Some time ago we got a comment expressing interest in a post on the music making process of TLT's composers. It slipped through without a response (sorry!), but we did of course see it and agreed it was a great idea for the Development Blog. Of course, such an article is subject to the time and interest of the individual composer, so I'm pleased to say that Karimn D.K.I. has obliged us with an article on his process- thanks, Karimn!
Read more to see what he has to say!
Hello! I'm Karimn (but call me Mirak), one of the composers working on the music for Tuttle's Legendary Travels, and today I'm going to talk to you guys a bit about how I make music, what programs and things I use, and the general process I follow to compose a musical track. What I should point out though, is that this is not a tutorial. I will not get into the precise step by step guides I use on my routines, but will introduce you to what I usually do.
First let me start by boring you a bit about music.
Making music is a difficult but very rewarding task; Without music, the ambience of any medium, be it movies, games or TV shows would be completely ruined. Music helps to set a mood and to please the ears of people into understanding what's going on around the setting. The appearance of Darth Vader in Star Wars wouldn't be as imposing and powerful if he walked on stage without his iconical Imperial March blasting on the background, that's how we know he's the evil dude! Imagine if this track played instead of his theme. Nobody would take him seriously.
In videogames music plays an even more important role, since videogames are an interactive form of story telling; It's not like a TV show that you just sit back and watch, it's something you play and get absorbed into. You get to know characters, you feel concerned about what happens to them, and you feel like you belong in the game's world, so music plays a vital role in helping the player's immersion get better and better.
I'm not a musical genius. I haven't attended a single music class in my life and everything I've learned has been self taught, so of course my method is by no means the method experts and well educated people use, so do have this in mind: You don't need to have "talent" for composing because nobody comes to this world with the skills to do something like this pre-installed in the brain.
So, that's fine and all, but on to business: HOW DO YOU DO IT?
First, my physical tools of the trade. I work in the field of videogame music, and this involves digital music. While there's people out there able to compose without using any instruments, I've found it's much easier to learn how to play the piano, or more specifically, a MIDI KEYBOARD:
This thing is older than you and me combined.
Why get one? Because it's better. When you're composing, you'll often have a tune you like in your head, and our brain thoughts are fleeting things. If you're like me and haven't taken a single music class, and therefore have no idea how to write music, then you'll experience a certain problem. Composing without an instrument is possible, but it's a much slower method that requires additional software and the need to mouse-click every note one by one. By the time you're composing your track, it may have escaped from your mind, and your life's work is then lost forever. I started making digital music using that method, the point and click click click one, but when I used my keyboard in combination with the clicking method, I discovered something wonderful: I could make music!
With a midi keyboard (and the proper utilities like cables and plugs needed to plug it in your computer, which I won't get into detail because it varies wildly on the model of your keyboard) it's mighty easier because you can play the track you imagined right then and there.
Making music for a game
You begin with an assignment. Let's say you're tasked with making a song for a village of dwarves that live in the sky, now, what you know about dwarves may not be enough, specially because dwarves usually live underground, not away from it. So your first step before doing anything is researching your subject. If you're working for someone who's making a game based on an existing lore, like TLT for example, then you must listen to the songs of the source material (Megaman Legends) and adapt your style and instruments to better work with it, or if you're working for an original composition, you need to investigate the subject you're working with, following the example I set first, in this case it would be dwarves.
If you feel up for the task, and have a melody swimming in your gut, then it's time to bring out the keyboard and start trying it out!
"But Mirak, I don't know how to play the keyboard!"
I didn't either. Seriously. Hear for yourself. :O
Click Here to Listen
That's fairly recent, too (woooooah). That's the result of a couple of hours of random key-bashing. If I can key-bash, so can you. What you just heard was the first step on making any song.
But here's the thing, that tiresome phrase people blurt at you, the one that goes more or less "practice makes the master" or something like that, I've found that while I haven't achieved "master" status, and probably never will, at least now I can play half-decent songs, and it helps speed up the music making progress by a thousand.
That covers how you start, so then, how come the music you can hear in the Music Tracks doesn't sound this crappy? That's because randomly bashing the melody you want is practically digging out the rough emerald from the ground. After you have that chunky piece of dirty stone, it's time to REFINE IT.
The Refining Process
I've talked about my physical tool, the midi keyboard. But I still need to bring that music inside the computer, and simply recording it with a microphone is not an option, so, I use music making software. Here's what makes the difference between a hobbyist and someone who wants to get into music making in a bit more serious way. If you want your music to sound good, you'll have to spend money in good software and digital instruments. There are thousands of these on the web, and there are many out there for free, but as usual, what's free is not always the best. It would be better to start with free software until you feel confident enough in your newly-trained skills to decide to spend money on something.
Anyway, some of my preferred tools to work with:
Again, these are just some of them. I use too many different programs for different things. But for raw music making, FL Studio is probably the one I use the most, as it is powerful and allows all kinds of plugins in it, and best of all? It allows my ancient keyboard to work with it! :D
I start by opening FL Studio and recording the key presses I use on my keyboard, then I refine them by hand, eliminating random key bashing and modifying mishaps into proper notes and melodies. This way, what sounded terribly, or at least unorganized, sounds good enough to use. Then I assign an instrument to said key presses, and create various layers of instruments, usually starting with melodies and then going to percussion and accompaniments. It is a time consuming task, and you need to listen to your song again and again and again in order to refine it until it sounds great. This can also involve creating new instruments from scratch (I once needed a percussion sound that I couldn't find anywhere online, so I used my cellphone's sound recorded to record myself tapping on a hollow door, and then I used Audacity to eliminate noise and to increase its volume until I could use it with my song. Above all else, experimentation is key).
So, a few hours, days or weeks later, what previously was a few minutes of some guy punching his keyboard ends up sounding more or less like this:
Click Here to Listen
That's more or less what happens when I need to make a song. Working on this project is being an awesome thing for me, as I'm getting out of my comfort zone and learning lots of things. I hope you guys enjoy the tracks I compose for Tuttle's Legendary Travels as much as I'm enjoying composing them!