. Interchanging Idioms: November 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trials and tribulations of a World Wide orchestra: TwtrSymphony working on the next track

When there are literally thousands of miles between the musicians, the sound engineers and the composer, trying to get all the pieces to fit together can be a monumental task.

TwtrSymphony is in the last stages of releasing the 4th movement of Birds of a Feather, their debut symphony. So far the first three movements have been met with great enthusiasm, the videos averaging over 1000 views within the first 30 days and the music downloads beyond all expectations. Still, you'd think for an organization that has been playing together for eight months we'd have the process down. Far from it!

With remote recording sessions the variety of recording levels from one track to the next. Is the flute really meant to be the focus in this section or is the volume of their track just that much higher than the strings? The engineer has to make choices as to what works and what doesn't. Then, he/she has to send the track to the producer (me) to make suggestions as to changing the volume of each given instrument for each moment of the music. When an ensemble plays together in the same hall, the conductor can make minute adjustments to the performance, asking a flute player to play one phrase slightly louder, or asking the trombones to take it down just a notch just before the trumpets come in (not that trombone players ever listen to conductors - at least, I never did when I played way back when). Because TwtrSymphony is comprised of musicians recording their parts in their own space, there is no chance to make these kinds of minor adjustments. So, these "edits" fall to the sound engineers. The difficulty with this process is the time delays between mixes—particularly since the sound engineer and I live in two different country—the sound engineer has to create a mix, send it off, have me make edit requests, and remix it. These sorts of edits may not take much to adjust the flute a touch louder or the trombones a notch softer, but it can be time consuming get through the process.

When an ensemble plays together in the same hall, the reverb for the recording is based on the hall, uniform across the ensemble. Because TwtrSymphony has musicians recording in everything from professional sound booths, to bedrooms, the difference in reverb on the tracks can be huge, even if it seems slight when the tracks are heard side by side. Getting all the musicians to sound as if they are playing in the same room is a minor miracle. Tremulando had over 190 separate tracks to get the sound final sound mix. If you think about it, that's over six hours of recording time to make two minutes of music. We aren't talking about getting a couple of people to sound good together. TwtrSymphony is a symphony orchestra of musicians where all the pieces have to fit together just right.

As TwtrSymphony thinks about the next step, a Kickstarter (we hope to launch in late Novemeber), one of the things we want to do is stream line the process from engineer to composer. We'll be bringing on more sound engineers to work on the various tracks, so that we can actually work on more than one track at a time. The final product will still be finalized and mastered by our primary engineers. We're also hoping to create a series of videos and documents to help our existing musicians (and new ones that join us) to understand what they can do to create a better, more unified output. We didn't start out to be an educational institution, but we want to share what we're learning with other musicians, ensembles – to help other people avoid the problems we've faced..

TwtrSymphony is a major technical undertaking. It's not just about creating new orchestra music—although we are that too. TwtrSymphony is about creating orchestra music in new way. In order to do this right, we need to think of new ways about how the music is performed, recorded and put together. We are still learning, and exploring. But I hope you agree, what we've done so far is definitely headed in the right direction.

If you'd like to know more about our Kickstarter or want to help, contact TwtrSymphony.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Social Media and Classical Music Succeeding Together

Music is by its very nature a social art form. Therefore it only makes sense that music would do so well with social media

I look around a some of the big names on Twitter and realize music has an huge influence on our community. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Shakira have over 200 million fans combined. Granted there are probably a fair number of these fans who follow more than just one (if not all) of the above noted names in the music industry. Still, their combined reach is estimated at over a billion people. IF you could get all seven of these 'stars' to tweet about the same thing you'd be reaching nearly a sixth of the world population. Wow, the power of music!

Seven of the top ten Twitter feeds are directly related to music. Twelve of the top Fifteen Facebook pages are music personalities. That shows the importance our society (and as a result social media) places on music. If music is this important to us, and the people that make the music that popular, it only makes sense that classical music should be leveraging social media to get the word out.

And it is

Name a major orchestra anywhere that doesn't have a Facebook page? While not all of these have twitter accounts, the number of major orchestras that don't are rapidly dwindling. Major solo artists from Lang Lang (@Lang_lang), Sarah Chang (@sarahchang) and Wynton Marsalis ‏ (@wyntonmarsalis) to opera stars Renee Fleming (@reneesmusings), Deborah Voigt ‏ (@debvoigt) and Thomas Hampson ‏ (@thomas_hampson) are active on Twitter. Chamber ensembles like eighth blackbird ‏(@eighthblackbird), Paragon Ensemble ‏ (@ParagonEnsemble), and Bang on a Can (@bangonacan) are more than just active. You can get updates about where they are, what they're playing, and even glimpses into the struggles they face. Numerous string quartets thrive on twitter. Emerson String Quartet (@EmersonQuartet), JACK Quartet ‏(@JACKQuartet) and Raven Quartet (@ravenquartet) are just a few of the hundreds of string quartets sharing their travels with fans on Twitter.

Why? Because music is nothing without an audience. Today's audience is talking on social media so there is no better way to connect with the audience than by being where they are.

Part of what makes social media work is the cooperative nature of it. Social media isn't just advertisement (although there are plenty of organizations that do nothing but); it's about making connections. When fans feel connected, they share that connection with all the people they know. The reason the top seven twitter musicians can reach over a billion people even though their combined fan base is only 200 million, is because those 200 million people will help spread the word. That's what social media does!

TwtrSymphony is a new concept in the symphony orchestra. It isn't just an orchestra of musicians from all around the world. We are that, but much more. TwtrSymphony is also a collective of musicians, composers, technicians and fans all working together to create something larger than the sum of our parts. We have just over 200 fans on Facebook, but regularly are reaching to over 2000 people. Our 1800+ Twitter followers give us a reach of 50k and more. The reason our videos are so successful isn't just because the music is good (ok, I'm a bit biased on that count). It's because everyone, from musicians to the fans are eager to spread the word whenever a new piece is released. TwtrSymphony is leveraging the power of social media through the combined efforts of everyone involved.

Just like Lady Gaga is not for everyone, TwtrSymphony isn't for everyone. Not everyone we run across wants to be a fan. We're ok with that. But if you like what we're doing and think what we're doing is worthwhile, connect with us on Twitter and Facebook. Get to know us and let us get to know you.