Social Media for the Game Music Composer

social-media

Candace Walker, recruiting manager at Naughty Dog studios.

Candace Walker, recruiting manager at Naughty Dog studios.

At the recent Game Developers Conference Europe (August 3-4, 2015), top recruiting manager Candace Walker of Naughty Dog gave a presentation entitled “Career Bootcamp: The Benefits of Building an Online Presence and How To Do It.”  While her talk was not aimed at freelancers such as game composers, some of her strategies and recommendations are worth considering.

I explored some of these social media approaches in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (chapter 14, page 246), but Candace adds a new perspective to the topic from her vantage as a recruiter. I’ll be exploring some of the best highlights from her talk in this blog.

But first, let’s watch a short video created by best selling author Erik Qualman, author of What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube.  This video focuses on the power of social media, in case any of us were unsure of what impact it might have on our professional lives:

The Goals of Social Presence

Candace Walker began her talk at GDC Europe by emphasizing four important guiding considerations that should shape our online efforts in the realm of social media.

  1.  What is our goal?  What are we trying to achieve?  As game audio freelancers, we want our potential clients to be aware of our availability and (hopefully) our awesome skills as game composers!  We may also want to reach out to the game audio community at large, contributing to the overall body of knowledge and/or making friends and contacts.  Whatever our ultimate purpose in regards to social media, we should always define our goals specifically and keep them at the forefront of our online efforts.
  2. Who is our audience?  For game composers, the online audience may be composed of potential clients, fellow composers, game press, game music fans, etc.  Different messages are meant to reach different audiences, and we need to keep this in mind.
  3. Does our intended message have value for its audience?  Social media has parallels with consumer culture, in that an online audience is investing something of worth in order to obtain something valuable. In this case, the investment takes the form of time, and the valuable return may be educational or entertaining content.  With any social media message, we need to evaluate the inherent value of our content.  Will our audience think it’s valuable enough?  Will our message be worth their time?
  4. Does our intended message have the potential to incite conflict? This one is a tricky issue for us to ponder.  If we’re simply reaching out to potential clients, the issue of unexpected conflict shouldn’t be particularly problematic.  However, if we’re discussing the craft of game audio in social media and we suddenly stumble across a contentious topic that starts ruffling feathers, we need to take a breath and consider the possible ramifications. In this case, Candace advises us to take a step back and favor the cautious approach.

At this point, Candace continued her presentation by taking her audience on a tour of the most famous and popular social media platforms.

YouTube

YouTube

Candace tells us that having a YouTube channel and producing videos can be useful for the game industry professional with expertise to share.  YouTube tutorials and educational videos are fantastic ways to spread knowledge.  As game composers, we can avail ourself of this avenue of social media outreach by producing educational videos that explore important skills, or tutorial videos that explain the use of vital game audio tools.

pinterest

Pinterest

According to Candace, this social media platform is growing in usefulness to game industry recruiters.  Pinterest allows a user to set up a “pinboard” of relevant links that fall within a single subject of interest.

facebook

Facebook

Using Facebook as our conduit for professional outreach is entirely possible, Candace assures us.  However, we have to be clear about our purpose on Facebook.  If we’re on Facebook in a professional capacity, then we have to refrain from sharing too many personal posts.  Candace warns us against diluting our message with day-to-day observations and pet peeves.  Our initial goals for our social media presence should help us make decisions about what to post.

linkedin

LinkedIn

This social media platform is Candace’s #1 tool for finding new talent. According to Candace, LinkedIn has the potential to put us on the radar of our industry colleagues, and can deliver vital information about our services to potential clients.  In her presentation, Candace advises that we complete our LinkedIn profiles as thoroughly as possible, including all the relevant information about our experience in the industry and our skills.  An added side benefit is the ability of the LinkedIn site to reformat the content of a user’s profile page into a serviceable résumé that we can then use to woo potential clients.

Conclusion

Candace ended her presentation by recommending the social media strategies of several of her colleagues at Naughty Dog.  Here are some of the links she provided:

Twitter:  @jack_dillon, @cgyrling

Facebook: Glauro Longhi, John Sweeney

LinkedIn: Kurt Margenau, Jason Gregory

YouTube: Glauco Longhi, Richard “Pipes” Piper.

border-159926_640_white

Studio1_GreenWinifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent project is the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution. Her credits include five of the most famous and popular franchises in video gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality video games. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

Game Music Middleware, Part 1: Wwise

Middleware-Blackboard

 

The use of third-party audio middleware in game development is a slow-growth trend that will doubtless become more influential in the future, so I thought I’d devote my next two blog entries to some recent video tutorials produced by a few intrepid game audio pros who have stepped forward to help the community.

This first blog is devoted to Wwise, and the tutorials come to us courtesy of Michael Kamper, Senior Audio Developer at Telltale Games.  With over 16 years of experience in audio production, Michael has served as Audio Director for The Bureau: Xcom Declassified, Bioshock 2 DLC, and Bioshock 2, among others.  Michael has also enjoyed a successful career as a feature film sound designer for such movies as Mission Impossible III, The Day After Tomorrow, Legally Blonde, and many more.  His experience in television includes sound design for Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Profiler.

In the following two-part video tutorial, Michael generously details his Wwise workflow during music implementation for The Bureau: Xcom Declassified:

Wwise Interactive Music Demo – The Bureau – Part 1 – Switches

border-159926_640_white

Wwise Interactive Music Demo – The Bureau – Part 2 – Segments/RTPCs

 

 

Berklee College of Music seminar on being a game music composer

berklee

I was recently honored to participate as a speaker via Skype in a Berklee College of Music seminar focusing on video game scoring.  Hosted by the Berklee Video Game Music Club and moderated by Chase Toland, the seminar explored all sorts of issues related to a game composers profession, from the techniques of interactive music creation to the kinds of research and preparation that can help a game composer during a project.  The audience asked some wonderful questions — it was a great experience for me!

Below, I’ve posted a short excerpt from the Skype seminar. Since this portion of the seminar focused on my work for the recently-released LittleBigPlanet 3 video game, I thought that the LittleBigPlaneteers among us might find it interesting.  Included in the video are three excerpts taken from among my many music compositions for LittleBigPlanet 3.  Thanks again to the Berklee College of Music for the great event, and to Chase Toland for inviting me to speak!

Creativity and the World Wide Web

World_Wide_Web

A few days ago I was reading Echoes: Insight for Independent Artists, a blog published by Disc Makers (the CD replication service), and I came across an article entitled “How to Stay Productive as a Music Composer.” Some of the advice seemed pretty sound (get comfortable, formulate a plan, set deadlines) but I was brought up short when the article advised composers to get rid of their Internet connection while working. “The only way for me to be productive,” says the author, “is to stay clear of the Internet when I’m trying to work.”

I’m not arguing with the logic behind that idea. The Internet has the possibility of distracting a composer with irrelevancy and time-wasting entertainment, thereby slowing down the pace of work. But this isn’t an inevitable outcome, and I think it can greatly depend on the nature of the composer-Internet relationship. For me, the Internet can be a vast library, a repository of knowledge and advice. Some of that advice is great, and some is not so good… but all of it has the potential to help and inspire me while I’m working, as long as I stay focused on my goals.

Just to offer one brief example –

When I was composing music for Assassin’s Creed Liberation, I needed to do a lot of research. Some of that came from more traditional sources such as historical texts and audio recordings, but a good portion also came from targeted searches on the Internet. For instance, since the game concerned itself with an affluent French society living in 18th century New Orleans, I needed to reacquaint myself with the techniques and structure of French Baroque music of the period. If you type the search string “French Baroque music” into Google today, you can see a collection of relevant articles such as “Music history of France,” “5 Tips on Approaching French Baroque Music,” “Tempo in French Baroque Music,” and “Style and Performance for Bowed String Instruments in French Baroque Music,” not to mention all the books that pop up via item pages on Amazon.com.

Also, watching traditional Baroque musicians performing on YouTube was an excellent way to stay in touch with correct performance techniques, as well as the various ways in which expert musicians customarily improvise within the confines of a Baroque composition.

Research can be very inspiring, both for musical styles of the past and for contemporary genres. I think research on the Internet can continue as an ongoing concern during the composition process. We just have to make sure we keep our focus on our work.

Are there any ways in which you use the Internet to keep yourself creatively inspired? Let me know in the comments!

Music in the Manual: FMOD Studio Vs. Wwise

Wwise-FMOD

A few days ago, I downloaded and installed the latest version of a software package entitled FMOD Studio and was pleasantly surprised to discover that an oversight had been corrected. It’s not unusual for software updates to correct problems or provide additional functionality, but this update was especially satisfying for me. The makers of FMOD Studio had added the “Music” section to the software manual.

A brief explanation: FMOD Studio is a software application designed by Firelight Technologies to enable game audio professionals to incorporate sound into video games. The application focuses solely on audio, and is used in conjunction with game software. In essence, FMOD Studio is folded into the larger construct of a game’s operational code, giving the overall game the ability to do more sophisticated things with the audio side of its presentation.

When FMOD Studio was initially released in August of 2012, the manual did not include information about the music capabilities of the software. Admittedly, the majority of FMOD Studio users are sound designers whose interests tend to focus on the tools for triggering sound effects and creating environmental atmospheres. That being said, many composers also use the portions of the FMOD Studio application that are specifically designed to enable the assignment of interactive behaviors to music tracks. It was a bit puzzling that the manual didn’t describe those music tools.

One of the biggest competitors to FMOD Studio is the Wwise software from Audiokinetic. Wwise offers much of the same functionality as FMOD, and in working with the software one of the things I really like about it is its documentation. Audiokinetic put a lot of thought and energy into the Wwise Fundamentals Approach document and the expansive tutorial handbook, Project Adventure. Both of these documents discuss the music features of the Wwise software, offering step-by-step guidance for the creation of interactive music systems within the Wwise application. This is why the omission of any discussion of the music tools from the FMOD manual was so perplexing.

It’s true that many of the music features of the FMOD Studio software are also useful in sound design applications, and some are similar in their function to tools described in the sound design portions of the manual. Firelight Technologies may have assumed that those portions of the manual would be sufficient for all users, including composers. However, composers are specialists, and their priorities do not match those of their sound design colleagues. In using the FMOD Studio tools, the needs of composers would be sharply different from those driving the rest of the audio development community. Wwise understood this from the start, but FMOD seemed to be following a philosophy that hearkened back to the early days of the game industry.

In those days, the audio side of a game was often created and implemented by a single person. This jack-of-all-trades would create all the sound effects, voice-overs and music. Nowadays, the audio field is populated by scores of specialists. It makes sense for FMOD Studio to acknowledge specialists such as composers in their software documentation, and I’m very glad to see that they’ve just done so. If you’d like to learn more about FMOD Studio, you can see a general overview of the application in this YouTube video:

The Making of a Sackboy Music Video

I’d like to talk about a little personal milestone that just happened this week. My music video, “Little Big Planet 2 Soundtrack – Victoria’s Lab,” reached 200,000 views on YouTube. This is not an astounding view count – it isn’t viral by any means. However, it’s a lot more than I ever imagined when I first decided to create a music video for one of the songs I composed for the LittleBigPlanet 2 video game. I thought it might be interesting to talk briefly about how this video came about, and how the LittleBigPlanet game makes it possible to create a humorous music video like this one.

While there have been many other music videos made with the characters and creation tools of LittleBigPlanet 2, I think this one may the first (and perhaps the only) music video made by a LittleBigPlanet composer. The track, “Victoria’s Lab,” was the first I’d composed for the LittleBigPlanet franchise, and I was tremendously excited about it. The track included an ambitious vocal arrangement for four singers. I sung all the parts in this fugato, which is a composition in which multiple independent melodies play simultaneously. They echo each other’s melodic content and then branch off into lots of variations.  While this was essentially a serious vocal composition style, I performed it in a whimsical way using syllables such as “la dee dah.” The whole thing was supported by an accompaniment that included string orchestra, circus organ, beat boxing, rock guitar, vocoder, and lots of other odd and eccentric instruments.

The real fun of a vocal composition like this one is watching it performed live. If you’ve ever seen this kind of vocal counterpoint performed live, you know how interesting it is to watch the melodies shifting from one vocalist to the next, while the others sing independent and related parts. I had this desire to create a visual experience for my Victoria’s Lab fugato… but how?  I really didn’t think that anyone would want to watch me in splitscreen, overdubbing vocal parts into a microphone – that would be boring. The LittleBigPlanet aesthetic and sense of humor heavily influenced this composition, so wouldn’t it be more fun to see a group of Sackgirls singing together?

The developer of the LittleBigPlanet game, Media Molecule, did a wonderful job of creating both a fantastically entertaining gameplay experience, and a imaginative and inspiring creation tool for making game levels. Moreover, they also made it entirely possible to create short entertaining films with LittleBigPlanet, too.  Characters are called “Sackbots” and have the ability to lip sync as you speak into a microphone connected to the PS3. For my music video, I created and dressed up three Sackbot singers. Then I played back recordings of each of the vocal parts into the PS3’s microphone. I played them one at a time, isolated from each other and from the rest of the composition. While each of the Sackbot singers recorded their individual parts for lip sync, I moved the Sackbot’s head and body using the PS3 controller, animating the Sackbot to give it a more realistic “performance.” I recorded each of their dramatic singing performances against a green screen backdrop, so that I could put them into any environment I liked. Sometimes I had them singing on a theatrical stage. Other times, they sang in square frames on screen, Brady-Bunch-style. Finally, I dressed up a Sackbot singer to look just like the character of Victoria Von Bathysphere from the LittleBigPlanet 2 game. Victoria got to sing the operatic, aria-like parts, which she performed with intensity and dramatic flair.

Sackboy-WP

Since I couldn’t leave Sackboy himself out of the fun, I created scenes in which he vigorously headbanged and rocked out to the music. I had him dancing alongside large skeletons playing guitars. Finally, I let him run around the delightfully wacky environments created by Media Molecule for the Victoria’s Lab levels, where this music is actually heard in the LittleBigPlanet 2 video game. The levels created by Media Molecule are pure genius – a combination of joyous silliness and sublime artistry that come together to form the perfectly delightful playground for Sackboy and all his friends.

I recorded all these performances and action sequences using the Hauppauge PVR system, which allows PS3 video to be fed into a computer and captured as video files. Then I edited the video in my computer using Final Cut Pro.

It was a bigger job than I thought it would be, but I had a great time creating the music video. I’m very happy that people have enjoyed my singing Sackgirls and headbanging Sackboy. 200,000 views may not be huge by YouTube standards, but it certainly makes me smile to think of that many people watching my Sackgirls sing. Making the music video was a great way for me to participate in the LittleBigPlanet philosophy of Play, Create, Share.