by: Martim Galvăo
Coke Weed at Union Pool (10/17/13)
It was a decent Thursday night in the heart of Williamsburg. PBR was in the air and mustaches tickled the back of my neck as I squeezed through a crowd of 20 and 30-somethings to make my way towards the stage. Coke Weed was there on the tiny wooden platform, testing their audio. A huge piece of golden woodwork, like a comically large version of something you'd see around an 18th-century painting, surrounded the stage. The band tweaked a few last things, Peter moved his hi-hat a few inches to the left, and then the show began. It was like a friendly stranger walked up to your face and began whistling folksy melodies while his buddy in the high tops a few feet back strummed away on a guitar. It was indie, for sure, but in an entirely earnest and and sincere way. No pretensions of substituting DIY-charm for actual musical ability. The band was well-rehearsed, their parts coming together with the synchronous effect of gears meshing in a finely adjusted clock. Not robotic or synthetic, just well-planned and good. Good and cool. Cool like your uncle who used to ride motorcycles back in the 70s and then moved out to a farm to plant organic fava beans before anyone knew what organic fava beans were. It was going well, swimmingly even, but something was missing.
Then it happened. Nina's white dress came to life, the band swirled in a vortex of blue and red blobs, and the crowd was transported back to 1972 – psychedelics in tow. There was a guy up on the balcony opposite the stage, I hadn't noticed him before and I still didn't notice him now, but when he flipped on the projector everything suddenly fell into place. The folksy, indie, elements of Coke Weed's music made friends with the groovy effects of LSD and what had been a purely musical experience now became an exercise in synesthesia. I don't know what it was, but the whole gig felt like it settled into an inexplicably warm and embracing groove at that point. Even normal concert-going concerns like beer in my shoes and blocking a short person's view were nowhere to be found – the beer was calmly residing in my cup and the person behind be had to be at least 8 feet tall. The set followed a musical arc worthy of praise – with build-ups and placid moments placed at the just the right intervals so as to maintain a sense of flow while still keeping the audience guessing. Down-home doubled vocals, nice hearty drumming, and precise but human playing from the bass and guitars moved everything along at an utterly enjoyable pace. Then, without much fanfare and with the nonchalance of a leading man with a cigarette in his mouth, it was over. “Thanks for coming, we have t-shirts in the back.”
Game On: Composing for Video Games
Out of all the panels KUCI Music Director Martim Galvăo attended at CMJ this was one of the most interesting and forward-looking. Perhaps he's biased due to my interest in music technology, but the discussions on interactive compositions and the future of the human-computer interface on a gaming and artistic level were fascinating. Below I've tried to summarize each speaker's responses to each discussion topic.
Sam Howard-Spink (Music Business Program, NYU Steinhardt)
Richard Warp (Leapfrog Enterprises)
Steve Horowitz (The Code International Inc.)
Andrew Lein (Denmaster Studios)
What kind of new techniques/technologies are you employing that weren't available a few years ago?
Sam Howard-Spink: It's funny because our relationship with music has traditionally been a one-way affair – it affects our emotions but we have no effect on it. Now, though, our brains and emotions have the power to control music via new sensors and technology. Another development is the gamification of just about everything - think about how this is changing the way we learn or complete everyday tasks.
Richard Warp: One of my focuses in recent years has been creating systems that adapt to how a player is thinking – neural-games. There are currently a lot of barriers to this technology simply because there isn't much hardware available to consumers. At the end of this year, though, we'll see several consumer-grade devices enter the market that will change the accessibility of neural-gaming. Emotive systems, one of these companies, already makes brain-computer interfaces that allow you to play game just with your brainwaves. Other interesting technologies include EEG, galvanic response, and eye tracking.
Steve Horowitz: In film we're all used to linear composition, left to right, where once you've composed something it doesn't move around. In games it's not that way, you have to think of it more like a database. Depending on what the player is doing certain cues are called up - we call this indeterminacy. A couple of tools are out there for dealing with this - one of them is called FMod and the other one is Wwise - these are completely free to download and use. It's kind of like Pro Tools but with a ton of arms - like an octopus. Companies also make their own proprietary middleware programs.
Andrew Lein: Since not everyone has access to a concert hall and an orchestra, one of the smartest things you can do is start working with Kontakt 5, and Cinesamples (drums of war is a great sample library!) Kontakt is so sophisticated now that you can tweak just about everything about the instruments. As a composer you need to understand how these languages work and how you can use the technology to build your music.
As an audio/sound designer, how do you get gigs? There seems to be a small elite group of game composers that dominate the scene. Is there room for a middle class?
Sam Howard-Spink: The way to make yourself valuable is to become an expert in two things. If you can be a great composer and a great programmer, or businessperson, you have a huge advantage. Having a diverse set of skills means you can make yourself useful outside of just making music.
Richard Warp: Being in a company of 600 people where we run the gamut of educational gaming is an interesting position to be in. When I graduated from my masters in composition I found a job in localization on Craigslist and for the first 6 months all I was doing was French localization. Over time some of the audio directors started asking me for sound help and it just snowballed to the point where now I pretty much only do sound. In a corporate job you have to be able to do a lot of things. Having different skills - coding, business, etc.. Can only help you. Having an entrepreneurial spirit is also something people will want.
Steve Horowitz: Austin Wintory did a small game for Sony called Journey and suddenly found himself in the curious position of being up for a Grammy with John Williams and all kinds of other big names. The score is beautiful and so is the game, but the lesson here is that if you want to write music for games you need to understand how games work – you can't just e-mail someone a couple of tunes without any understanding of video games and expect to get a job. People are now giving companies demos with all of their music integrated into an app/game. There a bunch of microconsoles coming out and the technology is changing rapidly. You don't need to be a coder to succeed as a video game composer, but you should understand gaming and be an evangelist for new technology.
Andrew Lein: Freelance means you work hard and someone is always trying to take your job. If you're the kind of person who wants to be the big name – the Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman - you have to get out there and get your feet wet with the systems that these guys are using. You need to start pitching yourself to these people. In terms of just getting gigs, though, I hit up marketing and PR people at companies all the time. If you can't get a hold of the music supervisor these a great people be in touch with just in terms of getting your voice heard. They always want to bring cool stuff to the table for their clients/bosses and they already have an audience with the company.
The music business has always been a relationship business. How do you maintain them and make them work for you?
Richard Warp: You have to be passionate. For me, my passion is musical perception - what's going on in the brain when we hear a piece or music. Here's the rub about being in audio, though: it's always the last thing people think about. You'll often find that people will spend the time and money to carry out an entire project and it's not until they're almost done that they realize they need audio. So I try to be as preemptive as possible to make people realize this earlier on. Joining an industry organization like the Manhattan Producers Alliance can also help a great deal. Steve Horowitz and I founded a West Coast chapter and if it wasn't for the connections I made through that alliance I wouldn't have been able to finish a project I was working on in time.
Steve Horowitz: Two other organizations you might want to look into if you plan on being a video game composer are the Game Audio Network Guild (GANG) and the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). The second one is designed to put designers and composers in touch with companies to help develop products for the industry - you pay $50 a year and you get a chance to work on interesting projects and meet people.
Andrew Lein: Whenever someone says 'no' it means they're still talking to you - you might get 6 or 7 nos until you finally have something they're interested in. The important thing is to be persistent and keep trying. Many of these people will give you a little test to see if you're really going to stick around. The reason being they don't want to work with someone who is just going to leave the industry in a year or two when they can be building a relationship with someone who they can work with in the future. These tests can last 3-5 years sometimes, but once you've established yourself you'll have a network of people who you can work with.
Give It Away Now: Music's Freeconomy
KUCI Music Director Martim Galvăo attended an interesting panel on the afternoon of Thursday, October 18 and wrote down the gist of what the panelists had to say about each topic below.
Mark Meharry (Music Glue)
Elisabeth Burks [moderator] (Royal Media Group)
Travis Rosenblatt (A&R + Artist Manager)
Sean Goulding (The Agency Group)
Kevin Eskowitz (Hertz, Lichtenstein & Young, LLP)
How do you feel about giving away music for free?
Mark Meharry: We encourage it. Music needs to be perceived as free to the audience but have some value to the artist. It's not so much about just giving it away and not understanding who's getting it, but more about building a fan base, especially as an artist starting out. Empower fans to go tell their friends about you and don't try to get money from them too quickly. Even getting someone to give you their email address for a free download is tough. The key now is to just be good. In 2013, it's almost impossible to not be successful if you're truly good.
Kevin Eskowitz: It's really hard to ask people to pay for something that IS free. People want to pay for music as an experience now, not a product. What I would do is develop that experience as touring and merchandise, etc... Asking someone to pay for your music could be the wrong move depending on where you are in your career, however, at some point you have to cash in your chips.
Elisabeth Burks: You have to think about when is the right time to start charging money. It all has to be about strategy. If you can't get a dollar yet, what can you do? Capture data, partner with brands, try to really capitalize on giving away free music.
What is your impetus for giving away free music?
Mark Meharry: The music industry has been around for hundreds of years, within the last 100 years it has become a recording industry. 100 years from now people will say "remember that really weird time that people used to buy music?" Downloading and streaming has changed all if that. The power of the internet, though, isn't in pushing content to tons of people, it's in giving people the tools to become evangelists for your music. They'll do all the work for you. In order to do that, though, the music needs to be incredible.
Travis Rosenblatt: An interesting example is mixtapes. Not only because it gets music out there but because it's also a way of circumventing legal issues concerning samples. Mixtapes also generally reach a much wider audience than a traditional album release.
Sean Goulding: One way to put out music for free is to make a great video and out it up on YouTube. It's a way to reach a massive audience and allow artists to exercise their creativity even more.
Kevin Eskowitz: There's a lot that the music industry can learn from the casino industry - the segmentation of customers into groups like whales, dolphins, and minnows, for example - allows us to differentiate between the big spenders and people who just download free music. 90% are minnows (free downloaders) who, from a financial and sales perspective, are negligible but have a huge influence in that they are spreading the word and creating a platform for artists.
When does it make sense for artists to partner with brands?
Mark Meharry: It depends. It's not just about association anymore. Bands now want and can get access to customer data from a company they are partnering with. This is often times more valuable in terms of knowing your demographic than a 99 cent download. Not only are email addresses important, though, but also physical addresses. You need to play shows where your fans are.
Travis Rosenblatt: Some brands do it really well (i.e. Red Bull) because they have the money. Some brands do it terribly - I did an album with a brand one time because they wanted to cut a big check and look cool to their customers but it ended up being terrible.
Sean Goulding: It depends on the artist and the brand you're dealing with. There has to be some other, larger, piece of the puzzle in what you're trying to achieve for it to make sense. The two have to fit together somehow.
Kevin Eskowitz: I can't ever imagine advising a client to give music to a brand for free. They're looking for the cool association with the music more than you need to be branded as a spokesperson. Brands will pay a lot of money even to new bands that are relatively unknown. We also have to consider what our definition of free is - if you're being featured in a sold out showcase, or you're getting valuable data or information, you're not doing it for free.