February 10, 2012

Remix: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Oil Ocean

Filed under: Music,Video Games — Tags: — Screenhog @ 11:25 am

I was a pretty big fan of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in the early ’90s, and this was due in no small part to the music. Oil Ocean, a level near the end of the game, had some of my favourite music, so I decided to do a remix of that song:

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I don’t get to play with Middle Eastern and Indian instruments very frequently, and this seemed like the perfect place to give that a shot.

December 9, 2011

Camp Skookum Theme

Filed under: Music — Screenhog @ 9:54 am

A new song has been added to the Music Player. It’s the theme for Camp Skookum, a virtual world in development.

The creators of the site asked that I create a simple, catchy tune, so I did. Beware, though… if you listen to it too much, it will get stuck in your head for days.

September 13, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 14: Humbled by Beethoven

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

This will be my last “Orchestra of One” post for awhile. It’s been fun, but I only have so much time available to me, and I want to put other things on Screenhog.com (comic updates, for instance, have been pretty sparse lately). However, before I go on my hiatus, I’d like to share a story.

Last year, I attended a concert in which an orchestra was about to perform Beethoven’s Symphony #5. Now, I’d already been composing music commercially for a few years, and I was feeling pretty confident about my own skills as a composer, thinking that I was a pretty awesome composer, if I said so myself.

However, any pride in my own abilities was pretty much crushed as soon as the orchestra started, though. The entire symphony was absolutely beautiful, and I sat in my seat amazed by the skill in what I’d heard. “Beethoven was able to come up with something this beautiful? 200 years ago? Without computers? WHILE DEAF?!?”

Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.

You do too. Beethoven1, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Bach… we will likely never get the point where we’re considered a master like they were. In some ways, that’s kinda depressing.

But on the other hand, we also have advantages that they could never have dreamed about. We have access to instruments that weren’t even invented when they were alive. Every major song created in the last 200 years can be instantly available to us to learn from. Musicians are paid more than they ever have been in history.2 And, most importantly, we have tools at our disposal capable of almost perfectly recreating the sound of an entire orchestra… by ourselves!

There has never been a better time to be a composer. I hope that the articles I’ve written so far have helped to inspire you, and I imagine I’ll be writing more in the future. If there’s a song you want to share, put it online3 and post about it in the comments! I’d love to hear what you’ve made.

Previous: Chapter 13: How to Get Noticed

Footnotes:

  1. It’s difficult for me to think of Beethoven without thinking of Schroeder from the Peanuts comic strip. So, here he is.
  2. Yes, despite the high number of “starving artists” out there. It’s a frequently ignored fact that, throughout most of history, artists didn’t get paid (or if they did, it was in tangible things like room and board, not in money).
  3. Getting a song online is actually pretty easy. There’s a lot of free webhosting out there.

September 6, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 13: How to Get Noticed

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

Since starting this series, I’ve been asked many questions about composing from readers just like you, and the most frequent questions I’ve been asked have been things like “How do I get my music to be noticed by more people?” or “How can I get people to hire me to make music for them?” It’s natural… you’re an artist, which means that a.) you want more people to see the awesome work you do, and b.) you’d probably like to make some money doing it.

Now, honestly, I don’t know how to answer this question for you, specifically. The answer for every artist is different. But I do have some advice, and while it might be a bit boring to read, if you understand it, it should help you. (By the way, unlike my other chapters in this series, this advice can easily apply to all artists.)

There are two keys to long-term success in an art form: what you know and who knows you.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 30, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 12: Echo, Echo

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

Audio effects are things which are added to sound with the purpose of warping the sound in some way, and up until this point, I haven’t talked about them very much. This is partially due to the fact that I don’t generally use a lot of audio effects in my recordings, but it’s also because I’m just not very good at using most audio effects properly. However, there’s one category of effects that is vital for a composer to try and understand; the echo.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 23, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 11: Lessons from a Shark

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

Jaws was a film made in 1975. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it was the story of a shark that terrorized the ocean, and was arguably the first movie to introduce the world to one of the best composers in the film industry, John Williams.

The soundtrack for Jaws is filled with sweeping orchestral arrangements, original themes for the main characters 1, and a high level of musical craftsmanship. However, when you think of the music in Jaws, what is the only thing you remember about it?

Ba-dum.

You don’t have to know a thing about playing a musical instrument to play the theme to Jaws. Just find a piano, pick a note on the far left-hand side, find the note directly above it, and play those notes alternately, increasing in speed and volume. And yet, it’s one of the most famous movie themes in history. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

But what can we learn from this?
(click to read the rest of this post…)

  1. When a character in a movie or play has a specific theme relating to them, it’s called a “leitmotif”. John Williams uses a lot of these in his movies, and the technique brings a great deal of consistency to his work.

August 16, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 10: Occupational Hazards

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

Composing music is a pretty safe job. We’re not working hundreds of feet above or below the ground, we’re not handling dangerous machinery, and no one will die if we do our job wrong. It is a job with very few hazards… but there are still hazards. Here’s a list of some of them, with some solutions of how to combat them.

Hazard #1: You’ve come up with a great song, but you have no place to record it.

Contrary to what some might think, composers do not just stop composing when they’re away from an instrument. In fact, I come up with some of my best songs when I’m doing pretty random things. Showering, washing dishes, driving, having a picnic… you never know when a great song will strike you, but what do you do when there’s no place to record it?

The solution is to always have some way to record it. Most cell phones have some kind of ability to download applications. I have one myself called “Tape-a-Talk”, which was designed for recording audio like a dictaphone. If I come up with a song, wherever I am, I can take a moment to hum it into my cell phone, recording it for later.

However, a cell phone isn’t the only thing that I’ve used for this purpose. For instance, one day I was walking to a church picnic, when I came up with a great song idea. I didn’t have a cell phone with me, but I did have digital camera that could take short video clips. So, I recorded myself humming into the camera. That melody later became my song Cumulonimbus (which can be heard in the Music Player).
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 9, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 9: MIDI Trickery

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

For this chapter, I’m assuming that you know the difference between MIDI and wave audio. If you don’t, search online for a refresher of how it works.

MIDI, while quite misunderstood by many, is an extremely powerful tool for recording. Because it only records the data of how an instrument should be played, it’s easy to edit and finetune a recording to your liking. However, you might not realize that certain MIDI tricks can make you a better performer than you actually are.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 2, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 8: Song – Hunt for the Orb

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 9:23 am

A few weeks ago, I linked to a video that showed Mech Mice, the project I’m working on for Rocketsnail Games. The background music was part of a larger song I was working on, and here is the finished song 1 (you can also find the song added to the Music Player).

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Now, I’ve been giving composing advice for the last two months. Would you like to see how I used my own advice to help compose this song? (If not, just enjoy the music… if yes, click the link below.)
(click to read the rest of this post…)

  1. This song is owned by Rocketsnail Games. Used here with permission.

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.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

  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.
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