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Andrew Price: Copyright-free Music

Interview | Artist By Paul White
Published January 1995

Classical violin player Andrew Price is making his fortune with music that he deliberately didn't copyright. Here he explains to Paul White how he managed it, and offers some tips on blending MIDI‑generated music with real orchestral players.

Andrew Price is a classical violin player, but became interested in recording during the mid '80s, when affordable multitrack equipment made home recording a possibility. In 1988, with one album of library music and a handful of jingles under his belt, he left his job as First Violin with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, and headed north.

"I was still doing work for existing clients, one of whom was a solicitor, Roy Hewetson, who produced his own tapes on conveyancing as a guide to the pitfalls of house purchase. He would write the scripts and voice them, and I would record his voice, compose appropriate music, produce a master and provide duplicate cassettes. One evening, the conversation turned to library music. I outlined the direction I felt the industry was going in, and the type of releases I thought would sell well, and he just said, 'Fine, let's do it!'. Thus the HAPS Music Library was born...

"Over the next few years, our output comprised 10 CD albums of library music. All our albums except the first (made up of 81 29‑second jingles) used real instruments throughout, and were recorded in some of the best studios in the North. A couple of those titles have done amazingly well. Several radio stations still use our second album, Impossible Quest, for their news or current events themes. Our third album, At The Top, which had a very American, 'life in the fast lane' feel, has also been a very good seller in television and radio. I particularly enjoyed the last four albums we made, all based on the seasons of the year, as they were arranged for string quartet, and enabled me to be both the writer and the First Violinist."

Fiddler On The Side

Although heavily involved with the HAPS library music, Andrew began work on other projects. Only six months into the HAPS project and the first CD album, he was drawn back into orchestral playing once again. "The Manchester‑based BBC Philharmonic were advertising for a rank and file First Violin, and I was lucky enough to be offered the job — six years on, I'm still there! The Orchestra also provided an accessible pool of talent for the instrumental requirements of the HAPS recordings.

"During this time, too, my own string quartet, the Ariosi, had some success. We'd done a number of soundtracks for BBC documentaries, one of which won the Golden Rose of Montreux, and in the same year, a recording we'd played on for Sam Brown, entitled 'Stop', shot to number five in the charts, and we found ourselves miming on Top of the Pops! The quartet was deemed to be an important feature of the single, so we were invited to be in vision with Sam and her singers."

Due to the terms of his contract with the HAPS library label, Andrew was barred from undertaking any composition of his own at the time, aside from the work for the HAPS library. However, he was not prevented from working as an arranger, and so found new and fruitful employment arranging well‑known music for TV advertising. One such project was an ad for a milkshake called 'Daisy Shake', as he explained: "The visual side was animation — different coloured cows jogging up and down on a plank of wood, making milkshake. The agency had linked the 'shaking' up and down with Jerry Lee Lewis's song 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On'. The producer asked me if I could do an arrangement to fit the style and brief requirements. I confidently said yes on all counts, put the phone down, and then rushed out to buy a cheap CD with 'Whole Lotta Shakin' on it. After careful listening to the original, I was able to construct a sound‑alike track. Having the original also helped me a lot when matching up the instruments used — and this added to the authentic sound of the finished product. My advice for anyone considering taking on a project that lies at the limits of your arranging abilities is to stretch yourself and have a go. Advertising is such a 'no prisoners' world that they'll probably inform you with all the grace of a ton of bricks if they don't like what you're doing.

"Another ad campaign that I really enjoyed being involved in around then was for Evening Primrose beauty products. Again, the ad men had decided to utilise the powerful undertones of a hit record to link with the merchandise. The record was 'Put You Together Again'. Presumably, after a day at the office that's torn you apart, a long lingering soak in Evening Primrose helps put you together again! It was right up my street, as the producer wanted to use just strings and piano, but still have a 'big‑sounding' arrangement. So, to get that effect, I wrote for the register on each instrument that has a richness and warmth of tone, and introduced movement into each part, including musical dialogue between instruments."

Changing Direction

The next few years saw the completion of the HAPS library schedule and a number of other important projects. Andrew was asked to write a Christmas Medley for the BBC Philharmonic's last concert of the Year, conducted by Carl Davies. He was also commissioned to adapt one of his existing pieces for the Royal opening of Manchester Airport's Terminal 2.

"I felt as if I'd reached a significant point in my composing and arranging at that time. My first album from 1986 had been taken over by the Carlin library label and re‑mastered on CD, so there were 11 CDs of my music on the market! I was fairly well established as an arranger — I did regular work for the Pickwick label, for people like Paul Jones (ex‑Manfred Mann), Bonnie Langford, and Fiona Hendley — so I felt it was time to push the boat out and start my own label. That's when I formed AP Music.

"It would have been fairly simple to produce another 'library' album, but I had another idea at the back of my mind. A lot of people who were using their camcorders to record weddings, holidays, and other social events kept telling me that they didn't have access to professional quality music, and after talking to some potential buyers, I had a good idea of the type and style of album that might come in useful — when your PRS statements show commercial use of the same tracks year after year, it isn't difficult to incorporate the same formulae into new compositions.

"I began writing the album, as always, by going back to the old‑fashioned method of pen and manuscript, without a keyboard in sight. I wanted to cover not just the obvious topics for a camcorder user, but material for more advanced filmmakers too. I eventually settled on some broad categories: Weddings, Holidays, Children, Comedy, Mystery, and so on. Once I had finished arranging and orchestrating, I began programming the information for tracks and parts on the Atari. I wasn't in a hurry to complete this project, so I was able to take my time and keep the quality high at every stage. Eventually, I went into Alfasound studios to complete the project. We added real instruments on ADAT, and decided to master onto quarter‑inch tape using Dolby SR, with a little compression courtesy of a Valley International 610. After we'd done the necessary cutting and splicing, the recording was transferred to DAT.

"I was really pleased with the quality of the finished master, which was due to the expertise of the engineer, Richard Scott. Although they now have a SADiE digital editing system at Alfasound, recording on analogue tape with Dolby SR has a lot going for it in terms of sound quality, provided you take the time to line everything up correctly. However, having seen the SADiE in action, I do admit that the versatility of the system has real advantages when you're compiling tracks."

Copyright Free

Andrew went on to explain that having completed the record, he decided to market it in a rather unusual way: "I decided I would make the album 'copyright free buyout music'. This sounds complicated, but it just makes the album more attractive to potential users, as there are no problems if they decide to show films which include my music to paying audiences, or whatever! The idea is to sell the mechanical copyright in the asking price, although a writer does have entitlement to PRS fees in the normal way if recognised broadcast networks use the material. This practice is standard in America, where 'needledrop' and 'buyout', as they are known, exist side by side. The price usually ends up being higher than that of an ordinary CD, because as writer of the works, you are electing to sell the mechanical clearance of the compositions in the purchase fee.

"After careful consideration, I decided not to press the CD in this country, but instead to have it done abroad, through a company called Melody. The financial considerations were so worthwhile that once I was satisfied that the quality was OK, it was a very easy decision to make. Pressing plants in England were a little bit negative about pressing 75 minutes of total programme length. Although the plates for the on‑body printing had to be generated again (as the originals were lost somewhere along the line), I think the finished CD is perfect aurally and visually."

Pressures of his day job led Andrew to let someone else handle the distribution of his finished CD: "I decided to put the distribution in the hands of Alfasound, although I did put as much time into talking to people and generating new sales as I could. The CD is available from any branch of Tecno cameras, and through mail order. It should be available shortly on satellite shopping, and we are already exporting to Japan.

"Although the album has taken a lot of my time and a fair injection of capital, it's a very satisfying experience to see an idea through all its stages until you have a commercial product that's in demand. Certainly, it's very gratifying to receive letters from those users who say that the album is 'the best copyright free music available on CD'. It is selling amazingly well — so another CD will be following on pretty swiftly!"

Man And MIDI In Perfect Harmony

I asked Andrew to explain in more detail what equipment he'd been using at the various stages of his career: "When I left London, I sold my Fostex A8 and Ram RM10 desk, because I felt ready for a change. A lot of composers seemed to be using 'workstation' keyboards, and I felt that these were well‑suited to the creation of jingles like the short 29‑second ones on the first HAPS album, so I bought a Roland D20. Once a project was completed and stored safely on 3.5‑inch discs, I used to take the keyboard into a fully professional studio to complete the project. The main problem with the D20 was its stereo output. I used to get round this in the studio by 'firing in' individual tracks to multitrack from the sequencer, which was synchronised to tape. This was surprisingly easy and accurate, but there was the problem that individual drum sounds couldn't be separated.

"It occurred to me that if I bought a drum machine with individual outputs, at least I could 'fire' sounds to different tracks. I liked the sounds in the Roland R5 machine, and four outputs were fine for my working setup — so I bought one. I worked with this arrangement for a while, and completed a number of projects, but I never found Roland gear particularly user friendly. Eventually, I sold the workstation and drum machine to buy an Atari/Notator set‑up.

"The Proteus modules and Alesis D4 drums that I use now are so easy and logical to operate that I've never looked back since buying them! By the time we were recording the HAPS orchestral albums, I was producing printed parts direct from Notator for my players, and this had a number of advantages, not least that I could hear and correct anything that didn't seem to work before the musos even saw the title page. The clear, clean printing was also a bonus, and helped avoid mistakes.

"My work seems to fall into two main categories; sequencing actual music tracks on the one hand, and producing scores and parts for musicians to play on the other, both of which rely on the computer. Although I can foresee an Apple Mac purchase sometime in the future, I'll probably stay committed to my Atari/Notator SL package until it dies on me, as I can find my way around it pretty well."

Although he has been fortunate enough in recent years to afford the luxury of self‑constructed MIDI tracks combined with the talents of real players, Andrew recognises that budgets often do not stretch to a decent complement of human players. In cases like this, he is full of ideas. "One way of working that provides a good compromise is to combine a good string patch with even just one real player. This is a very effective way of creating the illusion of a full section of players, even though there is no single synth patch that can incorporate all the elements that a human violinist will utilise in playing. For example, the use and speed of vibrato, speed and pressure of bow, playing nearer to the bridge for more 'edge' to the sound, or near the fingerboard for a softer, more veiled sound (often referred to as 'sul tasto') — all these techniques provide a huge variety in timbre and envelope, which current synths can't emulate.

"The first step is to choose your string patch carefully. Some manufacturers would have you believe that all string players start playing a second after the downbeat, if their factory presets are anything to go by. This is not the case in the wide variety of sessions that I've done! I use a Proteus 1 with orchestral upgrade, and find four patches particularly useful: 001, 'Hall Strings'; 033, 'String Orch'; 069, 'Smooth String'; and 203, 'Legato Strings'. I'd recommend you steer clear of solo patches, and stick with ensemble configurations, as most solo patches are so obviously fake.

"When writing, you need to construct individual parts; first and second violins, viola and cello lines, depending on the track itself, and how far down the line you want to go. Violins alone can work fine, as long as the sequenced line is identical to the part you give to your human player. If you have enough tracks spare, try recording at least three tracks of violin to help create an ensemble effect. Fairly close miking of any 'real' players will pick up shifting and surface noise that helps to create the illusion of a full section when combined with your synth patch. One of my trade secrets is to get the violinist to put his mute on for one of the takes — this seems to smooth out the combination of violin and synth/sampler in the mix.

"The final step to authenticity is to look at the layout of an orchestra at a real concert; the first and second violins are positioned on the left, so your 'real' tracks should be panned between quarter to and five to the hour. If your budget stretches to a cellist, then they should be dealt with in the same way. Try recording the cello line twice, and, as with the violins, ask your player to use their mute for one of the takes. Position the cello tracks at around quarter past the hour, then slowly raise the 'real' instrument faders until the desired level is achieved. Raise the muted tracks last, and savour the effect!"

"I decided I would make the album 'copyright free buyout music'. This sounds complicated, but it just makes the album more attractive to potential users."

Andrew Price: Credits

Lisa Stansfield: 'Live Together'
Sam Brown: 'Stop'

Shirley Bassey
Howard Keele

Sam Brown
Bonnie Langford
Vince Hill
Val Doonican
Paul Jones
Dave Willetts
Fiona Hendley
Rose Marie
Mary O'Hara

DIY Orchestra

"I have some techniques for recording myself up to 14 times and achieving a very big 'section'‑type sound. The golden rule is to look at the workings of a real symphony orchestra. The lush, rich sound of an orchestral string section comes from the fact that although they're all playing at the same time, they're doing it in slightly different ways. Some players play notes in higher left‑hand positions, which gives a more 'mellow' sound, while other players give slightly more edge and projection to their sound by playing in lower positions. Vibrato techniques will vary enormously, and bow speeds and attacks will alter slightly between players, as will intonation. All these elements combine to create the 'big orchestral sound'. If you want to attempt to approach this with just one player, then every take should encompass one or more of the variations mentioned. This is actually very hard to do, as the player has to fight the temptation to go on 'automatic pilot'. But the results are worth the effort!

"Going to a real concert can also provide aspiring arrangers with useful experience for constructing orchestral arrangements, whether real or synth‑based. If you observe how much of the time the strings play in comparison to the wind, brass, and percussion at a concert, you realise that by and large, the foundation for the musical canvas is the string section. A common mistake made by newcomers to string arranging is to simply regard the cello line as an extension of the bass. The cello is a wonderful instrument to write for — let it take over from the first violin now and again, or allow it to converse with a counter melody.

"The engineering side's important too. Different microphones and positions also help make the tracks sound slightly different. I like to record every take in stereo and bounce tracks, adding a new line at the same time to make the maximum use of the available tracks. Effects can also help; orchestral sounds obviously need some added reverb to produce the illusion of playing in a concert hall. In my experience, the choice of reverb is dictated largely by the tempo of the string arrangement. I use a Lexicon LXP1 and Alesis Microverbs (I and II), but you can find similar settings to the ones I use on most reverb units. For slow to mid‑tempo, I use 'Large 2' on the LXP1, or 'Large 6' on the Microverb I. For faster stuff, I use 'Small 2' on the LXP1, or 'Small 4' on the Microverb I. 'Med 2' on the Microverb II is also very good.



  • Atari 1040 STFM running Notator/Unitor


  • Casio VZ1 PD synth


  • Alesis D4 drums
  • Emu Proformance plus piano module
  • Emu Proteus 1 (with orchestral upgrade)
  • Hohner HS2E synth


  • Mackie CR1604


  • Alesis Micro EQ
  • Alesis Microverb I
  • Alesis Microverb II
  • Lexicon LXP1


  • Sony DTC1000ES DAT
  • Teac V680 3‑head cassette deck


  • Tannoy DC200/JBL TLX12


  • Hewlett Packard Deskjet 520

Andrew Price: Discography

Ready MusicLP BLK 112Horror
HAPSCD 00129‑second jingles
HAPSCD 002Impossible quest
HAPSCD 003At the top
HAPSCD 004House of evil
HAPSCD 005Laughing gas/Rainy day
HAPSCD 006Look ahead/Look to the stars
HAPSCD 007Spring
HAPSCD 008Summer
HAPSCD 009Autumn
HAPSCD 010Winter
CarlinCD 168Drama themes
AP MusicCD 001Themes, moods, and atmospheres

Andrew Price: Recent Arranging Credits

    Daisy shake
    Evening Primrose beauty products
    British Gas
    Andrew Lloyd Webber songbook
    Music from 'Oliver'
    'Look Ahead' (for the opening of Manchester Airport's Terminal 2)
    'Reindeer Express' (Christmas medley for BBC Radio 3)

Further Information


APM CD 001 can be purchased direct from Alfasound for £29.99.