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James Allen reviewed Neocolonialism, and I just thought I’d share his video!


I’ve had the pleasure of working on a comedy film by Michael Mahal, “30 Girls in 30 Days”.

It’s hard to explain the job of “film composer” because every project is different, has different demands, timelines, budget, people, and story. In this case, the film is a comedy.

This film is about a virgin who gets pulled into a bet that he can’t sleep with 30 women in 30 days. The film is full of partying and other shenanigans.

I heavy utilized electric guitar, tenor saxophone, vibraphone, drums to create a sexy, funny, and driving score for the scenes I worked on.

Electric guitar performed by Derek Toa.


Michael Mahal on IMdb


This month I thought it would be beneficial to define this term we hear often in film and video games. What comes to mind when you hear the term “Sound Design”?  It’s a pretty self-explanatory term, I guess, but I’d like to go into detail about what it means from my perspective.

“Sound design” refers to the creative process of making sounds for various media. Consider how “graphic design” is the process of defining and creating the way something  looks to your eyes. Sound design is a similar process which aims to define the way something communicates through your ears.

How often do you experience the work of a Sound Designer? Unless you live in a technology-free commune, or are cast away on a deserted island, than you experience the work of a sound designer every day. If you use an alarm clock, you are experiencing a sound designed specifically for that purpose of “wake up!”. When you get a text message, whichever sound you hear has been designed by somebody to say “give me attention!”. When you turn the keys in your car ignition, most likely, there’s some sound that informs you that “shit is working”. It’s a key component of the modern “experience”.

What are the origins of sound design?  Sound is the medium of spoken language. Without sound we do not have speech. Words are sounds. Speech is a set of sounds that have been designed collectively by people. Some sound/words have been designed to be used by hunters, sounds that do not alert their prey. Other sound/words are designed to frighten enemies. Most early sounds were made by people squirting air through their meat or clapping their meat together.

Flash forward several hundred thousand years and we can talk about the use of sound in games.

The earliest example that I was able to find in my research is a european tabletop game called “Bell Bagatelle”.  In 1871 Montague Redgrave, Chicago-based, released a production run of his game that used a spring-loaded plunger to launch metal balls into a field of pins, holes, and a big shiny bell. The player tried to score points by landing the ball in holes, getting the balls into slots at the bottom, or by hitting the bell. This game is considered by historians to be the first pinball machine (even though the evolution of this type of game can be traced back into the 1500s). There are similar games that predate this one, but they did not use bells. This bell sound meant that the highest score has been made (like hitting a bull’s eye in darts) and became synonymous with winning.

In 1901, Ivan Pavlov began his famous experiment in St. Petersburg where he conditioned dogs to associate the sound of a bell with the act of being given food. I mention this because it marks the beginning of the awareness of sound as a factor for affecting psychology and it scientifically proved the importance of sound design. Pavlov’s research gave us the idea of “classical conditioning”.
In 1933 the first battery-powered pinball machines were developed in the United States and by 1934, these batteries were powering chimes, bells and buzzers. These games became very poplar during the Depression Era.

In 1935 the “tilt” mechanism was invented and incorporated into pinball machines and when triggered would issue a “warning” to the player.


In the 1970’s solid-state electronic pinball machines were introduced. These machines used electronic sounds, as well as electric speech to make the games more exciting to the players.



“Bell Bagatelle – traditional tabletop game” – by Manor Games

Collection of Early Bagatelle games

The History of Pinball Machines


Pinball Before Baffle Ball

“They’re Made Out of Meat”  – Fictional Short Film

The recording process can be done alone, but typical it is a collaborative team process. It is very important to define creative roles while making a recording. This streamlines communication, takes advantage of specialized skill sets, and increases efficiency.

I’m simplifying this, but the main roles I’ll outline here today are “The Producer”, “The Instrumentalist”, and “The Engineer”.

The Producer is the person organizing the people and they are more-or-less in charge of most of the recording session. The producer has their eye on the clock, their mind on the budget, and their ears on the final product.

The Instrumentalist is the person making the sounds. It is not uncommon for the instrumentalist to be the producer, but in the moment of actually performing for the recording, they should be focused completely on that. This means that someone is wearing the producer hat, providing some oversight for both the instrumentalist and the engineer.

The Engineer is responsible for the technical preparation, audio capture, playback, and saving. Often times, people are their own producers and engineers, but again, the engineer does their job best when focused completely on that job. Having a clearly defined producer provide direction to an experienced engineer can turn a good recording into a great recording.

The key to a collaboration in a team environment is trust.

Late last year, I ran into a friend on the street and after a short conversation, they told me they had written a song, and that they wanted me to help them finish it. I’m always open to new projects so I said “yes”.

This song was my first experience making pop music. I learned a lot about the vocal recording process.

I helped write music around en existing set of lyrics. I contributed the chords, melody, synth parts, and voice to this recording. It was recorded at Cyber Sound Studio in Boston, MA.

It is called “Come Back to Me”

“It is astonishing  how long it takes to finish something you’re not working on.”

Timelines serve 3 primary purposes to creatives:

1) Setting Goals/Deadlines and Planning Ahead

2) Creating a basis of Communication/Synchronization with others

3) Weighing your expectations against your actual productivity in retrospect

The first date I like to add when building a timeline is the Last Day. What is day are you expected to turn in a finished work? Will there be last-minute changes? Budget an extra day for that. Do you procrastinate? Budget an extra 2 days for that.

If the project consists of more than 20 minutes of music, your timeline will be spanning a few weeks or even months, so it’s important to break down your time into ‘bite-sized’ chunks (3-7 days). Don’t forget to budget a day or two off for other commitments and “sick” days.

It’s very important to Make Adjustments as you go!!! because if you gain or lose time, it could seriously affect your work flow in the pivotal final days of your timeline.

I hope this inspires you to better manage your time!

People often ask me how long it takes to produce a finished recording of a song or other musical composition.

The answer to this question depends on a few factors. Let’s start with defining some of these variables:

Budget- If there’s money set aside to pay for the production of the music, then things will move quicker. There isn’t a hard line drawn in the sand for where a someone is composing for a living and where someone is composing for fun.  A project with a budget can afford many time-saving expenses. (Hiring performers, recording engineers, contractors, mix engineers, mastering engineers, ect)

In addition to saving time, the quality of a production also goes up with these time-saving options. Furthermore, the producer might be able to afford a new plug-in, sample library, microphone, or piece of hardware that pushes the overall quality of his or her studio to the next level.

For “independent” projects, there usually isn’t an ‘executive’ figure-head enforcing a hard deadline, so a project can remain on the back-burner for weeks, months or even years before a master recording is produced. Inversely, lots of music can be produced relatively quickly by DIY musicians because the pressure of rejection from an executive producer isn’t there to make the artist filter or edit themselves.

Genre- Some genres require many people coming together to make music, others may be accomplished by only one or two people. Electronic techno, for example can generally be produced with fewer people and in less time than a vocal ballad.  A ballad may require strings, acoustic guitar, female vocals, background vocals, drums, bass, keyboard and percussion. If I need to hire a female vocalist, then I need to take a few extra steps including writing out the music/lyrics, delivering a “backing track” to the vocalist to practice, set up my studio, and schedule a time to record the vocals.

Timeline- In the film and TV world, executive producers and directors regularly face extremely demanding deadlines. As a member of the post-production team, the composer assumes these deadlines as well. In extreme cases, thanks to computers and the internet, a complete piece of music can be composed, arranged, recorded, mixed, delivered and dubbed in ONE DAY. These situations are highly stressful and should be avoided because they leave practically no room for error/miscommunication/revision.

As a safe and friendly average, film-makers/executives can count on a professional composer to deliver 3-5 minutes of finished music per week once the demands of a project have been defined, the budget determined and the delivery deadlines put in place. This usually doesn’t happen the first week of talking to the composer (we might already have work on our desks!)

It’s important to note that professionals will know their limits if you just ask them. 

Last month I was recording strings for the Neocolonialism score. The original soundtrack will be available this summer! The soundtrack contains virtual instruments, however, most of the music in the game was recorded with live players. We recorded the score in chunks, and parts of it were recorded to a click to allow for looping/layering during implementation.

Listen here!

I used 6 microphones to record Videri String Quartet in my home studio:

Microphones used:

  • Neuman TLM102 overhead R
  • Neuman TLM102 overhead L
  • 1 Blue Bottle (violin)
  • 1 Audix F15 (violin)
  • 1 CAD M179 (viola) *set to cardioid
  • 1 KSM27 (cello)

The Room

  • 45 degree angle ceilings sloping towards a 24″ vertical wall around the edge.
  • 25′ x 20′ x 8′
  • Carpet and tapestries

Other Hardware

  • Presonus Firestudio Interface- (8 XLR inputs)
  • Macbook Pro
  • Buddha statuette
  • Glyph 1TB external HD
  • Microphone stands (6)
  • XLR cables (6)
  • Music stands (3)
  • AKG Headphones


  • Digital Performer 7
  • Waves plug-ins
  • Omnisphere virtual instrument
  • Vienna Symphonic Library (for the gong in “Layer 3”)
  • Kontakt 4
  • Sibelius notation software

Neocolonialism is a game created by Seth Alter at Subaltern Games. The object of the game is to ‘bank’ as much money as you can in 12 rounds by building mines, factories and buying votes in parliament to control the gameplay.

The original score for the game features the Videri String Quartet.

Check out the game’s Kickstarter page!

This video was produced by Seth Alter and Marley Magner. It was filmed on an iPhone4 and the audio was recorded and produced with a KSM27 microphone and a macbook.

There is nothing more devastating than the loss of a hard drive…. or is there?

You reach a point in your life where you cannot afford to lose you data, whether it is because your business depends on it, or because your personal collection of photos, music, essays, poetry, financial information et. cetera becomes irreplaceable, and therefore, priceless to you.

Computers are made of moving parts that will undoubtedly fail. It is not a question of “what shall I do if my hard drive fails?”, but a question of “When will my hard drive fail?”. When you “save” a file or a project, you are saving onto a disc or “drive” built into your computer. When this drive breaks, the information “saved” on the drive can be lost forever, unless a copy has been made somewhere else. Having your data “backed up” is a preventative step to protect you from the potentially devastating sudden loss of everything on your computer’s hard drive. There are usually not warning signs for a hard drive failure. The easiest thing to do is to back up your data several times per day, in order to prevent more than one day’s productivity being lost when your drive does fail.

Ways to back up your data:

1) Digital Backup- The easiest way to store a digital backup is by purchasing an additional hard drive to be used as a ‘backup drive’. You can either  backup files that are important to you by manually dragging the files into the external hard drive or you can utilize “backup software” such as ChronoSyncTimeMachine (mac only), and CarbonCopy (mac only). Important to note: it is good practice to run your storage drives every now and then, like a car, to keep the moving parts… well… moving.

2) Cloud Backup- This method of data storage uploads your files to a server via an internet connection. This is useful if you are working on more than one computer, or if you need to access information from your smartphone when you’re not at your office or home. You must be careful about putting your private information or unpublished intellectual property on “The Cloud” because you need to protect yourself from cyber-piracy. Always read the “Terms of Use” when using a cloud service. I use the following cloud services for data storage: Dropbox, Google Drive (built into Gmail), and regular email (email yourself important files and you will be able to download them again from the email). There’s also iCloud for Mac users.

3) Optical Backup- You can store your data in an optical medium on DVDs or CDs. DVDs and CDs can last more than 10 years, if stored safely. A small percentage (1-2%) of the discs will fail in that time though. The plastic in the CDs and DVDs will not last forever. This method of storing data is not as cost effective as it used to be compared to the falling cost of Hard Drive and Cloud-based storage.

Any of these methods are valid ways to back up your files. It’s important to find what works for you and to do it everyday!

Remember, your backup drive is just as likely to fail as your primary drive, so always have your files in no less than 3 places at once to ensure that your won’t lose your work, data, music, photos, ect. Be prepared for the worst-case-scenarios (house fire, robbery, flood, ect). Don’t have all 3 back-ups in the same location ie: your house or your backpack.