Many people want to get faster and more efficient at writing orchestral music and what's the best way to do this? By creating an orchestral template is the easiest way to speed up your writing and improve your workflow.

Why do you need a template anyway?

Simply put - we create a template to work faster and more easily.

The reason it works is that it reduces the amount of time we spend looking for the "right" sound. It also reduces decision fatigue because all our tools are to hand  when we need them.

It is so important in fact that it is one of the first things I teach in my Trailer Music Course - creating your trailer music template.

Templates are also incredibly handy for preparing your stems for mixing and mastering.

The Best Way to Set Up your Template

The top-down approach to creating an orchestral template would be to start by creating your sections, then instruments, and then choosing articulations.

This however is counter-intuitive to working within a DAW. In Logic, for example, I would start by choosing articulations of an instrument and grouping those to create an instrument sub-group.

I would do the same for all the instruments within the same section and then create a group for that section.

So it would look something like this:

  1. Articulations - Legato, Staccato, Harmonics etc.
    Within your instrument sub-group, you would add the articulations that you most commonly use.
  2. Instruments -Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass.
    In your sections, add sub-groups for your instruments. Each instrument will have its own sub-group.
  3. Sections - Strings, Woodwinds, Brass etc.
    These sections will contain all the instruments in that section and will be organised by register (top to bottom - high to low pitch)
  4. Orchestra - this is when you would send the whole orchestra to its own bus or group so you can control the sound of the whole.

This will allow you to create a fully comprehensive template for detailed orchestral mockups.

Effects Are Vital

The thing about creating an orchestra template in a DAW is that you still need to add effects. These include reverbs, delays, compressions etc.

The best way to add these to your template is by using buses and sends. This way you can have more control of the overall sound of the orchestra. After all, one of the reasons you are creating an orchestral template is to make it sound like a real orchestra.

Things like reverb sends will allow you to send all the instruments to the same reverb bus, glueing the sound by making it sound like the orchestra is playing in the same space.

My general rule of thumb is to have these effects buses:

  • Reverbs; short, medium, long
  • Delays; short, long, FX (any weird delay effect you like)
  • Compression; soft (for "glueing" the sound), and hard (for a New York compression feel)

You can have any amount of effects sends/buses but I like to keep things simple.

Label Everything

One of the most important things about creating any template is to clearly label everything with colours and names.

This includes all the buses and sends too.

When everything is clearly labelled it enables you to move around the template with a lot more ease. Not wasting any time looking for things.

Plus it looks incredibly satisfying when it is all colour coded and labelled.

I used to worry that I wasn't labelling or colour coding the same as the famous engineers do. Don't worry about doing anything "wrong" here, what matters most is that you understand what you see.

Things to Avoid

It's really important that you have an idea of the things which can either bloat your template or make them harder to navigate.

Avoid Key-Switching Instruments

Key switches can be incredibly frustrating if you forget and compose in their default key only to have to go in and edit the MIDI.

If you must use them then make sure you label them as KS (Keyswitching) to save time later on.

Multi-instruments Aren't Necessary

I used to worry about bloating my computer with too many single instances of Kontakt, for example, but RAM is not so much of an issue any more.

These days, using single instances of your patches actually works out better as you have a more holistic view of the orchestra.

Don't Over-complicate things

It can be so easy when you are working with a whole orchestra with many articulations to create an absolutely mammoth template.

This is a common mistake because huge templates can be incredibly difficult to navigate.

The way to overcome this is to keep it simple, especially with articulations; do you really need 15 different string articulations for example? I often only use 3 or 4; spiccato, legato, pizzicato, and harmonics.  

Quick and Easy Template

If you are anything like me, then you will want a quick and easy template that you can work with right away.

The way to do this is to ignore putting individual instruments in sub-groups. Instead, only use groups for instrument sections; strings, woodwinds, brass etc.

This is how I create the templates and stems for my trailer music compositions.

This way you are only really working with 8-15 groups at a time which is much easier to handle.

One More Thing

I have spent too long worrying about what other composers were doing with their setups.

Yes, it is important to continue learning and expanding as creators and as people.

There is a difference though.

Make sure that when you are learning how to create your orchestral template you always have your own needs and requirements met first.

The reason I say this is that it can be a lengthy and time-consuming process to create an orchestral template. I have spent hours creating them only to abandon them because they were not a good fit for my own requirements.

The lesson here is that you should only load up the sounds and groups that you personally need all the time. This is a time-saving device so often time simpler is better.

I offer one-to-one coaching to my Gold tier subscribers if you need help creating your own orchestral template.