When code and music overlap: how they are built and played in order to create realistic sounding music.

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Photo by rawpixel.com

A lot of the music you can hear in today’s tv series, film trailers and video games is composed and recorded using virtual instruments rather than being played by a live orchestra. But what are these so-called virtual instruments and how does that work? If you are wondering about things like MIDI, sampling, and more, I’ll try to walk you through these concepts in the following article.

Synthesis and sampling

When talking about virtual instruments, we usually mean software instruments. They are software programs that emulate the sound and characteristics of real musical instruments and are played using a computer. …

You learned how to code. Now what?

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Photo by Element5 Digital

Say that you jumped on the “Everyone needs to learn how to code” train. And you like writing code so much that you now envision it as a career. What do you need to know in order to get your first job in the field? Is it even possible to do that without any formal training? I’ve been there. Over the years, I’ve also hired many junior developers so I will try to help you navigate this route with a few tips and tricks.

Companies that you want to work for

Let’s start this with a word of caution. There are many companies out there that legitimately are looking for novice programmers. They require some work done (and that’s the basis for hiring someone!) but along the way, they will also help you grow in your job. These are the ones you want to work for. On the other hand, there are also a ton of companies advertising junior positions and when you get to read the job description, you find this line: 5 years experience required. It’s easy to feel as if there’s no chance for you out there because let’s be frank here: the crushing majority of job listings are like this one. Don’t be discouraged, though. When you have about 1500 days of professional programming experience, you are not junior-level any longer. These companies are not really looking for entry-level programmers anyway, so don’t feel bad about it. They are just trying to pay a junior wage for an experienced developer. There even is a subreddit dedicated to these types of job postings. I read it sometimes. …

How to build a melody from a chord progression

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Photo by Tadas Mikuckis

In a previous article, I wrote about how to quickly build a chord progression. In this one, we are going to look at how to build an effective melody. This is beginner friendly but if you want to dig deeper into cinematic composing, check out Arn Andersson’s course at Evenant. Mike Verta’s composition masterclass is also a great resource.

What is an effective melody?

When I use the word effective for a melody, I mean a melody that is easy to remember. Because as composers, that’s what we want, right? People to remember what we wrote. You know these tunes that you just can’t get out of your head? …

You don’t need to know about music theory or play keys to use this technique.

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Conducting the Chaos — Photo by Spencer Imbrock

Sometimes, all you need to kickstart your creativity is a good chord progression that you can then tweak and expand to your liking. But how do you come up with a good chord progression in the first place? Here’s one of my tricks to overcome a creative block…

Let’s look at the Circle of Fifths

No! Don’t run away just now! This is not intensive theory. Just an intro to set the scene for what follows. I promise.

First, here’s what the Circle of Fifths looks like:

A few tips to easily make an interesting pattern from scratch

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Photo by Larisa Birta

So, you have this chord progression that you are quite happy with. What’s next? In this article, I’ll show you one of my processes to transpose 4 piano chords to a string ensemble.

The Chords

This is what we are going to start with: Am / F / C / G. Nothing complicated. Just 4 triads with the root doubled one octave down. This is how the MIDI looks like:

When the orchestra is not enough and you need to deal with some ear-splitting whoosh hits.

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Awesome explosion! Photo by Stephen Radford

When you build an orchestral template, managing the different sections of the orchestra is quite straightforward. You have your strings, brass, woodwinds, and so on. But how to manage all your sound design samples? Where do you go to find this awesome sub boom that you know you have but can’t find on your massive collection of hard drives? Here, I’ll show you how I do it.

MIDI vs Audio samples

For those times when I want to compose something in the hybrid genre, whether for trailer music or the big bombastic epic cue, I need to use a sizeable amount of sound design samples and many times, I even create my own. The first question that arises is “do I use MIDI samples through the Kontakt interface or do I work directly with the WAV samples?” Opinions and workflows are evenly split on this topic but I chose my camp: I work with audio files rather than MIDI for reasons that I’ll explain in another article. …

And CS Solo Strings, and CS Brass, and CS2

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As I was writing about keyswitching and Expression Maps for my upcoming course Building & Balancing a Modern Orchestral Template, I remembered that working with the Cinematic Studio Series packages is not always straightforward. So, I’m going to show you how you can create Cubase Expression Maps that work with Cinematic Studio Strings (CSS). The same technique applies to Cinematic Studio Solo Strings and Cinematic Studio Brass as they all share the same interface.

This will allow us to turn this mess:

How you can apply it to absolutely anything

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Photo by Viktor Smith

Writers, sculptors, coders, and musicians

This morning, as I was having my coffee, I’ve read a Medium article about the process of writing that one of my colleagues at the EPFL Extension School linked to. Here’s the full article by Anupam Krishnamurthy: Separate your writing from your editing. Cool stuff. If you are engaging in any kind of creative endeavor, read it.

There’s a point made about writers working like sculptors in the sense that you start with a block and refine it until the piece is completed. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

A sculptor visualizes a statue within a block of marble, and chips away to reveal it. She does so in iterations of the whole statue, rather than focusing and refining one part before moving to another. In her first iteration, she carves out the rough dimensions of the statue itself, from head to toe. In the second one, she outlines some details such as the face, the limbs and the torso. In the third pass, specific features such as the eyes, nose and the fingers start to appear. Later, she adds the finishing touches such as fingernails, eyebrows and curls of the tunic. …

How to learn how to code online and get certified for that

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Hey everyone! I have been neglecting my social media presence for a while now. Let me tell you why, what I’ve been up to, and how this can benefit you. The very short version is: “I have been writing course content for the EPFL Extension School.”

A career change

When it comes to tech skills, I am entirely self-taught. I learned from books and by trial-and-error before the Internet was a thing. I’m not even speaking about online videos as that was over a decade before. In the past 20 years, I’ve worked for companies big and small, and even my own as a software developer. During that time, I’ve also written programming books, blogged a lot, and started an online course platform. …

Here are some of my findings when trying to switch from Xcode to AppCode for writing Swift code.

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Tools come in all shapes and sizes

The Xcode situation

In my recent “6 things I learned by publishing an app on the App Store” article, I briefly talked about some gripes I have with Xcode. Xcode is a great tool and it shines when it comes to features like Instruments that make profiling your app a breeze. Unfortunately, for typing code, many things are missing compared to other IDEs such as IntelliJ or Visual Studio. If you want some basic text editing functionalities like duplicating or simply deleting a line of code with a keyboard shortcut, you have to rely on 3rd party plugins or hack your way into a plist file. The autocomplete feature of Xcode is also not a glorious example of stability. …


Nico Schuele

I'm Nico. Hi. Composer for media. I sometimes write code too.

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