Applying Scrum Methodology to Composing Soundtracks

Recently, I was thinking of some of the problems I had in the early days of composing and noticed an interesting paradigm between how modern companies develop software and the practices I’d adopted when creating music for clients.

 

Years ago, software developers did their work in a straight line. A client wanted a system and you started building it from the ground up, not stopping until it was near completion. Then, you showed it to the client, tested it and usually had to go back and change a ton of things since the client wasn’t really sure what they were asking for or you misinterpreted it.

 

To resolve this problem the Agile Scrum process was created to solve some important problems with the traditional method. This idea was developed in the 80’s but in the early 2000’s it really started to become adopted on a large scale by many companies. I’m going to keep it very high-level here (developers aren’t my main audience, I think?). The aim was to cut down in the vicious cycle of developing done without any communication to the end user and then going back and redoing it when the end user didn’t like it. It also addresses how teams plan and deliver things.

scrum

One of the most important pieces is incremental delivery. This is something I’ve adopted into my music composition process when working for a third party. Much like the traditional developer, my early soundtracks were seen and heard only by me until completion. Then, when the client got the finished product, they usually said, “this part is too long”, “we don’t like this instrument”, etc.

 

In the Scrum methodology, you have a “sprint” which is a set of time to complete a unit of work. A unit of work is something you can show the client at the end of the sprint. This way the client knows what on earth you’re billing him for and you also can be more sure the client will like the finished product. This is exactly what I do with a soundtrack now. Here’s my sprints:

 

  1. Initial sound of the album – I create a few 30 second demos, not properly mixed, some default oZone mastering on it and send them to the client. I usually make them loops so they can try them in game. From here, we determine if they like where things are going or if I’ve misinterpreted their directions and suggested feeling.

 

  1. Short Drafts of Each Track – If the soundtrack will be 10 songs in total, I make 10 30-45 second looping tracks displaying how I envision each track based on their direction. I usually try to include at least 2 dynamic shifts in this short period of time so that they can envision how the final version would sound. This could be more than one sprint depending on the amount of tracks needed.

 

  1. Final Drafts – Once the client is happy with the short drafts, I develop all of these short unmixed and unmastered demos into complete tracks based on the duration the client has requested. At this point they have their last chance to weigh in on instrument changes, tempos and other factors that play into the mixing and mastering phase. This section may be many sprints if it’s a very large job.

 

  1. Mixing and Mastering – Now we do our mixing and mastering and create finished products. We know we are safe doing this now since the client has confirmed everything up until now, what we send them in the end will only be slightly different from what they heard in the “Final Drafts” stage.

 

  1. Final Preview and Delivery – Once we have them all mixed, I send an archive file of mp3 versions for the client to listen to one last time. Then, if they’re satisfied, I send them the formats they’ve requested, raw WAV files and any stems if they needed them.

 

The great thing is that this is a great way to break up a large contract into multiple payments. Any completion of a sprint is a good place for an incremental payment.

 

Here’s a few tips for working with this mindset:

 

  1. Save everything! – Don’t think a song is done when you’re done with it. Save each draft you make. If you make 3 versions with a different lead instrument, save three projects so you wont have to remember what it is later. Once, when I used a hardware synth to make an early version, I didn’t write down the settings, and I could never quite capture the same sound later on for the final. Keep track of everything.

 

  1. Be Organized – It’s totally worth the time to move things into folders, save backups and make spreadsheets of where things are. If you don’t, you will forget something at some point.

 

  1. Communicate – Make sure you’re client understands this process. One important thing is that they realize your first drafts are not final projects. They need to remember that it’s just to get a mood or feeling to start with.

 

What are your methods for composing?

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Revengineers 8static EP Review

 

The Revengineers are without a doubt my favorite chiptune-influenced group. They’re about the only post-rock chiptune blending group I’ve heard and their earnest emotional songs really hit hard. Besides that, they have some amazing drumming and guitar playing and avoid all the meandering, pointless doodling sections that make you forget which post-rock group you were listening to.

 

Their new two-track ep is hopefully a teaser for what will be a whole album following in the tracks of their epic self-titled ep. The new tracks don’t stray far from the wonderful formula of NES leads backed by powerful guitars and drums and synths. It seems like there’s a bit more synth action this time around and the overall recording quality is crystal-clear and slightly above that of the self-titled ep.

 

I highly suggest picking up both albums today and making a sizeable bandcamp donation to keep this amazing band going strong!

Best Sega Genesis Soundtracks You’ve Never Heard

Growing up I never had a Sega Genesis. We always had Nintendo products. I think it mostly had to do with the family friendly image Nintendo produced compared to Sega’s more edgy arcade style marketing. A while back we looked at some of the chiptune artists using the Genesis over at videogamedj.com, check out the post here. But for actual game music, here’s some great Sega Genesis soundtracks you probably never heard of.

Battle Mania Daiginjou

Making rock music in FM synthesis is not easy. Things are either too distorted or not enough. This game gets it right. You know those are guitars rocking out as soon as the notes hit. The game itself is sort of like a space shooter meets Contra with anime themes tossed in. The soundtrack is a blistering onslaught of guitar and drums hat doesn’t let up for a second!

Herzog Zwei

The game that started the real time strategy genre sports a very good soundtrack as well. Lots of variety and some excellent fm synth tones that would sound great even in a modern electro album. The slow tunes especially stand out (Be His Soul Rest).

Revenge of Shinobi

I must admit I never played this game. Love the 80s sounding bass and smooth tones on this soundtrack. It never gets hissy or squealy. It really sounds like an NES Soundtrack just for the drums and composition style.

Batman

The original Genesis Batman has some of my favorite Genesis music. It reminds me a lot if Journey to Sillius and later MegaMan X. The Axis Chemical plant stage is up there in my top tracks of all time. Love the intros the stage tracks have.

Zero Wing

You only heard of this game thanks to All Your Base, but it happens to have some of the most killer rock music on the Genesis. It’s really hard to mimic the crunch of a palm muted distorted guitar using synthesizer. But Zero Wing does it perfectly. They also do the harmonizing guitar solos that are the staple on 80s rock and Dragonforce type groups.

Next week we will look at how to get these soundtracks into your mp3 player without downloading one track at a time.

Tutorial: Recreating the Quick Man Song With Plogue Chipsounds

I love watching waves...

I love watching waves…

Plogue Chipsounds is one of the most comprehensive and powerful sound modules for creating classic game console chip sounds. However, if it’s interface might not be the most obvious and intuitive when you first start to use it.

Why would you want to use an Audio Unit/VST instead of the actual hardware or a tracker? Well, for adding some quick chip sounds to an existing song or remixing a classic song, it’s super useful to have everything happening in MIDI. You can speed things up, transpose them and make changes without having to spend time outside of your main DAWS. Whenever I want some Nintendo triangle bass, I go straight to chipsounds!

The Quick man track is one of the most amazing classic NES songs ever. It’s just buzzing with electrical goodness and really makes the intense Quickman level even more amazing. In just a few minutes, you can create a pretty accurate sound in Chipsounds.

I have to say that I really love the respect that the author of Chipsounds has for the classic chips. Chipsounds conforms to what the chip its emulating could actually do and won’t let you play ten notes on the NES chip. This helps keep things accurate. The tool is definitely worth the cost and I’ll be covering some of the other features in later tutorials. I also love their statement about “preserving endangered chip species”; there are some amazing sounding chips from obscure systems which create some amazing classic sounds. Definitely worth looking into to expand your sound repertoire.

In the tutorial, I use some DMC samples from the original Nintendo which you can download here. Thanks to 8bitpeoples and Null Sleep for the DMC samples.

Beatscribe Contributes to Midwest Chiptune Collective Comp Album

That's right, Detroit has a chiptune scene.

That’s right, Detroit has a chiptune scene.

I honestly don’t think of “chiptune” when I think of the Midwest. I think more of cornfields and tree-lined roads. I grew up in small towns/suburbs in Michigan and have lived in the Midwest for the majority of my life now. I guess Chicago still counts as the Midwest although it doesn’t feel quite like it.

Piko Boy, who is also from Michigan is putting together a Midwest/Detroit chiptune scene compilation. I’m very happy to be included in this awesome work. Unless I find time in the next month to create something new, I’ll be contributing one of the Rubicon tracks.

You can help make this album a reality by pledging on Piko Boy’s Kickstarter campaign to help him get off the ground. The good news is, he’s almost there!  Let’s help push it over the top!