Monday, November 19, 2012

DiElle: World Changer

This month, I had the privilege of interviewing Dielle Hannah, the lead singer and songwriter for the English band, DiElle. Their music and passion for this beautiful art have reached many parts of the world, and they have influenced the lives of fans, both young and old, through their lyrics, melodies, and even charitable tours. With the release of their new acoustic album, "Fearless," the band has only continued to grow in popularity, especially at home, where they have a steady lineup of shows when they are not on tour. Here is what Dielle had to say during her interview:

1) You have been a musician for the majority of your life, and you have also been songwriting for many years. What inspires you to create a song, and how has that changed over the years?

Today many things can create a spark that becomes a song - a turn of phrase, a lick, a story, an interesting rhythm or chord, a dripping tap.. - but really I think my urge to create is deeper than that...
Ever since I was young I have felt creative urges, and started creative writing and poetry when I was at primary school. Particularly I remember a poem I wrote about my rabbit Pippin that died, and made my Dad cry! I specifically started writing songs in my early teens when I started showing more interest in playing the guitar Dad had been trying to get me to play since I was 3, and I think to start with my songwriting was in response to the normal teenage angst most people experience. When I started to understand more about the world and the bigger picture outside my little existence, I was always flying an impassioned flag for some cause or another, be it cruelty to animals or the homeless. I felt very strongly about so many things, and some of it came out in song. Many an evening in my early teens, when I was trying to make sense of the world and how I fit into it, I spent with my Dad listening to his record collection, telling me stories about his life and talking about things that I wanted to change about the world. 'Mahogany Radio' on the Beautiful Monday album was actually about this - "those nights with mahogany radio taught me how to live." 

I fell in love with Mum and Dad's records - Graceland, Tapestry, Ladies of the Canyon, Abbey Road and so many more amazing albums. So perhaps it was no wonder that the very first thing I tried to write was a protest song - the influence of all these writers and my worry about the state of the world. It was puerile and pretentious and I don't know where it even is now, but it was my first go. As I lived more, and learned more about music I started writing more about my life experience but it was all quite contrived.

Then something really happened in my life. My oldest friend in the world who had lived next door to my family since I was two died in a car accident. I can't begin to imagine what this must have been like for his family to endure, but I didn't know what to do. I was at college, just 17, and someone I loved, who had always been there had been snatched away before he had even graduated from uni. Completely grief stricken, the only comfort I got was in the practice rooms in the music department at college, and that's when I wrote Nearby - it's still pretty simplistic but it was the first thing I'd written that I was proud of. I've never played it live, and I've never recorded it properly until now. Nearby is one of the tracks that will feature on the 'Fearless' album.

Since 'Nearby' I have written more and more from experiences I have actually had, but also from my observations of the world. Having become something of a people watcher, I create characters and tell stories now in a way that does not make me uncomfortable to share. Nearby was just so personal, there is no way I will ever get through a public performance of it, and I know everyone close to me knows exactly who it is about, and it's just too hard. As my songwriting knowledge and technique improved, I have done a little writing to spec - consciously trying to write more 'radio friendly' and 'commercially viable' songs, but the most popular of my tracks remain the most personal ones I have released, which have come straight from the heart, and didn't give the radio a moment's thought when they were created. Namely from the Beautiful Monday album, 'Shelter From The Storm' was written for my first god daughter and performed for the first time at her Christening. Due to the wonder of the internet, this song has been played in every continent at Christenings and baby naming ceremonies, both from CD and live by people who have bought the sheet music. I think it's because the sentiment is so pure and genuine it touches people "we'll show you all the love and strength and courage that arrived the day that you were born". That in itself inspired me to write. Reaching the masses was not my intention when I wrote that song, I wanted to reach one baby girl who had been entrusted to a special relationship with me, but it is a great honour to know that other people have used it to express their feelings towards their children.  'Twinkle' from the same album is also very personal, which I wrote and recorded for my grandfather during the week after he passed away. It was played for the first time at his funeral and became the B-side to my single released in 2007. Many people, known to me and strangers, have written to me to let me know that this has brought them comfort when they have lost people, and for me there is no greater celebration of my songwriting than that. As I have grown over the years, what can move me to create a song can be as simple as a tap dripping, as well as the bigger rites of passage we experience in life.

2) Some of your music has gained popularity overseas. Has your band toured to any of the places your music has reached?

DiElle toured as an acoustic trio in 2009 across UK and Ireland, and I have played a few gigs in the USA and Europe, but have not extensively toured overseas. DiElle music has enjoyed radio play across Europe, USA and Australia which has gained us fans overseas, and due to the internet and social media, we can reach fans directly all over the world. 

3) You seem to be very important at Igloo Music UK. Is that a company you founded or helped to start?

Yes, I am the director and founder of Igloo Music UK - a music recreation company for adults. I started Igloo to empower people through music, regardless of age or experience, to help people make friends with similar interests and improve their quality of life through music - whatever that means for them. I figured there are so many opportunities for kids nowadays, but so few places for adults to just learn a bit and let off steam without making a massive commitment of resources. I wanted to provide solutions for people for problems I felt were never adequately dealt with when I was starting out as a budding songwriter and training as a young singer. We have private jam nights, a songwriting festival, a songwriters' choir, gig parties, showcases and generally a wonderful musical time!

4) What is your ultimate goal in music?

I've been back and forth over the years with this, and I guess being a creative and now something of a Diva, I reserve the right to move my goal posts without prior notice. At the moment, my only goal is to be satisfied artistically, to be the best I can be, and continue to grow as a songwriter. I love the fact that people have gained comfort from my back-catalogue, and has inspired me to reach as many people as want to be reached. I'm very lucky to be working with some fantastic musicians, producers and engineers that can fulfill my visions - after the early years of frustration of not knowing how to even start bringing the noise I could hear in my mind into realisation it is incredibly liberating.

5) Who are your musical heroes?

So many, for so many reasons, but in rough chronological order....

My Mum - for playing Graceland on repeat when I was a fetus and later for enjoying singing so much herself.
My Dad - he exposed me to some fantastic music from a very young age and more intensely through my formative years, and we saw some awesome gigs together through my teens - memorably The Hollies and Finbar Fury. Dad always played in bands when he lived in London and was always so openly passionate about it - it really rubbed off on me. 

Bob Dylan - what a turn of phrase...

Joni Mitchell - such a sensitive observation of human kind
Bon Jovi - I was totally in love with him in my teens then totally ashamed of that afterwards, now I just don't care - great noise
Mark Knopfler - wonderful story teller, and has aged wonderfully with grace.
Carole King - Tapestry has been with me everywhere - all over the world, to every place I have lived, through every challenge I have lived through, every bereavement, separation and rite of passage. I also have a huge amount of respect for the musicians I am currently working with and my clients at Igloo Music UK, and two mentors who have been inspirational to me are Tom Hess and Kim Chandler.

6) What is your ideal setting for writing songs?

I like the dark... I am generally quite solitary as a writer - away in the woods and the dark brings the muse closer to me somehow. This is one of many reasons why we hold the Igloo Songwriting Festival at the Sustainability Centre where there is no mobile reception/internet and lots of woodland walks and campfires! I also love the heat, and spent significant time in my late teens in various jungles. Sitting out late at night listening to the loud rasp of crickets and geckos, watching glow-bugs and the stars, as I foof about on my guitar by an open fire, perhaps on the beach, listening to the waves.... there are some pictures of me somewhere up a tree in Sri Lanka with my guitar.... Natural landscapes where you can see the will of the gods really move me - mountain ranges, rain-forests, lakes, oceans, canyons, waterfalls, vistas... also travel... trains, planes and tuk-tuks inspire me... Mostly these days I write in soft lighting or complete darkness in my music room at home sat at the piano and letting my fingers wander across various sus chords.... my ideal would be to have my own residential studio which doubles as a venue so we can record live shows, but also I can sleep there and get up and record when the muse knocks on my imagination in the middle of the night.......

My thoughts on the interview:

This is a wonderful observation on how inspiration is gained for new music. After all, there are only so many colored T-shirts one could make or so many ways to make a pepperoni pizza, but music is continually inspired and inspiring to be original, sometimes just because of slight differences in the environment around you, such as water dripping in the background as you plan the tempo for a slow jam that somehow became a dance song.

Protest songs... I was just wondering the other day what happened to all of those. They certainly don't get written the way they used to. It makes me wonder why many of the "pop" stars write music these days. The answer is money, but does that mean they are not really enjoying the art if the things they care about don't come out in the song? That is part of the reason I love composing; you can share how you feel with others without even using words.

Writing from experiences is a wonderful thing, because there are always more people that can relate to you that you know. Sharing music with others is one of the greatest reasons to play. As my wife teaches all of her vocal students, "Your voice is a gift. When you use it, people will be blessed and inspired and perhaps even want to use their gifts."

The internet (and technology) does wonders for original musicians. While I'm not fully sure if this is a great thing, since anybody can throw a song together, call it music, and worse, get famous even when it is complete garbage but has a cool video, I know it is a great thing for me, as I could never write for orchestras or films or video games without some of the powerful tools I own and mentors I speak with over the internet. And all art is determined to be so by those who appreciate it, so if people like junk, that just makes those musicians great business people, right?

Your business is a fantastic idea. I'm glad there are musicians out there who still care about giving back. I've done all kinds of volunteer projects over the years, and have actually just started taking on students for various instruments. I may turn it into a business if I don't want to do boring, non-musical jobs in the future, but teaching is not quite a full-time passion of mine.

Networking, people, relationships - the best things a musician can possibly have, especially when starting out. I recently enrolled in a university for a master's program in composing for that express purpose, and I have found out that I am much better at composing than I thought. However, I'm still not satisfied with my network and musical relationships or my time management in that area, so I may need to move closer to the university in order to actually get face time with these people at events, since conversing online just doesn't quite do it for me.

It may not be a bad idea to get a home studio if you do not have one. That's what I have so that when the musical inspiration hits, I can just press the big red button and develop it or save it for later. Obviously, live shows can be a little challenging if you don't have the right space or location, but home studios are a great help for when you want to capture a demo of a song while still in the mood.

Thank you for your interview, Dielle. For more of DiElle's music, check them out at ReverbNation, Facebook, or their band page.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Austin Lawrence Composer

Music collection #1 Composer Austin Lawrence

I left the title simple this time because Austin describes himself in this way, and that is how I'm used to seeing Austin Lawrence's name online. It is as if composer is just attached right to it, and I mean this in the best way possible. He is talented far beyond your scope of typical aspiring musicians and is easily in the top 5 best composers I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with. Over the years, he has had opportunities to score several projets, all of which turned out pretty great, and I believe it is only a matter of time before we see his name in the credits "on the big screen" next to John Powell's or Hans Zimmer's. I interviewed Austin a few weeks ago, and here is what he had to say:

1) Where are you from and how long have you been a musician?

I'm originally from Naples Italy.  Both my parents were in the U/S Navy,  I've been all over the world, and reside in the US as a citizen.
I've always been making music of some kind, using pots and pans as a drum set, messing around on a guitar, (even though I didn't know what I was doing it was still stimulating)I've been listening to music for as long as I can remember, but I really decided I wanted to be a musician in my early teens.  I started to teach myself the guitar, once I got good with that, I taught myself to play the piano, violin and percussion instruments.  ( I made an attempt to take lessons before, but I found myself being bored to tears and restricted)  So i've officially been a musician for about 5 years now.  And once I realized that there were full orchestras to be written for, I began my career in film scoring.

2) What equipment do you use to record your compositions with?

Being on a mac, I use logic 9.  Why?  I'm comfortable with the layout.  "The best DAW is the one you're used to." For instruments, I have so many it's hard to keep track at times and remember what I have under the hood.  EW and Kontakt are a must to anyone in the industry. I use a lot of instruments from EW, 8dio, Tonehammer, Kontakt and others.  To get my "sounds" in my compositions I mix and match several libraries, as well as  incorporate some of my own custom samples and recordings.  Thinking outside the box is important for writing using samples too.  Non traditional methods can do amazing things. But of course there's just no substitute for live musicians.

3) If you could meet one composer or other musician, who would it be?

Oh man, Impossible to pick just one, there are so many wonderful composers and musicians in the world, all who deserve recognition and praise for their outstanding work.If I have to give the minimal amount of names, they would be Hans Zimmer , James Horner, and John Williams. Hans Zimmer has always been a big inspiration to me, so naturally I'd love to meet him not only as a fan, but as a fellow film composer.  Working with him would be a blast! James Horner pretty much wrote the soundtrack to my childhood.  And John Williams.....is there really anything to say about him?  He's every film composers idol.

4) What is your ultimate goal in music?

It's hard to define an ultimate goal in this industry, with so many possibilities.  But I'd say one of the most important things to me is to be able to write a score, or single piece of music that has meaning.  One of my major goals would be to create scores for major films that really communicate to the people who are listening.  Personally, there are many soundtracks that have completely changed my perspective on music and even portions of life in a funny way.  Now that I think about it, I'd say the ultimate goal for any composer is to leave a legacy of music that touched people, changed people, while making friends along the way.  Then you have things like Oscars and Grammy's, etc.  I really wouldn't mind having a few of those.  In fact I'm going to shoot for 150 major films, 50 academy award nominations....and a list of other things.  I realize my goals are extreme, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  I've always aimed higher than recommended...and I don't think that will ever change.  To achieve all this, I'll need the help of amazing musicians, talented directors, and many more people, and in it's own way, that's another "ultimate goal in itself.  To be surrounded by the brilliant minds that fill up this industry.
5) What do you use as inspiration for your compositions?

There are many things I use an inspiration for the music I write. poetry, paintings, nature, stories, etc.  Though specifically for when I score a film, the inspiration for the soundtrack really comes from the emotion of that particular film.  Learning about the characters, their stories, and what they're going through gives me a huge amount of inspiration.  It's really interesting when you seem like you cant be original anymore, the director hands you a scene of the movie, and suddenly you're filled with creativity!  It's truly fascinating.  To be inspired to write is wonderful, but there's an importance of being able to intellectually defend your work that a lot of musicians and composers seem to overlook.  They have all the inspiration, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. I've seen many artists who were "inspired" to do something, but couldn't explain why.  perhaps it's the feeling we can't explain, but we should be able to explain why we attempt to achieve it a certain way musically.

My thoughts on the interview:

Wow, traveling the world and making music in a self-taught fashion. Remarkable! I took piano lessons as a kid and found myself bored as well, and I was constantly confused because nobody likes to teach theory to children. I gave that up from the beginning of high school until the beginning of college and taught myself guitar. I have a violin as well, but don't have time to learn it (I only had a basic introduction to it in my fifth grade music class). I play drums and piano now in bands, but I'm realizing that I'm spreading myself too thin and not becoming great at any one thing. I would love to find work as a composer, but it seems a little hard in Southwest Florida, so I decided to go back to school to get a composing degree and find the contacts that I need to get some good projects. I know they are out there. I just don't know where.

For school, I had to get a mac and Logic. Luckily, I have a Logic class that is helping me to switch over to my new DAW, and I am very excited about it. I'll be even more so when I figure out a few more shortcuts. I just got my first set of EW plugins too, as it is the most complete thing I could get for the money. It is a huge upgrade from what I was working with in Reason 5. As I continue to grow and expand my library, I hope to get Kontakt and some of its extremely high quality libraries as well. Austin makes a great point; one that many people erroneously disagree with. There is absolutely no substitute for live musicians, no matter how good you or your samples are. I believe this is especially true for electronic stringed instruments, such as guitar. People claim that there are samples so real you cannot tell the difference, even for advanced techniques like bending, sliding, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and others, but I say those guitars still don't stand a chance against the real thing, and it is rare to hear them. The majority of sampled guitars you hear in regular libraries sounds like no instrument I have ever heard.

Yes, I too love the work of Hans Zimmer. I like John Powell a little more, but I really like it when they work together like they did on Kung Fu Panda. I think part of the reason I like these two so much is because they do many of the DreamWorks Animation movies, and I really like that style of composition. James Horner is also great. I don't get to hear his stuff as much, but I'm never disappointed when he comes on the radio. As far as John Williams goes, he is probably the most respected composer alive, but he doesn't really make it into my list of heros, except for the fact that he probably inspired all of my heros. He does great work, but his enormous style and super adventurous, almost cheesy themes, are a little much and too old fashioned for me. Still, can't be that cheesy if your themes are the most well-known movie themes in all of existence.

Trust me, your goals are not too extreme to be accomplished. I dream in a similar manner. For example, I would love to be in at least 1 major movie that is remembered by everyone, score a video game series that has a similar effect, do many other side game and short film projects, be in multiple bands that play several different styles of music professionally, become GREAT at guitar, piano, drums, bass, & any other instrument I take up, record bands and musicians as a part of the mega media company I want to open with my brother, help him on his end by being great at video, editing, & photography, learn 3d animation so I can reverse score a scene to some of my music and perhaps inspire projects for game designers and film makers, do graphic design for people, compose for and conduct an orchestra, and still have a fantastic time with my family in the adventure of life. Those are just a few things that were at the top of my head. I may not be able to physically accomplish all of that since I am only allowed the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else gets, but I can sure try.

Wonderful interview, Austin. Thank you for participating and sharing your experiences with us. For more of Austin Lawrence's compositions, visit his SoundCloud here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Orchestral Libraries: Hollywood Strings, Albion, LA Scoring Strings, Cinesamples, Vienna, and Complete Composers Collection

Yes, if you are planning upgrade to a higher-grade orchestral library, you will see that you have to decide between several options. I am about to do this and have researched intensely, but I never saw much from people going through the same thing. So, I figured I would do a pre-review for those that may find themselves in my shoes: WHICH ONE DO I GET AND WHY? Then, we can all review my before and after as well.

Before I start, here are the classes I typically give stuff and the definitions of those rankings:

Elite: The best of the best without being real
High: Extremely good. In fact, the average listener couldn't tell the difference between this and elite
Mid: Very good. However, you have limited samples and editing capabilities
0: Factory libraries... You will never find one that is good enough to take seriously
Negative: Things that sound like they came from a keyboard.

I will be moving from mid to a higher library, so lower examples will not be talked about.

EastWest/Quantum Leap:

This is the only company I review whose sample libraries are powered by the PLAY engine instead of Kontakt. That is also probably its biggest downfall. I have contacts that work in the music production for visual media field that love Hollywood Strings and the rest of the Hollywood series, and rightfully so. This is an elite-class library, and it is reflected in the price. To get the full diamond version, you will drop about a grand for each library. The series is still a work in progress, so we can expect to see more from them, such as percussion and hopefully pianos and world instruments.

If you have no experience with high or elite level libraries, you do not need this. Getting a better library will not make you a better composer, so make sure you use what you have to the max. Now, there is a gold-level version of the library for about half the price, but it falls under that high-level range and many do not prefer it because of its limited editing abilities. For example, you cannot change the mic positions in the gold version, thus forcing you to rely on artificial reverbs to achieve a certain sound. The downside about this library as a whole (either version) is that is was made to be big, or Hollywood-like. So, if you like to make smaller, chamber-like compositions, it may be difficult to achieve a realistic sound.

The Complete Composer's Collection consists of 7-11 $400-ish libraries that are discounted when bought in this package. It is probably the most diverse package out there, and it is extremely high quality. Again, because it has the PLAY engine, it may not work well with your computer, especially if you have a mac that isn't extremely powerful, but it is probably the highest quality set of libraries out there before you get into the elite category. If you upgrade the strings to platinum, you actually get mic positions that I believe can be layered with other libraries if they don't have good positions/reverbs. This is what makes it desirable over the Hollywood series. Other libraries can include pianos, choirs that allow you to create your own syllables, ethnic female vocals, eastern and african instruments, heavy rock instruments, Beatles-era sounds, beautiful Gypsy instruments, lots of percussion, and more. If you have a computer that can handle it or if you can handle waiting and bouncing, this is a great segway into high-class libraries. Normally, I see it for 67% off in the package; however, until Oct. 15th, 2012, it is further discounted to 75% with a free library. This is what I will be getting.


Albion is increasingly becoming the library of choice among hobbyists and is sold for £350. It is most recommended by people that are not satisfied with the PLAY engine and want to use Kontakt without spending a fortune for a good library. Albion comes with a lot of good stuff (strings, brass, perc, etc.) and 3 mic positions, but it has a distinct, English sound. For me, the inclusion of ethnic samples would be nice, but the good thing about Kontakt is that pretty much everyone but EastWest makes their libraries for it, so you can combine Spitfire products with those from later on in the list. In addition to Albion, they have a great solo strings library for about £150, a second version of Albion, percussion, and a few more items to offer.

LA Scoring Strings:

Lass is made by a guy who only focuses on strings, and he is generous to those who own his product. There is a lite and full version, and going full will run you over $1000. However, this is the elite strings library of choice among many. It usually beats out the Hollywood series because it's divisi strings, separate mics, seating positions, and scripting allows you to scale down to an incredibly small ensemble. I didn't check to see if the lite version includes that feature, but I doubt it. You can use this library with Kontakt. 


They are great at everything, perhaps, except strings. The CineBrass collection is a favorite among many and runs you $350 for the core version and another $400 for the expanded version. Their CineWinds is also a great library to get if you are using Kontakt. Both are elite class and similarly priced. They also have great pianos and mallet instruments. However, my absolute favorite thing about them is the Drums of War collection. DOW and DOW 2 are each only $100, and I prefer this orchestral percussion over any other.

Vienna Instruments:

Finally, there is Vienna. I saved them for last because, although they are elite, you will see how they are not really worth it when compared to the other libraries. One of Vienna's orchestral strings definitely contends with LASS and HS, but the problem is I never know which one. They have like 12, many of which are around 800. To get the whole of what they offer just for strings as a package, you are looking at $5000+. Then they offer other stuff. What really gets me, though, is their lack of care for people researching them. They know they are good and have been a favorite in the industry forever, but at that price, you think they could have updated their website at least once in the past 30 years. It is way too confusing, and I don't recall hearing any demos. I'm not even sure if they run on Kontakt. All in all, there is great stuff out there that has no hassle.

So, I know that PLAY cannot compete with Kontakt, but hopefully they will continue to upgrade it to make them more equal. I would go the Kontakt route, but you have to buy Kontakt at $400 plus all of the libraries you want. That extra $400 puts me well out of my budget, since getting LASS and Cinesamples would already push it beyond its max range. I'd like to spend no more than $1200, and even the CCC can't be fully taken advantage of at that price. It can for $1500 for the next week or so, then will go up a few hundred until the next sale. They are releasing PLAY 4, but it most likely will still pale in comparison to Kontakt. So this is my pre-review. Get what you can afford and learn, and upgrade when you know your gear is no longer good enough for your skill. 

If you haven't already, check out my site at www.natecombsmedia.com for music demos and more. You can even hear what the EW libraries sound like.

Also, a bit of shameless advertising. If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check out my wife, Teshelle Combs, and her newest novel, "Core." It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Grant Kirkhope: Legendary Composer of our Favorite Childhood Games

That's right everyone, the interview I was so excited about is with none other than Grant Kirkhope, the man responsible for the music behind some of the best games ever made for Nindendo 64. While my favorite games and soundtracks of his growing up were Banjo Kazooie, DK 64, and Banjo Tooie, Grant also did games like Golden Eye and Perfect Dark, which my mom wouldn't let me play. However, I saw my friends playing them enough to get a good sense of the musical themes in the games. I recently got the privilege of interviewing Grant and here is what he had to say:

1) I saw on your webpage that you attended The Royal Northern College in Manchester, majoring in trumpet, but that is the earliest thing we know about your musical history? What caused you to initially take an interest in music?

Hmmmm, I remember being 4 years old in junior school (Manor Road School in Knaresborough) and the teacher asking us if anyone was interested in playing the recorder and that it would be 15 shillings to buy ..... I just put my hand up .... I don't know why ...heh! Apart from that my Dad was a huge music fan in particular the Big Bands and Frank Sinatra, I grew up listening to that and really liking the sound. My Mum was a dancer instage shows in Edinburgh before she had me and my brother so I guess there was some elements of music in my parents.

2) When you were ready to get a "proper" job, you started working for Rare, Ltd. How did that job come about?

My good friend Robin Beanland had already started work at Rare, we'd been friends for years as we're both from the same area of the UK and had played in local rock bands together. He suggested that I had a go at what he was doing and recommended I buy a synth, a copy of Cubase and have a go at writing some tunes in a style that would suit video games. I sent five cassette tapes off to Rare over the course of a year and never got a reply and then out of the blue I got a letter asking me to go down for an interview, and to my amazement they offered me a job!

3) As a video game composer and audio designer for Rare, you are responsible for the music and sound in games such as Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo Tooie, 3 games that have what is arguably the best music in the N64 era. Those are my favorite projects of yours. What are your favorites?

Thank you! It's hard for me to really single out any one project from my days at Rare, I was very fortunate that the games I got to do were all great fun to work on and the core team of people that I worked with didn'tchange for the entire time I was at Rare and we all got on really well together .... and I miss them all!!!! Musically the Viva Pinata games are probably my favourite sound track of my own but Banjo-Kazooie has a special place in my heart.

4) I read that one of your dreams was to work in the USA and find a job in which you could make a difference. How have you liked living and working in the States and do you feel like you are making that difference?

I'm really enjoying living and working over here. Big Huge Games was a great place to work and I was really happy to be involved with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Big Huge Games had a really great culture and thepeople were so fired up and passionate about making that game, it was a dreadful shame it all ended up going so wrong. What makes it worse was that the reason that 38 Studios went bust had nothing to do with us, wejust couldn't get out from underneath them in time and got dragged down with them. Actually I'd like to set one thing straight for the record, a lot of the press reported that KoAR had to sell 3 million units to break even, thisis complete nonsense, Reckoning has sold somewhere around 1.5 million copies and has easily broken even for EA. We really were days away from signing a new publishing deal for Reckoning 2 and development had been going for a while, then the Governor of Rhode Island mentioned the word "insolvency" and 38 Studios in the same sentence and everyone just walked away to see what would happen ...... such a catastrophe ....
Sorry for the rant!

5) You also recently moved to LA. What are your future plans for the world of gaming and music?

I have! I've just finished doing some music for a game for Zynga that should be coming out in October I think. The music's just been recorded with full orchestra and the rough mixes I've heard are sounding great ... one thing tho' ... does anyone actually turn the sound on in Facebook games ... heh!

6) Who inspires you/do you look up to as a professional musician?

That's easy, John Williams is my number one, almost exclusively at the moment I'd say. I really tried to get his sound into Reckoning ... well.... I tried at least ... heh! I still like Danny Elfman but probably more from a few years back. There hasn't been to much that's caught my attention of late but I live in hope!
7) Finally, I have recently decided to return to school and get a Master's degree in music production and sound design for visual media in the hopes of further honing my musical skills and meeting people in the industry. As
a professional in the industry, do you have any advice for myself and other students?

Make no mistake it's tough to get in. It's really important to get to know what games companies are looking for when it comes to a sound guy, you know, learn about Unreal, learn FMOD and Wwise, these are tools that lotsof game developers use and if you were applying for a job would be a big plus on your resume. The last thing I'll say is the easiest thing to do is give up, I know because I consider it every day, I really do. It's the people that just won't quit that get there in the end. As Winston Churchill said "Never, never, never give up", a friend of mine gave me that saying on a fridge magnet and I look at it a lot!!! Thanks for wanting to talk to me and good luck!

My thoughts on the interview:

Well, to start, I saw this interview come in last night at a place and time that I couldn't really look at it, so I decided to wait till today and with my usual plan to post it at the beginning of the week. Then, I read the interview and was simply too excited to wait.

1) I too started with my musical "whimsies" around four years of age. Mine consisted of being drawn to any piano I saw in the malls or department stores of Wisconsin. I would try to copy player pianos that repeated jazz or house-style cycles over and over and ended up playing random notes in a way that my parents thought were intelligent. They don't really have a musical background, but by the age of 7, they decided that they could give me one.

2) Having friends and a lot of persistence always seems to be a great thing. I know of an Australian kid right now that is in a facebook "video game and film composers from around the world" group that I am a part of who learned Japanese and just kept sending in demos every time he went to Japan. Eventually, he got that call as well and began working on projects with people like Nobuo Uematsu. He, of course, came back very excited. I haven't heard from him in a while, which leads me to believe he may be doing that full-time now as well. I believe he started with Cubase as well, which reminds me, I forgot to ask what kind of equipment you use now. Oh well.

3) I just listened to pretty much every song from Viva Piñata, since I don't have an Xbox and never had the opportunity to play the series. These tracks are fantastic, and I was reading some of the comments on them. People agree with me. In fact one person said that they thought the game was tedious and annoying and other negative things, but every time they were about to get upset and turn it off, a new, beautiful track would start playing and draw them in for another six hours of gaming. 

4) Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is another game I have not gotten to play, but it looks cool, and I didn't realize that it was out for PS3 until recently. I'll definitely have to check it out. I listened to the music from it as well, and it sounds different enough as a separate series should, but still stays true to that awesome Kirkhope style. Don't worry about the rant. It is terrible that such unfortunate things can still happen to great and inspiring composers such as yourself, but when you throw things like money and fear into the mix, great things have a better chance of disappearing.

5) My dream is to one day record a composition with a live orchestra. In fact, I just finished a film-like score that I hope can one day be that piece. Now that you are in LA and are working with live orchestras, you are very close to the whole film world. I wonder if that means we can expect to hear your stuff in other media soon. If movies, television, etc. is a part of your dreams, I'd say go for it! You easily have what it takes.

6) Ahh, good old John Williams. Great composer, and like you, he has a distinct style, but something about his, for me at least, is a bit outdated while still being big and space or futuristic-like. I guess that would make sense, since some of his most famous works are from the 70s, 80s, and 90s and were recorded as such. In the film world, I prefer John Powell and Hans Zimmer, though Williams is common on my Pandora station. I really wish they'd put your stuff on there. And again, we are talking about people that do a lot in films, and one comment on YouTube said that your music reminded that person of Spiderman (of course, some of your bigger fans got offended, suggesting that it is an insult to you to be compared I guess with either a movie they hated or with Danny Elfman, who they must not be fond of either). If you ever started in this field, however, I'd probably watch any movie with your name in the credits. I wonder, since these are the guys you look up to, if it would be like a dream come true to meet them if you haven't already.

7) I have heard this advice from so many people and that is why I have decided to do the opposite. It's the ones that keep going after too many rejections to handle that eventually find their place in the industry. I'm going to further my musical education and meet people and work hard at what I love until they have no choice but to let me do it professionally. And I'm definitely going to research Unreal, FMOD, and Wwise, since I'm guessing they have to do with the non-musical aspects of sound. I've wanted lately to be more encouraging to people because I have seen the effects that positive encouragement has. It was an absolute honor to interview you, and I will leave you with one last piece of encouragement. You have a lot of fans out there that love you. Whenever you feel like it is not worth it, simply look at all of the comments on your music on YouTube, listen to the fan music made because of you (there is a guy on YouTube that pops up when you type "Grant Kirkhope" who recreates a lot of your songs live), or even shoot me an email. Thanks again, Grant! Your music has inspired a generation. For more of Grant's music and history, check out his website at www.grantkirkhope.com.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Exciting Time of Year

Ahh, yes. The school season is back, and I have decided to enroll at the Academy of Art University to further deepen my knowledge of music and create new friendships in the music industry. It is quite exciting to think about all of the things one can accomplish by taking the risk of following his or her dreams.

Also, I am EXTREMELY excited for one of our upcoming interviews, which happens to be with one of my favorite composers of all time. I'll leave it a surprise for now!

In the meantime, please enjoy one of my recent compositions, which was inspired by the musical themes of Mario RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics, Zelda, and the Super Mario Galaxy Orchestra.

Remember, never give up on what you love, and if you have any songs of your own that you would like to share with other musicians, please send me a submission for review.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

David Garlitz: Carefree Love Song/Great Jazz Guitarist

"I Wanna Eat You Up" x Dave Garlitz from Boat Safety Films on Vimeo.

David Garlitz is an American singer/songwriter that lives in Paris, France. He came across the site early last week and sent me his new video, "I wanna eat you up." At first, I thought the song was for the child in the video, who I assume to be his daughter. However, this is not true. It was originally made for his wife. I love the fact that David uses a classical guitar, as that is the only type of acoustic guitar I own and use in many of my songs. Also, he only uses the guitar throughout the whole song, which can be difficult. So many people dress their songs up with unnecessary instruments, others find cool unique bits of flavor, and still some (like me), can't resist percussion of some sort! Still, David did a great job with his take on a silly love song, and he couples the music with some videography. "I wanna eat you up" is a part of a three-song EP that he is realeasing this fall on iTunes and at davidgarlitz.bandcamp.com. If you would like to read more about David, you can find information on his website, davidgarlitz.com. His film-maker, Giga Shane, can be reached at boatsafetyfilms.com. Finally, David's band, Calamity Jeanne, has demos you can listen to on their website, calamityjeanne.com. I interviewed David, and here is what he had to say:

1) Your song is called "I wanna eat you up." Where did you get the inspiration for that name?

Well, the song is really a love song for my wife, Cécile. I can't remember how the line "I wanna eat you up" came to mind - it's a common enough phrase - but I thought it would make a funny hook for a love song. I had a little notebook where I started writing down rhymes for the word "up," and when I came up with "on your fingertips I would gladly sup," I knew I was onto something! 

2) I heard that you are an American songwriter, but live in France. What made you choose Paris as your new home?

Well, I met my wife, who is French, while we were both in grad school. She was having such a great time spending a year in the States, traveling around and learning about the language, history, and culture, that it made me want to do the same thing! So the following year I applied for a job as a teaching assistant in the Paris  school system, and I went over thinking that I would just spend a year and check things out. Now it's been seven years! 

3) Who are your musical influences?

When I was a kid we listened to all kinds of music at home. My parents loved the Beatles, of course, and also Paul Simon and James Taylor, but my dad also had a pretty eclectic record collection : Ahmad Jamal, Keith Jarret, Claude Bolling, Olivier Messaien, Gavin Bryars, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits... and on and on! Also, my mother was a Spanish teacher, so she often put on flamenco and salsa at parties. Then in high school some friends took me to see Phish, and I became a pretty big phish-head for a while. I found out that they were Sun Ra fans, so of course I had to check that stuff out, which led me to some far out avant-garde jazz like late Miles and guitarists like James Blood Ulmer and Derek Bailey. I also got into Marc Ribot, a guitarist that I particularly admire, whose Cubanos Postizos project got me back to Latin music like some of what my mom used to put on. I got really into Cuban music, and I still play professionally in a couple of groups around Paris. In the meantime, though, I've still got this songwriting thing that seems pretty rooted in Simon and Taylor, with maybe a little Cole Porter and Kermit the Frog mixed in...

4) What is your ultimate goal in music?

I have a great time making music and sharing it with others, and whenever I have a paying gig I always feel lucky, like I'm beating the system or something - especially if it's playing my own music! I love playing music festivals and the kinds of gigs where it's outside and people are hanging out on the lawn, etc., so I guess my goal for the immediate future is just to get more of those gigs! 

5) What was it like making a music video?

It was a lot of fun. Giga Shane is an old friend from when we were in school together at Temple University, both studying jazz guitar. We were roommates the year after college, and we share the same sense of humor - when we get together we just sit around and make up jokes and puns all day - so we have a kind of shorthand that made brainstorming and coming up with ideas pretty easy. Giga is a brilliant musician in his own right as well as an amazing film-maker, so he had no problem picking up on all of the intricacies of the music itself - bringing out the little guitar breaks, etc. - and the scenario for the video was all his idea, as well. We were spending a week at the beach with our families and we both have one-year old daughters who are super cute, so we thought "why not work them in?" Giga came up with the whole recipe idea and we were off to the races! He's been running his own film company, Boat Safety Films, for quite some time now, so the production side of things was really tight. He made a shot-list and a schedule starting at 7am, and we shot the whole thing in one day! I think my favorite part was the shower scene - I had to over-exaggerate my articulation so that you could see it through the shower glass, which was a fun challenge! 

My thoughts on the interview:

Indeed, that sup line was great. Reverse grammar... reminds me of my college days where I studied various Latin languages, including some French.

Wow, seven years in France. I agree, studying cultures other than your own is always a thrilling experience. But I see you got a little bit of new culture growing up. Spanish was the main language I studied in school; however, I don't have any plans to teach it haha.

Playing for people always beats playing alone, huh? I'm doing an MFA in composing, production music, and sound design, but I don't think I could ever cut the live scene out of my life either. Being around other people is simply exhilarating. 

Yes, your friend Giga is a great videographer. I finally had time to watch the last minute of the video, and I'm guessing that was him fighting the air for the last few seconds. Funny stuff.

Thanks again David for interviewing, and good luck with your career as a musician!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back at 'Em/Do What You Love

I have some great news for everyone that loves original music created by new or struggling musicians. I'm back! Yes, after six long months of being otherwise occupied, the fans have not let us down. I continue to see new hits every day and am rising in the ranks on Google.

A couple of months ago, I decided to enroll in school for this fall and get my master's in music production, since I pretty much wasted my bachelor's degree on doing what "seemed smart." This can probably not be stressed enough. Do what you love, not what seems smart. Put in the hard work, and eventually, it will be worth it. For me, that is meeting new people within the industry and filling in the gaps where I lack musically. One of my old bosses used to say "It's only work if you'd rather be doing something else. If you find yourself working too much, change what you do." Hence, the decision to use school as a tool to enter the industry.

Maybe you just enjoy music, but it is not your passion. Doesn't matter. Another man I met over the summer at a music conference in Georgia said we were all made to do something. The very thing you are thinking of now and can't get out of your mind-the thing that you would do if money, time, education, and other "excuses" were not in the way-that is the thing you should aspire to do.

I apologize for being away a little longer than I had hoped, but new and original music will soon hit the site. For now, please enjoy my latest composition: