still hate snow…

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It’s 9:30 PM and I just came in from taking out the garbage and the “green bin” to the curb.

There’s frickin’ 15 cm (that’s roughly 6-7 inches for my American friends) of snow already on the ground and it’s starting to freeze rain. I am NOT going to like this in the morning…

If you’re going to volunteer…

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… then make sure you’re up for the responsibility of the job!

C came home and we were chatting about a certain group that she volunteered to be on. The group shall remain nameless, but let’s say it’s somehow associated with a public institution that our kids are (or for some, will be in the future) involved in on a week-daily basis.

She told me that she doesn’t really enjoy being a part of this group as it doesn’t really promote a positive atmosphere and it doesn’t seem to . She gave me an example: a few of the other participants haven’t been showing up to the meetings regularly and the “chair” started a motion to kick them off.

C apparently interjected and explained that it wasn’t quite clear that attendance at EVERY meeting was mandatory. Furthermore, it wasn’t her understanding that an absence would result in termination from the group.

The chair (and some others) apparently reluctantly agreed that there should be some communication put out there before taking action. Then, the chair goes off and says something to the effect of “well, I’m not really sure it should come from me as I’m not really a great communicator.”

…. excuse me???

I know the person who she told me about and I don’t doubt that this happened in a bit.

If you put up your hand to volunteer for a position in a group – especially one with some power, then GEEZ!, please step up or step down…

I hate snow…

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It’s disgusting!

This weather is what I remember hating in Ottawa. Sure, the snow looks nice right after it’s fallen and everything is nice and white – beautiful, wonderful … just great. But shoveling the crap and then the next day when it starts to melt and/or gets frozen solid – then the cars on the roads kick up the salt, sound and crud onto the banks. It all starts looking like some big animal puked all over the city.

On top of it, I broke our ergonomic shovel – couldn’t handle the junk the plow left at the bottom of our drive… {sigh}

Ahhh…. to be on the west coast again. There, if you really want snow, you can drive to it. When it rains, at least you can still do all the stuff you usually do – you just get wet … big deal. I’m listening to the KEXP feed from Seattle right now – getting some of that laid-back vibe infused.

Oh well, enough ranting.

The Photo Shoot

I don’t know what I was expecting – I guess after Trav had done that interview with me back in Seattle with the whole pot-lights setup and such, I was expecting something like that for the photoshoot. 🙂

But Fernando showed up with his own digital camera and snapped about 40 pics in my studio last night. He sent them to me – there are definitely a couple of good ones that’ll fit into the article. Also got a copy of the article he’s submitted to his editor. Some nice writing. I’ll post a link to the site when it goes up.

Interview Questions

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“Transcript” of Interview for Unchartered Sounds

Hey Dave,

I wanted to concentrate on article on you on the video gaming industry. I would love for you to enlighten our readers of how the music composition is so big in the video game medium…Can you please answer the following questions for me and then I would like come visit the studios for so I can shoot photos for this article if possible with you working with your equipment. I hoping you are in the GTA. Anyways, the questions goes as follows…

1. In a nutshell, how does composing music for video games differ from composing music for other mediums of media?

I have composed for film, TV and video games – a lot of it is the same – you’ve got to develop themes for characters/places, adapt music for different moods and situations, lock music to specific on-screen action, and be able to craft your music in a lot of different genres.

There are a couple of key elements that are different:

The first is sequencing and predictability, or rather I should say ‘unpredictability’. Video games typically follow scripts in terms of what the player is to experience throughout the game, but it’s more of a broad brush stroke script when compared to film/TV. On top of that, the pacing, sequencing and action are all unpredictable. With traditional media, you have frame-accurate, perfectly predictable picture to compose to – everything is locked and you compose a specific piece to fit.

In video games, you have no idea what the player is going to be doing at any specific point in time during the playing of the game. Of course, a lot of games make use of strictly scripted story elements where the player just watches and that’s exactly like writing for other media.

What you’ll see in video game scores is music that repeats in a loop – typically a long loop (2-5 minutes) so that the soundtrack doesn’t get too monotonous for the player. The challenge comes in writing the music so that when a key point is reached that requires a shift in the music, (like when the player just went into the room with the level boss, starts to get attacked, etc…) new music or other elements can be introduced as seamlessly as possible. You don’t know when this is going to happen in the piece. It’s not like you can ask the player to wait to take that jump across a chasm on the downbeat of the next bar, so you have to make sure that your music can “react” to different unpredictable elements in a game either through cross-fades, inserting “stingers” or other transitional elements that will smooth out the transition from one music pace to another and provide a dynamic underscore to the gameplay.

The second big thing is technical limitations. Depending upon what platform the game is being developed for, you may be restricted to certain sound sets, polyphony and file size. It’s not as bad as the early days of the original Nintendo systems, where you had only 3 voices, possibly a noise track for percussion and file sizes measured in kilobytes (100’s if you were lucky), but even with more powerful machines, keeping the size of the total package to a manageable and efficient one is always a consideration for performance and memory space reasons.

2. What kind of background or If I can say resume do these types of composers have?

Composers for media come from all walks of life. There are working musicians, songwriters, classical composers, producers, engineers – you name it, there’s someone with that background. I, for one, used to manage a team of technical project managers before I got into this full-time. Mind you, I had a long musical background before that, but for 10 years, music was not at all my bread and butter.

There are schools and such that are out there these days that focus on composing for media, but there’s no real formal prerequisite course of study to get into this. Like composing for other media, it all comes down to what you’ve done and how well you’ve done it – getting into the community, doing a great job and getting experience the “old way” is just as credible as any other path – there’s no “preferred” way to get into this industry. A suggestion for up and coming composers is to do your research on the tools and techniques – try things out, get to know how to work efficiently in your studio. Hook up with some young, up and coming producers and cut your teeth on some pro-bono work – get a feel for interacting with the community.

It is possible to specialize in one specific genre of music and be successful, but you’re typically going to want to be able to offer the ability to write and produce music in a wide variety of styles. Having a healthy appetite for diverse styles of music definitely helps – understanding and being fluent in those styles will go a long way. One thing I have to say here is that you’ll be surprised at what you can compose – never turn down an opportunity to score something that’s out of your comfort zone.

Lastly, I find that less than fifty percent of my time is spent actually writing music – I wear a lot of different hats throughout the day. Some of them are music-related: arranger, orchestrator, producer, engineer, etc. and some of them are business related: marketing, technical support, client management, contract negotiation, billing… You’ve got to be prepared to handle all aspects of your career. As budgets get leaner for the vast majority of music in media, a lot of composers don’t really have the luxury of delegating many, if any, tasks that need to be done in a composing career. The more you can handle yourself (arranging, recording, orchestrating, sound engineering, mastering, etc.) the better.

You’re running a business and need to remember that although you are an artist, you are first and foremost working for someone else. Pleasing the customer will keep you working. Getting “cred” in this industry doesn’t come from formal training, it comes from doing a great job for your customers and building your credit list.

3. Why is it difficult to be composing music for this type of medium or why is it a hard field to break into?

It’s definitely a sexy industry to break into, but the difficulty comes down to one thing: competition. Compared to the number of titles coming out of film-makers and videographers out there, you’ve got a hand-full of potential video game titles being developed all being sought after by virtually the same pool of composers.

Yes, there are composers who specialize in video-game music and ones that specialize in film/TV, but there are so many similarities between the composing methods, that you’ve got a significant overlap in the two “camps”.

There’s no one place to go and drop off your resume, it’s all a relationship-based industry. You’ve got to be able to get out and meet people in the industry, make those contacts and develop them. The reality is that there are a few number of video game developers probably getting a pile of demo-discs each day. It’s not impossible to break into, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

Music is a commodity in all these industries. For all the work you put into a piece, there are probably dozens of other composers out there who could mimic your work and undercut your price at the same time. Unless you make those person-to-person contacts and develop those relationships, you’re not going to be differentiated from the rest of the “pack”.

4. Are composers getting a lot more attention in this industry?

They definitely are! Composing music for video games has come a long way since Koji Kondo wrote the Mario themes for the original Nintendo systems. Composers for games aren’t getting the same attention as film/TV composers, but they’re definitely coming into the spotlight – look at “Video Games Live” ( a live orchestral multi-media tour headlining music for video games.

Music is definitely getting bigger and bigger slices of the budget on video games. Since the days of Hitman, live orchestra recordings are becoming more and more common. They’re not as popular as they are in Japan, but stand-alone video game soundtracks are now starting to be in demand in North America. The music is not just an afterthought to video games these days – as the games’ stories are becoming more involved and immersive, they’re requiring a vehicle in which to better communicate and suggest emotion like TV and film – that’s where music becomes integral to the gameplay.

5. Can you explain the process of how a composer makes music for a video game?

It’s very similar to film and TV. However, with video game development, the composer usually comes into play earlier on in the process. For film and TV, composing music is one of the last creative steps in the process. In video game production, the composer is usually brought in somewhere between the end of the design and middle of development process.

There’s coding and development work that has to be incorporated in the game to handle music, so unlike film and TV, you won’t get a “locked edit” to work with – you’re expected to be able to go with the flow of inevitable changes that are all part of the software development cycle.

The process is much more iterative than other media. You’re brought in with the producer to “spot” the game – either to storyboards, demo proofs of concept, or partially developed segments of the game. You’re given a copy of the storyboard or script and you work with the producer to determine where and what kind of music happens where and when in the game. You then develop themes, place them to different emotional settings, genres, tempos, etc. and review with the producer. Upon acceptance of basic themes and directions, you then go through the software testing, development and acceptance process. The producer of the video game may have qualitative or quantitative/technical direction for each iteration. Depending on the complexity of the game development this may take a few or a lot of iterations. In the end, you’re a part of the development team and need to pull your weight to meet schedule dependencies.

6. How long can it take to make a score for one video game?

It can take a matter of weeks to months. A few big variables come into play: the amount of music required (some video games like Elder Scrolls have over 1.5 hours of music), the complexity of the music / video game interaction, the experience of the producer / development team and the overall development schedule.

7. What are some of the best compositions you have heard for a video game?

Oh wow, I think the first one that blew me away was the original Myst – the gameplay itself was unique in its’ time, but there was also an obvious focus on music and sound in the game that enhanced the play. Some of the other titles I’ve played and have noticed the music have been Hitman, Medal of Honor, StarCraft, Half Life, oh, the list can go on…

It’s funny that now recently, music has come to be the central part of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Although the experience of playing the controllers that come with those games is not like the real thing, they’re a heck of a lot of fun to play and do promote a few musical skills such as active listening and rhythm.

8. Is it necessary to have an expensive studio to compose music for the video game genre or is there a quota that is to be achieved to do this.

No, not at all! The technical barriers to starting to produce music have come WAY down in the past years. There’s still a gap in quality with what you can produce in your bedroom versus in a professional setup, but that’s getting smaller every day.

You can do some really decent stuff with just a laptop, a two octave keyboard and some headphones these days. There are a number of bundled or even free/open-source tools out there that can be used to get started and/or even produce great finished results! If you’ve got a new Mac, you’ve got GarageBand with a whole slew of loops and instruments to use. On the PC, you’ve got apps like Reaper and the like that are VERY cheap and packed with a lot of functionality. These’ll definitely get you off the ground and running with a basic setup.

Of course, having the tools and knowing how to use them are two different things, but again, there are a TON of free and inexpensive resources (Podcasts, Forums, User Groups, tutorials, books, etc.) out there to help you get acquainted with and get around the ropes.

Tuesday, schmoosday…

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What is it about Tuesday?

Everyone is so down on Mondays, but what is it about Tuesday that makes it seem like a non-starter day? Maybe it’s the schedule these days – it’s a bit gloomy out there, the kids have skating at 10:30 and there are errands to be done. Seems like the day is all chopped up…

I guess there’s some solace in that I’ll be able to cross things off the list that C left… 😉
Big 5-Year Old

A turned 5 today. Gee, that kid is full of so much energy – wears his emotions on his sleeve. I commented to C last night that he’s got to be the best gift-receiver around. He is TOTALLY enthusiastic in opening gifts, but also has the most over-the-top expressions for when he sees what’s under the wrapping.

I can just feel sorry for the teachers at his school – they’re probably going to be hearing that it’s his birthday all day…

The Photo Shoot (da, da, daaaa….)

I’m going to get my photos done in my studio this evening. I got called by a writer for an online publication, “UncharteredSounds” to do an interview about composing music for video games. I told him that I’ve only really done one title, but could still do it if he wanted – which he did. I got a few questions emailed to me and, it seems as though those went over alright, so now, it’s photo-shoot time!

So, here we go – apparently, he’s coming over after 7:30 tonight to do the deed. I’ll be posting a link when that goes up.

Now, it’s time to go to skating lessons – and, probably the court house to schedule the dreaded trial date… {sigh}

Back into it … Maybe

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Well, here we go again.

I was religiously blogging before, but then stopped for some reason – dunno what happened… Hopefully this’ll go on. I was reading some of my older posts – it’s a hoot to read all that stuff again!

It’s C’s 8th birthday today! Man, he’s such an awesome little guy. I guess, his day started yesterday when we let him stay up to watch the Super Bowl. He and mom were cheering for the Patriots, but I was going for the Giants – dunno, just like going for the underdog. C wasn’t too happy about the result of the game. 🙂

He got a new Webkinz dog (a bulldog – we’ll see what he eventually names it…) and will probably be spending the lunch hour configuring the new profile on the website. He also got a couple of books – Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman – both things he’s been quite interested in the past few months. He and A got a “powerful telescope”. I have NO idea where the need for that came from!

Once today is over, then it’s A’s turn!

Got a frickin’ ticket on the weekend! The morning after the snowstorm, I was driving C and S back from swiming lessons. I’d just gotten some gas at this station up Yonge and was turning right at an intersection, looking out for any crazy drivers in the snow and got pulled over a kilometer down the road for apparently making an “illegal right on a red” – apparently there are signs there. I do not have any idea why there would be – it’s not a blind corner and there weren’t really any cars coming at all…

I’m going to be calling up today to contest the ticket and also going back there to look around. I did NOT see any signs…

God, the Toronto police department has WAY too much of a budget here with their parking meter maids – seemingly one for every block and then these ambush cops for insignificant and frivolous infractions…. grrrr….

Post Dad’s Day

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It came, it was here and now it’s gone. Yup, Dad’s day came and went just like any other day. C and the kids gave an hour and a half of extra sleep, a book, a new watch and some cool things made at school / preschool. We all went out to brunch and then to the zoo in the afternoon.

I can’t really speak to other dads, but I’d rather spend time with the family than by myself on Father’s day. To me, that seems more like the point. You wouldn’t be a dad without a family and having all of them around is what makes the day that much cooler.

Preview of What’s to Come

Just read in the Seattle Times that Steven Harper is scrapping the gun control program in Canada. Now, I can appreciate doing something about programs that are over budget and behind schedule, but when the intent of the program is sound, why not reform it rather than scrap it?

A mini soap-box moment:

Call me a liberal or my views as “garden variety” Canadianesque, but I view the possession of firearms as a priviledge and something that should bestowed upon people who require them to do their profession (police for obvious example). Possessing a tool that was intended to kill living things is NOT a right and should be monitored and controlled.

{stepping down now}

The only solice in seeing this headline is that when we’re back in Canada, we’ll be able to vote..

Preparing for the Weekend.

Today’s going to be a combination of things – doing some touch-up on the paint outside, mowing the lawn and finalizing the score for the recording session this weekend. I don’t know what I’d have done if I had to write out everything with pencil and paper. Thank the gods of technology for applications like Sibeius!

Father’s Day 2006

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Tomorrow’s the big day… Father’s Day.

This’ll be my sixth. It’s traditionally been a pretty decent day in the past – usually pretty quiet, get to sleep in a bit and spend time with the kids. It’s going to be pretty similar tomorrow I’m thinking. Except, we now have the prospect of moving back to Toronto hanging over our heads.

It’s pretty well decided. It all came to be about two weeks ago when C was starting to get the “not-so-warm-and-fuzzies” from the immigration lawyer. He apparently had some doubts that her TN visa could be renewed easily. The only real options he gave us were – you’ll have to leave at the end of the visa, or try to file for the extention and see what happens. If it doesn’t go through, then you’ll have two weeks to leave…

I’m sorry, but WTF! This is the second immigration lawyer who’s had this attitude of … oh well, if it doesn’t work out, then you can always just go back to where you came from. I can’t really get over how inconsiderate these people are of what kinds of impact this has on not only an individual’s life, but the family.

After we chatted about it, the only option that seemed to offer us the most control was to file for the extention and move back earlier than expected.

Another pet peeve I have with the US imigration program – there’s no non-green card option to stay here – even if you wanted to become a citizen. We’ve contributed to the economy in this country, we’ve paid taxes, didn’t give a whoop about not being able to vote – been anything BUT a drain on the country’s resources, but have no way to continue on without going through a barbaric work-visa system. Don’t get me started on the annual visa application process with the border guards…

Anyway, if I try and keep all that out of my mind tomorrow, then it should be a pretty decent day…