Along with today’s introduction of Dorico 3, we’re delighted to introduce a new piece of music by composer Segun Akinola, called Dorico Prelude, that we will be using as Dorico’s audio brand from now on. In this post I will share a little bit about the piece and about working with Segun and his team to make this happen.
We have been using the same music in our YouTube videos and various other places since before Dorico 1.0 was introduced back in 2016. That piece, written by Steinberg’s Frank Simmerlein, has served us wonderfully and has become so closely associated with Dorico that some of our users have even written lyrics for it.
But with the upcoming release of Dorico 3, we wanted to update its audio identity, and I came up with the idea of commissioning a composer to write something with Dorico that we could record with a studio orchestra, documenting the process so that we could go inside the studio and show something of how a session comes together, with the hopes of both informing and inspiring young composers about what it takes to bring a project like this to completion.
A handful of us got together around the meeting room table and started kicking around ideas about who we could ask to write the piece for us. We immediately thought of Segun, whose profile has recently been raised by his work on the most recent series of the BBC show Doctor Who, which he took over from long-time composer Murray Gold, and whose series TV On The Radio had just aired on the UK’s new classical music radio station, Scala Radio.
After adding a few more names to the list so that we would have some fallback plans for when Segun inevitably turned us down, I sent a speculative email to Segun’s representatives, and was surprised and delighted to very quickly receive a reply that he would love to meet with us and find out more.
Segun graduated with first-class honours from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and then went on to gain a masters degree in Composing for Film and Television from the National Film and Television School. Over the past several years he has composed the music for a number of current affairs and documentary series, including the BBC four-part series “Black and British: a Forgotten History”, and has also scored a number of films, including the 2019 Sundance selection The Last Tree.
However, his work on the eleventh series of Doctor Who has brought his work to a wider audience, and his music, mixing live and electronic elements, was a dramatic departure from the more traditionally orchestral sonic world of the show over the previous ten series.
Work on a show like Doctor Who is all-consuming and we were fortunate to catch Segun just before he started working full-time on the next series, expected to air in 2020.
When we met with Segun at our offices in London in May 2019, we discussed the brief for the composition. We wanted an orchestral piece, cinematic in style, that would work both as a short piece in its own right, and also be suitable for using at the starts and ends of our YouTube videos and in other social media contexts. We wanted a full piece between one and two minutes in length, and because Dorico 3 includes features for producing a condensed conductor’s score and support for harp pedaling, we requested that we should use at least double woodwind and that the piece should feature a harp.
Segun asked probing questions about how the music would be used, and we looked together at our existing YouTube videos and the way Anthony puts them together in order to understand how much music we would want at the start and at the end, when Anthony would be likely to talk over the music, and so on.
We had a fixed budget in mind, and initially we proposed recording in eastern Europe with an even larger orchestra than the 46-piece ensemble we eventually recorded with in London, in order to enable us to offer a truly Hollywood-scale orchestra to our composer. But after discussing the pros and cons of recording in eastern Europe versus recording a little closer to home, Segun pushed for us to record in London, even if it meant working with a smaller ensemble.
We also asked that Segun, who uses Logic and Pro Tools for his production work and Sibelius for his scoring work, should compose the piece with Dorico, and that we would love to be able to include the Dorico project file itself with Dorico 3 as an example project.
How we would record the music, and not only record the audio but also bring our videographers and stills photographers into the studio to document the session, was another point of discussion, and Segun was keen to ensure that we would focus on getting the music recorded at the start of the session before allowing the cameras into the live room.
Having agreed together on all of these points, Segun went away to work on the piece, while we went away to find a studio and an orchestra.
We are lucky to have a number of world-class recording studios suitable for recording orchestras here in London, and even more fortunate that one of these studios, Angel Studios, is only a mile or so away from our Old Street offices, on Upper Street in Islington.
Having identified that Studio 3, the largest of the three rooms at Angel, would be available in the last week of June, we got in touch with Gareth Griffiths, who runs the Chamber Orchestra of London, with whom Segun has worked before. In addition to being a wonderfully accomplished violinist, Gareth is also one of the top orchestral contractors in London, able to bring together a top-notch ensemble that matches the needs of more or less any kind of recording project.
Once he was apprised of the nature of the project and the forces that Segun wanted to bring to bear on the session, Gareth set about contracting the players, and the ensemble was booked for a morning session at the end of June.
Segun wrote Dorico Prelude by hand using pencil and manuscript paper, enjoying the chance to get back to a simpler kind of composition that relies only on his own musical inspiration rather than having to match everything to a moving image. Once he had composed the piece, he set about producing the initial full score in Dorico, and despite never having used the software before, was quickly able to put together a good-looking score that would then go to our own Lillie Harris, who in addition to writing all of Dorico’s documentation, is an experienced copyist and music librarian for recording sessions.
Normally Segun works with an orchestrator, often his frequent collaborator Alec Roberts, because deadlines are typically so tight that there’s not time to do all of the legwork of orchestration himself, and he can rely on the mutual understanding developed with Alec to do for him the things that he would otherwise have done for himself. (There is a parallel here to our design philosophy for Dorico: to do automatically the things that the user would otherwise have chosen to do manually. We hope that using Dorico is like working alongside a trusted collaborator.)
Lillie handled the formatting of the parts, and went back and forth with Segun over a few details, and then printed and taped everything ready for the session. Normally the music librarian would then attend the session, but it turned out that Lillie, herself in demand as a composer, was unable to attend, so yours truly got to do a little bit of music librarian work on the day of the session itself.
On the appointed late June morning, we made our way to Studio 3 at Angel Studios, to find the studio set out for 46 musicians and engineer Fiona Cruickshank and Angel Studios’ assistant engineer Marc McCouig finalising mic placements and levels. Gareth soon arrived and music was placed on stands in advance of the players’ arrival.
Often when Segun records his music, he stays in the control room so that he can keep a close eye and ear on all of the various moving parts in terms of matching picture, pre-records and the live musicians, and Alec conducts, but for this session those roles were reversed: Alec took his place alongside Fiona and Marc in the control room, and Segun went out to the live room.
By the time the session was due to start at 10am sharp, everybody was in their seats, Segun was on the podium, and after a few words to the players to explain how the session was going to be structured – to first record the main piece, then the short intro and outro stings that Segun had prepared, and then to allow the photographer and videographers to shoot the things they needed – the first take began.
At the end of the first take it became clear that there was a slight mismatch between the pre-recorded percussion tracks and the click track, but after no more than a couple of minutes, Fiona, Segun and Marc had it straightened out, and the session proceeded apace.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few sessions in London and Los Angeles and it never fails to impress, on many levels.
Firstly, of course, the proficiency of the players is beyond compare, and they play whatever is put in front of them without fuss and with total accuracy on the first take. As they warm to the material and Segun requests little tweaks, they modulate their performance in precise and consistent ways, so that if Segun asks for a little more here, or half a dynamic step less there, they provide exactly that performance. And in between takes, although the players in the room look relaxed, they are completely alert and switched on for every second. Segun and Lillie had done such a good job that there were no questions about notes or markings, though the leader, Janice Graham, also came into the control room to listen to playbacks, and was proactive about ensuring that she and her players were giving Segun what he wanted.
Secondly, the team behind the glass in the control room are just as much in command of their own instruments as the performers in the live room: Fi, Marc and Alec handled every take, every request for a different mix in the headphones, every nuance of the recording with cheerful, calm professionalism.
It really was a pleasure and a privilege to watch these people at work, and to hear how by the fourth or fifth take, what started off as, to all intents and purposes, a technically perfect performance of the notes on the page, had been transformed into something with real energy and excitement as Segun drew exactly what he wanted out of the players and they responded to him and to his music.
After Charlie, Dom and Iro captured the imagery they needed, the session ended and the musicians disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived. By lunchtime, it was all over.
Following the session, Segun and Fi met back at Angel Studios to produce the final mixed and mastered audio of the complete Dorico Prelude piece and the intro and outro stings intended for YouTube. A couple of weeks later, we sat down with Segun to record an interview about the process of writing and recording Dorico Prelude. You can watch that video here:
We couldn’t be happier with how this project turned out. Working with Segun and his team was an absolute pleasure. The music he wrote for us fits Dorico perfectly, and it sounds fantastic.
These are the people who make the music you love, not only the person behind the pencil or the keyboard, not only the people with the bows in their hands and a mouthpiece to their lips. The people who set up the studio, who wire the mics, who print the parts, who fix the players, who run Pro Tools, who catch the wrong notes. The people who take the photos, who shoot and edit the videos. These are the people we are building Dorico for. It’s a privilege to work with professionals, to experience the feeling of being in safe hands and knowing that the end product will be worth every penny you paid for it.
We hope that Dorico gives you that same feeling when you use it: that you are in safe hands and that it is a professional-grade tool made by musicians for other musicians.
To Segun, Alec, Fi, Marc, Lillie, Gareth, Darrell, Ollie; to every musician who played in the session; to everyone at Angel Studios; to Charlie, Dom and Iro who captured it, thank you.