Recently I had the pleasure of working with Chris Ware on doing the music and sound design for two games and a TVC. As we performed these projects at the same time we decided to sit down and have a conversation about the processes that we went through and challenges faced. This is the first of three blogs from this conversation.
Chris: Our first project was meant to be a collaboration between Ash, Johan and myself. The concept for a 3 track EP with the thematic idea of blending 90's rock sounds with futuristic thematics i.e. the matrix..
Ash: Well it was actually 90's culture. Matrix, Kurt Cobain and Y2K.
C: But these were Johan's concepts. I'm a drummer, Ash's a guitarist and Johan plays synth and was going to do the vox as well. We explored the idea quite a bit in the first couple of weeks of the second half of this tri but due to Johan having extrernal pressures and things going on (in his personal life) he had to drop out of the group. Ash and I decided that it was his (Johan's) idea and him pushing the concept, we felt that we wouldn't be able to continue without his input.
We did toy with the idea of continuing on with a musical project with the two of us. Ash had already mapped out a rough song structure after Johan had left the group and we even went as far with this idea to pitch it and tracked for a whole day only to decide we weren't happy with the track.
A: The idea behind this song was that it meant we had a project to do and also left room to maybe take on a games project. We had chosen "Pushing me away" by Linkin Park as our reference track. We were going for a mid 2000's rock sound.
C: We tried to work around having limited equipment. We had a jam session where I played the in house kit in the studio but the sound of that kit wasn't going to cut it. We could have borrowed a kit, but I wouldn't have the time to practice on it. So I decided to use programmed drums.
A: I had a similar issue with equipment as I only own acoustics guitars, so I thought of borrowing guitars and amps from some friends, who joined us in the recording session to help us with getting the right sound as they know their equipment best.
C: We chose to track the song in the Neve studio as it has a nice big live room with a great sound and the desk has great preamps. Plus anything Neve has a great reputation for its sound.
A: In terms of tracking the bass and guitar we decided to just DI the bass. We had done this previously with the same bass and amp and were happy with the sound. For the guitar we took a few avenues at the same time. We decided on using an SM57 and MD421 on the speaker cone. Both sitting towards the edge of the cone for a warmer tone. We had used the 421 on electric guitar previously and liked the sound. We tried the SM57 as well because we had been in a session with Adrian Carroll tracking similar guitar, where his mic of choice was the 57.
C: We also DI'd the guitar before the amp to give the option of running the guitar through a virtual amp if the amp we had didn't have the sound we were after.
A: During the actual session I was feeling like I was coming down with a cold and din't really feel on my game. My playing wasn't terrible but we just couldn't quite get the sound we were after.
C: I was listening in the control room and I agreed that something wasn't right. We tried tweaking the amp settings but nothing quite fit. We decided that we would have to keep the performance and Ash would run the DI through his virtual amp the next day.
A: So we moved on to the bass. The sound of the bass was really easy to get right but I was stuck on what to write for it.
C: Xavier, who owns the bass, offered to try out writing something for us. He did come up with a nice riff for the verses but wasn't comfortable with the bridge.
A: At this point I felt a bit more comfortable and jumped back on the bass. Xavier was happy for me to use his bass riff and I quickly wrote and recorded some riffs for the rest of the song. Honestly I still wasn't happy with the performance though.
C: We decided to call the session a day and we could assess what we had recorded and improve on it another day. But the next day after Ash tried the DI guitar through his virtual amp he contacted me to say it wasn't working.
A: Yeah, it just wasn't sounding clean. I realised there was an issue with the actual guitar we used. Probably the intonation while all along wee thought it was the amp.
C: So at this point we both had the idea that maybe this song wasn't worth the effort. It didn't feel like it had enough direction to make it work plus we really wanted to work with another discipline.
A: Well a big thing was the interdisciplinary part of it and our initial idea was design or maybe we could do something to animation. Obviously animation has not been involved heavily in audio. As we found out they work mainly with games because games need heaps of animators. Also design had no interest at all in our original idea.
C: That's right, we pitched to them with Johan.
A: Yes and no one was keen at all. So that was a problem, Inter-discipline was a big thing for us to check off.
C: Definitely, we both only ticked of half? Less than half of the LO (learning outcome) in our first project.
A: Mine was 10%.
C:But not only that, it didn't feel even if we did continue on in that musical project involving others wouldn't, to me, have felt as involving. I don't believe we had a conversation about it. We immediately had the same sentiments towards it that it was going to be a second thought. We would get them involved, they do what they need to do to get their learning outcomes done, we get ours ticked off. We didn't really explore that one.
A: Yeah, which isn't a good way to go about it.
C: Yes but in that mess we both decided that moving on to a game project would be amazing.
A: It's a shame to have to let go of a project completely, but I think wee made the right decision.
C: Definitely. That was real learning curve for us. Rather than always trying to force something to work, we need to know when things aren't working and move on.