10 Must-Have Gear for Film Scoring
Building a film scoring home studio can be a daunting task that many composers and producers experience, including me. In the midst of a constant changing market, it can take months to determine what combo of equipment is good in order to run a smooth setup that is powerful enough to handle the tasks that the industry requires.
In the following list I would like to highlight the top pieces of equipment that I use in my home studio and explain how they allow me to work more effectively when it comes to scoring for films. I consider this to be advanced entry-level gear for film scoring, film music production, music editing and other relevant areas.
Incredibly fast and reliable, this bundled-up macbook makes things run smoothly when using applications like Apple’s Logic Pro, Avid’s Pro Tools and Sibelius. Ideally you would want to use a bigger, more powerful computer, but I love using this because it has tools like the touch bar, which is customizable inside Logic’s UI and because it’s also very portable!
The fact that I can take my “studio” to a coffee shop and work in a different space is appealing to me — finding inspiration in places outside the studio and being able to execute those ideas on the fly is great —
As a general rule, try to get as much RAM and processing power as possible. Disk space and graphics are not as crucial I don’t need that to run audio applications, and sample libraries run better when installed externally.
Here are the specs:
Processor: 2.9 GHz Intel Core i9
Memory 32 Gb 2400 MHz DDR4
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630 1536 MB
Storage: 500 Gb
2. UNIVERSAL AUDIO APOLLO TWIN QUAD MK2
When it comes to audio interfaces, it’s good to use the great ones. Each one has a different sound and some of them deliver poor audio quality, while others are faithful to the sound. The computer’s headphone jack alone is not going to help getting a more consistent mix because it doesn’t transfer an accurate representation of such.
Universal Audio makes these beautiful interfaces that are not only extremely high quality in audio transfer but also have powerful cores that are capable of running audio plugins without using my computer’s power. It has a set of 2 XLR + 1 Instrument inputs, 2 monitor + 2 line outputs. It counts with a talkback mic for recording purposes, a nice sounding preamp and comes with a set of very useful UAD plugins.
One of the biggest advantages of having a great controller is saving time, and the Komplete Kontrol does this brilliantly. The easily customizable interface and the graphic display communicate with Logic’s (and other DAWs) UI seamlessly, allowing more productivity and effortless navigation.
I created a dedicated template that works with my scoring template in Logic. Some of the key functions that I programmed are:
Create new markers, time signatures and tempo changes where the playhead is.
Navigate between markers in the arrangement window
Expand/contract the movie window.
Mute/unmute the movie’s dialogue.
Track level automation.
Show/hide mixer, score, library and piano roll windows.
Quantize the length of the notes in the piano roll.
I map the knobs to modify specific parameters within a software instrument or audio plugin (cutoff, resonance, attack, release, etc)
The Roli Seaboard Rise is by far one of the most expressive, creative and versatile pieces of equipment that I own. It has become an essential part of my rig. A multi-expressive midi controller or open-ended interactive surface that opens a more realistic way of playing non-keyboard instruments. Independent vibrato, dynamic expression and bends are just some of the effects that are possible thanks to the multi-dimensional capabilities of the Seaboard. When recording synths it opens up a world of possibilities thanks to the wonderful engine of Equator (included with the Seaboard), a dedicated sampler/synth software for ROLI instruments. The result is a more organic, multi-layered synth environment.
USD $349.99 (each) / $699.98 (pair)
When it comes to studio monitors it's very hard to make a choice. Every monitor has advantages and disadvantages, it all comes down to what kind of sound you are looking for, the room acoustics and many other variables. I got the HS8’s because they are really versatile for various types of music and also for the soundtrack genre. It’s great to have a neutral representation of the sound that you are mixing and that it translates to other devices equally. This pair of speakers deliver. Music for film it’s often too muddy around the 100 Hz area due to many factors such as reverbs and multiple low sounding instruments – when listening to my scores with the Yamaha’s I can notice if I am getting too excited with the low end of my mixes, and then I can fix it – something that I can barely notice using my headphones.
Many other reasons make this a great pair of speakers at least for entry level scoring or music production but in general they sound amazing for the price! The best way to choose a pair of speakers is going to the store and trying them first.
*By the way, I use a couple of Mogami 1/4" TRS Male to XLR Male cables to plug the HS8’s to the Apollo.
In addition to the cool features of the Komplete Kontrol controller, pairing it with the Korg NanoKontrol2 makes a powerful combo, and it’s affordable. The NanoKontrol2 can be mapped to a lot of things within Logic (midi, automation, mixer) – I personally use it as a MIDI CC controller for my sound libraries. CC1, 7 and 11 are fundamental parameters that are used throughout most of the libraries.
Due to the fact that the MacBook Pro now uses only USB-C type ports, it’s necessary to get a dock that 1. has enough power to charge the computer and make all the ports run as fast as possible and 2. that it has enough ports for all the stuff that you need to plug in. This OWC dock happens to have both things. I’ll do a break down of the devices that I have plugged in. Keep in mind that the computer has 4 available ports and the Apollo interface has to be connected directly to it. Additionally I have an external SSD connected to one the computer’s ports.
Dual Thunderbolt 3 Ports: Additional display.
85W of Notebook Charging Power: MacBook Pro.
1 x Mini DisplayPort 1.2: not in use
5 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB Type-A: Backup HDD, NI, ROLI and KORG controllers.
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB Type-C: Main HDD, OWC 5-port dock + iLok*
microSD and SD Card Reader Slots
Gigabit Ethernet: not in use
*The 5-port dock is a portable version of the 14-port that I use for working on the go with my laptop and to keep my iLok plugged in at all times – this dock has 1 HDMI port, 2 USB 3.0 Gen ports and 1 USB-C port for auxiliary power. Check it out here.
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As a general rule, I keep my sample libraries in my external solid state drive (SSD). This doesn’t intervene with my computer’s processing power that I use exclusively to run my daw, play the movie, and load the instances of Kontakt, Play and other virtual instruments that rely on processing power. It’s better to use an SSD to ensure high velocity data transfer. My Logic’s audio buffer size preference is set to 256 or 1024 and I never ever have had performance issues or glitches. In the contrary, I have experienced problems while running some libraries from a HDD.
I love working with a secondary display, it’s really efficient. I actually got this one on Craigslist for $80 in excellent condition. It works great for my needs. I use it as my main display when I am at the studio. When working in Logic I have the arrangement view there and in the laptop I have the piano roll window and the mixer window or the step editor window. When working in Pro Tools I have the same screen set but without the piano roll and when I’m working on Sibelius I have the Sceptre displaying the full score and my laptop displaying the parts. I don’t believe it’s important to get a specific kind of monitor for this purposes but to get one of the size and connectivity that you need. I got the curved 27” because it fits my desk perfectly in between the speakers. Furthermore, more complex setups can be achieved by using 3 or more monitors or multiple computers.
This is an extra perk to my setup, and it adds so much! The fact that I can have Logic Remote (free app) running on my iPad, makes it seem almost like an extra display. The pairing works via wifi and the iPad is often plugged to a power outlet. I use the mixer view to expand the visual of the mixer window that I have in showing in the laptop and to see more clearly where my levels are at, what my routing is and what inserts I’m using – It’s also capable of editing the parameters of the inserts on the go without opening the interfaces on the computer – It’s good for when I am recording stuff on my keyboards to check everything on the go. I would love to have the ability to edit piano rolls on the iPad, because it seems to be very intuitive for a touch display – maybe a future update will include this feature – I am using the 1st generation iPad Pro, released in 2016, but nowadays they are much more powerful, thin and versatile.
When I am not using Logic Remote I use my iPad to annotate, revise, arrange and orchestrate my scores and parts with ForScore.
That’s it for now! I hope this 10-item list of studio gear is helpful to give you an insight on how you can build or improve your home studio. I relate all of this to my film scoring work but it also applies to many other areas. This is not a definitive setup but one that works for me 100% of the time right now, and it’s going to keep evolving throughout the coming years.
I am looking forward to reading your thoughts and questions on your comments down below. I will be making a YouTube video covering more information on my studio gear very soon, so stay tuned and subscribe to my newsletter to receive all my updates. Thanks for reading, liking and sharing!
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