A few weeks ago, we were asked to provide strings for a pop song where the band had written their own string arrangements and required us in the studio to just record the written parts. The session went well and everyone was happy with the finished recording but on the way out, the cellist and I were discussing a phenomenon which we’d noticed in this and other recordings. Namely that when a composer or songwriter produces a lot of music using synthesised or sampled string parts, their ear becomes naturally accustomed to this sound and they instinctively try to get the real strings in the studio to sound more like samples!
To us, as players this seems slightly strange as all the natural inflections, subtleties, articulations, dynamics and phrasing are what make real strings sound so good and stand out to lift a track to a new level. The engineers / producers / composers who don’t work with real instruments often try to iron all these little varieties out, so that the strings sound very smooth and lifeless – in other words it’s like looking at a photograph of a woman who has been airbrushed, it may be ‘perfect’ but any character or individuality has been lost.