Join freelance composer and music designer Casey Cameron as he moderates a roundtable discussion at Casual Connect. Learn how to get the best audio for your game. From start to finish, the panel worked to explain why you need an audio contractor, how you find a great one, when to get audio involved, and what’s expected of both parties. They covered answers to questions about contracts, tech specs, platforms, terminology, implementation, best practices. One piece of advice Casey offered on how to find a composer or sound designer is on twitter. He pointed out that, “We all follow each other so if you find your favorite composer and that composer is not available for work, you can just move out from there, searching through all of his friends”. He further relates that that is how he got into jazz. Searching in this way can open some unexpected doors.
Casey Cameron is a freelance composer and music designer for indie, casual and AAA games, with credits that include titles from Big Fish, 2K Sports and 2K Games. He composes in a wide variety of music styles for equally diverse game genres. Recently Casual Connect asked him about his work.
Casual Connect: Tell us about the work you do.
Casey: I am a freelance composer and sound designer for games. I was playing music professionally and decided to take a job at 2K Games as a production assistant. I was introduced to the sports audio guys there and was eventually able to transition into game audio fulltime.
CC: How have your past career experiences been helpful to you in your current work?
Casey: Jazz is such a diverse and compositionally rich music, and, as a professional musician, it gives you the tools you need to play any other style. It’s that influence that allows me to excel at composing so many popular styles. Learning the audio engineering part of my job was far less natural, and a trial by fire at first. It took a lot of research, money and hard work to finally feel like a pro there.
CC: What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
Casey: Aside from gaming, I enjoy board games and hiking. I also play live music with a few bands – funk, afrobeat, rock – and I produce my own music outside the spectrum of games. Other than that, my dog and my job take up the rest of my time.
CC: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Casey: Creating Content. I feel very fortunate to be able to create music and sounds for a living. There’s no better job for me.
CC: What inspired you to pursue this career?
Casey: The short answer is that I’ve always had an affinity for games and composing is my favorite thing in the world. I am truly lucky to be a game composer.
CC: Do you have any advice for someone interested in pursuing the same career?
Casey: Work hard and rise to the occasion when you get that lucky break. Really, just keep at it, hone your skills, network. It’s a competitive business. Make sure you’re pursuing this career for the right reasons.
CC: What was your dream job as a child?
Casey: This one!
CC: In your younger years, was there anything that hinted at your future career path in gaming? Did you expect to end up where you are today?
Casey: I used to write music inspired by games on an old keyboard. It had a 3.5 floppy disc drive where I’d record countless cheesy, terrible songs using my keyboard’s onboard sounds. I still have those somewhere.
CC: When and how did you first become interested in design and composition?
Casey: I couldn’t tell you where it started. Just always fascinated with improvising and writing my own music on the piano since my very first lesson. I’ve always been keen to listen to sfx in film. It’s fun to pick apart all of the donkey and tiger sounds used for mythical creatures in movies like Lord of the Rings.
CC: What is your creative process like? Where do you begin?
Casey: Getting organized beforehand is key. I set up my musical or sonic palette and then get to work. Unless the inspiration hits with immediacy…then I’ll record the idea with a music memo or hit the piano with a pencil and staff paper.
CC: Where do you find the most inspiration for your music? What was the most interesting thing you found inspiration from?
Casey: Listening to other music is one of the only two reliable ways I find inspiration. I’ve always listened to so many different styles, and each one manifests itself in my writing. The other way I find inspiration is through practicing piano. Whether it’s harmonic exercises, scales, rehearsing, improvising – my practice often takes me on compositional detours.
CC: If you had unlimited resources and time, what kind of game would you compose for?
Casey: Good question! I want to compose for a period piece – 50’s or 60’s jazz or 70’s funk. Maybe even something similar to Monolith’s No One Lives Forever. What a great soundtrack! That and Kid Icarus on NES are among the greatest of all time for me.
CC: What is the most challenging part of making music for games? What is the most challenging part?
Casey: The most rewarding part is working with awesome teams. I love my clients. Often the most challenging part is interpreting their use of musical language and getting to the bottom of their vision. It’s difficult enough talking about musical ideas to musicians. Reference tracks are invaluable assets.
CC: What methods do you use to handle creative blocks? Do creative blocks occur frequently?
Casey: When I hit a block with either music or sound, I switch things up. If my music isn’t coming together, I’ll try to change the music’s main focus to the rhythm track, bass or harmony. The melody often falls naturally into place after changing gears. I also take a break and practice jazz exercises on the piano for a couple hours. That usually gives me a fresh start on things.
CC: What has been your proudest moment in your career so far? What led to this moment happening?
Casey: I suffered a work injury at a full time job which had me stuck at home doing very little for a few years. Throughout that difficult time, I slowly started building up my business, taking only as much work as my hands could handle. There finally came a moment when I could work full time again. It was the greatest feeling. So here’s a word of advice: No job is worth permanently injuring yourself, not even your dream job. Don’t let it happen.
CC: What would you improve in the sound in the games trending nowadays?
Casey: Let’s focus on something simple: loops that work. It really takes me out of the moment when there’s a short stutter at the loop point or when a file format is used that doesn’t support gapless looping.
CC: What do you think will be the next big trend in the industry in the next three to five years? How are you incorporating this trend into your future plans?
Casey: I think the improvement in mobile technology and internet bandwidth will leave room for more CPU intensive audio. Becoming proficient in audio middleware will be a necessity for audio professionals everywhere as hopefully more and more games use interactive/adaptive audio.
CC: Were you composing other music and/or doing sound design before you began working in video games? If so, what was it like to start for an interactive storytelling medium?
Casey: I was composing music for live bands and writing music on the computer for personal fulfillment. Fortunately for me, my composition experience was robust and left me with the tools to write for interactive narrative.
CC: What tips do you have for making sure the music fits the game?
Casey: Your music should fill a design function in the game – usually some sort of emotional underpinning. Analyze and discuss with your team what that function is, and you’ll be able to make informed decisions when you begin writing music.
CC: Where do you draw inspiration for your projects?
Casey: Other amazing games and any music in general that widens my eyes. There are so many amazing composers in this field; they keep pushing boundaries or, on the other end of the spectrum, working brilliantly within them. I look to my colleagues for inspiration and never stop learning from them.
CC: What advice would you have for developers trying to communicate what they are looking for to composers and sound designers?
Casey: Talking about music is difficult and the language we use is often subjective when describing music. What’s busy vs energetic? What’s mellow vs sparse? Give us reference music that embodies what you are looking for. We take cues from the instrumentation, the style, the energy level, the harmony, the mood it encourages. Also, equally or more important, tell us about your game: the world, the characters, the narrative, history, time and place. Tell us about the emotion you are looking for in each music cue. Same goes for sound. I mostly find sound easier to talk about. I often make lots of noises to describe what I’m hearing and encourage my clients to do the same. Humans can make and mimic so many great noises!
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.