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  1. Communication can be the hardest part of any collaborative creative process. Many times the most difficult part is understanding the other party. This is especially true in art, and it’s definitely true in audio. Every community and discipline has their own language, their own slang, and their preferred way of communicating. So today, I’ll be talking about some of the ways us audio folks like to communicate and some of the ways you can be awesome at talking about audio. Now before I begin, I do want to say that any audio person or composer worth a grain of salt has (hopefully) realized that part of their job is to act as an interpreter and translator for non-audio/music people. This is true even within the audio community - composers need to know sound-design and non-musical audio terms just like sound-designers need some basic music lingo. If your audio people aren’t trying to find different ways to communicate and understand what you want/need, they’re not doing part of their job! Alright, let’s talk about some things you can bring to the table that will make audio communication easy. References If you take only one thing away from this article, please make it this! References are incredibly helpful for any type of audio person. Again, so much of the difficulty we’re discussing is communication. You can take out a massive amount of potential miscommunication by being able to hit play or send a link and say “like this.” Phrases like “make it sound heavier” , “bigger” , “higher” , “darker” , “harder” , all make perfect sense to the person saying them, but there are a myriad of ways to make something sound “higher” or “darker”, etc. On top of that, it’s not only a matter of executing the idea, but understanding the idea of the intended sound itself. Don’t be the person that says “it should sound more blue” and think you’ve effectively communicated. It may make perfect sense to you - but trust me, your audio people have no idea what that means. This is especially true when talking through emotional content and experience for music (there are LOTS of different types of “sad” music!). Have some references - know what you like about them - and say “like this.” Vocabulary Even with references, having some basic terms in your pocket that audio people know will help you immensely. In the game audio courses I teach at DePaul University, we spend a considerable amount of time getting students to talk about audio in a way they haven’t before. There are lots of words used to describe audio and music, but below are some of the most common and universally accepted. Use these, and your audio discussions will be much more efficient and productive. Pitch - the psychological perception of frequency. AKA, playing different notes on a piano. Don’t just say make it “higher.” Say “higher pitched” or “raise the pitch.” Your audio folks will know exactly what you mean. Loudness - how loud we perceive a sound to be. Using words like louder and quieter do a pretty good job of communicating this, but it happens all the time that non-audio people will try to talk about loudness and use terms like “lower” , “higher” or “softer.” These words can have lots of different meanings in the world of audio. So, anytime you want to talk about how loud or quiet something is and want to be super purposeful, throw the term loudness in there. Timbre (pronounced tamber) - the tone quality or “color” of a sound. If you play middle C on a piano just as loud as playing middle C on a viola, the difference between these sounds is their timbre. Similar to loudness, people use “higher” , “lower” , “softer” to describe timbre as well. This is fine, but you can see how easily these words can be misinterpreted. Want to be extra sure you’re communicating what you want? Use timbre into your sentence. There are many other terms us audio folks use to be very specific when talking about audio, but if you begin to use the three I’ve listed above, you will save yourself (and your audio people) so much time and headache! Your Game! No, you don’t need to wait until the game is almost done to bring in an audio person. Quite the opposite, actually! But you do need something to help you communicate your game and the world you’re creating to your audio people, even if the game is in its early stages. (Quick side note, you should totally bring in your audio collaborators as early as possible. You will be so much happier with your end audio experience. If you do this already, YOU ROCK!) For more emotional types of audio such as voice acting and music, having character, concept or environment art can be a fantastic resource if actual gameplay isn’t available. Also, if you have a significant backstory or lore you’ve created, this can be great for helping decide how this character should sound and/or how the world should “feel.” But even with these, audio folks need to know a basic outline of what the gameplay is going to be like and any sort of progression to it. There are many ways we can tailor audio to closely “fit” the game and gameplay experience, but we need to know these considerations as early as possible. Consider a stealth-action game: knowing that there is a stealth mechanic with different stages of intensity can open up a world of possibilities for composing and implementing an interactive score. For less-emotional audio, the best thing is to have video of animations or events. When I worked at a large corporate developer in the past, sometimes I would literally walk over to an animator or programmer’s desk and take video with my phone to begin the sound design. Because of the processes in place, they couldn’t send the animation to me as “final,” but I could begin the experimentation process. Plus, 90% of the time, it was the final version anyway. Realistic Expectations Audio and music are both a process - and that’s ok! It rarely happens that the first version of a sound or piece of music is ready to go into the final game. Exploration, experimentation and sometimes failure are just part of the gig. Knowing that you are always getting closer to your goal is important - especially when you’re excited to hear what your audio people have been cooking up, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. That being said, if version 15 basically sounds the same as the previous 14 versions, that’s just a terrible audio person or serious lack of effective communication. Each version needs to be trying another interpretation of your notes or adding to what they had before. Creating multiple versions and using the differences between them can also be very helpful to communicate. But in order to do that, we first need to create those couple different versions. Overall, if you take the time to think about and purposefully communicate with your audio person instead of improvising descriptions and goals on the spot, you should be in great shape. Pair that with good references, some basic audio vocabulary and game materials (art, animations, gameplay) and your audio folks should be able to dive right in. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
  2. Unlock Audio

    Getting the best from your audio department

    Communication can be the hardest part of any collaborative creative process. This is especially true in art, and it’s definitely true in audio. Every community and discipline has their own language, their own slang, and their preferred way of communicating. So today, I’ll be talking about some of the ways us audio folks like to communicate and some of the ways you can be awesome at talking about audio. Now before I begin, I do want to say that any audio person or composer worth a grain of salt has (hopefully) realized that part of their job is to act as an interpreter and translator for non-audio/music people. This is true even within the audio community - composers need to know sound-design and non-musical audio terms just like sound-designers need some basic music lingo. If your audio people aren’t trying to find different ways to communicate and understand what you want/need, they’re not doing part of their job! Alright, let’s talk about some things you can bring to the table that will make audio communication easy. References If you take only one thing away from this article, please make it this! References are incredibly helpful for any type of audio person. Again, so much of the difficulty we’re discussing is communication. You can take out a massive amount of potential miscommunication by being able to hit play or send a link and say “like this.” Phrases like “make it sound heavier” , “bigger” , “higher” , “darker” , “harder” , all make perfect sense to the person saying them, but there are a myriad of ways to make something sound “higher” or “darker”, etc. On top of that, it’s not only a matter of executing the idea, but understanding the idea of the intended sound itself. Don’t be the person that says “it should sound more blue” and think you’ve effectively communicated. It may make perfect sense to you - but trust me, your audio people have no idea what that means. This is especially true when talking through emotional content and experience for music (there are LOTS of different types of “sad” music!). Have some references - know what you like about them - and say “like this.” Vocabulary Even with references, having some basic terms in your pocket that audio people know will help you immensely. In the game audio courses I teach at DePaul University, we spend a considerable amount of time getting students to talk about audio in a way they haven’t before. There are lots of words used to describe audio and music, but below are some of the most common and universally accepted. Use these, and your audio discussions will be much more efficient and productive. Pitch - the psychological perception of frequency. AKA, playing different notes on a piano. Don’t just say make it “higher.” Say “higher pitched” or “raise the pitch.” Your audio folks will know exactly what you mean. Loudness - how loud we perceive a sound to be. Using words like louder and quieter do a pretty good job of communicating this, but it happens all the time that non-audio people will try to talk about loudness and use terms like “lower” , “higher” or “softer.” These words can have lots of different meanings in the world of audio. So, anytime you want to talk about how loud or quiet something is and want to be super purposeful, throw the term loudness in there. Timbre (pronounced tamber) - the tone quality or “color” of a sound. If you play middle C on a piano just as loud as playing middle C on a viola, the difference between these sounds is their timbre. Similar to loudness, people use “higher” , “lower” , “softer” to describe timbre as well. This is fine, but you can see how easily these words can be misinterpreted. Want to be extra sure you’re communicating what you want? Use timbre in your sentence. There are many other terms us audio folks use to be very specific when talking about audio, but if you begin to use the three I’ve listed above, you will save yourself (and your audio people) so much time and headache! Your Game! No, you don’t need to wait until the game is almost done to bring in an audio person. Quite the opposite, actually! But you do need something to help you communicate your game and the world you’re creating to your audio people, even if the game is in its early stages. (Quick side note, you should totally bring in your audio collaborators as early as possible. You will be so much happier with your end audio experience. If you do this already, YOU ROCK!) For more emotional types of audio such as voice acting and music, having character, concept or environment art can be a fantastic resource if actual gameplay isn’t available. Also, if you have a significant backstory or lore you’ve created, this can be great for helping decide how this character should sound and/or how the world should “feel.” But even with these, audio folks need to know a basic outline of what the gameplay is going to be like and any sort of progression to it. There are many ways we can tailor audio to closely “fit” the game and gameplay experience, but we need to know these considerations as early as possible. Consider a stealth-action game: knowing that there is a stealth mechanic with different stages of intensity can open up a world of possibilities for composing and implementing an interactive score. For less-emotional audio, the best thing is to have video of animations or events. When I worked at a large corporate developer in the past, sometimes I would literally walk over to an animator or programmer’s desk and take video with my phone to begin the sound design. Because of the processes in place, they couldn’t send the animation to me as “final,” but I could begin the experimentation process. Plus, 90% of the time, it was the final version anyway. Realistic Expectations Audio and music are both a process - and that’s ok! It rarely happens that the first version of a sound or piece of music is ready to go into the final game. Exploration, experimentation and sometimes failure are just part of the gig. Knowing that you are always getting closer to your goal is important - especially when you’re excited to hear what your audio people have been cooking up, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. That being said, if version 15 basically sounds the same as the previous 14 versions, that’s just a terrible audio person or serious lack of effective communication. Each version needs to be trying another interpretation of your notes or adding to what they had before. Creating multiple versions and using the differences between them can also be very helpful to communicate. But in order to do that, we first need to create those couple different versions. Overall, if you take the time to think about and purposefully communicate with your audio person instead of improvising descriptions and goals on the spot, you should be in great shape. Pair that with good references, some basic audio vocabulary and game materials (art, animations, gameplay) and your audio folks should be able to dive right in. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
  3. Unlock Audio

    Furious Seas Music Walkthrough

    Hi there! Let's look at how we can create a a cohesive and holistic score by looking at some of the music composed for the VR game, Furious Seas! We'll talk about how each individual piece of music relates to one another, some of the theory and composition techniques, and how the music interacts with moments and progression through the game itself. Feel free to ask anything and to give me feedback on this video!
  4. From a business and collaboration standpoint, we’ve been doing audio wrong. Well, not totally wrong. Understandably wrong. Want to know why I think so? Lots of research and design/innovation thinking. TL:DR – Here’s a video that walks through the rest of this article. If that’s more your style, check it out: https://youtu.be/_M2s0ZbeGe8 Hey all – my name’s Elliot Callighan. I’m a Composer and Sound Designer based in Chicago, IL and I’ve got something to say to all us game folks. Some background: I began playing violin at the age of four, piano at eight, guitar at 12 and the computer at 20. I enlisted in the Army National Guard to use the education benefits to study composition and cinema audio production. Up until late last year I had been working in many industries – film, commercials, TV music & SFX libraries, trailers, and of course games. At the same time I had been teaching sound and music courses at DePaul University and found myself filling a game audio niche. I was the only faculty that knew considerations for game audio asset creation, implementation, or the use of middleware. Much of my work outside DePaul was coming from games, and being a gamer my whole life (starting with Streets of Rage on Genesis), I was happy to be working in games as both an educator and practitioner. So, I decided late last year to embrace the situation life was giving me and plunge into games head-first. My wife, Stacy, being the wonderful person that she is offered to help me research the game audio industry. She’s helped companies such as United Airlines, Nike and FedEx think through offerings and user experiences from phone apps to football stadiums, so I was ecstatic to have her help. We set out on a 5-month quest to identify what was lacking in terms of audio for developers and create a process driven by the needs and desires of indie and mid-level teams. We started out looking at 21 game audio freelancers from most to least successful in order to understand the low points & high points in their marketing and craft. Next, we analyzed 32 indie and mid-level development teams to see how they approach audio. This included researching how teams find an audio group to collaborate with and how their collaboration experiences and end audio products could improve. Lastly, we had in depth interviews with four developers (all non-audio people) to validate and challenge the patterns we were seeing and unveil further insights that had yet to come up. From this research, we heard three regularly recurring themes: “Be the Audio Guru” Teams wanted one person or group to take care of all their audio needs. Too many audio folks are currently treating themselves like a silo by only doing one aspect of audio (ie. only composing, mixing, or only SFX). Having a single audio guru would allow dev teams to communicate fluidly and decrease the existing complications from both a creative & business standpoint “ Think Like a Developer” We heard many dev teams struggling with the current quoting, pricing and creative process with their audio collaborators. First, it can be difficult to predict how many or what type of audio assets are needed while the game is still in development in order to get an accurate quote. Second, many audio groups are coming from industries outside of gaming making it difficult to collaborate in terms that are comfortable for development teams. “Teach Importance of Emotion” In our research, we uncovered developers either highly valuing the importance of audio or viewing it as a last-minute need. However, those who put an emphasis on audio from beginning to end typically had more successful campaigns and games than those who didn't - showing a true opportunity for audio to be a holistic aspect of development versus a one-off. Solutions: With these learnings in place, we began brainstorming how to activate each theme into an actionable opportunity. The first one was pretty easy – offer a one-stop total music, sound design, dialogue, trailer/promotional music and implementation solution. Check. The second one, however, was far more complicated. Instead of grouping services in audio terms such as dialogue, sound design, foley, etc, we heard developers desiring support that aligned with their process. Terms like “character”, “location/level” and “interface” were commonplace – foley was not. We also heard developers talk about their process from conception, to creation, to implementation. Most audio folks are only filling one part of this process, and don’t offer their services with this overall development process in mind. At this point, we identified evolved service offerings for audio needs and a more defined process these services support. We then looked at the intersection of dev services and the development process to create modules that would exactly fit a developer’s needs. The initial feedback we received on these modules was fantastic, but our next challenge was to test the system and determine how to best price it. Articles 2 and 3 available here Be sure to check out some of Unlock Audio’s work! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
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