Saturday, October 20, 2012

Austin Lawrence Composer

Music collection #1 Composer Austin Lawrence

I left the title simple this time because Austin describes himself in this way, and that is how I'm used to seeing Austin Lawrence's name online. It is as if composer is just attached right to it, and I mean this in the best way possible. He is talented far beyond your scope of typical aspiring musicians and is easily in the top 5 best composers I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with. Over the years, he has had opportunities to score several projets, all of which turned out pretty great, and I believe it is only a matter of time before we see his name in the credits "on the big screen" next to John Powell's or Hans Zimmer's. I interviewed Austin a few weeks ago, and here is what he had to say:

1) Where are you from and how long have you been a musician?

I'm originally from Naples Italy.  Both my parents were in the U/S Navy,  I've been all over the world, and reside in the US as a citizen.
I've always been making music of some kind, using pots and pans as a drum set, messing around on a guitar, (even though I didn't know what I was doing it was still stimulating)I've been listening to music for as long as I can remember, but I really decided I wanted to be a musician in my early teens.  I started to teach myself the guitar, once I got good with that, I taught myself to play the piano, violin and percussion instruments.  ( I made an attempt to take lessons before, but I found myself being bored to tears and restricted)  So i've officially been a musician for about 5 years now.  And once I realized that there were full orchestras to be written for, I began my career in film scoring.

2) What equipment do you use to record your compositions with?

Being on a mac, I use logic 9.  Why?  I'm comfortable with the layout.  "The best DAW is the one you're used to." For instruments, I have so many it's hard to keep track at times and remember what I have under the hood.  EW and Kontakt are a must to anyone in the industry. I use a lot of instruments from EW, 8dio, Tonehammer, Kontakt and others.  To get my "sounds" in my compositions I mix and match several libraries, as well as  incorporate some of my own custom samples and recordings.  Thinking outside the box is important for writing using samples too.  Non traditional methods can do amazing things. But of course there's just no substitute for live musicians.

3) If you could meet one composer or other musician, who would it be?

Oh man, Impossible to pick just one, there are so many wonderful composers and musicians in the world, all who deserve recognition and praise for their outstanding work.If I have to give the minimal amount of names, they would be Hans Zimmer , James Horner, and John Williams. Hans Zimmer has always been a big inspiration to me, so naturally I'd love to meet him not only as a fan, but as a fellow film composer.  Working with him would be a blast! James Horner pretty much wrote the soundtrack to my childhood.  And John Williams.....is there really anything to say about him?  He's every film composers idol.

4) What is your ultimate goal in music?

It's hard to define an ultimate goal in this industry, with so many possibilities.  But I'd say one of the most important things to me is to be able to write a score, or single piece of music that has meaning.  One of my major goals would be to create scores for major films that really communicate to the people who are listening.  Personally, there are many soundtracks that have completely changed my perspective on music and even portions of life in a funny way.  Now that I think about it, I'd say the ultimate goal for any composer is to leave a legacy of music that touched people, changed people, while making friends along the way.  Then you have things like Oscars and Grammy's, etc.  I really wouldn't mind having a few of those.  In fact I'm going to shoot for 150 major films, 50 academy award nominations....and a list of other things.  I realize my goals are extreme, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  I've always aimed higher than recommended...and I don't think that will ever change.  To achieve all this, I'll need the help of amazing musicians, talented directors, and many more people, and in it's own way, that's another "ultimate goal in itself.  To be surrounded by the brilliant minds that fill up this industry.
5) What do you use as inspiration for your compositions?

There are many things I use an inspiration for the music I write. poetry, paintings, nature, stories, etc.  Though specifically for when I score a film, the inspiration for the soundtrack really comes from the emotion of that particular film.  Learning about the characters, their stories, and what they're going through gives me a huge amount of inspiration.  It's really interesting when you seem like you cant be original anymore, the director hands you a scene of the movie, and suddenly you're filled with creativity!  It's truly fascinating.  To be inspired to write is wonderful, but there's an importance of being able to intellectually defend your work that a lot of musicians and composers seem to overlook.  They have all the inspiration, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. I've seen many artists who were "inspired" to do something, but couldn't explain why.  perhaps it's the feeling we can't explain, but we should be able to explain why we attempt to achieve it a certain way musically.

My thoughts on the interview:

Wow, traveling the world and making music in a self-taught fashion. Remarkable! I took piano lessons as a kid and found myself bored as well, and I was constantly confused because nobody likes to teach theory to children. I gave that up from the beginning of high school until the beginning of college and taught myself guitar. I have a violin as well, but don't have time to learn it (I only had a basic introduction to it in my fifth grade music class). I play drums and piano now in bands, but I'm realizing that I'm spreading myself too thin and not becoming great at any one thing. I would love to find work as a composer, but it seems a little hard in Southwest Florida, so I decided to go back to school to get a composing degree and find the contacts that I need to get some good projects. I know they are out there. I just don't know where.

For school, I had to get a mac and Logic. Luckily, I have a Logic class that is helping me to switch over to my new DAW, and I am very excited about it. I'll be even more so when I figure out a few more shortcuts. I just got my first set of EW plugins too, as it is the most complete thing I could get for the money. It is a huge upgrade from what I was working with in Reason 5. As I continue to grow and expand my library, I hope to get Kontakt and some of its extremely high quality libraries as well. Austin makes a great point; one that many people erroneously disagree with. There is absolutely no substitute for live musicians, no matter how good you or your samples are. I believe this is especially true for electronic stringed instruments, such as guitar. People claim that there are samples so real you cannot tell the difference, even for advanced techniques like bending, sliding, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and others, but I say those guitars still don't stand a chance against the real thing, and it is rare to hear them. The majority of sampled guitars you hear in regular libraries sounds like no instrument I have ever heard.

Yes, I too love the work of Hans Zimmer. I like John Powell a little more, but I really like it when they work together like they did on Kung Fu Panda. I think part of the reason I like these two so much is because they do many of the DreamWorks Animation movies, and I really like that style of composition. James Horner is also great. I don't get to hear his stuff as much, but I'm never disappointed when he comes on the radio. As far as John Williams goes, he is probably the most respected composer alive, but he doesn't really make it into my list of heros, except for the fact that he probably inspired all of my heros. He does great work, but his enormous style and super adventurous, almost cheesy themes, are a little much and too old fashioned for me. Still, can't be that cheesy if your themes are the most well-known movie themes in all of existence.

Trust me, your goals are not too extreme to be accomplished. I dream in a similar manner. For example, I would love to be in at least 1 major movie that is remembered by everyone, score a video game series that has a similar effect, do many other side game and short film projects, be in multiple bands that play several different styles of music professionally, become GREAT at guitar, piano, drums, bass, & any other instrument I take up, record bands and musicians as a part of the mega media company I want to open with my brother, help him on his end by being great at video, editing, & photography, learn 3d animation so I can reverse score a scene to some of my music and perhaps inspire projects for game designers and film makers, do graphic design for people, compose for and conduct an orchestra, and still have a fantastic time with my family in the adventure of life. Those are just a few things that were at the top of my head. I may not be able to physically accomplish all of that since I am only allowed the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else gets, but I can sure try.

Wonderful interview, Austin. Thank you for participating and sharing your experiences with us. For more of Austin Lawrence's compositions, visit his SoundCloud here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Orchestral Libraries: Hollywood Strings, Albion, LA Scoring Strings, Cinesamples, Vienna, and Complete Composers Collection

Yes, if you are planning upgrade to a higher-grade orchestral library, you will see that you have to decide between several options. I am about to do this and have researched intensely, but I never saw much from people going through the same thing. So, I figured I would do a pre-review for those that may find themselves in my shoes: WHICH ONE DO I GET AND WHY? Then, we can all review my before and after as well.

Before I start, here are the classes I typically give stuff and the definitions of those rankings:

Elite: The best of the best without being real
High: Extremely good. In fact, the average listener couldn't tell the difference between this and elite
Mid: Very good. However, you have limited samples and editing capabilities
0: Factory libraries... You will never find one that is good enough to take seriously
Negative: Things that sound like they came from a keyboard.

I will be moving from mid to a higher library, so lower examples will not be talked about.

EastWest/Quantum Leap:

This is the only company I review whose sample libraries are powered by the PLAY engine instead of Kontakt. That is also probably its biggest downfall. I have contacts that work in the music production for visual media field that love Hollywood Strings and the rest of the Hollywood series, and rightfully so. This is an elite-class library, and it is reflected in the price. To get the full diamond version, you will drop about a grand for each library. The series is still a work in progress, so we can expect to see more from them, such as percussion and hopefully pianos and world instruments.

If you have no experience with high or elite level libraries, you do not need this. Getting a better library will not make you a better composer, so make sure you use what you have to the max. Now, there is a gold-level version of the library for about half the price, but it falls under that high-level range and many do not prefer it because of its limited editing abilities. For example, you cannot change the mic positions in the gold version, thus forcing you to rely on artificial reverbs to achieve a certain sound. The downside about this library as a whole (either version) is that is was made to be big, or Hollywood-like. So, if you like to make smaller, chamber-like compositions, it may be difficult to achieve a realistic sound.

The Complete Composer's Collection consists of 7-11 $400-ish libraries that are discounted when bought in this package. It is probably the most diverse package out there, and it is extremely high quality. Again, because it has the PLAY engine, it may not work well with your computer, especially if you have a mac that isn't extremely powerful, but it is probably the highest quality set of libraries out there before you get into the elite category. If you upgrade the strings to platinum, you actually get mic positions that I believe can be layered with other libraries if they don't have good positions/reverbs. This is what makes it desirable over the Hollywood series. Other libraries can include pianos, choirs that allow you to create your own syllables, ethnic female vocals, eastern and african instruments, heavy rock instruments, Beatles-era sounds, beautiful Gypsy instruments, lots of percussion, and more. If you have a computer that can handle it or if you can handle waiting and bouncing, this is a great segway into high-class libraries. Normally, I see it for 67% off in the package; however, until Oct. 15th, 2012, it is further discounted to 75% with a free library. This is what I will be getting.


Albion is increasingly becoming the library of choice among hobbyists and is sold for £350. It is most recommended by people that are not satisfied with the PLAY engine and want to use Kontakt without spending a fortune for a good library. Albion comes with a lot of good stuff (strings, brass, perc, etc.) and 3 mic positions, but it has a distinct, English sound. For me, the inclusion of ethnic samples would be nice, but the good thing about Kontakt is that pretty much everyone but EastWest makes their libraries for it, so you can combine Spitfire products with those from later on in the list. In addition to Albion, they have a great solo strings library for about £150, a second version of Albion, percussion, and a few more items to offer.

LA Scoring Strings:

Lass is made by a guy who only focuses on strings, and he is generous to those who own his product. There is a lite and full version, and going full will run you over $1000. However, this is the elite strings library of choice among many. It usually beats out the Hollywood series because it's divisi strings, separate mics, seating positions, and scripting allows you to scale down to an incredibly small ensemble. I didn't check to see if the lite version includes that feature, but I doubt it. You can use this library with Kontakt. 


They are great at everything, perhaps, except strings. The CineBrass collection is a favorite among many and runs you $350 for the core version and another $400 for the expanded version. Their CineWinds is also a great library to get if you are using Kontakt. Both are elite class and similarly priced. They also have great pianos and mallet instruments. However, my absolute favorite thing about them is the Drums of War collection. DOW and DOW 2 are each only $100, and I prefer this orchestral percussion over any other.

Vienna Instruments:

Finally, there is Vienna. I saved them for last because, although they are elite, you will see how they are not really worth it when compared to the other libraries. One of Vienna's orchestral strings definitely contends with LASS and HS, but the problem is I never know which one. They have like 12, many of which are around 800. To get the whole of what they offer just for strings as a package, you are looking at $5000+. Then they offer other stuff. What really gets me, though, is their lack of care for people researching them. They know they are good and have been a favorite in the industry forever, but at that price, you think they could have updated their website at least once in the past 30 years. It is way too confusing, and I don't recall hearing any demos. I'm not even sure if they run on Kontakt. All in all, there is great stuff out there that has no hassle.

So, I know that PLAY cannot compete with Kontakt, but hopefully they will continue to upgrade it to make them more equal. I would go the Kontakt route, but you have to buy Kontakt at $400 plus all of the libraries you want. That extra $400 puts me well out of my budget, since getting LASS and Cinesamples would already push it beyond its max range. I'd like to spend no more than $1200, and even the CCC can't be fully taken advantage of at that price. It can for $1500 for the next week or so, then will go up a few hundred until the next sale. They are releasing PLAY 4, but it most likely will still pale in comparison to Kontakt. So this is my pre-review. Get what you can afford and learn, and upgrade when you know your gear is no longer good enough for your skill. 

If you haven't already, check out my site at www.natecombsmedia.com for music demos and more. You can even hear what the EW libraries sound like.

Also, a bit of shameless advertising. If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check out my wife, Teshelle Combs, and her newest novel, "Core." It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.