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Weekly Content Blog #55: Learning From Experience

Weekly Content Blog #55: Learning From Experience

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:

Main Theme
Curtis’s Theme

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:

Humble Bundle:


All the best!

Weekly Content Blog #26: Asrael Character Teaser

Weekly Content Blog #26: Asrael Character Teaser

Wow, week 26! It sure has been a ride in Something Classic land, we are bustin’ our butts to get you this demo. We are taking time to make sure no corner is cut and no stone is left unturned. We want to put the highest quality product we possibly can into your hands! On that note, I will use this post to continue with our character teasers. So without further ado, let me introduce you to our main heroine, Asrael!


As the composer I was tasked with composing a theme for her character. You may recognize thematic material from the Main Theme and Curtis’ Theme. What do you think?

Farewell for now!

Weekly Content Blog #16: The Role of the Composer

Weekly Content Blog #16: The Role of the Composer

Hi everyone!

Today I want to talk generally about my role as composer in Something Classic, and how my role has evolved to take on other tasks. (Truth in reporting: because of my busy schedule I hadn’t the time to sit down and do another analysis of one of my tunes, but I hope to next time!)

First a little background. I had been in cohorts with Josh on several past projects during our Rpgmaker days. When we reconnected October 1st 2013, I had just had my first rehearsal with the Americano band, The Mavericks (more on that later).  After some brief chatting we decided we wanted another go on a project. This time we were going to definitely finish it because Josh had the brilliant idea of making this an all 8bit game. He would do all the graphics (the low quality would make it easier to generate mass resources) and I would do chip tune compositions. I was so excited, that in the same night I sat down and churned out our Battle Theme.

Time went on and with the addition of Tim, we got a nice graphical update. With that, came the transition from 8bit to 16bit.  This left me with a peculiar problem. I had already composed about 8 chip tunes pieces (Dradora, Battle, Victory, Adam, and more) and didn’t have the real technology (or tech chops) to advance the score to the level it needed to be. I was frustrated at the situation but decided it’d be best to redo everything I had already done and start writing future compositions with a more updated sound. The problem was I had no DAW (digital audio workstation) as my background as a composer came from writing for live musicians and my own band. Since I was doing pretty well with The Mavericks I decided to drop a good amount of money to get a Mac Book Pro and Logic Pro X. With these tools I was ready to explore this new adventure for myself.

Right around this time we were starting to get some momentum with the addition of Tim (Luke would come in the next few months). I had just gotten on the road for a longer run of North America with The Mavericks. But now armed with my laptop, Logic Pro, a small midi keyboard, and my sketch pad and pencil I was able to compose on the road. I ended up writing about 95% of the score at that point. I remember finding pianos in hotel rooms, dressing rooms and back stage at venues. It was a very productive and creative period, as the environment was constantly changing around me. I recall writing the ZaknNik theme on the bus while driving through a rain storm and writing the Dojo Theme on a ferry ride in eastern Canada.

At this point only Josh had access to our scene and map editor, which eventually became a bit of a bottleneck as he only had so much time. Eventually Tim decided to jump on map making, which was a good move on all accounts. He also started learning some of the code syntax. I was a bit resistant, since my role as composer was pretty established. However, after having written the majority of the music I was stuck with not much to do to aid our project. I reluctantly got the map and scene editor installed and committed to learning how to use them. This ended up being a great idea.  As of today I have created most of the scenes, something I really love to do. This speaks to the reality of working on larger scale projects with smaller teams. Of course you need some specialty to get good quality out of certain aspects, but having some cross pollination is important to keep the project moving. For instance, when the others are busy I can spend time creating alpha versions of new scenes, polishing and clarifying scenes we’ve already done and even small map fixes. Overall I’ve found this a fun job. As music can help tell the story, the same is true with crafting a well paced scene.

This leads me to a next broader point about art creation: the need for both clarity and honesty. Both are extremely important in obtaining a satisfying project. This also ties into our game team’s over arching philosophy “Simple, done well.” Hopefully I can expand on this in a future post.

Well I hope this article was interesting and not too self indulgent. Next time I will try and get back to my regular “Tyler’s Tunes” series. Thanks for reading!


Weekly Content Blog #11: Tyler’s Tune – The Tangle

Weekly Content Blog #11: Tyler’s Tune – The Tangle

In my last post I detailed the compositional process I took to compose “Curtis’ Theme”. In this post I will break down the musical elements of the opening dungeon, The Tangle.

First let’s listen:

The Tangle – Into the Depths

The Tangle was composed in a very peculiar way. Unlike every other piece written for this project, this piece was composed exclusively in Logic. What this means is that it never existed in sheet music form and was played into Logic via my midi keyboard. This is an unusual method for me, but I wanted to experiment with the process to see if it would generate new creative energy.

Before we begin, I should explain what The Tangle is. The Tangle is a massive growth of vines, plants and foliage that is threatening the village of Adam. The villagers do not know why it is growing. However in the last months it has gotten worse and is threatening the way of life for the village. The game opens with our main heroes exploring The Tangle for an answer to this problem.

The Bass-ics

The first thing I composed for this piece is the bass line. This was actually written during a ten-hour car ride from D.C. to Nashville. My wife took the wheel for a stretch so I decided to get some things recorded via my midi keyboard. I knew I wanted the bass line to be driving (constant 8th notes), cryptic (implying danger), and a bit off kilter, thus the 7/4 time signature. Below is the bass line that comprises the main section of the tune:

7/4 Bass Line

I decided that to create tension and keep a hypnotic lull, I would build parts off of this base line using loops. This worked perfectly with the method I was composing (via midi keyboard) and ended up being a nice example of how I approached things differently in this process. Looping multiple parts on each other worked perfectly for this piece.

Percussion and Choirs

Next I added a basic percussion loop that gave some earth-y flavor. The sound of hand drums signified nature and the ground, which seemed to be a good choice for The Tangle. The next loop to enter is an epic sounding choir. The choir sings in open 5ths which give it a open and non-specific harmonic color. It seemed to be the right choice for the tune at this point:

Choir Ahs

Again, all these loops are fairly simple and a result of me playing off my keyboard.

Time for a Melody

Last but not least is the main melody. I decided to use a pan flute (again going to the nature/earth element) playing in E 5th Mode Harmonic Minor or Spanish Phrygian scale. This scale to me has elements of non-western cultures (and with the possibility of being slightly offensive) seems to capture this other worldly/earthy vibe The Tangle bestows:

Spanish Phrygian Scale

E 5th Mode Harmonic Minor or Spanish Phrygian Scale

I added a small echo and a distorted guitar counter melody. Why? I just thought it sounded cool (a legitimate compositional decision IMO).

The Tangle does feature a second section in 3/4 time. I felt this helped break up the 7/4 and give the piece a bit more momentum. Because the bars are grouped in smaller units, it gives the piece an accelerating feel. Again, I keep the bass lines moving in (almost) constant 8th notes:

3/4 Bass Line

The Coda

The ending section is an interesting coda to the entire piece. I decided to explore the 5/4 time signature. Here’s the bass line:

5/4 Bass Line

It creates a similar effect to the 7/4 irregular time feel with two less beats. In addition, this section has less static harmonic movement and the bass moves through several chords, a needed section to get off us the relentless E Pedal in the other sections. The listener will probably still hear the relationship between this section and the one in 7/4 as the bass still contains a very similar structure.

Fun fact: I group the choir ahs and string melody in two patches each, one with the top voice and second harmony voice separated and panned them hard right and left. This is a technique I hear frequently employed in early Final Fantasy titles and gives the parts a more wide space, rather than each note coming from the same area.

Melody 1

Melody 1 – panned left

Melody 2

Melody 2 – panned right


I hope this article was interesting and informative. The Tangle was one of the most unique pieces I had to compose for the game and challenged me to use a new way to approach the compositional process. I knew that I needed to make the theme special as The Tangle was the opening dungeon and would set the tone for the entire game. It also gave me a unique opportunity to explore some irregular time signatures and utilize sounds that I had not done in other pieces.

The Tangle

Thanks and stay tuned for my next article! Have any ideas on what to write about? Please comment below!

Weekly Content Blog #6: Tyler’s Tunes – The Compositional Process (Curtis’ Theme)

Weekly Content Blog #6: Tyler’s Tunes – The Compositional Process (Curtis’ Theme)

Hi there!

Tyler here! Today’s post will discuss the process I used to compose music for this project. I will specifically focus on the character theme for Curtis, who is a main protagonist in “Shadows of Adam”. I will show how I went from email threads with Luke (our writer/level designer), to sheet music sketches, to Finale and finally to Logic to sample and mix all the instruments. Well, let’s begin shall we?

In the past when I’ve composed location or general purpose (battle, inn, victory) music I can go off what I already know and/or use tropes that help establish those areas. When Luke and I decided it might be good to explore some character themes I knew I would need to pick his brain on how he saw the character and how the music should illuminate those qualities. Here are a few snippets of our emails

Email 1

Email 2

(Note 1: I’ve censored anything that could spoil the plot)
(Note 2: This was back when Kellan was named Josel. A fun tidbit that I’m sure Josh can talk about as he explains the progression of this project.)
(Note 3: Luke references lines of the scripts. This gives me context on where this theme will be used.)

Now that I had some ideas from Luke I could begin sketching some ideas. Generally I like to start a new piece by listening to music that will have the same spirit as the composition I’m about to write. In this case Luke shared with me several pieces that had more of a cinematic quality – a huge point of departure from the usual music I had been writing for this project. We discussed using this piece in specific scenes, so it wouldn’t necessarily need to loop. This was exciting to me, because it meant I could give the piece a more dynamic arch. The interesting result of having to write music that needs to loop and potentially repeat hundreds of times on the same map is that the dynamic arch tends to remain fairly flat in order to have evenness.

After doing a lot of listening I went to the piano and started to work on some preliminary ideas. In this stage I generally write down all the ideas I have and worry about editing later.

Sketch #1
As you see, this is an extremely rough sketch. I came up with some basic motifs and had a few suggested chord harmonies. (Also of note is the other rough sketches above Curtis’ Theme. As of today, I’ve used every page of this sketch book for misc. compositions! But I digress.) I then decided to make a second pass after spending some more time on it.

Sketch #2
Sketch 2

My second pass was a lot more fleshed out. I had a better idea of the form and arch of the piece. I even wrote a few basic orchestration notes that I’d integrate later. After this step, I’ll generally play through it more on the piano and start trying to imagine the instrumentation I would like to use. I knew that I wanted to use a large string section to give the piece weight and drama. I also imagined I could add some misc. orchestral instruments such as trumpets, trombones, french horns, crash cymbal and timpani to give it more strength and character. I then decided to add a piano as well, in case I saw the need to use it. I ended up using it for the very last bar. Now that I had this it was off to start writing the parts in Finale!

Finale is a professional music software used to compose music and create sheet music for live musicians. This is an unusual choice to use for a video game soundtrack which will be sampled and mixed in a DAW (digital audio workstation), but considering most of the music I do is for real instruments I have come to prefer using it. Most digital composers will go straight from their midi keyboards and record/program into their DAWs but I’ve always enjoyed seeing the parts on a score. As I began taking the sketch into Finale I tweak things I don’t like and make edits. The great benefit to Finale is it can now play all the parts at the same time with a decent midi representation. This gets me closer to hearing the final product then when I’m just playing on the piano.

Score 1
Score 1
This shot shows off some the string counter-point and orchestration. Seeing it on paper helps me since I’m such a visual person.

Score 2
Score 2
You can see some of the brass in this shot. I used each track as a section; the trumpets are in two part and the trombones are in three part harmony. Also at the bottom you can see the timpani and crash cymbal. They aren’t doing much, but their presence helps give some moments a bit more ‘umph’.

You may notice that I have very little in the way of dynamics in this piece. That’s because I will add that later as midi data in Logic. Once I was happy with the composition itself, I exported the score as a midi (with all instruments on their own tracks) and imported it into Logic (my DAW).

Now it’s time to set up our instruments in Logic. Knowing that I’d need a full string section I divided my string ensemble into 4 midi tracks:

-Violins (Melodic)
-Viola/Cello (Melodic)
-Viola/Cello (Sustained)
-Low Strings (Sustained)

Dealing with string patches, you must account for several different types of samples. Some are made for melodic and articulated passages, while others are best served for sustained passages. After setting all my instruments in the template I then begin mixing the piece. This involves using the volume fader and automation to set levels (dynamics), EQ, compression, reverb, and panning instruments so they all have their sonic space. For string panning I imagined that I was looking at a symphony orchestra from the audiences’ perspective. Where would they sit? The violins are usually to the listeners’ left while the violas and celli are to the right. Despite the fact that the basses usually sit to the right of the listener, I generally prefer to pan bass instruments dead center. I then decide where I want the instrument to sit in the mix as Finale sends the data with all the parts at equal volume. Once I comb through that, I then find spots where there will be louder and softer moments. Near the end there is a dramatic crescendo to a big chord, I knew I would need to automate the parts to have them get louder. The last part is adding EQ to highlight different frequencies of the instruments, compression, and reverb to give it a more cohesive sound.

The instrument template, set up with my samples:
Instrument Setup

Panning Knobs – these knobs pan the instrument to different sides of the speaker from left to right:

Automation lines – the lines represent how much DB the instrument is producing at that moment in the piece. The higher the line the louder the instrument is:

Once I was happy with the mix, instrument samples, panning, dynamics, etc… I export the file as an mp3 as we are left with our final product!

Here is the PDF of the Finale score for those interested:

I hope you enjoyed this. Stay tuned for the next post!