July 26, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 7: Composer’s Block

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Choosing music composing as a job instead of a hobby suddenly means that you’re going to have compose music even when you don’t want to. 1 If you were a writer, it’d be called “writer’s block”, so “composer’s block” seems an appropriate enough term for us. There are many obstacles that can cause composer’s block.

Obstacle #1: I don’t know where to start!

Sometimes, just starting the song can be the hardest thing. First, try asking yourself the questions in Chapter 4: Starting a Song for a Client so that you know what kind of song you’re making. Second, set your metronome (called a “click track” in some composing programs) to an appropriate tempo and time signature.

Now that you’ve prepared yourself a bit, you have to actually record your first notes. What’s the best place to start? Well, there’s no one right answer, but there are multiple ways you can begin:

Melody. It may be that a really clear melody line is what starts this song, with the other instruments coming in after to support it. This isn’t as common as you might expect, though… I frequently have to start with a non-melody instrument so that I have something on which to build the melody.
Lyrics. Even if you’re making completely instrumental piece, sometimes a few lines of lyrics will just pop into your head, and making an instrument play that rhythm will start the song for you. This can work for melody or harmony.
Bass line. This is my usual weapon of choice. I choose an appropriate instrument with a lower range, and record a bass line. It may only be a few bars long, but it’s always how I prefer to start. A house needs to start with a good foundation, and for me, even if I don’t know what the rest of my “house” is going to look like, the bass line is the best foundation. Plus, if you come up with a really fun bass line, the melody is more free to improvise to it.
Percussion. While I’m big on the bass line, the true foundation of most songs is found in its percussion section. Thus, many musicians will prefer to start with a percussion line and build up from there. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and many times I will start this way. However, if the clicking of my metronome is enough of a percussion track to begin with, I still prefer to start with a non-percussion instrument.
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  1. Reality Check: Yes, there are times when you won’t want to compose music. Every job, no matter how amazing it is, has days when you don’t want to do it.

July 19, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 6: Sharing the Load

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

When composing, it can be easy to ask a single instrument to do a bit too much work, when it would be better off spread between multiple instruments.

Let’s say you’re composing something, and you have a trombone line that goes like this:

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This is okay, but the trombone is doing a lot of short, staccato notes. Trombones are stronger when notes they perform are not so close . Let’s try giving the load to another instrument… in this case, how about a low string section? 1

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See? Same exact notes, but now the trombone is only playing half of them. The original melody played by the trombone is now played by the cellos.
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  1. Strings and brass are some of my favorite types of instruments to use when sharing the load. It won’t always work, but when it does, it’s beautiful.

July 12, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 5: Truth to Materials

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

I was watching a behind-the-scenes feature on one of the Pixar movies, and John Lasseter (the head of Pixar), spoke of a concept called “Truth To Materials”, which is one of the defining techniques in every Pixar movie. Let’s say they’re making a movie, and they need to create a park bench. Well, it’s not enough for them to just make a park bench, they ask themselves detailed questions like how old the bench is, what style it should be, should it have scratches, should there be parts where the paint has been worn off from people sitting there… that kind of stuff. These are questions that the audience would never ask, but because the people creating the movie go to that extra level of detail, you feel more immersed in the movie.

I decided to apply the same technique to music as well. As a composer with hundreds of virtual instruments at my disposal, it would be very easy to just make an instrument play whatever I want it to, but that would not be true to the real instruments that the virtual instruments are based on. Every time I add an instrument to a song, I don’t just add it and make it play my every whim; I ask myself if the instrument could physically be played that way. Here are some examples:
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July 9, 2011

Mech Mice Video

Filed under: Rocketsnail,Video Games — Tags: — Screenhog @ 4:16 pm

As many of you know, I’ve been working for Rocketsnail Games for a few months now. We’re working primarily on a project called “Mech Mice”, and the first work-in-progress video was put onto YouTube a few days ago. Take a look, in case you’re curious about what I’m working on (or you just wanted to hear my voice for the first time):

Be aware, this is very much a work-in-progress. This level will not show up in the final game, and the final game itself won’t be out for about two years.

P.S. Yes, I did compose the music. :)
P.P.S. A lot of people have asked about the pig sitting on my monitor, and some have even thought that it’s a working clock. That’s actually a model made by two friends of mine who were coworkers of mine when I worked at Club Penguin. It was made with Sculpey and then painted afterwards. It’s not actually a clock, and has electronic components whatsoever (although it would be sooo cool if it was).

July 5, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 4: Starting a Song For a Client

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

So, let’s say you have a client, who’s going to pay you to make a song. Hurray! But then you run into a problem. When you ask them “What kind of song do you want?”, they answer “I don’t know… you’re the musician.” Uh oh.

This is one of the classic problems that any artist has when they’re working for clients. Clients frequently don’t know what they want, and if they do, they don’t know how to communicate to artists. But, if you don’t get some information about this song, you can’t possibly hope to make something they’d like, and you won’t get paid!

Time to make this situation less painful… here’s my list of questions that are guaranteed to give you more information about the song you need to compose:
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