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On the subject of Skills

I never meant to become a composer of video game music. It‘s interesting to me, this early lack of intent on my behalf when there are so many other out there who diligently attempt to cross their t‘s and dot their i‘s on the already well paved path towards success. You could say that I got lucky and you would be mostly correct. In my eyes, luck accounts for the opportunity that appeared in front of me. Luck accounts for all of the others who attempted for the same opportunity but didn‘t put in the right kind of work to prove themselves valuable.

If you say, „Oh, there‘s a cool project! Let me just leave a message with my portfolio of random things I made to try and show my range,“ my reply would be to figure out what it is the person wants, and try to show that I am capable of pulling off the things that they want. It would take a day or two of applied effort to do properly, but who do you think would be more likely to be chosen in this situation?

I believe this to be my greatest skill, and the first lesson I ever learned in composing for video games.

Rule 1 – You are not writing for yourself

Starting out as a composer in a competitive field like video games, you will most likely find your feet by getting involved with small projects, sometimes free. These more often than not, will not be paid. „Ah,“ I can hear you saying, „if they are not paid, why should I care?“ The thing about free projects is that everyone starts somewhere, right? My first project was with a developer who I saw a great deal of potential in. He grew into that potential and is now a professional indie developer who pays for his projects.

You never know when you come across people like that. The stars of tomorrow are all around us, waiting to blossom. I believe the best path for an aspiring composer to succeed is to find these people and put in steady and honest effort towards convincing them that there is only one person they would ever want to work with.

So when I say, „You are not writing for yourself,“ what do I mean? I always think of it like this.

From the moment I enter into a project with another person, I throw my pride, ego and tastes out the window. Going forward, my singular goal is to please their ears. To deliver on their vision. I want them to be my harshest critics, to tear my pieces apart, all in service of making the absolute best possible music the game can have.

That being said, if you feel strongly about something, show it in work, not in words. When Mick Gordon was working on the Doom 2016 soundtrack, he was forbidden from using guitars by ID software. So what did he do? He proved to them just how great of an addition guitars could be to the soundtrack by showing it in work.

I believe very strongly in doing whatever it takes to deliver the things people want, even if they don‘t know that the thing delivered was what they wanted. I think it is this belief that has carried me forward to where I am today. And in my recent projects, doing my best to deliver the things people want has lead me to a new field of skill.

Rule 2 – There‘s alot more to sound than just music

Ah, sound effects. Such a wonderfully interesting thing to create. To think that it took me this long to even begin doing them.. The process of seeing a movement, picking apart each element of it, assigning sounds to all the bits and pieces, visualizing aurally the sound and then begin painting it on an audio canvas out of all sorts of odd bits of rocks being bashed against metal, bamboo sticks being swung or large pieces of metal sheets being shaken. It‘s always fun how what we want to hear can be so completely different from what we actually hear.

And sound effects is not nearly the ending. There are many many avenues of sound to consider when it comes to creating video games, and it changes with every project. Just knowing how to interface with a popular Engine like Gamemaker or Unity can give a massive leg up on the competition when you can actually help implement sounds properly as they were envisioned.

Which brings me to..

Rule 3 – Be more than what you are

The reality of working with small indie teams is that there are alot of tasks to take care of, and not alot of people around to do them. As a teen I dabbled in video editing so it was only natural to offer up my knowledge and help with making videos when required or needed. I‘ve also built websites and done basic accounting, even helped with taxes once. Imagine an indie developers surprise when they hire a musician and get a video editor, website coder and accountant extra. There are many different ways to achieve this but the main tenet here is to strive to be more valuable than what people think they are getting.

Always overdeliver, even with yourself.