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What we learned at High Score 22

Tip Published Monday 10 October 2022

We learned heaps at High Score 22 and have collated but a few of the top tips.

All ticket buyers: it's available to watch on demand until 4 November. You can still buy a ticket to watch.

Thanks to all you came along in-person and online.

Here's our super condensed version of High Score: Composition and Sound Art for Gaming from licensing and contracts to feedback, phrasing and so much more.

1. "It's so important to advocate for yourself."

Keynote speaker Josie Brechner shared her professional and creative journey over the last dozen or so years. It's important to keep in mind that building a sustainable career takes time. There are ups and downs along the way. You might not know what to charge. You might be treated unfairly. You might doubt your craft.

So, what should you come back to along your journey?

"It's so important to advocate for yourself," was at the heart of the talk about crafting audio with heart. Josie asked the audience to ask themselves:

"What do I want out of today, out of this weekend, what do I want as a composer working in this industry?"

See the slide for Josie's answers to their own question -- and carry some of those along on our own journey.

2. Music library tips from the experts

"How does synch music work for composers using synch libraries?" was a question for the panel on Licence to Game with our very own Oscar Selden, Arts Law's Roxanne Lenz and EA's Lori Cromwell-Charron.

Lori said, "We use a lot of music, a lot of existing music. Libraries offer that service to us."

She shared a super important tip if you are looking to place your music or have someone pitch it on your behalf:

"The main thing you need to have is that you understand the rights that you have to your own songs. That samples are cleared.

"If there are any sort of hiccups that might happen, you need to have that squared away before you even come to us. That’s the sort of things that can end up getting a song cut from our soundtracks…we have very tight deadlines and need to make sure have everything squared away."

Oscar added, "With libraries make sure you are very aware of what rights you are assigning to that library when you provide your music to them. Make sure you understand the rights that you control yourself. When you become an APRA member and you register your works that’s an exclusive right you assign to us to go out and license on your behalf…when a library says something is ‘royalty-free’ they have no right to tell you that, really. I think it’s important to know that your work has value beyond that initial sync."

Roxanne's golden advice: “If you get offered any sort of deal, you must get legal advice.” Remember, you can reach out to Arts Law for free or low cost services. Keep an eye out for their regular phone chat bookings for APRA AMCOS members.

3. How to make virtual instruments sound more real

Composer and opera singer Hew Wagner's tip on his chosen topic: "Give your passage some phrasing. Orchestra musicians don’t just stop but decrescendo."

For example, where there is one wave in a longer passage of music, you can add in a second.

“Ok so this is a big call, but if you remember one thing from this entire weekend: phrasing. Please consider it in every piece of music you make from now until forever!”

4. How to be good

"Good writing and good orchestration is the first pillar of making things sound good - whether you have a live orchestra or an in-the-box orchestra. Really focus on the craft, and then think about the next logical step to make work sound its best," games and film/TV composer Angela Little told the audience at the Learnings from My First Year in Game Audio panel. She wasn't the only one to echo the sentiment.

5. Feedback on your feedback

Composer Tamara Weaver shared tips on giving assertive and positive feedback - something she has done as an instructor, collaborator and mentor.

"Don’t just say something is great. Say why it is great. eg, 'I thought this was great because the way that you doubled the piano in the octave with the guitar gave me a sense of euphoria...or it really brought out the texture here.'”

Give feedback in a positive and concise way.

"So if they are going down a path that wasn’t conducive to the project, I could say ‘How about you try it this way? Here is an example of that.’ “

And remember: “We are always learning, we don’t in fact know everything."

6. Cult of the Lamb: how to make music for a #1 Nintendo Switch game

Massive Monster's Julian Wilton and composer Narayana Johnson (River Boy) shared their story on creating the sound and music for their hit game Cult of the Lamb. And then three nights later they proceeded to win Best Game and Excellence In Music (and more!) at the Australian Game Developer Awards (AGDA).

How they started:

  1. Give a brief – Define the tone, look at inspirations
  2. Explore & Iterate
  3. Let River Boy do his thing

"Bring on the Willow Beats, bring on the River Boy, bring in those nature songs, those beats and make it really unique,” said Julian, who was a fan of Narayana's bands and solo work before connecting to make Cult of the Lamb.

Narayana explained his approach, "At the very beginning phases was when most of the feedback would come in and I was sending in all these tracks. I was trying to narrow down what everyone was looking for. And then when I figured out what was working and wasn’t, it was easier and easier.”

7. How to build your portfolio and get that first job

It's an age old question - how to get a job that requires experience when you can't get experience...because you don't have experience.

Composers Hew Wagner and Neha Patel both joined in on game jams to get examples of work.

"It's great to do something where everyone is working to get something done. And then it's done and it's released, you know what I mean?" said Hew.

The structure of the online game jams he participated in - whether a week or a weekend - meant he had something completed and a work sample that he could post on his website.

Pre-COVID, Neha participated in a lot of in-person game jams at Montreal's gaming hub. "I think what helped me the most was when I had no portfolio I could say 'Here is something, it's really ugly, the mix is bad, but it's in a moving game.' It's an actual, original IP type of thing."

How'd they get that first gig? Neha connected in person at the gaming hub and through Twitter. Hew got onto Discord and asked who was looking for a composer.

This leads us to our next tip...

8. Submit your Expression of Interest to High Score Co-op!

This program is for audio creators (composers, songwriters and sound designers) wanting to break into games, or still emerging in the field.

High Score: Co-op will take place online via Discord over two days, where participants will work together under an experienced mentor, allowing them to create dynamic music for locally developed games.

We have two intakes in 2023: February 16 & 17 and April 13 & 14. A single application will put you in consideration for both opportunities.

9. You can re-think what a game is and what audio means to it

Big Sand's Sally Coleman headed to High Score for the first time (thanks to our partnership with Australia Council) and she was "Inspired by seeing all the cool, creative things other people were doing with audio."

In particular the audio-only game Sounds, Hidden to be Found. Composer Allison Walker and developer Rebecca Dilella gave a talk on how they created the award-winning game.

"It made me totally re-think what a game could be. What if a podcast was a game, what if an audio book was a game, what if a song was a game?"

Lots to think about about until next year!

High Score SongHubs is presented by APRA AMCOS, in partnership with the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, as part of Melbourne International Games Week.

Video produced by Jam Nawaz @jamatar
Music by KWASI x ESTWARD (previous Co-op participants)