It’s a perplexing time to live in America—maybe that’s an understatement.
An existential uncertainty lingers in every conversation. We're all handling it our own way. Personally, climate change has been the lingering fear to be addressed. The way I try to work through fear is to write about it. To express without words, but through music.
This expression came out in the form of a sonic landscape I call Geo. It is a rumination on climate change, written from the perspective of the Earth.
Track 1: Broken Photosynthesis
Nature swells. Pulsing organic sounds crescendo and distort, washing away in silence.
Track 2: Ice Where Your Parents' Love Should Be
It was important to have a tragic motherly voice in the chorus. A melancholy sound that would create a sense of yearning. Actuating a person to develop a 'dominate at all cost’ mentality. I have a habit of playing the armchair-psychologist. And in my humble opinion, the 'growth at all costs' mentality that pure capitalism tends to breed is responsible for a lot of the denial involved in climate change.
Track 3: Below the Surface
Drowning, ambivalence. As grandiose as it sounds, I wanted to capture what it might feel like if the Earth were drowning.
Track 4: Fossils
Old ideas are old fuel sources. This song needed to feel like a discovered artifact.
Track 5: Rise
Most of us assume the environment will remain stable and calm because we're biologically trained to think in short-term, human time scales. What happened yesterday will happen today...
What's for breakfast? Who should I marry? What should I do with my life?
In terms of geological scale, these questions are somewhat superficial. They barely scratch the surface of the forces at work. In order to solve the environmental problems before us, we'll need to develop (as a collective, not just individuals) a wider understanding of time. To daily think in a context other than our own wants and needs.
Track 6: A Sea Change
I remember hearing something interesting about J.R.R. Tolkien when I was younger. It always bothered him that the English language didn't really have an antonym for the word catastrophe. So he invented his own term:
eucatastrophe - a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending.
Some call it a creative cop-out, a lazy fix. But I actually think it illustrates an important optimism that's easy to overlook. Some things do suddenly get better – history is filled with examples. At the end of the day:
And this result becoming true, is probably the most important problem we'll ever solve. It affects every aspect of our culture, beliefs, desires and hopes. We need a eucatastrophe and it has to come from us.
So much great information exists on the business of finding work, the mechanics of songwriting, how to capture proper field recordings, audio middleware, etc. I wanted to contribute to a different aspect of the game audio community. One mentioned far less - usually in footnotes of articles about other things. I want to discuss the psychology of freelancing in game audio.
Below is an analysis of the intrinsic psychological experiences you’ll encounter as a freelancer in game audio. It’s general enough for all freelancers (looking right at you game devs and artists). But it’s specifically for us sound designers, composers, and audio implementers. It contains some tips and encouragement for mentally enduring this challenging lifestyle. It is my hope that you’ll see parallels between my experiences and your own. This may help illuminate certain changes you’d like to make in your own work habits.
For the sake of transparency and to hopefully help give you perspective, I’ll share a bit of personal background info. I’m not a psychologist, at all. I graduated from Ohio State University with my Bachelor's Degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics. I’ve been officially working as a freelancer in the game industry for 2ish+ years - have had some successes, a few nominations and a lot of failures. The majority of my experience comes from the myriad of bands I’ve been in, produced, and recorded over the years. Mental health is a topic I’m intimately familiar with and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.
The mental environment we embody as audio storytellers plays a tremendous role in shaping our habits. It deeply affects us as individuals, which impacts how we interact with others. This alone warrants a deeper understanding of how our brains work. But understanding it helps us avoid the various blackholes we create for ourselves. Knowing a bit about the mind goes a long way toward sustaining a fruitful career in freelance.
First things first, I recommend taking a Myers-Briggs test. This one is free, insightful, and very-much in line with Carl Jung’s original theories and ideas. The man was eerily correct about many things. In a nutshell, the Myers-Briggs test is designed to inform you of your specific psychological preferences. In more meta terms, it is a description of the tendencies with which you construct your own reality. Be honest with yourself when answering the questions, there are no wrong answers.
You’ll be informed of your inclinations in various aspects of life. Romantic relationships, friendships, career, work habits, parenthood, etc. Knowing your tendencies can do wonders for your state of mind. It will in turn have a positive affect on you as a person, which in turn will affect those around you.
Above is a simplified version of the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion. Extrapolating from it, the important take away is this: events do not affect your mood, it is your perception of events that affect your mood. If your perceptions are distorted, your emotional responses will be inaccurate. Negative moods simply reveal that you are thinking something negative AND believing it. This is actually good news because it means if you develop the skills to regulate your perceptions (which you CAN do), you will better manage your emotions.
Developing an awareness of your tendencies will serve you well when encountering road blocks. Difficulty finding work, frustration when your skill level doesn’t match your taste, lack of consistent income, unhelpful feedback, project cancellations, knowledge gaps, etcetera. Recognizing your habitual reactions in these scenarios is a first step toward viewing the world honestly and regulating your emotions accordingly. You'll develop a much-needed resilience to endure this line of work.
Free Your Mind
When you know how to listen, everyone is the guru.
- Ram Dass
You can learn from anyone - you can ignore 99% of what they say and still learn something insightful. This is also great to keep in mind when dealing with rejection, or creative criticism. Remembering that your perceptions may be distorted or incomplete makes it a lot easier to hear critical feedback. And since you’ve legally agreed (you signed a contract right?) to work for a project, not solely for yourself, but for a project, you have to remember that it’s not necessarily about you or your vision, it’s about the project itself. You are simply part of something bigger.
For the first 12ish years of writing my own songs, I look back and cringe at how over-protective I was of every single note. I had a hard time actually hearing feedback from people, even those I trusted with constructive things to say. Because I was so emotionally involved in that music, everything felt personal and it was heart-breaking to hear the tiniest little suggestion. It held me back and certainly convinced others that I was too sensitive and difficult to work with. One of the ways I improved on this was simple: I wrote more music. The more you create, the less precious you feel toward your work and the more receptive you’ll be toward valuable feedback.
Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.
- Stephen King
I have since completely adopted every aspect of this great piece of advice in my work habits. Typically, I begin writing music mostly from a place of inspiration. I work on it, mold it, and when it comes time to editing, I seek out every piece of feedback I can from fresh ears. Then I go at whatever I’ve written ruthlessly with a sledgehammer. I usually spend more time erasing notes than adding them. This approach has helped me sidestep many of the personal insecurities that always come up in creative work.
Avoid Superficial Advice
Even with the best intentions, certain advice can be critically damaging when you’re starting out. Plenty of books written by knowledgeable authors offer valuable insight - not all of it is relevant to you or your situation. What worked for them is what they tend to recommend to others. How you interpret the information presented in these sources is paramount, because you will be constructing long-term goals based on this information. You want your thoughts to be as clear and undistorted as possible. Aren’t you glad you’re more familiar with your own tendencies now :)
The habits of 'effective’ people (usually famous ones) is certainly an interesting topic, albeit a superficial one. From time to time I do enjoy reading about the routines of various people. But I caution you not to try and adapt their habits under the illusion that it worked for them, it'll work for me. I love Alexandre Desplat’s music. But if I (hypothetically) read somewhere that his favorite instrument was the saxophone, and that information was presented in a way that suggested if only you liked the saxophone more, maybe you’d be a great composer too, I’d ignore it. It’s just scientifically illiterate click-bait, and the internet is FLOODED with this kind of vague advice. His music and career aren’t great because he prefers particular instruments, there are a million factors why he has the life he does. Some of those factors apply to you, some of them don't. You will have to adapt/ignore information based on what’s right for your needs and goals. Behaviors of ‘effective’ people aren't better or worse than your own, they're just adaptations to different environments.
By the way, you should really establish your needs and goals as soon as possible. You need a beacon, something you can focus on through all the ups and downs you’ll experience. Write the specifics down somewhere, a notebook, Evernote, whatever, just keep it fresh in your mind and available.
However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
- Stanley Kubrick
There will be moments where you may long for more stability. A certain amount of mental risk is involved in freelance game audio, and not just the risk associated with financial stress. Whether we realize it or not, we are giving a large part of our time and soul to a very specialized field that most people do not understand. This can be isolating. Not only does this job necessitate long hours of solitude, but when you interact with others, outside of your niche, finding common ground can be a real source of anxiety.
There will also be times when you’ll simply have to sacrifice your social life because of your work load. I can’t recommend enough that you get comfortable with this fact as soon as possible. A way to help is to answer these questions for yourself: are my aspirations important enough? Will they keep me motivated when this job becomes really demanding?
Dealing with this stress can be challenging. One of the most comforting things I’ve ever read was in a corny but insightful book called Feeling Good. I imagine a lot of us have had this thought at one point in our endeavors: Why am I doing this? Am I losing my mind? Sabotaging yourself repeatedly with these questions is unhealthy, but it does provide you with the best possible evidence that you are not losing your mind: almost no one who "loses their mind" is aware of it as it's happening. It is a near certainty that this thought, and these questions are caused by nothing other than anxiety. Not some defect in your brain or some existential cross you must bear, just simple garden-variety anxiety.
There are practical things you can do to handle stress. I experience tension in my ears after long days of writing and recording. Every unwanted background noise becomes intolerable. I could write a whole book on noise pollution and the negative societal impact but it’s not going away anytime soon - so we need to find ways of coping. One way I manage this ear stress is to meditate. There are plenty of great sources (I use Insight Timer), podcasts, apps that will help you if you’re a noob like me. Most of them are free or inexpensive.
The Social Network
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
- Mark Twain
You’re going to hear toxic things, even from people within your specific niche. It always helps to remember it’s the statements themselves, not the person, that is toxic. Things are said in frustration and they’re not really about you (even if directed at you). People are weird. And that's cool, we all have things that we struggle with. You’re still the one in control of how you react. Responding to negativity with compassion by trying to understand their point of view, will always help you. And it just may help them as well.
Interacting with developers or directors, you’ll encounter scenarios where understanding your habitual thoughts will serve you well. When I meet with a developer for the first time, I have a specific thought that I always try to keep in mind. I don’t know how many composers or sound designers this developer has interacted with, but I want our interaction to be a positive experience for them. I want this creative person to have a favorable memory of working with me, because in some ways, I’m representing the entire audio/music community in their eyes. If I get lazy, or deliver bad work, or act arrogant, that has the potential to negatively affect someone else in the game audio community later on - I don’t want to be responsible for that. It would devalue our craft, which honestly breaks my heart just thinking about it.
Be aware of what you don't know and realize this is perfectly normal. Our western culture tends to stigmatize people for not knowing certain things. It also tends to ignore learning potential. This isn’t necessarily common in game audio (this community is ridiculously supportive) but so many of us have diverse backgrounds where this negativity is more common. No one is born knowing everything. We are taught things, we have experiences and we remember some of them. Discovering new and original paths, by definition, means you will not know how to do them at first. Embrace the unknown.
I encourage you to join a group of peers with similar interests. One of the main differences I’ve noticed between working long hours at my day job and spending time at local audio meetups - everyone at the meetups is there by choice. Choosing to spend your free time discussing audio and musical ideas with others, who are also there by choice, is a very empowering circle to be part of. And if you have the ears to listen, you’ll learn from everyone. Think of it as a support group filled with people who ALSO care about that one scene in that movie with poorly-recorded dialogue that drives you nuts, or all those chair squeaks in the Star Wars soundtrack (which I love btw, fight me if you must).
Opinions aren't truth, and nearly everything you’ve read is a barrage of informed views (mostly mine) aimed at understanding some of the issues we've all probably felt (or have yet to feel) at some point in our heads while working as audio storytellers. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. Take every thing I say with a grain of salt. Now that you're more familiar with your own mental habits, you'll be equipped to handle the negativity that holds you back from sharing your amazing work with us : )
If this information was helpful to you, please let me know. I’d love to cover more topics like isolation, cynicism, noise pollution, creative roadblocks, etc.. and will do so if this sparks any genuine interest.
TL;DR People are weird.
p.s. Thank you to everyone that proofread this for me. You know who you are!
With every note, with every sound element, with every chord movement, I always ask one question: how does this make me feel? Or, more specifically: what part of the emotional spectrum am I experiencing at this moment? This requires you to internalize your emotions constantly, which isn't always comfortable. But it forces you to engage with the world, which, if you want your work to resonate with people - is paramount.
Good or bad never enters the equation. There are no wrong notes, only notes in which I haven't provided enough context. There are certain trajectories that I need to earn before arriving at the end.
It's not bad that a sound makes you feel a certain way. It's not good either, it's just part of something bigger. Making it fit your vision (or the vision of your project) should be what dictates whether something is right or wrong. Not your internal biases (which you'll never fully get rid of but awareness is huge)
This is all really abstract, but I think these are fundamental qualities about sound and music. And I wish more designers and composers would engage more in the psychological aspects of their work, shedding off the fear of revealing too much about themselves.
New music below : )
As long as I've written music, I've never been comfortable in the spotlight. I laugh hysterically when I think of all the bands I've performed with - all the drunken bars I've played in over the years, under the spotlights.
Not that I didn't enjoy aspects of performing in front of an audience; it was great fun. Executing solid live shows alongside musicians I'd played with for years was a truly amazing experience. It was also ridiculously educational. Wouldn't trade it for anything.
Realizing this desire to remain anonymous, away from prominence, has become an empowering thought I carry around with me. Growing up in the Midwest generated this effect I'm sure. After moving to the west coast years ago, I noticed most people (at least in the city) tend to be very agenda-driven. A lot of that polite courtesy I grew up with doesn't exist out here in the city.
And that's okay.
Though some days, I really do feel like a complete paradox - so many people are clambering to grab a piece of that American pie (I am too). Most of the time, this requires getting out there and making a name for yourself, in the spotlight. And personally, it's uncomfortable but it's also inevitable.
Some days I want to escape the hustle-bustle and go live in a tree house far from the city. Something like this:
It is this desire for anonymity, dear listener, that keeps me from updating you more often. It is why I focus more on music and less on the social aspects of being an artist, a task that is increasingly difficult to pull off I'm afraid.
I've been working on an upcoming feature film and will have lots of new music to share soon - music very different from previous albums. Outside of the film, I've been slightly obsessed trying to get choir samples and software to successfully emulate this 'authentic' sound I want. It's still rough, and needs more blood and sweat poured in, but below is a demo of something I hope will become much grander.
Cheers : )
I decided to add my discography to the big three music sites - sort of a test to see what happens. I've been so indie artist-minded for so long that I've only ever wanted to support the structures in place that help everyone; not just the stores that favor the top echelon of the music industry.
This is why I've been such a big fan of Bandcamp and will continue to value their services above other options. They've tied their survival to that of the artists they support, which, I think creates a more friendly and artistic ecosystem. The community there is just as, if not, more important than the commercial viability of the music.
What I realized is that the big online music juggernauts are not necessarily looking out for the artists, their primary concern is for their customers, and that's fine. They also have little incentive to value their content creators as much as their customers as there's always another musician eager to fill that vacuum.
Ultimately, as an unknown, not having your music as available as possible DOES hurt you, in terms of sustainability. Let people find you wherever they're comfortable. All you can do is educate. But I do applaud the well known artists shining the spotlight on the clutching hands of the old archaic music-business model. I do wish some members of the music media would stop interpreting this as whining and actually just look at the numbers.
Anywho, Scattered Silence is now available in those stores for streaming or purchase, the rest of my discography will be added soon. I also reorchestrated a few themes from Game of Thrones to deal with my grief from episode 5. Enjoy!
Download or stream below:
March has been the month of distractions. So many plans made, so much left in the dirt to hectic schedules.
Anyway, new album is on the horizon - about a month away. Here is the art work, compliments of Emily Clouse, followed by description and song.
In modern society, so many distracting noises confine our attention. This album is a collection of ideas dedicated to those tiny moments between the roaring of daily life.
Since moving to Seattle a few years ago, I’ve been searching for ways to manage the noise of living in a loud city. Some people love the clamor, they feel empowered by it. Initially, I sort of felt choked by it; I started craving silence, in the same way someone craves coffee. This led me to think about the uses of silence in a more societal sense. So I began amassing some of the interesting reasons people use it.
- To hide
- To reflect
- To commemorate
- To decompress, or feel a sense of tranquility
- Remaining silent on a particular topic is sometimes viewed as a statement about the topic itself
I began crafting soundscapes that attempted to embody these things. A lot of the songs have prominent moments dedicated to the spaces between the notes.
Deliberately, I did not evolve themes throughout the album, each song feels like its own unconnected world. I'm hoping it’s helped to create a sense of disarray. Sometimes, the songs are about how we feel when we experience noiselessness. Other times, they're about something mundane - like pulling out your phone during a bus commute. You could just look out the window, but you don't. It's as if you're trying to avoid that silent moment reminding you you're a person. Other times it’s about slowing down, even if it’s just for a minute, and really looking at something. Those moments are so significant; sometimes I wish we could spend more time there.
We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning
- Werner Heisenberg
It’s been a fun month. Prune was chosen by Time magazine as the top game of 2015; it was also selected as Apple's Game of the Year, which is kind of nuts. Beating out bigger titles with larger budgets feels pretty weird.......but I suppose I’ll live with it. It’s vindicated some of the philosophical choices I made early on deciding to compose for video games. I think indies tend to take more risks yielding more interesting ideas; not always, but more often than not. And that is why I like working with them so much : )
Recently, I got the chance to visit Bungie along with a few of my fellow Seattle game audio comrades; sorry I don’t have pictures to share, but it was a pretty unique experience. Eye-opening for sure, learning some of the crazy limitations their audio department had to tolerate for Destiny was quite enlightening. Makes me feel lucky to work with Indies, as I’ve yet to hear a dev tell me “sorry dude, no more room for your ideas”. But anywho, there have been others to visit the studio before me, and they were kind enough to share their experience, if you’re curious. And now this.
A Completely Unrelated Rant
A lot has been said of "good" music, and I encounter enough people online and in person that have much to say on the subject. Of course, the topic is subjective, yet it is frequently mentioned, by certain people, in an effort to discredit a composer or artist that the lecturer feels doesn't deserve the credit or success they receive. There are plenty of opinionated people (on...the internet...of all places) that seem to consider music only in terms of theory; the chord progressions, the notes, articulations, etc. - yet when it comes to the less quantitative aspects, like timbre, texture, tone-color, they either completely ignore it or they classify it as “sound design”, and are sure to point out the distinction as "not music”. Almost suggesting that sound design should not be granted the privilege of being 'musical'. In my opinion, most of this is complete bullshit and it’s exasperating to repeatedly hear this kind if rhetoric over and over again. I’ve encountered it enough in the realm of game/film music to be aware that it’s a somewhat prominent belief and I wanted to express a few things on the matter.
Music is more than just notes!
Describing music in terms of notes is not an all-encompassing method for describing what music is. If you've written out a piece on the staff lines with all of your articulations, all you've demonstrated is the anatomy of a thing, not the thing itself. It is like saying that physics is just a collection of equations - which has never been true. Ever. Yet there are those who spend significant portions of their time saying otherwise. These qualitative aspects of music can enhance, and dictate the direction of a musical piece. Choosing to use a violin instead of a trombone might be an orchestrative choice, or a "sound design" choice, but it's still a musical choice. Building a synthesizer from scratch to achieve a sound you want can be a musical choice; the instrument is irrelevant because it is all technology. It has always been technology! So why limit your understanding of music to all of these reductive definitions and bind yourself to so much less possibility. Not to mention that this mentality usually leads to the dismissal of so much great art because your perception fails to fall in line with your subjective definitions of music.
I'll use the Limbo soundtrack as an example. I have heard often enough from industry folks that "it's good sound design but it isn't music". I encourage you to listen to it and make up your own mind. But I think people who make statements like this enjoy drawing lines and boxing themselves and others into neat little units so that all parties reside "where they belong". Maybe they respect the art of sound design in a different way, maybe not, but I'm really annoyed by these rigid lines, and I'm tired of this particular opinion being thrown around and offered regularly as good advice. We are all audio storytellers as Scott Gershin might say; sound design is an expression of emotion. And I'd go further in saying that if the definition of music is "humanly organized sound", then sound design itself is a musical art form. But ultimately, whether or not this is true, I don't think the classifications matter much; labels aren't that important. With technology changing as fast as it is, the disciplines are blending together and I think it is making music a lot more interesting.
And while we're on this topic, there's an entire underbelly of other factors that get dismissed with these black and white, rigid definitions; factors like class, education and environment, all of which are tremendously important influences. It reminds me of a comment I heard awhile ago, I was out drinking with some local musicians in Seattle and I heard a statement that sounded something like this: "People who listen to (insert generic popular rock band) are all dumb-asses, and they deserve their shitty life".
But underneath that generalization is a disturbing assumption, and I would speculate that it's there due to ignorance and hopefully not malice. But the assumption is this: there is some objective reality to the belief that some music is just "better" than others.
Better for whom, better for what?
Is Mozart better than Coldplay? Well, his music is certainly more complex (and more interesting imho), but "better" is a relative term. A lot of people, myself included, certainly prefer his music, but that doesn't make it objectively better.
Imagine growing up pre-internet (oh gawd I'm so old), in a place that offers very little in the way of cultural nourishment. Somewhere that it's less likely you'll be exposed to artists like The Beatles or Jeff Buckley or Marvin Gaye.
Sometimes, in places like this, a band like Coldplay might really speak to you, because there is something genuine and musical in there somewhere, even if it's drenched in commercialism and advertising. I'm sure Coldplay wasn't always obsessed with selling millions of albums (and if this is your endgame as an artist, you're probably placing a stronger importance on commercial interests than music as an art form); but as a person stuck in this cultural void, they might be the only thing available, just like McDonalds. I'm not saying these are good things, I don't think they are, but McDonalds technically is food, and if you're stuck between the choice of starvation or McDonalds, I think I know what you'd choose.
Labeling people who have tastes that differ from your own, due to uncontrollable circumstances, doesn't make your opinion objectively correct. And some of us are sincerely tired of listening to you.
For further reading, Doron from Designing Sound has a much more educational and less opinionated post on this subject. It's a great read, as are all of their articles.
Phew...glad we got through all of that self-righteousness. Feels good, we accomplished something together.
I'm debating about sharing some new music with you. Need to give my ears a break for a period, and listen with fresh intentions in a few days. Will keep you posted : )
Oh yeah, and the International Business Times UK added the Prune soundtrack to their Best Game Soundtracks of 2015. Feels pretty cool to be on the same page as Austin Wintory for Assasin's Creed; he's one of the best there is imho.
“I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it”
- Jon Lennon
I’ve always thought of myself as an ‘ambient’ songwriter. Until recently, I assumed it was a matter of taste, and to a large extent, I still believe that to be true. But after some recent realizations, I’m starting to think a lot of it might have to do with instrument choices and the subconscious reasons behind them.
Case and point, I’ve always been a fan of using and designing sounds with slow attacks, and long releases.
I love using these sounds in slower time signatures and have a tendency to shy away from short pulsing notes, ostinatos, and aggressive playing in general. Why?
My (probably wrong) assumption has been that I didn’t know how to write in these styles, but I recently stumbled on an alternate idea: the sample libraries and sounds I’ve used were not equipped to write in these aggressive styles. So if you agree with Jon Lennon (you should) whatever toys you have available, as an artist, it becomes your responsibility to make the best of them. It might require more labor, but it’s what makes your work interesting. All of this has been a roundabout way for me to say that playing instruments as they are, rather than what you wished they would be, can certainly force you down paths you did not anticipate. These paths will help shape your interests and abilities as both a performer and listener.
And I suspect that this played a large part in my evolution as an ambient composer. Several years ago, when I started converting all of my analog gear to digital, I started honing in on these ambient soundscapes that I like so much, and at the time, some of the more aggressive sounds (staccatos, ostinatos, sforzandos, etc) frankly, just sounded awful. This isn't a knock on the engineers who designed these awesome toys by the way, it's really, reeeeallllly hard to design believable orchestral instruments that can do everything a real player can do. Legato and vibrato are still very difficult to reproduce convincingly as well, but for me personally, nothing takes me out of a song faster than hearing an obviously fake instrument attempting authenticity (I'm as guilty as anyone at this). The technology has come a long way and with the availability of good libraries nowadays, it's making me wonder what else I can do that I haven't tried yet......
Anywho, I'm writing some new piano songs, will have something to share soon!
I've learned a lot working on Prune. One nice, nerdy-technical thing I've discovered is the importance of choosing separate frequency spectrums for your sound effects, and music. Because the majority of effects in this game convey very important information directly to the player, my rationale has been that the sounds NEED to be crystal clear, relevant to the task at hand and able to be audible at any point in the music. In this way the sound effects, at least for the game, were more directly relevant to the player than the music. Now, I’m certainly biased toward the importance of music in any medium, but in many cases the music, compared to the sound design, was the more indirect way of conveying information. And because of this, the best way to get the two disciplines to play nicely, was to keep the music and sound design in their own respective bandwidths; this eliminated a lot of trial-and-error/hair pulling/rage-tantrums during experimentation in the sound lab. And the important part of this decision was to remain consistent, after tastefully defining the audible ranges of course.
Another trick, that isn’t really a trick because it seems obvious, if your effects have a musical quality to them at all, and you want all audio to be seamless (trust me, you do, it makes everyone smile violently), then make certain your sounds work in the key your music is in; bearing key changes in mind, remember your IVs and Vs etc..
Also, let’s talk about Interference. While testing, we received some feedback that the flower bloom sounds, performed on Harp were a bit stuffy on the low end of the sonic spectrum (around 250ish Hz I was told). While the timbre of the instrument naturally produces lower frequencies (at least for the notes I chose), I had not accounted for the fact that the sounds would frequently be playing over top of each other in game, like so:
After stacking some sounds to test, here’s what my multimeter showed:
Indeed, you’ll notice that 250 - 350Hz is quite the popular frequency range. Now, you may be thinking so what, it never peaks above -15dB! But in this case, adding in the music + all of the other potential sound effects that could be going off simultaneously, and we get constructive interference; i.e. sound go boom. Or even worse, say multiple strikes happen simultaneously:
Pretty disgusting right? Looking at it more surgically, you can see the real culprits are poking through around 340 - 480ish Hz:
Anywho, thank you kind stranger for mentioning your thoughts and expanding my understanding of audio as a result. It is much appreciated!
p.s. If you happen to be on the mailing list, look for a free track in your email soon. If you're not, feel free to sign up ovah heah.
Been thinking about productivity lately - there are SO many articles (seriously, the internet is spewing them out), and I’ve discovered how easy it is to feel disoriented and appalled at the lack of scientific literacy contained in several of the various sources.
I’ve tried using apps like RescueTime, but found with my habits, that I end up spending more time thinking about productivity than actually being productive (maybe I’m doing it wrong?); and with so much noise around us all the time, that’s the last thing anyone with a deadline needs. Also, the lack of information has something to do with the fact that “productivity” can and should be defined differently depending on the described task (even though this is rarely pointed out). Creative productivity is a million miles from commercial productivity; one is primarily measured in dollars, and the other in, something.....else; taste I guess? Self fulfillment? Don't know.
Anyway, I decided to try more traditional methods to achieve some of the things I wanted, rather than depend on a few clever apps to send me emails displaying just how much I don’t accomplish in a day; some simple realizations I thought I’d share: Reading helps. Everything. Inspiration helps. Everything. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. As long as you know what you’re attempting to accomplish. For me, browsing through the virtual Abbey Road studio has been incredibly restorative, intellectually. There are so many toys out there and we live in an amazing time where others are willing to share not only those toys but details on how to use them creatively.
A lot of this productivity thinking has brought me to the ideas of what a job is (or at least what we think it is). I’ve slowly learned the difference between a vocation and a job. A job is what you do to survive, a vocation is what defines you as a person. The real challenge is finding the intersection between the two and earning a living with it. I want to say I heard Phillip Glass say that somewhere.
Anyhow, here is a really cool example of someone using interesting toys to create beautiful art. Kind of upset I didn't make it to this show.
Currently, I'm wrapping up the sounds and songs for Prune, trying to find sneaky ways to input some of the software instruments I've been designing; like the sounds of this lamp for instance. I love lamp. Will share soon.
I've had the honor and privilege of working with a wonderfully talented artist and game designer on a game called Prune. Still completing the music and sound design, but here is a taste of all the hard work we've done so far. If you're a fan of puzzle games and enjoy exceptional art, I believe you may discover something you'll deeply enjoy.
You’re in the middle of recording a great take, a real gem, and a car without a muffler barrels down your street
Life has been keeping me busy. Been having the time of my life working as a composer and sound designer for a fantastic puzzle game; the kind of project that I’ve been wanting to work on since I first entered the indie video game realm.
I’ve also been lucky enough to be asked to contribute a piece for the upcoming OC Remix Plants vs Zombies album, which I'm incredibly excited to be apart of. Though the stress of the blank page has been holding the work back for a bit, it feels like the track is finally coming together. If you haven’t heard Laura Shigihara’s original soundtrack, it definitely deserves a whirl.
Going to be more diligent in keeping you updated with my progress; I've been badly neglecting this blog for far too long and for that, I apologize. I hope you like the new design : )
Currently, I'm zooming down the rabbit hole of designing my own software instruments again using Kontakt; will post the fruits of my labor on here in great detail.
Just now coming out of crunch time mode for another mobile game that will be out by the end of the year; I’ve also just embarked on writing themes for what will be the most ambitious project I’ve yet been asked to be apart of. Very nervous, but excited all the same.
Recently submitted a Zelda ‘cover’ to OC Remix; I’ve interlaced a few of my own themes within the Twilight Princess Spirit’s Theme. Expect more Zelda from me, Koji Kondo writes such beautifully simple themes that I will always cherish. I’ve also updated the pages on the site and will have more music for your ears soon, I promise!
I’ve been writing music for an independent game development company for a few of their upcoming games, and throughout the process, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and the industry. But one of the most useful things I’ve discovered is how crucially important it is to know exactly what YOU want to be doing creatively, as a composer. What is it that will motivate you to consistently do your job well?
This seems like an obvious realization in retrospect, but it’s easy to forget in an industry that is so difficult to find consistent work. Because of this, there is an insane number of composers currently offering to work for free in ANY genre. Allow me to repeat that last part: free work in ANY genre. This raises several red flags. I’m all for exposing and educating oneself to the many tastes and varieties that music offers, but not many people on Earth are capable of writing great music in ANY genre. Most of us could probably write for several genres but if we aren’t truly inspired, the music, and therefore the project, will suffer; it’s very difficult to fake inspiration. You can cultivate and harvest it, but you simply cannot con your way into it. Should you try, people will probably notice and call you out, and they’re right to do so. There is an important point I’m trying to stress here: the last thing the world needs is another yes man or woman, especially in a creative field, and I suspect that composers that advertise their ability and interest to write in ANY genre are just looking for work, and care little for what that work entails. As a game developer, would you really want to hire someone who just wants A job and not THE job?
Feedback is also something that is crucially important. Because composing requires so much alone time, it’s easy to develop a 1-dimensional perspective of your work. Receiving feedback from the company you’re working with is great, but you probably need more than that. Send the music to friends with ears you trust and ask them important questions.
1) Do the songs create a cohesive framework together?
2) Do they tell a story? Is that story accessible to the listener?
3) How well is it mixed?
If you have friends willing to listen, utilize their knowledge. There are plenty of people on reddit, meetup (if you live near a city) and various other places willing to listen. Ultimately, if you’re a good fit and you do your job well, the creative aspects of the music will remain in your control and you will have plenty of feedback to inform you.
The moves you make after you run out of steam because you’re totally unselfconscious, you’re not even thinking about the mechanics anymore….the moves you make then are incredible.
— Jeff Buckley
I recently came across this two-part behind the scenes video of Howard Shore composing music for the final installment of the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy — and I was awestruck. This isn’t a polished behind the scenes blu-ray special featurette, but it is a mesmerizing and challenging account of what talent and hard work are capable of creating. The sheer scope of the musical score to these films has always intimidated me as a songwriter; it is so complex and beautiful, and very difficult to understand through reverse engineering. So how does one get to such a level of complexity? Probably some combination of hard work, talent and time.
Hard work can, mentally speaking, take you to some really complex and engaging places. Jeff Buckley is absolutely right; when you’re exhausted, the moves you make are effortless and resplendent. Though if you reach this fluent level, you might not recognize the person in the mirror; and I am of the opinion that this is how someone like Howard Shore operates when fiercely composing such complex music for intimidating deadlines. When the brain is constantly in flow, actions are natural and fluent; unquestioned even. But hard work can be fun as well – pretty sure there's a video somewhere (can't find it) of Hans Zimmer and crew smashing a piano with a sledge hammer.
Best job in the world if you ask me; blurs the line between sound design and film scoring.
There are many examples of creative people that were tremendously dedicated to honing their craft, Beethoven in particular. He is an inspiring example of the human condition, just don’t forget that it’s okay to smash beautiful things every now and then.