Classical Favorites: The 400-year project

Working for production music libraries is almost always about writing new music. While there are some constant exceptions such as Christmas music, even then, more often then not, we are writing something new.

But recently David and I, with our good friend Julian Gallant, have been putting together a huge project of Classical favorites for Audio Network. We have painstakingly chosen 34 pieces to re-arrange and shorten to about 2’30” for media use. All will be recorded in two days at Abbey Road studios with the finest musicians London has to offer. Above, I have used the word recently very casually. Actually, we have been carefully planning and working on the project for over a year now and we are just coming to the recording phase.

There are many phases to these projects actually.

  • Planning – Choosing the repertoire and overall scope of the project. This has included both musical and legal considerations of which works are universally popular, and which of those are available within the public domain.
  • Budgeting – Working with Studios and Contractors and the like to establish all possible costs for completing the project.
  • Arranging – Taking these existing pieces and morphing them into something that is our own that meets our original brief.
  • Recording – Logistics of the session. Everyone will be looking to us on recording day to answer all question and know exactly how the recording session is to be run.
  • Comping/editing – Fitting together the most useful takes from recording day and adding any needed overdubs
  • Mixing – Taking all of the bits and making it into a finished track!
  • Versioning – Editing the mix to create multiple versions of the pieces e.g. 60, 30 sec mixes, and short “stings” (which might be used to cut to a commercial, for example).
  • Paperwork – Various forms including a track information sheet is done for each piece. These forms give all information about a piece, from keys and tempo to mix lengths and the keywords used to help clients find our works when searching.

The biggest part has been what to cut out and what to add in.

Building a new arrangement of pieces we’ve lived with our whole lives

The grand scope of this project will be most evident on recording day with over 100 musicians and vocalists coming in to lend their talents to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven, but that is really the smallest and easiest part of the project. The biggest part, and what I‘ll focus on now, has been what to cut out and what to add in. Building a new arrangement of pieces we’ve lived with our whole lives

Classical favorites, as you may have figured out, are the most famous classical pieces by the best-known classical composers of all time. We had an incredibly hard job choosing the top pieces and had many good natured arguments over the matter!

Our list includes Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Vivaldi, Brahms, and, Tchaikovsky to name a few. Tasked with editing these great works, the constant questions are:
“What makes this piece most memorable?”
“Which parts are the most important for an editor or music supervisor?”

In some cases it’s easy. For example: Flight of the Bumblebee” (Rimsky Korsakov) is lively and short – only about 1’20 long… and almost perfect for modern media uses already, as it is to the point and has easy starting and ending points. But what about Wagner’s “Ride Of the Valkyries”? It’s 5’20 from start to finish and too long for our purposes. It also has absolutely no breaks from start to finish.

So the cuts begin! We extract what we consider to be the most famous bits and write new parts to join them together. We mould the original composition to fit our line up of instruments and add a bit of extra panache along the way. Once the composition is complete, we move on to stage two: adding edit points.

Edit points are places where an editor may want to start or stop to fit the music into whatever video they are working on. It’s like turning a piece of music into Swiss cheese. We add holes in logical places. ( In many cases this adds to another round of writing to make alternative endings for melodies within the piece where we have added a hole) You’ll be able to hear this on the rough audio file on the right. This is a really basic computer-generated version of audio from our scoring program and it forces you to use your imagination to hear what it will sound like in the end. Notice the starts and stops (edit Points) throughout. These will be edited together in our audio editing program Protools after the recording is done and prior to mixing.

What’s next?? We’ll save that for another blog about the editing, mixing and versioning processes.

Stay Tuned!!!

Since this blog was written, Audio Network have asked to extend the scope of this project further still, to incorporate some opera favourites. This means replicating the processes shown above but with the added challenges of incorporating opera singers alongside a symphony orchestra – all of which will be recorded at the same time in Abbey Road studio 1 – singers and players together. Much more to say on this in the coming weeks and months – so watch this space!