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Reality check for a composer


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#1 HuggetSukker   Members   -  Reputation: 115

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 12:28 PM

Hi folks. I'm pretty new at scoring games, trying to get a little ahead. I can't expand my portfolio fast enough. After doing a couple of slightly confusing unpaid gigs, I find myself in need of a reality check, motivationally and technically.

Long story short, I want you to listen to my music, and tell me what you think are my weaknesses and strengths, and give me any good advice you can think of. Keep in mind that only some of it is specifically made with games in mind. Most of it is just made for practice, but I'm sure it all says something.

http://soundcloud.com/fisk42

Edited by HuggetSukker, 06 October 2012 - 01:19 PM.


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#2 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1712

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 02:46 PM

Hi Hugget.
My biggest comment is that it sounds like you are trying to make "videogame music"--- from 20 years ago. Stylistically, it sounds like you are trying to emulate the styles and orchestration of N64, early WII and maybe even SNES type game music.
These days, people hiring composers for "game music" are really looking for music with very high production values that matches the themes of their particular game--even for casual/iPhone, etc. games. (unless they are specifically looking for a "retro" sound/feel).

A great example of what I'm talking about is the bass patch in your "Boss battle". That is smack out of the mid 90's. Back then we *had* to use samples like that because of the technical restrictions on how game music was done. But for games today, we don't have those handcuffs, so why use those timbres/patches?

Aside from that, you have some good interplay of lines and interesting melodic and harmonic ideas. But I can't get past the retro feel.

I'd advise you to really stretch yourself, orchestration-wise. Try to make some great music-- not great "videogame music."

Brian Schmidt
GameSoundCon Oct 24/25 2012
www.GameSoundCon.com

Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2014:October 7-8, Los Angeles, CA

 

Founder, EarGames

Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant


#3 IggyZuk   Members   -  Reputation: 903

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 06:04 PM

Totally agree with what bschmidt said.
I also wanted to quickly note, that making money with music is not easy, so you should be willing to create music for super cheap or even completely free, that is ofcourse if the developers are trustworthy to actually finish what they started.
At first the more you put your self out there with a good price, the more awesome your portfolio becomes, and that's when people will notice you and you can start charging more.

Ignatus Zuk.

Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.


#4 HuggetSukker   Members   -  Reputation: 115

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 06:25 PM

Thanks to both of you!

I think I'm a bit damaged. I've lost a lot of sensitivity towards orchestration (or perhaps consciousness?), and always hear the compositional contents before their "wrapping". This is bad. I guess it may be good for picking up styles within composition (counterpoint, structure, harmony), but bad for learning the art of production, or combining the two disciplines. You've convinced me of where I should focus.
Also, I think most composers who are in some way a little inspired by retro videogames, have had a long time to get over that phase. I'm weird (freak weird), because I didn't even get properly into that phase until very recently. I became fascinated by the compositions of many video game classics and it did part of the damage on my style. It's silly. But it's mostly due to lack of production skills.

@IgnatusZuk: Yeah, I agree. I don't need breadcrumbs from the developers who contact me. They're doing it really low-budget, and there are a lot of good composers working for free. So if I had to be paid, I wouldn't have a chance to get ahead. It makes perfect sense.

Edit: What I wrote above was misguided.

Edited by HuggetSukker, 17 October 2012 - 10:48 PM.


#5 Moritz P.G. Katz   Members   -  Reputation: 1049

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 06:40 PM

Hello,

I too agree with Brian, but I strongly disagree with this:

I also wanted to quickly note, that making money with music is not easy, so you should be willing to create music for super cheap or even completely free, that is ofcourse if the developers are trustworthy to actually finish what they started.

If you truly wish to make a living producing music, selling your stuff for "super cheap" or giving it away for free is exactly what you should not do.
When you deal with professional game developing companies who are in the position of giving you a job which will actually make you some money, you'll see that their first concern will not be to pay as little as possible but to deal with a friendly and professional person who's up to the task of creating good music and who's - of course - asking to be paid for that service at nothing less than fair value.

Your chance to get ahead - and yes, this may sound counter-intuitive - is to a) find the right companies to work with and b) to ask for money when you perform your services. It may take some time and some sifting through the heaps and heaps of hobbyist projects that are often seemingly undistinguishable from professional ventures, but this is the way to start a business for yourself. At least that's what I've found.

I like to quote Michael Stoeckemann and Chris Huelsbeck whom I've had the pleasure to meet at an Audio Academy earlier this year.
They said something like: "95% of the projects we initially consider just aren't for us in the end, for whatever reason - be it financial or creative. When you look at things this way, you feel better about both rejecting projects or being rejected. In the end, there should be enough work for everyone who's good at what they do."

Cheers,
Moritz

Check out my Music/Sound Design Reel on moritzpgkatz.de


#6 CRFaithMusic   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1042

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 01:01 AM

I also wanted to quickly note, that making money with music is not easy, so you should be willing to create music for super cheap or even completely free, that is ofcourse if the developers are trustworthy to actually finish what they started.


I don't agree with this at all - sorry to say, but I think its pretty easy to make money. If you put yourself out there and if you are good enough you should almost surely get a project to work on. I know this from personal experience. Just look through the classifieds section and if you see a dev project that your music would suit you e-mail them even if they aren't requesting a composer. This is how I got my work and in 1 month I had 4 projects (when I had no previous experience).

Hope this helps,
Caleb Faith

#7 dakota.potts   Members   -  Reputation: 455

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 01:26 AM

I dig the content. I do agree that the tones used are a little outdated. They would definitely fit a retro style RPG or something.

I would challenge yourself to make more than that. This shows you have the talent in composing :)

#8 IggyZuk   Members   -  Reputation: 903

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 07:13 AM

To simply put it, starting new with really anything is always hard, no one knows you.
Once you have a portfolio with previous games you've composed for, you're more likely to be desired by developers and see that you have what it takes to do what you say you can do.
I guess my advice is more on self marketing and long term, but you should keep it in mind.

Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.


#9 Moritz P.G. Katz   Members   -  Reputation: 1049

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 07:48 AM

Some additional thoughts on the job side of things:

Offering your services for free won't make you stand out from the crowd - there's hundreds, probably thousands of people doing just that, and many of them actually make good music.

Also, it's really hard to determine a point where you can say "Okay, now I'm charging for my services" if you've just given your stuff away for free until then - the afore-mentioned companies who are actually able to pay you will think of you as a hobbyist. Especially if your name is all over the internet with posts like "I'm offering my services for free because I'm building my portfolio."

Nothing speaks against doing hobbyist projects to gather some experience - but I strongly advise you to separate those from your business.
It is indeed possible to get a paying job just by demonstrating determination and providing appropriate and good-quality mock-ups, and there's other ways of showing reliability and trustworthiness: good communication skills and an honest interest in the project will get you far.

Making a living as a music freelancer is doable, but don't expect an easy ride. For me and for most other (young) musicians I know, it's a constant balancing act between being flexible job-wise (music production, teaching, live and studio jobs - sometimes spreading myself too thin) and focusing on the "big picture" (the age-old question, "Where do you see yourself in x years?").

That said: I'm by no means a veteran like Brian or a well-established composer like Nate (nsmadsen, you've probably seen him around Posted Image ) - listen to what these guys have to say, they really know what they're talking about.

Best of luck,
Moritz

Check out my Music/Sound Design Reel on moritzpgkatz.de


#10 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 3641

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 07:54 AM

I also wanted to quickly note, that making money with music is not easy, so you should be willing to create music for super cheap or even completely free, that is ofcourse if the developers are trustworthy to actually finish what they started.


It's my advice to never work for free. All it does is continue the false impression that music (and a composer's time, talent, skill and effort) are worth nothing. Not to mention any hardware and software that composer has already invested in. And the notion that you can go from working for free to suddenly charging is flawed too. In my experience I've seen developers leave the moment a fee is mentioned and instead goes and finds the next free composer. Simply put: you want to be in business writing music for games?! Great! Act like a business from the get-go. In all other industries businesses set out and create models and plans to make a profit - otherwise they go out of business. For example, no doctor offers free surguries for the first year. But they might offer major discounts starting out.

At first the more you put your self out there with a good price, the more awesome your portfolio becomes, and that's when people will notice you and you can start charging more.


You want to be taken seriously as a composer? Start with being professional yourself and that means: producing the best work you can, being early (not on time) for everything, providing clear and consistent communication and charging a fair rate for your work, level of experience and skill level.

To simply put it, starting new with really anything is always hard, no one knows you. Once you have a portfolio with previous games you've composed for, you're more likely to be desired by developers and see that you have what it takes to do what you say you can do. I guess my advice is more on self marketing and long term, but you should keep it in mind.


Your advice is still flawed, in my opinion. It is very hard when starting out and yes, nobody knows you. But when I was starting out I worked on 1 (one) free game. It was a horrible experience where the developer left things unfinished. So it did very little for my resume, knowledge level and industry standing. The very next job I charged a rate - given a very LOW rate! Posted Image Instead of working for free a composer should charge something. Make it an exchange. If the client truly has no funds then make it a swap of services. "I compose your game's music, you redesign my music website for me!"

Also you're not considering marketing/business plans that CAN ensure you get more work with a paying clients. It just takes a bit more work and creativity. Simply offering all of it for free is ridiculous.

Also your advice leaves out the consideration that negotating, reading, writing contracts and discussing the money side of things isn't important. How does one get better at something? By doing it. If a composer completely ignores the business sides of things then they'll be less prepared when a good opportunity (that's paying) comes along.

There's a misconception that what amateurs have zero impact on the pros in the industry. "It's the amateurs that make it tough for the professionals." - Harlan Ellison (warning rough language)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

Edited by nsmadsen, 07 October 2012 - 08:09 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#11 Madhed   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2501

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 08:02 AM

I'm not a music producer so take what I say with a grain of salt. ;)

Besides what everyone else said I want to add that most of your songs sound a little bit too "crowded" to me. They often lack a distinct melody / lead instrumentation.
A notable exception seems to be your newest track "cute village" which I really enjoy. (thumbs up!)

#12 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 3641

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 08:15 AM

Sorry another little bit:

When I decided to make Madsen Studios my full time gig, I did a bunch of big and small things to make it feel official. I got a new logo, new business cards, shirts, etc. I keep regular business hours, like a job. Drafted up official looking contracts, invoices and form letters all using a waterprint of my logo. I also completely redid my accounting methods. All of this combined made me feel more legit, even if I was just starting out. It helped give me a bit more confidence when talking to potential clients. My father once said "...you want to start a business, then treat it like a job." I guarantee everyone, the moment you start charging for your services, you'll feel more serious. More legit. Now, you might temporarly lose all of your freebie clients and have no work for a little bit but that first paid job that you land will feel that much better! Plus you'll know you're on your way to making this your living.

Because at the end of the day, most people here want to make game audio their living instead of their hobby. Something to consider.

Side note: This industry is feast or famine by it's very nature. So having a few dry spells is normal. However if you find yourself going on 6 months with absolutely zero work, it's time to reconsider how you're marketing yourself. Is your music up to par? Are you marketing to the right kind(s) of clients? Are you spamming people too much? Etc. Find some successful composers/audio folks you respect and study how they're marketing themselves. Maybe even ask for advice! (Most people are very willing to help out.)

Edited by nsmadsen, 07 October 2012 - 08:19 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#13 IggyZuk   Members   -  Reputation: 903

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 09:02 AM

Nsmadsen clearly knows what he's talking about.
But this is exactly the problem, when I or any other developer needs music for a project, I will go to someone like your self who's done a lot of previous work and has an impressive portfolio.
So how do the small composers stand out? offer better deals? work harder?

Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.


#14 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 3641

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 11:20 AM

But this is exactly the problem, when I or any other developer needs music for a project, I will go to someone like your self who's done a lot of previous work and has an impressive portfolio. So how do the small composers stand out? offer better deals? work harder?


It's pretty simple, really. Rates. You've said it yourself, and I agree, that your rates can increase as your build more experience and stature. More credentials. My rates have changed quite a bit from when I first started out and odds are there are plenty of indie games which I cannot take on at this time in my career. Boy, that sounds elitist, doesn't it? But I don't mean it as a negative or insult at all. The reality is I'm less able to take on audio jobs which might only have $50-200 to spend on the entire audio budget. In those cases, even though I may have more experience and credentials than someone just starting out, I'm not the right fit. This presents an opportunity to folks with less credentials that can take on lesser paying projects.

Believe it or not, it actually goes the other way too. I have a good friend who's well established and has worked on some major projects. Now he's having a really hard time getting small(er) projects because potential clients automatically assume he'd be way beyond their means. So the trick really is to market to the right kind(s) of clients you're after and make sure they know what you're willing to offer.

But please don't fall into the trap that you have to offer free work just to make it. You don't and your work and time are worth more than that! Posted Image

As far as your other suggestions (offer better deals, work harder, etc) - yep! I firmly believe that everyone has points in their careers where they have to prove how much they want it. Life will knock you around some and you have to dig deep and show yourself (and others) that you're here to stay and that you really want it. One point, obiviously, is when you're starting out. My epiphany came in the fall of 2005 when I realized that my dream of doing audio for games wouldn't happen unless I made it happen. Nobody else could (or would) make it happen. I was in a career path that I hated and left me very unfilfulled. It wasn't easy or quick but it did happen.

I'm being long winded but look for whatever ways you can get yourself out there and make a reputation. It's just my personal belief that trying to succeed by giving your stuff away from free isn't a good approach for you or the industry.

Edited by nsmadsen, 07 October 2012 - 11:58 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#15 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1712

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 01:03 PM

So how do the small composers stand out? offer better deals? work harder?


One trap new composers sometimes fall into is the belief that their skill as a composer is 99% of what it takes work as a composer. Yes, it is true that--when that first gig or two come along-- you'd better have the chops. Making sure you've done your woodshedding as a composer/orchestrator is certainly job one.

But a huge part of starting out is convincing someone that you are worth hiring. And your compositional prowess is only part of equation.
In addition to your music being high quality, if someone is going to have you do their game, they want confidence that you're not a flake, that you will deliver what you say, when you say, that you will be good to work with in the face of criticism---Remember that by hiring you they are making a bet that you won't screw up and therefore screw up their game project..
So how do you do that--- In a word, relationship.
Relationships are personal things-- it's that one on one human to human connection that lets the game developer know "If I take a chance on this composer, they won't let me down."
That takes many forms-- it's being professional and set up professionally as Nate said (web site, logo, etc.). It's being personable and exuding competence. It may include being passionate about games and gaming. I know of one composer who got their first game gig at GDC 3 years ago, simply because he struck up a random conversation with someone while playing in the indy game area. They talked for 2 hours about different games, what they thought of these indy games. That conversation gave the developer such confidence in this complete stranger that he used him on a game 3 months later. A lot of threads have discussed the importance of networking-- we're not kidding Posted Image. Go to GameSoundCon-- Go to GDC-- Go to your local college's "Video game programming club" events who are generally filled with people looking for people to write music for their videogames, but don't have a clue as to where to look for them.

Building a relationship almost certainly does not include working for free. Think about that. If you work for free, the developer has exactly zero influence over you.. If something better for you comes along, you might just decide to walk away-- If you wilt at first criticism of your work and go away, that leaves them in a lurch, potentially putting their game schedule at risk. If however, they know that you'll get a check (even a small one) when you deliver, they will have much more confidence you won't flake out on them.

So even a modest, token sum will probably make the developer feel better about your relationship than a freebie will. And it really makes your relationship a professional one.

Brian Schmidt
GameSoundCon Oct 24/25 2012
www.GameSoundCon.com

Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2014:October 7-8, Los Angeles, CA

 

Founder, EarGames

Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant


#16 Lateralis   Members   -  Reputation: 116

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 05:10 AM

Nsmadsen clearly knows what he's talking about.
But this is exactly the problem, when I or any other developer needs music for a project, I will go to someone like your self who's done a lot of previous work and has an impressive portfolio.
So how do the small composers stand out? offer better deals? work harder?


How does anyone stand out? By being good at what they do and actually DOING it. If somebody wants to become a composer, they need to practice composing music. Post it online, show it to people, get critique, like the Thread Starter is doing. Put your best stuff out for people to see, and do what the other guys in this thread have suggested. Another thing is to not worry about working outside your comfort zone. Doing just retro-style video game music isn't going to set anyone apart from the thousands of other people trying to do the same thing. Invest in real software, samples and a MIDI keyboard, and make great-sounding music. Create albums or miniature soundtracks and put them up on Bandcamp. Get known as a composer, not just a "video game composer". Compose in different styles, expand your horizons and become someone who can create many kinds of music efficiently, professionally and of great quality.

And, I can't stress this enough, practice, create, practice, create.




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