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Lots O Updates

How’s that for a title? 🙂 But this update is HUGE. Saxophones… skateboarding birds, fighting quadrupeds, E3 devolving, Careless Whispers… lots to discuss. Let’s dig in!

Devolver E3 Conference

So life has been crazy but very good lately and I’ve got several things to update you all on. First off, I was lucky enough to provide some saxophone recordings to John Robert Matz’s score for this year’s Devolver E3 conference. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can stream the entire video here:

John Robert Matz is an amazing composer and musician that I’ve been friends with since 2015-ish when we first jammed in a hotel conference room at GDC. And then got politely kicked out because it was after hours! 😛 John was kind enough to ask me to record some alto saxophone parts and I had a blast being a part of it! You can hear one of the cues here: https://johnrobertmatz.bandcamp.com/track/linda

SkateBIRD

SkateBird, developed by Glass Bottom Games with music by Nathan Madsen.
This bird’s gotta smooth ride.

It’s also been a while since I’ve done an update on SkateBIRD! There’s plenty I’m not allowed to discuss yet but what I can share with you is that we funded our Kickstarter and then some! Our initial goal was $20k, which would be enough to allow us to make the base game but thanks to an amazing community and tons of really positive press, we reached $67,200!! This allows for several cool stretch goals to be added to the game including:

Breadslices of Life – unlock side stories exploring the rise of birb skating
Skate Heaven – bonus level
Super Create-A-Birb – deeper level of customizing your birb
Pet-A-Birb – you can now pet your birb in-game
Outdoor Skate Park – another bonus level… that’s OUTSIDE!
Birb in Many Shapes – allows for more unique shapes of birb models which increase the amount of birb species we can have in-game
Photo Mode – makes the in-game screen shot mode much more in-depth

You can hear some of the OST I’m working on here:

The Heron eats many fish.

Them’s Fighting Herds

Cue the insanity…

Back in 2016 I started working with an indie developer, Mane6, on a neat fighting game called Them’s Fighting Herds. I was in charge of doing the sound design for all of the creatures, special abilities and spells. It was a really fun project. Fast forward to SkateBIRD (mentioned above) and I discovered that Glass Bottom Games and Mane6 have partnered up! Mane6 is creating artwork from the characters in Them’s Fighting Herd for use on in-game skateboards. What a crazy twist and talk about a small world! Here’s one of them that I absolutely LOVE:

If I could skateboard in real life, I’d TOTALLY have one of these…

You can see and hear some of Them’s Fighting Herds and my sound design here:

Inside:Outside Saxophone Retreat

Plenty of late nights running jazz standards, improvising or working on technique. And Careless Whispers…

This is how my studio looks most days and nights. Outside of game audio, I’m still woodshedding my saxophone quite a bit in prep of this year’s Inside:Outside Retreat. This year’s feature guest lecturer is Jeff Coffin, who’s played with Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and many others. And Bob freakin’ Reynolds will be there too (guy’s a KILLER player) among several other amazing musicians. I’m both super excited and terrified. Should be a great week of learning and growing! And yes… I use my piano as a desk/work bench. DON’T JUDGE ME!

That’s about it (for now)…

That’s about it for this update. There are a few other things I’m taking part in that I cannot talk too much about right now. I’m working on some sound design for a VST. Still working at SciPlay and loving it. As more things get made public, I’ll be sure to update y’all. On the personal side, we’ve got some family vacation planned soon (cannot wait) and I’m trying to get back into the routine of working out and eating better. (Curse you chocolate!)

WHO AM I?

Nate Madsen is a 14 year industry vet who’s worked in games, films, taught college courses and has performed and recorded in various settings on both piano and saxophone. He’s been with SciPlay for nearly 3 years and has been running Madsen Studios LLC since 2005. On the weekends he likes to be very still and watch the grass grow. He’s considering taking up the bagpipes and really enjoys craft beer. He’s currently living in Austin, TX and his is favorite color is green. You can get in touch with him here: https://madsenstudios.com/contact/

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-denver-colorado-composer-sound-designer

Hot Tin Roof Game & Soundtrack Released!

Here’s a unique soundtrack: chiptune jazz. Trust me, it’s hard to make 8-bit samples swing! But I think the outcome was pretty successful. But don’t take my word for it, take the soundtrack out for a spin.

And check out the game itself: http://www.glassbottomgames.com/projects/hot-tin-roof/

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

CFC Benefit Concert: 2-25-12

 
I’ll be joining Erya on stage to help promote CFC (Cops Fighting Cancer) this coming Saturday Feb. 25th. Show starts at 7PM. Come hear some great music, enjoy yummy drinks and food and support this great cause! To hear some of the music we’ll be playing jump on over to: http://www.eryamusic.com/fr_home.cfm

Once you land the gig…

 
Many of my articles have focused on how best to network, promote yourself, negotiate and interact with potential clients. In this article I’m going to share a few pointers to help after you’ve landed the job. As with anything, nothing is a fix-all solution so always take these suggestions with a grain of salt. Carefully evaluate each situation, each client and if one of these tips seems to be a good fit then by all means use it! So let’s get right to it:
 
 

Don’t begin work until you have something to work to.

 
Sounds like simple common sense, doesn’t it? But in my experience it’s been rather surprising how often less(er) experienced clients expect me to begin work right away without any art or visual references. Usually more experienced teams already understand that audio is one of the last elements to be placed into a video game. Less experienced teams, however, tend to get excited and also not be aware of the common and more effective pipeline. Even for more simplistic sounds (like a generic button click) if a game isn’t there yet, so much can change during the production cycle that any sounds created early on could end up not fitting or matching the game’s vibe and feel. So if a team doesn’t have anything ready for you to work to – they’re not ready for audio yet.
 

Balance your workload – especially when extra tasks pop up.

 
Several times I’ve had clients expect me to capture video of the game when it was never part of the assigned tasks set up in the contract. These clients didn’t offer any kind of payment for my time or use of my equipment. Instead of getting upset or simply saying “no” I told them I would be happy to assist but we’d need to first figure out an appropriate cost for this extra service and the time it would take. Every time I’ve used this approach the team, which previously was too busy to capture video or didn’t have the needed tools, suddenly had the time and resources to provide those videos. So remember – unless a task is specified in the contract, it is extra work and as such you could require additional payment.

In some situations you can choose to take on some extra tasks to help the team out – which can really help your reputation with the team! This is usually when your work load is very light and you don’t have other projects also demanding your time. But be careful. Always explain if you’re making a concession. Something as simple as “well I usually charge for X but I had some extra time and wanted to help the team out.” The key here is balance. Don’t allow a team to repeatedly throw extra tasks at you which were not set up in the contract without added pay for your time and efforts but don’t nickel and dime your clients to death either. It’s a fine line but remember: it’s YOUR choice.
 

“Just play the game and create sounds from watching the game.”

 
While more rare, I’ve had a few clients give me a build of their game and expect me to just play it and then make sounds or music to that game build. When I asked for animations to “score” directly to they tell me to just play the game. I’ve even had a few clients push back after I explained my workflow process (placing animations directly in my DAW and creating sounds directly to that file). What usually convinces the client is this simple question: Do you want the sounds of the game to be estimates and guesses are do you want your sounds to be precisely synced to all animations?
 

Not all feedback is useful feedback.

 
I once had a client give me one-word feedback for about 20-25 sounds I had delivered: “Rework.” I explained that with that kind of vague feedback, I didn’t have enough information to know what direction or changes needed to happen. I didn’t know what the team didn’t like, I didn’t know what the team did like. It didn’t even specify what sounds needed to be reworked. After asking for more detailed feedback I found out there was only one sound they wanted reworked and the changes requested were minimal. The initial feedback was so vague, it gave me nothing to work with. Don’t accept vague feedback like this or you’ll end up running in circles and wasting a good deal of time. Asking for specific feedback isn’t challenging or rude when done in the right way. It shows how invested you are in making sure the sounds are the perfect fit for the game.
 

Iteration for the sake of iteration is crap.

 
I once worked on a team where the culture was to iterate just to see what would happen – without any clear goal or direction. In my frank and honest opinion it was a crappy attempt to cover up a clear lack of vision on the project. So teams just started iterating and making content, remaking content, scrapping content, going back to previous content, creating new content all in the name of iteration. And it was crap.

I’m ALL for iterating and adding polish to make something better. To achieve that end goal. To push the limits. But if a team wants you to iterate just to see “what happens” or “what comes out” then inform them that it raises audio costs and slows down the production time table as you’re stuck iterating on level 4 over and over again. Side note: this is why I have a revision limit on my rates. If a client feels they can have unlimited revisions at no extra cost then, by God, they’re going to use them! So make sure your rates allot for those situations where you’re drafting 15 versions of a game theme and explain those costs and limitations upfront to the client.
 

Play the game when mixing/implementing audio but push for alternate testing methods as well.

 
Once I was trying to test a sound I had created in a client’s build of their video game. The certain sound was on a stage that was so buggy and the game event so rare that it literally took me an hour to just hear the sound. Once! Then I made the needed changes and still had to fight the game to make that sound event happen again. It ended up taking much more time than it should have and made me quite frustrated. For those harder, more rare game events push for an alternate testing method. Perhaps a virtual soundboard of some sort or slash commands (if it is similar to a MMO-type game). Anything that can help you speed up mixing/implementation time. Some clients will push back on this but if you charge for your mixing/implementation time (which you should) then this can help speed up these tasks and lower the cost to that client. This is usually enough rationale to help convince the client that it is worth their energy and time.
 

Setting the right expectations.

 
As with many things in business, this is all about setting the right expectations and then fulfilling them. Even exceeding them. Explain to your clients what you need and why. Show them how by providing these items it will help you do a better job for them, make their product’s audio that much better and help you keep audio costs down and on schedule. So the final tip is really all about communication. I strive to have fluid, frequent communication with all of my clients and I have yet to hear a single complaint about it. The better you communicate, the better everyone understands their tasks, their roles and the needs of the project.

Get out there and make some noise!

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

Bingo: Around the World published!

 
PopOver Games recently released Bingo: Around the World which features music and sound effects provided by Madsen Studios LLC! Here’s a montage of five of the musical cues:
 

 
Each track represents a different region of the world and most contain ambient sounds mixed into the actual music. The montage features the Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Dubai, New York and San Francisco cues. Go check it out:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bingo-around-the-world/id478053054?mt=8