Archives

music-composer-sound-designer-cedar-falls-iowa-edit

Working to Picture: When the Edit Changes

In this video tutorial, I discuss how to address edit changes to the film after you’ve already begun writing music to it. While we’d all love to work to 100% locked picture edit but in many cases, that’s just not realistic. There always seems to be, at least, a few changes to the film. I chose to use the You Again web series, which I scored, as an example of using this workflow. I found it really helped and I hope it does the same for you. For more info on You Again go here: http://youagainwebseries.com/ and for more info on me and my work, go here: http://madsenstudios.com/.

Excuse the mic – I ended up using my webcam mic in this video. Even with clean up, it doesn’t sound as good as my studio mics do. Not making that mistake again! I hope you enjoy it!

composer-sound-designer-nathan-madsen-madsenstudios-tempo

Using Tempo for Added Realism

Using Tempo to Add More Realism

One of the best ways composers can add more realism to their pieces is with tempo changes. This is especially true when writing for orchestra, big band, jazz combos and even certain rock songs. In this video tutorial I discuss how and why I use tempo changes to help make a piece feel more organic. I also detail how tempo changes may differ from a solo performance versus a large ensemble. The example piece featured in this video is War Upon The Sea which you can hear in it’s entirety here: https://youtu.be/BGMoxGkBHYU.

Of course this approach won’t apply to every style of music or every song. Experiment and see how these kinds of edits can help strengthen your song. Go make your tracks more organic and leave more space for your listener’s emotions! Put in some tempo changes where they make musical sense. It can make such a difference – even small changes! I hope that you find the quick tutorial helpful and please feel free to leave comments and feedback. I enjoy reading them!

Should you need custom audio for your next project, let’s chat!

Thanks!

Bio:
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Cedar Falls, IA. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.

48-Hour-Film-Project

A Tense Moment – 48 hour film project

48 hours to make a film?!

During the summer, I took part in the 48 Hour Film Project, hosted in Austin, TX. It was a blast! For those not familiar with the festival/contest, teams are given 48 hours to create, write, film, edit and produce a short film in 48 hours. To keep things interesting, all submissions had to work in:

– a character’s name
– a prop
– a certain line of dialog

Teams also had to genres randomly assigned to them and could pick which one they wanted to use. It’s a very fun, challenging and fast pace contest! Our film, Until Death Do Us Part, was nominated for eight awards and won four of them! Here’s my favorite music cue from this project:

The whole film should be released to the public soon. Stay tuned! And if you haven’t taken part in a 48 hour film project yet, do it! It’s so much fun.

48-Hour-Film-Project

48 Hour Film Project

Last weekend, Madsen Studios LLC took part in the 48 Hour Film Project, here in Austin, TX. It was a blast! I wrote music for the short film called Until Death Do Us Part, which is sort of a black comedy drama. For those that don’t know, this project involves drawing a genre (we drew adventure-serial) and had to work in a certain prop, character name and line of dialog. After drawing the genre, you have 48 hours (hence the name of the festival :P) to write, film, edit and post-produce the film. It’s quite the challenge! It’s also a great deal of fun.

Since music usually comes in late at the end of the production cycle, I decided to write a bunch of music to get the editing team as much to work with as earlier as possible. This was tricky because I was writing without any visuals, since the team was still writing and then filming. The last day, Sunday, was a fury of writing for me as we decided the film had changed tone and needed a new direction musically. I always love a challenge and am, overall, very happy with how things turned out.

Check out the poster and once the film is released to the public, I’ll definitely share it! Stay tuned!

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

Of Love and Sorrow – Main Theme

Here’s the main theme to Of Love and Sorrow, a new game being developed and published by Niels Bauer Games. Madsen Studios LLC – an Austin, TX based audio company, was hired to compose the music for the trailer and the game itself. It was really fun to write the music for a civil war, text game. For this theme I wanted to capture the grand, epic conflict while also showing some of the more tender moments of the game. In a way, this piece harkens back to Civil War epic soap operas that I saw on TV as a child in the 80’s. Check out the music and the game, once it’s made live!

Please reach out if you need original music or sound design for your next project. I’d love to help out!

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

It’s time for a divorce….

It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s time for a divorce… from your work. If you’re a freelancing or hired audio professional, that is. Too many times I’ve seen audio professionals, as well as folks in other disciplines, grow too attached to their work. This is a dangerous thing because it causes you to lose perspective and potentially over react when criticism/feedback is delivered. This can harm the collaborative effort which is vital to projects like films, video games and other multimedia. When we compose music or produce audio for a project, it’s NOT own our audio anymore. It belongs to the project.

It’s not about our personal feelings, tastes or bias.

It’s not about our own egos.

It’s not about our own preferred work flows.

It’s only about what content/methods would best serve the product.

I picked the title carefully because divorce is, from what I’ve been told, a very hard and personal thing to go through. Likewise, having your work criticized can be very painful and difficult. It can feel personal, even when it’s not meant to be. Divorce is also the act of detaching two things that were once very close to each other. When I’m doing work for a client or for an employer, I remind myself that I’m “divorced” from the audio. I put myself in a very different mindset than when I’m working on my own projects as a hobby. This enables me to better receive feedback from management and peers as well as objectivity look at my work and see how it’s lining up with the product’s designs and goals.

It takes practice.

This is a skill that can take some time to develop. My advice is to keep a cache of personal projects on the side where you can do whatever you wish, in whatever manner you wish to help satisfy that personal creativity. This way you can keep a part of “you” in your work and not feel like a drone and also be better prepped to fall in line with what your given roles are on a work-for-hire project or employer. Please notice what I’m not saying: I’m not telling you to sell yourself 100%. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be invested in work or be passionate about it. I’m not saying to give up your personal ideals or methods. That’s not healthy and odds are not why people hired you to make audio for them. They want YOU involved! But sometimes you do have to adapt and change your approach to better serve the project. If you’ve never been through honest feedback on your work, then I’d suggest putting your work online and letting folks from the professional audio realm review it. Many folks, myself included, will listen and gladly give our input. This works great because it’s not your friends or family listening and saying “sounds great!” even if it doesn’t. This is good, honest feedback from folks that should have the ears and skillsets to be able to distinguish what’s going great in your work and what could use some improvement.

Growing a thick skin.

My first real exposure to blunt, concise feedback was at FUNimation Entertainment, where I worked as a composer/sound designer in the Special Features/DVD dept. I would create the music and sound design, as well as edit and produce dialog from the show into a trailer for anime shows and films. We’re talking top tier anime work like Dragon Ball Z, Yu Gi Oh and such. Once the audio was done, I’d have a quick review with the brand manager, head of the video editors and sometimes even a VP of the company. Feedback was sometimes as brief as a few words:

“Love it!” “Doesn’t work.” “Hate it.” “Redo it.”

Then the folks would go back to their jobs and I’d be left making any needed fixes. That kind of environment forced me to grow a thick skin quickly. And you need a thick skin to be successful in this industry. It was at this job that I started the notion that any critiques were not personal in nature and were not directed at ME. They were directed at my work and how well it lined up with the product. This helped me better process and apply the feedback. In turn, this made me much better at my job.

Take a moment.

And the next time you feel yourself getting heated or protective of your work due to some criticisms, take a deep breath. This is creative work and therefore passions can play a large factor. Take a moment before responding and remind yourself – this is no longer YOUR audio. You’ve divorced yourself from it and instead, it’s the PROJECT’S audio. Do what’s best for the project. Hopefully everyone else on the team will be like minded and focused exclusively on what’s best for the project as well. Not always the case but one can hope!

Best of luck!

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. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.

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

Surviving Unemployment

This post is going to talk about an unpleasant topic: unemployment. Better yet, how to survive unemployment. I’ve gone through this ugly phase twice in my life so far but both situations were very different from each other. The first time I was laid off myself and the second time (which happened earlier this year) my wife was laid off. Since I was a full time freelancer at the time, it impacted both of us very strongly. I’m not a pro at this type of thing but I have noticed a few things that helped me cope while doing the dreaded job hunt and I’ll list them out below:

Don’t go it alone.

This is not a time for the lone wolf approach. Yes, you might feel embarrassed and angry about your situation and the temptation may be to hide away from friends and family. Sometimes answering their questions of “are you okay?” “how are you doing?” “what’s your plan?” can be overwhelming. But this is the time when you’re going to need to lean on friends and family. If you’re a member of a church, lean on that community as well! This network of people will not only help give support in various ways, they may even help generate job leads! More on that in a bit.

Pace yourself.

The two times my family faced unemployment it felt very much like a marathon. It feels like a race where you have no idea where the finish line is or where you are on the track. Perhaps it’s a guy thing but I wanted to get the problem fixed in 2-3 weeks time. Heck, I sorta expected it! But the reality is most people find work in about 3 months or so. In my family’s experiences, the first job hunt took about four months and this last time it took three months. Don’t expect everything to be fixed by a certain date. You cannot throw everything you have at this problem 100% of the time. You’ll burn yourself out. You also can’t avoid it completely and pretend it will go away. So pace yourself by working on the job hunt for chunks at a time then relax by watching some of your favorite DVDs or playing a video game/board game/etc with a friend or family member. Trust me, you’re going to need some down time.

Cast a wide net.

Job hunting, especially in a flooded market, is very hard. So you might have to look at fields that orbit your skill set or look at moving to locations you’ve not considered before. Consider new options that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. If you have the time and resources, also consider adding new skills or certifications to your resume. Depending on your situation you might have to cast a wide net right away or you could search for your ideal job fit for a while. More on that later.

Keep a balance.

When my wife and I were facing unemployment the last time, our initial reaction was to cancel everything that wasn’t essential to our lives. We were, basically, in full on freak out mode. But after speaking with our financial advisor (strongly recommend you get one if you don’t already have one!) we realized some of those “extras” could really help us look for work. For example, our gym membership was going to be cut because we felt it was an extra thing. But as members we had 2 hour daily child care for our son at no extra cost. We realized that if we wanted to, we could drop him off at the gym daycare then use the free WiFi to surf for jobs and network in the gym’s cafe area. Plus we found going and working out to be a GREAT way to deal with the physical side of all of the stress unemployment brings into your life!

Pick your battles.

One way I deal with stress is by eating, honestly. And I told my wife that while we were looking for work, I wouldn’t police myself as strictly as I normally would. Now I’m not advocating just letting yourself go and gain a ton of weight. But I am saying the routine of your normal life when you were working probably can’t exist while you’re in unemployment. I knew that I would be stressed enough as is, so a few cookies here and there helped me cope some. Again, not advocating super poor health but let’s be realistic. When people are stressed they seek comfort and, to a extent, I think that’s okay to let some things slide when searching for work.

Maybe your thing was having a super clean house? It might be that only 2/3 of the rooms are spotless and one gets chaotic. Maybe the whole house does! Maybe you fall behind on some of your other chores. It could be anything! My point is to give yourself some extra grace during the period – you’re going through a lot.

Be careful with social media.

Just know that people ARE watching what you do. If you have a meltdown or a rant session, keep it with someone you trust and away from “printed” social media. That stuff follows you everywhere. Talk with someone who knows you and won’t think less of you if you’re letting off some steam. Too often I’ve seen people completely lose it on social media and this doesn’t help attract the kind of positive attention you want from possible employers/recruiters/peers.

Find fun things to do at little to no costs.

The web is filled with great lists of free or really cheap things to do! Give yourself some days off with your spouse/family and go do some fun things. This will really help get you refocused on the tasks at hand later.

Make a plan.

Earlier I mentioned getting with a financial advisor. When my wife was laid off, the first thing we did was meet with him and he talked us through our budget. This showed us our timeframe. He was excellent at giving us the large picture while also helping us see the tiny tasks we could do right then to help with immediate needs. We made a plan that for X amount of time we’d look for ideal jobs (i.e. jobs that were directly in our career paths and/or in locations we really wanted to live in). Then after that time, we’d expand our search out to include other jobs somewhat similar to our careers and additional locations. If nothing worked out in that time period, then we’d take whatever we could find just to make ends meet. All of these milestones were mapped out according to what our savings and resources could manage. Without a plan, you feel so hopeless and might make foolish decisions.

Ask, ask, ask!

In both instances where we were unemployed, the jobs we ended up getting were from friends in our network. Remember that earlier point about leaning on your friends and family during this time? It really does help. Don’t harass your friends and family daily but let them know about your situation. Ask around to see if they know of any openings.

Closing – Unemployment Sucks!

Unemployment is super scary and stressful. It sucks! But you can and will make it through. It may not be in the manner or timeframe you’d want but literally everyone I’ve seen go through unemployment has made it out alive to the other side. These tips above have really helped us and perhaps they’ll help you. Best of luck! Keep your chin up. Good hunting!

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. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.

austin-texas-composer-sound-designer

Moving to Austin, TX!

Big announcement! Madsen Studios LLC and family are moving to beautiful Austin, TX! I’ve accepted an in-house position as a composer/sound designer for Bee Cave Games. Should be a lot of fun with plenty of BBQ and Tex Mex sprinkled in for extra flavor. My family and I will certainly miss Austin, TX. It’s a magnificent city and a wonderful place to call home. We’re trading out the pine trees and mountains for cacti and palm trees! As we get more settled in, I’ll be offering my services as a saxophonist and pianist as well as a private lessons teacher for the greater Austin area.

If you’re local, hit me up! If you’re not, let’s stay in touch!

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

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.

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

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.