This is a beautiful moment in time.
* This is an official 2017 NGUAC review *
I'm such a sucker for orchestral fusion. Which is probably this one earned a coveted FINN M-K FAVOURITE <3 badge! On to specifics...
Mixing, mastering and production: My main criticism here is that some of the instruments sound a little robotic and too obviously virtual. This was evident mostly in the orchestral instruments, and especially in the piano. The "easy" way to get better sounds from all of those instruments are to record them live. If that's not an option, you can always buy more expensive vsts. If that's not an option, then we must rely on mixing skill. Very careful use EQs and reverb plugins are your friend here, as well as editing the velocity of the notes that are being played.
When a pianist is playing a piece, she's not hitting the keys with the same amount of force on every note. She sweeps, there are highs and lows, and even in sections that are all designated one dynamic level, she'll have slight variations in her dynamics - because she's not a robot. Also thanks to her human nature, she will make slight timing errors. Nearly no pianist plays every single note perfectly in time. So if you want to get real-sounding instruments, make sure they sound good with EQ and reverb. Then, make sure they sound human with velocity and timing editing. Give them slight errors in timing, slight volume changes in which notes they make loud and soft.
Otherwise...pretty solid. The percussion sounds great. I could have maybe used a touch more bass umph from the kick.
Composition: My only real note here is that despite the pleasant surprise of the dance-y percussion coming in, things were generally...pretty predictable/kinda cliched. Besides the percussion, there was never an element that stood out as being very original or getting away from the tropes of modern symphonic electronic music. We've got the lone piano at the start, the swirling strings throughout the whole piece, horns blaring loud notes, and a key change 2/3 of the way through. There was never a use of an instrument that surprised me, you know? Every time an instrument was used, the played what they are stereotypically good at, instead of striking into bold new territory.
My only real recommendation here is to be ambitious. Be bold, be brave, forge into new musical realms and above all push yourself. You have the skills to create something great, so get out your comfort zone and try something brand new.
Keep on keeping on!
Thanks so much for such detailed review! It means a lot to me, and it also gives me good motivation to push onto. Thank you very much for this. NGUAC has given me great hope, joy and also a lesson of music creating. I'll keep the great advices in mind, and move on forward.
Thank you so much again,
My reviews come off pretty dry, so first off I want to say I liked Tropicool! Now on to specifcs...
Mixing, mastering and production: To sum up my thoughts on this account, everything basically sounds good. From here on it's just a point of improving all the little bits. I don't think I can offer better advice than to say just keep mixing and keep working at it - I think you have all the foundations in place, and over time you'll fine-tune them.
One bit I can say now is to make sure that all your instruments sound like how you want them to sound. What I mean by this is that in Tropicool you have a lot of basic sounds - piano, claps, hi-hats, kick, etc. - that sound like they're simply presets. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, could be a stylistic choice, but if you want your mix to shine it's really got to sound original, like you hand-crafted all the sounds. So carefully EQ and reverb all your instruments, as well as select the instrument sounds carefully.
Composition: The main thing that was lacking for me here was solid melodic content. You had some melodies, but to my ears they were largely instruments playing chords that happened to be at the forefront. If there were some distinct repeated sections were a great main melody was featured, I would have jammed so hard.
As I mentioned above a bit, having a lot of sounds that are very common lost you some points for originality.
Otherwise, one thing you could try is to surprise the listener. If I'm listening to a song and it goes in a different direction, or a brand new kind of section comes in, then I'll likely be pleasantly surprised. It also keeps things interesting.
Keep on composing!
Thank you i will take note of what you said for future songs!
Mixing, mastering and production: It's such an intriguing mix. So artsy and original haha; it makes it hard to give feedback. I think the only bits I'll say is that the bass guitar at 2:16 sounded a little campy, a little too obviously a virtual one. Otherwise, neat stuff. It's an ambitious, eclectic and intensely creative mix. It just didn't blow me away from a technical perspective.
Composition: Again, super original, super creative. It just didn't strike me as the best piece of music. I interpret this as more of a wonderful sound experiment than a song, and so while I enjoy it a lot, I didn't find myself able to give high scores for musicality.
Apologies for the not-very-useful feedback, but go ahead and continue on your strange and magical journey!
Yeah there's no replacement for a real bass guitar. I've never been satisfied with Logic's bass guitar plug-ins. I was pleased with the melody though. If I ever got a better plug-in, I'd probably swap it out or maybe some day I'll make a patch on my eurorack and try that. Tis the beauty of midi.
I'm not surprised the mix didn't blow you away. With so little time to work on it, it's basically still a rough mix as far as I'm concerned. Really makes me wish I still had access to a studio. Bet it would sound amazing through some nice tube compressors and mastering EQ. Oh well.
It's cool dude. This kind of music is basically just letting raw creativity take the wheel and that you recognized the creative value is plenty encouragement for me. I know this kind of stuff doesn't win competitions or get to top 40.
For me, the art side of things always grabs my focus more than the production side. Raw creative melodic value always impresses me more than production value. Maybe it's because I come from an engineering background. Polishing a tune is simple math in my mind. If you have the time and tools, it's just work. Nothing special to me. I understand your job is to look at both obviously.
Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate it. :)
Mm, so epic. On to specifics...
Mixing, mastering and production: You got a solid score here (8.33), but the reason I couldn't go higher is because of lack of material to judge. This is a very sparse piece and as such there's not very much to judge haha. From a production standpoint, I have little to offer in terms of feedback.
Composition: Really cool idea. The droning style of O Mysterium is bold but you pull it off. My only real criticism is on the structure. The beginning and ending are very abrupt - things just sort of start and stop all of a sudden. A more well-thought out intro and outro would have been nice to hear.
The length of O Mysterium is just right, I think - enough that the droning nature of the piece doesn't become stale and long enough to get all your ideas in without rushing them. My issue was in lack of structural repetition. Every part of O Mysterium is valuable, but because there's no repetition it's very hard to ground myself as a listener. I have no home, no safe ground. This is perhaps not inherently good or bad, merely an artistic choice, but it ended up taking away from the piece for me.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks! Truth is I ran out of time. I feel like there should, at the very least, be another verse, but the prep work for this one took a lot longer than anticipated and I ended up having to submit what I had. After the competition is done and the dust has settled, I'd like to revisit this piece and finish it properly.
Mm, good times. On to specifics...
Mixing, mastering and production: Really great. I only have slight criticisms. The piano sound at the beginning is a bit obviously virtual - you could use careful velocity editing and heavier reverb to fix it (or get a better piano vst, but that's the expensive option).
I could have used a bit more bass and umph in the heavy sections; they were just a little underwhelming.
The master sounds just a tad overcompressed at points.
Composition: A lot of good stuff here. The chorus melody and chord progression are both ace. I think overall, Serenity is just ambitious enough - it includes a variety of instruments and ideas without it being an overwhelming amount of either. Your pacing and sense of when enough is enough is really solid.
I heard a few elements that seemed like cliche electronic tropes...cutting out to a group of toms panned from left to right, the cutoff filter turning up in the build to the drop, etc. These aren't inherently bad, I've just heard them a bunch before, so it's less original. If you can innovate new fills, new ways to build to sections, then that would pump up my originality score.
Otherwise, good stuff!
Thanks for the feedback!
Oh yeah, one of my favourites! Really cool, innovative piece of music. On to specifics...
Mixing, mastering and production: The most impressive thing to me with Market Day is the number of sounds you weave together successfully. I've commented on some other submissions how they have an 'everything but the kitchen sink' syndrome, where they attempt to use tons of different instruments, but it ends up sounding like a mish mash blend. You've used an eclectic but very effective group of instruments and made them work together.
From a production standpoint, having many different types is tricky and mixing them together is no small challenge. There are some issues here, particularly in the synths. The tricky part is that most of Market Day is grounded in real instruments (or real-sounding instruments) which means the obvious synths are always going to be the odd man out. Therefore, they have to be mixed really masterfully in order to fit in (as opposed to just another orchestral instrument, which you could plop in and it would fit more effortlessly)
The synth bells at 2:05 are pretty tinny and cut a little painfully through the mix. The bells at 3:18 are much better, but of course they're not TRYING to be a synth effect so much, so they fit in better.
There are some other points where I can tell pretty obviously I'm listening to a virtual instrument. Some of the violin lines, the acoustic guitar, and some piano bits especially. The best answer here is to actually record those instruments, but in lieu, one thing you can do is pay very close attention to editing the velocity of the MIDI files that the instruments are playing. When a pianist plays a piece, they're not going to press every key with the exact same amount of force. They sweep, certain notes are louder, and perhaps just as important they ARE NOT ALWAYS ON TIME (I wish I could italicize). If you're aiming for a 'real' instrument feel with a virtual instrument, know this: nearly zero musicians have perfect rhythm. So a 'real' instrument recording would reflect that. Just little tiny 'errors' here and there would improve the realism of an instrument line.
Good use of EQ, good use of panning, and for the most part good volume balancing. Very clean mastering as well - I only feel like it could have used a bit more umph. The kick drum and the orchestral bass drum were sort of underwhelming. There could have been a little more bass overall.
Composition: Awesome. Great chords progressions and very smooth changes between keys, not to mentioned tempos. Heck, if you had switched through time signatures as well you could have had the trifecta! I have very little to say except for very minor things. I enjoyed the structure and progression, but at the same time it wasn't inherently catchy, which is as valuable as a well-thought structure. The lack of distinct repeated main sections (there are two distinct instances of the chorus, but as they're in different keys there's still a degree of difference between them) docked half a point or so from the structure.
My same critique would extend to the melody. There are lots of interesting, well-thought out melodies in Market Day. But sometimes, all you want to hear is one really solid one repeated a few times so the listener can appreciate it. A little bit of structural repetition would solve this.
Overall, really great piece. I'm super looking forward to what you'll come up with in the finals.
Thanks for the help, Finn! I appreciate the tips on humanizing the instruments (you're not the only person to note the pure mechanical-ness of my writing), and yes, structure structure structure, I've had so many notes on it that it would be pretty shameful of me to not have that in the front of my mind for next round.
Mixing, mastering and production: Generally speaking, all pretty good. Some of the instruments could use a little careful EQ and mixing work - the percussion stands out a bit as sounding a bit low-quality. There are some minor volume balance issues. The bright synth wash that comes in at around 6:40 could be a touch quieter and a touch more reverbed to make it fit in the mix.
Most of the reverbing is good, but there are a couple areas where an instrument doesn't quite fit the others - the percussion is pretty dry compared to the other instruments.
Composition: I personally enjoy a lot of Apoapsis. The chords, the instruments, and the general vibe remind of the song Madness, by the band Muse. All my main critiques will come from length. As a standalone track with no context, having an 8-minute ambient journey is something I totally support and can get down to. But as a showcase piece in a competition, it doesn't shine. As a judge, I'm looking for every single second to add lots of value to the overall track, and the longer a track is, the MORE value each second has to have. There are a lot of good parts here, and if you were to condense the best bits of Apoapsis into a 2-4 minute track I would likely have scored it much higher.
In terms of future composing, don't take this to mean that you should abandon your style - keep composing! But know that if you're in a competition, you have to make every beat count. Subtle tracks are rarely good showcases of skill and musicality because they're such a slow burn.
Mixing, mastering and production: Pretty solid and some good ideas. Just some minor things that add up.
There's a bit of a disconnect in the reverb between all the instruments - several of them sound like they're not playing in the same mix. This is not to say that you shouldn't have differences in reverb (everyone likes a big spacy piano sound) but to make sure they're not out of wack with each other. It felt a bit weird to hear the little-reverbed drums, the mid-reverbed synths, and the heavy-reverbed piano playing at the same time.
I felt a bit like the drums were missing some bass umph. A tricky thing to balance in D&B where the kit is going constantly, but something to consider. Otherwise, not too much to say!
Composition: If I had to sum up my thoughts in one sentence, it would be that everything was decent but nothing blew me away. I mostly didn't feel like I had heard anything I hadn't heard in many other D&B tracks. This is an idea executed well, but that's it, you know? You've got the talent and the skills to do some great things, so I would say try and be a bit more ambitious and pursue some crazy ideas - you might be pleasantly surprised by what you come up with when you push yourself.
Mixing, mastering and production: Not too bad. The basic suffering of this piece (in terms of my score) is that I don't think it's a super standalone piece. I feel like it would work great in a video game or a quirky sci-fi indie film, but when I'm comparing to fully fleshed out songs and symphonic pieces and modern electronic tunes, the production values sort of pale in comparison.
As a chiptune piece, this sounds pretty good. The percussion bits could have been a little crisper and cleaner (they were slightly messy), but otherwise that's it.
Composition: Fun little quirky piece. Good choice of instruments; I especially loved the little repeated riff at 1:42 and 1:51. Again, points were lost here because while the track works well, it feels like a video game loop and not a complete, standalone track. One element that could have helped here is use of sectional repetition. By that I mean literally the repeating of sections, like a chorus. Cloud Caravan starts small and basically just adds more and more for two minutes until it ends. There are quieter and louder sections; the dynamics are good. But with no repeated sections, it's hard as a listener to ground myself anywhere or know where I am exactly.
Understandable. I had fun composing it and that's all that matters to me in the long run. I'm glad it could fit in a game since that is what I was going for. Probably not the best track to upload to the contest though, but whatever. Thanks for the review and kind words. Glad you enjoyed it though.
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