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Things to Consider When Scoring for Games, part 1

Things to Consider When Scoring for Games, part 1

By Kole HicksThese articles are not intended to be a master source for everything one must consider (and how to prioritize them) when scoring a game, rather it will be a series of articles based off my experiences with each newly completed project. As I learn from the process, the other developers that are involved, and write about the experiences here, I hope the information will help better guide your future scoring efforts for games.

When scoring for any medium, our ultimate goal as a Composer is to enhance the listener/audience/participant/gamers’ experience. In this way all Composers are exactly the same, as we want to move people when they hear whatever we’ve created. The differences always come down to the technical details. The technical skill set one has to have when composing to locked picture is quite different from those necessary for creating an adaptive score ready to change based off the gamer’s choices. Likewise, there are different things we must consider as Game Composers… I would like to talk about 4 today that specifically came up (and I learned more about) when creating the music for the fun puzzle game “Box Knight“.

I. Platform Constraints

Interestingly enough this was one of the last things the developer and I spoke about, because when I was originally approached to create the score for the game there were two platforms it was being ported to… PC & iDevices. Since there was so much emphasis on creating great music at a decent enough length that it wouldn’t get old and an unspoken understanding that the PC port was priority, certain app store limitations for the mobile version never crossed our mind until much later in the development process.

Was this a bad thing? Perhaps, I always like to take as much into consideration as possible before writing a single note of music. However, since the overall goal was to create a great product with a decent amount of high quality music, the 20mb over 3G limit wasn’t a concern. Yes, this means that you can only download the game via WiFi connection, but both the developer and I think the quality/quantity of the end product makes up for this slight inconvenience.

II. Serving the Right Purpose

Fortunately, the developer was fantastic with communication and already had a playable client ready when I was approached to do the score. This helped immensely at discovering the game’s tone, feel, art style, etc. After a few initial e-mails discussing the direction of the music and signing some paperwork, I was left to create some music. After spending a decent amount of time recording live guitars (in alternate tunings), vocals, and programming V.I., the music for the first half of the game was completed. Confident in my work, I sent it over to the developer and began working on the rest of the music.


Unfortunately and humbling for my ego (haha), the developer got back to me very quickly saying that he really enjoyed the piece, but it didn’t make sense with the game play. After discussing it back and forth, we came to find out that although the art style is unique, it was essential to cue off the game play instead. I had paid more attention to the cool art style when that was in fact the 2nd most important thing the music was supposed to serve. The priority was urging the player forward to complete the level more quickly. With my new understanding of the priority and some arrangement adjustments (plus a few percussion parts), we came to a solid piece that served the correct purpose. Linked below are two short excerpts from the original piece (to dynamic) & the updated version (consistent pulse/rhythmic movement propelling you forward).

Grass Theme:

Original Version VS Updated Version

Also, as a side note I’d just like to mention that the developer also didn’t initially like the feel/style of this first piece. This was mainly because temp. music was used throughout the development process before hiring me, so the developer became very accustomed to hearing a certain style while playing through each of the new clients. Eventually it all worked out though and I’ll explain more about that below.

 III. Overall Vision

As I mentioned above, the developer was using temp. music for the game before I was hired and was (rightfully) expecting something similar… otherwise why pick that temp music? However, in our initial discussions about the music we came to the conclusion that it was important to capture the differences in art style/difficulty level as you progressed through the game.

The first half of the game is much easier and features grass themed puzzles. However, as you progress forward it becomes much more difficult and the grass theme turns into a dungeon theme (which can be heard in the Trailer). Our understanding of expressing the difference between this progression was solid, but we differed on how that would be accomplished with the music.

Since the developer only used a single style temp track throughout both the grass & dungeon themed levels, our ideas of where that style fit best differed (in the future I’ve learned to be more clear when temp tracks are involved!). I felt that the temp style fit quite well for the dungeon theme (as it was intense but not too dark… fitting with the art style) where as the developer believed that it fit well for the grass theme and going darker for the dungeon theme was best.

I strongly felt opposed to this view, as it would take this unique/light art style and might make it a little too heavy or serious… I didn’t want the music to weigh down the experience. However, I always try to make the client happy and began to work on an alternate version. Fortunately for both of us, after the developer had played through the client with the original tracks in the background (while I was working on the alternate) he came to really like the first piece and appreciated the change in feel between each style. This is what I initially envisioned, so I was not only glad to hear that the developer was happy, but learned that sometimes its best to “stick your ground.” If time allows for a concept to fully sink in it’s much more likely that the developer will understand/enjoy your intent and have a change of heart.

IV. Recording/Composition Process

As is true for most Composers, the Composition/Recording process often differs from project to project (and sometimes from piece to piece). However, as continuity & accurately expressing an overall vision are very important to me, I try to keep some parts of the process consistent from piece to piece within a project.

Since ‘Box Knight’ was to feature acoustic guitar more than any other instrument, I made sure to write with the guitar & double check that everything would be idiomatic. It’s very easy to get carried away in a song & write outside of what is idiomatic for an instrument (especially when writing for guitar). With that said, I did alter the tuning of my guitars for the ‘Grass Theme’, as the fingering for certain shapes were way too difficult in standard tuning.

It was only after I had set a foundation with the entire (solo) guitar track, that I would then go back & not only add in the other instruments, but “break down” & record many of the guitar parts separate from one another (so I could have more control over them in the mix). Often, I found that even though the acoustic guitar was the “glue” that connected the pieces together, that didn’t mean it always had to be the center of attention throughout the entire piece. So, I had no problem pulling down its level in the mix or playing background lines while a different instrument took the lead if that would best serve the song.

As mentioned in the italics at the beginning of this article, this is by no means a complete list and I’m still a young professional with many ups/downs ahead in my career, but nevertheless I believe this information can be beneficial to many composers no matter their experience level. Thanks for reading and keep composing fellow artists!

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author,
Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games.
He’s had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided
audio for Indie PC titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated
for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Get the Work Done

Get the Work Done

Music composers’ strategies and tips for overcoming procrastination

By Kole Hicks

We’ve all been in this kind of situation before… Deadline is approaching quickly, inspiration and motivation are lacking, but procrastination is in full effect. No matter what field you work in the “wall” will rear it’s ugly head and it is essential as working professionals that we obtain the knowledge to climb over it so we can become productive once again and finish our project(s) before the deadline. Being a “victim” of procrastination in the past, I’ve spent many hours researching, thinking on my own, and talking to other professionals about how to deal with the topic and… perhaps more importantly… how to overcome it so we can Do the Work.

*While this topic is quite broad and applies to many different professions, the following strategies and tips for overcoming procrastination will be presented in a way that will be most beneficial to Composers for Media.

I. Work on Another Cue

Whether it’s boredom from working on the same piece of music for hours straight or a lack of inspiration, I can guarantee some musical cues will take longer to finish than others. When I’m stuck and dumbfounded on what to do next (Should I have the Clarinet play the melody here? Maybe I should change keys there? Etc.) I’ll save/close the session and begin to work on a new one.

I’ve found that many of us reuse motifs when scoring for a whole project and working on another piece of music (perhaps similar or very different from the other cue) can help give you ideas on how to resolve your issues with the “plagued” cue you left earlier. Maybe playing the same melody in a different time signature will spark an idea or perhaps even re-harmonizing that melody. Either way, I’ve found it’s beneficial (especially when the deadline is tight) to keep being productive, but focus your attention on a new cue if stuck on your current one. Often, this has inspired me to finish the “plagued” cue when I’ve come back to it with “fresh ears.”

II. Do Another Activity

This is the most commonly recommended tip from other composers I know. There are as many different ways to “relax” and take time away from working on the “plagued” cue as there are stars in the sky. So, I’ll just list a few of the activities that have seemed to work for other composers, but will go into detail on one of my activities and why it worked.
  • Take a Nap, Take a Walk, go play a Game or watch a Movie, Exercise, Coffee break, etc.
  • One of the activities I’ve yet to mention, but has been very effective for me is… Taking a Shower. Some of my most creative and inspirational moments have come from taking a shower, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I found an article describing and supporting this “phenomenon.” (Link) I’m paraphrasing, but the summary of the article went a little like this… “Showers are “inherently” relaxing and by preoccupying your body with familiar scrubbing/washing movements (some could say that are etched into muscle memory) it allows your mind the freedom to relax and follow certain thinking paths that may not have been available when you were stressfully working earlier.”
So, if I’m ever in a dire situation where I’ve absolutely run out of ideas (or even need to refocus) I’ll hop in the shower. If I wasn’t able to think of anything that would solve my musical dilemma while taking a shower, I’ll at least feel refreshed and energized so that I’ll be better prepared to confront/resolve the issue.

III. Step Back and Organize Your Thoughts

This is especially important if you’re writing many different cues that have to relate to each other, scoring a huge project, or are just writing a very long piece of music. In these situations (especially if you’ve already been writing recently) it’s not uncommon to just “run out of ideas.” So, what some of my colleagues and I have found to be helpful, is to stop actually writing music and take the time to figure out the “big picture.” Ask yourself many different questions (A few examples below) and write down the answers on paper so that you have a “guideline” to follow.Where/How will this start? Where will the Climax be? Will there be a Modulation, if so… where? (perhaps even as detailed as) How many bars will this section last?

If this isn’t enough, go one step further and visually represent the form of the entire song. Here is an example:

I highly recommend working in either of the previous ideas to your music creating process, even if you’re not stuck and procrastination is running rampant. This is because executing either of the suggestions (or perhaps both if you so choose) will help you focus your ideas and position yourself so that you are in the best spot possible to accurately express and compose what is needed.

IV. Baby Steps

It’s also very common (especially when working on larger projects) to become overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed. So much so, that you can procrastinate so much that it actually ends up putting more pressure on you than before.

So, one of the most effective ways of combating this is by separating everything down into tiny little chunks/goals that are easy to achieve (especially when compared to the overall goal of “finishing the score”).

To demonstrate what I mean further, if writing a whole cue is too overwhelming then break it down by sections. If each section is still overwhelming, break it down by chords. If chords are still overwhelming, then have one of your goals be “I’ll figure out the first few notes of this particular chord or melody.” It’s all up to (and perhaps more importantly) controlled by you.

The overall goal of this method is to simplify your tasks and take away the stress gained from being overwhelmed by a large amount of work, so that the composition process can be allowed to flow more smoothly and thus… be more productive. Before you know it, all those tiny goals you set for yourself and accomplished will eventually result in a finished score.

V. Food!

Perhaps it’s just me, but when I get on a writing spree I tend to neglect a “regular/normal” eating schedule. It’s easy to think that you’re a machine and can run off of inspiration alone, but the lack of actual energy will eventually begin to deteriorate your motivation and productivity. Having a great wholesome meal can help resolve this issue.Now, I don’t mean go over to a fast food restaurant and pick up something there really quickly or even ordering a pizza (unless your deadline is very tight). I’m recommending that you set aside time to either go to a nice restaurant (perhaps your favorite place… I always justify it by saying “If I reach this goal I’ll go to this nice place to eat”) or taking the time to cook up one your favorite dishes. The extra time away from your writing desk will allow your brain to relax or at least occupy itself with something other than work. The great food will help re-energize you so that finishing that “plagued” cue is no longer an issue.

VI. Just Finish It

Last but certainly not least, sometimes it’s best to just finish the work. Even if you’re unhappy with where it’s going or completely lacking original ideas, the burden of “I Need to finish this now!” is lifted off of your shoulders. This in no way infers that you have to keep the music as it is in this state, as you can always come back/change it later, but by finishing whatever is troubling you the options to relax, move on, etc. are now open.Plus, you may gain some additional inspiration and most definitely a confidence boost by pushing through and finishing something that you otherwise thought was “impossible.” Furthermore, if the person paying you wants to hear a finished demo of whatever you’re composing, pushing through and “Just Finishing It” will give you that cue to send over. Who knows, perhaps this producer/director/audio lead will love the section that was giving you trouble earlier.

This concludes “Do the Work” but I hope you find these 6 procrastination pummeling strategies and tips as useful as I did (and still do!) when that ominous “wall” appears in the distance. Best of luck and keep composing fellow artists!

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author,
Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games.
He’s had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided
audio for Indie PC titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated
for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Observations of memorable themes – How can you as a composer write memorable tunes

Observations of memorable themes – How can you as a composer write memorable tunes

By Kole Hicks

I was once told by a fellow Composer that, “We as Composers (for Media) are responsible for evoking emotions from the listener and enhancing whatever it is they are watching. However, the best music can stand on it’s own outside of the project it was composed for.” I’d have to agree that this is a pretty accurate description of most Media Composer’s goals and it seems that the greats in our field fully realize and live up to this “definition”.

So why is it that so many of John Williams’ scores are easily memorable? Why does Michael Giacchino’s score for “Up” fit so perfectly and leave us humming as we leave the theater? How is it that only a single 8-bit “note” is needed to remind us of the Mario Brother’s theme?

I won’t claim that I know the absolute “answers” to these questions. However, through observation of fantastically memorable theme music of the past, I hope to enlighten you with concepts and tendencies shared by these great Composers so that you may use it to help shape the future of creating Memorable Themes.

*Disclaimer: This article will only observe Memorable Themes found in Western Music composed for Media.

**Disclaimer #2: This article also assumes that the majority of people prefer listening to relatively simple, diatonic, and semi-predictable music. The only reason this assumption is made, is so that we may better understand and “cater” to the ear of the majority of the people listening to our music… when we want to.

I. Melody

Arguably the most important part of the score, the Melody is what we’ll be humming for days on end. However, the Melody “type” that’s used is dependent on and varies stylistically. What may be an appropriate Melody for one style may be absolutely confusing and ineffective in another. With that said, there are some shared characteristics which are found in most every Memorable Theme’s Melody.

A. “Singable”. As I mentioned above, certain Melodies are more appropriate depending on context and style. However, I’ve observed that the most memorable Melodies (which consequently bridge the gap between musicians and non-musicians) are those that we can easily reproduce with our voice. There are most definitely Melodies that can be considered “instrumental,” so I recommend singing all of your Melodies (or at least checking if they are able to be sung easily after you’ve written it on your instrument). To demonstrate my point, please attempt singing the two examples below. You may find that both are musically interesting, but chances are high that Ex.1 is much easier to hear (in your head) and sing. Thus, the listener will more quickly memorize and retain a Melody that is simple/easily able to be sung.

Example 1
Example 2

B. The Arc. Most Formally trained composers took a class in college that dealt with Counterpoint and/or the art of writing single lines. So, essentially this is common knowledge, but as we all know common knowledge isn’t always commonly used. What I mean when I say “The Arc,” is that more often than not an interesting and memorable Melody is one that has an arc-like shape to it. Also, as a side note, I’ve observed that most Melodies have an ascending arc and high point. The examples below demonstrate this concept in action.

Example 3


Example 4

Which one do you find more interesting (Or perhaps more importantly, what do you believe the majority of people to find more interesting)… the one with a semi-predictable direction/definite arc or the one that seems to be static and moves nowhere? Now, this is not to say that having a relatively simple melody that doesn’t move much of anywhere isn’t effective. There are many things you can do to create interest in your melody outside of the Arc… segue into the next point.

C. Unique Rhythm. Take away the pitches of some of your favorite and most memorable Melodies (Jingle Bells, Imperial March, etc.) and I can guarantee that you’ll still recognize what it is. This is because of two main factors. First, the melodic rhythm used is unique (aka. They aren’t just whole notes). Secondly, the rhythmic pattern (usually 1 or 2 bars) is repeated over and over again. Either with the same pitches or slightly changing the pitches to match chord changes, but still hammering away with that repetitive rhythmic “hook.”


II. Harmony

If the Melody was a beautiful castle, then the Harmony is the ground it’s built upon. Further elaborating on this metaphor… if your castle is the most regal thing to have ever been conceived, yet was built in a swampy bog, than it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is because it will eventually sink. So, Harmony (or if you like to think of it as a chord progression “underneath” the Melody) is almost as important as the Melody if not just as important. This is because the Harmony will dictate the true “intention” and “mood” of the Melody. Let’s observe what some of the greats have done in the past.

**I realize that the metaphor above is more akin to Vertical thinking and Classically trained Composers tend to think Horizontally.

A. Move towards a Goal. If you’ve a Melody that contains some or all of the qualities I observed above, then chances are high that it already has directional intention. Thus, coloring the Melody with a strong chord progression should be relatively easy. However, many of us (perhaps just to challenge ourselves) prefer to go “outside of the box” and create unique chord progressions. While this is never a “bad” thing, we must keep in mind that Themes are most memorable when their Harmony has a strong direction and is slightly predictable. To help support this point, please take a look at and play through the examples below. I’ll be using one of the Melodies from the last section and harmonizing it differently in each example.

Example 5


Example 6

One has strong directional movement, while the other just seems to be “lost.” Which one appeals to you (or again, perhaps more importantly which one would appeal more to the majority of people)?

B. Unique Voicings. Chances are high that most (if not every) combination of the 12 pitches in our Western Music System has already been played. So, if we take this knowledge and the understanding that most people prefer harmony they are at least semi-familiar with (triads, some 7ths), then we strive for the following (as many other greats in our field have). Voice a relatively simple chord (or progression) in a unique way. There are tons of possibilities, especially if we take into consideration all of the instruments we have at our disposal.

C. In Melody, Out Harmony. As we observed in the “Melody” section above, it’s best to write something that is easily sung if you’d like for your Melody to be memorable. So, we ask ourselves… what is easy to sing? For the majority of people listening to Western music, the answer is “something diatonic”. So, if we follow these “guidelines” and write a diatonic melody, then (for our own sake as much as the listeners) we have room to explore with the harmony. John Williams is well known for doing this, specifically in his “Imperial March.” If you look at the Melody and analyze the harmony, you’ll see that the Melody is relatively simple and easy to sing, but it’s the harmony that really brings everything to life and makes this piece unique.

These are but a few observations of a few different elements (Melody & Harmony) used when Composing something for media. However, these are also some of the most important observations that will directly and immediately change the way your music is received, if they are integrated into your creative process. If you would like to read about even more Observations of Memorable Themes, then visit me at my website and tell me where to send it!

Until then, I wish you all the best of luck and keep composing fellow artists!

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author,
Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games.
He’s had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided
audio for Indie PC titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated
for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Maximizing Composer Agreements

Maximizing Composer Agreements

by Kole Hicks

*First and foremost, while this may be potentially applicable across various freelance disciplines, I’d like to mention that this article is being written from the perspective of a Composer who mainly works in the Game Industry (with some additional experience in the Production Music world). Furthermore, it’s always recommended to hire legal help from an attorney with experience in your specific field of work.

We’ve all been here before, many (or dare I say “most”) of us dealing with this situation more often than we’d like. The people involved are great, the project is inspiring, but that budget… oh those numbers just don’t add up right. It’s true that most of us would prefer to keep the “creative hat” on and delegate the “business hat” to a manager or attorney. While it’s always wise to hire someone knowledgeable in the inner workings of legalese and contract construction, negotiations may cease before you even get to that point.



So in situations where the Company/Developer/Producer doesn’t have a large enough budget to cover the “standard” fees and terms of an Agreement, it’s essential that you facilitate creative negotiations that’ll be beneficial to each party. Agreeing on something that quells their budgetary concerns, while maximizing your potential benefits.

Here are a few ideas that may help you maximize the benefits in your Agreements.

I. License Your Music

The game industry has a reputation for wanting to own everything they possibly can and it’s understandable as to why, because the legal side evolved from software. It’s easier to just pay more money upfront to own something than have to deal with potential legal problems down the road. However, royalties don’t exist at the moment for Game Composers and we’re very much use to that from the Film and Television world. So how do we potentially bridge the gap?

One idea is to License the music you create so that the developer can use it in their game, but you have the option of selling or using it elsewhere after the game has shipped. There are many talking points involved in a Licensing Agreement and all of these can be negotiated. For example, what will this initial License cover?

Will it only cover usage of the composition for the game on one platform, how about any trailers or promotional videos, DLC or sequels? All of these points are negotiable and will allow you to define a License coverage (and re-licensing fees) that both parties can feel comfortable with.

II. Soundtrack and Bundles

Another idea, in addition to or replacement of a Licensing Agreement, is to retain all of the revenue from sales of the Soundtrack. If the developer doesn’t have a large enough budget to pay many of the standard fees upfront, then it may be possible to recoup (or possibly exceed) some of that monetary risk later down the line with Soundtrack sales.

Even if you’re working under a WFH Agreement I would urge you to try and hold onto as much of the soundtrack revenue as possible. It may be nearly impossible with larger companies, but smaller studios may be open to the idea. Especially if you take care of everything (perhaps using something like CD Baby) and report monthly with sales data. Eventually sending them a quarterly check based off the percentages you negotiated.

In addition to separate sales of the Soundtrack, it may be possible to negotiate a potential “Bundle” package that includes both the game and soundtrack. Usually the Soundtrack and Game are offered at a discounted rate, but the lower price tends to make up for itself in a higher number of sales. The thought behind this strategy is that a decent percentage of gamers may not ever think to buy the soundtrack separately from the game (unless they really love the music). However, if it’s offered for only a few dollars more in a bundle, then they may be more willing to part with that amount of money for additional value in the form of a soundtrack.

III. Exclusivity

If the developer is open to a Licensing option, then they may request that the composition you create remain exclusive to the game for a certain amount of time after the initial release. This amount of time can vary drastically and numerous factors must be considered before both parties can agree to an exclusivity period. Every month that the composition remains exclusive to the game, is another large handful of days that you can’t license it to another project or possibly sell it to a music library.

If you’re finding it difficult to agree to a specific exclusivity period, then it may be easier to write in language for two possible scenarios based off the performance of the game. If the game is doing quite well after its release then perhaps the composition shall remain exclusive for a little bit longer; however if sales/downloads of the game are lacking then it would only be fair that the exclusivity period be shortened.

Furthermore, it’s essential that you get a clear answer on the actual release date of a project, as many modern games (especially PC) will release an Open Beta yet still charge customers or have already implemented monetization. By traditional definitions this could be considered a full release, but the company may not see it that way, so make sure to get an official release date in writing if you plan on re-licensing the composition after the exclusivity period.

IV. Revisions and Creative Control

Revisions and iterations are a part of any creative process, but some developers (if not restrained) can micromanage a piece of music into the ground. That is why it’s essential to write in a specific number of revisions on a single piece of music into the Agreement. Any revisions over that amount should warrant additional compensation. I personally like 3 revisions and work that into as many of my Agreements as possible. It’s a high enough number to facilitate efficient feedback so I can create something special that resonates with the developer, but also low enough to guarantee that any overly extraneous work or revision requests are additionally compensated for.

Furthermore, based on the budget of the project and what you can negotiate, it may be possible to retain creative control over the music’s direction. This not only gives you the power to revise cues at your own pace, but also the additional benefit of deciding on the overall palette/feel/goal of the music. Obviously this would require an enormous amount of trust from a developer, but in the right situation it’s possible and very much worth pursuing.

V. Right of First Refusal and Future collaborations

Sometimes if a project doesn’t have an adequate music budget, but is currently pursuing funding/investors, then they may (at some point in the middle of development) acquire additional monies for the game’s development. In this situation, it’s essential that you write in the Right of First Refusal on creating (or re-creating) any of the music for the game. It’s hard to imagine a developer disrespecting all of the time you’ve invested up to that point and throwing you by the wayside for another Composer, but it can happen and is best to have covered.

Furthermore, in some micro-budget situations it may be pertinent to write in language that guarantees you to be hired for any sequels, ports, DLC, or maybe even wholly different projects. All of which are assumed possible because of the original game’s financial success, at which point you should be rewarded for your investment.

VI. Bonuses

Lastly, but certainly not least, as there are tons of options I’ve yet to mention, we have the option of writing in Bonuses into the contract. The traditional bonus structure is based off the number of units sold and is usually attached to a specific dollar amount the Composer shall receive.

However, it’s entirely possible to base the bonus structure off of different goals like: Total downloads, Youtube Video Hits (if you did the Trailer/Promo music), etc. Furthermore, the bonus compensation could be a specific dollar amount, or (if the developer would like to make sure it gets invested right back into the quality of the game) then perhaps it could go into the funding of live recordings. Paying for professionals like a recording engineer, studio, session musicians, mixer, etc. All of this should be on top of your initial creative fee of course.

In a world of diminishing music budgets for projects of all sizes, I hope you’ve found this article helpful. We don’t always have to just accept an Agreement with the provisions written in by the Company / Producer / Developer. It’s guaranteed that those provisions heavily favor them and if they don’t have an adequate budget to pay for the lack of beneficial provisions for you, then you have the prerogative to suggest creative solutions. Thanks for reading and I wish you all the best in your future Agreement negotiations!

the author:
Kole Hicks is an Author, Instructor, and most prominently
an Audio Designer with a focus in Games. He’s had the pleasure of
scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided audio for Indie PC
titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated for a 2012
GANG award for an article written exclusively for
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Ideas for Effectively Using Sibelius and Pro Tools 8

Ideas for Effectively Using Sibelius and Pro Tools 8

A Method for Streamlining Your Workflow to Maximize Creative Output

By Kole Hicks

Pro Tools has never had the reputation of being (MIDI) Composer friendly, but with the upgrade to PT 8 I’ve found that it’s now my preferred sequencer when composing. The method I’ve been using and will share with you today has some great benefits to it, but also a few drawbacks… lets go over them below.

First the negatives… The main drawback to using this method is that it’s quite time consuming at first. So if you have very strict deadlines and not enough time to familiarize yourself with this method, then it may not be for you (at least not at this time). Also, somewhat related to the previous drawback, you must be fluent in both Pro Tools 8 and Sibelius 5 +. Otherwise, using this method will just be frustrating and inefficient. I wouldn’t call this a negative, but this method is not really necessary for loop-based/electronic composers. This method caters more towards the crowd of composers who like to notate their work and tend to write orchestral pieces. Last but not least, if you’ve just purchased your first few virtual instruments or sample libraries then this method may not be for you. This method works best for a composer who is familiar with his/her libraries.

With those negatives out of the way, it’s time to talk about the benefits of using this method. If you are familiar with Pro Tools 8 and Sibelius 5 +, then you’ll be able to use this method to more accurately compose for your project and have a notated copy of your most important parts! I’ve found that when I sit down and focus on every aspect of notating something (as you have to in Sibelius), my ideas are more complex, richly detailed, and accurate towards what I want to express (especially if it’s an instrument/section I can’t play or in a style that is not improvisatory in nature). It’s also fantastically convenient to have a majority of the parts already notated for those times you’d like to have some studio musicians come in and record their parts to help your mostly sample-based Composition sound alive.

So with that little intro out of the way, lets get to the method…

First off, I like to start with a few of my own personal Pre-Compositional “rituals” which usually consist of watching the video, looking at some concept art, or other inspirational project material, and describing everything in detail. (Perhaps my own personal Pre-Comp rituals would be a good topic for a future article, but I’ll spare you the time in this article :)) After this is completed to my satisfaction, I would begin to work in Sibelius.

If it’s a video you’re working with, then you should go through and map out the hit points and decide which ones are important (downbeat hits) and others which shouldn’t carry as much weight (less emphasized upbeats etc.) {Ex. 1}. If it’s concept art or something else that doesn’t need to be time synced, then imposing a “big picture” form on the entire thing is a wise decision. Which really just means that you’d be making a rough blue print on where important changes are to occur and how long you’d like the piece to be. All of this is subject to change when the “ink hits the paper”.

{Ex. 1} (This Example is already notated, but yours won’t be at first)

Next, it’s best to actually take a step back from Sibelius and choose your instrumentation based off of all the information gathered in the Pre-Composition process. By this time, you should have a rough idea of when certain instruments will be used, what will be your primary/focus instrument, your background instruments, etc. All of this is important to physically write down for three reasons. One, studies have shown that a majority of people remember and learn better if they physically write down something as soon as they think of/hear it. Two, you’ll have something to go back to later as reference in case you forget. Three, if your piece becomes huge and yourself famous, then this little piece of paper could be worth a ton and you could sell it on E-bay :-P.

Once this is done, all of the organizational markers and structures are in place for you to begin composing. How you do this though, is completely up to you. I know many people who like to just improvise on their instrument (keyboard, guitar, etc.) until they come up with something appropriate. However, I know of many others who can already hear a majority of the piece in their head, so they immediately begin notating. I personally have used both methods, as the situation always dictates my process. For example, I will always “toy” around on the guitar first to come up with a metal groove or jazz chord melody. If I tried to notate either of these two things before playing them, then it will almost always come off as contrived. This is almost never the case when I write for something like a choir or string quintet. I always try to hear those parts in my head first, and start with notation. I’ll only go to the keyboard/pick up a guitar if I’m lacking inspiration or can’t hear the complex harmonies in my head. As a wise man once told me, “It’s all about context.”

Now, the great part about using Sibelius first (besides the fact that you have a hard copy of what you composed for future performers), is that you can go into rich detail and add articulation, dynamics, etc. Although some of your details may not translate into transferable MIDI data, the important part is that you were thinking about your composition in more depth (something you may not get if working outside of notation). You can always “tweak” later in Pro Tools to accurately express the detail that your Sibelius MIDI left out. However, most of the time Sibelius can pick up these nuances and is able to translate them into importable MIDI data. This will make your job in Pro Tools that much easier.


{Ex. 2}

It’s also important at this point to think ahead of the libraries you’ll be using to record these parts (I can’t stress enough the importance of familiarity with your libraries when using this method). For example, I may want an unmeasured tremolo articulation in the string section of this piece, but by being familiar with my libraries I know that I already have a great sounding unmeasured tremolo articulation. However, it only works over a sustained MIDI note. Sibelius will literally chop up that unmeasured tremolo articulation into many MIDI notes and will almost always sound “robotic” if used as is.

So, in my Sibelius notation I will leave the string section without the unmeasured tremolo articulation and instead add a note right above saying “U.Tr.” for unmeasured tremolo. {Ex. 3} (Measured tremolo is different and can usually be used as is). Then, when you import the MIDI data into PT 8, all you have to do is remember where you wanted to have the unmeasured tremolo articulation and switch up the string patch for that section. Little things like this can either make your workflow consistent and seamless or be utterly frustrating to the point of discarding this method entirely. That’s why I stress the importance of being familiar with your libraries.


{Ex. 3}

I know a few of you are probably thinking right now. “Are you saying we should notate every single instrument out and do so before we even play/record anything? I don’t have time for that!” The answer is actually… “No”.

I recommend only notating the instruments that: Aren’t improvisatory in nature (sometimes stylistically dependent), you might have a session musician come in and play later, or you can’t accurately articulate while playing through a MIDI keyboard/controller. For me personally, I’ll usually just notate the Orchestra’s “foundation instrument sections” like the strings, brass, and woodwinds or whatever other instrument/section is most important in this piece. It may be all of them or just one… it completely depends on the length of the piece and my deadline. Context :).

So lets say during the notating process you run into writer’s block, are getting bored, or decide that some “non-notateable” instruments have a larger role in this composition. At this point it’s perfectly fine to begin working in Pro Tools and recording a few of the parts which don’t need to be (or aren’t able to be) notated. This will help break up the monotony of the notating process and may even inspire new ideas! Just make sure to have your PT session “mapped” out like you did in Sibelius before you begin recording.

That segues to our next important topic in this method… map out your PT session :). That means making markers at hit points/important sections, changing meters/tempos, and all of the other little things you can do to help reference back to where you are (and what should be happening) in the piece. As long as your not asking yourself “Where was this part supposed to go again… or where the heck was that hit in measure 43?” then you’ll be fine.


{Ex. 4}

Now that you have your PT session mapped out, it’s time to convert your Sibelius Notation into MIDI data and then import all the MIDI data to your PT session. I prefer to have just one Stereo Aux Track with a VI loaded as a plug-in and then bus it through to its appropriate Audio and MIDI track. {Ex. 5} However, you can also take the imported MIDI data and use instrument tracks instead… it just tends to take a lot more work and CPU if you have a ton of tracks to work with.

{Ex. 5}

Once your tracks are all set up how you like (color coded, grouped, etc.) I would recommend going through and slightly altering the velocity on each one of your MIDI tracks before recording. Even though your Sibelius dynamics will be included in the MIDI data it’s not always perfect and doing this will help “shape” the piece and feel more realistic in the long term. At this point, your ready to load up the appropriate virtual instrument(s) and record all of the audio. Of course, as you listen to the piece and it begins to take form, you’ll find that some of the parts you wrote aren’t necessary any more or that you may even like to add a few new ones. That’s perfectly natural and a part of the Composition process. If you feel that this method feels too “robotic,” then I would recommend playing only the main melody/focus line on your keyboard and keep the rest true to this method. You’d be quite surprised at how that tends to “rejuvenate” the other instruments.

The end result of using this method (after mixing/mastering which would be a completely new article) is something that you not only have a hard copy of, but have probably thought more about as well. Thus helping it feel more authentic and accurate in expressing yours (or the project’s) intention. In fact, if you’d like to hear the result of one of my pieces using this method, just Click Here and tell me where to send the track.

Thanks for reading, take care, and keep composing fellow artists!

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author,
Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games.
He’s had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided
audio for Indie PC titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated
for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.