Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It is finally here! Pitch to Pixel Volume 2!

FINALLY the page went live on CDBaby this morning!

So please do check it out! I spent some time listening to PtP 1 and 2 back to back, to compare. PtP 1 has some great moments, for sure, but I think I write with a lot less "fat" on PtP 2, as I've gained a bit more focus and discipline to my writing since 2010. Anyway, as any long time readers of the blog know, now begins the quest of "making back the money I spent to make it," which took something like 8 months or whatever last time. Here's hoping for a quicker turnaround!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pitch to Pixel Song Profiles: Fantastical Prelude

Fantastical Prelude was actually the very first song I completed. I had, of course, a certain JRPG series in mind (a "Final" sort of fantasy, if you will!), and I worried that I would be a little too imitative.

But after finishing this, I was really happy with it. Then something funny happened. The melody stuck in my head FOREVER. Just repeated itself over and over again. Which is exactly what you want (but you can't predict which melodies will do that).

Part of it is a particular VST (virtual instrument) I used: "monomate," a monochromatic synth that has a mini-moog type of sound: deep and rich. It also doesn't process faster passages very well, creating charming processing errors that actually sound cool!

For some reason, I got it in my head that somewhere somebody would want to use this track to highlight some powerful scene in a romance/drama type of movie, and I would get this massive royalty from it (hah!). I guess I thought that because of the pretty, but melancholy flavor that it has.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pitch to Pixel Song Profiles: Open Dragon and Lightning Force

I open PtP 2 with a couple of tracks that signal the album's most distinctive feature from PtP 1: using 16 bit, Sega Genesis style FM synthesis. This was one of my "top requests" so I wanted to honor it.

Open Dragon is actually a homage to a new game, Capcom's Dragon's Dogma. The inspiration is a song they used for the title screen, called "Into Free" by a metal duo called B'z, a Japanese group. It starts slow, then speeds up, which is a simple musical device I like to use.

Lightning Force is, as you might suppose, based on the Thunder Force space shooter series from the Genesis "era" (roughly). These soundtracks had pretty amazing, synthesized heavy metal guitars. But, here is were I kinda go off the "chip" track: while the metal crunchy guitars are the appropriate FM synth sound, the drums are not downsampled here... and that's me playing that guitar solo. I felt an urge to lay down a old fashioned rock guitar solo, so, you know, why not? :-)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Finishing touches

So tomorrow, well, technically later today, I make the final touches, and upload this thing to CDBaby. It takes some time to process after that, so I don't think it'll be available until perhaps Saturday, or maybe Monday even, depending on how automated CDBaby's process is. Of course, I'll be uploading high quality .wav files, not mp3's, so it'll take some time.

I did a quick check on the mixes, putting it on some different speaker setups (with the car being most important to me, personally!), and tonight I'll be figuring out what my track order should be. This is important: even in the .99 cent a track "singles" era, having a logical album order is still important.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the can and ready to go!

Uh oh, he hasn't posted since end of March, he's totally stopped making music again! Quitter!

Nope. Just, as I figured, moving house completely wrecked me for a good long while! But happily I've managed to bang out the rest of the tracks of Pitch to Pixel Volume 2! In fact, all I'm waiting on now is just infrastructural stuff I'd like to have in place before I roll out the new album. This includes art for it, and perhaps a facebook page, as well as a slew of blog posts locked and loaded.

I do believe this album will show growth in every area from Pitch to Pixel 1. Some specific goals for PtP 2 were:

1. To incorporate more 16 bit, specifically "Sega Genesis" type sounds. These sounds are in abundance on this album! It was a little tricky figuring out what sounds to use, as the Genesis basically used FM synth, which is very similar sounding to lots of other stuff from that era.

2. Songs that have a stronger resemblance to game soundtracks you liked. People really liked "Warrior" and "Shooter" from PtP 1 because they resembled strongly some game OST you remember. So I did that kind of thing a lot more here. Oh, there is always room for just "Rob Howard Compositions," that is, music that I create solely based on what I feel like making, but in general it is easier to write *for* what people like, instead of whacking them over the head with what you *prefer.* One thing I hope people have fun with is analyzing the song titles and figuring out where I'm getting my inspiration from (although if you continue reading this blog, I'll explain it all anyway).

Of course, I'm really proud of the first Pitch to Pixel album, so there is a whole lot I didn't change as well. Such as:

1. Using "chip" as a palette as opposed to boxing myself into what a particular game system or tracking program can accomplish. So, as before, these songs are made almost entirely with chip sounds (actually emulated via Virtual Instruments or VSTs), but things like reverb, compression, EQ, and other pro audio "tricks of the trade" are included to make the bass boom, the highs shine, and the mids glow with warmth.

2. Composing songs with plenty of melodic hooks, with solid verse-chorus-verse type structure. One thing I thought I brought to the table with PtP 1 that I wasn't hearing in the huge amount of high quality chiptune music out there already is a knack for songwriting, in the "pop" sense. The better chip stuff is generally modal and trancelike, with lots of repeating rhythm and static harmony. Obviously there is an audience for that, but the classic game OST's we listened to as kids, done by the likes of Koji Kondo and Yuzo Koshiro, were done by guys influenced by jazz, prog rock (early YES, Emerson Lake and Palmer, early Genesis, etc.) and popular music in general. When influenced by that sonic stew, you tend to follow very methodical song structures. It is these rock solid structures that gave that music its addictive appeal. 

3. While going to FM synthesis style 16 bit, I do retain a whole lot of NES style 8 bit as well, and I of course mix the two in some spots. The NES stuff sounded awesome on PtP 1, so I'd be silly not to have that included again. I find it especially effective on slower numbers, or the more classically oriented compositions, while the Megadrive/FM synth stuff is outrageously good for the techno pop, Streets of Rage inspired music that I was doing for some of the album.

4. I included a Christian hymn in the last one, party because I dearly love old hymns and partly because, hey, public domain. That one got as good a response as the video game stuff, so I included another one on this album. If I keep doing these, I might do a hymn only album! They really do turn out nice.

Did I take any risks, and do stuff maybe outside of what I collected from PtP's feedback? Sure!

I included... a real guitar solo! Yeah, on one heavy rock song, I felt it really needed a little extra, so I fired up my carvin bolt guitar, warmed up on some scales and let er' rip. And wouldn't you know it, it is probably one of my "cleanest" guitar solos I've put down on a recording. Of course, when I say clean, I mean in terms of execution... because sonically it is pretty filthy ;-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Halfway Home!

Finally finished the Streets of Rage inspired track, called, quite creatively, "Streets" :-)

After a bit of a snag in mid-March (basically just got really busy with work), I feel like I'm picking up steam! Which is a good thing, because I'm probably going to be moving soon (and, for once, in the SAME TOWN)*, which will certainly keep me from creative duties for at least a week at the end of the month.

From previous posts, you know I had an attempt at the Streets thing go bad, but only in the sense that the style wasn't evoking Streets of Rage. The composition itself is fine, so I'll finish that out. Strangely, I think it sounds like a character select tune, which isn't a bad thing. Character select/menu musics have to be comforting, pleasantly accompanying your task while not being intrusive. This, in a way, is what I shoot for with the music I write: I definitely want to entertain you, cause you to tap your feet/fingers, but I don't want to be super intrusive either. It is hard to explain, but certain music can be engaging and great listening music but not really the kind of music you jam to while you work, or drive your car.

*Again, SAME TOWN, so in case anyone snoops looking for gossipy dirt and all that.**
**When you work in my field, you find people have an odd interest in your comings and goings.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Back in the saddle!

Woah. Last post, 3/2. Today, it is 3/30! That is what can happen to side projects.

My day gig has kept me pretty busy as of late, so that's part of it. The big news was my involvement with Bioshock Infinite (as a level designer working for Human Head, who helped them with development) was finally made public with the release of the game last Tuesday. What an experience that was, being involved in one of the highest rated games in the past year (including 2012) and what currently stands as one of the most acclaimed shooters of all time!

But back to the music! So I had started working on something that was supposed to sound a bit like a Streets of Rage track, but it wasn't working out. So I shelved that (I'll still use it, but as something else) and restarted with another attempt that is so far more on the money. Once I get those tracks done, I'll have 5 total, which puts me roughly at 50% (or higher, if I do an album that is less than ten tracks, but I don't like to do that).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Composition Live Blog 3/2

Ok, time to live blog more composition. Right now Pitch to Pixel 2 stands at 2 1/2 songs complete out of the 10 tunes I need.

9:00 am-ish. Got briefly woken up by my daughter proudly announcing that she "slept in her bed all night." She's five years old. Facepalm.

12:00 noon At some point I woke up "for reals," cleaned up, shaved (yes, you need to KNOW these details!) and here I am, tea in hand (alas, no more pumpkin spice dunkin' donuts coffee, ugh), ready to make music.

12:00 - 3:45 - After numerous interruptions to "GIVE ME ATTENTION!" (daughter), I managed to complete "Lightning Force," a piece based on the Thunder Force shooter series... but it is missing something. I think I may want to add (dun dun duuuuun) real guitar playing on it. Yeah, I know, that is certainly not "chip," but I wanted to mix in a little of my playing, in a few spots. But....... I only have one guitar cord, my second one is fried, so I gotta run to the store to grab one (I need two cords to make my setup work). 

3:45-5:58  Lightning Force in the can! Ugh, I can't be spending this much time on each tune or else this album isn't getting done, but man I had a lot of fun laying down a *real* guitar solo on this one. This one is the most "hybrid" track I'll probably feature, with Genesis style rhythm guitar and bass, realistic sampled drums, and real guitar.

The Oddball Awesomeness That is Dragon's Dogma's Theme Song

If you purchased Dragon's Dogma (which you should have, it was one of my favorite games of 2012), you fired up the game, expecting probably some nice orchestral classical sounding soundtrack music, but instead got your butt absolutely handed to you by screeching guitar, upbeat vocals, and pounding drums.

Gamer, meet "Into Free," the Dragon's Dogma theme song, a licensed track from Japanese power duo "B'z." Here it is:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Music composition "marathon," part 2!

Well, I wouldn't call it a "marathon" today, as it is already almost early evening. But I was a little disappointed in the 1.75 songs produced in yesterday's "true" marathon, so I wanted to do another live blog and push- hopefully I can at least have a total of three tunes ready (to recap, I picked some trickier tasks to work on, which took longer than I wanted).

4:50 - Church, A Good Day to Die Hard (left the wife and kid at home, had some "BROTASTIC BROTIMEZ" with a friend), some early dinner, the last of my awesome Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin spice coffee (sniff!), and a wee bit of Fire Emblem: Awakening (WHICH IS AWESOME). So here I am. I'm continuing to refine "Shining Fury." I have chords, baseline, basic drum part, a melody, and need to add some sweeteners. This is my first true "Sega Genesis" style tune so I'm a bit nervous making it!

5:29 added a "trill" part - there are a lot of details to making this sound work, I think! Wife and kid woke up from a nap. I haven't seen this since noon. I should probably say hello (and do a rapid fire round of cleaning).

7:07 Back from Sunday house cleaning. Kiddo got a long nap so bedtime is going to be (sadly) delayed, so time to sneak in more work! 

8:22 Success! Not only is Shining Fury finished but it is even mixed down! My first ready to publish track for Pitch to Pixel 2! 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pitch to Pixel 2: Music Composition Marathon Live Blog

Look who's back! Finally!

So to quickly recap the past few years:

In early 2010 I published "Pitch to Pixel Volume 1." 

How has it done since? Well, slow, but steady sales (and let's not get crazy here, we're not even talking *four* figures yet), especially from the "streaming" variety (a few cents here and there). It is just encouraging enough to figure I can do more.

So to kinda get the ball rolling, I told the fam that today is a "music comp marathon day." All I'm doing to day is making music for the sequel to Pitch to Pixel (finally, at long last). Thankfully, quite a bit of legwork has already been done, such as:

-Getting my now ancient music composition software running in a modern, Windows 7 PC.
-Reacquiring all of the various VST plugins that I need to make things bleep and boop, including more 16 bit era type sounds (a common request after the last album).
-Sketching out various compositions already.

So here is the marathon-

9:00 am - wakeup. Biological alarm clock known as my five year old performs this function.
9:00 -12 noon - Embarrassingly, here is a fun fact: I am the anti-morning person, especially on Saturdays when my day job as a game developer doesn't force me to keep a more reasonable schedule. So that...... my goodness....... THREE HOUR time frame zips by, occupied by stuff like:
9:00-10:00 playing with my daughter (I don't feel bad about that of course).
10:00-12 Entering the blackhole known as "my bathroom" with a newly acquired copy of "Hyrule Historia," and a glass of Mio spiked water substituting for coffee.*

*Yes, I read/play 3DS/surf on my tablet in the john. I'm one of "those disgusting people."

12:00 noon- emerge clean and ready to rock! Well, except for a beard that is starting to get rather scraggly.
12:10- Fix lunch for daughter and myself, eggs and avocado, mostly so she'll be full and not beg for the cadbury eggs my wife so adores this time of year.
12:20 sit down at my "home office" in our basement. Finally.
12:21 shave mountain man beard while firing up the Pitch to Pixel blog.
12:30 Open up the norelco to gaze lovingly at the immense amount of beard shavings inside, and take a disgusting pride in this. Begin writing the live blog.
12:38 Band in a box, where I sketch tunes before exporting the MIDI to SONAR. Gonna start composing something classical, akin to the track "Warrior" from PtP 1 (Warrior got a big response, so I wanted to make sure to do more stuff like it).

1:57 Sketch completed for "Fantastical Prelude," which is a pretty strong hint of what it is going for. Taking into Sonar now to chipify and refine the arrangement! This is going to draw from mostly the 8 bit type of library.
3:49 Refinement and arranging complete! One song ready to mix down! I'm going to wait to do the mixdowns, as I want to do that when my ears are still fresh.

3:49-4:30 - taking my daughter outside to play as a pre-planned break/trying to be decent dad/stress reduction for wife.

5:32 - well that took longer than I wanted. Basically it was ye olde "it is impossible to get kiddos out the door" problem, compounded with a "honeydo" request of trash takeout and kitty litter scooping. Joy. But I'm back, complete with frostbit hands, dunkin donuts pumpkin spice coffee in hand (some of the BEST coffee in the world, but alas, I'm almost out!) and my next assignment:

A Sega Genesis sounding track that resembles something out of Shining Force. To the sketchpad!

6:14 - still sketching- I have a name for this, "Shining Fury," but man, as a side comment, the music to Shining Force is so amazingly good! Really really good!

7:03 - Finished sketching. Musical nerdery alert: the transition from A major to F# (VII to V to i) in B minor is a nifty sound :P

7:08 - Kiddo needs to start her bedtime routine at 8 or so- gives me an hour to take Shining Fury and refine it and such- can I do this? ENGAGE HYPER COMPOSER MODE!

11pm - Ok, didn't even come close to finishing this before the bedtime routine- so I did all that stuff, and we continue on...... WITH THE NIGHT SHIFT.

12:41 - Alright, gonna cry uncle here. I'm about maaaaybe 60-70% through "Shining Fury."

So let's do the math here-

Total "work time" = just under seven hours. So not quite a full "work day," which of course reflects the realities of doing a composition marathon when you are also a husband and dad.

Output: 1 complete song, ready to mixdown, and one song that is 60-70% away from completion. So let's call that 1.75 songs.

In my "fever dreams," I had hoped knock out as many as *five*. What happened?

Well, degree of difficulty. As far as composition goes, for me personally anyway, there are three degrees of difficulty:

1. Your own music. Your own style. Easiest by far for me to do. I just write the music in my head. The end. No worrying about trying to match a style.
2. Style imitation. You are wanting to create something original but something that clearly sounds like something the listener is familiar with. Both compositions today were that- "Fantastical Prelude" is meant to evoke, of course, Final Fantasy (in particular its prelude) while "Shining Fury" was meant to sound a lot like some Genesis era Shining Force battle music. These are harder to do because you have to spend time *learning* what makes these tunes sound like they do, and then implementing similar ideas while not, of course, ripping off the composers (pro tip: chord progressions are always, 100% fair game, melodies are not).
3. Outright cover songs. This may surprise people: imitation at its extreme end is way WAY harder than purely original composition, because you have to spend a lot of time listening and getting chords, melody, rhythm etc. EXACTLY right.

So today's tunes were firmly in the #2 camp. So they were harder to do and took more sketching and polishing time.

Yet and still, if I managed 2 (let's just round up to two) songs per week, every week, I'd release a ten track album every 5 weeks- a very very high level of output I'd wager!

Since I did want to get more done, I'll do a "marathon part 2" post tomorrow, though it'll start later in the day. Cheers and thanks for reading!