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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!

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.

…. 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.

Here’s an updated sound design reel for those interested in those kinds of services:

Madsen Studios Sound Design Reel from Madsen Studios LLC on Vimeo.

I’m actually waiting on a few clips from some developers with projects that weren’t quite ready enough to be shown here. Once I get those clips, this montage will be updated (again)! I’m currently taking on any kind of projects needing music, sound design, voice over or implementation!

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.

I started this track a few weeks ago when it was about 2 degrees outside and snowing hard. It was released yesterday when it was quite a bit warmer, 30 degrees, but still snowing. So yeah, many of us are looking forward to summer! I’m on the tenor sax, Ken McGill is on trumpet/fluegelhorn and Travis Vance is on bass. Composition and production by me. I hope you enjoy it!

A good friend and colleague of mine recently talked about the realization of not letting others in on some of his projects. He expressed how limiting it was to try and do everything by himself. Limiting to his passion and creativity on the project. Limiting to his approach. Limiting to the overall scope and impact of the project. This really struck a chord with me as I’ve recently pushed to do more collaborating in my own projects. In an industry that is so often one audio guy in front of a computer, bringing in people with differing, new approaches is not only freeing, it’s refreshing.

If you’ve composed for any amount of time, you’ve noticed that you develop ruts in the grass. I know I have. Same chord progressions. Same melodic patterns. Same approaches to composing a piece of music. Bringing in new people to help branch out exposes your work to new avenues. New opportunities. So, on your next project I’d challenge you to ask yourself – am I letting others in? Even to just evalute the mix and overall structure of the piece? To review the melody and offering up suggestions? I’ve been so pleasantly surprised and encouraged by sharing my work with others during the production process. It’s made me a better composer, better engineer and stronger musician.

In an industry where so many of us tend to hide away in our dark studios and crank away on our masteripieces, maybe we should do a bit more sharing? When it’s appropriate and not guarded by NDA, of course! So reach out to your friends and peers. Folks that play actual instruments (gasp!) and see how they can breathe life into your pieces. Make suggestions as to how your piece can be stronger. More emotional. For example, I’d written out a flute ostinato that worked well for the song but was very challenging for a live player to perform. My VST could handle it all day… but my VST also doesn’t have to breathe. We made it work in a recording studio environment but if I ever wanted to have that piece performed live, I’d need to rethink that part some.

Using live musicians or collaborating can also be more inspiring and much more affordable than you might first think! Consult with folks who are talented and knowledgible at production and mixing. Because even the best song can suck with terrible production. I completely realize you cannot, and most likely WILL NOT, collaborate on every piece you do. But challenging yourself with new approaches and ideas is always a good thing. Maybe you’ll use them or maybe you’ll confirm that your own approach is the best for a particular song. Either way, you’ll come out ahead for having passed your piece across some people you admire and respect.

My point? Music composition and production is a life long path. No one person can know everything. This industry is actually much smaller than first impressions and folks are willing to help out! Buy them a beer, coffee or do an exchange of services. When possible throw cash. Or just ask and show gratitude! It’s definitely worked for me and I think it would work for you as well. The more well versed you are, the better. It will never hurt you.

Happy composing!

Sproggiwood is live on Steam RIGHT NOW! http://store.steampowered.com/app/311720/ Go check it out. I was honored to produce sound design for such a fun and unique game.

Thanks!

Nate

Here’s a “new” track. Rather, here’s a new take on an old track from 2006! I hired Jean Bolger to play the violin tracks and we recorded them at Mark Derryberry’s new studio, Derryberrys Recording Studio. I’ll be honest, the track is still evolving somewhat but this is very close to a finalized version and… honestly, I just wanted to get it out there!

What I’ve tried to convey with this track is a blending of mystery, wonder along with some element of danger or foreboding. You’re in this Lost Forest but you’re not quite sure it’s a good or bad thing yet. Currently, I’ve got three or four more tracks coming down the pipeline once I get all of the parts recorded, produced and mixed. Stay tuned!

Thanks!

 
 
I was really thrilled to write music and produce sound design for this epic trailer. I mean, you’re riding and controlling dragons while fighting other players on dragons. It just doesn’t get much more epic than that! 😛 Check it out:

I also wrote all of the in-game music as well as the in-game sound design and most of the voice overs. I hope you enjoy it.

 
I put together a new sizzler reel of some of my favorite projects I’ve been a part of – check it out! I hope you enjoy it.

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