How To Evaluate Music When You Aren’t A Musician

Recently Reactuate Games got a new theme song. We think it is awesome, and it was written and produced by Jon Sheppard of Sheppard Studios.

When it comes to any art that goes into your game, there is trepidation. This is compounded when you have no skill in it yourself. This was true of game art because I don’t consider myself a 3D or 2D artist. And I can’t play a musical instrument and don’t know the language of music.

So how do I get music created for my game with the wow factor we’re looking for?

I fell back on the framework I’ve used to get 2D work like logos done in the past. I’ve hired graphic designers before and been happy with the results I got from them. But how do you do a sketch of a song?

Enter Jon Sheppard.

A friend of mine suggested I talk to his close friend about doing music for the game. So I sent him an email and asked for a demo of some of the stuff he’s done in the past.

After listening to that, I arranged a time to get on Skype together.

We talked a little about how the process would work, and I assigned to him a 30 second theme to do as a test. Doing it would tell us if we could work together and let me learn the process for creating and evaluating music.

Jon suggested we describe the feel we were looking for and to give him examples from anywhere of things we liked. Since I know no musical language, I was describing things in non-musical terms.

For example here’s what I sent Jon to describe what I wanted:

Jon:

For a theme for the company, I’m thinking something rock, with guitar and some subtle undertones of 8-bit video game music. It needs to be 30 seconds or so long with shorter versions later.

I’ve created a spotify play list with some songs in it.

https: //open.spotify.com/user/11143008571/playlist/0hot3Pr3bC5Tt92T6uZAkw

Here are some notes on those songs and some other related stuff:

Wanted Dead or Alive from Bon Jovi, specifically I like the guitar at the beginning and end.
This Life – the Theme to Sons of Anarchy – again the guitar at the beginning.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir9-p4yFrOo – nice remix
Short Change Hero – The Heavy Starting about 1:20 into the track on Spotify. This is the theme on Borderlands 2.
Though it can’t take that long to get into the main theme.

Some hard rock.
A driving rhythm like Lonely Boy.
Or really pounding like Living Dead Girl.

As a subtle undertone, that 8-bit synth sound of retro video games. To give the understanding that we are a video game company.

Danger Zone from Top Gun

Hopefully that will give you somewhere to start. Let me know if you need anything else.

 

Jon took this craziness and turn it into a rough draft of a theme:

Version 1

Then we got together again, and I gave him feedback on exactly what parts we liked and didn’t like. We loved the guitar part at the beginning. As soon as we heard it, we were humming it all the time.

But things were rough. The 8-bit synth part was way too strong. The whole second half really seemed like it was going in multiple directions.

After that meeting, Jon went back and started smoothing things out. This is version 2.

Version 2

Now we were getting somewhere. The feedback we gave was very specific.
“The change at 11 seconds is too rough”
“The end at 20 still seems to be going off in another direction”.

Jon said he’d fix those things and get them back to us the next day. That was our final version and what you hear at the beginning of our videos now.

Final

We also had him make short versions 15 and 10 seconds long to use as bumpers and what not.

Now were starting work on music for our trailers that will be coming out this month, and we’ve found a music guy for the game.

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