Conducting and producing the Orchestral recording soundtrack for BubbleWitch Saga3

Most of the times, in videogames, you don’t get to talk about one’s work. In this case, King Games has kindly authorized that I disclose my part in it, for which I’m very grateful.

I will obviously talk about this only and not about any other people in the project, as they might be NDAs involved.

Often, my non music related friends ask me the same question…”what exactly do you do”?

Despite still trying to figure out that myself! (Badum tss!) in this specific case, what does a conductor and also session producer perform in this kind of gig?

Well, my friends, I guess it all begins with a phone call by either the company or the in-house composer to see if you can take care of everything involved in transforming the composer’s music, created with a computer, sound libraries, etc (aka mockup), into something that can be recorded by an orchestra and end up as a final, brand, mixed and awesome sounding master track.

You are given a budget to deal with, and, with that, you propose one or more recording options (this or that orchestra, etc). You also ask about the orchestration and mixing scopes, as all of this will have an impact on the final delivery and on how the recording needs to be done. Think of it as a sort of “consultancy” part of the job.

In my case, I decided not to take care of the orchestration,  but I worked closely with the orchestration team that enrolled, to ensure that these deadlines were met and the material was coherent with the composer’s original music. Mixing and editing was already booked for later, so it was all about taking care of the orchestra’s sessions.

Then, after the inevitable period of discussing recording budgets and dates, the company decides which orchestra and studio to record with, and voilà! You get to great places such as this one:

(Studio 22, Budapest)

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…or, if it’s your lucky gig, such as this one! (the mighty 20th Century Fox Newman Recording Stage)

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Gotta say…I’m a studio whore. In Coppola’s Apocalypse now, a General stated how much he loved the smell of Napalm in the morning….well, I don’t know if it’s the smell of Microphones and Gear, or each studio’s sonic imprint, but I do know that feeling…I can spend countless hours in a studio without feeling worn. Some of my clients (more than once!) joked about how much I love being in a studio. There’s always some true magic involved. BUT! I have to admit that I’m much more helpful (and happy!) with the musicians, as a conductor, than in the recording booth.

Speaking of a really GREAT! recording booth…

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The thing is that I love conducting and leading the session from the conducting podium, something which is not the usual thing to do (which means  either producing in the booth or conducting and let a producer lead the session: normally, this producer (along with the composer) stays in the booth to listen how the sound is being recorded and he/she will address things to change, record or repeat to the conductor, who will be in the recording space (not the booth).

But, sometimes, such as in this case, I am also invited to take decisions and to lead the recording too, something that I really, really like doing, as I say, from the podium.

From there, I usually use a one eared headphone, to make sure that I receive both sound feeds: the sound from the orchestra (without being routed through the mic’s) and the sound that comes from the mixing board (i.e. through the recording gear, mic’s, pre’s, etc). I take control of the time and suggest to the composer / client things to repeat, change, or move on, depending on the amount of music to record and the time scheduled and always double check what I have heard from my point of view with the engineers in the booth).

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My friends might ask…so, what’s the real benefit of doing both things from the podium, then?

Well, first of all, I tend to think of it as live mixing. That would save mixing duties later. Second, the fact that I don’t need to “tell the conductor to say this or that” saves a step in communication and, thus, saves time. And lastly, being also the producer means that you already know the music a little bit when you come into the podium, as opposed to sight conduct, which would happen when you’re called in as a conductor, only, most of the time.

But, there’s also an important thing to consider when you conduct: You always need to balance recording time, player fatigue and motivation throughout the sessions, something that implies choosing or proposing a specific recording order.

Players in a recording orchestra are beasts on their own. Champions of sight reading. So your job is also to understand if a piece will be more difficult to perform, and why. You need to understand how long it will take with the ensemble you are working with, and how much it will take a toll on the players’ stamina. Also effective communication if there’s any specific thing to address (such as a change in the score or rehearsing a specific passage to make sure that the piece will be recorded as fast and as good as possible).

In a Studio, time is precious and so are the players. That’s why I think that a producer (or a composer) that can conduct helps saving a huge amount ot of time. Specially if he/she also worked on the orchestration…you can bet that, when he / she will step on the podium, the score will be in great hands.

 

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