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My head on the chopping block


Jeshopk
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Maybe this will get moved to the composer's thread, but I thought I would post for the whole JWFAN community - an interesting thing related to the state of videogame and film music in general, but also related to an anecdote regarding my own music.

I consider myself a pretty confident composer, so criticism, especially from colleagues has never really bothered me. I take what I can from it, but feel quite happy with most of my music. I was curious whether I should submit a demo to BioWare for their 2008 RPG, Dragon Age. If my music was not what BioWare fans wanted, I figured I would probably not bother. Because we all know that these game companies cater to their fans, and take secret polls, and follow market data about the most popular soundtracks, etc. It's a pretty cut and dry business. The thought of composing for Dragon Age entered my mind when I was looking at future games on GameSpot. I thought to myself, there's a game I could lend my style to. So I put up a number of clips on the Dragon Age forums. Why there is a bustling community for a game that's not been released, nor is a sequel of any kind, I have no idea. I guess it isn't much different from people posting about Indy IV, but I digress.

Here's a link to the post. I wrote in as DragonAgeAudio and asked for opinions on whether they would be excited to hear this music in DragonAge. I half expected people who were excited to play a dragon fantasy RPG game to also be into robust, symphonic, original music of varying moods. I got some pretty funny responses. So far, very mixed but more negative than positive reactions. The criticism didn't hurt, nor did it or shake my confidence that I could write an appropriate and thrilling score for the game, but it did make me wonder what the world is coming to, when people with these tastes have any kind of sway in the world of incidental music. If I'd gotten a bunch of positive responses, I might have submitted a demo and directed them to their fans' thread of excitement. Total backfire!!! LOL

Some highlights (My favorite first, as I took it as a great compliment):

"Not exactly James Horner or Hans Zimmer here..."

"I want Dragon Age to rip off, er, borrow the soundtrack from "The Rock" with Sean Connery. Harumph!"

"Carol of the Bells" by the trans-Siberian orchestra. You know, the one with the heavy symphonic sound and electric guitar. What a rush that was! That's what I'd like to hear with this kind of RPG, dramatic brass and strings in minor keys, with an underscore of percussion and metal guitar."

"Oh another composer / style of music i'd recommend is the guy who did the Samurai X OST and John Powell from Bourne Supremacy (Funeral Pyre). This kinda music is great and I think it would fit in with the "dark and gritty" world of DA."

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Musical philistines, all.

You could play back a recording of tin cans rattling on the ground and they wouldn't know the difference between "real" music.

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I listened to some of the clips. Not bad, although the opening of "The Ten Crystals" sounds just like "The DeLorean Revealed" from Back to the Future.

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I'm sorry but I think your music really misses the mark as far as what the game is being sold as.

To be as blunt as possible so you won't have to read a ten paged essay to get to the point: It's all cotton candy and no dark, grit, and mysticism.

If you've been following the game's progression, the press releases, etc. you will find the running thread between everything is an emphasis on darkness, on realistic and gritty qualities, none of which are to be found in the samples you provided. Everything is very neat, tidy, and flighty, where it should be mystical, dark, brooding, and much more down to earth.

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Let me give you my honest opinion: You made a big mistake by revealing your demos to the fans, because they are the least qualified people to value it properly. Fans always have different anticipations of what might come out in the end but even if your music is not to their taste in the first place, they may end up being amazed how well it fits into the game's world when they can actually see it along with the visuals. Or let me simplify my point: What you did is basically having a test screening of a movie without any footage but score only with a test audience that has absolutely no idea about music. No matter how good your score is, the responses will be mostly negative because everyone expects his own favourite style of music for a particular topic.

From here, there is no way back because now they are biased about your music, comparing your score with Zimmer and whatnot which certainly was noticed by some marketing guys from the company. Now the officials might know that your score is not going to be well received and your chances to score this one could be very small. My advice: ignore the fans next time and go right up as high as you can if you are really convinced that your music carries the right approach. The fans will agree once they have experienced the results. After all, you are making music for a product and not for the fans and thats what the company guys expect you to do. Leave the publicity and polls to them when the time has come. If there are indeed too many problems with your approach, then you will notice it during the process and you might even get the chance to improve things. Right now, you could improve beyond perfection and no one would give you credit.

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I'm sorry but I think your music really misses the mark as far as what the game is being sold as. To be as blunt as possible so you won't have to read a ten paged essay to get to the point: It's all cotton candy and no dark, grit, and mysticism. If you've been following the game's progression, the press releases, etc. you will find the running thread between everything is an emphasis on darkness, on realistic and gritty qualities, none of which are to be found in the samples you provided. Everything is very neat, tidy, and flighty, where it should be mystical, dark, brooding, and much more down to earth.
You have an extremely good point. I wrote these for a completely different game, but thought they would be generally good for fantasy/RPG type games. Perhaps I submitted the wrong demo for this particular game, when I saw it almost a year ago, it didn't seem at all like they were going dark. Looked more Dragonheart than Dragon Slayer if you know what I mean. Maybe they're taking some cues from Lair? Dark Sector dramatically changed tone mid development. I just finished an indie RPG that is very dark, so maybe I will swing by there with another poll and a gritty soundtrack.It's good that I didn't submit this demo to the actual developers. I wonder if with this technique, I could get better results from fans of another game. It's the first time I have tried it. Very interesting to get feedback even if it sometimes what they say makes me feel out of touch with today's market.
I listened to some of the clips. Not bad, although the opening of "The Ten Crystals" sounds just like "The DeLorean Revealed" from Back to the Future.
Wow, I actually never thought of that, but there is some resemblance. I wanted something crystaly and 12 tone-ish to describe the crystals that are supposed to power the earth in Harmonic Flow's next game - untitled. Side note. Harmonic Flow gave me full freedom, except they expected it to sound a tad reminiscent of Howard Shore.
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I'm sorry but I think your music really misses the mark as far as what the game is being sold as.

To be as blunt as possible so you won't have to read a ten paged essay to get to the point: It's all cotton candy and no dark, grit, and mysticism.

If you've been following the game's progression, the press releases, etc. you will find the running thread between everything is an emphasis on darkness, on realistic and gritty qualities, none of which are to be found in the samples you provided. Everything is very neat, tidy, and flighty, where it should be mystical, dark, brooding, and much more down to earth.

I agree. It doesn't sound fitting for the purpose at all... And - unfortunately? - today, a lot of the times, you need to submit specific demos that will convince a producer/director that you are the right one for exactly this job. So good luck with that:)

My general opinion on the clips is that they don't suit the material they were submitted for. Almost all of it is very nice and too joyful - not dark and menacing. The battle track - couldn't hear anything that made me think of a battle in that, for instance.

Jeshopk, getting through to producers by submitting demos is like... well... VERY unlikely to happen, I am sorry if I sound pesimistic but I speak from experience. Most of the jobs I get lands on me by chance, connections or recommendations from earlier employers.

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Great music! You really shouldn't have any problem getting that music into a video game IMO. Just keep sending it around. Attack is great (although you may want to remove the theme from Jesus Christ Superstar, about halfway through...) As always I find your music to be confident, self-assured, and very well composed for the medium. Keep it up!

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Jeshopk, getting through to producers by submitting demos is like... well... VERY unlikely to happen, I am sorry if I sound pesimistic but I speak from experience. Most of the jobs I get lands on me by chance, connections or recommendations from earlier employers.

Yeah, pretty much in our industry, if you don't have connections or a stunning (read: major shipped title experience) portfolio with your resume, you're at the bottom of the stack.

As far as I know, Bioware has a pretty good working relationship with the major A-listers like Jeremy Soule, Jack Wall, etc.

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Great music! You really shouldn't have any problem getting that music into a video game IMO. Just keep sending it around. Attack is great (although you may want to remove the theme from Jesus Christ Superstar, about halfway through...) As always I find your music to be confident, self-assured, and very well composed for the medium. Keep it up!

Yeah I agree,

Wouldn't worth sending it anyway? You can certainly show your quality. It's not a pitch on the game it's demos on other things you did before.

You never know.

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Great music! You really shouldn't have any problem getting that music into a video game IMO. Just keep sending it around. Attack is great (although you may want to remove the theme from Jesus Christ Superstar, about halfway through...) As always I find your music to be confident, self-assured, and very well composed for the medium. Keep it up!
Thanks Pixie. The music actually is for a videogame, but not a big one. I've been working full time since January creating music for smaller game developers. It's not making me much more than my family needs to survive, but it's composing for a living, and so in effect my lifelong goal is currently reached. I have received bid requests with big game developers, but lost out to more experienced composers. On the one hand, the small game developers seem more open minded about music. On the other hand, big developers could help me put some money in my savings account :huh:.. So when I send my demo out to the major studios, sometimes I hear back from them and sometimes not. But even if they don't hire me, it's good to get to know someone on the inside, which has come as a result from sending emails and making phone calls. One thing I never do is send CD's. That might be seen as stupid, but I hear Audio Directors talking about how they prefer to make mp3 databases of demos now rather than keep a warehouse of jewelcases. And by the time I send out a CD, I usually have some music I like better than that which I could direct them to.JC Superstar? Hmm. I actually dislike that music a great deal. LOL. Hopefully it's only as reminiscent of that to most as Imperial March is to [A tea spoon of sugar] "makes the MEdicine - go Down - the MEdicine - go Down"
Yeah, pretty much in our industry, if you don't have connections or a stunning (read: major shipped title experience) portfolio with your resume, you're at the bottom of the stack.As far as I know, Bioware has a pretty good working relationship with the major A-listers like Jeremy Soule, Jack Wall, etc.
I hear you. IMO, the video-game A-listers had less competition when they started out. It seems like now, everybody is doing game music or trying to. I hear other composers who blow them away, and I think it is only a matter of time before composition quality is given a greater deciding role in who gets the job. Jack Chapple, for instance would blow Jeremy Soule away if he ever got the chance to score an Elder Scrolls game. From what I hear on forums, people want a little more musical creativity now. It may trickle up to management. I am not knocking Soule, but I am saying a Jack Chapple could really destroy him, musically speaking and given the right debut assignment.
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