About a year ago I posted an interview where I gave my advice on how to break into the game industry as a composer. It focused on your abilities and readiness. I thought it was time to get into one of the more technical details of breaking in, which is… just how much will getting started cost you? Assuming you’ve got the skills and the legitimate confidence to make it in the biz, let’s take a look at the equipment you’ll need and the associated cost.
And a disclaimer: I will mention specific pieces of equipment in this post, but I don’t have any monetary interest in doing so. Either I’ve had good experiences with the equipment or they have a good reputation and should serve you well for years.
And another disclaimer: I’m assuming all the equipment I list will be compatible with everything else on the list. I’m not actually putting together this studio, but if I were I would make sure all the equipment will work together in harmony… you know, drivers and all that. Your local music store or an online store (Sweetwater is very nice in this regard) can help you make sure all your parts will work together.
1) Computer & Accessories ($3050)
You don’t need the latest, greatest computer to get started. Even mid-range machines these days are going to give you enough horsepower to run your demanding audio applications. I’m a PC guy (more bang for the buck) so let’s look at a system that should work well for us:
Computer- I put together a quad-core Velocity Micro system for our hypothetical studio with 6GB RAM and 2 500GB hard drives for about $1900. It’s important to keep your samples on their own hard drive for most efficient performance. 6GB of RAM is a good start, but it never hurts to get more RAM. Samples are very RAM hungry. ($1900)
Computer monitor- 23″ widescreen LG: The bigger the screen, the better. You’ll have lots of information on many windows to sort through as you work. ($250)
Audio interface- RME Hammerfall HDSP 9652: You need this to get audio from your microphones into your computer, and then from your computer into your studio monitors. This is a high quality, very clean sounding PCI card. ($700)
MIDI controller- M-Audio Keystation 88es: This is a basic 88 key controller. You can upgrade to something with more buttons and lights, but this will get you the basics. ($200)
2) Recording & Monitoring ($5460)
Microphone preamp- PreSonus DigiMAX 96k: 8 channel microphone preamp capable of up to 24bit/96kHz output. This will be all you ever need for live recording every now and then. ($1300)
Microphones- For recording instruments and voice: AKG C 3000b ($430), Shure SM58 (2 for $200 total), Shure SM57 (2 for $200 total), AKG D112 (for bass instruments, $250)
Studio Monitors- Mackie HR824mk2: Great studio monitors, flat frequency response, very true sounding. (2 for $1300 total)
Monitor stands- 1 pair ($100)
Digital to Analog converter- Apogee Mini-DAC: This will convert the digital signal from the computer to the analog signal the monitors can understand. ($800)
Mini mixer- Behringer XENYX 1204: To easily adjust the volume of your studio monitors. ($130)
Headphones- Get at least 2 pairs, the brand and style is up to you. (2 for estimated $300 total)
Headphone amp- ART HeadAmp V: Independent volume levels for up to 5 pairs of headphones. ($120)
Misc- Cables, mic stands, pop screen ($200)
Acoustic treatment- Auralex Roominator D36: This is used to get rid of common acoustic troubles like flutter echo. You may need more treatment such as bass traps depending on your room. Speaking of your room, make sure it’s as large a room as you can spare. This will help make sure the audio you hear coming out of your monitors is as true as can be. ($130, maybe more depending on your needs)
3) Software & Samples ($5700)
Nuendo 4- This is a very powerful piece of software that can do it all. It’s a great (much more affordable) alternative to ProTools and will handle all your music, sound effects, and voice. ($1800)
Adobe Audition- This will help you edit individual files, including mastering. ($350)
Finale 2010- This is notation software, useful for giving parts to your live players as well as orchestrating your pieces for sampler. ($500)
Samples- I would suggest many of the East West Quantum Leap samples to get started, including their Orchestra Platinum Complete, Symphonic Choirs, Goliath, and Ministry of Rock. Look around for other samples to start your collection. And be ready to invest in samples throughout your career. The more options you have to choose from, the better. ($3000)
Front Porch Band- Banjo and tuba: Ok, this one is completely self-serving since I created these. But in my humble opinion, you won’t find a better banjo or tuba! (http://frontporchband.com) ($50)
So, there you have it. To get a nice studio up and running will set you back just under $15k. A keyboard and a few soundfonts just won’t cut it if you’re serious about making a career out of your music. You’ve invested in yourself through your education. Now don’t cut corners when it comes to the studio in which the magic will happen.
A friend recently sent me this post from Craigslist. See if you can point out the one major flaw in this person’s offer:
I’m a video producer working on advertising media for a new, young company that makes wearable digital sports cameras — small cams that fit in a durable housing and are attached to helmets, wristbands, etc., and are specifically designed for surfers, snowboarders, bikers, racers, bungee jumpers, any crazy athletic person out there. It’s a very cool product and has started to attract lots of young people.
I’m looking for music segments to pair with the footage these athletic users have shot and donated for promotional use. What I’m looking for in music pieces:
- AIFF format (the highest quality)
- 2 to 5 minutes long
- adrenaline music (I’m kinda old, but Propellerheads comes to mind), also good old rock
- can be completely computer-generated by one person or generated by a group with instruments
- looking to communicate excitement and “in the zone” mood (but needs to engage, not alienate)
- no lyrics needed
- can’t be samples of existing copyrighted music but 100% original (imperative!)
Who you might be: somebody who noodles around with music, comes up with cool/energetic/meandering riffs and pieces, looking for a creative outlet.
What I can offer: what will probably be national exposure if this campaign takes off, and we’d give an MTV-style credit with band name/music piece/website info. Also a camera (worth about $200).
The downside: We want to own the music in perpetuity and there’s no money.
Find the flaw? He even prefaced it with a hint (“The downside”). He wants you to transfer all your rights to the song for the princely sum of ZERO. Well, you would get a gimmicky camera and… credit. But please, everyone, never transfer your rights to someone else for a penny less than what it deserves. And that is going to be greater than zero. Probably much greater.
The poster did seem to indicate the gig was aimed more toward hobbyists but even hobbyists should be compensated for their time and talent. If they think the music is worth using in their national campaign, then the music is worth paying for. Both professional and hobbyist musicians, never transfer for your rights to your music for anything less than an adequate sum up front. Royalties are acceptable for people to use your music in their work, but not for transferring rights.
If you think getting the exposure is good enough, then fine. That’s a risk that could pan out. But, again, there is no need to transfer your rights. That is an outright scam. Once they have the rights, they can do whatever they want with the music. And all that possible profit will not find its way to the music’s creator. That is simply unfair. And it’s disrespectful to musicians to insinuate we would be happy to hand over our music’s rights just for the chance of getting a little exposure.
Anyway, be careful out there. Always keep in mind your work is worth something and don’t settle for any bad deal.
I won’t be attending the Game Developer’s Conference this year in San Francisco but that won’t stop me from going through the list of audio sessions and picking some of the more interesting-looking session ideas. Since GDC is coming right up next week, tonight I thought I’d share my recommendations for what you might want to check out.
There are 38 sessions at this year’s conference and I’ll highlight five of the most interesting sessions here. I’d love to hear any attendee’s thoughts on the sessions. And now, in chronological order:
Procedural Speech Generation: How to Achieve Open Ended Dialog in Games Using Speech Technology (Wednesday 2:30-3:30pm, Paul Taylor lecture) Overview: In this talk we show that game dialog need not be restricted to simply playing back recordings of actors reading lines. By using modern speech algorithms, new lines can be spoken, new virtual actors can be created and the range of style and expression in a game can be greatly enhanced.
Game Music Contracts: Live, Licensed, and Beyond (Wednesday 4-5pm, panel) Overview: Game music contracts and business practices have evolved for next-generation development, and this panel will illuminate the latest developments, best practices, and current trends for engaging audio professionals in the development pipeline. Building on last year’s successful AFM contract announcement, a panel of top execs, union leaders, and dynamic independents will update GDC attendees on the evolution of audio business practices.
Weapon Sound Design (Friday 11:10-11:30am, Chris Sweetman lecture) Overview: This session presents an overview of weapon sound design in action games, sharing design and implementation procedures as well as giving recommendations on how to achieve audio clarity in multiplayer and single player environments.
Recording and Mixing Music for Games: Get that Hollywood Film Score Sound! (Friday 2:30-3:30pm, John Rodd lecture) Overview: Effective music recording and mixing techniques can increase the impact and quality of any game music production. John Rodd will discuss maximizing game music quality, regardless of budget. Hybrid productions, virtual instruments, recording venues and 5.1 surround music mixing will be discussed. Recent game projects will illustrate key points.
Adventures in Voice Acting: Raising the Bar on Voice Acting for Video Games (Friday 4-5pm, panel) Overview: In this interactive and informative session, participants will gain useful tools to increase creative communication between game producers and the creative talent in the studio to better storytelling, improve quality of performances in games, and develop a more efficient process – enhancing both the creative and financial bottom line.
And my takes on these:
Procedural Speech Generation: How to Achieve Open Ended Dialog in Games Using Speech Technology: Now this technology is very cool sounding. I’m sure in the next ten years many games are going to head in this direction. No more canned responses and chatter, NPC’s are going to get a little life breathed into them. It should be interesting to see the current state of this sort of game dialog. (Paul has interviewed me a couple times and I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about)
Game Music Contracts: Live, Licensed, and Beyond: The business of game music could get a week full of its own sessions, but an hour will have to suffice for GDC. We game composers must not sit idly by as game dev companies get contracts skewed more and more in their favor. Signing unfavorable contracts not only hurts the composer who signed, but all of us composers.
Weapon Sound Design: This one is a bit of a surprise appearing on the list. Sounds kind of mundane but considering the importance and sheer quantity of games requiring weapon sound design, this should be a must-see. It’s a shame it’s only a 20 minute lecture. Seeing how another sound designer approaches this issue should be illuminating.
Recording and Mixing Music for Games: Get that Hollywood Film Score Sound!: Who doesn’t want a Hollywood sound, at least sometimes? I’m always up to see how other composers mix their music. It’s quite the black art. Mr. Rodd has mixed many Hollywood movie soundtracks and should be a good source of information.
Adventures in Voice Acting: Raising the Bar on Voice Acting for Video Games: Surprisingly, the bar for game voice acting is still set pretty low. I hope the panel gets into what to communicate and not just how to communicate to voice actors. Many game producers don’t seem to know what to ask for from the actors or don’t know (maybe can’t hear) common problems with game voice.
Well, there you go, my recommendations. There are many other interesting topics on the schedule and it was hard to keep them off the list, but these five stood out as having great potential to help improve your game audio and your business. Have fun down there! Maybe I’ll join you next year.
I just found out that Alexander Courage died last month on May 15. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Star Trek theme he composed. His music really captured the spirit of that show, exotic and moving (and firmly planted in the 60′s).
Unfortunately, whenever I think of Courage I also think of how rough the music business and show biz in general can be. He didn’t know what he was getting into with the original Star Trek but he composed one of his best works and was entitled to his share of the success the show would later achieve. I’m sure everyone would agree about that… except the creator of the show, Gene Roddenberry. Turns out Roddenberry was a sly one and wanted his share of the music royalty pie. He slapped some lyrics on the music after Courage finished writing it and then, because of the royalty rules, he was instantly entitled to 50% of the royalties the music would receive. The lyrics just add SO much:
Beyond the rim of the starlight,
my love is wand’ring in star flight.
I know he’ll find
In star clustered reaches
Love, strange love
A starwoman teaches.
I know his journey ends never.
His Star Trek will go on forever.
But tell him while
He wanders his starry sea,
Roddenberry claims to have had a handshake and later written agreement from Courage to do this, but Courage would of course claim this was completely unfair. And it was. But I guess the lesson here is to be very careful about contracts you sign. It’s common practice now to sign 100% of your game music over to the company you’re working for. Yes, that’s extremely unfair. You worked hard on that music and you’re entitled to its rewards. Let’s hope the game industry and show biz both aim for more fairness. It won’t happen if we don’t actively pursue it.
Qapla’, Alexander Courage.