Plans For This Fall

It looks like I managed to let another five months pass by without any major posts to the blog. This is what happens when I give myself too many projects to tackle. I had a lot going on this spring and summer, but I suppose it’s time for another update. I managed to get out to PAX East this year, going for my first time as a member of the press and covered some interesting music related games. Most of my time was spent working and writing for Original Sound Version. The rest of the time was spent working on my music and other projects in the studio.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I started learning to play guitar and electric bass. I had studied a bit of guitar years ago and for some reason I decided that this summer I should expand my performance skills to other instruments. I’m primarily teaching myself with the aid of some method books. I’ve also been getting some practice through the game Rocksmith 2014, which has helped with mixed results. At some point I may try to write a critique about its usefulness as a learning tool, but for now it will just remain a fun distraction. I’m hoping at some point to apply some of my newly developing guitar and bass skills to my future music projects.

My plans for this fall include returning to my seasonal day job. It’s a necessary evil, but until I actually start earning more of a living from music it has to be done. It will certainly divide more of my attention away from music and reviewing, but it will be nice to have a steady paycheck for a while. I’ll also be going out to a convention this week called the Boston Festival of Indie Games. It’s a one day event, on September 13th at MIT, that showcases the work of small developers from the New England area. I attended last year and even reported on a concert they held. It ended up being a lot of fun last year. Anyone in the area should definitely check it out.

As for the status of this site, I’m looking into making some major changes. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I want to change this over into more of a portfolio for my audio work. I’ve also been considering the possibility of just making a new site from scratch and just shutting down this current site. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve been relatively happy with the way this blog has turned out and I’m not sure if I want to do something that drastic. In any case, there may be some big changes happening in the coming months. I’ll be posting again if and when that happens.

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A New Year and Some New Plans

Well that was an interesting and busy 5 months. Things in my life have finally slowed down enough that I’ve been able to come back and write a few posts for my poor neglected website. It turns out that working a 40-50 hour day job, remodeling/setting up a studio space, writing news stories and reviews for the Original Sound Version gaming site, and attending conventions doesn’t leave a person with a lot of spare time. But I am finally back. A little tired out, but back.

One of the big things that happened recently involves my work on the Original Sound Version (OSV) site. I had known that this was in the cards for a while, but part of the plan with bringing me on the site was not just that I would be writing for it, I would also eventually be helping run the site. So starting this past January, fellow contributing writer Brenna Wilkes and I became the Co-Managing Editors of Original Sound Version. The original founders of the site have moved on to bigger and better things and they felt confident enough in Brenna and I that they have handed control of the site over to us. I’m honored and humbled to have been given the chance to do this and I hope to continue making OSV a great site to go to for game music reviews and news.

My full-time day job, which was seasonal, has finally ended, so now I’m able to focus on my music and working on OSV. For now, I’ll be focusing my music efforts on expanding and building my portfolio. Even though I didn’t have time to compose over the past several months, I continued to come up with ideas and tried to jot a lot of them down. The lack of original music that I currently have up on this site has been gnawing at me all winter and it’s the first major thing I want to tackle. So with a larger chunk of my time free, I’m going to go into full music production mode. I have some ideas for what I want to do, so hopefully I’ll have some more stuff coming to this site in the near future.

I will try to keep posting on this site when I get the chance. I said that last time of course, but at least I know now that I’ll have some actual time to do it. No more of this once every 5 months nonsense. As I said in my last post, anything involving game coverage that I do is going to be on Original Sound Version, so this site is really being transitioned into a blog/site for my music projects. Be sure to check out some of the stuff we’re doing over at OSV. For now, I’m going to get back to composing and I’ll hopefully have something more to tell you in the next few weeks.

New Opportunities and Some Changes

Over the past few months I’ve been given some great opportunities to pursue my passions, both as a musician and as a writer. The first of these came when I entered a piece of music into the GamerCon-pilation 2013 competition. I wasn’t expected anything to happen with it, but it was a fun challenge. Much to my joy and surprise, my piece was selected for the album and suddenly I had my first published piece of music. Published at least in the sense that it was mastered and put on an album on Bandcamp, rather than something I put up on Soundcloud myself. I talked about it in more detail back when the album launched during the San Diego Comic Con, but long story short it was a real morale boost for me as a composer. It was a moment where I was able to look back at how much I had improved over the past few years in terms of my writing and mixing. It was great to have my work acknowledged and it has encouraged me to continue pursuing a career as a composer. As part of that, I began working on re-arranging and improving my studio setup. The studio will ideally serve as both a recording/studio space and as a teaching space, when I have time to take on students. It will be a big project that will potentially disrupt my other activities, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

While all of this was happening, I was informed that the website Original Sound Version (OSV) was looking for people who could help out with the site. If you’ve never been to Original Sound Version, it’s a site dedicated to reviewing video game music, interviewing composers, and discussing anything that falls into that specific field of the gaming industry. There’s a talented group of people writing for it and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of game music. Much like the GamerCon-pilation I figured it was a shot and the dark and there was no harm in at least sending them an email telling them about myself and this site. After having an interview, discussing different things about the site, and several rounds of emails, I was brought on as a contributing writer. My first review, for the game soundtrack Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, is already up on Original Sound Version with more on the way. It’s an honor to have been brought on as a contributing writer and I’m look forward to writing more articles and reviews for the site.

In addition to all of this progress, I managed to find myself a full-time job for the fall/winter season. It’s nothing music related unfortunately, but it will help me pay the bills. While this is good for me financially (those student loans aren’t going to pay themselves), it is going to throw a wrench into everything else that I’m doing. I’ll still be able to work on my projects, but I’ll have a lot less free time to focus on everything. Obviously any time not spent at the new job is going to be dedicated to my work for Original Sound Version. As far as I’m concerned, my work for them gets priority. I want to take the opportunity they have given me seriously, so no slacking off. Any remaining time I have will be dedicated to my music. I still want to get work done towards producing my solo album, in addition to some other smaller projects. All of this is going to be a lot to juggle and hopefully I’ll have enough time for everything.

So what does that mean for this site? Well, unfortunately it means that I will be posting less frequently here. Any type of review or game music industry related article I write will likely be content that goes up on Original Sound Version. I had always planned to shift this specific site away from covering game industry content and put more focus on my music projects. This latest series of events has propelled it towards that design. You will still see some occasional content, most likely a glimpse at some of my projects or experiments. I will also make any announcements about conventions I’m going to and any other big things that are happening, in terms of my music. With all of that said, please be sure to check out everything happening on Original Sound Version. I’ll also announce any of my writing activities for this site and for OSV on my twitter account, so feel free to follow me there for updates. With any luck, I should have more things coming down the pipeline soon. It’s been an exciting few months for me and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Upcoming Events: Boston Festival of Indie Games 2013

If you’re looking for a new gaming convention to check out in the New England area, there’s a one-day gaming festival taking place in Boston, Massachusetts next month. On September 14th, the MIT campus will be hosting the Boston Festival of Indie Games 2013. The event is in its second year and will run from 10 am until 10 pm. The event features show floors for tabletop and digital games, a game jam that will go on for most of the day, an art exhibit, and screenings of feature films about gaming. There’s also an off campus concert in the evening running from 7pm – 11:30 pm titled Boston Plays Indies. The concert will feature music performances by Deadbeatblast, Darren Korb, Control Group, DJ Cutman, and Boston’s own Video Game Orchestra. The festival is free to attend, so if you are in the area on September 14th it will definitely be worth checking out. Tickets to the music concert Boston Plays Indies will require you to buy separate tickets and the concert venue requires you to be 18 or older.Boston Plays Indies

The primary focus of the festival is to promote the digital and tabletop games of independent game developers. Over 30 different developers will be at the show to feature their games, which you can play and help test out. The event also features guest speakers include Robin Hunicke, the executive producer of Journey, Chris Remo, a composer and writer currently working at Double Fine, and Brian O’Halloran, an actor/writer probably best known for his role as Dante Hicks in the movie Clerks.

It’s great to see more events taking place on the east coast, especially in the New England area. I’ll be heading to the festival myself and checking out everything on display, including the Boston Plays Indies concert in the evening. This will be my first time attending this particular convention. I’m not sure what to expect, but it looks like it will be a lot of fun. I’m especially looking forward to seeing groups like the Video Game Orchestra and Control Group perform. The last time that I checked, they are still looking for some volunteers to help them set up and run the festival. They’ll provide you with a t-shirt, food, drinks, and lunch for helping out. Be sure to check out their volunteer page if that sort of thing interests you. Again the main festival is free of charge, so give it a look if you plan on being in the area on September 14th. Hope to see you there.

My First Step into Audio Recording

Like a number of independent/freelance composers, my music is usually all performed with virtual instruments and samples. Most of my experiences with music writing have involved either writing for live instruments, with music notation software like Sibelius and Finale, or by using virtual instruments in programs like Garage Band or Logic Pro. A number of pieces that I wrote back in college were recorded, but the actual recording process was always handled by someone else. It was something that was considered a separate discipline from music composition and only a few of my peers actually went out of their way to learn some of the basics. To this day I’m not entirely sure why we weren’t all actively encouraged if not required to study it by our professors and instructors. It’s something that I regret not pursuing as much, in hindsight.

For most of the past year, I’ve remained focused on learning more about the mixing and arranging process for music production. As much as I’ve wanted to incorporate live instruments into my pieces, I decided that learning the different plug-ins and interfaces for Logic Pro needed to take priority. There’s no point in getting audio uploaded into the interface if you don’t know how to edit and process it. I wanted to make sure that I had a good understanding of my DAW (digital audio workstation) before adding recording equipment into the equation. After gaining some experience producing tracks on Logic, I decided to finally start looking into acquiring some recording equipment.

I began doing research on the different types of microphones and what would work best for my home studio. Specifically I needed something that I could use for recording a variety of different sound sources. I needed good entry-level microphone that would be good for recording vocals, guitar, and my studio piano. The type of microphone that was recommended by most people was a condenser microphone. There’s a good selection of brands to choose from, and I could find a decent condenser microphone for around or below $100. A few microphone models that were recommended to me were the Samson C01, the Behringer B1, and the Audio Technica AT2020. These three became my focus for researching opinions, technical specifications, and reviews.

After talking to some people and debating with myself on which one to get, I finally settled on the Behringer B1. Most of the reviews I read on it were very positive. Even people who thought that it was lacking in some aspects stated that it was a great microphone when compared to other mics in the same price range. Many people reported that it has a very flat EQ response, as advertised, meaning the recordings would be very accurate to the original sound source. The primary criticism that I heard about the microphones, and Behringer products in general, was that they borrow the designs of better mics and keep costs down by manufacturing them in China. Despite this, a majority of people seemed to be pleased with the microphones and many people with their own studios recommended it as a good entry-level microphone, which is exactly what I was looking for.

I ended up ordering the Behringer B1 as well as a small audio mixer, the Xynyx Q802USB. The mixer was needed in order to supply the microphone with 48 volts of power and to transfer the recorded data to the computer via the mixer’s USB interface. Both the microphone and the mixer arrived in about a week.

Behringer B1 Condenser MicThe Behringer B1 came with its own carrying case along with a shock mount and a windscreen. The case is fairly low-grade and lightweight, made of aluminum and plastic, so I don’t think I’ll be using it for traveling anytime soon. It looks like it will work fine for storing the equipment when I’m not using it. The shock mount is well-built and has some padding on the inner ring to protect the mic from getting scratched. The microphone itself has a sturdy nickel-plated brass body and has a heavy solid feel to it. Overall a very well constructed look and design.

Q802USB MixerThe Behringer mixer, much like the carrying case, is very lightweight. A lot of lightweight metal and plastic went into the construction of this mixer, which had me a little worried. For the low price I paid I wasn’t expecting much, but I was still a little skeptical. Once I read through the instruction manuals for the mixer and the mic, I set them up for a test run. I kept the setup fairly simple. I connected the mixer to my computer through the USB cable, plugged in some headphones into the mixer to monitor the sound, and attached the B1 to the first mixer channel. After some minor fiddling with the gain and channel levels, I got a consistent and clear response from the mic. Everything that the mic picked up sounded almost exactly like the original source. The one big thing that I noticed was that the mic was picking up just about every sound that was in its range, no matter how subtle. Hopefully this won’t provide to many problems for actual recording sessions. I may need to do some more soundproofing for the room in the worst case scenario. Everything on the mixer worked very well. My only minor concern is that the mixer did get a little hot after my testing session, but it seemed to cool down relatively quickly. I’m hoping that it won’t cause any problems in the future or during any lengthy recording sessions.

I’ll probably do some other tests with my guitar and external effects at a later date, but for now it looks like I’ve got my new recording studio setup. I’ll need to spend more time with the devices before I can truly give a final verdict or endorsement, but it looks like they’ve been a good investment so far. Both the Behringer B1 and the mixer work great and I can’t wait to start doing some more recording and experimenting with them.

Derelict Ship track

Last week I had the privilege of having one of my pieces featured on a new compilation album of video game composers. Titled the Gam3rCon-Pilation Album 2013, the album features a collection of original pieces by composers from around the world. Originally I wanted to have a post up on the day of the album’s release, but I decided to wait until I had a chance to listen to it in its entirety before commenting or discussing it and my piece. Today I want to present my thoughts about the project and give you a small glimpse into what went into the creation of my track Derelict Ship.

I originally heard about the Gam3rCon-Pilation Album through some people on twitter who had posted a web link for the project. The members of Slightly Ajar Treasure Chest and Gam3rCon were looking to gather submissions of new music by game composers for an album to be released and played at Gam3rCon 2013. The only major requirement, in terms of style of music, was that it had to be a piece that you would hear played in a video game. It could be in any genre and I could use any tools that I had available to create the piece. Given that I am still working towards earning a living as a composer, I didn’t want to pass this opportunity up.

One of the first things I needed to decide was what type of piece I wanted to write for this album. My first thought was to do a big orchestral piece, primarily a boss or battle theme. I felt that, with my classical music background, it would be better to go with my strengths in orchestral writing, rather than working in a genre outside my discipline. However, I began to question if that was the best approach. In some previous composing competitions, I had seen a lot of orchestral composers write big, dramatic, attention grabbing pieces. Many of them were good, but it seemed to be the default approach for a large number of people. I wanted to do something that was different from what others would write. With that thought in mind, I started thinking about alternatives. I began looking at some of the older games in my library, particularly games that I had played over the past decade. One franchise that I’ve really enjoyed, especially in terms of the music, is the Metroid series. Super Metroid and the Metroid Prime games have some amazing atmosphere and the music plays a huge roll in setting the tone of the player’s experience. At that point I decided to try writing a piece for a game in a science fiction setting.

One of the elements that I really wanted to emulate from the Metroid series, Metroid Prime in particular, was the mix of acoustic and electronic sounds. I wanted to have an acoustic instrument provide the melodies and have the rest of the piece built around it. I spent some time exploring my instrument libraries and eventually decided on the Shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown flute, for the featured instrument. A majority of the writing process involved experimenting with different melodies against a set bass line. Once that was all figured out, I began fiddling with different electronic and bass instruments. The organ and low synth pad were brought in first, with the harp and electric bass added once I decided at what points I wanted them to enter in the piece. I ended up adding a majority of the higher pitched instruments much later in the project’s development. The high synth pad and the voices helped add a more foreboding and tense feeling to the track. I spent a majority of the writing process trying to find a good balance between the shakuhachi’s tranquil passages and the more dissonant synth and vocal sections.

Most of the mixing process was very straight forward. The two instruments that took the longest time for me to finish adjusting were the drums and the shakuhachi. I experimented with a lot EQ settings and reverb effects for these instruments. I wanted to give some reverb to the drums to help give a cavernous sound to the piece, while making sure the drums had enough presence so they wouldn’t get washed out against the other instruments. The EQ for the shakuhachi was something I spent the most time on, out of all the elements in the piece. In the final version I boosted some of the high-end frequencies, which brought out the breathier sounds of the flute. This also helped separate the instrument from the rest of the mix. Once I was finally satisfied with what I had, I submitted Derelict Ship and waited for the verdict. A few weeks later, I received confirmation that the piece had been selected.

The album was released on July 17 on Bandcamp in time for the Gam3rCon in San Diego. This was the first time that I was able to hear everyone’s piece with the final mastering touches that Nate Herrera, aka N8bit, implemented. The Gam3rconPilation Album 2013 has a very diverse collection of styles from the different composers. The genres range from chiptune, orchestral, to electronic. I can honestly say that N8bit did a great job with mastering the Derelict Ship track. He brought out all the elements of my music that I wanted to have stand out and gave the whole piece the extra audio polish that it needed. Every piece on this album sounds excellent and each composer has their own unique sound and style on display. Give it a listen if you are a fan of video game music of any kind. There’s something for everyone to enjoy.

I would like to thank everyone at Slightly Ajar Treasure Chest, including N8bit, and the people from Gam3rCon for putting together this Gam3rConpilation event. It’s been an honor to have been selected for the album and it was a great learning experience for me. I look forward to seeing them continue this as an annual project that helps showcase a diverse range of new artists. Again, if you haven’t checked out the album yet, it’s available on Bandcamp for free at name-your-own-price. Any money put towards the album will be used to support the next album and a portion of the proceeds will also go to the Child’s Play Charity. I had a lot of fun creating the Derelict Ship track and I hope you all enjoy the album.

Gam3rCon-Pilation Album 2013

I mentioned in a few of my previous posts that I was working on submitting a piece of music to be considered for part of a compilation album. There were a few guidelines for the piece. It had to be an original work made specifically for this collection, it had to be written with the idea in mind that you would hear this piece in a video game soundtrack, and it needed to meet some basic guidelines for audio quality. After sending out my track and waiting out the judging process, I am happy to report that my piece, Derelict Ship, was chosen to be included on the compilation album. This will officially be the first time that one of my pieces is getting mastered and released on an album.

The album, as you can probably guess from the title of this post, is the Gam3rCon-Pilation Album. The album is a concept that has been organized by the San Diego Gam3rCon and Slightly Ajar Treasure Chest (SATCh) and features original music from artists all around the world. The tracks are being mixed and mastered by Nate Herrera, aka N8bit, of the SATCh Team. Once finished, it will be uploaded to Soundcloud, Loudr, and Bandcamp on July 17th. It will be a pay what you want deal on Bandcamp and 10% of the proceeds will be going to the Child’s Play Charity. The main idea of the album is to help promote up and coming artists, such as myself, and of course raise a little money for charity. For those of you unfamiliar with the Child’s Play Charity, the group works with over 70 hospitals from around the world to provide toys, books, and games to sick children. These are often expenses that hospitals can’t fit into their own budgets. This helps provide valuable relief and distraction for children who are going through a tough and stressful experience.

If you happen to be going to the Gam3rCon this year, which runs from July 17th to the 21st, the SATCh Team will be there handing out some download codes for the album. I was offered a chance to attend the Gam3rCon out in San Diego this year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to fly out from the state of Maine on such short notice and financially it just isn’t possible for me this year. If you are a gamer and are in the area, definitely check it out. The convention features tabletop games, tournaments, an arcade, game industry panels, and even an art exhibition. It looks like a lot of fun and I wish I could attend this year.

As of now, I haven’t heard the mastered version of my track or any of the tracks submitted by the other composers. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the album in its entirety. From what I’ve glimpsed of the other composer’s profiles, it looks like we have a very diverse group of artists contributing to this compilation. When the Gam3rCon-Pilation launches on Wednesday, the 17th, I will be posting links to the sites where you can listen to and purchase the album. I will also be talking about my piece, and be providing some information on its origin and creation. It’s a great honor to have my piece chosen and I’m looking forward to seeing and listening to the finished product.