What is your current job role? Can you describe it in a few sentences?
I compose and produce music, as well as design sound effects for video games, animation, TV and film. This involves both sound and music for in-game use (during which the player is playing the game), as well as writing music or designing sound to picture or animation.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The fact that I get to write music and design sounds all day! Though it is a real job that requires a lot of time, dedication and effort, I enjoy all aspects of it most of the time and it continues to challenge me. Next to that, it is wonderful to work with creatives in other disciplines of game/TV/film development.
What are the most important skills and attributes for a person in your job?
A feeling for and affinity with sound and music; the ability to write a catchy theme, and music that has a beginning, middle and end. A good working knowledge of computers, sequencers, sound editing software and plug-ins, and how to maintain them.
What are the top three things that you suggest anyone wanting to do your job learns?
Do a lot of research; listen to how music ebbs and flows with a scene, and what makes it tick; why does it work so well (or doesn’t) and how can you apply that to your own music?
Work on your social skills; contacts are very important in any industry, so don’t just learn how to make them but also how to maintain them. Treat people like people and not like potential jobs.
Get a good understanding of games and technology; have at least a basic knowledge of things like Unity, Unreal, Wwise and Fmod. You don’t need to be an expert, as you can learn on the job, but a basic understanding helps and expands your skillset, in turn making you more employable.
What inspired you to get into the VFX/ animation/ games industry?
I came from the Atari demoscene and was fascinated by games, and later film. I loved the creative process behind them and just wanted to be involved; this started by working on some small, unknown games and I later graduated to bigger projects by starting work at the Bitmap Brothers in London. That fascination and interest has never stopped.
Did you pursue this career through any educational routes?
Somewhat; living in the Netherlands at the time (the early 90’s) there wasn’t a games industry there, let alone any kind of video game education. So I did one year of studying ‘Sonology’ (a sort of Science of Sound’) at the Royal Conservatory, and after that started studying Music Technology, but left after 6 months to pursue a career in games.
What kind of private study did you undertake in addition to any educational programs?
I pretty much learned on the job; but I did spent a lot of time learning particular pieces of software or techniques by myself in my spare time. I also forced myself to learn certain things by taking on small jobs on the side, such as sampling and sample programming / editing for other composers.
How did you start in the industry – what was your first job and how did you get it?
My first job was writing music for Philips CDi games and productions; an ill-fated rival to the emerging CD-ROM standard at the time. There were a few companies in Holland making these and a friend from the Atari Demoscene was working for one of them; they had a game that needed music and sound effects and that was my first professional job.
I did it in my brother’s home studio whilst he was away on holiday, and used the money to buy my first pieces of studio equipment; an Akai S2800 sampler, a Roland JV-1080, a Mackie mixer and a Korg Wavestation. It cost a fortune and these days the average £250 plug-in has more power than all those pieces of kit combined.
I had a portfolio of photo real images, and some dinosaurs, so it was enough for Framestore to take the leap of faith and hire me.
What was the biggest thing you immediately had to learn in your first role?
How to come up with a multitude of themes quickly, and how to plan my time, I only had a few weeks to do it and spent a bit too much time on the first few songs, so ended up working through the night on the last few days.
Do you have any skills that make you stand out amongst your peers?
I like to think that I write good, catchy themes and orchestrations, as these are things clients comment on, as well as solid and beefy sound design.
How did you progress in your career – where there any skills that you had to learn to support your progress?
I think especially in games your skillset has to constantly be evolving; the industry changes rapidly with a bunch of new platforms every 3 to 4 years, and especially since the mobile and online industry has become so huge. But that is also part of the draw.
My first major skill upgrade was when I’d suggested to my boss that we should record the main themes of 3 game demos we had in production with a live orchestra (now commonplace, this still was a rarity at the time). I went out on a limb, and was surprised to find my boss agreeing to it. I then had a few months to learn how to orchestrate for a full symphony orchestra, and how to also make mock-ups in midi.
It was a trial by fire, but very much worth it in the end.
In retrospect, was there anything you would have done differently to get into the industry?
No, I think I had a gradual path into the games industry, which gave me plenty of opportunity to mess up before I started working on bigger projects. When it comes to film however, I wish I’d done an apprenticeship with a film composer; I think I would have learned a lot from that.
What are the top three things that you suggest anyone wanting to get into the industry learns?
It’s a marathon, not a race. Give yourself time and experience before gunning for the bigger projects, and appreciate that bigger isn’t always better. Some of the most rewarding and fun jobs I’ve had have been on smaller indie projects.
Your skillset is important, but so are your social skills. Most people want to work with other people they enjoy spending time with, and who they feel will be able to pick things up as they go along.
Though from my own experience education isn’t vital, it can certainly help. There are things I miss from not having completed my education that still hinder me from time to time (my sight reading is pretty terrible). Next to that, many game colleges and universities have excellent work placements, which can kick start you in your chosen industry and allow you to jump that hurdle of ‘how the hell do I get into this industry’