The score for Minirl was born out of a desire to craft something beautiful and joyous in the midst of chaos, misery, and hurt. That statement probably requires some unpacking, so here goes.
Not a day before I began the score for Minirl, the most important relationship in my life was cut off. We've all been there in some capacity or another. We all know that void, that sickness, that complete and total desolation. The hurt following something like that usually takes months and sometimes even years to sort out.
Yet here I was. With an amazing opportunity before me, a creatively rich game, a two week deadline, and only my heart stopping me.
And try to stop me it did.
The first three days, my ear wandered aimlessly. Every note that came from me felt false. Aesthetically, I was disgusted by what I wrote. And I could not find a way out. I tried thematic permutations. I tried reharmonizations. I tried different transpositions, different meters, and different instruments. I scoured my music library for inspiration, everything from the rich atmospheres of Jeremy Soule to the intricate design of Chris Christodoulou to the colorful mystery of Disasterpeace.
And yet even with all this beauty passing between my ears, I could find nothing that delighted me, nothing that inspired me, nothing that made a single note feel like "me" let alone capture this wonderful game called Minirl.
I have discovered that even though loss is the ultimate catalyst for inspiration, I first had to wade through the filth of self-doubt. The swamp of questioning my very existence. Whether or not there was anything of value to myself as a person. Whether or not getting up that morning would have been worth it.
And then at that lowest moment, when I was confronted with even more hurtful news, something clicked. I shut off. Emotionally, a dam came down over my heart and stopped it from gushing. It was almost as if my body had said "enough is enough."
I took my rig and worked elsewhere for the two weeks up to the game's release. Something changed. The dam burst and all of those emotions came flooding out all at once. And every note that came out with them felt incredible. The notes flowed effortlessly, the overall musical scope of the game synced instantly with the visuals and gameplay. Two weeks later, we launched a trailer I never dreamed of writing and released a score I could be proud of.
So this score, this little tiny chiptune score, is proof that I do have value. That I can do good work in the worst of circumstances. So for anyone in that situation, creative or not, please keep your head above water. There is an island miles off in the distance waiting to give you the rest you need. It will suck to get there. Even six months into my new life, the daily struggle to get out of bed and find meaning is still there, but the grief for what I lost comes in small waves now rather than thundering tsunamis, tiny reminders of what was that honestly pale in comparison to the beauty of what is.
Chin up, and don't forget to be awesome.
Don't get me wrong. I love what I do. I love being a musician. I love the journey, the work, the hard life lessons I've picked up along the way, the discipline, the experience of performance, and the humbling shame of total failure.
Even if I haven't made millions off of a dope banger with insane synths and a beat that will shake the bloc, I have grown to deeply appreciate the opportunities I get as a musician.
However, I've noticed something disturbing about the community that claims to be so liberal, so willing to change, so open, so welcoming, so joyous that any style of music is welcome in its ranks.
There's something seriously wrong with most musicians I meet.
It's not that some of them are sociopaths. It's not that some don't know the meaning of the word "tact." It's not even that some claim to rule the true scientific community with conspiracy theories about government implants in your Big Mac.
The real problem then?
There is an inherent stupidity in the way we handle our art.
We sign record deals and then complain about what we signed. We invest huge sums of money in physical merch that we know the majority of the music consuming public doesn't utilize anymore. We book tours without adequate funding. We refuse to make smart financial decisions about our own lives, as if the only means to pursue our music is a self-destructive artistically pure path,
It's been the same narcissistic and unrealistic dream for the past 60 years.
While the rest of the world has moved forward in communication, education, and nearly every aspect of our daily lives, we musicians refuse to consider alternative means to our goals, as if the purity of a $50,000 session at a studio is the only means to realize our artistic vision.
If we want to be treated better and our work appreciated more, we need to realize that people's consumption of music has changed. Our market has changed. Our world has changed.
We also can't do it all ourselves. That's arrogant and foolish. Wake up and collaborate. The more people with talent we involve, the better the whole experience.
It's time we stop being so self-centered and consider that we might be wrong. That we might not know it all. And that maybe there are other ways to be a working musician than the examples of a generation whose rules no longer apply to our world.
Some remarkable things have been happening lately. I've been writing orchestral music like crazy, learning new material, diving into the complexities of 5/16 (which man let me tell you how that numbs your brain after a few hours), and binging on every expansion of Rocket League that comes out (somebody please help me I CAN'T STOP.)
Something awesome happened this weekend, though. See me at the far right of that picture? That's me. Timid composer that I am. See the guy next to me? That's Dr. Omar Carmenates, an incredible percussionist and all around awesome dude. For some reason, that awesome dude decided to give timid composer me a shot at writing for percussion ensemble.
Man. I had no idea what joy awaited.
Back when Pixel Tsunami came out, Omar took a listen and decided he really dug it. Asked me if I wanted to write for percussion ensemble. I'll give you a hint as to my answer.
The second word was yes.
So after months of writing themes in stupidly complicated time signatures, it was time to start pulling the piece together. It came together over the course of one week surprisingly. I typically find that my process smooths out when I have a lot of material to mix and match, so having all of those themes and riffs lying around turned the writing session into one super long crazy fun musical Lego building adventure. When I was done, I sent it over to him with the hopes that it would at least be a good starting place. Not only did he think it was a good starting place, he wanted to the scores ASAP to get his players shedding it!
Fast forward a few months, and I'm rehearsing with some of the coolest percussion dudes I've ever gotten to hang with. They were kind, responsive to feedback, attentive, ridiculously proficient considering the absolutely stupid things I asked them to do, and most importantly willing to have a good time with the piece. After all, what's the point in playing 25/16 against a steady quarter pulse if you can't rock out to it?
The performance absolutely blew me away and I was overwhelmed with the positive reception. Seeing something you've been working on for so long finally come to fruition and bring joy to people was a humbling experience, and I'm so incredibly thankful to all the percussionists for their amazing performances, both on my piece and the other stellar pieces of the evening.
Needless to say, I've been bitten by the percussion bug. I need to write polyrhythms. All of the polyrhythms.
ALL OF THEM.
I honestly can't believe it's finished.
Oh my god. The album is DONE.
That video right there? That's the end result of a chord voicing I learned from Bob Hallahan back in March of 2014. It's a standard for jazz players. Something that pretty much everyone uses. For good reason. It's a rich voicing, it feels exquisite under your hands regardless of what key you're in, you can use it during a solo or to comp.
So I thought. What the hell. I'll start arpeggiating it. . .
A year and a half later, my musical brothers, Collin Derrick and Stephen Russ, and I have somehow constructed the most unified vision of what we love about music. It's a piano trio album, but it's still saturated in our love of rock and metal and jazz. We nearly broke up several times because of this album. The recording sessions were heated. Even dramatic. It always is when you're recording something in one take as a full band rather than overdubbing things. I mean, the amount of practice that went into getting ready for that session still makes me dizzy to this day. But there's a certain relief having done it that way. We couldn't change anything. We had to accept our limitations and then surpass them together rather than individually. And that's exhilarating as a group.
Point being, it's an amazing feeling to have tackled that process and finally let go. Let your music into the world and just let it go. I don't think I could be more proud of Collin and Stephen. They took every musical curve ball I could throw at them and threw them right back at me.
So please. Take a listen. It's on Bandcamp. Josh Hardy has even created the most exquisite art for both the digital and vinyl edition. Vinyl will be out in 2016. And man, are there a lot of secrets for you to uncover.
So it's been a while, but things have been going really well! Here's the news!
My band played a sold out New Year's Eve show in Washington, DC. That was an absolute blast, and I couldn't be more thankful to have had in that experience. We even recorded our album. THE VERY NEXT DAY. Talk about a musical workout. It was well worth the effort, because we came out the other side with analog tape studio quality. I used to dismiss people who raved about that quality, but man, after hearing the difference, I'm a believer.
Plutono was kind enough to fund a sound library which I've been exploring for the past few months. Orchestral Tool's Berlin Strings. They basically sat down some fantastic musicians and created the best string library I've heard to date. It really is the most life-like thing to step out of a VST plugin. Their other lines, Brass and Woodwind, are brilliant as well. If you're a sucker for that human element, check them out.
I'm going to SCAD Atlanta's Global Game Jam 2015 in two days! Nerves, excitement, eagerness, anticipation. All of it is just gnawing away at my gut. Can't wait to get down there, meet some devs, and churn out some music for their games! I've only heard great things, so I'm sure it's going to be a weekend to remember.
This year also marks the start of the Codex. The Codex is going to be a (insert some number greater than 3 here) EP collection of music that I'll be writing. Frankly, a bunch of it is already written. The grand vision is that each EP will capture a particular genre, instrumentation, mood that I feel is core to what I love to do. Obviously there's going to be some insane piano trio action. My guitar's going to make an appearance on the prog metal material. Massive and Reason's chip-synths will carry the chiptune tracks. It's just a big old celebration of music and why I love it, so I'm sure that my attempts to organize it into "genres" and "instrumentations" will be laughable by the end of the project.
Still. It's cool to start the new year looking ahead to new faces, new music, and new opportunities.
September has been a pretty phenomenal month of music. Mostly just rubbing it in my past self's face. Here on the internet. Figured that would show him. He was quite the doubtful downer at the outset of this whole independent musical venture dealio. Granted, it's only been a month, but hey. From now on, I'll wait for it to actually get worse before sinking my own boat.
Finally got the opportunity to upgrade my studio with some great monitors. Poor things have been through just about every genre I've got. . . but man, do they sound great. Props to my new desk buddies! In typical nerd fashion, I have mounted each with a lovely Lego Star Wars fighter. Bet you can't guess which ones.
Snagged an eight string guitar. Believe me, you will be hearing that bad boy in new material. Already have two new songs that feature the gorgeous extended range of that raucous line of baritone beasts.
I even got a real life commission! It's allowed me to explore a lot of different sounds I don't use often. Thankfully, the experience has been super useful for the music bed and soundtrack market. Huzzah useful techniques! Now I can make bonafide woosh noises.
I always wanted to make bonafide woosh noises.
Apart from that, as always I'm working with the excellent devs at Plutono on their upcoming title. Can't wait for people to hear the music for that game. I really think it's going to be something special. Better watch out IGF.
Oh. And YouTube. Gonna snag a solid camera here in a bit and give you all some more covers and video songs to chew on.
Gotta love the internet. In the meantime, please have this delicious track courtesy of guitarists Misha Mansoor and Tosin Abasi.
Found this on Ropeadope Records' YouTube page.
There is a lot of talent at work here.
The keyboardist's got an amazing feel for great timbres that are both atmospheric and punchy. His lines are great hooks backed up by great chordal voicings. That's wicked hard to do. Take my word for it. I also love that he'll do stupid stuff like throw his delay line into Super Saiyan mode just to get a reaction from his bandmates.
Speaking of the bandmates. That bass player just won my heart with his completely destroyed tone. It's huge. It's gritty. It knocks you on your socks. Having spent hours myself trying to craft my bass tone into a listenable and overwhelming pile of mess, I doff my hat to this man and his gnarly beast of syncopation.
The drum lines are also insanely tasteful. A lot of what this guy is barely noticeable and that's what makes it brilliant. Any time you stop listening to him specifically, the whole aesthetic takes over and just gets you grooving. As soon as you DO start to listen to him though, you realize that this cat has got some serious chops. He also strives for the style of drumming I've always loved. Constant groove-oriented beats with little flourishes thrown in. I mean, the dude picks up a shaker to use as a stick. This guy should be your hero. Because he certainly is mine.
Highly recommend you check these guys out. It's funky. It's fresh. But I haven't heard anything like this since ELP. And it certainly seems like these guys are more concerned with you listening than the prog gods were. That is a thing worth seeking out. So go listen.
For a long time, I thought of composers as these lofty beings, in touch with the innermost struggles of the human soul. I thought they heard bone chilling chords in their nightmares and heart-wrenching melodies in the most heated moments of passion. I thought that orchestration ideas sounded in every footstep they took on their daily walks. And I always linked those developments to emotion. Struggle. Passion. Inspiration. Otherworldly callings from the infinite depths of music.
I assumed it was a magical experience to write music.
And as someone who claimed to be a musician, someone who long ago dabbled in the creation of riffs and poorly constructed MIDI ideas, I felt frustrated when I did not feel those moments arise while writing music.
I thought for some reason I had failed.
I thought I was no good.
Years later, I've realized something that I never heard once from my composer mentors who always discussed the abstract and emotional in music. That music is in fact a blend of two elements, both parts equal and necessary and incomplete without the other.
Passion and intellect.
Emotional music will all sound the same without new and complex techniques, while disjunct and advanced techniques will mean nothing without emotional connection.
It is neither one, nor the other. It is neither a sole night of inspired composing, nor an endless week of drudging through hundreds of ideas. One begets the other. When one is lacking or absent, turn to the other. Write what you feel when what you know sounds terrible, and write what you know when what you feel is nothing but the product of emo trash.
But most importantly? Do it every day. Miring through the bad will bring out the good until decades from now, you create nothing but good. After all, my high school guitar teacher told me to throw away my first fifty ideas. I swore I never would.
Years later, I realize I have. And I have no regrets.
You can thank Collin Derrick, the vocalist of my band The Fire Tonight, for this find. I have not heard chemistry amongst a brass section like this in years, let alone the insane dialogue occurring between the guitarist and drummer in the first video. The second one is just out of this world in orchestration. Consider yourself fortunate that this is a thing that happened during your lifetime. Beethoven never got to "hear" this. You did.
Don't worry. Snarky Puppy knows you're thankful.
It's not often that I hear from friends still in the throes of musical ambiguity. Most of my musical peers have gone through the deathly hurdles of musical academia or trial by street performance. Actually, most of them are jaded and seasoned veterans, ten years my senior. I've learned much from them and their disinterested yet fiery vigor.
But the other day I heard from a friend who was terrified.
Of what you might ask?
Not of failure in a new assignment. Not of failing to succeed in an ensemble performance. Not even of an upcoming performance. Because they are incredibly talented, and to imply as much would be an insult to their amazing gift.
They were afraid of freedom. Of the time to devote their attention to whatever musical pursuit they deemed fit. Why? Because they had finished the goals set before them. Because there was no one to tell them they had done a poor job, that they needed to do better, that performing a particular piece in a particular way was the ultimate form of success. They were finished with their degree in music, an accomplishment worthy of praise from the institution in question.
They were simply afraid because they were cut loose.
They needed to hear this. So I'll say it to the interwebs, the cavernous void of musical opinion.
You are so much more than the place or person that trained you. You brought your own gift to your instructor, school, or situation, your own unique perspective. Freedom and liberation is the start of something good, not the end of it.
Embrace the jump. It may feel like falling, but according to Toy Story, you're actually flying.
Now give the world your gift. And never stop giving.