How Did You First Get Into Game Music?

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StudioAlethea: “@DanielPharos How did you first get into game music? It seems like an interesting avenue for my music, but I’m not sure how to start!”

Thanks for your question. I get that every now and then. Why not answer it here…

Me personally…

Both things are essential parts of me. Through my elder brother I came in contact with games quite early (with 6ys I think), Atari console with Pacman. I did the whole gamer thing, a little game designing, learned some programming when I was 12 (I am successfully crap at 8 languages now). Did MUDs, text adventures, played 1000s of games on C64, Amiga, SNES and so on. We had a mailbox (BBS), user meetings…

Music came later. I made some shitty MODs in the early 90ies, learned to play guitar, joined metal bands, released more and more stuff, gigs, nightliner tours…

I am actually somewhat hardcore with those 2 things (depending how you want to define it). In my best times I had 6 rehearsals a week with 3 bands. I recently sold my 3000 Amiga disks (I kept the best of course).

Hardcore because honestly I refused to learn something decent outside those 2 areas of interest, I have no fallback plan, so my only chance to save my wasted youth is to be a (music + games = ) game composer. So, the shift came natural to me.

My first try was with the game Gothic I, which turned out to be a hit. Sadly, I was too young & stupid, I couldn’t handle the software and didn’t take it so seriously, so my music did not make it into the game (though that stuff is quite good). That regret was another factor to drive me into the biz. So I tried again, and again.

First, a few student games, then, I got contacted by a company to do some small commercial game. And a 2nd, and a 3rd… I continue to work for students and non-commercial projects, sort of 50/50 at times. So, here we are, I am shifting to full time (finally) next month.

So, How To Do It?

Everybody will find their own formula for themselves. I am not the most successful one on the planet, duh, so my formula isn’t solid gold, but it works for me a little.

  • Help and be helped. Karma works for me. If you help developers of a non-commercial game, they might remember you forever. Help out your contacts if you see an oppertunity for them! It’s not only about your progress. Only with the help of your contacts you will move up to the next step. I hope I am helping you a little now.
  • Prove yourself. Many situations will test you, your character, your music, your stamina. Try to shine in those situations. Impress somebody. You might create a happy regular customer or even a good friend.
  • Game Design Students produce games and need help all the time. They also are the future of our industry, so search for schools in your vicinity and approach them. Approach students of that school online. Look at their game project website before contacting them.
  • Networking is the mother. I believe “who you know” to be the most important thing, sometimes even more important than the quality of your music. (Look at me! 😉 ) Go to events nearby, approach people, bring business cards. Meet up with the people you already know, introduce them to others you know and get introduced to the ones they know… Stay in touch afterwards! Also via Linkedin and its many local brothers like Xing in Germany.
  • Know Games. I am totally against musicians bleeding into the game music industry just because it seems to make money, not “feeling” it. If you are not into games, it will show. Grab some games, experience what it’s all about. I don’t get to play much anymore myself, but I try. If you honestly don’t get them, stick with diapers ads. Because you can’t “also do a little game music” because you need to…
  • Be royalty-free. Game Biz does not like collecting societies like GEMA. So if you also need to be the next big movie composer, and compose for hit records, you have to make a commitment. Games or not?
  • Educate yourself. There are a lot of books out there. I want to make a list some time. Grab them. Get magazines. Also look at Gamasutra.com, get the free Develop magazine and the not so free Game Developer. And your local alternatives.
  • Local, local, local. Yeah I say that all the time. Like an actress shouldn’t attack Hollywood right away, try to find a market for you where you don’t compete with Hans Zimmer. If you are in Usbekistan, chances are any local gamedevs will be needing that music of yours!
  • Get education. I am a lecturer for the School of Entertainment and Technology. If you are in Germany or Austria, have a look. Otherwise, there is a lot of education out there, for example at Berklee, who also offer online courses.
  • Work on your stuff. I mean, not only your own instrument skills, but digitally record music as often as you can, get together a demo reel. Put up a website, put the songs up, and send link to anyone you know and meet and who might care. Do not wait for anything. Run. If you have nothing to do, it will take you only a day (I swear) to find a game on this planet which will be happy to have your music for free. Blast them off their feet. New brilliant demo, new friend, repeat.

It’s all a bit much at the same time, and so it does feel all the time. Playing games and reading books can be hard at times when you have a lot of music to produce. But these are I think a few starting points off the top of my head. OK? Anything else? Make sure to contact me if you need something.


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Flattr could make the Web make Sense (and Money)

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I have just received my invitation to Flattr.

Flattr is a service that enables you to pay a little money to your favorite web content, cents at a time. It’s the tip jar on the starbucks counter that is the Internet, the hat at the feet of your favorite street musician.

  • You fill up your account with a small amount of money, so small that you really don’t notice.
  • You click on Flattr buttons (like the one on my blog to your right, hint hint hint) of stuff you like
  • Your decided payment per month is divided through the times you clicked on cool content this month.
  • Your money goes to the hard working people that fill our interwebs with goodness
  • If you click once, all your money (as low as $2.5) goes to one place. If you forget to click, it goes to charity.

The system is so perfect in it’s idealistic dream state, that I can only hope this comes to full bloom very soon.

Thought: What do you think would happen if every Facebook user spent 1 cent today on something he or she likes on the internet? Several hundred MILLIONS would go to free good services, and no one would miss that bloody cent! That is awesome beyond the powers of my keyboard.

(still in dream mode) Your blog would earn a little money, your music which you put up for free, your podcast, your drawings, your free game…

OK, it’s still in Beta. Hardly any site is on it yet. Let’s add our sites (if you are providing) and let’s ask our fav pages to join in. We can’t do anything more, really. Success totally depends on spread. If it falls on its face, well… We have tried. Currently, you even have to wait for your invitation, they are still testing. I hope that’s over soon.

You think no one wants to pay for free stuff? I couldn’t disagree more. Remember tips. Donations. Look at the income of street musicians. Look at the successes like the “pay-whatya-want” model of the Humble Indie Bundle (which made more than a million dollars, although you could get it for as little as 1 cent).

Good content is actually never free. It costs time and effort on the side of the creator. He or she just decides not to get compensation, or sees no chance to. I know it’s not “about money”. Still, imagine a good helpful insightful blogger getting a few hundred dollars back for his good work every month? This would make me so happy for him. And only 20 cents are mine or so.

I know I have donated to good tool creators, gamedevs, musicians… I know I have bought stuff which is available free elsewhere. If Flattr takes off, it has just become a lot easier. It must be totally easy or it will not work, 1 click solution FTW! Let’s shape a world of free brilliant content that can actually make sense. *sniff* Service Announcement over.

About the developer-composer relation

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I just posted a far-too-long comment to Krystian Majewski’s blog post. Krystian is the guy behind games like Excit (a well polished browser puzzle game) or Trauma (a story heavy game which reaped 4 nominations for IGF 2010).

As I trust in his taste to delete my rant in a few minutes, I will copy it here, for you to “enjoy”. Krystian suggests a game composer should limit themselves very much, and describes the pain he feels if they don’t. Here are my 200 cents about that:

Hello Krystian,

interesting article, and a good discussion starter.

But I guess I do not really agree.

I guess it’s great to be the go-to guy for sound XY and a few are rich and famous for that. But it’s only one path. I think, while you should as a composer be up-front concerning styles you don’t like – thereby saving everybody time and effort trying to bend you into the needed style – limiting yourself to a certain style has many drawbacks.

– You assume that everybody bases their decision on the music. I experience that most of the time, the decision is based on trust and sympathy first. “I trust this guy”. “I like him”. And if you have found your go-to guy, you don’t want him to be able to only work on game #1, what about game #2 and #3? They need different musical styles. Bummer.

– I often hear: “You have got the job” before anybody said a word about the style. I love those meetings. They TRUST me to be able to pull it off, whatever they need. Including stuff I have never done. I emit confidence I guess.

– Recently, I got a commercial job in a certain musical area for the first time. I was able to present 10 demo songs, all shades of that genre, and my customer was able to pinpoint the exact substyle he would like (”between #3 and #7″). My flexibility allowed him to trust me, because I had proof of concept so to speak. I’d never got the job with 5 times demo #1. My flexibility also allowed my contact to discover what exactly he wants for his game.

– A customer recently said to me “You are the expert, I trust you to make the right choice. Choose the sound you think works best.” Rare, but it does happen. See, it’s all in your head. Change how you work with your partners. We have done about 100 songs in the last year. We had to change about 8 of them. The other 92 were happily accepted. That’s the way to go, get a partner who understands your game and (hopefully) hits the mood right on the head, and you can work on what YOU do best in the meantime.

– Sometimes games have a huge range. Recently we had orchestral Hollywood, a classical guitar piece, Bar Jazz, Pink Floyd and Duran Duran in 1 project (a mix like you would have in any other movie). You don’t want to work with 5 “limited” composers in that case.

– I don’t sell music. I solve problems (”Oh god, we still need music”) and provide value (”this scene works a lot better now!”). You don’t have to take me by the hand and tell me every step, you can make ME worry about that.

– If you disagree with me all the time, we might not be a perfect match. It’s not usual, if you experience that all the time, change your team.

– And of course, if you as a composer openly limit yourself, you limit the incoming leads, leading to less jobs (unless of course are at the top of the field in the few styles you do!) and you might drain yourself if you don’t jump from genre to genre like I do.

Sorry for the long comment. To sum it up:

– Choose a guy or girl you think you can trust, who feels your game.

– Take a step back. Give good, precise directions and let the magic happen. Cornering a composer will not make him come up with something YOU haven’t thought off.

– If there is a problem with a song, let it sink for some time, then give exact directions what to change. Do not use this process to discover what you want. “Naaah, that’s not it either. Try something else” or “Possibly the first one was the best after all” is not what anybody want’s to hear (it’s in my spam filter, actually). The composer is not the one who needs to change here.

– Try to have 1 contact to the composer (team) who also has the power to approve deliveries. The more voices in the mix, the more fuss. Never run around and ask your entire team what they think. Never try to please everyone. The music is not designed for your Ipod heavy rotation, but to make your game better.