Aaron Walz has known since he was 10 years old what he wanted to do with his life. “I’ve been into music and games my whole life,” he says. It’s no surprise then that he has embedded himself deeply in the audio sector of the gaming industry. With his experience, he was able to provide some tips during Casual Connect USA 2014: “Sometimes, limitations can help you compose things you otherwise wouldn’t.”
Having a unique perspective due to being long-time game player and classical musician with a theory-based music degree, Walz took things a step further in 2007 by creating Walz Music and Sound. He lists his creativity and the fact he is easy to work with as business assets and notes that his time as an HR director well-prepared him for running a business. “I know what developers want, and can create things that gamers want to hear, while staying interesting and cutting edge.”
In the Workplace
When Walz was first getting Walz Music and Sound on its feet, there were several things he had to adjust to. First and foremost was shifting away from the “paycheck mentality” and learn to budget. He also had to buckle down and improve his sound design skills. Most importantly, he had to learn to market himself and charge what he was worth. “I had to learn to have faith, not give up, believe in myself,” he says. “The biggest obstacle was me limiting myself!”
Now that Walz Music and Sound is up and running, Walz can focus on the work of running a business and making music and sound. His schedule is varied, and he finds himself working both in-house and at home. His responsibilities include sound creation, composition, and “lots of communication” — as well as the typical business-related tasks.
He works with all sorts of clients, most notably Kabam and John Romero (which Walz considers a couple of his biggest accomplishments), and his projects can vary greatly. He has put together a game in a week, while another game may take a year. One day can include a combination of music, voice over recording and editing, design sound for a marketing video or cutscene, and creating custom sounds. The technical specs of the game’s platform must also be taken into consideration when putting a game together. Music length and smooth looping are just a couple of the things that need to be considered.
Collaboration between the different game teams is also important to Walz, who says that a better game is made with more collaboration. “Even better is if I get to do integration and implementation,” he says. “At the very least, you should always be able to test sound in a game and have access to all art assets and a build.”
While he can take on an excessive amount of work at crunch time, Walz prefers to pace himself in his work. “Through the years, I’ve learned to stay realistic with my daily and weekly goals, focused and productive,” he says. “Some work is tiring emotionally, and some is tiring mentally. In fact, even physically. You have to be careful not to tire your ears out and work through that, or things don’t sound good.”
Building Alliances and Raising Awareness
One of the things Walz laments about the audio sector is the lack of recognition those in the sector receive relative to the rest of the gaming industry. “Sound is a huge part of the experience in almost any good game,” he says, noting that composers and sound designers should always be credited both online and in-game. He’d also like to see more budget designated for audio and more time and thought devoted towards it.
In an effort to combat these issues, Walz and others in the audio sector have come together to form the Game Audio Alliance. Along with tackling compensation and recognition issues, the Game Audio Alliance hopes to work toward audio standardization and increased audio quality in the game sector as well.
The group met and came together at a Casual Connect conference years ago. “We decided there were not a lot of big companies for audio, and we had a unique vision and wanted to all work together,” Walz says. “We strive to build a sense of community and connectedness among casual/social/mobile audio folks. This helps us all remember that aside from competing, we can come together to make sure audio is highly valued and of excellent quality.”
The group has published articles and materials advancing their goals and Walz answers questions behind the scenes all year long to encourage those starting out in the sector. Currently, the group also plans to create a more formal association for members to join and receive special perks.
Things Still to Do
Walz looks forward to the audio process becoming more streamlined in the future, with more tools for game audio creation and integration available to audio developers. “Hopefully, and probably, we will raise the quality of the bit rates and get out of this 128k world in mobile, especially,” he says. “I’m really excited about that!”
He’d also like to create his own game app at some point, saying that he has some great ideas for some original games. He’d also love to have his music performed by an orchestra someday — and possibly conduct — as well as do the same with choral music, as he’s quite familiar with the genre.
In the meantime though, whenever he has free time, he hones his tennis and bowling skills — and wins gold medals as a part of choral group Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, which just competed in the World Choir Games and came home with two gold medals and a silver medal.