Posts tagged ‘gaming’

July 27, 2013

MUSTS FOR SUCCESSFUL MULTITASKING AS A COMPOSER/MUSICIAN

Throughout my career I’ve spent a lot of time looking for opportunities to compose music for a living and learned a whole lot on that journey.

I’m really thankful now to be constantly busy, doing work that I love — composing and playing music for a living. In my full-time job at IGT, I work on up to seven different casino games at a time. Although the deadlines are staggered, they all need my attention. And in my spare time, I work on freelance projects in other (non-competing) branches of the game industry, TV and film.

It’s great to have so many opportunities to create music and to exercise my creativity in a wide variety of musical styles. But it’s also quite a juggling act. From one day to the next, I’m pulled in different directions and need to focus on whatever task or deadline is critical at that juncture.

Over the years, I’ve established some work habits to keep myself on track, while also avoiding burnout.

• BE LIKE SANTA: “HE’S MAKING A LIST AND CHECKING IT TWICE …”
Put together a checklist or spreadsheet that clearly shows the milestones and deadlines for each of your works in progress. Then tackle the responsibilities in order of chronological urgency. This isn’t to say that you can never take a slight detour from one project to the next. Sometimes inspiration will strike at random and you’ll push the record button on some ideas for a project that isn’t due immediately. That’s fine, as long as you don’t ignore the deadline that looms largest. Missing deadlines is a sure way to convince your employer or client that you can’t be trusted to do your job.

• OR YOU COULD THINK OF IT AS “TRIAGE.”
When you seek treatment at a hospital’s Emergency Room, a triage nurse will assess your condition. If your illness or injury is relatively minor, you can wait a little longer than someone with a life-threatening trauma. You can apply this way of thinking to ranking your own priorities. Which of your job duties should demand most of your attention right now? Which job duties can wait until a bit later?

• ASK FOR FEEDBACK, EARLY IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS.
I mentioned having “milestones” for projects. For example, if you’re composing music for a game, you may be asked to deliver a first attempt at an opening theme by a certain date. The game producer will review that material and let you know if you’re proceeding in the right direction or are way off-base. The sooner you get this feedback or criticism, the sooner you know if you should continue with the style or vibe that you’ve created — or whether you should tweak it, or come up with something entirely new. Why waste other people’s time and energy, as well as your own, if you’re not clear about what works for the project?

• TAKE BREAKS.
You know the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Working non-stop and never resting is counterproductive. Work hard, of course, but be sure to set reasonable limits. Eating, sleeping, getting some physical exercise and also taking mental breaks are essential to your creativity and to preventing stupid mistakes. You’ll come back refreshed and renewed. And you’ll usually find that you have a clearer picture of what you need to do and are able to get it done faster.

• LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
With each project, there is a different twist or another skill that needs to be learned to pull it off. You might be surprised at how these new pieces of knowledge will help you with future projects. Push through that learning curve. As my mom always told me, “Never stop learning.”

• EACH PROJECT IS UNIQUE.
When you are working on multiple projects, one will inevitably bleed into another. Just like getting a song stuck in your head, you tend to gravitate toward that song in your work. But the project you are working on right this minute is unique. Listen to all the feedback you get and use it to create a fresh approach. Go outside of your comfort zone, explore genres that you were passionate about a long time ago or simply think through imaginative new ways of doing things. Anything is possible as long as it serves the needs of the project.

• DON’T BECOME A PARODY OF YOURSELF.
When you labor over one very specific skill set and/or style for a long time, you get really good at it. Watch seasoned, successful recording artists. Every time they come out on stage, they deliver a stellar show. But watching them the second night seems like a repeat of the first (which is why they make the big bucks). While this is perfect for live performances, it doesn’t work for composing. Embrace everything new, different or challenging. It will make you much more valuable to producers.

It’s pretty surprising to me that I am able to juggle so many projects at one time, but I think that diversity is the key. It keeps things fresh and always interesting. If you aspire to innovate, great things can happen to you as a composer. Just keep tabs on all those balls you are juggling to make sure they stay in the air.

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July 13, 2012

VARIETY IS KEY TO COMPOSING

If you’ve ever said, “I wouldn’t be caught dead composing [insert your least favorite musical style here]”, then you’re probably not going to make a living as a full-time composer. That’s not to say that you can’t excel in your chosen style and become wealthy and famous. It simply means that the majority of composers are usually challenged with creating music in genres that are either new to them or that they actually dislike for one reason or another.

In the case of being faced with something that I’ve never done before, I had never created an eight-minute overture in sonata allegro form for a live symphony orchestra. Yet my good friend Gabriel Sakakeeny asked me to do just that for the American Philharmonic – Sonoma County. It was a big challenge to learn how to arrange music that I had written for video games and put it into a format that is centuries old.

Then there is the inevitable project that uses a musical genre that you don’t care for. When I was playing live in the ’70s and ’80s, there were tons of club and concert venues across the U.S. and Canada that hired live bands to perform every night. Then came the disco era and these venues could draw big crowds by simply hiring a DJ to spin dance records. Naturally, it became harder for a live music act to play enough shows to make a living. I always thought the musicianship on some of these records was outstanding, but they were taking work away from me. So I viewed disco music with a fair amount of contempt.

But fast forward to today. In my job at IGT, I get to create and arrange tracks in a very wide variety of styles. I am currently working on two games that have licensed disco tracks. When I was told about it, I smiled and said, “Yes, I can do that” when the producers asked. The game designer knew how much I disliked disco and now teases me by calling me “Disco Duane” (with a smile on his face, of course).

But after copying, arranging, performing and producing every last note of these songs, I have a newfound appreciation for the genre. Both “Fire” by Ohio Players and “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps are extremely well- written, performed and produced records that were chart-toppers in their day. I learned a lot about funk rhythm and style that I will certainly use in other projects in the future. The down side, however, is that now I can’t stop humming “disco inferno, burn that motha down …”

So if you’re planning on being a composer for a living, continue to learn about and explore other styles of music. Even if you don’t care for the style, it will give you a larger composing palette that will come in handy and increase your value in the future. Next big challenge for me – opera!

If you’d like to see how many different musical styles I’ve taken on, the credits page on my Web site will give you a pretty good idea.

http://www.duanedecker.com/credits.html

Here’s a picture from my high-tech solo act.

June 6, 2012

FROM GAMES TO GAMING

People who know my video game music have sometimes asked why I transitioned from making those types of games to working in the gaming industry. As any composer for games, TV or film will tell you (although they may not admit it out loud), being an independent composer can be a wild roller coaster ride. To be more blunt, it is a “feast or famine” career environment. Although I’ve had abundant success in the video game industry and continue to pursue freelance projects, I felt it was time for a bit more stability.

I now work full-time for IGT (International Game Technology), which is based in Reno, Nevada and is the largest manufacturer of slot machines in the world. Whether you’re in Vegas, Paris or Hong Kong, you’re going to find IGT games on the casino floor. While it may seem like an odd transition, games and gaming aren’t that different. Both thrive on technology, art and of course, music and audio.

The level of talented people I get to work with every day is incredible. There are always new projects coming up. In fact, I’ll be scoring and doing audio design for 10 games in the next 12 months. Although there is less content needed for a single slot machine than the typical AAA video game, I get to compose, arrange and produce a lot of music in styles ranging from pop/rock and jazz to zydeco and mariachi. I’m even up for a patent for a unique way to implement music in the games.

I feel very lucky to be part of a small group of composers who specialize in slots. I would guess that there are only about 50 to 75 of us who are doing this full-time, world-wide. Since it is a very specialized field and the projects are constant, there is much more job security with great pay and benefits. I have not found this in any other part of the entertainment industry. My co-workers tell me that I smile a lot — and they look pretty happy, too.

Here’s a short video that describes a “Day In The Life” at IGT, a place where creativity is truly valued and rewarded: