In this episode of the Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast, Rich shares his excitement about a new composing tool!

This could be a game changer!!


Hey guys welcome to session number 20 of the trailer music composers podcast.

Cue the trailer voice over.


One man, one microphone, who can’t resist a peanut butter and ardy sandwich.  Welcome to the trailer music composers podcast.

Hey guys, welcome to another session of the trailer music composers podcast.  In today’s session I wanted to talk about something pretty special, but before I do I want to go back in time to when I first started out as a composer.

So this is when I was at uni.  So my university course was very broad and very artsy, so it wasn’t a traditional music degree, in fact it was a music and art degree so you can imagine where it was going with that.  It was an amazing education, but it didn’t have lessons in orchestration, well we had the odd impromptu one, but it wasn’t like a classical education in music.  So I took it upon myself to teach myself these things on the side, so I took theory exams, and I studied orchestration, I studied scores.  

And one of the things I did was I had a folder, and I had determined what a successful version of myself would be able to do if I was a composer. And one of the biggest things that I decided was successful was being able to write and read notation.  Now I could already read notation, because I trained as a guitarist, a classical guitarist as well. So I had some knowledge there.  But writing it with the idea that I knew what it would sound like, or reading it with the idea that I knew what it would sound like was a different thing altogether.  So if I saw a notation I wouldn’t be able to sing it or I could tap the rhythms to you but that was about it, I would need to pick up my guitar to play it.

So I had one of the sheets, what were the things I covered like oral perceptions like reading, notation, to compose. All sorts of things.  But the thing I focused on here was I wanted to be able to write music and know what it sounded like and then translate it to an orchestra or a full score.  And I started doing this in my orchestration, I took orchestration lessons as well with this.

That idea felt so romantic to me, I don’t mean romance like taking your wife out to dinner, I mean romance like rose tinted goggles type of romance, the lovely version of what a composer does which is sits down with a piece of notation papers and listens to the birds and notates the birds and turns it into an orchestral cue.  That type of thing.  Or goes to a remote island and listens to folk songs and turns them into an orchestral cue.  So basically I wanted to be able to write orchestral cues with a piece of paper and a pencil and know exactly how it was going to sound.

Needless to say the moment I started programming more, that fell by the wayside, because as a working composer who did not often use live sessions it wasn’t needed.  And when I did use live sessions I often hired a copyist to do the hard grunt work because it takes ages.  You know I still have the skills, still can read, but I never developed that writing to listen very much.  I never took it further than doodline a couple of melodies within sort of set scales or arpeggios.  I loved doing that because I often ended up with music that sounded like glass, especially when I was doing arpeggio work but I loved the idea of thinking about it in a different way.  When I sit down to write using midi it’s very pattern based, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just one way of writing.  When I sit down with audio it’s very experimental, it’s playful, I’m not thinking necessarily about the structure, I’m thinking about the sounds and the textures.  

And with notation I’m thinking more about the functional harmony and melody, how is that interacting with this next note.  And I studied to an extent counterpoint and it used to make my brain melt because of the amount of rules that I purposely stopped because most of the rules I completely disagreed with, its like you can’t have parallel fifths and parallel octaves, its like what, are you saying all of my rock musi9c is wrong.  So yeah stop that, although it’s amazing it wasn’t in line with my desires.

So like I said that fell by the wayside until one of the composers who is part of my trailer music school posted on the trailer music school Facebook group, hey you guys should check this out, if you haven’t seen it, its called Staff Pad.  I was like what’s this, I watched this video of somebody with an iPad and an Apple Pencil scribbling on a stave that’s then turned into a digital score that you can then play through.  Ok.  Yeah, that’s cool, kind of like a note hand drawn version of Sebelius which Is an amazing tool but I often find clunky as a way to compose straight into.

So I carried on watching.  And then they did this thing, it was like here’s this piece of music and you can play it through all of the sample libraries that you have Rich, it went to this little shop page, obviously they’re additional extras to the already pricey app, I could buy the spitfire samples I have and the notation would play through the spitfire samples.  I was like whaaat, can this export audio?  Yes it can.

I am incredibly excited about this, to the point where I’m doing a podcast about it and I’ve only had a little play with it so far.  The reason I’m so excited about it is because it may change the way I write going forward.  Obviously when I’m doing sound bite work it’s not going to change that because I need all my audio plugins and I like sitting at my big computer for that stuff.  And if I’m doing anything that involves synths I don’t need it.  But for my cinematic piano and orchestral writing, hell yeah, this might be a game change.  Because if you can export the audio admittedly the reverb is burned in and the mike positions are burnt in, but to be honest I’m not often fussed about that stuff anyway.  The reverb sound is good. Why change it unless I’m going for a specific effect?   Same for my positions.  I’m not a particular fussy guy when it comes to that stuff.  

So I was thinking ok, I can potentially write a piano piece on the train (I don’t ever really get the train, so I’m kind of romanticizing that position already), write out a piano piece that loads up spitfire piano or whichever piano it is, and export that as an audio file that could then become a track.  Hello so you’re saying I could sit on my sofa, notate some work, notate some orchestral cues and export the audio.  And all the midi of course if I wanted to, yes I could.  And this feels like the ting I’ve been trying to aspire to for ages which is I love being in my studio and I love being able to work at home, but I also like being able to have the flexibility of maybe dong a bit of work when I’m out and about, you know popping over to Costa, having a coffee, sitting down, writing an album, boom.

I just think that is incredible.  You know the sheer flexibility that could add to my work, mind blown.  Admittedly I’ve had a try and it’s not as fluid as I would have hoped, but it’s just like anything, it needs some practice and I need to understand the shortcuts and all of the quirks of the app first.  But I’m realizing the situation here where I master this app and I master using the Apple pencil and I start just writing piano works, silo piano works that is, perhaps with some string backgrounds that use the sample libraries that sound amazing and sending them to the publisher.  I did it all on my iPad.  I mean what’s not to like about that.  (I did all of this on my iPad sat by a pool) although if I was sat by a pool I would probably go for a swim rather than doing some work.  But again romatising the situation.

And the wonderful thing here is it ties in with one of my first goals as a composer which is to be able to work with notation to produce scores and kind to know what I’m going to be writing.  I lean like I said I can do it, I can sit down with a score and have a gist of what it’s going to sound like, but I feel like this will just be another way to practice it and get better at it.  And improve a skill that I think is a highly admirable one. Which is the ability to imagine the score in your mind whi8lst abstractly looking at some symbols on a page (like reading).

I don’t think I’m the only one whose mind is blown by this given the feedback that this post of the group got and given that this also sorts of forums about it, and other composers are already using it because I’m not ahead of the game when it comes to tech uptake, I’m usually far behind.  Already using with the majority, but this I am very, very excited about this.  I mean just think about the flexibility of being able to score the thing, export the midi, shove it into Logic, change the samples you’ve got, it’s just so exciting.

And also the thing is I think it takes advantage of multiple articulation in a much more intuitive way.  You know, come on guys there probably are, but who really uses key switches in that great detail unless you are doing some mock up for a film score.  And even then you’ve probably loaded the articulation in different instances and different channels, just to have the ability to tweak them better. 

I just think that’s amazing that you can do your notation, you can flip the articulations naturally, just using the notation and have the score.  I mean think of this somebody who writes piano music, obviously me, but actually writes it as their commercial entity as their commercial release, you could write your ideas down and you got the score ready and you could export the midi and you can do whatever it is you want.  The score is functioning as something you could sell, give away whatever, have.  And yes I’ve used these, I haven’t used Finale, because I’ve stuck with Sebelius, but yes I understand the whole thing about midi notation software  is just the fact that you can use decent samples and export it just on your iPad and write it in with a pencil;.  I just feel like my mind is blown.  And maybe I should rename this episode simple composer’s mind blown by old technology.

But I’m very, very excited about this and I think you should be too.  It’s like the ability to use a Mac Mini to run a music studio.  It’s these things that we have got now as composers, not even that, not even a decade ago we would not have had.  I mean what are we 2020, 2010, I mean even the iPhone I’m recording this on now I mean that still blows my mind, this is more powerful than my family computer when I was  a kid.  I just think we are so incredibly lucky to have all of these amazing tools to not just enable our creativity, but to enhance it.  And I say enhance it because we are able to do a huge amount of things now with very little tools.  And I mean very little as in small.  You can have, I mean I can record several tracks on my iPhone, this is more powerful than my four track recorder.  And now I’ve got an orchestra at my fingertips on an IPad with an Apple pencil.  I just think it’s amazing.  It’s amazing.

If you haven’t already checked it out please do check it out because I think it’s well worth it and what I’m going to do is I’m probably going to do an updated video on my YouTube channel about this once I’ve got used to it and had a few, had chance to wrestle with the quirks of the software, because admittedly I still haven’t been able to draw a quaver properly.  And for those of you who didn’t learn the silly English terms for musical notation that’s eight thirds.  Anyhow, go check out Staffpad., this isn’t a paid promotion or anything, I’m just very excited about it generally.  And maybe I will approach somebody hey guys this is awesome, can I have it free please.  Oh you’ve already bought the software, never mind.  Go check ‘em out because I think even if it’s just something that gets you excited, it’s worth it.

Anyway I’m going to go back home and crack out my iPad and have a little play with the Apple pencil and Staffpad and see what i can do, if I can achieve the aims that I want to, hopefully I can because the great thing is I can produce my piano albums at home  oh wait I do that already, I mean on the fly.  Ah ha using the iPad.  Awesome.

Guys, thanks so much for taking the time to listen to this, I know is a bit of a salesy one which is weird because I’m not selling it. I’m just telling you about how awesomely excited I am about it.  But I think it’s really important to bear in mind your goals as a composer and how you can find things that help you get there, and this one is certainly going to help me get to another one of my goals.