The other day out of the blue, an old friend sent me a message of Facebook. He was looking for a transcription I did 6 years ago and was wondering if I could sell him the parts so his college band could perform it. Having not looked at the piece in several years, I pulled open the file on my computer to find… awfulness, complete awfulness. The formatting was horrible, the chord voicings were rusty, and the attention to detail I have learned in the past years was not present. I promptly told my friend I would then spend the next few hours polishing up the piece and then I would send it to him. A few hours turned into a day, a day turned into a week, and a week turned into a month. What was acceptable to me 6 years ago, was no longer representative of the quality I try and achieve in 2017. This got me thinking about Shadows of Adam and my role as the composer. Since my first composition in October of 2013 to last week when I updated ZaknNik’s battle theme, I’ve learned a lot.
1. A little bit of reverb goes a long way
About 2 years in I discovered a small trick to make the pieces sound more coherent. I started running a small amount of reverb through an aux channel. This in turned applied the reverb equally to all instruments giving it a cohesive sound, almost as if all the instruments were being played in the same space. This may seem obvious to most, but my background was always as a composer and not necessarily a sound designer. Once learning this I promptly remixed every tune I had done to that point.
2. Make the most out of your themes (aka Melody is King)
When writing some of the first pieces for SoA I knew I would want to come up with a handful of themes that could be re-used throughout. I ended up developing two main themes:
From a pragmatic point of view, it made sense to re-use these because it saved me work, however I also felt it helped bring a cohesive story-centric perspective to the game. For instance, the main theme is reworked in a more minor key in a scene to show Asrael’s distress while Curtis’ theme was re-orchestrated to work for Orazio. At times, both themes have been used in counterpoint to help highlight specific story elements.
3. Panning and Sonic Space
When mixing your tunes it’s important to give some space in the panning to help instruments come out. If two instruments complement each other or occupy the same register, sometimes panning them straight across from each other can prevent it from sounding muddy. I also learned this trick from listening to old SNES tunes. A lot of times, harmony in the same instrument patch woudl be split into two tracks and panned on opposite sides. This is another way to create a more linear sounds with your instruments as opposed to blocks of sound where each note is hard to distinguish.
4. Go with your gut
I am a studied musician. In addition to my 6 years of higher ed (Bachelors and Masters in Music Composition) I have composed over 200 pieces of music for games, jazz ensembles, pop bands, and various other groups. However, I still firmly believe that the best music comes from instinct and imagination. I always try to write things that I can sing because they seem to flow naturally and feel the most musical. The craft I’ve developed is merely a tool I employ to help articulate my musical ideas. That is not to say that I am not challenging myself to learn new harmonies, melodic constructions, or ways to phrase, but that it is ok being comfortable with my instincts. They’ve served me well.
5. Sleep on it
Sometimes this is the most important thing to do when composing a new piece. Frequently at the start of a new tune I would write as much down as I could come up with. Things would write itself for a bit, then I would inevidently hit a wall. At this point, I would begin to feel that my ideas were becoming forced and that I needed to take a break. I always found a long walk or a day off helped me recharge and come back with more creative juices. Occasionally, on walks with my dog I would replay the song in my head over and over, and imagine all the possibilities for it. This would help me get a good big picture concept and fine tune the ideas I already had. The most extreme example of this was the final boss theme. I started it in Jan of 2014 and finished it in the fall of 2016!
Looking back I am very grateful for the three plus years of writing I’ve done for Shadows of Adam. I’ve grown a lot as a musician and I am very proud of what we all have achieved.
Stay tuned for updates on the official Shadows of Adam release date! If you haven’t done so you can pre-order Shadows of Adam or contact us on our may social media outlets:
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All the best!