Composers Unite!

Hi everybody! I’m sure most of you have a personal Facebook account and if you are an artist, you probably also have a separate page dedicated to your craft. Facebook, among other social media platforms is a great way to stay up to date about almost any topic and for today’s blog, I would like to talk about a cool page I stumbled across while looking at cosplaying cats and canines, dressed up by their over-adoring owners.

A Composer and a Concept

Cody Tedrick is a composer for games and film and his love for music has inspired him to start a Facebook page dedicated to composition, in particular, to friendly competitions between budding and aspiring game-audio aficionados. The page is called Composer Competitions and if you are a fellow composer working toward making a career in game-audio then why not join up and “have a go”. There is no money at stake for winning the friendly competitions, instead, the real reward is sense of building a community and gauging your work against like-minded people. Here is Cody’s welcome message to the FB group:

Welcome to Composer Competitions!

What this group offers:
1.) Challenges that require competitors to create music that satisfy the specific requirements (theme, tempo, key, etc).
2.) Constructive criticism to allow for growth and improvement.
3.) Rewards for winning challenges. These will NOT be monetary, rather, more interesting rewards such as the promotional postings on everyone’s twitter/Instagram of the challenges winner.

This group is more tailored for composers who are in the realm of Video Games, however, everyone is welcome to participate which will undoubtedly result in more interesting/diverse competitions.

As you can imagine, being the audio-nerd that I am, was quick to join up and compose my first piece for the newly formed group.

The First Challenge – Menu Music

THEME: Menu Music
GENRE: Space Action Thriller
KEY: F minor
TEMPO: 120bpm
LENGTH: 2 Minutes

Composing Space Time Continuum

Sometimes having limits and boundaries is when you are most liberated, a conundrum perhaps, but having no limitations can almost be too much to handle, inhibiting creativity. The boundaries set by Cody have been very effective to work within, largely due to the fact the inspiration is set out in five different parameters, theme, genre, key, tempo and length. If the five parameters I have mentioned are always left up to us, then the possibilities are virtually infinite and can actually make our jobs harder! Composing without direction is like trying to drive to a place you have never been to before, without the aid of a GPS or map… You may get there eventually but there is no telling what detour you may take finding your destination, even worse, you may get lost on the way and never find the point you were looking for. Direction can be a Composer’s best friend that gives our art-form purpose and what I love about composing with purpose is that you create something that you may never have thought of otherwise.

Theme – Menu Music

We all love some good Menu Music, it gets us in the zone to play the games we love and sometimes just hearing our favourite game’s Menu Music is as good as playing the game itself, triggering memories and emotions we experienced whilst playing. I wanted to make the music memorable and tell a story, hinting at what the world the game is set in may be like. Being Menu Music there is a possibility of the song playing for quite a period of time if the player turns on their console or PC but is distracted by finishing their dinner, cleaning up the living room or answering a phone call. The song may be left playing in the background and because of this, we want the theme to be enticing and much like drawing a moth to the flame, the music must compel the player to press start and enter the realm we have created.

Genre – Space Action Thriller

If we think of space, then certain pieces of imagery may come to mind. Nebulae, stars, spaceships and stations are just some of the extra terrestrial elements we may encounter if we were to blast off into the infinite void, so how do we convey this musically? Instrumentation is of course one of the driving factors for putting the player in the “space” (pardon the pun!) but for me, the most important thing to think about when starting a composition is the basic musical information, often a piano version or “short-score”.  Short-score is a term used by composers and orchestrators, meaning a condensed version of all the musical information into a piano-playable version. Maurice Ravel, a French composer of the 20th century was one of the most gifted composers and orchestrators to have ever lived and his methodical approach was to start with the short-score version of his masterpieces.

Short-Score
Short-Score

From the short-score we can then go about orchestrating the composition and because of the incredible age we live in, MIDI sequences are easily moved and copied to any instrument you have in your sample library. Ravel would have loved the 21st century! You may notice that I have used strict four-part harmony in the short-score, this meant that the voice leading was very important to make the piece flow, this helped when orchestrating and assigning different voices to different instruments but more importantly, thoughtful voice leading is pleasant to the ear!

Key – F Minor

As you have seen from the criteria, the key we have been tasked to write in is F-minor. In music theory, the relative Major of F-minor is A-flat Major which has four flats, Bb, Eb, Db and Ab. My suggestion when writing music in a specific key is to write out the scale in chords, so for F-minor we would write;

  • I       II       III    IV      V      VI     VII   (Degrees of the scale)
  • F      G      Ab    Bb     C      Db    E    (E-flat in natural minor, E-natural in harmonic minor)
  • Ab    Bb    C      Db    E       F      G
  • C      Db    E      F       G      Ab    Bb

By writing the chords out this way, it is easier to pick and choose the right sound and make sure we are staying in key.

Final Thought

It has been a lot of fun composing for this competition, it was an afternoon’s worth of work that was time well spent. The efficiency of writing music in short-score form streamlines workflow and ensures there is something solid to begin with, giving the composition a strong foundation. Instrumentation is analogous to an Artist’s colour palette and must be carefully thought out if the piece is to have an impact and place the listener in the desired environment, which is crucial in a medium like games.

Thanks for reading and stay creative! 🙂

3 thoughts on “Composers Unite!

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