Monthly Archives: April 2015

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Six Tips for Hiring a Live Musician

Looking for some tips for hiring a live musician? I can help! I’m lucky enough to get hired to play saxophone and/or piano quite often for clients. It’s a great way to keep my reading/playing chops up, earn a few extra bucks and get involved with new projects. Over the years I’ve noticed ways to make hiring a live musician more streamlined, for both the client and the player. Some of these are things I’ve done myself when hiring someone and other times it’s things I’ve seen others do when hiring me.

Here’s a quick-n-dirty list of those things:

1) Know the range of the instrument(s) in your music.

Sometimes I have to rewrite parts for people because they’re out of the range of my saxophone. I never like changing someone’s music, because that’s not my role as a hired player. I want to capture their music as closely as possible. Best way to avoid this is to do a little bit of study of whichever instrument(s) you plan to have recorded live. Check for things like standard range of the instrument and if it’s a transposing instrument or not. (I don’t mind transposing at all but not having to transpose a part does speed things up for me and the client!) Google instrument ranges or pick up a college orchestration book (The Art of Orchestration is an EXCELLENT resource for things like this!) More modern sample libraries can help but even then you want to know if you’re writing in the super-hero range or the more “normal” range of that instrument! If you gave a trumpet player nothing but super high Cs to play for a full hour, you’re gonna wear out that player much faster than if the part was using lower notes! It also comes down the ability of the musician you’ve hired!

Sub point: Consider delivering the parts a few days early so your musician can look it over. This way you can avoid any snags once in the studio, where every minute costs money!

2) Include an audio recording of the MIDI/sample mock up.

The problem with working with samples is sometimes the MIDI and the audio output don’t match up. Think of a sample that when cued, plays a whole note with a crescendo. The audio sounds like a long tone but the MIDI data shows a short note. This literally happened today with a saxophone recording I was doing. Thankfully, the client was smart enough to also include an audio recording of that MIDI, so I knew to hold out that note and crescendo. But without that audio file, I would have delivered a much different recording – only to the frustration of my client and would’ve had to re-record things to fix it. Re-recording things means more studio time and that means more cost to you, the client.

3) Make your parts “native” to the instrument you’re writing for.

I’m not really a guitarist so if I were writing a guitar part, I’d first check with some of my guitar playing friends to see if what I’m after is even possible on guitar. Is it idiomatic or does it conflict with how the instrument organically plays? Depending on the ability of the musician you’ve hired to record, this could possibly be an issue. As a saxophonist, I can play most things but there are certain regions of the horn where highly technical playing is more difficult for me than others. If you want the low Bb note (the lowest note on most saxophones) to be super duper soft and played as 16th notes repeatedly at a tempo of 190, that’s gonna be challenging! But move it up just one octave and I could play those 16th notes all day. Look for tiny compromises in your music where the musician can quickly and easily nail the part for you but still deliver the song/vision you’ve composed.

4) Musicians have to breathe too.

I’m guilty of this one myself! My track, The Market was written back in 2006 for a game that never came out. I designed the flute part to be an ostinato over much of the piece. While it sounded cool on my computer, it was KILLER on my live flute player once we had it recorded! Give your parts some life and flow by putting in spots where the player would rest or at least breathe. I’ve found it helpful to sing the part and mark where I need to breathe myself, then consider adding in a little lift in the rhythm or changing the music so it’s more singable. This could also change your piece’s structure and give it more direction, instead of rambling along.

5) Clean up your MIDI data.

If you choose to deliver MIDI as notation for your player, please clean it up to make it as easy to read as possible. Make sure measure numbers coincide with the master score you’ll be referencing in the control booth. (Again, this is a mistake I made once by having the score and part render out different regions, therefore the measure numbers didn’t match up!) Include rehearsal numbers or letters to help mark chunks of the piece. This is especially helpful when having your musician redo or start somewhere in the middle of the piece. Quantize your MIDI data so the rhythms are as readable as possible. This is especially true if you played the parts in yourself instead of point-n-click with a mouse. Put in dynamics, articulations and phrase markings (even by hand if needed!) to help translate as much of the performance as possible to your player.

6) Communicate!

Most musicians I know and work with really enjoy recording parts for composers. They want to help bring your music to life! Perhaps you don’t have or don’t know how to use Finale, Sibelius or Notion. That’s okay! Write in notes by hand to help communicate what you want out of the performance. Talk with the musician beforehand. Give references and ideas. In other words, you simply cannot over communicate… as long as you’re not conflicting yourself. 😛 During the recording session, be firm about what you want. Nothing is more confusing or frustrating than a wishy-washy client! You know this music better than anyone else in the room. Own it and let your musician know if things are not going in the right direction. Politely, of course. Having said that, also be open to your musician’s ideas as they’re the expert on that particular instrument. Strike a balance.

Summary

Hiring a live musician is one of the best ways to bring your music to life! Yes, amazing results can be achieved with modern virtual instrument libraries but a living, breathing human can bring so much more! Both in regards to playing as well as presenting new ideas for you music. “Have you considered this note instead of that note?” “What about a glissando up to this part?” “This part of the horn is more muffled, what if we took it up an octave?” And so on. Use these tips to help keep your recording session as efficient as possible. It will be mean less cost and stress for you and a more enjoyable process for everyone else involved!

Happy recording!

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands.

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Story Kasina

I had the pleasure of working with The Very Quiet Studio on an album, Story Kasina, which features a story using some of my original music. This CD is a collection of original stories which are read while music and/or sound design accompany the voice actor. It also has beautiful artwork!

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You’ll never know….

…. if you never ask.

A good friend of mine says that ALL of the time and she’s right! We freelancers can sometimes forget that! Especially when we’re feeling the pressure to win a gig. While talking with a client about a contract today, I was reminded of this. One of the contract clauses stated that all work would be owned by the client for all time. In other words, exclusive rights or ownership. I get requests like this for music all of the time but sound effects are a bit unique. Exclusive ownership can be (and should be!) expensive because it’s the only time a freelancer is able to sell their work, depending on the terms. Clients will pay a premium rate for content they can own, and therefore use, forever. But clients should be smart about this – and freelancers can win points by looking out for client’s budgets and the well being of the project.

Purchasing exclusive rights for something like music or main character artwork, makes perfect sense for many brands and projects. It can (and does!) identify your product. Even unique sound effects (think of the blaster or the light saber from Star Wars) can become instant hooks for fans to recognize IP. But for simple sound effects like a footstep sound or a short button click sound, it doesn’t make sense to purchase exclusive rights at a premium rate. Unless this IS a Star Wars game or something with a similar sized budget and amount of resources. Then you can go out and buy almost all of the content you want at the highest rates. Most of my clients are indie so the pockets and resources are not nearly as deep. So I explain this to the client and offer them a few solutions along with some observations:

1) I CAN sell you all of these sounds at premium rates but I don’t feel it’s the best use of your funds. Not many people can hear a generic wind whoosh or footstep in grass foley and say “That’s from video game X!” But they CAN hear the main theme riff or see even just a fraction of the main character’s face and identify the game! I suggest we save some of the budget for those items that give us bigger returns on brand recognition.

2) We CAN work together and identify key sound effects that you want to identify your brand (again, think of Star War’s lightsaber). Pay a premium rate for just those key sounds and leave the less important sounds (which still help to fill the universe and make your game come alive) at a lower rate and non-exclusive rights. Many clients like this approach.

3) We CAN make all sounds nonexclusive if budget is tight and you simply want to make sure you can have all of the sounds you need/want in your game.

(Side note: notice the word can in all caps, repeatedly? I learned a while back that clients react much better to someone saying what they can do instead of what they cannot.)

I asked the client to look over my options/observations and see if there was any flexibility on this point. A few hours later I got an email that said, basically, “this sounds more than fair. I’ll strike that bit of the contract and we’ll keep it at nonexclusive.”

Now, you might be wondering why I opted for a situation where I charge the client less. Simple – it wasn’t the best solution for the game or the client. Sure my wallet would’ve been a bit thicker but I’d rather build long term relationships with repeat clients than have one higher paying job. BUT all of this was to lead up to this main point of the article: (dramatic pause) you’ll never know if you don’t ask. So the next time you run across a clause or point that makes you feel uncomfortable (either because it’s not good for you or not good for the client/project) REACH OUT! Ask! Talk about it with them. Most of the time, the client will be quite understanding and help resolve it with you. Then you can go about your happy way – making audio for them with a clear conscience.

Go forth and create decibels.

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands.

nathan-madsen-madsenstudios-denver-colorado-composer-sound-designer

Ninjatown’s “Death” Sounds

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of composing music, producing sound effects and creating voice overs for a cute game called Ninjatown: Trees of Doom! (Go get it, it’s FREE!) My wife was kind enough to play the ninja. You don’t really die in the game but we needed some funny sounds for when your turn is over. Check out what we came up with!

nathan-madsen-madsenstudios-austin-texas-composer-sound-designer

It matters…

I recently landed a new audio project, which is always a good thing! But what’s most interesting about this particular situation is the client talked to me about WHY I was picked, especially considering that some of the other candidates had way more experience than I did. Aside from the obivous things like matching style needs, scheduling, cost, etc, it came down to simple, common respect. Respect for the client hiring and respect for the application process itself. And, again, this is all according to what my client told me:

*One applicant was late to the interview and didn’t even apologize or awknowledge being late.

*One applicant came off as uninterested or somewhat distant/distracted during the interview (which was held via Skype).

*Another didn’t fit all of the requirements and wanted to bring in extra people adding to the costs, overall.

*Here’s one more from another interview experience I had years ago for an in-house position: The other applicant literally smelled like “old cheese.”

Interviewing can be a hard thing. It’s stressful! You’re on the spot and want to make a good impression. You might be nervous! I’ve heard tips on how to interview well most of my life but this recent experience reminded me that they actually DO apply! So don’t dismiss them!

*Be early to an interview.

*Be prepared.

*Be engaged. This is critical during phone or webcam interviews where it can become much easier to multi-task.

*Be yourself.

*Be presentable. Have good hygiene and take pride in your appearance!

You may or may not get the gig but don’t sabotage yourself by missing out on the easy things. Give yourself the best odds possible!

Good luck!

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Too Fat to Fly…

A few years ago Madsen Studios LLC was thrilled to provide original music for this cute game featuring Jay and Silent Bob. Are YOU too fat to fly?! 😛 Check out the in-game video below:

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands.

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Notice anything?

I snapped this pic in the lobby of the Hotel Zetta (cool place!) while attending this year’s GDC in San Francisco. Notice anything interesting about the pic?

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A cool pic of a piano in the Hotel Zetta lobby while I was attending GDC in San Francisco.