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.

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