Many of the songwriters and music producers we deal with don’t read music and therefore rely on allowing programs such as Logic to print out a score of the music for them – these are then sent to us by email along with the song or track and we are asked to record the written string parts .
People often put a lot of faith in a midi score and don’t realise that the slightest discrepancy in rhythm or pitch (when played in on a keyboard) results in an inaccurate print out of the music represented. Sometimes this can take the form of many tiny note values tied onto the next in it’s attempt to rationalise the rhythm of the music. This can mean that the music is often scored with highly complex rhythms that no musician could easily read or play. Another common problem is the incorrect use of enharmonic notes. Enharmonic notes are those that differ from each other in name but not in pitch (e.g a Bb and an A#). This means that a session musician can be playing in a ‘flat key’ and half the notes are printed out as sharps which throws the musician and can mean that they are temporarily unable to understand the notes at speed. Recording has to stop whilst the session musicians work out what the part should be – often spending quite some time re-notating the score.
On a more subtle level, a midi score is rather like a rough sketch of a painting without any of the details. There are no dynamic markings, articulations, slurs or marks of expression so providing this to a group of studio musicians is asking them to use a lot of guesswork in how they’ll play the music. All of this wastes valuable recording time and when the clients have hired professional string players, this can amount to money down the drain as the clock ticks by and they try and make sense of the score.
Although deciding against the professional services of an orchestrator or string arranger might seem like saving money, providing session musicians with a computer generated score means there will almost certainly be parts which are unclear, lack detail or in the worst case scenario can mean the final recording doesn’t sound as it was intended to. String parts in particular are best written by someone who understands how a stringed instrument is played (see previous blog entries on the drawback of composing string parts on a keyboard).
When we are sent a score generated by midi, there are almost always problems with clefs (such as the viola being written in the treble clef) and notes out of the range of a real instrument – despite the program saying it should be playable.
Arranging and orchestrating is something which requires training and subtlety – and a computer as yet can’t match the accuracy and detail of a trained arranger.