Jono Buchanan looks at the UK sample library specialists who are doing things just a little bit differently.
First, some background. Spitfire Audio is a British sample library developer, for whom Albion is its flagship product. It actually contains four separate libraries—firstly Albion itself, to cover full orchestral scoring duties and secondly, the Darwin Percussion Ensemble, which handles bombastic orchestral percussion. Thirdly, there's a set of tempo-locked loops called the Brunel Loops library, which offers a quirky take on orchestral instrument recording. Lastly, Stephenson's Steam Band "punks up" the recordings made in constructing the library into drones, pads and more "electronic" sounds.
This is the first point of note—by combining the approaches of several other libraries in offering individual ensemble and solo instrument samples but also providing a library of score-ready textures, Albion should appeal to a wider user-base. Secondly, the retail price for the library, including all of the above, is just £349, which dramatically undercuts the price of some rival libraries. Uniquely, the sampled orchestra was recorded first to two-inch tape before conversion to the digital domain, so there's a retro warmth and feel to these sounds which counters the pristine libraries against which it competes.
Visually, the branding of Albion is impressive. Quite aside from the component titles which resonate with the names of British pioneers across history, the visual branding, with a gothic, sepia and black-and-white photo collection which recalls a bygone age, is clever. It's a bold move to brand a modern library with photos that look over 100 years old but there's an immediate 'depth' to this look which makes it seem serious, appealing and grounded in history—almost as if it has existed forever.
The next point of note is that I was first alerted to Albion by fellow composers/producers on Twitter, who were sharing their positive experiences with it, despite the library having been available to the public just a couple of days earlier. A little further digging revealed that Albion had been beta-tested on an invitation-only basis, whereby composers interested in using it had been slowly assimilated to help iron out bugs. The genius stroke here, though, is that through doing this, chatter began on social networks that this was a quality library, so Spitfire Audio was able to hit the ground running with its advertising campaign—part of its job was already being done.
Like all of Spitfire Audio's libraries, Albion can only be downloaded direct from its website and while this means that your broadband connection will be tested for some hours as it pipes through, it does make for a fairly immediate delivery service, without the hassle of waiting for an ordered box to arrive before a lengthy install process. As it uses NI's Kontakt Player to generate its sounds, it's also immediately familiar to use with no new GUI to learn or navigate.
While this is a library of samples rather than a music release, I think there are lessons we can all learn from how Albion has been developed, advertised and delivered. Despite the crowded marketplace into which it has been launched, it's clear that this library offers something different. Capitalising on existing social networks to spread the word has been clever too. It offers proof as well that the visual branding of a product can be vitally important—everyone I've shown Albion to has picked up on the way it looks and while that won't matter to you once you own the library and are using it, I'm willing to bet it'll play an unconscious part in your purchase.