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Jesse Harlin

Alright, Rob! You’re up!

We chatted some at GDC, but I wanted to put down here the bits that we talked some about. Why has it taken me so long to get to critiquing Rob’s demo? In part, it’s because I’ve felt like Rob’s site is a bit daunting to dive into. He has 27 pieces of music for me to listen to and review, and each time I go to his site, my immediate gut reaction is “Oh, man. This is going to take a lot of time. I’ll have to do this later when I have more free time.” The end result is that I haven’t listened to his music yet and it’s been over two months since he asked me to check it out.

So, now with that in mind, I’m going to dive in and check out these 27 tracks. As always, I’ll type as I listen and give you my honest feedback – both the good and bad. Let’s get started:

– Northwest Adventure: Feels like Indiana Jones. Decent melodies, counterpoint, and arrangements. Your samples feel dated to me, though. It just definitely feels synthetic. Which libraries are you using? Good length and a good start to a demo.
– Seaward Ho!: Again, the orchestra feels very synthetic. This is a pretty short little song. Sounds good for what it is, though I’m not in love with the sampley sound of the samples.
– Wagons Ho!: Whoa, even shorter! This isn’t going to take nearly as much time as I thought it was. Those sampled brass are a tough one. They’re so prominent here but not very convincing. After three tracks, I’m convinced that you can write well for orchestra and can orchestra well, but that you’re not the guy I’d call if I had a small budget and could only afford a sample-only score. At this point, if I were listening to your demo in a real world scenario, I’d jump over to another section of your site now. However, I’m going to keep on going…
– Kingdom of Heaven: Dig it compositionally, but again the samples are bugging me.
– Christmas Tune: Same points. Your writing and orchestration sound great. Your intended stylistic choices are all very apparent. Your samples still feel like they need an upgrade.
– Bouncy Tiger: I don’t know if I’d consider this an Orchestral Track, only because you have a section on your site called Playful/Quirky. Feels like maybe it should go there, without having listened to that section.
– Off to the Village: Fun. Almost like Leave it to Beaver with ADHD. Same comments as the rest. But, overall, the length of these tracks seems fine and I’ve got a clear sense of your orchestral skills and production abilities. Those two tracks up top still seem awfully short to me, though.
– Looking for Honey: Cute. Same comments, though.
– Fishing with Teddy: You do cute, playful, and orchestral well. You do melody well. Samples, samples, samples, though. Okay, onto….

Casual Games:
– Tropical Path (Short Version): Not sure what to make of this track. Or this section. I’m withholding judgement until I hear another track.
– Alien Planet Outpost: Feels dated. Feels like something from the 90s. I think it has to do with the choice of synth patches. It doesn’t have a modern electronic sound. Not my fave. Actually reminds me of an old LucasArts game soundtrack from 2002 called “RTX Red Rock”. Reminds me more of Tangerine Dream than anything else.
– Mystery Mansion: Feels like it belongs on your Orchestral demo. It’s just as playful as some of those tracks. Cuts off awfully abruptly, though.
– Roller Blade Waitress: This is where I’d switch to another part of your demo. I’m just not really getting what makes these more Casual than some of the playful Orchestral tracks that you have. Not sure this track is really doing anything for your demo.
– Calypso Quest: This I get as more of a casual styled demo track. This makes sense to me. This should probably be up there as your first one in this section.
– Waterfall Search: Again, it’s awfully Orchestral and Playful. This section of your demo seems to suffer from an identity crisis.

– Not the Simpsons: Yep. A riff on the Simpsons. Samples still sound dated. That’s an awful lot of notes, though. Sounds like it took a long time to program. I’d maybe toss this one into your Casual demo.
– Bugs: Everything feels very playful. I’m now, what? 17 tracks into your demo? And I don’t feel like I’ve heard anything that’s “serious.” Nothing brooding. Nothing tense or scary or dramatic. This makes me wonder if you actively seek out kids’ games. That thought makes me wonder if you’d even be interested – or know how – to do something big and cinematic like a Star Wars game. Can you tackle the emotional twists and turns of an action adventure title?
– Duckshot: That sampled harmonica feels like it’s straight out of 1995. I’m not a fan of it. That said, because these tracks are short, I’m not feeling the need to skip around to new sections of your demo and I’m moving through each track. This track would work so much better if those were live instruments. I think that’s the big realization I just had. So many of these tracks would be so much fresher sounding and timeless if at least one or two of the instruments were live. The synthetic sound is holding the strength of the compositions back.
– Alien Rush: Doesn’t actually sound very Quirky or Playful to me. Feels like this should be more at home on the Casual demo.

– 180 in Slo-Mo: So, again, reminds me of Tangerine Dream. Particularly something like their 1988 release Optical Race. This instantly makes me feel like it isn’t “modern.” As someone who hired for dramatic, cinematic games, I’m not sure where I’d use anything like this and it makes me question if I need to hear more of this section of the demo.
– Search – Stalk – Shoot – 2-Point-0: Not my thing. I’d not only skip this track a few seconds in, but I’d have jumped to a different part of the demo. This just all sounds very synthetic and dated. Doesn’t feel modern.
– Deer Hunter 2: More interesting. Actually, even more convincing samples. But man, this little thing would work so great with live players. I’d have made this the first track in this section. I would have missed this if I’d actually skipped to another section of your demo after the last track.
– CBS Baseball ’05 – Also more interesting. Totally nails the ESPN-styled sports show genre. Scratch what I just said on the last track. I’d move this up to maybe being the first cue in this section.
– Southern Rock – Again, more interesting to me than the first two tracks in this demo. Definitely push this one up further on the list, too. It doesn’t deserve to be sitting here at the bottom of this section.

– South American: You might want to ditch the World part of your demo, rename this track something “Casual”-like (like Mayan Matching Game or something) and toss it into the Casual section.
– Mahjong: Really short, not really working for me. You know what this track feels like? Feels like a stereotype. Doesn’t feel genuine. I’m not sure why that is. Could be the samples again. Not sure.
– CS Mancala – Again, I’d put this in the Casual demo. I think you can do without a World section altogether, really.

So! That’s everything. What’s the take away? What’s the impression that your demo gives? I get the sense that you’re either interested in or specifically targeting kids games/casual games. I get a very clear sense that you have a knack for melody, quirky production, and orchestration. But I also get the sense that your production work sounds dated and you’re either in need of some updated sample libraries or you need to start bringing in some live soloists to spruce your tracks up.

It’s an odd reaction, to be honest. I feel like, as a music supervisor, that I could trust you with an orchestra to get a good sound out of them, but I don’t trust that your mock-ups and demos would convince producers and directors enough to let me get you in front of an orchestra. Plus, I don’t even know if you’d be interested in working on something big, dramatic and cinematic because it doesn’t seem to be something you’re pursuing or presenting interest in via your demo.

So, that’s the reaction and the feedback – hopefully you find it to be constructive. What do you think? Were you aware that might be what your demo is saying about you?