A Follow up from my talk @ Bimm London on Video Game Music

Hey guys, gals and non binary pals.

Firstly I'd like to say a massive THANKYOU to everyone who attended my talk on Tuesday 29th October. I was so pleased to see so many of you engaged in asking questions, staying behind to have a chat, and telling me about your experiences!

I hope everyone got something out of it and I'm so pleased to hear that many of you have a clearer idea of where you'd like to go with your music and taking that big leap into the industry.

Firstly I'd like to thank JdWasabi on Twitter for giving me the inspiration to use this hashtag for further questions. She is a fantastic composer who's talked at conventions on the importance of music from a developers point of view. You can listen to all her music here!

As i said, I would be using the #AskMikeC hashtag to answer any more questions you had for me. I've also gone away and had a think about some more information and insight into some of the questions that stumped me a bit.

I was asked about my writing process at the end. How do i come up with ideas for each track, and what approach do I take?

It's hard to give a clear answer to the things that come so naturally that you don't even think about them. Writing music for me now is like riding a bike. It just happens. But after breaking my process down into chunks, I can elaborate on that. It links to what i am inspired by and where I'm listening to the inspiration. I travel a lot, and when i do, I like to listen to things that match what I'm doing; syncopated rhythms for bustling cities, and long, slow ambient tracks for wide-open spaces in the country. Music enhances my memory of a place. With that in mind, if i'm being told to write music for a city scene, I'll look at a favorite track I last listened to when travelling through a city that is perhaps alien to me. In terms of the voices I use, I've recently tried starting with one element that i can heavily modulate over time through effects plugins and automation. I then think about the relationship between how the element is changing (one minute it sounds like a synth, the next it is more like drums) and how the accompanying elements follow that change. Finally, the visual inspiration sets things like keys, tempo and tonality. I have a shade of black to white when i think of each of the 12 keys on the keyboard, from C to B. This has nothing to do with the black and white keys on the piano; for instance, E is a much darker key than B flat. It helps me to remember key signatures (the correct sharps and flats for each key and tonality) and it gives each key a meaning. The colour and shape of the visual inspiration influences the key, tonality and tempo. Obviously the tempo of the piece is often set by the speed of the action, camera or moving objects. "Whats the biggest difference between writing for games compared to writing for films or Tv series?"

Games are the only non-linear medium. TV, film, adverts, they are all linear. So the challenge can be approached in two distinct ways; linear music that provides a single, repeated accompaniment for the most likely outcomes, timing and player input; or a non-linear arrangement of musical/sound elements, where the outcomes are only limited by the source material and the depth of the programming. So it's pretty simple really. Writing for linear mediums, you have frames of the action, or lines in a script, or a single image as a point of reference. So you craft your work around these points. In the world of games, what if you've written something for a player cooking food, but at this location they could be fighting enemies, racing, talking to NPCs, or they could have died, or they could have left this location far before that track develops. EVERYTHING has to be considered. The second point is 'conditioning'. I refer to what audiences have come to expect subconsciously through the history of entertainment. I think, because of the non-linearity of games, they are a more subjective medium. It's more acceptable to have music that doesn't fit with what you're doing, due to the nature of player input like i have just described. So games are more open to being interpreted in a number of different ways, whereas film music does have a few more rules and guidelines to it, and a definite formula that has changed with the times. "Do you ever experience writers block? And how would you handle it?"

Quite often. It helps to just stop what i'm doing entirely. If you have any other hobbies, do one of them. Musical ideas come to us when we least expect it, too. So it helps to be doing something completely unrelated to music. I think it's also quite easy to get writers block when you take the same approach each time. Say you always start with a melody line for your song. Try starting with a chord progression instead. Or maybe a drum rhythm. Or perhaps something that isn't a musical element at all, but sets the mood and theme for the rest of the track. It could be your medium. When i used Rytmik Retrobits on the DS to make my album Wyvern, I found it a lot easier to come up with ideas due to the limitations.

"Do you find music theory essential or is it not that important? How important is it?"

It all depends on what you are writing. Music theory is the mathematics of music. Learning it helps you to understand the relationship of the notes in the scale, intervals between the notes and the structure of the notes across phrases of music. It is not a list of rules, more a means of understanding why the rules are there.

What this means is that an understanding of theory is not needed to know what sounds good. If you know how to write phrases that create the desired result (they make the audience feel happy, sad, scared, any number of emotions and thoughts) then you don't need to know WHY unless you want to tell other people how to do it.

For example, I listened to my friends mashup album which he produced for a university project. He has little to no knowledge of music theory, but he knows which vocals go together well and where in time they should be placed. All it takes is an understanding of what doesn't seem right, what doesn't sit well, with notes and chords. Music theory will teach you exactly WHY it doesn't seem right.

Like i said in my talk, music isn't just melodies and chords. It's sound with timing. Find your sound first, find what you are best at and what you would like to do. Then figure out if you need music theory knowledge at all to do that, as many can get by fine without it.

"What are the best places for getting reviews?"

There's no one place that would be best. It's important to have a good mixture of places that you can get varied opinions from. I had a quick look at some reviews for 88 Heroes, and while some praised the soundtrack, many were quite negative about it. I had to grow some thick skin, but at the same time, i could build upon that feedback and think 'what can I do better next time?' Perhaps look at places like Metacritic to compare scores for a certain website with other websites. That way you can see if a particular source seems untrustworthy. There is a lot of gaming journalism out there that is too biased on, say, the difficulty being too high for the journalists skill level. That shouldn't detract from any artistic merit. You'll want to avoid journalists like that. One of the hardest things i've found is that a lot of reviewers, particularly those on Youtube, seldom mention the music for the game. Like it is such an afterthought to them. This heavily depends on what kind of game it is, of course, but it also means its best not to spend too long looking for reviews, and perhaps better to seek out feedback as you're writing. I hope my answers have helped! Once again thankyou to everyone who came to my first talk and helped create such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. See you next time, and remember.....don't stop writing!

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