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The Old Tree, a new track by Austin, TX based composer/sound designer Nathan Madsen.

Nature can be so beautiful, mysterious and enchanting. That’s what this short track is focused on. Outside of my studio and freelance work, as both a composer, sound designer and studio musician, I’ve been working on a few personal tracks. This song wasn’t written for anything in particular, just trying to capture a mood. As the music evolved, I started seeing an old tree in a dense forest. Perhaps this tree is magical? Who knows. In my mind’s eye, I could see how the sun beams would peek through and the deep grooves of its bark. The tree would seem to rise up forever and be older than time itself. Maybe I should cut back on the drugs while composing… 😛 I may come back and touch up on a few things but, overall, I’m happy with it. I hope you enjoy it!

Any comments are always welcomed and thanks for listening! This track is currently available for license.

Should you want to hear more of my work – poke around my Soundcloud page.

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!

Terrifying. Truly!

Here’s a short snippet of music I wrote on spec for a horror film I was bidding on. Liked how it turned out so I thought I’d share it with you all. I hope you enjoy it! And should you need a composer or sound designer, I’m available!

I stumbled across a cute (but silent) video on Vimeo the other day and thought it could really use some sound. So I reached out to the creators, Herzblut & Bock, and asked if they’d mind me adding in music and sound design. They kindly agreed and here’s the end result. If your project needs music or sound, just hit me up! Enjoy the video.

Inside Sheep (Added music and sound) from Madsen Studios LLC on Vimeo.

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.

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!

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!

So often freelancers worry about trying to get clients. Trying to impress them with demo reels, quick responses, shiny websites and their overall professional approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but many forget that clients also need to impress their freelancers. Or they risk losing them. This blog is both a reminder to freelancers as well as a helpful note to clients. Much of the attention seems focused on the relationship from freelancer TO the client but, aside from a few humourous websites, little attention is given to how clients should be treating their freelancers. Here’s a quick-n-dirty list of some of the biggest offenses I’ve either heard about or experienced directly when dealing with these kinds of clients:

1) Little to no information

Most freelancers work remotely so face-to-face interaction is very limited, if not completely absent. This makes having precise and up-to-date info that much more important. Vital even. Most of my clients have been amazing at providing clear and consistent communication which really helps me do my job well. I’ve had a few, however, that go dark for weeks (if not months) at a time. Radio silence, when a freelancer is already remote, is a very scary thing! Suddenly doubts begin to arise: “Did they replace me with someone else?” “Did they lose funding?” “Is this project even on still?” Part of a client’s job is to keep everyone on the crew, including freelancers, in the loop. In the know. Not doing so is, to put it bluntly, sloppy and ineffective leadership.

2) Not keeping promises

A not-so-secret-dirty-secret about production is that it almost never goes according to plan or schedule. Even the best teams experience a tiny bit of variance from plan to reality during production. Most freelancers are aware of this and completely understanding. But when things start to get too far off the plan, red flags begin to be raised. I once had a project where the client originally wanted all of the music and sound done within one week. I calmly talked him off the ledge and we set up a more realistic and reasonable work schedule. He expected that game to be done within a month’s time or so. Six months later, the game is still not done. So clients, please do your best to make realistic and reasonable production schedules then keep everyone updated on any changes. Most of the time, we’ll completely understand! And if you’re not sure how long something would take, ask an expert on the team! For example, I also offer pre-production services where I can help plan out an appropriate schedule that gives plenty of buffer for changes as well as enough time for review and revisions. But once a certain amount of promises are seen as unkept (i.e. “We’ll have a new build by next week!” “The game will launch on X date!” and so on), faith in that team’s leadership and ability to perform takes a big hit.

3) Promising future work to make up for poor performances today

I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this line in my career. Each time I find myself thinking (often with one eyebrow raised) “Okay, so you want me to repeat this process with you, when the first time was so bad?!” Given, I know that each time a project is completed, a team gets better at the job. At least that’s the hope! But sometimes I’ve witness crews making the same mistakes over and over again. Sorry, I’m just not that interested in repeating a bad cycle. I’m interested in making great games with talented crews and always growing as an artist. So, clients, if you find yourself about to make that promise – stop yourself! Instead talk about what you’ve learned and how you’re going to make the next project better.

4) Offering exposure or credit as compensation

This also shouldn’t need much explanation, I hope! Making audio is how I pay the bills, feed my family and support my coke habit. Wait… ignore that last part. 😛 Exposure is only as good as the amount of eyes and ears that will be on the project. Something like Star Wars offers a lot of exposure and that’s worthwhile. A game that might be played by 30 people doesn’t offer that same amount of exposure. Also giving credit, in my opinion, should be standard! Withholding that, as I’ve seen some clients do, doesn’t make much sense and is hardly professional. I totally get that self funding a game is an expensive thing to do – I’m doing it myself right now! But offer some kind of tangible compensation. Offer an exchange of services. Make it a fair transaction instead of offering things that, really, don’t help support your crew.

5) Stick to the contract

Remember KISS? Keep It Simple, Stupid? It definitely applies here. Sure, a little bit of flexibility is fine, even warranted. But should the situation change too much, I’ve found it’s much easier, less stressful and more professional to simply finish out the current contract (with whatever milestones were completed) and then draft a new one so everything is always crystal clear to all parties involved.

6) Keep it professional

Game development can be (and is!) really hard. It can also be stressful. Sometimes egos clash or tempers flare. To an extent, this is just the hazards of working in such a creative and competetive field. But should things be taken to a personal level, which makes you uncomfortable, walk away. It’s not worth taking abuse from someone. I once had a client that I had worked with for five years. He would tell stories about how everyone he worked with was an idiot or a jerk. It took years but eventually he turned that abuse on to me. He was yelling, calling me names and taking it to a level that – honestly – I’ve never had another client take it to. So I walked away. I calmly told him that my time and craft were worth more than that. That I, as a person, was worth more than that. Don’t take abuse – it’s not worth it.

Summary:

I’ve been lucky enough to work in this field for ten years now (crazy how time flies!) and on over 150 projects. About 96% of my clients have been amazing, fun, super-duper talented and a pure joy to work with! I choose not to work with those VERY few who haven’t impressed me. So to you freelancers out there – keep fighting the good fight. Know that your time and craft are worth something – often more than you think! Be picky about who you work with! We’re freelancers, not servants. Clients, keep thinking about ways to make hiring and managing a freelancer more streamlined and effective. Look for ways to include that freelancer in the production so they don’t feel so in the dark. The better the communication, the better everything else tends to go. (Most of the time, anyway)

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.

What’s the harm in summoning a few elder gods and bringing about the end of the world?!

Check out this fun and creative dice game, which used my music for it’s Kickstarter campaign!

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!