic-sounding orchestras with minimal effort. There are patches that allow you to play an entire woodwind, brass, percussion, or string section in one go. There are patches that you can layer on top of smaller groups of instruments, such as legato violins, should you need a soaring string line over the top. This is great when you’re on a tight deadline, which you often are in film and television. I often have five days to write 20–25 minutes of full orchestral music, so any shortcuts to making it sound great are very welcome.
CineSamples have produced libraries that allow you to play individual instruments. You can, for instance, play each of the woodwind instruments individually (three flutes, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, and contrabassoon perhaps). They are great and allow you to decide on the balance and exact orchestration. The only downside is that this approach takes a lot longer to write, play, and mix.
VIs and sample libraries allow the composer to create music that sounds as real as possible without the need for a full orchestra. Why? So that it can be heard by directors and producers before being recorded, or in case the budget only allows for synthetically created music. That’s why they’re a composer’s best friend… but why are they also our nemesis? Sample libraries have become so good now that many people believe there’s no longer a need for live musicians. That isn’t true! No matter how great VIs and sample libraries are, there is no substitute for live musicians playing the music, feeling it, and expressing it. I always try to convince the people I’m working with of the vital role musicians play in breathing life into a score. Not every production can afford (or requires) a full orchestra, and there is a time and a place for electronic scores – but, even on a production with a small budget, I will always try to use one or two live musicians. It lifts the score so much – you can’t sample emotion.