A Guide for the Novice VGM Composer: Ten Things off the Top of My Head

I was talking to my good friend flashygoodness about what would be universally good things to say to novice VGM composers... so here are ten things off the top of my head to consider if you're beginning your career!

I'm writing this in a break from a huge string recording session, just to lend gravity to my points :)

1. Get a reference monitor

Hearing your music from a good pair of reference speakers is normally the first step towards getting your sound to a professional level. If you can't purchase speakers or don't have a silent room, a great pair of studio headphones may be a good temporary solution. 


2. Get a midi keyboard

Some may say this is not for everybody, but unless you plan to be only doing really quantized, hard stuff for the rest of your life, a good midi keyboard with a mod wheel will definitely increase your capacity to be expressive with virtual instruments. I record almost all of my lines with my right hand on the keys, and my left hand on the mod wheel—specially orchestral parts. 


3. Study counterpoint

This is good stuff, and you can do it by yourself. No wonder so many great composers started their day doing counterpoint exercises. Grab a copy of Gradus Ad Parnassum. It may feel out of style for you at first, but the lessons and notion you'll learn along the way will never, ever cease to be useful to you in any style of music you want to write. 


4. Research sounds/samples that inspire you

One of the great joys of music making nowadays is being able to use many different sound sources, traditional or not. There is a myriad of sample libraries around, and lots of good ones are free or really cheap. Sometimes the thing that separates you from developing a great personal style is not having looked around enough! 


5. Listen to a lot of reference material

This one is kinda obvious, but when you're supposed to write music in a certain manner, it really helps to listen to your references. Use them as soundtracks for your commute and exercises—get a pair of great ear buds and use them. If you let relevant music be a part of you, you'll become a relevant musician. 


6. Listen to good contemporary concert music

So you don't care about classical music. But it so happens that as we speak, lots of people are trying very hard to push the boundaries of music making. Aaaand... they might have something special that you can use.


7. Write for live instruments on every opportunity

Do you have any friends that read music and play instruments? Why aren't you writing for them? Getting people to play your stuff live is an experience every composer learns a lot from. This is the kind of opportunity you'll have in music school, but even if you aren't studying (whyyyy?), you should seek out every chance you have to write for live instruments. 


8. Get full scores of the music you love and study them

Or produce them if you can't find any. Countless composers throughout history have profited from knowing stuff from their favorite guys inside out. Learning the workings of good music you love, analyzing it and playing it is a great way to get closer to your ideals. 


9. Exchange music and works in progress with peers

It's often very rewarding to evolve and learn along other composers. Get into competitions, forums and exchange info with other music makers. Get people to collab on your music, and collab on theirs. Being in a community is fantastic. 


10. Get your music out!

Never stop your insecurities from bringing your music to the public. If people you trust tell you your music is good, get it out! You can get better later, but don't avoid the experience of letting the public hear what you have. 

Tower57

This month I moved to Rio and set up a new base studio here! Hectic doesn't begin to describe it. I've been busy arranging loads of music for two upcoming telenovelas and one that's already airing, Sete Vidas. Thanks go to my friends Victor Pozas, João Paulo Mendonça and Nani Palmeira who are having me onboard again!

I also started working on an amazing title with two great friends, Marco and Cyangmou. It's called Tower57 and it's going to be awesome. The images of the game speak for itself. Can't wait to really sink my teeth into this one!


At Rio Content Market

This was the Rio Content Market month, and I had the pleasure to accompany my Musimagem Brasil friends to the convention. It was a great opportunity to shake hands with tons of people from the whole world and get a good look at the convention scenario. We gave a lecture/speech on "How much is a soundtrack worth" (I guess that was the official translation?). Good stuff!

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Overture!

This year started off with the release and greenlighting of Overture, its successful Kickstarter, and the release of its OST!

I even did the cover art design! Pretty swanky, eh. 

SanctuaryRPG keeps growing on Steam and got some amazing press mentions. We're all preparing for the full launch on February 12 with even more music! I was afraid of making the soundtrack "too big" and scare people away from having it, but I guess I won't have a choice on that.

Also just today I released another "mysterious EP" from an upcoming game! It's a short preview, but I adore this music.

That's all for now! This year I'm working on the music for at least five different TV shows, so let's see how it will turn out!

Onwards to 2015!

2014 has been an excellent year, crowned by this month's release of SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition on Steam! 

I wrote more music for the new areas on the game; as a result we now have a truly jumbo soundtrack of 58 (?) tracks and counting, available through Bandcamp or as Steam DLC with the game. I've been also busy taking care of preparations for a very heavy 2015 in terms of TV productions and game releases, starting with Overture... tomorrow

Another incredible ongoing project has been the soundtrack to Tri Hard's game Final Element, for which I have been collaborating with André Marigo, a great friend from past adventures. Here's Dustin Oliver (lead boss), Ryou (main character), Glauber Kotaki (artist) and me hanging out on a secret room ingame!

To close off with a big bang, here's an EP of music I wrote for Clans of Torhal, an upcoming tactical RPG!

See you all in 2015, and cheers for a great year!

November update!

So much happened that I missed October's post—and was almost missing on November. I'm working at amazing projects lately, one of which—as you may know from my postings elsewhere—is the game Final Element

The guitars were played by André Marigo, a diehard Pantera fan and a longtime collaborator and friend of mine. I have most of the guitars for this baby recorded but the mix is so rough it might kill the audience, so I'll keep that in the internal circle for now. 

In October I also released the OST for Chuck the Whale, my most recent collaboration with GameDan team. I assume the release is imminent so I won't link to the game for now! 

This soundtrack was 100% made on the iPhone and is the second on the series of mini-projects I've been working on (the first being Megabricks, OST also available). And I'm right now working my way through Vividtracker for my third mini-project, this time with my awesome Brazilian team.

For now I must close up here, but soon there will be more to tell. Stick around!

 

 

Learning and giving back

August was a very special month. To start with, we had the amazing orchestrator Tim Simonec come all the way to Brazil to teach us Musimagem folks some tricks.

Of course we treated Tim to some of the best food in Rio. He loved all of it—specially coconuts. From left to right—Victor Pozas, his now wife Nina, me, João Paulo Mendonça, Tim Simonec, his wife Janet and Léo from ProClass.

Of course we treated Tim to some of the best food in Rio. He loved all of it—specially coconuts. From left to right—Victor Pozas, his now wife Nina, me, João Paulo Mendonça, Tim Simonec, his wife Janet and Léo from ProClass.

Needless to say we had an amazing time. Not only is Tim extremely knowledgeable but also does great impressions.

This month I also started working on a new telenovela, released the Megabricks 1-bit OST to a great reception, made several new tracks for yet unannounced projects... taught two game music lessons to a full class of new Musimagem recruits (and we're coming up with a chiptune-for-charity album shortly). I also had the pleasure to take masterclasses from the great composer Armando Lôbo this month.

I have to say things are pretty great!

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First of all, Carveallion is set to be out in September. The first pre-orders are already coming. You can already hear a sampler of the soundtrack and pre-order yourself! 

Our in-house build is incredibly fun to play and a true period piece. This is the game I wish I had as a child... but alas, I was a SEGA kid and even if this game existed back then, I would be as unable to play it as I was unable to play Zelda, Mario and all the other Nintendo great games.

Also I released two little OSTs that have been sitting on the drawers for quite a long time now: Shoot Out! by Ratalaika Games and Circuit Defender by Supaplex Games, both headed by very good friends I made on the tubes.

 

Quick May update

I spent the last two months and a half in vacation in Europe! It was a grand time: I learned a lot and was generally overwhelmed on a daily basis, besides really brushing up on my French.

From there I took care of all the work I could, but I'm excited to be coming back to some very exciting new projects, which I will talk about here soon!

Carveallion

Carveallion, a game from my friends at Sungrand Studios for which I began writing music in September of 2013, is beginning to take shape! 

It was actually my debut into the whole chiptune thing, which in turn got me into a trillion new and exciting projects. 

I feel like though the 8-bit revival era may pass, the composition techniques and original timbres can still be used in hybrid settings. This soundtrack was all about getting as close as possible to the original sounds of the NES era, though, and it was an wonderful exercise and learning experience led by my longtime friend and lead developer/designer/Renaissance man Jerrel Dulay.

Get your NES out! Sometime in the next few months this one will be releasing. I just can't wait to get this soundtrack online!

Drac's Quest OST is out!

From the upcoming Drac's Quest comes one of the OSTs I've had the most fun writing in my life!

Huge shoutout to artist Lord Gervals for this incredible cover art!

Huge shoutout to artist Lord Gervals for this incredible cover art!

Comes with an absolutely gorgeous cover art and is representative of the late konamigothic style of the Teresopolitan School. Seriously—give it a listen, and a play-through when it comes out!

Rita Lee Mora ao Lado

About a week and a half ago I was invited by my friend André de Aquino to be an arranger for the upcoming musical Rita Lee Mora ao Lado. We're working with a fantastic team of musicians, actors and directors; the actress Mel Lisboa is playing the main part.

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We're on a tight schedule of long rehearsals on most days; since we're making the bridge between the musicians and the actors/singers/dancers, we attend both practices. It's a tiring process, but it's also extremely rewarding to see the show falling into place.

Mel and André getting some guitar work done

Mel and André getting some guitar work done

As a bonus, living in São Paulo for some weeks has made me realize the true appeal of the city and wipe off my old idea of it as a gray, uninteresting metropolis. Now I see a vibrant, wealthy city with lots of greenery and stunning geography (at least on my daily commute from the hotel to the studios).

The musical debuts in the end of March.

"Project Sambalele" sessions!

Last Tuesday we had an incredible studio session for "Project Sambalele" (title TBA), an upcoming simulator and rhythm game about the biggest party in the world. We recorded lots of samba school goodness, and we had a batch of improvised instruments (hand saw, scissors, match box, pencils and even a sewing machine!!)

Yes, I'm recording a hand saw. Daniel Mafra, the game designer, giving me a hand (or a foot).

Yes, I'm recording a hand saw. Daniel Mafra, the game designer, giving me a hand (or a foot).

Here's Bombril—a percussionist from Teresópolis that has played with me in many a gig—getting his repenique ready for action.

Here's Bombril—a percussionist from Teresópolis that has played with me in many a gig—getting his repenique ready for action.

Here's Thiaguinho sampling a cuíca!

Here's Thiaguinho sampling a cuíca!

And the mandatory team shot—clockwise, Daniel Mafra (on the yellow shirt, the game designer), me, Thiaguinho (on the back, percussionist), Maurício (cavaquinho/seven-string guitar), Denis Quaglio (with the huge beard, really great bassist, was a part of our choir), Márcio Pombo (on the red shirt, the studio owner and engineer for the session, and my first piano teacher almost 20 years ago) and Bombril (thumbs up, percussionist).

And the mandatory team shot—clockwise, Daniel Mafra (on the yellow shirt, the game designer), me, Thiaguinho (on the back, percussionist), Maurício (cavaquinho/seven-string guitar), Denis Quaglio (with the huge beard, really great bassist, was a part of our choir), Márcio Pombo (on the red shirt, the studio owner and engineer for the session, and my first piano teacher almost 20 years ago) and Bombril (thumbs up, percussionist).

Breath of Tides

I have been collaborating with the multimedia artist Kristine Synowka on a new hybrid art-installation. I lack the words to explain exactly what it is, but we're creating a world of several dimensions, and the sound comes from me. Here are some gorgeous images from the project, and the music made for them.

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Did somebody say "giant floating shark"?

Did somebody say "giant floating shark"?