Archive for October, 2012

October 28, 2012

“RISE OF NATIONS” – QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Joseph ‘jojoe’ Weidinger, sent me the following note on Facebook and I thought there might be others who would find the information useful, too.

“Hi Duane, like countless others, I’ve grown up loving your game music, particularly rise of nations. As a young musician/composer myself, I found my way to LA after college and am taking a class in video game composition with gerard marino (god of war, spiderman) at ucla extension. It’s been neat learning about how the pitches work, loops, cues, etc. Of course RoN is almost exclusively non-loop 2.5 minute tracks with varying cultural influences.”

“I was wondering if you could shed just a bit of light on that whole experience: i.e. the pitch, the research, and maybe a bit on production (which sounds mostly sampled with a few soloists if I had to guess). Any insight would be appreciated!”

“I really take notes on the writing for this score: everything from the beautiful cello writing in “wing and a prayer,” the nostalgic “hearth,” and the mastery of ethnic writing. Also, RoN is kind of a slower, massive game in terms of pace, scope, graphics. I’ve always thought the music does an exceptional job at capturing this sense of massiveness and space (tracks like Revolver, Brazil come to mind).”

(RESPONSES FROM DUANE DECKER):

BACKGROUND
I’ve covered a lot about how I got to this point in previous blogs. Despite having some success with the “MechWarrior” franchise and conquering alien worlds for Disney, I was open to expanding in new directions. That’s when Big Huge Games (BHG), from Timonium, Maryland, was contracted to create a new game franchise for Microsoft Game Studios. Their creative team was led by Brian Reynolds, who was a former protégé of Sid Meier (of “Civilization” fame). When I heard that Microsoft was publishing their new game, I pitched the team to be their composer on the project. They accepted and we proceeded to create “Rise Of Nations” (RON).

When the project first started, the BHG team thought that authentic world music would be the music direction for the game. But I found this style to be invasive to the story line. It was very cool in its own way, but didn’t have the ability to support the story line that was being told. So I started composing music that would fill the requirements of representing the world, yet support the story.

PITCH
If I am reading you correctly, you are speaking about key signatures and how they relate to an interactive music score. As a player/viewer goes through a journey in a game, or any other entertainment experience for that matter, it is important to impart different feelings that can be conveyed in different ways. Changes in key signatures are a very subtle, but effective way to change the course of human emotion. It is well documented that certain key signatures and modes can evoke particular feelings. While scoring RON, I always kept this in mind and would reference what I had done in previous tracks.

2.5 MINUTE TRACKS
Just as pop music went through a phase where two and a half minute music tracks were the norm, I felt that a music track of that length would engage the listener while also not becoming overbearing or repetitive. A quick piece that leaves the listener wanting more is usually preferable to a longer piece that belabors the point. Yet there are certainly places where a longer piece is appropriate, especially when there is an emotional epiphany. Ultimately, there have been many times when I have felt that a long cue would lead the listener through an experience that is well worth the time.

LOOPS
Music loops originally started being used because of a lack of system memory. This is still true today, especially with games migrating to platforms with very little memory. Another alternative is to create very short pieces that can be triggered to reinforce what is taking place in the game. If you listen to my score from “Civilization Revolution,” you’ll hear a lot of short pieces, as well as full length tracks. That is because the game was being released on multiple platforms – Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii and Nintendo DS. You will hear all of the cues on Xbox and PS3, while only the short cues are in the other two. Because you never know where the story will take you, loops are also commonly used with sound effects. They can be three separate files, intro-loop-outro, or sometimes simply faded in and out. That way, the effect can be expanded or contracted to match an event in realtime.

RESEARCH
Since RON was the first project I did that required composing unfamiliar music styles, I did do a lot of research. Every region of the world has specific musical traits that convey a place and time. Instrumentation probably plays the biggest role. Real ethnic instruments have a tone and range that lend themselves to a particular style of music. Sometimes particular scales and modes are used. Some are very rhythmically oriented while others rely on simplicity to convey a mood. I did listen to world music as a guideline for some tracks. But at the end of the day, a lot of the soundtrack is my impression of these different places and times. Film composers tend to do this, as well.

PRODUCTION (SAMPLED / SOLOISTS)
You are correct in assuming that the soundtrack was a combination of sampled instruments and live instruments. I started by writing the entire score on keyboard and electronic percussion, using a bank of E-mu samplers and MOTU MachFive sampler within Digital Performer on the Mac. Once I had the electronic score complete, I met with Stan LePard to figure out what could be done on the modest budget that I was given. Anything that stood out as sounding synthesized, was replaced by live musicians. Simon James was the music contractor and found incredibly talented players, including many musicians from the Northwest Sinfonia, whose world-class collective work spans games, television, film and live concerts. I used the small studio at Microsoft Game Studios for the live sessions with Stan transcribing the score and co-producing the recording sessions. Tawm Perkowski was the tracking engineer. I then did the final mix and mastering in my studio using Digital Performer and Sound Forge.

CELLO (“Wing And A Prayer”)
There is an interesting side note to the cello solo in “Wing And A Prayer.” We were in the midst of recording the string section for all of the tracks. When it came time to record “Wing And A Prayer,” Simon asked, “Who wants the cello solo?.” Everyone in the room turned to Raj. I thought, OK, he must be pretty good if his fellow musicians automatically looked to him. As we recorded the track, my heart began to melt. It was everything that I had hoped the solo would become when played by a live soloist. I also found out later that his cello is very rare and insured for a million dollars. You can definitely hear Raj’s lifetime passion for music come out in that performance.

NOSTALGIA (“Hearth”)
Again, the session musicians really connected with this song and performed brilliantly. You also hear pitched wineglasses supporting the bagpipe melody.

MASSIVENESS AND SPACE (“Revolver” and “Brazil”)
I think the reason they work in that way is because they start out slow and quiet, build to a big crescendo and statement, then slowly go back to the mood where they started in the track. These broad ranges of dynamics wouldn’t work in a lot of projects, but certainly did for “Rise Of Nations.”

ETHNIC WRITING
I don’t know if I would consider myself a master at ethnic writing. What I do think I offer is music that conveys emotion in a lot of different musical styles. A lot of successful composers will tell you the same thing. Every project you do will have its own unique requirements and you will need to be able to fulfill them. I am challenged every day in my job at IGT. Every game has a different theme and requires a different musical style and approach. While I am usually juggling 4-6 games that are in production at the same time, that also means that I’m never bored or composing in only one musical style.

Thank you, Jojoe for the great questions! I hope I’ve been able to help answer at least a few of them. Best of luck to you on your musical journey. I look forward to seeing your name in the credits of tomorrow’s next great projects!

All the Best,
Duane

The 5.1 Original Soundtrack from “Rise Of Nations”

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October 14, 2012

PATENT PENDING

In my wildest dreams, I would have never imagined that I would have an idea worthy of a patent, but I have. I have worked with some very intelligent and creative people. Maybe my time spent with folks like Dr. Robert Moog and Raymond Kurzweil rubbed off in some way that I may never understand. But with the help of a couple of very talented co-workers at IGT, Nick Mayne and Lee Huber, my idea of a new way to deliver music on gaming machines is now Patent Pending. While I can’t reveal details, I can tell you about the thought process involved in coming up with a patentable idea.

When presented with a problem, you have choices that can be made to mitigate or even solve it. First you need to define what the problem is and study all of the factors that contribute to it. Defining the problem is like a mission statement. It is intentionally vague to allow flexibility, but defines what you are trying to accomplish. Your mission statement now allows you to find out the differences in what is happening now, and what you would like to see happen.

Once you understand exactly what is currently happening and why, you move on to the creative phase. I always start this phase with finding out what I can’t do. There will always be factors that you won’t be able to change. These could include hardware issues –like this machine doesn’t talk to that machine. It might cost too much to implement your new idea. Or in some cases, your manager, team or company simply won’t think that your idea is important enough to pay attention to. I’ve been in circumstances where big companies are only interested in you as a cog in the wheel, don’t respect your input and are poisoned by corporate politics. Fortunately for me, IGT fosters and rewards this kind of innovation and is always open to, and encourages new ideas.

Now that you know what you can’t do, you can become creative with a solution. This part is sort of like a maze. Mental gymnastics takes you down many paths only to find that your idea won’t work. But every time you go down a path, you narrow down possible solutions and possibly find new ones. While you ultimately may not find a solution, sometimes the light bulb in your brain goes off and you finally find a way to make your idea happen. The solution could even be something simple, but something no one ever thought of before.

I explained my solution to my partners, Nick and Lee. The common goal we had regarding the audio system could now be worked on with a road map of how it should work. While I worked on the music and documentation portion, they proceeded to create the software structure needed to make it work. Our studio gave us the time and support needed to make this new method work in the game.

Once people were able to hear what we had accomplished, it became evident that we were on to something bigger than just an idea to make one game sound better. That’s when our studio director urged me to apply for a patent.

The patent application process is very long and must go through many committees, lawyers and paperwork before it is actually sent to the U.S. Patent office. That only makes sense because it is very costly to apply for and defend a patent and it takes 3-6 years before a patent is actually granted. But this time, IGT ultimately decided that the idea was well worth it. So now my little idea is Patent Pending.

So the next time you see something that you think could be made better, maybe you are the one who can do that. You just never know without trying.

October 7, 2012

BLATANT COPYRIGHT THEFT

After posting my last blog, “MUSIC COPYRIGHTS,” Duffmaister (http://www.youtube.com/user/Duffmaister?feature=CAQQwRs%3D), a fan from Helsinki, Finland, sent me the following questions:

Duffmaister: “Kinda curious about one music copyright matter, do you think bands like these have got the right to use the music like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7oWnx5vPcA or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DEcSxuK4U4 , the background music sounds quite identical to one piece of Rise of Nations music. So if they followed the correct procedure they asked Microsoft/Warner Bros for a permission to use parts of this music piece? Or is it allowed to take a small sample of the music and slightly change it without breaching copyright laws?”

Duane: Thank you for your comments on WordPress. I was unaware that my music “High Strung” from the “Rise Of Nations” video game was being used in rap/hip hop music tracks in Eastern Europe. But there is no obligation by Microsoft or Warner to inform me when they grant permission. Both of the examples you refer to here are using my master recordings of that music. Simply put, they took my original, recorded music and rapped on top of it. While they each “arranged” my original music recordings to fit with their lyrics, they are using my music and my recordings and taking credit for them, without giving credit to the composer (me) or the copyright owner (Microsoft Corporation). If they did not seek permission from Microsoft or Warner Bros., it is a violation of international copyright law. All I know at this point is that I have not received any royalty payments for YouTube uploads that have received 245,159 views and 1,351,935 views respectively. That seems like a lot of views to ignore international copyright law.

According to International Copyright law, you can’t repurpose a piece of music without permission and/or license from the copyright owner. I will check with both companies to see if they granted a license for these songs, but it is unlikely that either company will respond. A lot of big businesses just don’t care about these issues unless it affects millions of dollars in their bottom line.

Duffmaister: “Nevertheless, I’m glad that people have had the opportunity to enjoy your vast works on YouTube even after many years since, for example, Rise of Nations was released. Of course, if this would mean economic loss for you personally my moral would feel obliged to remove the videos.”

Duane: Your uploads of the Rise Of Nations soundtrack on YouTube, while possibly technically illegal, probably fall into the category of “fair use.” You haven’t claimed that you wrote or recorded the music and have given proper credit to the composer and copyright owner. You aren’t profiting from it. And your intent was to simply share the music with fans of the game. Because the music is attached to the game, your uploads have probably been used by Microsoft as a marketing tool to sell more games. If any public performance royalties were to be generated by this music, the appropriate Performance Rights Organization (in this case ASCAP) would be able to track who is owed publisher and composer public performance royalties.

THE BOTTOM LINE
These types of questions have been around for a long time. But as digital technology progressed, it became very easy to take someone else’s work and claim it as your own. The late 80s and early 90s saw several big hits from rappers who rapped over someone else’s song. Probably the most infamous was Vanilla Ice’s 1989 song “Ice Ice Baby.” He took the recorded intro to “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, rapped over it, and didn’t have permission to use it and didn’t give them credit for their work.

While I’m surprised that my song “High Strung” would appeal to rappers, I guess the popularity of the “Rise Of Nations” game and soundtrack would make it appealing to steal. These rappers are building on the large fan base that already exists from the soundtrack. But if they didn’t acquire a license, they are still stealing my music.

To make it very clear, here is my iMac computer’s dictionary definition.

steal |stēl|
verb ( past stole |stōl|; past part. stolen |ˈstōlən|)

1 [ trans. ] take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it : thieves stole her bicycle | [ intrans. ] she was found guilty of stealing from her employers | [as adj. ] ( stolen) stolen goods.
• dishonestly pass off (another person’s ideas) as one’s own : accusations that one group had stolen ideas from the other were soon flying.

One last thought on the subject. While a lot of people may think that just because I am recognized around the world for my music, that I am rich. That couldn’t be further from the truth financially. I am rich with respect to having a family that loves me, that I love my work and that I love entertaining people. For those things, I have been blessed in my life. But like most music composers (as is true with most people on this earth), I am just getting by and struggle to pay the bills. To all those who view Intellectual Property (music) as a thing that you can just take and claim as your own, please think again…

October 3, 2012

MUSIC COPYRIGHTS

I am not a copyright attorney. Any time you have a question about copyrights, you should contact a qualified attorney who specializes in copyright law. My view on the subject simply comes from decades of experience protecting my musical work. After a recent question from a fan, I thought it was a good time to give an overview of how it works from a composer’s perspective.

Basically, if you have purchased a piece of music on its own or integrated it into a game, film, TV show, etc., you have the right to enjoy that product for your personal use. You can play it at home, enjoy it on your iPod, view it on DVD, etc.

We are all familiar with YouTube and enjoy a lot of music and shows without paying for them. Just like TV, YouTube has advertisers to help defray their costs. Some uploads have their own advertisers, as well. Some use the site to promote something or simply post something goofy.

However, it is illegal to use this music for anything but your personal use unless you have permission or a license from the copyright owner. A prime example is on the demo pages of my Web site. Although I composed all of the music you hear, I received written permission from all of the copyright owners to post the demos and attached the copyright information for each piece. There is also a disclaimer at the top of the page: “Music provided here are demos only. Duplication is in violation of copyright law. Commercial music licenses are available for all of this music. E-mail Duane for more information on music licensing options.”

The copyright law protects the copyright owner of a piece of music by giving them the right of exclusive control over how, when and where the music can be used. The copyright exists from the moment it is created and belongs to the composer(s), whether it is registered with the copyright office or not. Registering with the copyright office only ensures that you won’t pay legal fees if someone tries to steal your music. But if problems arise, you still need to prove that you created the music on a certain date. The duration of the copyright varies depending on circumstances, but is likely to be in force long after you are gone.

In order for a composer to make money from their work, there are two directions to take. In either case, the composer is always credited with composing the music and retains the composer’s portion of any public performance royalties.

“Work For Hire” is when a composer is hired to create music that will be copyrighted by the production company that has hired them. This allows that music to be associated with that project without any other money being paid and assures that there won’t be any complications if/when the project is re-released at some later time or on a different platform or media.

“Licensed Music” (for lack of a better term) is when the composer(s) retains the copyright and licenses its use for a specific project and duration. The production company does not have the right to dictate where else the music will be used. So the music that was licensed for a film, for instance, could also show up in an ad for toothpaste. Odd, but I’ve heard of this happening. In either scenario, the composer is paid either a composing fee or a licensing fee for their work.

To wrap up, I will add that sometimes I get requests from people who want to use my music for some sort of personal project and I can not, under copyright law, just grant their request. It is very flattering to know that my work is appreciated, but there are legal reasons why I can not release certain music for other uses. Please remember, too, that music is not a hobby for me, it is my livelihood. I am thankful for the interest and always open to questions about how this works.