Super busy, just a quick note: Check out the weird bizarre mystery series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix. LOOOSELY based on 2 books by Douglas Adams that I really love and that are not so well known. It has this British-esque goofy Dr. Who feel, and most of all: Has the greatest most courageous music in a tv show I have heard in years. Wild, raw choices that work really well, check it out!
Category Archives: Music
Kai Rosenkranz & me
Kai, composer of Gothic 1, 2, 3 and Risen 1, is returning to his musical form and is kickstarting a new album. And here is why I care.
Gothic 1 was the first audio job I ever applied for. About 15 years ago or so, LONG before my first commercial music job. I saw a preview of the game in a magazine, and wrote to the developer. I had never done that before. They talked to me, alluded to big things on the horizon. They were 5 people at that time! They sent me software, I wrote a few songs for them using the software, but in the end, I couldn’t handle the technical side. A deadline came, looked at me in disgust, and passed by. I failed.
(Side note: I later was able to use the music I wrote for Gothic 1 for other soundtracks, for example for the first half of my favourite track for “The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav” by Daedalic/Deep Silver:
As we all know, Gothic 1 turned out to be a huge hit, start of a big franchise, and I had years of wonderful “hating myself” before me for not rising to the challenge. That feel-of-fail due to my first big chance was the very thing that drove me to try it over and over again, and now I am a fulltime game composer. WTF.
The Day I met Kai.
In 2008, I was at a very different point in my life. I was still not sure whether I would, should or could ever become a full-time game composer. Armed with the best game music I had written up to that point – which doesn’t mean a lot – trapped on 5 CDs I burned and assembled and stuffed into my jacket, I went to one of the first game events for me: the Game Dev Meetup North Rhine-Westphalia (Spieleentwicklertreff NRW).
A small and nice one. Short event, followed by long unofficial partying in Düsseldorf afterwards. The contacts I made there were very precious to me, as I didn’t know a lot of people back then, and they still are. Some of my best friends in the industry I met at one of the Spieleentwicklertreffs I attended.
When the event ended on that day, and some of us were on our way to fetch a drink somewhere, I was excited. Tingling. You see, no matter how important those contacts were and are to me, one could say there hardly were any “celebrities” at an event of that size, hardly anybody with international fame or impact. Except for Kai Rosenkranz. Composer of Gothic 1, 2 and 3. I think we had had some internet contact earlier, but we had met in person for the first time that evening. He had been friendly, respectful and had listened to me. The first REAL game composer I ever met. I had excused myself nervously to fetch one of my lousy CDs from my jacket pocket, and had found him again in a corridor away from the rest. We talked for at least 5 minutes, alone, which seemed luxurious to me back then and felt like 15 minutes. I gave him my grubby CD. He said, he believed in me, and a few more hope-inspiring things I can’t remember now, because this was really exciting to me. A big deal, and as I said, I was elated all evening afterwards.
When it later became clear that Kai wouldn’t continue composing for Risen after Risen 1, Kai recommended me for the job. Several times. ❤ I just had a look at the old mail I had written to him back then, it’s basically a whole bunch of nothing I had to offer. Just words to hide my lack of experience. Still, he recommended me several times.
I didn’t get the job, which was no surprise given my experience, but I later was able to provide a few songs for Risen 2 for Dynamedion, which was quite redeeming. For example this one:
The Visit & the Gift
After that, we met at basically every event I went to. It felt more like old friends meeting every time. One day, he started suggesting to visit me in my studio. At first, I misunderstood it as something you say but never do. BUT, lo and behold, one day earlier this year, he drove through half of Germany to visit me in my remote Bavarian studio, something only a handful of friends have done before, like, 3 or so! And stayed a night. Just to jam with me. That is insane. We have written some pieces of music together for two games, to be announced later. Among the first songs after a long break, what an honour!
And even more insane: He gave me his keyboard. Look at this beast:
I use it all the time, and so I can send some friendly thoughts in Kai’s direction every day when I start it up before descending into the game composer’s slave mines 😉
Thus, the circle is complete. Kai is connected to my very first game music job I applied for, my 1st failure and the burning drive for a 2nd chance, and – through his friendly gift – also to every soundtrack I work on these days. Sorry for all the heartfelt words one usually only says after somebody died, which is stupid – and also too late. Why should I be ashamed to say that Kai is a wonderful person. At least I managed to post a lot of links to MY music in an article about HIS Kickstarter 😉
If you are interested in revisiting the music of Gothic 1, 2, 3 and Risen 1, discovering his new melodies and harmonies, and want to support a bear of a game composer with a huge fluffy heart, then please consider throwing a few bucks at him!
I met Composer Jason Graves
Being a composer for video games and such is a lonely job. Especially in my setup, the most common one, with me working from a studio in my home more or less alone. For clients and with partners, alright, but actually quite in isolation. While I am a loner by nature, I find it inspiring to actually meet others who do the same.
Which I did at the Develop Conference in Brighton last week. Develop has an audio track – one day of audio talks. Most impact on me had Jason Graves, my new hero 😉
I think Jason can be seen to belong to the A league of video game composing, certainly after Dead Space 1 and 2. For me he was the best speaker, no slides, just showing some actual work on his laptop. A very sure speaker, totally unpretentious, funny. Unlike his somber sounding name he is a young and … dandy fellow if I may use that word. And for some reason what he is and says inspired me. Here is why:
I don’t know. I agree with everything he says. And somehow I got a new perspective. Or it just makes me think. I had a big problem with working all the time recently, I try to adjust to a different system of mind, of work/life balance.
To work on charakter, reputation and mindset, to work on a tight organisation and a regular routine, and to let all that shine through – maybe as important or even more important than the music skills. I don’t know, all I can say is that at this point I really needed to meet a Yoda to reflect on myself. Thanks Jason, hope to stay in touch.
My year in Game Audio
I wrote this retrospective, our look at our music providing highlights of 2010, enjoy!
Icon take it anymore
Bought a USB CC controller from Icon Global today.
It’s for music production, hardware to change parameters, notebook size. That’s how it looks:
DISLIKE. Pain in the arse to setup, part of it unusuable (layer 1), setup tool asked me if I want to overwrite the settings, not providing a yes or no button, had to kill the task and redo the settings. Tried to update the software, didn’t work.
Manual states: “We have created a series of templates for different software. These are contained on the Utility CD.” NO they are not. Looked through the CD 2 times, nothing, unless you count “default” as a lot of templates. Not on the homepage either!
Works now, but that was the last piece I bought of that weird company. ONLY cool think that I can find about them is that they have the GUTS to sell, and they still do, believe it or not, the following bravely named product: The Ipad.
Dominik’s photo added
People slowly started to suspect that my composer partner Dominik was made up. This is of course highly insulting, as if I would make up a composer so I seem like a >1 employee company. So, I did the only right thing, I hired a cheap actor to assume the role of Dominik, and hence added a pic of Dominik to our about page.
Game Number 50
This is me trying to blog more.
Today let me blurt out that the number of games I have provided audio for has reached a staggering 50. Wow, I think that’s cool and from now on, I will wear underwear made of gold.
The game in question is from the UK-based (another 1st!) developer Lowpoly Studios, and here is the trailer I have scored for them.
How Did You First Get Into Game Music?
Thanks for your question. I get that every now and then. Why not answer it here…
Both things are essential parts of me. Through my elder brother I came in contact with games quite early (with 6ys I think), Atari console with Pacman. I did the whole gamer thing, a little game designing, learned some programming when I was 12 (I am successfully crap at 8 languages now). Did MUDs, text adventures, played 1000s of games on C64, Amiga, SNES and so on. We had a mailbox (BBS), user meetings…
Music came later. I made some shitty MODs in the early 90ies, learned to play guitar, joined metal bands, released more and more stuff, gigs, nightliner tours…
I am actually somewhat hardcore with those 2 things (depending how you want to define it). In my best times I had 6 rehearsals a week with 3 bands. I recently sold my 3000 Amiga disks (I kept the best of course).
Hardcore because honestly I refused to learn something decent outside those 2 areas of interest, I have no fallback plan, so my only chance to save my wasted youth is to be a (music + games = ) game composer. So, the shift came natural to me.
My first try was with the game Gothic I, which turned out to be a hit. Sadly, I was too young & stupid, I couldn’t handle the software and didn’t take it so seriously, so my music did not make it into the game (though that stuff is quite good). That regret was another factor to drive me into the biz. So I tried again, and again.
First, a few student games, then, I got contacted by a company to do some small commercial game. And a 2nd, and a 3rd… I continue to work for students and non-commercial projects, sort of 50/50 at times. So, here we are, I am shifting to full time (finally) next month.
So, How To Do It?
Everybody will find their own formula for themselves. I am not the most successful one on the planet, duh, so my formula isn’t solid gold, but it works for me a little.
It’s all a bit much at the same time, and so it does feel all the time. Playing games and reading books can be hard at times when you have a lot of music to produce. But these are I think a few starting points off the top of my head. OK? Anything else? Make sure to contact me if you need something.
About the developer-composer relation
I just posted a far-too-long comment to Krystian Majewski’s blog post. Krystian is the guy behind games like Excit (a well polished browser puzzle game) or Trauma (a story heavy game which reaped 4 nominations for IGF 2010).
As I trust in his taste to delete my rant in a few minutes, I will copy it here, for you to “enjoy”. Krystian suggests a game composer should limit themselves very much, and describes the pain he feels if they don’t. Here are my 200 cents about that:
interesting article, and a good discussion starter.
But I guess I do not really agree.
I guess it’s great to be the go-to guy for sound XY and a few are rich and famous for that. But it’s only one path. I think, while you should as a composer be up-front concerning styles you don’t like – thereby saving everybody time and effort trying to bend you into the needed style – limiting yourself to a certain style has many drawbacks.
– You assume that everybody bases their decision on the music. I experience that most of the time, the decision is based on trust and sympathy first. “I trust this guy”. “I like him”. And if you have found your go-to guy, you don’t want him to be able to only work on game #1, what about game #2 and #3? They need different musical styles. Bummer.
– I often hear: “You have got the job” before anybody said a word about the style. I love those meetings. They TRUST me to be able to pull it off, whatever they need. Including stuff I have never done. I emit confidence I guess.
– Recently, I got a commercial job in a certain musical area for the first time. I was able to present 10 demo songs, all shades of that genre, and my customer was able to pinpoint the exact substyle he would like (”between #3 and #7″). My flexibility allowed him to trust me, because I had proof of concept so to speak. I’d never got the job with 5 times demo #1. My flexibility also allowed my contact to discover what exactly he wants for his game.
– A customer recently said to me “You are the expert, I trust you to make the right choice. Choose the sound you think works best.” Rare, but it does happen. See, it’s all in your head. Change how you work with your partners. We have done about 100 songs in the last year. We had to change about 8 of them. The other 92 were happily accepted. That’s the way to go, get a partner who understands your game and (hopefully) hits the mood right on the head, and you can work on what YOU do best in the meantime.
– Sometimes games have a huge range. Recently we had orchestral Hollywood, a classical guitar piece, Bar Jazz, Pink Floyd and Duran Duran in 1 project (a mix like you would have in any other movie). You don’t want to work with 5 “limited” composers in that case.
– I don’t sell music. I solve problems (”Oh god, we still need music”) and provide value (”this scene works a lot better now!”). You don’t have to take me by the hand and tell me every step, you can make ME worry about that.
– If you disagree with me all the time, we might not be a perfect match. It’s not usual, if you experience that all the time, change your team.
– And of course, if you as a composer openly limit yourself, you limit the incoming leads, leading to less jobs (unless of course are at the top of the field in the few styles you do!) and you might drain yourself if you don’t jump from genre to genre like I do.
Sorry for the long comment. To sum it up:
– Choose a guy or girl you think you can trust, who feels your game.
– Take a step back. Give good, precise directions and let the magic happen. Cornering a composer will not make him come up with something YOU haven’t thought off.
– If there is a problem with a song, let it sink for some time, then give exact directions what to change. Do not use this process to discover what you want. “Naaah, that’s not it either. Try something else” or “Possibly the first one was the best after all” is not what anybody want’s to hear (it’s in my spam filter, actually). The composer is not the one who needs to change here.
– Try to have 1 contact to the composer (team) who also has the power to approve deliveries. The more voices in the mix, the more fuss. Never run around and ask your entire team what they think. Never try to please everyone. The music is not designed for your Ipod heavy rotation, but to make your game better.
In Bed With Piracy – Confessions Of A Serial Buyer
I originally posted this on my Knights of Soundtrack webpage on August 14 2009, and moved this here to my new blog.
Pros and Cons of Game, Music & Movie Piracy
If you combine the facts that a) I work for the game industry and b) I am often seen to wear a bandana, you might be unsure which side I am on in a talk about piracy. Me too, so let me take you on a Carribean joyride to find out.
Piracy Can Save Lives
Hold on! What did you say? Got you there. It’s only one side of the algae encrusted gold coin, mind you.
Piracy can help. There is no demo as good as the pirated and quickly deleted pro software which you need just to open one file. Try to find a converter for your rare video format, which you need just once for your client and which is not a test version that is secretly limited and unusable. I once downloaded a dozen of them in a row, all shite. Hard to resist the fluttering bittorrent site and her whispered promises of free sin.
There are also many people out there who learned the ropes with pirated software only to later chuck their eyepatch for a fancy expert monocle. Today they are sending bucketloads of cash to the same company.
I once worked for a publisher who was doing a sequel to an old game from their own roster. Unluckily, the publisher no longer had a copy of that original game at hand. And they needed it NOW. So they downloaded it from some cracker site. *lol*
It’s Like The One Ring: Freedom To Have and Never To Use.
Good to have invisibility. But you should never use it lest Sauron pwns your ass. Good to know that I always have this big gun with me, but I should never use it in discussions to underline a point.
Pirated software and games easily available, one click away, means Freedom. I get that. But it’s also a great feeling to do the right thing, to preorder the latest game by your favorite company. If I need to see Gears of Whatnow VI right now because I am going into a meeting about it in 3 hours, it is good that I CAN download it. It’s my choice. If I want to get this great job, but they need me to know all about that certain art tool I have never seen, and the demo is unusable, and I am jobless and poor, I cannot buy it…
You see? What is morally right here? You have to decide yourself, I won’t (Law does, but nobody is interested in your opinion, get out of my article). A world with every game available as illegal download, but nobody’s downloading it, would be OK. There is an army of girly butts out there which I do not touch unasked.
But, never forget about…
The Perils of Corruption
The Ring corrupts. It gets easier and easier to download everything.
“I wasn’t caught the last time. I am quite broke.. Well one more. I don’t really need that game, but well…”
The One Ring of Piracy wants you to use it. What does it really matter? I am only 1 guy. No, you aren’t. We are legion.
We are very happy about Nazi comparisons here in Germany, so here is a shitty 1944 quote for you. “It’s OK I’m killing jews, all the other guys are doing it too, so no biggy?” (eew, that was lame)
IT DOES MATTER.
It Matters In Music.
I have suffered heavy losses because one of my albums was downloaded a lot due to a big promo deal gone awry (100 different sites found in google who had it), but didn’t sell. Good record labels close (especially those that do not offer dumbed-down bite-sized mainstream). GUN Records is gone!? One top dream label for me. The distro giant SPV crippled? Don’t say “they sold crap that’s their #Epic #Fail.” They are slash were the backbone of MANY independent and alternative labels and bands.
Good bands decide to quit. Many of my distributors are in pain to pay their bills (hurts me too). Young bands get dumped. The whole industry slowly dies. Because of Corruption.
I am terribly sorry, I Think I Just Ran Over Your Band
You are killing bands. 😉 You might not believe it now, but you will feel it later I think. It gets harder and harder to grab a record deal and keep it. For me, it’s over. I am a Game Composer now (and do bands as a hobby). Record companies shrink, all your fav indie bands fall overboard off your pirate ship. I am not a scholar, but even I have seen at least a dozen good bands die due to this, I have talked to as many bands personally about that.
I believe, to be a young band with a dream is history. It’s as easy today to suddenly turn aristocratic.
If you think “bullshit” now, remember, they will not often tell you that they did not sell and that’s why they give up. People usually prefer “she wasn’t good enough for me anyway” over “she dumped me because I have a tiny penis”. And who listens to the losers (even if it’s your fav band)? The winners get the media attention.
New World Odor?
Your moral opinion about the value of creations is withering. Your belief in the just price of things is under attack. You can no longer be arsed to pay 10 bucks for a CD that is available everywhere on the Internet for free. I can relate! With Hi Speed DSL it’s a few seconds or 12 Dollars to pay for the CD which you drag-and-drop onto your Ipod and then stash under your couch.
Imagine, Peter goes to work every day passing 100 shops with signs like “Beer 10 cent”, “Free Beer”, “3 Beers 50 Cent”. What is the price he is willing to pay for a beer after a day, after a week, after a month? Corruption I say. The estimated worth of the product is melting away.
But on the other hand, it costs the same to record that CD, a lot of hard work, studio time, and all the employees of the label, management and so on, they all cost. Corruption makes you think music is free. Worthless. Everybody’s basic right like air.
It Matters In Games (Won’t He Ever Stop?)
A developer I worked for once told me “The game sold fine. But, we also have 100.000 user logged who pirated the game. We have their complete data. But, I think we will do nothing with that information.” Of course not, that would be a scandal and very bad publicity. But in that case I guess it was about 80% illegal consumers. And it was a well received title. I don’t want to live in such a world.
Publishers use copy protection. Consumers get angry, boycott, lynchmob. You wouldn’t yell at a restaurant owner who doesn’t like 90% of his guests to leave without paying? That’s because the value of food is not crumbling. Food’s not on Bittorrent. It costs to grow corn, everyone knows that, stupid. Games on the other hand sail down from the heavens. Must be fun to make them games, they shouldn’t get paid for THAT.
Recently, an article about a small Iphone developer twittered around the world, tiny game, 99% illegal downloads, read how the developer feels about that and whether he will be joyfully doing more games for you in the future with a big smile and complementary cupcake.
Too small? See how the makers of Modern Warfare feel about their high rate of illegal copies played.
Respect Your Zeldas
Examples are everywhere. They do not necessarily fail because they suck. They don’t shut down because you stole that one Pacman clone. They die, because slowly the world’s respect for Creativity is dwindling, for Artists, for Developers, for the very people who earn their bread-and-butter by making us forget how pathetic we are. We should sacrifice virgins to them. No wonder they feel like misunderstood halfgods (I am looking at you, Jonathan Blow).
It’s not getting cheaper to make that movie for you. But you think the price is a little high, because movies are for free anyway on that russian pornsite. To make a great looking game is not getting any easier or cheaper.
It’s so easy to be a weak Mothereffer and say “I can save a lot of money, and effort, and nobody will care, whether one specific guy does it or not”. I can’t tell you it’s wrong if you are from a very poor family and can’t afford a single game. I do not judge. But if you think you are a cool heavy metal collector and boast with your 10’000 leeched MP3 collection, I can only walk away and feel old.
What Can I Do? (preach preach)
I hate wannabe World Improvers. Thus, I hate myself, not newsworthy.
Hence: Nu rules for a nu pro artist society. Rules you will not follow, that’s why I do not return your calls.
In Other News: Pirates Are A Pain In The Arrgh
Pirates can be cute. Johnny/Orlando-style. But pirates do not necessarily make good husband material.
Germany’s new political minority, the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei), can be really annoying. They might have some good points, but I can’t hear a thing due to all them Shanties. The name puts me off enough. I will not buy from you, Mr. I-Trick-My-Customers, or Mrs. I-Eat-Children. Gamers have rights. These must be enforced! But to say “piracy is cute” with your name is nothing but a provocation (like the beginning of this lousy article), not a political program. Haven’t you read the last item of my rules I have just written a minute ago?
They are screaming all the time, lower the volume, tell me something beyond populism, what do you really want to do about the top 10 issues we have? Yes, I know you like to have more than 100 friends on Xbox Live, I mean politics. Ah I see, that’s boring Old-Europe stuff for those ancient fellas who actually get elected.
We already have a small party that can scream at the top of their lungs about whatnot and then do nothing, we call them the green party. The pirates’ entire support apparently comes from a generation who is practically “political starved”, or horny rather. Nobody tried to steal their votes in a long time. Hence, the Pirate Party is the saviour and can’t be wrong. They are blowing nerds like there is no tomorrow, and I shall support this? How does this help the economy again? Is there an export market for… let’s rather not go there.
And with an army of drooling zombie geeks who were not padded on the back for ages, you do not have to make any post-election-plans or actually any good points (I haven’t heard any yet, but I only live inside Twitter, what do I know).
An alleged child porn lover and a former holocaust denier among their ranks might look bad to some overly critical nitpickers, but still, the “Piratenpartei” can’t be wrong, because they know what the Internet is. They know my name! *vote*
They might be brilliant, but I will never know. I cannot trust the mob of mindless blind followers. I have played to much Lemmings in my life to follow a wobbly crowd with crazy hairdos.