Tips

CTR (Click Through Rate) – Explanation, Results and Tips

A very important metric for banner advertiesment is the CTR (click through rate). It is simply the number of clicks the ad generated divided by the number of total impressions. You can also think of it as the product of the probability of a user noticing the ad and the probability of the user being interested in the ad.

CTR = clicks / impressions = p(notice) · p(interested)

The current average CTR is around 0.09 % or 9 clicks per 10,000 impressions and has been declining for the past several years. What are the reasons for this? For one, the common banner locations are familiar to web users and are thus easy to ignore. There’s also the increased popularity of ad-blocking software.

The attitude of internet users is generally negative towards banner ads. This is caused by advertisers using more and more intrusive formats. These include annoying pop-ups and their even more irritating sisters, the floating ads. Adopting them is not favorable for advertisers. They harm a brand and produce very low CTRs. So hopefully, we will see an end to such nonsense soon.

As for animated ads, their success depends on the type of website and target group. For high-involvement websites that users visit to find specific information (news, weather, education), animated banners perform worse than static banners. In case of low-involvement websites that are put in place for random surfing (entertainment, lists, mini games) the situation is reversed. The target group also plays an important role. For B2C (business-to-consumer) ads animation generally works well, while for B2B (business-to-business) animation was shown to lower the CTR.

The language used in ads has also been extensively studied. One interesting result is that often it is preferable to use English language even if the ad is displayed in a country in which English is not the first language. A more obvious result is that catchy words and calls to action (“read more”) increase the CTR.

As for the banner size, there is inconclusive data. Some analysis report that the CTR grows with banner size, while others conclude that banner sizes around 250×250 or 300×250 generate the highest CTRs. There is a clearer picture regarding shape: in terms of CTR, square shapes work better than thin rectangles having the same size. No significant difference was found between vertical and horizontal rectangles.

Here’s another hint: my own theoretical calculations show that higher CTRs can be achieved by advertising on pages that have a low visitor loyalty. The explanation for this counter-intuitive outcome as well as a more sophisticated formula for the CTR can be found here. It is, in a nutshell, a result of the multiplication rule of statistics. The calculation also shows that on sites with a low visitor loyalty the CTR will stay constant, while on websites with a high visitor loyalty it will decrease over time.

Sources and further reading:

  • Study on banner advertisement type and shape effect on click-through-rate and conversion

Click to access 131481.pdf

  • The impact of banner ad styles on interaction and click-through-rates

Click to access S2008_989.pdf

  • Impact of animation and language on banner click-through-rates

http://www.academia.edu/1608289/Impact_of_Animation_and_Language_on_Banner_Click-Through_Rates

Audio Effects: All About Compressors

Almost all music and recorded speech that you hear has been sent through at least one compressor at some point during the production process. If you are serious about music production, you need to get familiar with this powerful tool. This means understanding the big picture as well as getting to know each of the parameters (Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Make-Up Gain) intimately.

  • How They Work

Throughout any song the volume level varies over time. It might hover around – 6 dB in the verse, rise to – 2 dB in the first chorus, drop to – 8 dB in the interlude, and so on. A term that is worth knowing in this context is the dynamic range. It refers to the difference in volume level from the softest to the loudest part. Some genres of music, such as orchestral music, generally have a large dynamic range, while for mainstream pop and rock a much smaller dynamic range is desired. A symphony might range from – 20 dB in the soft oboe solo to – 2 dB for the exciting final chord (dynamic range: 18 dB), whereas your common pop song will rather go from – 8 dB in the first verse to 0 dB in the last chorus (dynamic range: 8 dB).

During a recording we have some control over what dynamic range we will end up with. We can tell the musicians to take it easy in the verse and really go for it in the chorus. But of course this is not very accurate and we’d like to have full control of the dynamic range rather than just some. We’d also like to be able to to change the dynamic range later on. Compressors make this (and much more) possible.

The compressor constantly monitors the volume level. As long as the level is below a certain threshold, the compressor will not do anything. Only when the level exceeds the threshold does it become active and dampen the excess volume by a certain ratio. In short: everything below the threshold stays as it is, everything above the threshold gets compressed. Keep this in mind.

Suppose for example we set the threshold to – 10 dB and the ratio to 4:1. Before applying the compressor, our song varies from a minimum value of – 12 dB in the verse to a maximum value – 2 dB in the chorus. Let’s look at the verse first. Here the volume does not exceed the threshold and thus the compressor does not spring into action. The signal will pass through unchanged. The story is different for the chorus. Its volume level is 8 dB above the threshold. The compressor takes this excess volume and dampens it according to the ratio we set. To be more specific: the compressor turns the 8 dB excess volume into a mere 8 dB / 4 = 2 dB. So the compressed song ranges from – 12 dB in the verse to -10 dB + 2 dB = – 8 dB in the chorus.

Here’s a summary of the process:

Settings:

Threshold: – 10 dB
Ratio: 4:1

Before:

Minimum: – 12 dB
Maximum: – 2 dB
Dynamic range: 10 dB

Excess volume (threshold to maximum): 8 dB
With ratio applied: 8 dB / 4 = 2 dB

After:

Minimum: – 12 dB
Maximum: – 8 dB
Dynamic range: 4 dB

As you can see, the compressor had a significant effect on the dynamic range. Choosing appropriate values for the threshold and ratio, we are free to compress the song to any dynamic range we desire. When using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation such as Cubase, FL Studio or Ableton Live), it is possible to see the workings of a compressor with your own eyes. The image below shows the uncompressed file (top) and the compressed file (bottom) with the threshold set to – 12 dB and the ratio to 2:1.

MIXING_html_26d7be80

The soft parts are identical, while the louder parts (including the short and possibly problematic peaks) have been reduced in volume. The dynamic range clearly shrunk in the process. Note that after applying the compressor, the song’s effective volume (RMS) is much lower. Since this is usually not desired, most compressors have a parameter called make-up gain. Here you can specify by how much you’d like the compressor to raise the volume of the song after the compression process is finished. This increase in volume is applied to all parts of the song, soft or loud, so there will not be another change in the dynamic range. It only makes up for the loss in loudness (hence the name).

  • Usage of Compressors

We already got to know one application of the compressor: controlling the dynamic range of a song. But usually this is just a first step in reaching another goal: increasing the effective volume of the song. Suppose you have a song with a dynamic range of 10 dB and you want to make it as loud as possible. So you move the volume fader until the maximum level is at 0 dB. According to the dynamic range, the minimum level will now be at – 10 dB. The effective volume will obviously be somewhere in-between the two values. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume it to be right in the middle, at – 5 dB. But this is too soft for your taste. What to do?

You insert a compressor with a threshold of – 6 dB and a ratio of 3:1. The 4 dB range from the minimum level – 10 dB to the threshold – 6 dB is unchanged, while the 6 dB range from the threshold – 6 dB to the maximum level 0 dB is compressed to 6 dB / 3 = 2 dB. So overall the dynamic range is reduced to 4 dB + 2 dB = 6 dB. Again you move the volume fader until the maximum volume level coincides with 0 dB. However, this time the minimum volume will be higher, at – 6 dB, and the effective volume at – 3 dB (up from the – 5 dB we started with). Mission accomplished, the combination of compression and gain indeed left us with a higher average volume.

In theory, this means we can get the effective volume up to almost any value we desire by compressing a song and then making it louder. We could have the whole song close to 0 dB. This possibility has led to a “loudness war” in music production. Why not go along with that? For one, you always want to put as much emphasis as possible on the hook. This is hard to do if the intro and verse is already blaring at maximum volume. Another reason is that severely reducing the dynamic range kills the expressive elements in your song. It is not a coincidence that music which strongly relies on expressive elements (orchestral and acoustic music) usually has the highest dynamic range. It needs the wide range to go from expressing peaceful serenity to expressing destructive desperation. Read the following out loud and memorize it: the more expression it has, the less you should compress. While a techno song might work at maximum volume, a ballad sure won’t.

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Background Info – SPL and Loudness

Talking about how loud something is can be surprisingly complicated. The problem is that our brain does not process sound inputs in a linear fashion. A sound wave with twice the sound pressure does not necessarily seem twice as loud to us. So when expressing how loud something is, we can either do this by using well-defined physical quantities such as the sound pressure level (which unfortunately does not reflect how loud a person perceives something to be) or by using subjective psycho-acoustic quantities such as loudness (which is hard to define and measure properly).

Sound waves are pressure and density fluctuations that propagate at a material- and temperature-dependent speed in a medium. For air at 20 °C this speed is roughly 340 m/s. The quantity sound pressure expresses the deviation of the sound wave pressure from the pressure of the surrounding air. The sound pressure level, in short: SPL, is proportional to the logarithm of the effective sound pressure. Long story short: the stronger the sound pressure, the higher the SPL. The SPL is used to objectively measure how loud something is. Another important objective quantity for this purpose is the volume. It is a measure of how much energy is contained in an audio signal and thus closely related to the SPL.

A subjective quantity that reflects how loud we perceive something to be is loudness. Due to our highly non-linear brains, the loudness of an audio signal is not simply proportional to its SPL or volume level. Rather, loudness depends in a complex way on the SPL, frequency, duration of the sound, its bandwidth, etc … In the image below you can see an approximation of the relationship between loudness, SPL and frequency.

MIXING_html_mc95d258

Any red curve is a curve of equal loudness. Here’s how we can read the chart. Take a look at the red curve at the very bottom. It starts at 75 dB SPL and a frequency of 20 Hz and reaches 25 dB SPL at 100 Hz. Since the red curve is a curve of equal loudness, we can conclude we perceive a 75 dB SPL sound at 20 Hz to be just as loud as a 25 dB SPL sound at 100 Hz, even though from a purely physical point of view the first sound is three times as loud as the second (75 dB / 25 dB = 3).

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MIXING_html_m53a1053e

(Compressor in Cubase)

  • Threshold and Ratio

What’s the ideal threshold to use? This depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Suppose you set the threshold at a relatively high value (for example – 10 dB in a good mix). In this case the compressor will be inactive for most of the song and only kick in during the hook and short peaks. With the threshold set to a high value, you are thus “taking the top off”. This would be a suitable choice if you are happy with the dynamics in general, but would like to make the mix less aggressive.

What about low thresholds (such as -25 dB in a good mix)? In this case the compressor will be active for the most part of the song and will make the entire song quite dense. This is something to consider if you aim to really push the loudness of the song. Once the mix is dense, you can go for a high effective volume. But a low threshold compression can also add warmth to a ballad, so it’s not necessarily a tool restricted to usage in the loudness war.

Onto the ratio. If you set the ratio to a high value (such as 5:1 and higher), you are basically telling the mix: to the threshold and no further. Anything past the threshold will be heavily compressed, which is great if you have pushy peaks that make a mix overly aggressive. This could be the result of a snare that’s way too loud or an inexperienced singer. Whatever the cause, a carefully chosen threshold and a high ratio should take care of it in a satisfying manner. Note though that in this case the compressor should be applied to the track that is causing the problem and not the entire mix.

A low value for the ratio (such as 2:1 or smaller) will have a rather subtle effect. Such values are perfect if you want to apply the compressor to a mix that already sounds well and just needs a finishing touch. The mix will become a little more dense, but its character will be kept intact.

  • Attack and Release

There are two important parameters we have ignored so far: the attack and release. The attack parameter allows you to specify how quickly the compressor sets in once the volume level goes past the threshold. A compressor with a long attack (20 milliseconds or more) will let short peaks pass. As long as these peaks are not over-the-top, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The presence of short peaks, also called transients, is important for a song’s liveliness and natural sound. A long attack makes sure that these qualities are preserved and that the workings of the compressor are less noticeable.

A short attack (5 milliseconds or less) can produce a beautifully crisp sound that is suitable for energetic music. But it is important to note that if the attack is too short, the compressor will kill the transients and the whole mix will sound flat and bland. Even worse, a short attack can lead to clicks and a nervous “pumping effect”. Be sure to watch out for those as you shorten the attack.

The release is the time for the compressor to become inactive once the volume level goes below the threshold. It is usually much longer than the attack, but the overall principles are similar. A long release (600 milliseconds or more) will make sure that the compression happens in a more subtle fashion, while a short release (150 milliseconds or less) can produce a pumping sound.

It is always a good idea to choose the release so that it fits the rhythm of your song (the same of course is true for temporal parameters in reverb and delay). One way to do this is to calculate the time per beat TPB in milliseconds from your song’s tempo as measured in beats per minute BPM and use this value as the point of reference.

TPB [ms] = 60000 / BPM

For example, in a song with the tempo BPM = 120 the duration of one beat is TPB = 60000 / 120 = 500 ms. If you need a longer release, use a multiple of it (1000 ms, 1500 ms, and so on), for a shorter release divide it by any natural number (500 ms / 2 = 250 ms, 500 ms / 3 = 167 ms, and so on). This way the compressor will “breathe” in unison with your music.

If you are not sure where to start regarding attack and release, just make use of the 20/200-rule: Set the attack to 20 ms, the release to 200 ms and work towards the ideal values from there. Alternatively, you can always go through the presets of the compressor to find suitable settings.

 

You can learn about advanced compression techniques as well as other effects from Audio Effects, Mixing and Mastering, available for Kindle for $ 3.95.

Mathematics of Blog Traffic: Model and Tips for High Traffic

Over the last few days I finally did what I long had planned and worked out a mathematical model for blog traffic. Here are the results. First we’ll take a look at the most general form and then use it to derive a practical, easily applicable formula.

We need some quantities as inputs. The time (in days), starting from the first blog entry, is denoted by t. We number the blog posts with the variable k. So k = 1 refers to the first post published, k = 2 to the second, etc … We’ll refer to the day on which entry k is published by t(k).

The initial number of visits entry k draws from the feed is symbolized by i(k), the average number of views per day entry k draws from search engines by s(k). Assuming that the number of feed views declines exponentially for each article with a factor b (my observations put the value for this at around 0.4 – 0.6), this is the number of views V the blog receives on day t:

V(t) = Σ[k] ( s(k) + i(k) · bt – t(k))

Σ[k] means that we sum over all k. This is the most general form. For it to be of any practical use, we need to make simplifying assumptions. We assume that the entries are published at a constant frequency f (entries per day) and that each article has the same popularity, that is:

i(k) = i = const.
s(k) = s = const.

After a long calculation you can arrive at this formula. It provides the expected number of daily views given that the above assumptions hold true and that the blog consists of n entries in total:

V = s · n + i / ( 1 – b1/f )

Note that according to this formula, blog traffic increases linearly with the number of entries published. Let’s apply the formula. Assume we publish articles at a frequency f = 1 per day and they draw i = 5 views on the first day from the feed and s = 0.1 views per day from search engines. With b = 0.5, this leads to:

V = 0.1 · n + 10

So once we gathered n = 20 entries with this setup, we can expect V = 12 views per day, at n = 40 entries this grows to V = 14 views per day, etc … The theoretical growth of this blog with number of entries is shown below:

viewsentries

How does the frequency at which entries are being published affect the number of views? You can see this dependency in the graph below (I set n = 40):

viewsfrequency

The formula is very clear about what to do for higher traffic: get more attention in the feed (good titles, good tagging and a large number of followers all lead to high i and possibly reduced b), optimize the entries for search engines (high s), publish at high frequency (obviously high f) and do this for a long time (high n).

We’ll draw two more conclusions. As you can see the formula neatly separates the search engine traffic (left term) and feed traffic (right term). And while the feed traffic reaches a constant level after a while of constant publishing, it is the search engine traffic that keeps on growing. At a critical number of entries N, the search engine traffic will overtake the feed traffic:

N = i / ( s · ( 1 – b1/f ) )

In the above blog setup, this happens at N = 100 entries. At this point both the search engines as well as the feed will provide 10 views per day.

Here’s one more conclusion: the daily increase in the average number of views is just the product of the daily search engine views per entry s and the publishing frequency f:

V / t = s · f

Thus, our example blog will experience an increase of 0.1 · 1 = 0.1 views per day or 1 additional view per 10 days. If we publish entries at twice the frequency, the blog would grow with 0.1 · 2 = 0.2 views per day or 1 additional view every 5 days.

The 7 Laws of Customer Service

If you want to provide solid and helpful customer service, you should stick to a number of basic rules that make you stand out from the crowd. Here are 7 rules that can help in doing so:

1. Roll Out The Red Carpet For Everyone. If there’s one thing people hate about poor service, it’s getting treated differently from others. It makes them feel inferior and second-class. Gary Richter says you should roll out the red carpet for everyone, but particularly those who don’t expect it. “I tell my employees, if we roll out the red carpet for a billionaire, they won’t even notice. If we roll it out for millionaires, they expect it. If we roll it out for thousandaires, they appreciate it. And, if we roll out the red carpet for hundredaires, they’ll tell everyone they know.”

2. Take Time To Know Your Customers. The fast pace of modern living together with advances in technology have together put a non-human face on much of our customer service. If you can find a way to re-connect with your customers one-on-one, you’ll strike a chord with your customers that will be like a streak of gold. Kathy Burns remembers a time when people took time to care and listen. “Some of you may remember, and others may have heard stories about, a time in life when the doctor would come to your home to check on you if you were ill. Or maybe you’ve heard about going down to your local pharmacy and having the owner greet you by name and ask how you’re doing. Not only did they ask, but they really wanted to know the answer and they took the time to listen to what you had to say. That’s customer service – taking the time to know your customers, really caring about how they feel, and wanting to go the extra mile to make sure they’re happy.”

3. Be Easy To Do Business With. One of the problems with modern businesses is that the systems we use to save time and money are often devised for the company’s benefit and not the customers. As a result, the customer experience is frustrating and difficult. Tracey Lowrance says this needs to be reversed. “Customers expect single source service. Customers don’t want to be transferred to every unit of your business to have their problems solved. They want to be able to do business with you with the slightest amount of discomfort. You must be easy to do business with.”

4. Go Out Of Your Way To Make Sure They’re Happy. One of the most important things your customers want from you is a guarantee that your product or service will work. So move heaven and earth to make sure it does. Bob Leduc suggests you shouldn’t make people pay until they are fully happy. “Instead of offering a money back guarantee, a service business can provide a guarantee to solve the customer’s problem. For example, a plumber can guarantee to come back without charge as often as necessary to stop the leak. A landscaper can replace without charge any plants that don’t survive for at least 6 months. A sales consultant can continue working without charge until the promised sales results are achieved.”

5. Notice What Customers See. A big part of what customers think about you comes from what they see and believe. Personal Selling Power noticed the following difference in two candy stores. “Although two competing candy stores had the same prices, neighbourhood kids preferred one store to the other. When asked why, they said, “Because the person in the good store always gives us more candy. The girl in the other store takes candy away.” True? Not really. In the good store the owner would always make sure to put a small amount of candy on the scale and then keep adding to it. In the bad store, the owner would pile a heaping amount of candy on the scale, and then take it off until it hit the right weight. The same amount of candy was sold, but perception is everything.”

6. Work On Everything The Customer Experiences. The customer experience isn’t just receiving the service or buying the goods. It’s about all the other little bits and pieces in-between. Such as the manner of the receptionist, the state of the floors and tables, the attitude of other staff, the ease of parking, the tone of the notices, the smile or lack of it on the face of the checkout team. Be like the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas who have a slogan that says: “We spend 600 hours a week pampering the plants. Imagine what we’ll do for our guests.”

7. Believe In Customer Service. To become a great service organization, you have to believe in customer service from the bottom of your soul. It has to be part of the way you work. Anita Roddick, founder of retail cosmetic franchise group Body Shop puts it like this: “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated people decently, worked hard, spent honestly, saved honestly, gave honest value for money, put back more than they took out and told no lies. This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

If you’re interested in learning more about customer service, be sure to check out the Service Recovery Paradox.

Setting the order for your wordpress blog posts

Usually your blog entries are ordered according to the date on which they were published. You can however also order them according to your wishes by altering the time tag. It’s a good idea to bump posts which have proven to be popular among readers to the top of the page from time to time. Note that the posts will not appear as newly published in the feed, but they will be the first thing a reader sees when he or she clicks on your blog’s title.

Here’s how to bump a post to the top of the page:

1. Go to the most current blog entry and click on edit. Under the section “Publish” (at the top, on the right) you will find the time tag. Note this time.

2. Go to the post to be bumped and click on edit. Again look for the time tag under the section publish and edit it. For it to appear at the top, the time tag must show a later time than the current number one.

I sometimes put this post (Mach Cone) at the top of the page because readers seem to enjoy the picture in it (and because I love it as well, it is physics and math come to life and in action).

While we’re at it, check out my sidebar for the “Posts I like” widget. Add it to your blog as well if you like to help out bloggers who have created great content.

Keywords: How To Use Them Properly On a Website or Blog

Because keywords help determine the ranking of your website, and therefore how visible your pages are to Internet traffic, it is important to use keywords properly in the creation of your blog or website.

In today’s world of Internet lingo, you may frequently hear the terms “keywords,” “search engine rankings,” and “keyword search results” bandied about. However, not everyone knows what keywords are, and how important they are to the success of a website.

Keywords are essentially words or phrases that summarize the topic of a site. When a Web surfer types a word or phrase into the blank field of a search engine such as MSN or Google, the search engine returns a list of related sites. Each site on this list is determined by the presence of the search terms, or keywords, in the site’s meta tags, image tags, and content.

Keywords and Meta Tags

Meta tags are like a site’s “dog tags.” They identify the site’s title, description, and keywords. Meta tags are invisible to Web surfers, but they are instrumental in a search engine’s recognition of the site’s content.

Title Tags

A title tag gives the title of the Web page. A title should only be around six words long, and the primary keyword – the word or phrase that the site is primarily identified with – should be in this title tag. The closer to the beginning of the title the primary keyword is, the stronger the association with that keyword will be.

Description Tags

A Web page’s description tag provides the search engines with a summary of the content contained on the page. Once again, the primary keywords for this page should be contained in the description, as close to the beginning as possible. Description tags only allow 200 characters of text.

Keyword Tags

The keyword tag lists all of the keywords that can be associated with the Web page. The primary keyword used in the title and description tags should be first, followed by other keywords in order of importance and relevance. Although keywords can be separated by commas, they don’t have to be; however, keywords should not be repeated more than three times, lest the Web page be rejected by the search engines as spam. Between 800 and 1,000 characters are allowed for keyword text.

Keywords and Image Tags

Image tags are the text that shows up in place of an image, if the image fails to load for any reason. However, image tags serve a more important function: they allow the search engines to “read” your images. Without image tags, search engines have no way of interpreting your images. Therefore, image tags can also help boost the visibility and relevancy of your site to search engines.

Keywords and Web Page Content

The tags that you use on a Web page are important identifiers for search engines. However, in order to maintain a respectable search engine ranking, your Web page must establish relevancy. In other words, the keywords in your tags must pertain to the actual content on the page. Therefore, the same keywords you list in your tags must be used within the text your page displays.

The most important part of the content is the opening paragraph. The primary keyword – the keyword that was used in the title and description, and listed first in the keyword text – should be used several times in the first paragraph, and then occasionally throughout the rest of the page. Other, less important keywords can be used occasionally throughout the content, as well. This will indicate to the search engines that your page really is relevant to the keywords listed in your tags.

Another way to judge keywords is via a concept called “keyword density.” Keyword density shows the frequency at which a keyword is used. The density is calculated by taking the total number of words and dividing it into the number of times keywords appear in the text. The resulting number is multiplied by 100 to create a percentage. Keyword density can be a tricky business, however. Too low a density will fail to be noticed by the search engines, whereas too high a density can cause a Web page to be rejected as spam. Typically, a keyword density of around 5% is sufficient.

The Importance of Keywords

Keywords are a vital part of the creation of Web pages because they directly affect how visible the page will be to search engine traffic. The presence of keywords needs to be a consideration in every aspect of designing a Web page: designing the tags as well as writing the content. Because of the impact keywords can have on the success of your site, it’s important to know how to use them properly.

Find out more on how to optimize your blog here: Increase Views per Visit by Linking Within your Blog.

Tips for writing orchestral pieces – Part IV: Other

  • Soli

If you’re writing a piece for piano, it is common to include a somewhat virtous solo passage. For example, use the main theme and expand on that. Such soli are also possible for any other instrument capable of playing more than one note at a time: harp, guitar, strings (to some extend).

  • Convergence and Divergence

If the high notes go higher and the low notes go lower (bandwidth increases), it is called divergence. In this case make sure to fill the arising spaces between bass and melody with more texture. Convergence is the opposite situation: the high notes go lower and the low notes go higher (bandwidth decreases). In this case texture has to be eliminated between bass and melody as the distance between them shrinks. Use divergence and convergence when appropriate.

  • Short dissonance

The shorter the duration of a note, the more dissonant it can be without producing an insatisfactory sound. Such short dissonances can make a piece much more vivid. Do not hesitate to use them.

  • Performance techniques

Many instruments offer performance techniques like staccato, legato and pizzicato. Again, using those will make a piece more vivid. A slow, romantic string passage should be played legato, while in fast passages it is a good idea to use staccato notes.

  • Panning

Panning the instruments in your mix will make the sound more three dimensional. One idea is to pan the instruments according to where they are located in an orchestra from the perspective of a listener:

Image

far left → first violins, piano
left → second violins, french horns
somewhat left → flutes, timpani
slightly left → clarinets
center → trumpets, trombones
slightly right → basoons
somewhat right →  oboes
right → violas, tuba
far right → cellos, doublebasses

Tips for writing orchestral pieces – Part III: Texture

  • Chords

One note usually won’t do as a texture. Your texture should consist of several different notes, namely the chord notes and related notes. Unlike in the bass, full chords are permitted and desired.

  • Instruments

Violins, Violas and Cellos go nicely together when making a texture since they all have a similar timbre. As for woodwinds, make sure to use more of one kind rather than combining all. That is, instead of a combination of one clarinet, oboe and flute, rather use three clarinets or two clarinets and one other woodwind. It will give a much nicer blend. Mixing strings and woodwinds is possible and usually sounds well. French Horns are also very much capable of producing a nice texture.

  • Dynamics

As mentioned, the focus should be on the melody. Still, there should be some dynamics in the texture. It is not just “laying out” the chords. Couple the progression and transitions in the texture with the bass line and the melody. And make sure such transitions are audible, for example by doubling with another instrument or increasing volume of the texture for the time the transitions takes place.

Tips for writing orchestral pieces – Part II: Melody

  • Audibility

If there is a melody, it should stand out. You can either do that by using one instrument in forte or louder, or combine several instruments to play the melody. For example, practically any combination of strings and woodwind will do.

  • Repetition

Most pieces have at least one theme, which gets repeated every now and then. It allows the listener to get familiar with your piece quickly. Be sure to include some variations though with every repetition, unlike in pop music, you should not do exact repetitions in orchestral pieces. Vary the melody, vary the texture, vary the tempo, … it’s a must.

  • Idle-Time

Having one melody after the other or repeating the same theme over and over can sound confusing and/or boring. Allow some “idle-time” between the themes.

Tips for writing orchestral pieces – Part I: Bass

  • Instruments

The orchestra has several instruments which can used to form the bass:

Cello: This should be your standard bass instrument.

Double Bass: This instrument supports the cello. It usually plays the same note as the cello but one octave lower. I would recommend to stick to this principle at most times. Other than the cello, it can not play fast passages well. Keep that in mind.

Basoon: This is the standard bass instrument for the woodwinds. It goes very well unisono with the cello.

French Horn: The French Horn has a wide range and can also be used to form the bass. As for timbre, it can be seen as a bridge between the woodwinds and brass.

Tuba: This is the standard bass instrument for the brass.

Trombone: If a powerful and/or threatening bass is desired, this instrument will do the trick.

  • Balance

As you can see, there are a lot of possible instruments for forming the bass in an orchestral piece. But be sure not too use too many bass instruments at the same time, as it can sound very dull and boomy quickly (especially if you add reverb to it). Find a balance between the high and low notes. The more high notes there are, the more bass you can use.

  • Chords

Chords and close harmonies in the bass are a “no go”. Playing a full chord with cellos ore any other combination of bass instruments can sound dull and boomy quickly (especially with reverb). Use single notes to form the bass, that is, the bass instruments in unisono, plus/minus a full octave.

  • Bass line

Having the bass always play the keynote of a chord is possible. It often sounds better though, if you construct a series of neighboring notes for your bass as the chords change. For example, if you go through the chords Am – Em – Dm – Am in that order, the bass A – E – D – A will always work. But here you could also use the neighboring notes A – G – F – E as all of these notes are in the corresponding chords. You can create nice effects with such ascending or descending bass lines.