Reply To: Ask a Music Supervisor

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Jesse Harlin

Hey, Sam. I’m going to listen to your demo and type notes as I go and do so just like I would were your demo to cross my desk for a gig. I’ll be brutally honest as I do, since I think that’s probably what you’re looking to hear. Just know: I’m not looking to hurt your feelings. I’m just going about this as I would normally: it’s business. There will be a mix of good and bad notes, I’m sure. So, hang on tight and here goes:

1. First off, for a game gig, I wouldn’t send the YouTube link and say “Check out the SoundCloud link if you want to hear my game stuff.” I makes me wonder why the YouTube link is there and I’m going to choose not to listen to it.
2. Ironwind samples sound okay, don’t love the trumpets in the start of the track. Big Hollywood score sound, seems to have a sense of melody writing, too many cymbals becomes a wash of high frequency noise
3. Demo tracks are all way too long. 1-2 minutes, tops. Keep in mind that I’m looking to judge your ability to write music and produce it professionally. I know after 30 seconds what I need to know from a track. I’m not listening to just enjoy listening to music or have a personal concert.
4. Rolling Meadow is nice. Decent changes and melody. Again, the wash of the mark tree gets old. I stopped listen after 40 seconds.
5. World War III sounds anemic. The samples lack the power that the title implies. If I had a stack of demos on my desk that I was going through, I would stop listening here having decided that your production work isn’t professional sounding enough for a AAA game.

So, that’s the kind of impression your demo made for a guy who doesn’t know you and might be going through a stack of demos to just listen and judge your abilities. I’m going to keep listening, though, and give you feed back on the rest of the demo:

6. It’s clear that you know how to write cinematic music and are learning your craft well.
7. Survivor Ambience is pleasant, but for a demo I switched tracks at about 1:00 in, and that was only because I let it run while I’m typing here.
8. Survivor Ambience cuts off abruptly. On a linear demo format like this, I’m left wondering if that’s because it loops seamlessly in-game, or if there is a problem with the track.
9. I see what you’re going for with Into the Lair Action Intensity 2, but it feels thin and lacks the beefy bass I think it needs. It also feels too repetitive. This can be trimmed down for a demo.
10. Neotl Empire Main Title is, to me, one of your best so far. Nice melody. I think it should be up closer to the front of your demo. I never would have heard it if I’d listened to it the way I mentioned above. Again, I think you need to ease off the cymbals and I would look at your MIDI percussion programming. It sounds to me like your snare and marimba parts have too many strings of notes side by side with identical velocities. It ends up sounding too robotic and fake. There are a number of ways to fix that: simply vary the velocities more so that your repeated patterns’ aren’t all something like 85, 85, 85, 85, 85, 85, etc, you can use sample patches that have round robin multisamples so that, even if they are all the same velocity, the natural difference in the fact that it’s a series of different recordings will made it sound more human, or you can also make sure that they’re not so rigidly quantized. Often with percussion, specifically snare drums, I’ll have two snare drums playing overtop of each other. The first is a snare drum quantized rather rigidly. The other is often a field drum, so that I have a different timbre, and I’m looser with the quantization. The combination together gives you a mixed timbre with natural little flams that help it to feel more human.
11. In the Trenches, interesting compositionally. Again, though, your sample programming still sounds synthetic. Which libraries are you using? Also, this track starts to feel really repetitive once you get a minute in. You have to keep in mind: if I’m feeling like it’s repetitive listening to it the first time, there’s no way a player is going to want to listen to that track on loop many minutes.
12. Survivor Theme is very pretty. It’s the first track that I’ve found myself just chilling out and listening to as a piece of music. Now, that said, it’s really slow and as far as themes go, the slow speed at which each note moves to the next makes it not really a hummable or memorable theme. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I think this track is great and may simply be the kind of theme that works based on repetition within a game rather than immediately being hooky and memorable. Especially if you saved this instrumentation in a game only for the theme. Then you’d know each time the plucked koto or whatever it is with the long strings means that you’re hearing a restatement of the theme. And again, it’s super long for a demo. Even though I was enjoying just listening to it, I still found myself wanting to skip to the next track about a minute from the end.
13. Fallacious Ignis Fatuss: ah! here’s the powerful beefy stuff I was looking for! Oh wait. It went away. You seem to really like using piano as a primary focus instrument in your tracks. I like this track better when there’s no piano in it. I like this track a lot. I’d move this one up further in your demo, too.
14. Wayward Shrine Ambience, another ethnic ambient track. I think you’re repeating yourself here. You’ve already established that you can write in this style. Keep in mind that your demo should be about concisely stating what you do and do well. If you’ve established that you can do ethnic ambience, you don’t need to include a second track that does the same thing.
15. Stealth Game Loop 6: It’s okay. It’s a bit what we call “composer techno”. It’s not hip enough to be really cutting edge electronic music, but the weaknesses of your drum programming water down your strengths which is in your orchestral writing. I’d remove this track from your demo.
16. Temple Heirloom: beautiful choral writing. I’d think about maybe replacing Ironwind with this one. I think it does what Ironwind is trying to do, but better. A minute in, did you chance the reverb on your staccato choir? They don’t sound like they’re singing in the same hall space they seemed to be in before. Again, I like this track but it’s too long for a demo.
17. RESolution: A better hybrid score example than Stealth Game Loop 6. Better name, too. Your orchestra in it sounds very narrow, though. It doesn’t sound as spread wide in the stereo field as the rest of your orchestral stuff does. Am I wrong? Or is that a concious choice you made? This track should be much earlier in your demo, too. But MAN OH MAN, there’s a pop at the end of that file. Nothing says “I’m not ready for primetime professional game work yet” like a pop in your file. Don’t ever put a file with a pop in it on your demo.

Okay! So, that’s everything. Phwee! Long demo. There’s no way I’d ever listen to all of that if I were going through a stack of demos. To be honest, even here I didn’t go through all of it. I skipped around through tracks, played partial tracks, etc. It’s just too much to go through and a music supervisor knows what they need to know within the first 30 seconds of a track. You have some real strengths (orchestral writing and choral writing, specifically), you have production work you still need to refine, but overall I’d say you have decent material here to draw from for a demo, but this isn’t a demo yet. It’s a long playlist of music you’ve written. You need to learn how to edit and concisely state what you’re trying to say about yourself in a much shorter format.

Hopefully that wasn’t too brutal and you find it helpful.