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re: Arranging your own music for use in LotRO


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Joined: 10 Mar 2011
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re: Arranging your own music for use in LotRO.


I will try to go over the basics for writing and arranging your own tunes for LotRO.  When in /music mode, the game engine accepts a code called .abc which is a rudimentary form of musical writing that is text-based.

There's a range of ways to make music for LotRO:
1. Use someone else's .abc arrangement.
2. find someone's midi, arrange it, then convert it to an .abc file.
3. find someone's midi, alter or add to it, arrange it, then convert it to an .abc file.
4. write your own midi version of someone's song, arrange it, then convert it to an .abc file.
5. compose your own song, write it into a midi, arrange it then convert it to an .abc file.

When in a band I like to avoid number one, as it's not good ethics as a musician to pass off the works of others as one's own.  However there are loads of .abc sharing sites out there - it's perfectly okay to play others' tunes for your own enjoyment.  The fact that they were posted is usually proof of the author's consent.  In this thread I'll cover number two, because luckily for you all, this has become drastically easier since the advent of the programme Maestro.  Maestro was designed for Lord of the Rings Online musicians in particular!

A bit of explanation to start with:
'Arranging' is organizing music so that it fits the format you want and sounds the way you like it.  In our case our format is a range of 11 synth voices, the motly collection of LotRO instruments.  When arranging music these basic factors become important:
>how many parts you want
>which musical instrument to cast these parts into
>whether there are notes that are too high or too low
>if the balance of volume is working
>overall sound

I use Anvil Studio midi creator and editor, Maestro abc converter, its sister, ABC Player, and also Easy ABC editor.  You might only need Maestro/ABC Player.  All of them are free, so here are the links:

Anvil Studio Download - midi creator and editor
Maestro and ABC Player Download - abc converter, and abc jukebox
Easy ABC Download - abc editor

The first step is picking out a midi you like, from the internet.  Be sure to listen to it - some midi's are Karaoke versions that don't have melody lines (left blank so you can sing them yourself), and some midi's are Ringtone versions, and cut off half-way through.

I also find it usefull to call up a proper version of the song in question (on Youtube, etc.), so I can get a sense of its actual instrumentation.

I've picked out a version of Take On Me, by the Norwegian band, A-Ha, which, having listened to it, seems adequate for our example, even if damnably cheesy.

The second step is to open up your midi on Maestro and have a look at it, and its various parts.  Here's Take on Me:


Let's assess it: it has thirteen tracks.  Most likely we will not be having a 13-avatar-strong orchestra to play this song, so parts will either have to be combined or left out completely.

I push play, to listen and watch as the white dots of the notes light up, I can see that the three most active parts are drums (#13), Track 6 (Slap Bass), and Track 1 (Caliope), the melody line.  These are three lines we will not be able to leave out, since they carry the song.  Also, combining them with anything else will be tricky, since they are active at all times.

Track 2 (Atmosphere), Tracks 3 and 4 (Warm Pad), and Track 5 (Solo Synth Box) seem to be sustained chords mostly, and in the original were played by various synth keyboard parts.  Tracks 3 and 4 seem almost identical: two parts of a whole.  These could be all be combined somehow, or possibly thrown out.

The last five tracks (#7-#11) seem to all be tiny details that show up in the song at fun moments.  They are snippets that do very well when combined to the right track.  They also might not be missed, if left out.

The third step is to start assigning LotRO instruments to parts. 

1. We'll start by designating the melody line as clarinet: here's the dropdown menu for doing that for the '11. Lute*' track selected:


2. Then we'll make a new track for the bass line.  They always start out as Lute:


3. I've designated this new track as Theorbo (like 1.) and I've checked the box by track 6 - you'll see how it's highlighted in yellow now:


4. Then I make a third track for drums.  You'll see how drums is different: it opens out to give me note-to-note designation for each drumbeat and bonk.  Each drum sound can changed to a different one with its own dropdown menu. **it even has a drum map link on each drum part**


5. Now for the tricky part.  What to do with the other 9 tracks?  This is where I do a lot of careful listening, and play around with what works.  I do this in ABC Preview mode, which plays the midi with the LotRO instruments.  (You'll notice the button for this at the very bottom of the last image, directly below the drum menus.) 

At this point I've decided I'm going to try for a five part piece.  Keep in mind, it's a whole lot harder to make quality abc's for a smaller amount of parts.  This is what I ended up with:

1. Drums: I changed one of the sounds.
2. Lute: I've given Track 2 and added Track 8, a detail from the bridge.  It carries the counter-melody, so it needs to be strong.  I did toy with making this bagpipe or pibgorn.
3. Harp: Track 3 and 4 are both ticked for this one, and to them I've added Track 5 and Track 9.  I also doubled up track 8 on here, for fun.
4. Theorbo: Track 6, and surprisingly I've added track 10 (the band singing back-up, in the original).
5. Clarinet: Track 1 alone.
>I left out track 7 completely.
I also went into the midi with Anvil Studios and erased some bits I thought didn't belong, but I won't get into that here! 

The fourth step is the details.  You need to pay attention to these things because they can be vital.  Here are some big ones to look out for.

1. Tempo. The LotRO music engine doesn't like numbers in the box that can't be divisible by 4, silly program.  Shift yours to the nearest denominator, or your abc will sound like it's skipping a beat.  The box on Maestro is in the cluster closest to the bottom Left corner.
2. Octave of the lines.  The menus for these are on each track line, and look like numbers (0, 12, 24, -12, etc.).  You can move the number up and down until there are minimal red showing on your sound wave picture, or until that part sounds like it's playing high or low enough for your liking.  It won't shift that line anything other than octaves up and down, and so it'll always stay in-key.
3. Volume of each instrument.  The sliders for this can be found just underneath the octave menus.  Bagpipes and Pibgorn and sometimes Flute usually need to be dulled down, and harp brightened some times, but again this is a matter of taste.
4. Name and Credit.  At the top Left you can find the name of the piece, it's composer, and a name for the arranger, in that order.  These put information into the abc file that some readers pick up.  Make them proper and do your song proud.
5. Name of Part.  At the top Right there's a line that tells you which part you're playing.  This is what shows up in your chat box when you cue the part.  If there are two parts for the same instrument, it helps tremendously to have this name changed to show that (Harp 1, Harp 2, etc.), but it's not necessary.
6. Parts Settings. This tells you which parts are which number in the multipart.  I've preset mine to specifications of a particular band.  Totally optional.
7. Transpose entire piece. (Bottom Left Corner above Tempo.) I had trouble with the melody line of Take On Me: it spans all three octaves of my clarinet, turning red at the top or at the bottom no matter how much I slide it up and down by octave.  I'll have to nudge the entire song to include the whole melody.  Usually I don't have to resort to this - and you shouldn't either.

The Fifth Step is to push the big button at the bottom and export to ABC!  You can now play your abc in the ABC player, but experience shows that it will usually sound different (and better!) in the game environment.  Nothing beats testing songs with the band!

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