Music and Video

Music, revisited

Back in the day – in the early 1970s – I studied music at university: conducting, composition and performing. And, quite honestly, sucked. I was a lazy student and besides, could never really absorb the finer aspects of music theory. The only instrument I played reasonably well was the french horn. Piano – not so much. Violin, execrably. So, not much of a performer, ever.

What I really wanted to do was write music, but that sort-of never happened.

A few years back, I started making videos – again – using my Canon T3i. True, the videos were lame, sort-of home-movies stuff, but I was having a lot of fun with it. Tried different editing software, and actually used Blender – a 3D-modelling software which had a non-linear video editing suite in-built – for quite a while for the simple reason that Blender was free… still is. It really is quite powerful, although the learning curve can be fairly steep.

Over time I went from Windows to Linux, and finally to a Mac, which ended up being a somewhat more expensive software environment, particularly with the move of video editor from Blender to Final Cut Pro X. Upgraded from the T3i to a Sony A6000, which I never regretted. And made so many lame videos I finally even came up with a name for my little production company: “Odd Little Videos”. All good: still learning.

One of the issues I found troubling was background music. Good audio is, if not more important than good video, at least as important. The sort of music I wanted to use for my videos would involve classical pieces, generally. Whilst the music’s score was no longer under any copyright due to its age, the performance of that music usually would be. Copyright infringement was not something I wanted ever to have to face, so I would only ever use public domain music, or music that I actually obtained permission from the composer to use.

However, I found it all a bit limiting. I wanted Mendelssohn’s music, I wanted Mozart’s, I wanted Brahms’! And although I did invoke Joachim Raff’s first movement from a YouTube recording of his “Im Sommer”, in a video I made for family, it would never be published online because of copyright concerns. Would it trigger an algorithm on YouTube? unlikely. But it’s not worth the risk.

So, how to get that background music I want?

Some time ago I found Musescore – music-writing (notation) software – entirely free, and thought I’d have a go. Initially, it was all about transcribing a piece I was really obsessed with – Dvorak’s String Sextet – and then found Reinecke’s Serenade for Strings really compelling. I also made a reasonably good start transcribing Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, when a sense of experimentation got notes of my own on staves, which I ultimately called “Sac A Dos“.

But I’m not really a composer. I keep finding myself go down harmonic rabbit-holes and have decided for now to focus on transcription and, more recently, performances derived from those transcriptions.

Now, the Musescore “interpretation” of, say, Reinecke’s fourth movement of Serenade for Strings (“Cavatine“) isn’t horrible, really… it’s fairly decent, to be honest. However, Musescore is not a DAW (digital audio workstation)… in that sense, it has limits. Don’t get me wrong: it does a credible job at rendering a piece, including even articulations, dynamics, and tempo.

But it’s not a DAW (digital audio workstation).

I tried Garageband… comes free with MacOS. In some ways, the “performance” was an even less satisfying experience than Musescore, mainly because of what sample libraries you can use with it. I’m on a budget – can’t afford AUD$600.00 for Logic Pro – so I had a look around and finally settled on Reaper.

I’d call Reaper the Blender of DAWs… very steep learning curve! But the difference from a music notation software such as Musescore in terms of sound is quite noticeable. Keeping in mind that I’m anything but an audiophile and so lack some of the finer sensibilities to discern that – to me! – tiny difference between actual live performance and the clever use of a DAW to create music, I’m quite pleased with what Reaper can do. And I won’t be investing in expensive sound libraries: I’m not a real composer and don’t need the Vienna Philharmonic to render my little pieces… having plenty of fun with what I have. And that’s the secret to contentment, isn’t it? It’s about being happy with what we have, learn to exploit all the unexplored capabilities and learn to create something new, fresh, different.