As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a background as a Jazz guitarist. Getting good at playing jazz requires a lot of discipline, detailed practice regiments and lots of playing the same thing over and over and over and over… I would spent hours playing the same scales and arpeggios and then finally fitting them into a solo. Hours playing the same chords, improvising over the same chord progressions and so forth.
When I turned over to doing music composition and then finally sound design for video games, I had a really hard time fitting this kind of practice and discipline into it, since so much of what we do is essentially experimentation and not “rules”. The reason I wanted to do this, was because I knew how much this method worked for me in the past.
I spent years trying to figure out how to actually fit this way of practicing into what I do now and I’ve condensed it down into two methods of practicing game audio that works for me; “Project-Based” and “Musician-Based”.
Musician-Based practicing is basically what I described in the beginning, but how do you apply this to game audio?
It’s pretty easy actually, what you do is break things down into very small parts that you can practice. Imagine that you’re learning how to use an EQ for the first time ever. There’s tons of different ways you can use an EQ so where do you start? Well, let’s start by JUST using the low-pass filter.
Now comes the part where you might think I’m crazy, but what you do now is that you apply a low-pass filter to 20, 50 or maybe 100 sounds. Make sure you have a sort of checklist so you can keep track of how many you’ve done it. Then you do the same with at high-pass filter, then a band-pass etc. etc.
I guarantee you, that after this process you know exactly how they sound and how you apply them. This is the way I learned how to play Jazz and it works just the same way for game audio.
Now, you need a practice regiment. A practice regiment is just a list of things that you practice every day until you feel like you can move on. This should be between 15 minutes to an hour long each day.
I recommend that you have some time in your practice regiment for doing re-designs, preferably just focusing one clip until it’s done. This gives you some freetime to experiment with different sounds and techniques, as long as it fits the clip you’re working on.
A practice regiment could look like this;
- Re-Design of Resident Evil 2 Remake (30 min)
- Learning Massive (15 min)
- Learning Wwise (15 min)
If you want to break them down further it could look like this;
- Re-Design of Resident Evil 2 Remake, focusing on ambience (30 min)
- Make 5 different sounds using exclusively the different filters and one oscillator in Massive (15 min)
- Make 10 different Random Containers and populate them with sounds (15 min)
Lastly, be sure you have some clear goals in mind when doing this. What do you want to get better at, and how much can you break it down into small practice-able (just came up with that!) chunks.
A good idea is to take a specific technique and practice it over and over again until it sticks! It could be a specific blog post of mine that you want to learn from, something from a youtube video, whatever you want. Try as much as possible to have a number that you aim for, like practicing populating random containers 100 times.
Project-Based practicing is how most of us already practice I think. It basically just means that you learn while making a project, but I want you to be a little more deliberate with it.
I like to break what we do into four essential parts, Sound Design, Field Recording, Game Engines & Middleware. So say you wanted to learn FMOD and Unreal Engine, while also really wanting to learn how to make magic sounds, what would be the best way to learn all of those and still have an effective learning experience? Well, you make a project based on all of them.
Make a game, where you have to use magic to accomplish some sort of goal (forcing you to make magic sounds). You have to use Unreal Engine as the game engine (forcing you to learn Unreal). You have to use FMOD as the middleware (forcing you to learn FMOD), and as a cherry on top you want to record all source material yourself (forcing you to get better at field recording).
As you can imagine, this is a long-term project, but if you follow through you’ll have a great portfolio piece by the end of it, and at the very least you would have learning a ton of new stuff!
Summary & Exercises
This might all seem a bit overwhelming and like a big investment of your time, but trust me… just 15 minutes a day of focusing practice on something will get you a long way! I recommend that you stick to 2-4 items if you follow the musician-based approach, but you can of course customize it however you like.
If you follow the project-based one, I would recommend starting very small so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Combine things you know how to do very well, with things you’ve never done before.
You could also combine the two, maybe spending 30 minutes using the musician-based technique and then another 30 minutes using the project-based technique. It’s all up to you!
I only have 2 exercises for you this week!
- Make a Musician-Based practice regiment and use it for 3 days
- Make a Project-Based practice plan and use it for 3 days
Figure out which one you like the most and maybe decide to use it for the rest of your life!
Hope this helped you and see you next week!