A Music Director's Epic Tale: Les Miserables

Chapter 6 : Bringing The Music To Life

6.4 - Mixing And Initial Tempos

Once the patch assignments were made for each track in Cubase on a specific song, the song was played back and a tempo map was built. The tempo map was based on both the score indications as well as the performance by the orchestra on the recording for the Complete Symphonic Recordings and our own rehearsals of the songs. This proved to be an excellent reference recording in many ways. While the tempos still would need real-time adjusting during performance, having a baseline for each section of the song helped the singers learn consistency after multiple rehearsals with the tracks.

Again working on a song by song basis, after the tempo track was done, I listened to the instrument balance. Not only did the overall dynamics need to be correct in each section of the song, but the mix of the instruments itself had to be carefully checked. There are several passages, for example, where the string section needs to drop down so that an oboe can be heard as the primary instrument.

Here's where working with multiple synthesizers helped the overall realism quite a bit. For example, I have trombone patches on the Receptor (via Miroslav Philharmonik, the best sounding ones) and also on the Roland XV5080. I let Trombone 1 be assigned to the Receptor, and Trombone 2 to the XV5080. This way, when the two parts are played together, it sounds like two different players.

I also made extensive use of layering to try to bring more realism to the string section. "Les Mis" has three keyboard books. KB1 and KB2 are the true "synth" books. KB3 is a string section reduction. For shows that don't have a real string section, a third keyboardist can play this book and get some very serviceable string bits. I took KB3 and pointed it at various string patches depending on the song. While Miroslav Philharmonik served as my primary synth engine for strings (since I was able to get all the string "players" onto their own MIDI channels, and the string sounds are just amazing), the KB3 string patches, since they sound different and a bit more "synthy", gave more texture and depth. The trick was to mix it on the low side so as to not be dominant. In some cases, it was helpful to use one of the XV5080 expansion card orchestral patches, to even get some extra horn depth for KB3.