Spitfire Audio’s free music-making tool lets you experiment with the sounds of the BBC Symphony Orchestra

Designed to help anyone write music for animation or film projects, the BBCSO Discover plug-in, designed with Ustwo, was created by recording an orchestra one note at a time.

4 November 2020

Soundtracks can make or break a film, but funds and technical knowhow can sometimes be a barrier to animators and filmmakers when adding sound to their project. Which is where Spitfire Audio comes in. The music technology company founded by two award-winning composers makes virtual instruments that are used by all levels of music-maker – from beginner to professional. Working with top-level musicians, engineers and composers, the company builds its digital instruments and sound libraries by, incredibly, recording one note at a time, each in various articulations.

Its latest project is in collaboration with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, no less, and recorded at the BBC’s historic Maida Vale Studios in London. The results make up a new entry-level plugin called BBCSO Discover – free to It’s Nice That readers, more details below – featuring 33 instruments compatible with any major music creating software including Garageband and Pro Tools, which will allow beginners and professionals alike to experiment with top-level orchestral sound.

While dabbling with the sound library at a dimly lit desk in your office/bedroom might not feel quite like conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, it is essentially the same, via a different route, says the project’s lead creative Thomas Howe. “We create virtual instruments in the exact same way live performances are captured for film scores – musicians, microphones and spaces – just one note at a time. It’s strange that whilst most people wouldn’t have heard of us, most people probably hear our products on a daily basis through their phones, televisions, and game consoles.”

Head of project Stanley Gabriel adds that BBCSO Discover isn't just an orchestral plugin. “Using our ‘mode-switching’ behaviour, we’re enabling everyone to collaborate on all levels. From budding composers right up to the professionals at the top of their game, ‘mode-switching’ enables seamless collaboration between all.”

The company is ultimately aiming to inspire new composers, which was a common goal on the BBC collaboration. Co-founder Paul Thomson had built a relationship with BBC Music through his own composing work, Howe explains, and when discussing ways to encourage those starting out, the two organisations decided to collaborate on this new digital sound library. “From the very start, it was paramount to both parties that there was an emphasis on accessibility,” Howe says. “At the same time, we were both excited about the prospect of creating an incredibly detailed professional plug-in, that would also preserve the rich sound of (the then endangered) Maida Vale Studios.”

Gallery© Spitfire Audio, BBCSO Discover

Orchestral music is particularly divisive in the industry, as while it can offer the drama and layered nuance of a big-budget production, it is perceived as a lofty world, which this project aims to dispel. “Despite the abundance of orchestral music in our everyday lives, unfortunately, it still has a reputation that can put a lot of people off,” Howe says. “BBCSO Discover allows you to write with, or even just listen to, one of the world’s most celebrated orchestras in the comfort (and privacy!) of your own bedroom. Even if you don’t currently have an interest in making music, it’s also an engaging way to unwind. And in conjunction with the incredible community on YouTube and other free online resources, you’ll be surprised just how quickly you could start writing symphonies – seriously!”

A key aspect of achieving accessibility and ease of use was its user experience design. So Spitfire enlisted design agency Ustwo to work together on turning what could be a complicated and daunting programme into an interface that invited experimentation and play. The hope is this will be a gateway for fledgling music-makers and sound designers to find the confidence to try out Spitfire’s other products, whether it’s more advanced sample libraries and instruments, or other beginner-level offerings. The company releases a new free instrument every month through its LABS programme, which covers a wide range of musical styles.

“I’d love for all creatives to think of noise as just another colour in their palette,” Howe says. “Whilst we are constantly encouraged to learn new programmes, and even more tangental skillsets like coding, sound still seems to get left out of the conversation. It might feel like a totally new creative pursuit, but you’d be surprised how many parallels there are between graphic design and music composition. From the start-up tone of your computer, to the score behind the climax of your favourite movie, sound is an undeniably powerful part of storytelling. So it’s only natural that adding audio to your ident, animation or short film creates another layer of immersion. Equally, it’s fascinating working in reverse, building a visual language around audio.”

He concludes: “By making BBCSO Discover available as a lightweight download, we hope that more people than ever will start making orchestral music, or at least incorporate it into their own sound.”

Download the BBCSO Discover here – usually £49 but free for It’s Nice That readers using the code INTxSpitfire at the checkout.

Gallery© Spitfire Audio, BBCSO Discover

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© Spitfire Audio, BBCSO Discover

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