Ultimate Trailers – West One Music

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I’m pleased to share some news about one of my recent projects: music composition for the Ultimate Trailers album from West One Music.  The album is described by West One Music as “hard-hitting epic action trailer cues including electronic and rock hybrids and orchestral action.”  West One Music is one of the leading recording labels for production music that graces audiovisual productions around the world.

Music from the album will be available for use in television and film productions, so I’m looking forward to seeing my music appearing in lots of interesting projects!  Here are some photos from the orchestral recording sessions for the Ultimate Trailers album.  My music was recorded by the Alvernia Orchestra – some of their other film projects have been Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove and Closer to the Moon.

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Alvernia1

Alvernia3

Music, Audio and Immersion (for Game Composers and Sound Designers)

Immersion

Immersion

Since I’ll be giving a speech at the Montreal International Game Summit in November about “Music, the Brain, and the Three Levels of Immersion,” I thought I’d use this blog as an opportunity to look at three other perspectives on the role of music and sound in the Immersion phenomenon – in which we lose all sense of reality and surrender ourselves completely to the gameplay experience. My speech in Montreal will include some ideas that are detailed in chapter three of my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, and the connections between aural experience and the immersion effect will be correlated to some specific research studies that are explored in my book. However, there are certainly multiple ways to approach the topic, and immersion is a complex subject to tackle, particularly when we’re attempting to understand what role audio and music may play in the experience.

In the article, “Papa Sangre and the Construction of Immersion in Audio Games,” author Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo attempts to understand the immersive power of the audio-only game Papa Sangre, while also touching upon the effects of gender exclusion on the ability of non-represented genders to become immersed. The author’s conclusions about the internalized nature of audio-only immersion are intriguing.

In part three of the article, “Video Game Technology: Immersion Through Sound,” author Hugo Aranzaes makes some interesting points regarding the effect of increased audio channels (surround sound systems) on the immersive power of sound, particularly in the case of First Person Shooters, in which such positional audio information can be used strategically during gameplay.

Finally, an article by Connor Bridson provides a highly personal and subjective viewpoint about an equally personal and subjective experience – the horror game. Entitled “Immersion in Horror Video Games,” the article contends that audio in an atmospheric horror game occupies a greater position of importance than visuals in the experience of immersion.

For New Composers Breaking Into the Game Music Business

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Breaking Into the Business

I’m often asked for the secret to breaking into the business of composing music for games. I dedicated a chapter of my book to that topic, so I’ve definitely given the issue a good deal of thought, but I’ll admit that it’s a complicated and difficult road for every newcomer to traverse. The toughest aspect of the journey is at the very beginning, when those initial efforts to secure work don’t immediately pay off. Patience and faith are both important virtues, but they don’t offer a lot of comfort at the beginning of an aspiring game composer’s career. While in my book I tried to supply as much useful information on the topic as I could glean from my own career and my experience in the business, I know that everyone has a different path to tread, each with its own unique challenges. So I’m going to dedicate this blog to a list of thirteen articles and community discussions about how to break into the business of composing music for games, written by a lot of smart folks with experiences to share and hard-won advice to impart. In the ensuing heap of game industry wisdom to be gathered from these articles, I hope that a few newcomers will find some helpful guidance, and a modicum of comfort as well.

How to be a video game music composer – Tips from the pros
by Sophia Tong, GamesRadar.com
 
Music in the Gaming Industry – Getting a Job as a Game Composer
by Nelson Everhart, Kingsisle Blog
 
I want to be a game composer
GameDev.net community discussion
 
Getting Started as a Video Game Composer
by Bobby Prince, BPmusic.com
 
Where does an amateur composer find job, or is he heard?
Northern Sounds community discussion
 
How to Get Music in Video Games
by Kris Giampa and Erik Pettersson, Beatport.com
 
How to be a Video Game Composer
by Kevin Kelly, G4TV
 
2013 Guide for Aspiring Video Game Composers
by TheCurrentVibe.com
 
Pursuing a Career in Game Audio
by Nathan Madsen, GameAudio101
 
How to Wrangle a Job Writing Music for Computer Games
by Lance Hayes, Andertons Music Co.
 
Game Developers and Music Composers – How do you network?
TIGForums community discussion
 
GDC 2011 Talks #1: Tips for Prospective Video Game Composers
by Laura Shigihara, SuperShigi.com
 
Advice for Breaking Into a Career in Composing Music for Videogames
by Lisa Horan, Mix Magazine

Game Convention Speaking Engagements 2014

Appearances-Fall-2014

This fall is going to be a busy one for me!  In addition to the release of one of my projects – a very big video game that I’m quite excited about (more info coming soon) – I’ll also be doing three speaking engagements.  I thought I’d share info about those here, in case any of you might be attending.  It would be great to see you there, and if you bring along a copy of my book (A Composer’s Guide to Game Music), I’d be happy to sign it for you!

GameSoundCon 2014

October 7th & 8th
Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles

 

It’s my pleasure to speak at GameSoundCon again this year!  Last year was tremendous fun, and I’m looking forward to giving another lecture to the wonderfully creative and enthusiastic game audio folks who attend GameSoundCon!  My presentation, entitled “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems,” will take place on October 8th.  Here are a couple of photos from my presentation last year.

A portion of the audience for my presentation at GameSoundCon 2013

A portion of the audience for my presentation at GameSoundCon 2013

Speaking at GameSoundCon 2013

Speaking at GameSoundCon 2013

Audio Engineering Society Convention (AES 137), 2014

Thursday, October 9th – Sunday, October 12th
Los Angeles Convention Center

Audio Engineering Society Convention 2014

I’m looking forward to speaking at this year’s AES convention.  My presentation, entitled “Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content,” will take place on October 9th.  I’ll also be speaking on October 10th as a part of a panel entitled “Game Biz 101: How to Jump Start Your Career.”  The panelists also include Guy Whitmore (Studio Audio Director at PopCap Games), Stephan Schütze (Audio Director of the Sound Librarian), Richard Warp (Audio Lead at Leapfrog Enterprises), and our moderator Steve Horowitz (Audio Director, Nickelodeon Digital).

Montreal International Games Summit, 2014

Monday, November 10th – Tuesday, November 11th
PALAIS DES CONGRÈS DE MONTRÉAL

 

It will be a tremendous pleasure to speak again at the Montreal International Games Summit.  Last year was a fantastic experience, and I’m looking forward to returning to Montreal!  My presentation will be entitled “Music, the Brain, and the Three Levels of Immersion.”  Here’s a video of my presentation at last year’s Montreal International Games Summit.

Musical Feel Versus Mechanical Integrity

In a blog article for Gamasutra, game designer Rodain Joubert explores the role of music in games, particularly those in which the music is a central part of a puzzle-solving mechanic (such as the gameplay in Auditorium, FRACT OSC, and Circuits).  He also brings up an idea which arrested my attention, and which will be the subject of this blog:

What is the relationship between Musical Feel and Mechanical Integrity?

Joubert defines Musical Feel as the emotional payoff that is delivered by the game’s score, which depends on the quality of the compositions and their ability to deliver a good experience to the player.  Mechanical Integrity, on the other hand, is the ability of the gameplay to exist apart from the music and still be enjoyable — the implication being that music can either provide a crutch for weak gameplay or interfere and distract from strong game mechanics.  While Joubert concentrates on music games, I found myself thinking about the broader implications of such a tug-of-war scenario as the one he’d described.

As composers, we typically strive to create a score that has a very strong musical feel. Elements such as melodic composition, complex harmonic progression, thematic development and sophisticated instrumental arrangement can all combine to give our tracks that strong musical feel.  But what if the development team would rather we strip away these elements?

Sometimes, a development team may choose to assign the musical score a set of very simple tasks, such as setting the pace with the use of a basic rhythmic momentum, or establishing an atmosphere by using synthetic pads and ambient textures.  These choices may serve the mechanical integrity of the game, by creating a musical undercurrent that supports the gameplay without interfering with it.  But such tactics can also go too far, when the music becomes so simplified that it is perceived as uninteresting by players.  The score loses its musical feel.

Personally, I think that these two objectives would need to be well balanced.  As long as both musical feel and mechanical integrity are given appropriate weight and consequence, we can be confident that our game music will be both entertaining for players and supportive to the mechanics of the game.

 

 

4 Unusual Things for a Game Composer to Try

In a cool article for Ask Audio Magazine, G. W. Childs IV suggested 5 Unusual Things Every Sound Designer Should Try.  These tactics were designed to shake the cobwebs off the creative process of sound designers, opening minds to new possibilities (including binaural recording techniques, plug-ins for randomizing audio content, adding reverb to dry audio sources by playing back the recordings in actual reverberant spaces, etc.)

In the spirit of that article, I’m going to offer 4 Unusual Things for a Game Composer to Try.  If you’re a game composer, you can play with some of these techniques.  I’m not going to say that you should, but if it sounds like fun, then go for it.

Use Sound Design Musically

One of the most energizing ways to get inspired is to use the actual aural building blocks of your game’s environment in a musical way. For instance, in the Speed Racer video game I incorporated lots of sound effects associated with the sport of racing into the music, including doppler effects that were worked into musical transitions, tire screeches mapped to the keyboard to accentuate their natural pitches so that they could be used harmonically, and crowd cheers worked into the rhythm section.  These elements helped my music feel more connected to the game, and kept me invigorated as I worked.

Get Sneaky with your Genres

Lately, the genre mashup has become very popular, in which two disparate musical styles are layered together in order to produce a novel effect.  Mashups can help keep a composer inspired, but even better — why not sneak that second genre into your track?  There’s no reason for us to be overt about it, and hiding a second genre within the first can give a composer a sense of wicked enjoyment.  For instance, while creating music for such bright and airy projects as Shrek the Third and SimAnimals, I worked in subtle avante garde orchestral approaches that included unusual meters and dissonance. The influences weren’t particularly overt, but they kept the composition process fresh and interesting for me and helped the music feel more unique.

Turn Tracks on their Heads

Some years back, I was involved in a project (which I will not name) that required me to take a large portion of music I had previously composed in one style and completely rework it into another style altogether.  This was a thoroughly drastic change, from a light-hearted approach to a dour and heavy-handed instrumental treatment.  The essential core elements of the track (meter, melody, tempo) had to remain the same, however.  It was a challenging puzzle to solve, but it also opened me up to creative possibilities I wouldn’t have conceived any other way.  In that spirit, if at any time we’re feeling creatively blocked while working on a track, maybe it might be fun to turn the track on its head — change its essential personality — while maintaining its skeletal structure.

Don’t Forget Your Old Gear

As our careers progress, we’re likely to build up a large assortment of high-tech equipment and state-of-the-art software tools.  After a while, we become accustomed to our workflow with these tools, and there ceases to be any novelty to the creative process.  At these times, it can be fun to drag out the old gear and put it to use.  Not only can the vintage stuff add some needed retro zest to our sound palettes, but it can also reignite those creative juices by reminding us of the days when we were starting out and filled with starry-eyed yearning.

So that’s it — 4 Unusual Things for a Game Composer to Try.  If any of it sounds like it might be helpful, then please give it a whirl!  And let me know in the comments if you have any other unusual strategies for getting the creative juices flowing.

The Great MIDI Comeback?

I recently read a great article by Bernard Rodrigue of Audiokinetic in Develop Magazine, heralding the return of MIDI to the field of video game music.  It was a very well-written article, filled with hopeful optimism about the capability of MIDI to add new musical capabilities to interactive video game scores, particularly in light of the memory and CPU resources of modern games consoles.

It also reminded me strongly of another article I read, from 2010.

Four years ago, Microsoft Sound Supervisor West Latta wrote for Shockwave-Sound.com that “we may see a sort of return to a hybrid approach to composing, using samples and some form of MIDI-like control data… the next Xbox or Playstation could, in fact, yield enough RAM and CPU power to load a robust (and highly compressed) orchestral sample library.”

So, it seems that the game audio sector has been anticipating a return to MIDI for awhile now (I wrote at length about the history and possible future of MIDI in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music).  The question is – has the current generation of video game consoles evolved to the point that a quality orchestral sample library could be loaded and used by MIDI within a modern video game?  So far, I haven’t come across an answer to this question, and it’s a very intriguing mystery.

Certainly, the availability of an orchestral sample library in a MIDI-based interactive video game score would depend on factors that are not all hinged to the technical specs of the hardware.  Would the development teams be willing to devote that amount of memory to a quality orchestral sample library?  As games continue to participate in a visual arms race, development teams devote available hardware horsepower to pixels and polygons… so, would the music team be able to get a big enough slice of that pie to make a high-quality orchestral MIDI score possible?

I’m keeping my eyes open for developments in this area. Certainly, the return of MIDI could be a game changer for composers of interactive music, but only if the musical standards remain high, both in terms of the music compositions and the quality of the instruments used within them. Let me know in the comments if you’ve heard any news about the great MIDI comeback!