George Alistair Sanger, Musician

October 12, 2004 — Leave a comment

Let’s start with a nice and easy question, How does someone become a computer games musician?

There are an infinite number of ways, and I’ve only done it once, so I’m not qualified to answer. You have to write your own story.

In my case, it was easy because there were pretty much no musicians interested in getting into that field. It had no respect. It was thought of as if you were writing music for, say, telephones. So the fact that I got employed by agreeing to write a song for a friend at Intellivision has no relevance to today’s business.

Do I need to learn any instruments, if so what?

I suppose you need to be a musician to be a computer games musician. So you have to make art and touch hearts using air vibrations. If that means learning an instrument, I’d say “yes.”

I’ve found that the computer user is thirsty for things that are not plastic-y. So a little guitar or trumpet or kazoo or violin, or any of the instruments that can get out of tune or can slide, allow the computer to sound more human and inviting.

Do I have to know how to read sheet music?

Absolutely not.

When applying for jobs, what should I send to demonstrate my abilities?

Hmmmm. You don’t need to prove your ability to make music. You need to convince the employer that he will like you, and that you will do everything that you say.

_THEN_ he will listen to your music in whatever form you send.

Therefore your best initial contact might just be an email that uses correct punctuation, including capital letters. No extra “z’s.” This will imply to the employer that you are a responsible member of society, and you will stand out from the people who might never have left the house. Send a work history that shows that you don’t change jobs every month. Let them know that you are willing to work hard. Don’t lie _at all_.

What equipment and hardware do you use?

It certainly doesn’t matter, but I’ll tell you because you are curious.

  • A Mac and a PC. My sequencer is MOTU Performer.
  • An old trumpet.
  • An old guitar or two.
    I have one that only has one string, and I use it to make that “I have pulled a hair out of my nose” sound. Brake drums are good for that “brake drum” sound. I’m serious.
  • A big building that can be filled with Grammy-award winning musicians. Feed them before the session.
  • Friends who hang out in the building and have more equipment than me, so that I can borrow their equipment, and they can borrow mine, and we can make each other coffee. That coffee machine is a _must._
  • Microphones that sport a dynamic range of 0 to $5000.
  • Anything Sonic Foundry makes. I am partial to Sound Forge and Acid.
  • A Gigasampler.
  • RNC compressors. These are so cheap and so good that they should get your attention:
  • A Koa limited edition Valvecaster 1960:
  • Insence. I like Sage, Cedar, and Nag Chompka.
  • Your toilets should work perfectly, and there should be lots of toilet paper.

I think that’s about all.

What is an ideal setup for someone wanting to start writing music for games?

Anything that can poop out music that the person likes. So that might be a DXP31313d module with the optional memory expansion keyboard and VBG software. Or it might be a fishing rod and a harmonica.

Then any software that can make MP3’s, and a fast internet connection. That’s _ALL_.

Can you recommend any software that’s relatively cheap to start with?

I don’t know what’s cheap and good. If you can make music you like on the software you have, it’s good. If not, you should whistle and record that.

What do clients typically ask for when using your services, do you have complete artistic license or do they have strict ideas?

Yes, both. It’s quite variable. I prefer the former, but the latter has its benefits. It is very difficult, for instance, when the client doesn’t have anything in mind, and then, after a lot of work, you give them your music, and it somehow doesn’t match what they had pictured. Hmmm. So some direction can be very reassuring. But freedom is a very good thing. Especially when it is given not because of the client’s incompetence or laziness or lack of sense of style and direction, but because of his confidence in your abilities. That can make for a very pleasant experience for everybody.

How long does it take to make a single piece of music for a game?

It varies from zero to infinity. Sometimes it’s nice to pull a number out of thin air. I know that in any circumstance I can make a minute of finished music every day, regardless of how demanding the music is. Sometimes I want to spend more time than that. Sometimes it’s necessary to make thirty minutes in a day.

Or sometimes it’s just _easy_ to make thirty minutes of perfect music. For instance, if the game calls for improvised jazz, you just hire the best players in the world and turn them loose for an hour. I mean, there’s no _way_ to improve on that!!! And you can get an easy thirty minutes.

How did you personally get into the industry?

I was in the right place at the right time.

I’m in a band at high school and play the guitar, could we as a band write music for games?

Yes. You might consider submitting something to my GamePlayMusic project (see my website.)

What do you consider to be an effective piece of in-game music?

One that gets done on time, makes it into the game, and that somebody _really_ likes!!!!!

How do you begin a piece of music, are you ever given visual aids to see how the game looks and plays first?

Yes. Anything from storyboards to a working game to nothing at all.

What game in your opinion uses music to the greatest effect?

There is a scene in Monkey Island III in which the goal of the game is to get the pirates to stop singing. In other words, for a short while, my life got to revolve around getting game music to _stop_.

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