Writing music for games and apps

Recently I’ve been doing a lot more work for games and app developers creating in-game music, menu music and various sound FX. It’s been really enjoyable. Each game throws up a different challenge, as they vary so widely in where they are set and what the music needs to convey. Topics and settings so far have varied from Africa, tanks & monsters to running, fantasy and dragons. So each time you have to turn your hand to a different style and use different musical skills and sounds to adapt to the genres.

I’ve also been doing a lot of custom songwriting for people, writing and recording songs for them for a special event or to give to their partner to commemorate an anniversary or something similarly important to them. This has been great as it involves writing a lyrics very specific to that person and really nailing the style that they have asked for, while also making sure the song is catchy and enjoyable to listen to. It’s also been a good exercise to take melody and lyrics snippets that people have already sketched out and fully develop them and record them as a full song. Each brief is very different!

We’ve also just got an upright piano in the new house, so I’m playing a lot more for pleasure than when I just had my keyboard in the studio. I’ve been learning a lot of Elliot Smith and Beatles songs. Both masters of voice leading and structuring chord sequences and using inversions cleverly to imply melody within the harmony of a song. It’s interesting the difference between learning their songs on the guitar and piano. On the piano it’s clearer to see how the chords are related, because if you work out your inversions correctly, you only have to change on or two notes between each chord, whereas on the guitar the chord shapes move around the fretboard more, so it’s harder to relate the chords to one another.

Hopefully the skills that I’m picking up from studying their songs  will seep into my upcoming songwriting work. I’ve already picked up some techniques that Elliot Smith used to create more interesting chords,  he regularly puts the fifth as the root note of the chord which creates some lovely, unexpected movements in the bass which create space for the melody to sit over unexpected roots. He also used a lot of chromatic bass runs and built chords around those movements, which gives the melody a lot of movement as it’s shifting key as it descends/ascends before generally returning to the home key by the end of the progression.

I’ve also learnt how to play the “Cheers” theme on the piano, as tune I’ve always loved, such brilliant harmony in that!

In terms of plugins, I’ve been enjoying using Trillian by Spectrasonics to get some great upriht bass sounds recently, and I’ve also been discovering the U-He Diva, which has some lovely analogue synth sounds modelled from various classic synths from the 70s and 80s.

Been experimenting with the brilliant Valhalla reverb plugins. You can create such cool effects with it really quickly which can totally change a percussive sound and place it somewhere entirely different in the stereo field.  Highly recommended.

Finally I’ve learnt an intersting lesson on Twitter this week. I managed to lose a large amount of  followers with one tweet the other night. I basically said that’s it’s important to always embrace change in creative industries rather than moan about it, as change is inevitable and you should adapt your business model to embrace it, rather than hoping it doesn’t happen. Seems like some people didn’t like that, oh well.

Please get in touch to discuss any upcoming musical projects you would like me to work on, or if you want to discuss that point!

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Busy few months…

It’s been a really busy few months since I completed the Hollyoaks Laters score. It’s been brilliant to have so much work, it just means it’s taken a while to update the website with everything!

My showreels have now been updated as well with the HL music and other projects I’ve worked on over the last few months as well, have a look on the Video page.

Following on from the HL score, I worked on some tracks for EMI/Sony ATV production music which has been a really exciting opportunity. You can hear them now on the Audio page. It’s quite a long process going from idea/brief, through the composition and editing, to the final mixes being ready, but it’s been very enjoyable and I’m really happy with how they turned out. It was great getting the live drums recorded for “Friends” which really added an exciting energy and feel to the track. I’ve had that song idea for a while as a demo, so it’s always really satisfying to take a demo idea to completion as a full song.

They’ve all been specifically designed to work for TV/Film and visual media, an area I feel really comfortable with. It helps knowing how to structure the tracks, making sure the rises/falls and edit points are in the right places and getting a balance between the type of sounds and frequencies that work well on-screen.

I’ve also been working with a few independent app and game developers, creating SFX and music for their releases. It’s been loads of fun adapting my skills and experience from other forms of media to work on these. I was lucky in that the people I’ve been working with have been quite clear in the type of sounds they wanted, and it’s been great digging deep into the sound-design features of Ableton to really manipulate the audio in an original way.

It mainly involves experimenting with stretching/resampling/distorting/reversing/chopping and layering waveforms and sounds and then using lots of automated filters, envelopes, bitcrushers and saturation to colour the grouped audio, whilst making sure the SFX and music carry a clear melodic/harmonic theme which makes sense across the different parts of the app.  You can hear some examples of the main musical themes I’ve been doing for the apps on the Audio page as well.

I’ve also been enjoying doing some mixing and mastering for other artists and bands, which is refreshing because it involves collaboration (a valuable change when you spend a lot of time composing on your own on short deadlines!) and tests your skills in terms of adapting your knowledge of plugins and production processes to other people’s recordings.

Talking of plugins, recently I’ve been really impressed with Izotope Trash. The saturation is really warm and easy to customise, and works well on synths/drums/vocals or even as a slight binding distortion on the master bus. I’ve also been using Izotope RX3 to get rid of some pops on some synth tracks that I’ve been having problems with for ages, and have been really impressed with the speed with which you can put together string parts using Cinematic Strings 2.0 as well. It’s incredible the sounds that modern media composers have at their disposal, if you imagine a sound, you can normally make it with a bit of effort!

I’ve been listening to a lot new music as well recently, been particularly enjoying Mogwai – Rave Tapes, Olafur Arnalds – Broadchurch and the new albums by Bombay Bicycle Club, Chvrches,Warpaint and Daughter.

I’ve got loads of exciting work coming up in the next few months,and I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2014, please get in touch if you want to discuss any music/sound design that you need for an upcoming project!

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