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About xiaoan

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  1. xiaoan

    So You Want to Hire a Composer

    @IK-Sound   I was talking about production music libraries.
  2. xiaoan

    So You Want to Hire a Composer

    There are many ways to get music into your games. If you simply need SOMETHING to be playing in the background, and you don't have a music budget, libraries are good. The drawback about libraries is that they never add to the interactive nature of the experience, and it takes a really long time to find tracks that "go" together to give your game a strong identity, but they're good for a cheap option.
  3. A step-by-step guide for custom music: Hiring a person to create music for you has the potential to be an extremely mysterious process, but it does not have to be. In the following points, I will briefly explain my own work process and professional approach to creating a single musical track for a client. I will be including some useful tips for effective communication, efficient workflow and creative considerations, as well as detailing the expertise required to take music from just an idea to a commercially acceptable product. Note that some of these steps may be omitted depending on the budget. Full high-level production is only possible with a requisite number of man-hours, dollars and resources. If you'd like to find out how much it costs, just drop me an email. 1. Establishing style If there is a particular "sound" that you are aiming for, it is much more effective to reference existing music in order to communicate this to the composer, rather than attempting to describe it with words alone. Youtube, Spotify, Grooveshark and a host of other publicly available streaming services are great resources for this. Using references allows the composer to immediately understand the type of instrumentation desired (orchestral, big band, hair metal group etc.), as well as tempo (or speed), mood and a whole host of other details. In short: Do your research! A developer or director well exposed to music can spend more time on the actual creative aspects of the track, and ease communication between composer and client. It will also allow you to pick a composer correctly. This echoes simple good hiring practices, because it is much better to find someone whose style and work fits your aesthetic closely than force a great orchestral composer to write dubstep. 2. Preliminary Sketches Once the style and feel of the music has been agreed upon, I will work on a melody, or main thematic idea that will form the basis for the rest of the piece. The importance of this little fragment of musical material in narrative mediums such as games and films cannot be overstated. It is what listeners remember, and what creates identity (Indiana Jones, Star Wars etc.) When the bulk of these melodies have been whittled down to the best few, I will present them to the client to choose from. Once a favourite has been selected, we move on to the next step. Tip: Listen to Steven Spielberg and John Williams talk about their work process on what is possibly one of the most successful themes of all time, for the importance of building blocks. 3. Composition/Orchestration Drafts At this point, with the selected melodic material, I will draft a structurally complete, partially orchestrated piece of music with rendered audio for the client to approve. By this point, the client is usually better able to pinpoint specific parts of the piece that could use changes. For example, at 0:53, the client may decide that he does not want a guitar playing there, or that he would like the percussion to be more "present" and so on. Once the requested changes have been noted, the draft will then be fully orchestrated and rendered for client approval before moving into the production phase, in the next step. Tip: This is not the time to have brand new musical ideas. i.e. "Instead of "My Little Pony", we decided (without consulting you) that a soundtrack along the lines of "Inception" would be better." 4. MIDI Sequencing or Recording The music has been fully written and finalised, and the client has chosen one of three options. 1. Electronic rendering of the score with top of the line sample libraries and software 2. Recording the score with a live ensemble in one of several world-class soundstages 3. Hybrid Production - Recorded music reinforced electronically Option 1 - The cheapest option. You have to realize that you are working with sample libraries. Some of them are very good, but they're no match for the teams in Hollywood who work on blockbuster movies with real orchestras and players. With managed expectations, this can be quite effective. To give you a general idea of how much these libraries cost, "LASS", an industry standard orchestral strings library, costs 1000 USD. Just strings. Option 2 - The most expensive option. You can expect to pay 75 USD/h per musician. Including studio rental, cartage and engineers and a contractor's cut, a 3-hour recording session (usually the minimum), including a couple of 15 minute breaks of a modestly sized 40 person professional orchestra can cost 15000 USD. Rehearsal and recording usually happens at the same time, and the number of minutes recorded can vary depending on the complexity and difficulty of the music, but will probably fall within the 20-30 minute range. Cheaper recording options are available in Boston, at 50 USD/h per musician, with a 3-hour session with a 20 pc chamber orchestra going for 4000 USD including the studio rental. This can translate to most kinds of ensembles, including big bands etc. Keep in mind you don't always have to have an orchestra. It is possible to have an extremely effective soundtrack with a small 5-6 person ensemble. The music won't be huge, but it doesn't always have to be. Option 3 - The middle road. The music is recorded with a much smaller orchestra, and sample libraries/synths are used to reinforce the recorded music to give the impression of a bigger ensemble. This is increasingly common, and highly recommended for mid-budget projects. As a general rule, live musicians are extremely important to have, because the imperfections and emotional sincerity of a live recording can immediately set your music apart from most of the cookie-cutter music that's available on the market. 5. Mixing and Mastering The music is sent to an mixing engineer who I partner with, where leveling of the recorded and/or sequenced audio is done, and effects such as equalization, compression and reverb are applied to give the track the desired sonic profile. Once this is done, the mixed track will be "mastered", either by the same person, or by someone else who specializes specifically in mastering (recommended). This further enhances the audio, and optimizes the track to sound great on as many playback systems as possible, with the option of focusing entirely on a single playback system (i.e. cinema). If it is part of a soundtrack, the mastering will serve to make sure that all the tracks are consistent with each other and play back at compatible volume levels, so that listeners do not feel the need to adjust sound levels between tracks. 6. A Dose of Reality Quality costs money. If you are into the cheap and fast, that's totally ok. I would recommend in that case that you patronize stock music libraries that are readily available online. They are a fantastic resource for people who do not have the budget or the inclination to hire a skilled composer to create a custom soundtrack. Custom soundtracks are not always necessary, but when they are, it's not advisable to cut corners. Invest in quality wisely and you will reap the returns. As always, you can only have two of these three things - Cheap, Fast and Good. A contractor offering all 3 should raise some red flags. I hope you've learned something from these short peeks into the process of creating customized music. If you have any questions at all, I'd be happy to answer them. Just drop me an email!
  4. xiaoan

    Engaging Independent Creative Professionals

    @nsmadsen: In retrospect, I agree. Sometimes it's not so much about the price as it is about making the client feel like they're getting a deal.   Part of me feels that setting my price higher so that it has room to go down is insulting the client's intelligence. Another part of me feels that clients who haggle simply want to get more gain for less investment, which is quite an understandable move, after all it's just business. The biggest part of me knows that I don't make the rules for human interaction and I've learned to accept it as part of the process.  
  5. Creating a win-win Relationship This is a short list of tips for Indie Game Developers who want to engage Independent Creative Professionals such as Audio Designers, Artists, Writers and the like. In this article, I will be addressing common issues from the standpoint of an Audio Designer or Composer. Outsourcing work to contractors can be extremely rewarding and efficient, or it can an extremely painful road, littered with distrust and vague agreements. How can you ensure that your development studio and the freelancers you contract have the best possible win-win experience? It's a two-way street, and here are some things I've learned from my own embarrassing experiences that you can do to get the most out of it. Tips for Clients 1. BE ORGANIZED Make sure that the audio asset list ("brief") is final or close to being so when you send it over to a contractor (if the contractor is not involved right from the beginning). If the brief is uncertain, it will lead to multiple changes and, frequently, wasted drafts or revisions that can strain the working relationship. Remember, since audio freelancers are usually not paid by the hour, every brief change means extra work. Unless you're paying a high fee to begin with, this can quickly result in burnout and a halfhearted end product. 2. BE CONCISE When you communicate critiques or ideas to a contractor, make sure that you have a single point of contact. For maximum efficiency, the relevant individuals should confer and agree on the feedback before communicating it to the freelancer. This will prevent "broken telephones" or conflicting requests from hindering the audio designer in his job. 3. USE MILESTONES Milestones allow a large project to be split up into manageable chunks, allowing both parties to focus on specific goals, and will also create a clearer picture of WHAT exactly needs to be delivered WHEN. This also prevents confusion about the draft versus the revision stage. (Contract Signed) 30% (Music Drafts Approved, Placeholders Delivered) 20% (SFX Drafts Approved, Placeholders Delivered) 20% (Final Revisions made and Assets Delivered) 30% 4. DON'T LOWBALL If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. If you want to cut a deal, offer a trade of services. Equal and fair exchange (with occasional tidbits of goodwill thrown) is one of the most important principles to adhere to. Do not offer "exposure" unless you can deliver - if your game/company Facebook page has 25 likes and no traffic, it won't cut it. ALTERNATIVELY - you can offer a shared revenue or performance based milestone system of payment pegged to the sales figures once the game ships. Keep in mind that this constitutes an investment in your business, and the returns for the contractor, should the game perform better than expected, should reflect the value of the investment by being larger than the flat fee that would have been negotiated based on the contractor's fixed rate in the first place. Tips for Contractors 1. AVOID BARGAINING Have a document ready that shows your pricing options, and be detailed about the rights accorded to each tier. e.g. Tier 1 offers exclusive use of assets, Tier 2 offers non-exclusive use, Tier 3 offers non-exclusive use and no revisions after the draft stage etc. It doesn't have to be an impregnable wall of words, but specific and easy to understand. This allows you to give your client choice without compromising your professional image. (This is no reason to turn down clients who aren't able to afford your services. If it looks as though they're serious and have a good game going, you can come to some sort of Barter agreement in the form of extended social media advertising or a trade in services - logo design/website design etc) 2. COMMUNICATE This applies to clients as well. Don't take forever to respond to emails or other forms of communication. When you do respond, make sure you are to the point, sound professional and you are saying something useful. If your terms are being violated e.g. your revision clause (frequently out of ignorance), speak up while being respectful and honest. 3. EDUCATE Not everyone does audio professionally, or went to a school to study it. When clients say something that sounds ridiculously stupid to YOU, bear in mind that you'll be a lot more popular if you are patient and explain things in layman's terms than if you become impatient or condescending. 4. HAVE YOUR OWN WORKING CONTRACT/TERMS A nice looking document with an explanation of your working process will go a long way in making you look more professional, and give you a starting point to negotiate terms. Some companies prefer to use their own contracts, and that's fine, but you should always be prepared with your own. Conclusion These are just some short ideas about how to make the work process enjoyable for both parties. I'd love to hear if anyone disagrees vehemently with something I said or has something else to add. Feel free to email me with questions or if you need some audio in your next project! Independent Audio Designers who are interested can contact me for a copy of my own working agreement (without the rates) Find out more at http://www.xiaoanmusic.net
  6. xiaoan

    Engaging Independent Creative Professionals

    Thanks! I think I will.
  7. xiaoan

    Once you land the gig

    It's one thing to ask audio guys to come up with a million drafts when you're paying good money, but when they pay far below standard rates, they should at least have some humility in asking for extra services instead of acting like it's their right.
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