Join the founder of Dreamcraft Music and Sound Mike Raznick at Casual Connect USA 2018 as he explains how music and sound can be leveraged towards user acquisition and monetization. He provided real world examples of effective and ineffective treatments in music and IP licensing. Mike said, “We as composers strive to create a juxtaposition in the music and sound so that it can remain fresh throughout the gaming experience. A successful audio treatment should not cause fatigue. It comes down to good audio design, highlighting another reason to bring your team in early during a project’s development cycle so that there is time to test and make changes as needed.” Hear the discussion of how to create a compelling, fun and exciting audio experience for casino games.
You know how important audio is to the overall gaming experience. It can create an atmosphere, add emotion, emphasize an action, and much more. If you want to learn more about what it takes to make the best use of audio in a game you are creating, it would be hard to find a better person to ask than Mike Raznick, the founder of Dreamcraft Music and Sound. Mike is a multi-award winning composer and audio director whose music has been featured on more than 500 games, as well as films, TV productions and promotional trailers. Recently Casual Connect asked Mike to talk about his career, the way he works and his insights about using music and sound in games.
Casual Connect: Tell us about the work you do at Dreamcraft Music and Sound and how you came to found the company.
Mike Raznick: I started Dreamcraft Music and Sound after working full-time in game audio for over ten years. I began my career as an in-house composer and project manager for a successful game audio provider in 2007. My work is featured on hundreds of games, including many popular and highly successful casual, mobile and AAA game titles from clients including Disney, EA, Insomniac, Atari, Sega, Warner Bros. and more.
Collaborating and Teamwork
CC: How have your past career experiences been helpful to you in your current position?
Mike: Working in game audio for several years has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my work. From building relationships, learning from experiences how to manage the audio pipeline, and production techniques for creating a higher quality product, it’s something I continue to be highly passionate about. I love playing games and I love making games. Best of all though, it’s about collaborating and teamwork. In that sense, it never gets boring and there’s always something new and unexpected to look forward to. There’s so much innovation going on, which leads to new challenges and opportunities to push the envelope. Continuing to maintain fun and productive relationships has allowed me to keep doing the work that I love.
CC: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Mike: Making friends and being part of a team to create something bigger than what I could otherwise accomplish on my own.
What it Takes to Succeed
CC: What inspired you to pursue this career?
Mike: I’ve been involved with music and gaming my whole life. I started on piano at age six, sang in choirs since age nine and played in bands since I was in my teens. As a kid, I also loved my Atari 2600. In my professional career, I gravitated toward technology and worked as a web developer and computer programmer for a time. My interest in combining music and technology led me toward a career path in game audio.
CC: Do you have any advice for someone interested in pursuing the same career?
Mike: It takes years of hard work and persistence to become proficient at your craft. It’s a lifelong journey that requires a continued sense of curiosity and a thirst for growth. If you want to work in the game industry, it’s important to understand how music and sound functions to enhance the overall experience of a game. Play as many different kinds of games as possible and never stop working on your craft. Also, get out and meet as many people as possible. You never know where you might get an important opportunity.
CC: What is your creative process like? Where do you begin?
Learn the Vision for the Game
Mike: When working on a game, it’s most important to understand what the client is looking for. We are hired to enhance the overall experience of a game through compelling, fun and immersive audio. In this sense, I want to learn as much as possible about the vision for the project from the developer. For us, it all starts out with a number of conversations to best understand what the game is about and what kind of audio the game needs to make it as great of an experience as possible. We believe that every game is unique and there is a special and unique audio treatment that the game deserves.
After learning about the game, we will often have creative conversations about potential directions for the audio by sharing various music tracks to get ideas about what the client is looking for. This gives us a sense of the desired aesthetic from the client’s point of view.
Once we have agreed on a clear direction, we jump right into production on music and sound. For sound design, we do a mockup by attaching the audio experience to a static video of gameplay that allows us to get feedback before implementing our work into the game. For music, we will present assets for the client to review. As needed, we then may go through a series of revisions to get things sounding perfect!
CC: Where do you find the most inspiration for your music? What is the most interesting thing you found inspiration from?
Mike: I get great inspiration often from the games I’m working on. The style of the game steers me toward a music style. From there, I can tell if it’s going to be influenced or infused with elements of classical, rock, piano, orchestra, synthesizers or guitars. I then can look for other inspirations that are genre specific, sometimes, from pop music, film scores, game soundtracks or even from indigenous music. Next step is coming up with a unique way of presenting an original soundtrack that speaks to the game’s individual presentation.
On one project, the game features a drunk detective who takes swigs of Absynthe and hallucinates. It was some of the best inspiration I’ve found as it allowed me to compose some really strange music and have it be completely appropriate.
CC: What is the most challenging part of making music for games? What is the most rewarding part?
Mike: There are a lot of moving parts in game development. Being part of a development team, whether it be music or any other role requires effective and consistent communication, while making sure everything is delivered and approved on time with production assets that exceed expectations.
The most rewarding part of making music is seeing and playing the final product. Music is just one piece of the puzzle. If it elevates the overall gameplay and user experience, I feel I have done my job.
Audio Quality Continues to Improve
CC: What would you improve in sound in the games trending nowadays?
Mike: We’ve made incredible strides in the quality of game audio over the last several years. Personally, I’ve had a chance to work with live orchestras, top studio musicians and have been collecting vintage synthesizers among other things. This all helps to create increasingly high quality audio experiences. I’ve been spending a lot of time learning and working with audio implementation tools such as Wwise and I believe it’s vastly important to understand and be able to make decisions on how the audio and music can be enhanced through interactivity. It’s increasingly useful to understand the tools out there so the music and sound can be shaped to take the best advantage of them.
CC: What do you think will be the next trend in the industry in the next three to five years? How are you incorporating this trend into your future plans?
Mike: As more advanced and accessible tools are released to market, I believe we will continue to see an ever increasing quantity of content. I look forward to the VR and AR technologies maturing and being used in creative ways. I’ve been playing Horizon: Zero Dawn these past few months and am reminded of how beautiful games can be.
CC: Were you composing other music or doing other sound design before you started working in video games? If so, what was it like to start for an interactive story-telling medium?
Mike: I’ve always considered myself a story-teller, first and foremost. I grew up playing in bands, studying jazz and classical as well as world music. I became fascinated with writing music to film while I was studying at CalArts and later NYU. I also worked for a time in the computer industry. With a background in music and tech, it felt like a natural fit to focus my energies toward interactive story-telling. I love how music functions as a driving element in games. It creates opportunities for bold and memorable themes and statements.
Understand What the Game Needs
CC: What can you suggest for making sure the music fits the game?
Mike: Music can function in an infinite number of ways. It’s important to understand what the game needs. I first aim to understand the vision of the game developer and really pinpoint what they are striving toward on an emotional level. I then try to get a more visceral sense of what the game will sound like from playing a build, looking at graphics, or viewing walk-through videos. If I can get involved early in the development process, I’ll sketch ideas based on story, art or any other information I can gather.
CC: Where do you draw inspiration for your projects?
Mike: The music is always there to enhance the game. The game comes first. If I can fully understand the emotion of a game, whether through story-telling, graphics, gameplay mechanic or conversations with the developers, then I can get inspired to create the perfect soundtrack to accompany the experience we are creating.
CC: What advice would you have for developers trying to communicate what they’re looking for with composers and sound designers?
Mike: It’s not always important to speak in musical terms. I find it most useful to talk about story, emotion or a universal language that we can use to articulate how the player should feel, where and when the game takes place and under what circumstances. It’s great to the find out what the team is listening to, what their favorite soundtracks are and use that as a jumping off point for further creative exploration.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.