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Frank: Farewell

Hey guys, as I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t been getting any work done on this project for a while now. This has been due to a couple of reasons, mostly because my responsibilities at my day job have significantly increased since mid-February but also because I have been coming to the realization that I was a bit over-zealous in thinking that I had the time and ability to produce music of a quality high enough to warrant publication in the game. While it was certainly fun going into genres of music I’ve never tried making before, once I had the “meat” of the song laid out much of the process after that point felt a little bit like pin the tail on the donkey. Although I’ve never had any training in music production, I am usually pretty comfortable coming up with melodies and counterpoint and progressions and blah blah blah. However, I am in unfamiliar waters once I reach the latter stages of producing, the mixing/mastering, engineering, and overall assurance-of-sonic-quality phase. This realization gave me a bit of a rude awakening after I spent hours and hours trying to improve the sound quality of the Shadow song with basically nothing to show for it (oftentimes it sounded worse and I would have to revert all of the changes made during that session). I did what I could to learn and improve in these areas, but the more I learned the more I realized that I had a very long way to go before I would have the competence to make music of a high enough quality to be fit for this game. As much as I’d like to, I simply don’t have the time right now to dive in and do the amount of research and studying that would be required to overcome my deficiencies. I am planning on uploading another iteration (or two) of Shadow just to capture any recent work I’ve done since my last update, but after that I will no longer be working on music for the game. It’s time to step back and let the professionals take over.

It has been lots of fun observing the growth of this game and looking at the work all of you talented people have been doing, and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of it. I would also like to apologize to Hadi and Sean (and anyone else) for any frustration I may have caused during my period of inactivity, and again I want you guys to know that I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to take a stab at it. I will be eagerly awaiting the game from a consumer standpoint, and I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

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Frank: Journal 10

Apologies for the missed journal entry last week.  Had a little hard drive mishap but I learned my lesson about backing up data the hard way not too long ago so it only hampered me for a few days. I have only gotten a few hours in over the past two weeks on game-related music, and this was due in part to a large amount of family and holiday related activities but also because I have been working on a song I recently wrote. Yes, I felt guilty the whole time because I should have been working on finally getting Shadow finished, and I am sorry for that. It started when I was just mindlessly strumming to unwind after getting home from work. I liked something I played and decided I needed to record it, and before I knew what had happened it was a couple weeks later and I had a nearly complete song (with lyrics, but missing drums and vocals). I couldn’t help myself – any time I would open my DAW to work on something my focus would drift over to the aforementioned song and I would end up opening that one up instead. Now that I am nearly finished with it, I think it is mostly out of my system (and once it’s done, I’ll post on Soundcloud for anyone interested).

I still feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing in regards to mixing and mastering, so I am continuing to try and learn as much as I can about that as well as other parts of the music production process using online classes and articles (Coursera is the shit). It feels like I have wasted a lot of time editing and automating parameters without a clear sense of how to create a good mix, so I am hoping to avoid wasting any additional time doing this again.

Happy belated Easter and super-belated St. Patty’s day!

Frank

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Frank: 9-5 Blues

Last week was a blur. My two bosses were out of town (as they are this week) and that left just me and one other person to manage the 4 or 5 projects we have going on, in addition to my regular duties. Needless to say, it was an incredibly busy week, and when the weekend came it was my turn to go out of town. That left very little time to spend working on music. I spent the scarce free time that I did have watching videos and reading articles about mixing fundamentals and techniques, and I learned that I really had no idea how to properly mix tracks into a master. I think that may be a major thing holding Shadow back right now — I have felt for a while that it is close to being complete, but there is something I can’t put my finger on that is clearly missing. As discussed earlier, I posited that it could be the instruments and sounds that are sub-quality and hence keeping the song sounding amateur-ish. I still think this could be the case, but so far every re-instrumentation I’ve made with different sounds (including free samples of paid packages) has come out worse than what I currently have. This keeps me feeling very hesitant to go ahead and purchase any sound packages, and if there is a different variable that is lowering the quality of this song I would like to try and fix it before deciding to spend any money.

During the week, I made a new copy of Shadow and reset all of the parameters to “0” with the intent on mixing it from the top, using my newfound and increasing knowledge on mixing to guide me. I am sure that this will help to get rid of the crowding and cluttering effect I have been complaining about, and I am hoping that it will improve the quality in other areas as well. I have also added some recorded acoustic guitar to more areas of the song, but have not had a chance to record in an environment that has favorable conditions.

It has been frustrating to be stuck at the end of this song for so long, especially when I have had such little time to work on it over the past couple of weeks, but I’m hoping that I will make a breakthrough while re-mixing it.

Frank

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Frank: Fresh Air

This week has been the best I’ve experienced in what seems like a very long time. Health-wise I have made major improvements, and in regards to the music for this project I have made a very welcome change of pace. Early last week and during the latter half of the previous week I was getting bogged down with the Shadow. I spent lots of time adding tracks and changing things around, only to end up changing them back after being dissatisfied with the changes. It seemed to come to the point where adding more things didn’t make it sound better, and usually made it sound worse. But still there is something missing. I did (and am continuing to do) some research on mixing and mastering techniques and these have helped some, but after a conversation with Hadi I am starting to think that the instruments themselves just don’t sound that great. No software instruments or bank of sampled instruments is ever going to sound as good as the real thing, and it is very difficult to accurately imitate things such as trills, tremolos, hammer-ons and pull-offs, changing over from legato to staccato and vice versa, etc., while composing exclusively using MIDI. However, a high quality sound or instrument will make these things much more doable, whereas it is pretty much a waste of time to even try with a poor quality sound. I have begun searching for instruments that are professional grade and much higher quality than the ones I currently have (labeled “high quality” by the person who posted them, for free… I guess you get what you pay for!).

Early in the week I decided to take a step back from actually working on Shadow because my ears were beginning to become saturated with it. I was losing perspective and beginning to dislike it because I was listening to it so much. I switched gears and did a lot of research on producing electro swing, I have been listening to nothing but 1920s-40s swing and jazz, and I now have a rudimentary understanding on how to chop samples from these songs and sync them with a tempo of my choosing. I’ve started a song with these chopped samples, but it is still not in any shape to be shared as of now. It has been refreshing to work on something different and more upbeat. When I return to Shadow in a couple days I’ll hopefully have some new ideas and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for it.

As usual, apologies for making my journal so long and sloppily-organized. Also, sorry for not checking in and out on the daily scrum lately. I’ll try to be better about it moving forward.

Frank

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Frank: It Never Ends

I was really hoping that the title of this week’s journal would be something like “Basking in the Light at the End of the Tunnel”, and that the subject would reflect this. I suppose the week began as such, anyway. The start was very promising — I got a good amount of work done implementing a Celtic element into the song Shadow, and I was freshly inspired by a few different soundtracks and songs. I have messed with the Irish flute track some more since my latest update, and while it sounds better than it initially (no out-of-place Dropkick Murphys riff anymore) did I am still not content with it. The master volume level in the whole song is more balanced and normalized, and note velocities for most of the tracks have become deliberate and more polished. I have also changed the percussion track somewhat, but I think I like what I had originally better and will probably change it back. My productivity slowed down on Wednesday due to my abrupt return to a status of “Human Being” once again, but I was hoping to get the Irish Flute track finished and get the rest of the tracks’ velocities properly tuned and adjusted during the weekend. Unfortunately this didn’t happen because I ended up spending much of it dealing with a new, very unsettling health complication that presented itself on Saturday. Looks like I’ve got a few more invasive, uncomfortable tests to endure before I’m out of the woods.

Anyway, hoping to get a lot done this week and make up for my lack of production last week.

-Sad Sack (aka Frank)

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Frank: One Step Closer

My main accomplishment this past week has been getting a solid percussion track completed. Percussion is always my least favorite part and doesn’t tend to be a strong suite of mine, but after trying many different things I finally got something I like. Aside from that, I have played around with a few different sounds and adding some more tracks to highlight the existing melodies (specifically in the middle and later portions of the song), but so far I haven’t come up with anything that excites me. It seems like most of the things I’ve tried adding just increase the clutter, so I’m going to try a different plan of attack. I’m going to do some research and do some youtube-ing to get some inspiration, and probably listen to the posted soundtracks again for the umpteenth time. Also, any additional feedback you guys have will be appreciated. The most helpful feedback is specific and usually critical, so let me know what parts you still don’t like and where you think it falls short.

In other news, I will finally be returning to my regular job tomorrow. Although I still feel far from 100% (especially after a particularly horrendous trip to the ER on Tuesday night that involved vomiting a great deal of blood and almost ended in a transfusion and an emergency trip back to the OR) my boss is beginning to apply pressure. I also need to be making money again, and I am beginning to go crazy after being cooped up for so long. Hopefully it won’t result in further complications.

That’s it for this time. 

-Frank

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Frank: A Plethora of New Instruments, and Blood

The nightmare continues. So far I have been back to the ER twice for emergency recauterization due to uncontrollable bleeding in one of my tonsil beds. It was a pretty shitty experience because they both happened at like 2 AM and I was 100% conscious while he stuck needles and an electrocautery tool in the back of my throat. Despite that, the psychological stress of expecting to start bleeding again now outweighs any pain I’m having. However, I have still managed to get a good amount of work done in spite of this.

I finally got the Chrono Trigger soundfont to work in Ableton and reconstructed the Chip song, and though it still doesn’t sound great and requires a great deal of additional work it will now be much easier to work with (Ableton is better than Garage Band in almost every facet). Because of my troubles with this, I have learned a lot about soundfonts and VST plug-ins and have since downloaded about 5 gigs of high quality instruments to play with. I have been using these to change the instrumentation of Shadow, and so far I am really liking the results. I have made the opening melody much more interesting, and have added a couple of tracks to highlight and add more character to it. I think I’m definitely getting closer to the sound and feel that we’re looking for. The percussion is still too basic and needs to be built up, the opening part of the song needs to flow into the middle more, I still need to add a bit more color with secondary counterpoint melodies and background sounds, and after all that dynamics and other parameters need to be polished. It sounds like a lot remaining to do, but it’s getting there.

Go Broncos.

-Frank

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Frank: Bitching About His Tonsillectomy

I’ll keep this short so that I don’t annoy everyone with my whining.

The past week has been a hellish one. I’ll spare you the gory details but if anyone ever considers getting a tonsillectomy as an adult, make sure you really need it. I knew it would be bad, but wasn’t prepared for what “bad” actually was. It’s definitely the worst pain I’ve experienced, and it has only gotten worse since day 1.  I’ve spoken maybe 10 words since Tuesday, and gotten about that same number of hours of sleep since then (I have to drink water at least every hour to prevent my throat from drying out and take pills every 2 hours, and I choke on my grotesquely swollen uvula every time I begin to nod off). Right now I am basically a delirious manic-depressive with the mental capacity of a lobotomite.

I have tried a few times this past week to work on the songs but I only managed to achieve sustained focus once, and during that I got what should’ve been at most an hour of work done in about three. I have been able to listen to a lot of the posted music, but I will probably listen to much of it again since nothing has really stuck. Needless to say, I am quite demoralized since I was anticipating being able to use a good amount of my recovery time working on this. I’ll continue attempting to make progress, but now am less optimistic about what I’ll be able to achieve until I am semi back to normal. As of now, Shadow is at a point where it is a solid outline – the structure, progression, and melodies are there. The work remaining to be done is polishing up dynamics/parameters, perfecting instrument sounds and nailing down orchestration, experiment with adding to it elements of electro-swing and different  cultural/ethnic themes and elements. Chip – got Chrono Trigger soundfont to work in Ableton, so just need to reconstruct tracks from Garage Band and begin reinstrumentation. This song is still in its earliest stages.

This was longer than I planned. Sorry for the bitching and wallowing in self-pity.

-Frank

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Frank: This is tons of fun

I’ve really been enjoying working on this project for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that I have been able to experiment with lots of different sounds, instruments, progressions and melodies. This is tons of fun, and I always look forward to the evenings and weekends that I’m free to work on it. I simply love to make music, and because my day job is completely different and not creative in any sense (project manager for an LED lighting company) working on songs for this game does not feel like work at all… Well OK, sometimes it does feel like work (especially as of late with this frustrating issue of not being able to get the Chrono Trigger soundfont to work properly), but even making a song sound just slightly better gives me a great deal of satisfaction and keeps me eager to continue working on it. I have also been learning a great deal already, and I’ve noticed that I’ve become more deliberate in nearly every aspect of the production process. This has caused me to be more productive and efficient with the time I spend on it.

The other major reason that I really enjoy working on this is I think the world you guys have created so far is awesome, and based on the influences, tone, and sense of humor in the game, I can already tell I’m going to love playing it.

Despite not having gotten much work done over the last few days (due to an insanely busy weekend/week at work), I feel that have made good progress. The Shadow song is close to being finished I believe, and I’ve got a few ideas for the Chip song that I’m excited to pursue. As I work my way through the music that has been posted, I feel that I am getting a better and better sense of the style and feel that you guys are looking for in this game.

Before I end my rant, I want to add in here that I will be getting my tonsils out tomorrow morning. Since I’m taking two weeks off work to recover and will likely be bored out of my skull when not in agonizing pain, I anticipate getting a good amount of work done during the recovery. Perhaps the drugs will have a positive influence on the music I come up with

Sorry for the book, gentlemen (and women). That’s it for me.

-Frank