String parts are used incredibly frequently in electronic music, yet they can prove infuriatingly difficult to get right. Often, even when using high quality samples, they can sound sterile and unrealistic. There are, thankfully, a number of techniques you can use that will increase the realism of your string parts no end. It can be time consuming to get it right, but it is well worth the effort.
Selecting Your String Library
There is a wide selection of string sample libraries available, and the range can be quite daunting. The fact is that there are a number of very good libraries out there that will do a great job for you. Obviously budget restrictions will come in to play at some point, but it is worth investing in a decent library. It is actually even worth considering purchasing a couple of separate libraries from different manufacturers if you can afford it. This may seem extravagant, but the use of multiple timbres that you will get from using different libraries can really help to give you a big, rich sound. It is worth spending some time researching the options available, and deciding just how much control you will need (do you need multiple mic positions for example?). Sound On Sound is a great place to start your search, and you may want to begin by looking into such industry standard packages as East West/Quantum Leap Hollywood Strings, Vienna Symphonic Library Orchestral Strings, Cinematic Strings 2.0, and Audiobro LAScoring Strings 2. If, for now you really can’t afford a third party string library, you can still follow the guidelines below. They will certainly improve your overall sound, even if you are just using the string sounds that come bundled with Logic or Ableton Live.
This may seem like simple stuff, but any decent sample library will contain multiple layers of velocity data. If the velocity controls for your string part are high, the notes don’t just get louder – your samples may have a faster attack, a harsher timbre and so on. Spend some time listening to how moving the velocity controls changes the sound of the part as well as the volume. However you enter you part (either by playing it in, or by writing it in) – it is worth going in and listening to the completed part and tinkering with velocity controls until you are happy with the final sound.
Changing the velocity levels isn’t the only way of changing the volume level of a part however…