This week we caught up with Israeli composer Arnold Nesis who has written music for a number of video games and movies.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what do you do?
Well, I’m Arnold, a composer, mostly for video games and films from Jerusalem, Israel.
When and how did you make the move to being a full time composer?
When I was 17 it became clear to me that I wanted to be a musician. At the time the plan was to become a heavy metal guitar god. I understood that this probably meant that I’d be a waiter for my whole life, but I didn’t really care. I applied and I got in to G.I.T. I wanted to go but like all Israelis, I faced a dilemma — at the age of 18, I was supposed to go into the Army. I decided that was more important and so I went. When I was done with the Army service, I went to study film scoring at the “Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music.”
After my graduation, I composed for a few short films and worked as a musical director at a musical center in Jerusalem. One day I heard that the CEO of a big gaming company was coming to give a lecture in Israel and that they had just released the opening cinematic for their upcoming game. I decided to re-score it and show it to him. I completed it in 2 days and brought him the CD. He didn’t listen to it, but I posted in on my Facebook page anyway and the day after a company contacted me and said that they wanted to see if we could work together. This was the beginning for me as a video games composer.
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
I think that the most inspiring and important hardware I have in my studio is, no doubt, the cat. Seriously though, usually, when people come in they first notice the huge guitar cabinets (Peavey) and a lot of hanging guitars. I am a huge Ibanez fan, so almost all of my guitars are Ibanez. Apart from that, you know, pretty much the usual. There is a computer, an electric piano, some midi controllers and a lot of racks, buttons, switches and lights around it which makes the cat really crazy sometimes. If I where to mention one specific piece of hardware I enjoy a lot is the Sansamp PSA-1. It is an amazing pre-amp that I use for all kinds of stuff. It was relatively cheap and I was amazed by how much I can do with it and what I can get out of it. Came as a great surprise to me and I recommend it a lot. I am a PC and Cubase type of guy, never really understood that whole apple madness. I do have a lot of VSTs and sample libraries. This is my main “instrument” nowadays and I try to keep it as updated as possible. I’d say that East West libraries is my main and most commonly used tool, that’s where I usually begin at and later “develop” to other plug-ins as well.
Whats your favorite software right now and what software are you looking forward to most in the future?
It’s East West symphony. People tend not to be super exited by this anymore, but hey! We can produce a freaking symphony, with choir, on our home PC!! I think this is freaking amazing. In terms of an “inspiring” software though I have to go with Spectrasonics “Omnisphere”. This is an amazing piece of software I think anyone should have. Not only does it sound great and has endless possibilities to work with, but it is also actually inspiring. Whenever I’m stuck, I turn it on and somehow music gets done. It’s magic! I’m not sure I’m being objective on this, but for me personally I haven’t really found a good drum kit on VST yet. There are some that are great but I am still waiting for “the one”
What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?
Well, I think it would have to be “Noctemis”. It is a game I am actually composing at the moment for Lacuna Entertainment, and although I had the privilege of working on a much bigger budget projects, I have to pick this one. It is simply an amazing game. It’s atmosphere is very unique, and it drives me musically to places I have never been before. Also, I love companies that give the composers almost total freedom, and the combination of them being amazing people making an amazing and very special game to me is magical. Keep your eyes opened for this one – I think it is going to be amazing.
Talk us through the Dragon Fly Red Indent. What was your writing process, how did you mix it etc.?
Well, writing process for openings, especially for series is usually very challenging. You don’t really have a clear view about the show, but you need to capture the whole essence in one track, and if this isn’t enough, the track is just about 30-60 seconds long. In this case it was even more challenging because the series takes place in many locations all over the world, and combines a lot of cinematic genres. I remember having a few versions to this. I also asked my assistant, Yoni Novik, to make a version of his own, after I told him the general idea of the show, because I wanted to have as many sounds as possible, and to see which direction I rather go with. After this, I sent the music to the director asking him for his opinion.
I believe that whenever you have a doubt about something in a game or film, talking to the director is the best idea, chances are both of your options sound “good” and will fit the project, but no one knows the project better then the creator, so giving him two good options and asking him to choose will probably give you the right answer. We ended up choosing this version because it had a good blend of elements from the series. Semi-epic on one front, yet modern with an electronic feeling, as well as some clues to mystery in the celesta lines, oriental instruments to give that “world wide” feeling and the “news” opening feeling (the show is basically about a journalist’s video blog). It’s just 30 seconds, but has a lot of elements and they blend together well (I hope 😛 ).
As for mixing, I know many people will scream in anger at this point, but for me, it’s a technical thing. I mean yes, a mix needs to have musical thinking behind it as well, and great mixing engineers are with no doubt artists, but I am a composer, and if I have budget to hire someone else to mix/master my music, I try to do it. If I don’t I’ll mix it myself. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to mix, but for me, it’s a technical thing to make the music sound good, not a creative process I go through.
What do you do in between projects when you don’t currently have something to work on?
I actually try to be working all the time. Being a composer today is not just doing music, but constantly looking for new projects to work on, people to meet, staying updated regarding the software and hardware news and keeping an ear for new games films and series. It’s a fast changing world and you constantly need to make sure that you know where it is going and to go with it. So I think there is always something to work on – it’s not always actually composing, but I think you have many more work options to choose from than 24 hours a day. As cheesy as this may sound, I am lucky that music is both my work and my hobby, so even if I want to take some time off, when thinking “what do I want to do”, usually the answer has a connection to music. It can be going to a show, going to a local jam session, or whatever. My life revolves around this ALL the time – It is both, a blessing and a curse. Nah, who am I kidding? It’s only a blessing
How do you use social media as a musician to get work/promote yourself?
I actually have facebook opened all the time. It is the most important promotional instrument there is. To know how to use FB and other social networks nowdays is a “must” for any composer, I believe. When I started it was very hard getting to the people, and I didn’t really know who I wanted to connect with any why. Today it’s much simpler for me – I usually need to contact a very specific person and I will probably know how to contact him, or can be introduced through a common friend.
What does your daily routine consist of?
I think part of being a musician of any kind is that you don’t have an actual routine – some days you find yourself working like crazy and not sleeping to get some deadline done while others you spend meeting, writing correspondences, doing recordings, shows etc’. Personally I love this way of life, I really don’t think I have something I define as a “normal” day, which is great in my mind. I usually plan to wake up at around 08:00, run a little, eat, answer emails, compose and go to the “Blaze”, which is a local rock bar I love to frequent at night. I usually end up waking up at 11:00 because I went to bed only at 03:00, because I had to catch someone on Skype and I am 10 hours ahead of him, and try to catch my tail from that point on until I go to sleep, again, too late, having tomorrow planned yet having no actual idea how it will look like. I have to admit I love it!
What are your favorite musician/composer websites?
www.filmandgamecomposers.com!. It really is an awesome website btw, not just being nice I don’t really think I have one favorite site, there are so many. As I mentioned, I try to stay updated and read a lot about the gaming industry in general, and about news in audio production, but I think most of my reading comes through facebook links or things people share with me on a personal level. Obviously the common sites like vi-control.net is something I get exposed to a lot, but again, usually I have specific links I get from people or I find searching for specific things on the web. If I where to mention one great website though it will be Groove3 – a great place with great tutorials. If you are not familiar with it – go check it out.
What useful tools do you use daily as a composer?
My mind, my ears, my fingers, my nerves and my ability to sit waaaay too long in front of the computer.
What’s your definition of success?
When I decided to become a musician, I remember thinking that if I’ll be able to make a living from music, in any way (sound technician, music teacher, singing mascot…whatever) I’ll be the happiest man in the world. This was my first definition for success. Slowly I came to understand that no matter where you are, “success” is actually the thing you are reaching for. Other people can tell you that you are successful but you don’t really feel that way. We are always going to have more hopes, dreams and goals, and their realization will always seem to us a measure of “success”. However, as cheesy as it sounds, if you wake up every day and you are rushing out of bed (or at least rushing to grab your phone) to see what this day brings, and if something interesting has happened while you where sleeping – you know what success is.
How do you stay fresh as a composer?
Film/Games composers are asked this question a lot, and there is a good reason for that, and that is that we write a LOT more music then other musicians. Most of us are working on crazy dead-lines and crazy production volumes. While personally (like others in the industry, I believe) I almost never get “stuck” as people describe it, staying fresh is actually very hard, and those are two very different things. I do try to always listen to new things, and when composing just for myself, I try composing something completely new that I haven’t done before. Usually when starting to work on a track and specially a project, I take about an hour (sometimes I get carried away) and just sit down and improvise. Just doing the craziest things I can that might somehow fit the project. Usually, after an hour or two I have some ideas that just “happened”.
As I’m just improvising and not actually “obligated” to anything, it’s a great way for me to free myself. It’s a great method for me to get out of the usual “me” and just go wild But also, one of the good things about the industry is that every project demands something different and is pushing you in a different direction – I once had to come up really fast with a Yodeling track for a game. Didn’t sleep the whole night and ended up waking up my girlfriend saying “Baby, I really need you to get up for like 10 minutes and record some yodeling”… Her expression was priceless. So… that was fresh!
Where do you see the scoring (film/game/tv) industry in 5-10 years time?
Well, I hear many dark speculations from well known composers lately. I must say that while I do think many of them have a clearer view on the industry’s future then myself, I disagree. Truth be told, in terms of composers, I don’t think we are going to see much change. Yes, I agree that the music will become less and less live because the major companies will have less and less interest in live orchestras, and midi production will get better and better, but I don’t think this will influence composers dramatically. Obviously we will see some changes, new people will come in, pushing others out. People are starting to understand that this is where the money is and to try and break into the industry. But truth be told, from my experience with musicians, only a very (very) small part of them actually fit to become composers for films/games. It’s not because it’s super hard or beyond reach. It just demands specific things most musicians lack.
Yet, we will see a dramatic increase of people trying to break into the industry, and some of them will manage at the expense of those who are now in it. But I don’t think this will influence the “industry” as a whole. Surely not the high-end part. Another thing that I am hearing a lot is that we are losing the musicality and melody in late games/films. And this is also an interesting point. I do agree that we are getting much more sound-based lately. Some even blame Hans Zimmer for it. BUT, this is practically the same thing that everyone said about Stravinsky… but music is still here, and we still have melodies. Again, I do agree that we are MUCH more sound based than 15 or 100 years ago. But I think at the end of it, people want to hum. As long as the human race can’t hum a sound, I think we’ll be ok.
Where do you see the music library industry in 5-10 years time?
Ah, the music library industry guys have much bigger problems I think. This field is an unexplored one. You didn’t have many people 20 years ago whose dream was to be a composer for video games. Now you have tons because people understand that this is where the money is, and it became… well… cool. Music libraries are a big industry that most people are unaware of. And this, I think will change fast. You’ll have tons of new composers trying to break in, some of them are actually amazing composers. Today, I think there are many kids or mid-level musicians in this industry, and they are doing fine because the competition is not at it’s peak but I think this is about to change and this industry will grow dramatically over the next few years. So as for the industry, it’s a good thing, you have a lot of awesome music coming. As for the guys who are doing it now … brace yourselves… tons of awesome new composers are coming.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
I’ll tell you a story instead. A few years ago I was attending GGJ, which is an event in which you make games during a 48 hour marathon. The event started at 08:00, and somewhere near 14:00 I went outside for a break with some coder I didn’t know. When he heard I am a composer, he asked me if I saw the other composer who was there and was going around, bitching about how tired he is and how hard he has been working all day long. I told him that I did see him. Then he asked me what was his problem, and I tried to explain that working 6 hours on music is actually very hard and demanding, because it’s basically listening to the same thing again and again while staring on boxes on your screen. He wasn’t impressed by my explanation and said he can’t understand thedifference between a composer and a graphic designer. When I came back to my station, I noticed that I was actually sitting near a few 3D artists.
One of them was working on a bunny’s ear. 02:00 that night (12 hours later, 18 hours of straight work) – They where asking around to see if anyone wants something to eat – they where happy and it seemed that they are pretty used to working so much together (I guess they where from the same company). Then I suddenly realized, I am staring at the same freaking bunny’s ear on the guy’s monitor. And that’s when it hit me – there isn’t any difference between a graphic designer and a composer, we (musicians) are just lazy and whinny. Sorry to put it this way, but you know it’s true.
For me, I can honestly say my life changed at that point, I understood that I shouldn’t be waiting for some magical muse to land on me, or to post something to youtube once in a few months hoping that one day a huge company will see it and offer me work – I should be working like it’s well…. Work! Honestly, from that point on I did alright. Each time a young composer asks me for tips, I tell them “actually work”, and when they tell me they do, I ask what they did this week and usually explain that this is not nearly enough. So if I was to go back in time, I would be happy to go through this experience a few years earlier
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
If my mind decides it will no doubt be my HD. If my heart decides, probably one of two guitars – one which is my favorite and one has an amazing story behind, but that’s for another interview And for those who are screaming “what about the cat?!?!”, don’t worry about her, she is a big girl – if I’m not dead yet, trust me, she is safe as well.
Can you recommend any useful books on composition/mastering/business etc. that you’ve read and enjoyed?
If you are composing for visual media, and for some god forsaken reason you don’t know Schillinger System of Musical Composition by heart, go read it now. Then read it again. For me it is my bible.