Michael Sweet presenting at GDC
As the Artistic Director of Video Game Scoring at Berklee College of Music, Michael Sweet leads the development of the game scoring curriculum. Michael is an accomplished video game composer and has been the audio director of more than 100 award winning video games. His work can be heard on the X-Box 360 logo and on award winning games from Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, PlayFirst, iWin, Gamelab, Shockwave, RealArcade, Pogo, Microsoft, Lego, AOL, and MTV, among others. He has won the Best Audio Award at the Independent Games Festival, the BDA Promax Gold Award for Best Sound Design, and has been nominated for four Game Audio Network Guild (GANG) awards. In 2014, Michael authored the book “Writing Interactive Music for Video Games” which is now available from Pearson Publishing.
Michael was a professor of mine during my studies at Berklee College of Music. Given this months’ theme of “education”, I thought it would be enlightening to hear Michael share his perspective as a professor of game audio with the Designing Sound community. So, without further ado…
Knowing your way around audio middleware is quickly becoming a required skill to get a job in the game audio industry. If you are a sound designer and/or a composer that is looking to break into the world of game audio, learning how to work with various audio middleware solutions will not only give you a head start and set you apart from the “competition”, but it will also give you a greater understanding of how the technical side of things works and consequently you will have a greater appreciation of the inner workings of game audio. After Audiokinetic and Firelight Technologies announced their free license options (granted with some limitations), making Wwise and FMOD Studio available at no cost for the indies/small game development companies as of last year, now these programs are being used more than ever. There is no reason for you to not employ these options to create a more interactive and coherent soundscape for the game you are working on while also making life easier for yourself and the game developers.
But on the vast sea of knowledge and misinformation that is called the internet, how would you know where to start learning about these programs? Well, this is a guide to hopefully help you with that by providing you with a general outline of which resources and learning options are available right now for you to find out more about audio middleware as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Exercising listening in a public outdoor space.
Sound designers by nature have an inherent curiosity towards sound. We explore the way sounds work every time we approach a project. With each new opportunity to design a sound, we ask ourselves questions such as: What object/event produced the sound(s)? Where is the sound source located in relation to the listener, and just as importantly, how does (or how will) the sound impact an audience’s emotional state when heard?
It goes without saying that the sheer act of producing our own sonic work, and by critically listening to and dissecting the works of others (as Berrak Nil Boya explored and extrapolated on in her recent post) will inherently make us stronger and better critical listeners. Though along with these practices, it is invaluable to also step away from evaluating completed, produced works and critically listen to some alternate sound sources, and in some potentially new ways; just like exercising a muscle, the more angles you can target your critical listening “muscle”, the stronger and more well-rounded it becomes.
The question then must be, other than by evaluating an already existing game or film’s audio as it was intended, how, and what, can we listen to in order to hone our listening abilities?
This post looks to add to this conversation by offering a few exercises I’ve picked up and augmented over the years and still use to this day. Once again, just like any exercise routine, training your critical listening is an on-going responsibility for any sound designer (though vitally important early in your career, continued practice is essential to maintain a high level of critical listening fitness).
Back around the time I was first starting out, I remember opening up a demo of Cubase VST (on my trusty PowerMac 6400) and taking a look through the various menus. Everything seemed pretty standard, but something in particular caught my eye, a menu item labeled “Ears Only”. Curious, I clicked on it, only to have my monitor go completely blank. After a few seconds of panic thinking I had broken everything, I realized that Steinberg had programmed a mode that completely disabled the monitor and forced you to just listen. At first, this option seemed like a strange addition. Why, when I’m creating sound, would I not be listening to what I’m doing? Listening while working with audio seemed like a no-brainer. However, after gaining a little more experience, this “just listen” mode began to make a lot more sense.
As April comes to an end and we wrap up our topic for the month, “broken”, I wanted to take a moment and share something that I learned when I was first starting out, and something that I find myself having to remember quite often: how to react when everything starts to break.
We depend on a lot of complex technologies in our day-to-day lives, some more intricate and convoluted than others. As sound designers, we often find ourselves using even more complicated and specialized gear and equipment, adding to the complexity. While a lot of time and effort has gone into making these technologies work perfectly, the simple fact of the matter is that things have a tendency to break, often when you need them the most. As an old friend of mine likes to say, “Murphy was an optimist!”