How did you get into composition? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I was first interested in composing by singing sacred music in Church. When we would come home from Mass, I would sit down and doodle on the synthesizer and piano, until I was able to play the hymns we sang. Eventually I got creative with the songs, and set out to write my own! I was quite young at that time, so I was unaware that you could compose for a living, but I knew that I would continue to write music, as I was passionate about it.
Can you give us a brief overview of what your home studio consists of?
A single PC, a desk, two 24″ LCD monitors, an M-Audio controller, a breathe controller, and a set of speakers. I am an in-the-box composer at the moment, so my studio could probably fit in a closet if it had to. I try to keep things slim, efficient, and modest, as that enables me to be more productive.
Whats your favourite software at the moment?
I am a huge fan of Quantum Leap Spaces at the moment. Of course I can’t take Cubase for granted, which is really the cornerstone to my workflow, but QL Spaces is a great sounding reverb and works phenomenally on orchestral tracks!
What software are you most looking forward to in the future, if any?
Talk us through your “Great Pumpkin Heist – Crazy Halloween Adventure” cue. How did you start it, what did you use on it, how did you complete it – effects, mixing etc.
I am somewhat pleased with how this cue turned out, and since it is a relatively newer one, the process of writing it is still fresh in my mind! I started the piece with the basic chord progression and melody that starts in the middle section (with the string runs) and continued to build the piece backwards from there. It all started as a piano sketch and was eventually fleshed out with orchestration.
It was written to be a piece of music in a library, so I wanted its form to be incredibly dynamic and contrasting, thus the large stylistic changes.
You are primarily hearing Hollywood Strings, Cinebrass, WIVI, Hollywood Winds, Requiem, and Spitfire Percussion. The mix is relatively basic, just a bit of EQ, and QL Spaces on some of the orchestral sections and that is it!
Tell us how you go about mixing your orchestral cues – for example, do you put reverb on each section, each instrument, the track overall etc. do you use certain instruments for colour?
Generally, I try to let the samples breathe as much as they can. So many sample libraries already have some kind of production aspects baked into the sounds, so I really focus on making the orchestration the best it can (before mixing) and then slightly adjusting elements if needed. Granted, this doesn’t always guarantee a true-to-life acoustic representation of an orchestra, but it works!
Do you use any interesting orchestral effects in your writing?
I will use the occasional Symphobia effects, or horn growls from sample libraries, although I am constantly looking for ways to manipulate acoustic sounds and/or samples to generate new kinds of effects. It is amazing what a bit of pitch shifting, EQ, and pitch bending can do!
How do you try to stay fresh as a composer?
I step away from work and try to do things completely unrelated. Sometimes that means spending time with my family, teaching, or playing for Masses. I try to make myself want to be in the studio by not allowing myself to always be IN my work, if that makes sense.
What has been your biggest project to date?
My biggest in terms notoriety? That is hard to say really. Something I am working on now will most likely be my ‘biggest’ project, although it is completely unrelated to media scoring. I think my sampling projects (a few of which are not even publicly known yet) are some of my biggest projects, simply because they take more planning, and proper executing than any score I have composed.
Do you market yourself as a composer – advertise, use social media, network?
I try to use social media in tandem with a website and forums to do most of my networking. I also get a lot of work through my clients who refer me to other developers. That is one of the best things about indie developers, they share resources!
What is the one tool you couldn’t do without as a composer? Hardware/software/mental
Coffee. Granted, having a PC allows me to be able to do what I am doing, but coffee helps get my brain started.
Whats your plans for the future?
My long term goals as a composer are relatively modest. If I can continue to work on projects, make enough money to support my growing family, and eventually build a studio in rural Ohio, I would be ecstatic. I would like to think someday I can win an award or two, but that really isn’t what is important. I am more concerned about providing for my family and enjoying what I do.
Your a member of G.A.N.G. – how do you find them?
How do I find GANG? I find it to be a great group of guys and gals! In the game industry, I have never seen so many professionals willing to provide resources and advice to students, apprentices, and amateurs. It was where I got my start and I am sure that can be said for a lot of other game audio professionals as well.
Have you got many jobs from GANG?
Directly from GANG? Other than my position with GANG, zero. From friends I have made from GANG Events? More than I can count on two hands. GANG creates the possibilities for its members to generate work if they put themselves in the position to do so!
How do you get the majority of your jobs – referrals, word of mouth etc.?
A lot of referrals these days. In years past, most of my work had come from strangers stumbling upon my work. Anymore, it seems that most of my work is coming from a client’s client, a friend of a client, or even friends of mine.
What are the most common challenges in writing music for games?
Budgets, financially and technologically speaking. On the financial side, many games simply don’t have the large budgets that other media scoring projects have at their disposal. It can be difficult to give the client what they want and need while taking care of yourself. On top of that, we have to deal with file budgets and technical limitations, especially when working with mobile/iDevice games. Many clients want their games to be downloaded over the air (OTA) and so it must remain under a certain MB file limit (depending on the platform/device) and so the music must either be compressed, or cut down, or cut out.
How long are you generally given to score the music for the games you are working on?
Depending on the client and the amount of music, it can range from one week, to half of a year. In many cases, clients just need 3-4 minutes of music, and so the entire process takes a max of 2-3 weeks. Some games are much tighter deadlines, as I am pulled in at the last second to score the projects.
How do you figure out what to charge while working on a game – do you have set prices, ask for a % or scope it out on each project?
My general rule of thumb is make as much as possible (to take care of myself and my time investment) while still being ethical to the client. Typically, I will evaluate what the client needs, what they require of me, and then present them with rates I have been paid on similar projects.
Many times I will ask the client to be honest with what they were wanting to pay for the music/audio, and if we don’t meet eye to eye, instead of refusing to work with them, I find a way to make it work, either through adjusting my needs, or adjusting their wants. I try to be a problem solver when it comes to budgets.
At what point do you usually get on board with a game project for the music? Does it differ each time?
Sometimes it is SUPER early, say 8 months before the game is released. In one case now, the game hasn’t even been announced and I have been working on it a year already. In other cases, the week before it is submitted to Apple, or sent to the publisher to be printed. Each time it is different. Being early is nice because you have time to work, but does mean that you may be tweaking work you did 12 months ago to accomodate the rest of the score. Being late can have its perks too, as the game is already developed and deadlines are SUPER stiff. I just pop in, nail it, and am finished!
You write concert works as well as music for media – which do you enjoy the most?
Is there a difference? haha I really don’t treat them much differently! I try to write music that I would enjoy listening to, and if it can be performed in a concert setting that is a huge bonus!
Can you tell us a bit about the sample libraries you create?
Sure! I have helped produce a few sample libraries to date, most of which are epic percussion libraries, including TAIKO, Ten Man Taiko, Stickbreakers Vol. 1, Action Drums Cinematic Edition, and Action Drums Taiko Edition. I have a few sample libraries up and coming, including Student Body, and one that will blow some socks off, but I can’t quite talk about that one yet. I love creating percussion sample libraries because of the power you can covey through them, but I am not beginning to explore other kinds of musicality through the samples I record and hope to do some more orchestral hybrid products in the future!
Do you do anything to supplement your income as a composer?
Definitely! I create and sell sample libraries. While that isn’t a necessity, it helps fill my downtime between projects. I can go out and sample some stuff, and then sit on the sounds for how ever many months I need to until I have some down time, at which point I can pull them out and get to work.
How did you make the transition to being a full time composer?
It was a very gradual transition for me. While studying for a degree in composition and working as a groundskeeper at a golf course, I was scoring media-related projects (nearly the entire time) which taught me how to juggle gigs and manage time. During my junior and senior years, projects were back-to-back or overlapping, so by the time I graduated I had enough work to keep me relatively busy, and also had a pile of samples that I was sitting on to begin editing whenever I was free.
I was in a very good position to jump into composing full time. I didn’t have other obligations and was driven and optimistic enough to pursue what I wanted to do without fear. Looking back, I am very blessed and grateful that things turned out as well as they did.
Who are your favourite composers at the moment and why?
I have been enjoying a lot of Thomas Bergersen‘s music lately as well as music by Jim Cowan, and David Haas. Although what I listen to on a daily basis is CONSTANTLY changing! I flip from 80’s music, to Disney music, to Van Halen in the course of an afternoon.
What is your favourite score of all time?
Oh boy, that is a tough one… I think the score for Strider (Genesis) is one of my favorites. There other scores that have brilliant pieces, but as an entire body of work, Strider’s music really stands out for me!
What advice would you give to a composer starting off?
Patience, practice, persistence, PR, and personal finances. The game audio industry can be a difficult nut to crack, but be patient and stick with it. While you are working on getting gigs, either through your website, forums, or contacting developers, continue to practice. Write music, even if you don’t have a reason to. Put yourself in positions where you are forced to write outside of the box, under unusual conditions! And lastly, learn the business, and understand your business. It is easier to be a freelance composer when you are able to balance your business and personal finances!