Category Archives: Articles

The Various Roles/Professionals Necessary to Bring Music to Life

 

  1. Music Programmer – If the Composer doesn’t directly enter in the notes of the Composition into his/her computer via Midi data, then a Music Programmer is necessary.  This role may be necessary anyway on larger projects with tight deadlines (even if the Composer enters in most of it him/herself).  The end product of this role is usually what the “Hiring Entity” will hear before it goes to be recorded live in a studio (if live recording is within in the budget).
  2. Lyricist – Not all Composers write lyrics and if your project is in need of Vocal music (more than Ooohs and Ahhs) then a Lyricist will be necessary.  Some Recording Artists (J) write their own lyrics, so this role may be covered by another professional.
  3. Orchestrator – This role is necessary for projects that need a lot of musical content created in a short amount of time, and when the music will be recorded live in a studio.  The Composer may only have time to write the basic Melody and Chord progression, so an Orchestrator is necessary to define the parts that are played by each instrument.  Orchestrators are traditionally only necessary when an Orchestra is involved, however this isn’t always the case as many Orchestrators are very versatile and musically intelligent people.  So their skill set can be applicable over a wide variety of instrument combinations.
  4. Music Preparation/Copyist – They provide any potential session musicians with the appropriate notation needed for recording the score.  Preparing sheet music can be a daunting and highly time consuming task, especially if an orchestra is involved.
  5. Proofreader – These professionals are necessary to make sure the parts are correct in the score and that the players are playing the correct notes during the recording session.  They can also point out how to record the written music more efficiently, as mentioned above.
  6. Producer – This role is necessary if the Composer is conducting at the recording session or purely for a “fresh set of ears” that can help make the performances more emotional and cohesive.  Sometimes a Composer has sat so long with a piece of music that it may be hard for him/her to hear something slightly different (perhaps something that makes the score sound better); a Producer can help here.
  7. Musician Contractor – This professional takes care of hiring all of the necessary Session Musicians for the recording session.  Larger scores may require a large number of session musicians and thus coordinating everyone’s schedules, staying within budget, booking the studio/engineers, working with Unions, etc. can be very time consuming.
  8. Conductor – Absolutely necessary if the Composer is going to be listening in the booth, perhaps taking on the role of Producer as well.  Although this role usually isn’t necessary if your musical score isn’t Orchestral.
  9. Session Musician – Necessary to bring the musical score to life and drive the emotion of the piece.  Sometimes only a single musician is needed, but other times 50, 70, or 100+ are necessary to capture the sound the “Hiring Entity” desires.
  10. Vocalist/Recording Artist – This is worth mentioning separate from a Session Musician as the vocal recording session can often be separate from the other musical instruments.  Furthermore there can be differences in payment rate and contract specifics (especially when it comes to crediting the vocalist for his/her performance).
  11. Instrument Tech – Where there are instruments, there is a need for an expert in their preparation and repair.
  12. Recording Engineer – These professionals are necessary to capture the performance of the session musicians during the recording session..  They need to be expertly familiar with the studio (gear, mics, software, etc.) and set it up in a way to efficiently/effectively record the Session Musician(s).
  13. Music Editor – This Role can be necessary for preparing the recording session (Usually in Pro Tools).  They will monitor the recording session, make any necessary adjustments, edit/clean up the recorded tracks, and label/organize everything for the Mixing Process.
  14. Mixing Engineer – This professional is especially important in modern musical styles that use anything outside of the recorded “acoustical” realm.  Production is a big part of the end product of those styles, however they are still an essential step in the Music Creation Process.  A few of their jobs are making sure all of the instruments are balanced in the song and letting important musical lines or soloists “shine” through the piece.
  15. Mastering Engineer – Necessary for balancing all of the tracks relative to one another for implementation into your project (and/or potentially the soundtrack as well).  The final touches/last layer of paint that makes it all “gel” together as a cohesive whole.
  16. **Composer Assistant – May be necessary for all of the other tasks the Composer would not have time for.  Answering Calls/Emails, booking the studio/musicians (if a Contractor isn’t involved), scheduling meetings, troubleshooting the Composer’s personal studio, Taking Notes at the Spotting Session, etc.
  17. **Music Supervisor – It is worth mentioning that a Music Supervisor may be a part of the process for some of the projects (especially Film/TV).  Although not directly hired by the Composer for the purpose of finishing a minute of music, it’s essential that the musical palette stay consistent across both the Original Score and Source/Licensed Music.

Short Interview with Orchestrator, Arranger, and Copyist, Jason Poss

Jason Poss IMDB

Q: Could you give us a brief overview of some of the tasks involved in your profession of preparing music for a recording session?

A: Music preparation is the work of creating printed music for a recording session. Usually the term is just used in reference to creating musician parts (music copying), but it also includes orchestration, arranging, printing and librarian services. Basically, music preparation begins when the composer releases the composition.

As an orchestrator, I take over when the composer completes the sketch of the composition either in a digital or a written form. It’s common today for composers to deliver a MIDI file and an audio file (MP3) of the music for orchestration. From there my job as an orchestrator is to assign the notes of the sketch to the proper instruments and make any necessary adjustments. My role is to use the live ensemble to realize the composer’s vision for the music.

There are things that work in a sequencer or when played at the piano that don’t translate well to other live instruments. As an orchestrator I have to be aware of these peculiarities and make sure that the music is written in a way that will enable the players to sound their best and facilitate a smooth recording. Additionally, composers often come to me for my ability to look at their composition and figure out how to give it a little extra spark. They expect me to be able to read between the lines of their composition and find those places where the orchestration can enrich the composition and take things to yet another level of emotionalism and excellence.

Once the orchestration is complete, individual musician parts must be created from the orchestrated score. Contrary to the marketing promises of notation software, this is not a simple one-click process. A professional music copyist pays careful attention to how the music is laid out on the page for the musician. Good copyists understand how make the written page look like it sounds to the player and lay out the page so that the eye can follow it smoothly. This makes sight-reading much easier, reduces errors in the session, and enables the players to focus more on interpretation than just trying to read all the notes.

I should also note that music proofreaders are essential in this process. Proofreading is often overlooked by amateur music copyists. Proofreaders check every note in every part against the score and may also recommend better enharmonic spellings (i.e. G-sharp vs A-flat), proper page turns, and ensure consistent labeling and notation across all parts. The keen eyes of a proofreader help eliminate potential problems long before they reach the session where they can cost money.

Once the parts have been created and proofed, they are printed on high-quality paper to reduce glare and make turning pages quieter. The pages are then bound into booklets for each musician. If there is more than one cue, all the booklets are collated for each musician by the music librarian. The music librarian then transports the music to the recording studio, makes sure every musician has the correct parts, and remains available at the session to make any changes, print new parts, or perform any other unforeseen on-site tasks.

Q: Why should either of the negotiating parties (Composer/Company) allot a portion of the Music budget to a professional Music Preparation company like Sarawak Songs?

A: Proper music preparation actually increases the value of the project in a few ways. First, good orchestration makes the music sound better, but it also enables the recording session to run smoothly. Poorly orchestrated music often requires more time in the studio for the musicians to get right because it is harder for them to play. That’s because you can end up with musical lines that aren’t idiomatic to the instrument, or require awkward techniques. Poor orchestration also requires more work on the part of the engineer to create a good balance. All this eats up precious time during a recording session. I’ve heard some engineers say that they feel a good mix starts with good orchestration. That definitely mirrors my experience.

Poor musician parts can drag a session down in a lot of unexpected ways. There are obvious things like frequent note errors that can grind a session to a halt, disrupt the creative flow, and waste studio time. But there are also subtle things that individually seem small yet have a cumulative effect. Poorly copied and printed parts can cause lackluster performances because the musicians are focusing more on reading the page than on giving their very best performance. Parts that aren’t copied well also don’t inspire confidence from the players. This can lead to a lot of unnecessary questions, which slow down things even more.

In many ways you can think of music preparation as insurance for a smooth recording session. Sure you can try to cut corners on it, but you may end up paying more in the long run when things don’t go as planned. I’ve seen more than one session bogged down because of poor music prep. It can make sessions run into costly overtime, require more time fixing problems at the mix, or just result in a performance that doesn’t live up to expectations. Sadly, people often blame the players or even the composer because they don’t have anyone in the room who understands that the real problem may lie in the music preparation. (This is also a reason why some composers have long relationships with certain orchestrators and music prep teams. They make the composer look and sound good to their clients!) 

Make sure music preparation is a part of the budget from the beginning. Otherwise you could end up wondering why things didn’t turn out as well as you expected at the end. If you’re going to spend money on the best studio, musicians, and engineer you can afford, you’ll want them to be able to give you their best work. Great music preparation ensures they’re able to do that.

Short Interview with Recording, Mixing, & Mastering Engineer, Les Brockmann

Les

 

LesBrockmann.com

Q: Could you briefly give an overview of what tasks you perform as a Mixing Engineer?

A: The music recording/mixing engineer for a score is responsible for the technical and aesthetic details of the sound of the music, from initial recording of musicians to the final mix.

Before recording, the engineer will prepare computer files for every piece of music, including all blank tracks necessary, routing and setup for headphone mix and reverb, click track, video file synchronization, etc. The music engineer would also be responsible for session planning and setup details, and communicating them with a staff of a commercial studio or scoring stage if one is used. It’s critical to be completely set up and ready in advance of musician recording, for the best management of costs – - no one wants to pay for sitting around while the engineer gets his act together!

While recording, the engineer is responsible for choosing and managing microphones and microphone placement, preamps and other outboard gear, mixing console (“real” or within software) details such as levels, control room and headphone mixes, and (unless an assistant is provided) computer operation and file management. The engineer will keep the session moving forward, and help the composer manage the best possible recorded performances within the allotted time and budget. 

The final music mix includes editing and cleanup, routing all channels including “stems” mixing if applicable, EQ reverb panning and levels in order to make a finished polished music track that can be used in the final sound dubbing.

Q: Why do you believe it is essential to hire a Mixing and Mastering Engineer?

A: Consider the director of a film – - even though he or she may have some knowledge of camera operation, it would be foolish for the director to do the cinematographer’s job. So it is as well for the composer. A composer must be expert with melody, harmony, everything about musical instruments and their usage, and most importantly the creative decisions that make the score enhance the dramatic storytelling of the film.

An engineer spends his life and career thinking about music in a different way: about the sound quality and balances of a polished finished mix. Besides all the technical details and responsibilities, the most important skill of an experienced mixer is that of listening and knowing what a good score sounds like, and how the sound of the score can best contribute to the overall quality of the experience.

My EverQuest Story…

I believe it was early 2000, and having failed to find enough friends interested in playing D&D, I went searching for a game that wouldn’t have the same issue.  In rolled EverQuest…

One of the most memorable moments & my favorite story from EQ was in fact my very first experience with the game.  It took a while to install the game on my computer and after finally connecting I was able to make my first character… “Sezrial” the Wood Elf Ranger on the Zebuxoruk server.  After pressing the button to enter “Sezrial” into the world of EQ & waiting on the “Loading” screen for a while, I finally “awoke” to a pure black screen.  I was absolutely confused… did my computer crash?  Is this a bug?

Then I heard the background ambience of Greater Faydark… the “bone chattering” of a skeleton, grunt of an orc pawn, buzz of a giant bee… all of which I of course couldn’t see because it was night time!  I was too scared to move my character, so I slowly increased the brightness on my monitor until I could at least partially make out the shapes of objects in front of me.  My 13 year old self had never experienced this amount of immersion in a game before, so I was searching for any kind of “hint” on what to do and feel.  After finally mustering the courage to move “Sezrial” around, I found that thing to hold on to…

It started softly with angelic arpeggios on a harp and as I looked up I caught a glimpse of a city in the trees… My city, Sezrial’s home, Kelethin.

I loved all of the music from EQ, but especially this song/moment as it was a pivotal point that ultimately led to my current career in Game Audio.  In fact, just this last December over the Holidays I arranged my version of the “Kelethin” theme.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6ChgBSZuio

Who knows, I may make it a yearly thing.  All of the good times I had and many, many… many… frustrations are fondly remembered now.  Thanks EQ!

Bag it Album & a New “Old” Article

So, the daily updates are pretty hard to maintain… think I’ll be switching to whatever works best with my schedule (usually once or twice a week).  This week, I’ll be posting a new “old” article!  However, I just found out that “Bag it!” is featured on both the Nook & the App store for Valentines day :)  Seems like the perfect time to buy the game for your sweetheart & hey, why not top it off with the official soundtrack: CD Baby or iTunes

 

Vertical Thinking

By: Kole Hicks

In the world of music (especially when we are talking about Western music) there are two primary ways of thinking about, analyzing, and composing music.

The first school of thought is taught at most classical conservatories and is specific to that style of music, although it can be applied to many other genres.  It is called “Horizontal” thinking and differs quite a bit from the way that most of us think about music who have grown up in a popular music world.

The second school of thought is usually gained by personal experience through listening or playing popular music styles like Rock, Blues, and Jazz; however it can be and is taught in many different modern music schools.  It is called “Vertical” thinking and this is usually the most familiar and comfortable way that most of us listen to, analyze, and compose music.

Let me start by saying that neither method is superior to the other; they are just different.  However, if both methods are used or at least understood then you (the player or composer) can use the benefits of both Schools of thought to more fully express your musical intentions.

Without further ado, I will introduce and explain “Vertical Thinking”; which is usually the most familiar way of analyzing and composing music for many of us. 

When one listens to or composes music vertically, they are interested in what is happening at that moment in time.  They are more interested in the sound as a “whole” and how each different instrument interacts with one another to create a unified “sound.”  This way of thinking is used very often in popular music styles like Pop, Rock, and Blues; where chords/harmony are the backbone of the composition.  This is not to say that “Horizontal” thinking can’t be applied to popular music, nor does it mean that harmony does not exist in “Horizontally” composed music.

This is also why you see a lot of lead sheets in Jazz, Pop, and Rock, with just the chords listed and every now and then a rhythmic figure that is usually played by all the instruments involved.  Also, groove is usually much more prevalent in music composed “Vertically,” because a great amount of attention is placed on a short rhythmic pattern which is usually repeated many times (a common technique in popular music).  Depending on the style, this can be classified as a Riff, Groove, or Clave.

Please take a look at the Vertical Thinking example below as I demonstrate how a string quartet part may be written for a common Rock song.

Example Here

As you can see in this example, the Melody is in the highest voice (violin) and separates itself from the rest of the instruments by a different rhythmic pattern (1 half note followed by 2 quarter notes).  The rest of the instruments playing in a lower register, are holding whole notes and filling an accompanying roll.  Their purpose is to do nothing more than create a Harmonic foundation for something melodic to happen on top of it.  You could think of it as a Castle being built on top of a giant dirt mound.  The dirt isn’t very exciting compared to the castle, but it’s necessary that it stays solid so that the Castle can be built and decorated with all the things that make Castles cool.

You will also notice that the chord symbols are placed above each measure, as is common in popular music styles.  This means that if a guitarist or pianist comes in to the recording session, they know the chord to play at that certain time.  The rhythm they play is usually simple and improvised, as is also common in “Vertically” composed music.

Last but not least you will notice the note I made *Does not contain proper voice leading found in Horizontally composed music.  This isn’t always true, because a lot of Jazz stresses some voice leading; however most popular music styles are ignorant of or ignore the rules of voice leading.  If you would like to find out more about the topic of voice leading, please read Mike Philippov’s article here

For those of you familiar with the concept of voice leading, you will notice that many “rules” are broken; however I will just point out one.  If you take a look at the notes contained in measure 4 (the last measure) you will notice that the intended chord is a G7.  However, there is no third (B) held by any of the instruments and the 7th of the chord (F) is doubled by both the cello and viola, which is a big “No-No” for dominant 7 chords if you follow the rules of voice leading.

This concludes Part 1 of this 2 part series on “Horizontal and Vertical Thinking”.  I hope this article helped you better understand and become more aware of the VerticalSchool of thought and composing.  Look out for my next article on “Horizontal Thinking” in the future, especially if you aren’t familiar with that school of thought.

Until next time, take care and keep on composing fellow artists!

New “Old” Article

I’m going to repost a favorite article of mine from back in 2007… my how the time flies.

The Theory of Appreciative Comparison

By: Kole Hicks

This article is based on a theory borrowed from Psychology, but adapted to the musical world.  In Psychology, there is a theory that people can’t fully appreciate something (or appreciate it more) until they have the complete opposite to compare it to.  For example, if someone lives in the Midwest it is more probable that they will fully recognize and appreciate a warm sunny day.  This is because they have been able to compare the great weather they are having now, with blizzards and ice storms a few months earlier.  Where as a person living in California is less likely to fully recognize and appreciate beautiful weather because they are exposed to it constantly.

A common lyric used in many popular songs today wraps up the theory of Appreciative Comparison very well, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.”  This serves as a good example because the two extreme opposites are exposed to this person (having something great and having nothing at all); and because of that, they are able to compare the two and in turn are more appreciative of the thing they once had.

So what I will be doing in this article is adapting this theory to the Musical realm in a practical way so that we (the artists) can more effectively write music and in turn have the audience recognize, understand, and appreciate our music much more.

However, before we begin using this theory in a practical way and applying it to our own music, we must understand the basic elements of music and compare their extremes to discover the most efficient way of expressing a change in a musical idea/emotion/etc.  Now on to the basics, there are 7 basic musical elements contained in most every song and I will list them below.

1. Melody

2. Harmony

3. Rhythm

4. Dynamics

5. Timbre

6. Form/Structure

7. Emotion

Melody refers to the arrangement of single tones that form a musical phrase or idea.  This is usually the most “catchy” part of the song and is easily identifiable in most pieces.  There are many extremes that we can use and compare with melody, but here is one example: A very consonant beautiful stepwise melody that moves slowly and gracefully// A very dissonant awkward leaping melody that moves fast and spontaneously.  Each one of these melodies implies different things and is more effective musically in certain situations than the other.

Harmony is the chords played “underneath” a melody as an accompaniment or the sonorities created with the melody (if you are thinking and composing horizontally).  Here is an example of two different ways you can use harmony.  Strictly Diatonic and a simple progression that follows the rules // Pandiatonic progression which doesn’t follow any rules at all, but still stays within the same key.  Obviously this isn’t the only difference or opposite that can be matched together, but it is a good example of how you can expand on the extremes of each element of musicality just by going into more detail.  As with Melody, the different Harmonies chosen imply unique and separate ideas and emotions too.

Rhythm refers to the note durations (of any musical idea/phrase) and/or sequencing of these durations to form patterns.  Rhythm is important and can be assigned to melodies, harmonies, themes etc.  Here are two opposites:Predictable rhythmic pattern that repeats // Unpredictable and violent rhythmic pattern that is through composed and never repeats.  Again, each of these has different meanings and is more effective at expressing certain emotions than others.

Dynamics refers to how loud or soft the music is at any one point or during a whole section/passage/entire piece.  Dynamics can be assigned to a particular instrument, group of instruments, section, theme, melody, etc.  These two opposites of Dynamics are very commonly used with great results musically: Very soft // Very loud.  This could mean that one section of music is played very softly and immediately after the next section is very loud.  Like the rest of the elements of music, each dynamic level and pattern has a different meaning.

Timbre refers to the sound quality produced by an instrument or group of them playing together.  Here is an example on guitar: A Guitar playing Sul Ponticello (by the bridge) which creates a very metallic and thin tone // A Guitar playing Sul Tasto (on the neck) which creates a warm and thick sound quality.  Other things that affect the Timbre of the music are: Articulations, Materials used to play the instrument with, etc.  Each Timbre and Sound quality has a different meaning and can effectively be used to express that meaning musically.

Form/Structure refers to the way the musical piece (or sections of the whole) is organized.  There are many ways you can form a piece of music and here is an example of two completely different ways of structuring a song: A very strict and balanced form which was intended and used throughout the whole composition process // A natural and intuitive form which was not pre-planned and is uneven in some sections.  Each of these ways of forming your music is completely valid; however their use is more appropriate in some styles and situations than others.

Emotion refers to the feeling you want to express and the listener to understand throughout the entire piece, a passage, melody etc.  Two different types of emotion that can be used in a piece of music (but are not complete opposites) are: Slightly irritated at something (like a bug flying in your face) // Unbridled fury and about to erupt with passionate Anger.  This example uses only one emotion, Anger, but the details are what separate them from each other.  Using different elements of Music that I’ve explained above, will be able to express these different levels of “Anger Intensity.”

That covers all of the 7 basic elements of music and hopefully you have gained insight into a new way of thinking and the amount of detail that can be placed into your song.  However, before I leave you I will give an example of the way that this theory can be used musically.

1. Lets say you are writing a song and you have the first section of music composed. It is a dark but melodramatic song.

2. However, after this section you want to express Triumph over this darkness. You’re not exactly sure where to start, but you want this to be a very expressive point in the music that everyone picks up on (try to make it as effective as possible).

3. This is where the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison” comes into play.  By understanding this theory and using the technique (that I will describe in the Second Article), you will be able to more effectively express your musical ideas (especially the changes) and plan out a course of action on paper.

Now this might sound very structured and condemning to the intuitive nature of music; however the technique I will be explaining in the second article, allows a gradation of participation.  It will be this way so that those of you who like to improvise for the majority of your musical compositions, will still find some use with the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” and the following technique.

This concludes the first part of the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” I hope this article has opened your musical mind and intrigued you to look forward to the next article in this 2 part series; which will actually deal with using the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” to more effectively express what you have to say to the listener and in turn the listener will be able to more fully recognize and appreciate your music.  Until next time, take care and keep composing fellow artists!

Digging through the Article Archives

Those of you who know me, understand that I like to write articles… a lot.  So, I’ve decided to repost all of my old articles (that aren’t site-exclusive) to this blog over the next couple months or so.  It’ll be quite a trip down memory lane.  Here is one my first, all the way from the ancient year of 2006!

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Are You Unique?

By: Kole Hicks

Have you ever asked yourself or been asked by other people questions like these: “What does my music have that really makes it different and unique from anyone else’s?” or “What sets you apart from every other musician out there trying to make a name for themselves?” Well, if you are like me, then you have not only had these questions come up, but put much time and thought into them while trying to prove and understand what really separates you from everyone else.

However, to truly understand what we wish to learn, we must define its true meaning. In this case, Unique is the word we shall try to understand. The dictionary defines ‘unique’ as: “being the only one of its kind: without an equal or equivalent; unparalleled.” This article will go into depth on how to answer and approach these questions, as well as, how someone can help themselves find their own “uniqueness.”

First of all, let it be known that I am not one of those instructors who will downsize the importance of actual technical practice and tell you that all someone ever needs to learn is how to hold the guitar and have a good time. I am a strong believer that the more you learn and know, the greater your playing skills, composition abilities, and distinctiveness are going to be.

1. “How do I know if I am Unique or have my own sound?”

A brilliant musician, and mentor, Tom Hess, once told me that he first found out that he had his unique style when his other guitarist turned to him one day at practice and said, “Wow, you really have something special bro, no one sounds like you.”

Needless to say, when another musician notices that you have your own sound, then that is a definite sign of uniqueness. However, what about all the people who have never had anyone tell them that their sound is “different”? To this question, I say don’t worry.

First off, every single decision you make, or lick you play in life will write a completely unique chapter in the story of your life. No one else can copy that word for word. The hardships you had to go through or the decisions you have made not only form you as a person, but as an expressive musician and will further your creative abilities uniquely.

Next, if one truly worries about how unique or “different” they sound from another musician, then their head is in the wrong place! One must always remember that the true meaning of music is for self-expression. Worrying about somebody else’s’ playing will only hinder your own. I must point out though, that there is a big difference between wanting to learn and evolve as a musician and getting upset at sounding like a certain musician and then changing for that reason. Changing because some of your licks sound like another person’s is what will waste your time and only hinder your growth. Tom Hess, never worried about sounding different from everybody else, he just kept practicing, learning, and playing what he liked until the one day he was told that he had something “special.”

2. “What can I do to help develop my own sound?”

Now that you have learned to not worry if you currently sound cliche’ or not, I have some advice for you that I have learned and use in my own musical experience.

First of all, it is perfectly fine to reach outside of what you would normally play or hear in search of something new and exciting. It is called musical exploration and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to expand their musical mind. Go through many different genres of music, ranging from Hip Hop and Bluegrass to Classical and Metal, and listen to them all closely. Some of these musical genres you may be disgusted with and that is ok, because you have just eliminated a genre that you do not wish to add to your own personal style and have come that much closer to completing your goal of self realization and self-expression.

However, there will also be genres or parts of genres that you wish to play and learn more about. Studying these elements would be highly beneficial to the development of your unique style. Remember, some of the greatest musicians have listened to and been influenced by music that is much different than their own compositions. Steve Vai was first influenced to start playing music by the musical “West Side Story,” and anyone that listens to Vai’s music knows that they both sound completely different. I have found that improvisation within rhythms, progressions, and keys that are not that well known to you, can help develop that ‘unique’ sound for you.

For example, if you are used to and comfortable improvising in a 4/4 blues progression of: A7 – I7, E7 – V7, A7 – I7, then try something completely different than that. Perhaps try a 6/8 Classical progression of: A – I, Bm – ii, D – IV6, E – V, G#dim – vii*6, A – I. (Suggesting you have the technique and theory knowledge to play in this new progression.)

In conclusion, I want you all to remember two things from this article that will be highly beneficial throughout your musical career. Don’t worry about sounding different from someone else, but if you are on the path of self-expression, I advise you to open your mind and listen to music that you would normally never think about.

How to Hire an Audio Contractor for your Game

My name is Kole Hicks and by profession I’m a Freelance Composer and Sound Designer with a focus in Games (Kole Audio Solutions). My goal with writing this article is to share information gained from years of personal experience on how to best approach the subject of hiring an Audio Contractor. I hope to help both those who are working on their first game and are new to the process, along with those developers who have a bit more experience, but are looking to make the process a little easier.So… you’re at that point in developing your game where an impact sound could really help that melee hit feel satisfying and some triumphant orchestral music would really help the player feel like a hero. Great! Now What?

Well, you could always go to a library and pick up said Sounds and Music at a semi-decent quality level on the cheap. The quality varies greatly from library to library and often the highest quality Audio assets will cost a pretty penny more than it’s lower quality competitors. However, you understand that great custom Audio has a large role in immersion and the player’s enjoyment of your game, so it deserves the same investment that you’ve put into the other areas of development.

With checkbook in hand now you’re ready to go hire someone to create fantastic Audio for your game! … Or are you?

I. What to Have Prepared Before you Contact the Audio Contractor

Before you even start looking for someone who is capable of bringing your audio world to life, there are a few things to prepare that will help potential Audio Contractors create a more accurate quote for the work to be done.

First and foremost, play through the entirety of your game and create an Audio Asset list. Depending on your needs this could include Music, Sound Effects, Dialogue, etc. It’s also imperative to know if you’ll only be needing the Audio Contractor’s creative services, or if you’d prefer him/her to implement the audio as well (not all Audio Contractors do both).

Next, it’s not absolutely essential (as it depends on where you’re at in development when hiring), but a playable build of the game in some form is infinitely helpful to the potential Audio Contractor. After signing an NDA, some Audio Contractors may prefer playing through the game to not only get a feel for the mood/style, but to potentially augment the Audio Asset List with essential items that may have been missed.

It sounds like common sense, but the next thing to have prepared before you contact an Audio Contractor, is an idea of what your game world should sound like. You don’t have to go into very specific detail (in fact too much direction will limit the creativity of the Audio Contractor), but you should have a general idea of what your characters sound like, how the world should sound when the player is walking around in it, and what emotions the music should evoke. At some point it’s necessary to complete a “Style Guide” for the entirety of your game. While it’s not essential for the Audio Contractor to have this during the bidding process, it most certainly will help them get a clearer image of what you’re envisioning.

Last but certainly not least, formulate an accurate idea of your Audio budget. Understandably you’ll most likely keep this hidden from potential Audio Contractors during the bidding process for negotiating reasons, but it’s essential that you have an amount allotted for every section of Audio in your game. Furthermore, determine the amount of time you’d need the Audio completed in and how much space it can take up (essential for mobile games).

**I realize it may be useful to see some numbers on how much recording dialogue costs, a finished minute of music, etc. However, there are tons of variables to consider and these numbers can vary greatly from not only contractor to contractor, but region to region. Instead, perhaps in the future I’ll create an article detailing of all the elements involved in bringing a single sound effect, line of dialogue, or minute of music to life. That way you’ll be in a position of understanding how complicated (or simple) you’d prefer the process to be and thus control how much it would cost.

II. How to Find a Professional Audio Contractor

Now that you have a solid idea of what your game world will sound like, a shiny new Audio Asset List, an accurate idea of your Audio budget, and perhaps even a playable build of your game, it’s time to find your Audio Contractor!

So your buddy happens to play drums in this one punk rock band and you think to yourself “Wow, he’d be perfect to score my Game!” Well (assuming this drummer is also a competent Composer and familiar with recording) if your game requires one-shot drum heavy Punk-Rock… you could be right! If however your game requires dark Irish influenced orchestral music that’s very interactive, I’d recommend finding a professional. Where though?

Well, the first option is to ask your other Game dev. friends and colleagues, as they may have worked with someone who could fit the bill. Make sure to check out their website for the quality of their work and potentially their Linked In Profile for recommendations (seems to still be used frequently in the Game Industry).

Second, you could always try contacting an Audio Contractor that worked on one of your favorite games. Love the “Amazing Spider Man” or “God of War” music? If you’ve got the budget, then contact Gerard Marino directly and see if he’s interested. However, Audio Contractors of all sizes and shapes are usually credited somewhere in the game, so those with tighter “indie” budget restraints need not woe.

Next, you could always post a listing on a site like Gamasutra or perhaps on a forum that correlates with the engine you’re using (Unreal, Unity, etc.). However, I must warn you ahead of time though that you’ll receive quite a few submissions and the quality will vary greatly in the submissions you receive. So be ready to filter through a ton of e-mails to find the right Audio Contractor if you choose this option.

Last but not least, keep your eyes out for Articles like this one on various sites/blogs! There are a handful of us who really enjoy writing as well as creating Audio for Games, so feel free to add those people to your “list.” =D

III. How to Contact an Audio Contractor for a Quote/Bid

Now that you have a list of potential Audio Contractors and all the necessary materials prepped, it’s time to contact them for a Bid on your Game. What information should go into these e-mails though?

First, I would recommend e-mailing your potential contractors with a short summary of your game and it’s audio needs. Ask them if they may be interested in taking on the project and if they would have the time do so.

You’ll most likely hear back from these potential contractors with a “Yes/Yes,” so the next step should be a proper meeting discussing the direction of the game and it’s specific Audio needs. Most developers prefer these contractors sign an NDA before discussing anything in depth and most professional Audio Contractors are very used to this. Sending over a build of your game at this time is recommended (if you have one in a playable state).

After this meeting the process can go in a few different directions. If you feel confident enough in the Audio Contractor’s abilities to accurately create Audio for your game, then you’d supply him/her with the Asset List/Build/etc. and ask for a Quote on how much it would cost for the work to be completed. If however you’re not completely sold on their abilities, it’s not uncommon to ask for a short spec. demo from the Audio Contractor. Some contractors will be opposed to this (as they may have a lot on their plate and very little time), so offering a little compensation as a sign of respect for their time should solve that issue.

**An appropriate spec. demo varies based on many factors, but between 2 – 5 Sound Effects, 30s – 60s of Music, or a few lines of dialogue are usually acceptable.

IV. How to Choose Your Audio Contractor and Seal the Deal

You’re almost to the finish line! Let’s say three of your meetings went quite well and you’ve received each Quote from the potential contractors. Which one should you choose?

There are many reasons for choosing one contractor over another, but I recommend NOT having money be the deciding factor. Sure it’s a very important part of making your game, but there are often reasons to why one contractor would quote higher than another. Perhaps they have higher quality equipment/more schooling, include multiple revisions per asset in the price (useful for iterative teams), or are just very timely and professional. Over the years I’ve lost initial bids for projects purely because I quoted higher than some of my competitors only to have the developer come back at a later date (when deadlines are looming) asking if I’m still interested. In some instances the quality of the work they initially received from the other contractor was terrible, or perhaps it was just the lack of communication. Either way, professionalism goes a long way and justifies that old saying “You get what you pay for.”

So, maybe one of the contractors is really appealing to work with (especially if you loved their spec. demo), but his/her quote is higher than you budgeted for. Find out what elements are contributing to that Quote and even make a counter offer, but don’t just say “No” and choose the cheaper option if you really want to work with this contractor. The majority of us are open to negotiating terms and compensation.

Last but not least, you sign the Agreement and begin your journey working together… may it be a fantastic and memorable one (with perhaps many more to come in the future)!

**I could write forever on the specific conditions that make up a standard Music/Sound WFH or Licensing Agreement, but will save that for another article in the future. Until then, take comfort in the fact that most professional Audio Contractors have templates they work from. Or, if you have the money, attorneys will be involved at that point and they can worry about all of that stuff.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Best of luck with your game and your Audio Contractor hiring endeavors!