Speaking at Local Sound - A Fun Night for Audio Folks in Toronto! May 28, 2015
Not too long ago, the people behind Local Sound (a Toronto based organization focusing on music and sound in games and other media) asked if I would speak at their first event. I was so honoured and pleased to accept their invitation!
I had zero idea what to talk about..nothing I had done seemed worthy of, or interesting enough for a talk!
My self doubt only deepened when I learned of the other speakers: Ryan Roth, a well known and talented sound designer and composer in the independant game community with a long list of hits to his credit, Ryan Henwood, another sound designer/composer double threat whose work on Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime I have long admired (and whose sound work can also be heard in Far Cry 4) and Eduardo Vaisman, a sound veteran and current Audio Team Lead at Ubisoft Toronto. What a fantastic group of individuals! I did not feel worthy to speak alongside them.
I stressed out about this for literally weeks. But one of the things that has always served me well in this journey of game music is feeling the fear and anxiety and doing it anyways. That's when I started thinking about all the strategies and little lessons I've learned over the past 3 years or so that have served me relatively well as I endeavour to make music for games. I thought maybe I could pass along a few of the strategies I use and still use. My presentation ended up being sort of a case study for those strategies..I talked about everything, from the moment I decided I wanted to make music in games through to what I felt was my first "for realsies" soundtrack, the soundtrack I composed for Titans.
The event was amazing, it was a great turn out, with tons of awesome people in the crowd! The organizers hosting the event, Blain Kramer and Adam Axeby, were kind, welcoming and reassuring. The other speakers were just as wonderful. They helped me feel like I belonged. I feel so much gratitude towards them all!
I thought I'd take a moment to share my list of hints and go over athe strategies I covered in my presentation, with a quick explanation!
Approaches that are Working For Me:
1. Get involved in the community and be genuine
A lot of people talk about going to social events, jams and industry events to network, get your name out there, spread awareness of your work, etc. I think for me, the primary thing here is being genuinely engaged and giving to the community I want to be a part of. For me, this has been the most reliable way of opening the door for opportunity. I feel like when I allow myself to invest in others' work, that investment almost always pays off. It also often means I end up working with people I mesh with creatively more often! Joining Bento Miso and Dames Making Games has been hugely hugely beneficial for me in this way!
2. Create because you love it (not because it's good), and share your work
Having no real formal background in music, or really any idea of how to use MIDI or DAWS, I had a lot of catching up to do when I started. This meant a lot of practice. I created a Soundcloud account to put up every crappy, terrible practice piece I made. It was a way of sharing what I was doing, as well as (perhaps most importantly) creating an easy way for me to chart my progress. My Soundcloud was so, so integral: the important thing is to put EVERYTHING up, even if you don't think it's perfect or even good. That's sort of the point. I've written so many tracks that have gone nowhere...I'm doing it to practice..and because I love making music!
3. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyways
The only reason I even went through with the presentation was because of this! I have to fight with myself every time a project comes up "Can I do this? Am I worth the amount they're paying me? Am I going to disappoint the game team? Should I ask if they need music for this or will I come across as egotistical/pathetic?" I think about all the work I would have missed out on if I gave in to these fears and thoughts. Always, always allow yourself to try, because you'll be mad at yourself if you don't.
4. Create your own opportunities
This ties in a lot with number 1 and 3 for me. Creating your own opportunities often means putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to being told 'no'. It can also mean an investment of time, emotion and energy in something that appears to have no opportunity for you, which can be really rewarding experiences, even if they ultimately leads to nothing! Point is, be open and put yourself out there. The more you do, the more you open up the door to more possibility.
5. "Failure" can bring unexpected success
Here's a thing I found to be something that pops up: often you'll go through the process of excitedly signing on to a game project, creating the tracks, only to have the game fall through. It's super disappointing, but not uncommon; I felt a lot better after reading Winifred Philip's 'A Composers Guide to Game Music' and realizing that this even happens to Pros! But even these situations can lead to successes...the team may have loved your work and you're first on the list for a bigger and better project, or you may have met some really incredible people during the process that want your music, or the work you did can be used in some other way to bring opportunity. I've had all these things happen to me. I would not have been able to get a many of the opportunities I've had without failed attempts, being told no, not quite hitting the mark, not getting a gig, whatever!
6. Find and work with people who "get it”
I have had the luck and privilege of working with a few game makers who have understood exactly the kind of music that I want to make They have championed my efforts to better myself, included me in their projects, paid me for my work and lifted me with their support. When you find these people, hold on to them, treasure them and most importantly, support them back. Finding these people helped put me in a place to be creatively confident to go beyond myself.
7. Find Balance
I have a full time job in games that is not music. I have so much to learn about music. I have so much music work to do. I have a partner who enjoys being paid attention to now and then. I have friends. I also will burn out super quickly if I don't give myself a generous helping of downtime. A constant struggle is balancing full-time job work time, personal time and music work time. Bad balance prevents me from being able to engage with my community, which I find essential. Bad balance prevents me from taking the proper time with my creative work. I'm working on finding a balance that's right for me...constantly. This is so super important to being able to do your best work, and to learn and improve. You have to be able to determine, give yourself and/or ask for the time you need.
I honestly hope this helps someone in some small way!
For some other really great, more music-centric tips, check out this blog post by FTL composer Ben Prunty: http://benprunty.com/2015/05/21/30-random-bits-of-advice-from-a-music-guy/