Practicing Mindfulness

I spend all day in front of computer screens typing. This is not a good thing for my body. What I should do is take regular breaks, take a walk every day, stretch, do yoga, all that stuff. The issue is that I sometimes just enter that zone and dive deep into my work – oblivious of my surroundings and my body.

To combat this “work frenzy” I have started practicing mindfulness and I want to share the first step on this path with you. It’s been working beautifully for me ūüôā

I have a Tibetan bell called Tingsha (A tweet with video) which I used to use to meditate. It’s rather heavy so I don’t want to carry it with me everywhere. What I ended up doing was record a single ringing sound (download links below), put it on my phone and let it remind me – once every hour – that an hour has passed. It reminds me to check my mindset, reset, take a deep breath. I take more breaks now and even though they mostly just last seconds or a couple minutes I have realized there has been a major change in my state of mind.

If I am stressed when the bell goes off I will calm myself. If I am sore I will stretch. It has improved my daily life and my all around happiness so here it is:

I recommend you do the same.

I use the app Hourly Reminder for Android (Play Store, FDroid Store) which allows me to set an interval as well as a range of hours through the day that the sound should happen. You can choose any of your phones ring tones or any sound file (I use this one DOWNLOAD: Dropbox, GDrive). I’m sure you will be able to find something equivalent for your phones operating system.

I hope you find this useful and can use this practice to improve your every day life:)

love

Chris

The DIY / technical mind

“I always been very technically minded.”

That sentence looks slightly weird to me. But it doesn’t have to. It can simply feel true. I have been tinkering and “hacking” systems. With my very first computer that I actually owned myself I would do these experiments. Since I really liked hardware I had put in a request at the store from which my mom bought me the parts I had researched to help me assemble the tower and one of their staffers would come by and check on me every now and then. I would receive little tips about static and grounding myself before working with delicate parts. I could asks questions and they were all answered to my fullest content. I went home proud as a peacock and although being allowed a limited amount of ON the computer I would still spend a lot of time WITH the computer.

For example I would research ways to make it run more quietly and then build a crafty little hard drive suspension out of wood and old bicycle tires. One of my favorite tings to do with my new hardware was to “maintain” it. One way I would do this was that pretty much weekly I would disassemble the machine, vacuum all the fans, and reassemble it again. I felt good about knowing and being confident in handling my hardware. I often times would also install the operating system from scratch (XP back then) and try to optimize the process. One big one was learning about partitioning and keeping certain files wile still being able to completely wipe the OS. I installed the OS so many times that I ran out of activations (I believe with XP that was something like 50). What that is to show is that I strived very much to be literal in this computer environment. I tough myself a lot and asked for help sometimes but I worked hard and kept at it even if things didn’t work out all the time.

After teaching myself how to DJ and having a rather big gig at a party some students at my high school organized I realized I wanted to take my sound ideas into a different direction. A friend of mine pointed out Ableton Live to me and gave me a 20 minute introduction (and it’s Live we are talking about :P) but it gave me some basic starting points to get into exploring this new environment. I would open up the software, click and drag and poke and prod. Sometimes I would spend an hour, sometimes just fifteen minutes. Eventually I would run into something that simply would not work and I would give up and close the application again. And then a day or two, a week or sometimes months would go by and after which I would give it another shot. I would try and try and finally something would stick. I learned the interface, how to make it make a sound, and eventually how to retrieve a file I could share with people. And then I discovered that the Internet had all this figure out already. There were hundreds of tutorials on Abletons feature set, fantastic long form courses that teach the ins and outs and a lot of tutorials that would cover other software, but it still applied. FM synthesis is simply a concept. It exists in a lot of DAWs, plugins and hardware but the underlying principles are the same across the board.

This learning process continued after school at my internship at CPP Studios where I started building towers and I remember thinking “They are paying me to assemble PCs? I love it!”. Over time I started doing sound design, production and VO recording, music editing and eventually composition for all sorts of projects there and my internship turned into a full time position but the learning continued. I studied After Effects, nerded out with the fabulous IT mastermind Frank, and also continued teaching myself getting better at sound. I always say I would spend 40% of my time on the job and 60% of the time how to do my job better. And I got better. Actually way better than I expected to become. I found something I loved and the rabbit hole did not seem to end.

After some time I realized I reached a point where “more EDM production tutorials” would not bring me any closed to where I wanted to go. I was hearing a difference between the presentation of feature films, commercials and my work. I was missing something. And now the lesson I didn’t have the perspective for at the time:

“I didn’t know where to look further.”

What I needed were the right keywords to type into DuckDuckGo (which I had just discovered). I needed a new set of leads to follow up that were less music oriented. There were a couple. The fantastic creativefieldrecording.com blog as well as musicofsound.co.nz but I had not figured out how to go from there. (more resources on my resources post)

I had reached a point where I wanted to do better sound design, and that term is so washed out and means different things to every person saying it that it became really hard to dig deeper. I didn’t mean sound design in therms of sculpting a synthesizer patch. I meant gluing my mix together, making it more believable, a better workflow to do post production. On the one hand I was doing all my sound design for all these “film productions” in Ableton Live, which in hindsight was a mistake. I felt comfortable there and didn’t want to learn new tools. On the other hand it was about mindset of when to do which aspect of the sound work. What needs to be captured on set, what in the studio. How to you build a world – NOT a music track. At this point in life my energy to dig deep was slowly getting lower. I spent more time consuming, less time teaching myself. I realized the trend and started looking for places where I could get access to mentors. I was looking for a place where I could ask questions and then DO stuff. I wanted to get educated and then get back to work. I had already two and a half years of working with performers, clients, colleagues. I wanted to get back to that as soon as possible.

Universities were out of the question. I did not want to spend four, six or even eight years at a campus, doing “university life”. I wanted quick results. There were a couple of options but they mostly catered to the “audio engineer” side of things and I thought I knew enough about that aspect. And then I remembered an interaction years back. When I first started putting creations up on Soundcloud (RIP) someone had approached me, complimented my work, potentially critiqued it and asked a favor. It was something along the lines of “I just submitted an entry to this competition and if you like it can you vote for it please?”. I listened to some entries, decided my contact was really good and better than most entries and voted. My contact won and that was that. Now I remembered that that person had applied at this school for a sound design course and won a scholarship. I reached out to them, stated my desire for knowledge and my current activities and then asked if I should enroll. The short reply was “Yes. Do it.”. I also met with a kinda big mixer in the German feature film scene who a friend of mine put me into contact with. I showed the mixer my work and mentioned the school and when the second person in a row told me to go I knew I had to.

I wrapped up my work at CPP and announced heavyheartedly that I decided to go to Canada to get better at sound design. The entire company (who I am still in love with – more on that some other time) was extremely supportive and helped me prepare for my big adventure. And I was off.

Vancouver Film Shool offered exactly what I was looking for. I knew my sample rates and Decibels, but I received additional information on how and why. We worked primarily in Pro Tools (as alas that is what the film industry defaults to) but this forced me to learn a new tool and take on a different editing mindset. It had so many options and abilities Ableton Live never had and never will have. That is a tool to make and perform music. Pro Tools definitely is not. You can create music in the but I personally never would want to. PT basically is a digital tape machine. And that can be a great thing. I learned how to better layer sounds, use various fade types to great effect, do fader moves on big consoles, and all the details about the film production workflow I could dream of. And I loved it!

And I hated it. So much tedious back and forth and manual conforming and nitty gritty work and all this to get a couple minutes of video sound good. PT has been developed in a era where computers were a new thing and a lot of the opportunities the digital world bring had not been discovered yet. And it shows. It’s a digital tape machine.

A classmate pointed out Reaper to me and I started researching. It is being developed by this small company called Cockos centered around Justin Frankel (the creator of WinAmp) who was frustrated with the options in the digital audio editor market and created his own. Cockos is all about sutainability and creating a deicated community. The company does not advertise their product. You either hear someone mention it or find it by chance somehow. Their product is in a constant state of development. There is a version number and it goes up ALL THE TIME. Every few weeks there is a biggish update bringing more stability and new features. Often these features come from feature requests made by the user base. Sometimes features come out of the blue. Suddenly reaper enables people to write notation, and print sheet sheets. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.

There is something about Reaper that also appeals to me related to the very first sentence in this article. It’s extremely customizable. All the menus (File, View etc) as well as context menus (right clicking on the play button, an audio item, a fader etc) all contain various things called actions. “Create a new project tab” is an action as is “Reverse the selected items” as is “Jump to the next zero crossing in the waveform”. And all the menues and all the shortcuts basically just link to those actions. You want a menu to show something? Add it! You want a keyboard shortcut to mute all tracks? Add it. Another apsect of actions is that you can create your own. You can stack them and combine then to to very cool things like “jump to the start of the selected item and the advance 1.5 seconds, set the fade in with curve type log then jump to the end and fade out over 10 milliseconds and also turn down the item by 6dB”. And now you can add that to a menu or a shortcut or you can use that new action as part of another custom action. This is so extremely flexible it makes repetitive and tedious tasks so easily automatable. Then there is the builtin scripting engine which allows people to create new funtionality and access the lower level workings of the software or to change functionality comletely. Some of the ideas get then later rolled into a builin feature of the DAW itself. This is how I as a user want to be treated. All the power to change things. A large community of people sharing ideas, features, customizations, themes and actions. And a company that does not care about profits but about creating a great tool and fostering engagement.

There is a huge downside to all this. There is so much you can do and the software has as a result had a really easy time adding new and powerful features that it can be really daunting to start exploring Reaper. Especially coming from another DAW where certain workflows or methodologies are more dogmatic it can be hard switching into an environment where anything can work any way.

“You have to decide how you want it to work.”

That’s a big one. It takes a lot of time and effort getting to grips with all this freedom. There is so much customization and if you have done any work in any DAW you have some ideas how things are supposed to work. And the defaults suck. That at least was my experience. If I was teaching sound design or something along those lines I would teach Reaper and I would first teach myself the defaults and see how well they actually work. When I started out I wanted Reaper to work like a hybrid of PT and Live. I spent four months learning about Reaper and studying endless resources (as you can find on my resources post) trying to bend the software to my will. Then I started using Reaper and realized that I had started building my configuration with a lot of assumptions. Some of my ideas didn’t work out as expected and some thing I simply had not thought of at all. I ended up customizing Reaper over and over and the software becoming a welcoming work environment and the best partner a sound designer could ask for. For me. Other people would probably have a really hard time working with what I created. And some didn’t. My colleague Em made the switch from PT to Reaper in less than two weeks with some support from me and some dedicated learning. She wanted to leave the PT world and did so very successfully. Others rely on certain workflows so heavily and Reaper is not a magic bullet. It can do a lot of things you can’t possibly do anywhere else and there is some stuff I know can’t be re-created there.

What this comes down to is that being inquisitive and digging deeper usually requires some keywords to search for, possibly a mentor to ask for advice and a lot of dedication. The first you can get from the second. The third you have to bring yourself. The second is an interesting one. In Germany I didn’t feel like there was community to reach out to to ask for advice. Maybe I didn’t see it. In Vancouver is so blatantly obvious and vibrant you almost can’t miss it. And everyone is sharing their wisdom and helping each other get better. It’s hard to find your way if you don’t even know there is a way and I want to ask you the reader to think about these things:

  • Is there something you want to pursue and you don’t know where to get started? Are there people you admire who seem to hold the keys to your dreams? Take all your courage and reach out. Ask for advice and chances are you will receive. This is different in every industry and culture but you have to give it a shot. If you are shy ask someone close to you to help establish contact.
  • Are you a person who is active in what you are passionate about? Do you have the feeling you kinda know what you are doing? If you do it for work you are already far ahead of so many who want to do the same thing. Reach out to people who seem interested. Offer help where needed. Give critique answer questions. The most important part is to point people the right direction so they can explorer further.

I would not be where I am without people willing to give advice, offer guidance, pointing out directions that might interest me. That classmate of mine who pointed out Reaper to me probably regretted it a little later. I became obsessed and would not shut up about my discoveries. But I am forever grateful to him because he enabled me to foster this need to learn and tinker and explore technical possibilities. I want to enable other people to do the same.

If you have questions or seek guidance please reach out. Everyone starts somewhere. There are no stupid questions. And people who do what they love and don’t want others to succeeded are not the ones you aspire to become. Fook those people.

“Please don’t skip this part”

This is hard to talk about but it is very important to me as I’ve seen the effects myself.

The audio and games industry has turns out to consist of loads and loads of white men. There are other ethnicities and other gendres, sexes and orientations but they are not represented in a fashion that studying the current set of existing living people would suggest. This is NOT because these fields mostly attract white men. This is because we grow up in society that has certain expectations and we are around people who think certain ways and say certain things. Every person alive has bias and you can not simply say that you don’t care. Your bias affects people in real life. Even in subtle ways. I want to suggest that these underrepresented groups are

A) deterred because the game and audio industry is so dominated by white males
B) are not being considered fit for certain roles or at companies based on bias
C) deserve a bit of special attention. There is no room for sexist, racist jokes. There is no room to assume that because of X also Y must be true.

I ask you to be open minded. To accept that you have bias and then try to sense where it lyies and how you can live with it. Is there a way that you can un-bias yourself? Maybe a very subtle low-pass filter for the consciousness? I am convinced you can. These things are learned and indoctrinated and you have no fault for having bias. But if you choose to ignore that fact, if you choose not to accept it and the responsibility that comes with it then you are to blame. On the other hand if you embrace it and decide to be conscious about your bias, to think about how or where it may affect people and you decide to try not act upon your bias but upon facts instead I applaud you. You should be proud and if no one notices then you just have to know that you are trying to be a better person and that’s what counts.

Closing note:

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you found something interesting in here and I hope you can go out and explore something you are passionate about. Please reach out if you found this interesting, you found this disturbing or there were typos:) I hope you have a very fine day ahead!

love

Chris

Some good game audio resources

I speak to people sometimes and last night has been a very active and talkative night. I spent the day doing my audio programming work and had some great successes solving problems I was tinkering with for a couple of days now. At some point I decided that I could not possibly do anything to top the already great workday so I switched gears a bit.

A while ago someone asked me to write an article about audio programming and I’ve been putting it off for a week or so and decided it was time to give it another shot. I sat down in the hammock at the co-working space I work at a couple days a week and started writing. I skipped the intro and ending but got a whole bunch done with screenshots and everything. I’ll share the article here once its done;) Then I wanted to change it up again and I began writing this post. During the whole time I sat in the hammock an art show started getting set up around me (there are quite a few events here).

Update (2017.02.23):
Here is that article I mentioned: An Introduction to Game Audio Scripting (Part 1)

Various people noticed me sitting in the hammock and came over to chat. With some I would talk about politics, leading an ethical life, food or – what I’m most passionate about – my work. Every now and then I run into someone who is really interested in sound design or game audio and wants to know more. I’ve been in the same situation and find a good starting point to dive into a topic can be hard. I was lucky enough to have people who were willing to share their knowledge with me and guide me along the way to a career in game audio. Here I want to share some good resources for people to explore – a little list of things I want to recommend you check out if you are into game audio or sound design in general.

Some basics before we get going: You should have a web presence. A website (with a real top level domain), a twitter account (browse the¬†#gameaudio¬†hashtag and follow people who do interesting stuff) and some business cards. If you are not a total pro at graphic design hire someone to design these for you. Study how other people present themselves and “borrow” the ideas you like. I hired an artist who was recommended by a friend and decided to print my cards on a special paper with a lot of people remarking on the fact. Also participate in game jams like¬†Ludum Dare¬†and¬†Global Game Jam. Are there local meetups (see below / have you tried¬†meetup.com)? Get your face ot the house, meet people, get invested and be consistent. Onward!

Podcasts:

One of the coolest places to lear about various aspects of game audio is the “Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio” podcast by Matthew Marteinsson (Klei Entertainment) and Gordon McGladdery (A Shell In The Pit Audio). Sometimes with guests and sometimes with questions from the twitter-verse Matt and Gordon always put on a good show and bestow us with their game audio wisdom. (DISCLAIMER: I work with Gordon at ASITP now) You can find their podcast at:¬†https://indiegameaudio.podbean.com/

The first sound design podcast I ever discovered was the Tonebenders podcast by Timothy Muirhead and René Coronado. They cover various film and field recording topics and generally sound design. Sometimes they have guest contributions. Every single episode is pure gold! http://tonebenderspodcast.com/

“Level With Emily Reese” is a very inspiring podcast where Emily interviews composers for games and covers various aspects from aesthetic choices, over working with developers and some times technical aspects of how music for games works. Find it at:¬†https://lwer.podbean.com/

A new addition to my podcast subscriptions is Twenty Thousand Hertz about interesting and weird sounds: https://www.20k.org/

The Gameaudio Podcast is an interesting one with a highly irregular schedule , but you can rely on it to be active every year around GDC, the Game Developers Conference held in San Francisco. If you end up being in town at the time there is a whole crowd of audio people gathering every morning of the conference around 7am at the Sightglass café not far from the Moscone Convention Center. Also come to the game audio lunches at the carousel across the road! I believe there will be a game audio micro conference in the sunshine there this year:) The podcast  sometimes has episodes coming out through the year as well. Just put it in you RSS feed already! http://www.gameaudiopodcast.com/

A fairly new addition to the game audio podcasts has been the Sounbytes Podcast by Barney Oram and Derek Brown. You can find their show here: https://thesoundbytespodcast.podbean.com/

There is the weekly Game Audio Hour which you can catch here: http://www.gameaudiohour.com/ Sometimes covering more musical topics but always interesting.

If you have a website, a blog or a demo-reel and you are starting out in game audio, do check out the¬†“Reel Talk” show on twitch by Power Up Audio‘s Kevin Regamey in collaboration with Matthew Marteinsson (the same as mentioned above). They review demo-reels, give constructive feedback on sound designer’s portfolios and generally have valuable things to say about presenting yourself to potential clients:¬†https://www.twitch.tv/powerupaudio

Blogs:

If you want to learn about field-recording, selling sound effects for a living or how professionals capture audio in the wild you don’t have a chance but to study “Creative Field Recording” by Paul Virostek. Incredibly insightful articles, he also sells multiple books on sound recording and the sound effect business and has great overviews over field recording gear for every budget.¬†http://www.creativefieldrecording.com/

I could not make a list of sound design resources without mentioning the “Music of Sound” blog by Newzealand sound designer, field recordist and audio genius Tim Prebble. He runs the “A Hiss and a Roar” sound store, takes amazing photographs and compiles the most fascinating and wonderful parts of the internet in his “Deutrius” posts:¬†http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/

A Sound Effect has a fantastic blog about all things audio as well as a podcast that’s on every now and then. Loads of immensely valuable stuff there as well: https://www.asoundeffect.com/blog/

Related is the Designing sound blog with a whole range of sound resources and articles: http://designingsound.org/

The Sound Works Collection is a great inspiration with amazing behind the scenes looks at big movies and interviews with sound designers and mixers: http://soundworkscollection.com/

(Update 2017.01.29)
Anne-Sophie Mongeau has areally nice bog and in general I think her internet presentation is one of the best for an audio professional I’ve seen so far: https://annesoaudio.com/

Stuff:

A great tool that has helped me do my job as sound designer more effectively has been the REAPER Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW for short). It is a highly customizable sound design and music composition environment at an unbeatable price point with an incredibly caring and sharing community. The software itself can be found at:¬†http://reaper.fm/ There is an unlimited, infinete demo. If you dig it also check out the Unofficial Reaper Blog by Jon Tidey which holds all kinds of miracles:¬†http://reaperblog.net/¬†Then the official site holds a vast library of video tutorials by the amazing Kenny Gioia:¬†http://reaper.fm/videos.php¬†If you are a Pro Tools user you will probably find the quick tips by David Farmer especially interesting:¬†https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLph_cdD_oxjXLrQvbQdp36BEMTfQJ4k8X¬†Oh I also made a tutorial about rendering sounds real fast in Reaper:¬†http://reaperblog.net/2016/06/advanced-game-audio-sfx-render-workflow/ A recent blog that popped up has been Adam Croft‘s adventures into Reaper scripting as he is exploring how to extend Reapers functionality and adding new features via the built-in scripting engine: http://adamtcroft.com/ Then there is Raymonds blog also about Reaper scripting and other things: https://www.extremraym.com/en/

An interesting way to get sharing with the audio community is to join “The Soundcollectors Club” which is about sharing sound effects and expanding your sonic palette at¬†https://thesoundcollectorsclub.com/

Another place to do something similar is https://www.crowdsourcesfx.com/ where you contribute a little part to a huge library and get all of it as well as a share of the royalties from selling it.

If you are looking to get into audio programming specifically I can recommend “The Audio Programming Book” available at MIT Press and “The Pragmatic Programmer” for general good practice and healthy software development mindset. I have other resources and books on my reading list and will update this post as time goes by.

You should look into game audio tools in general such as FMOD, Wwise or Fabric. Pick one and start learning some dynamic audio implementation. There are some tutorials out there like the ones by Dani Kogan.

I really enjoy seeing good talks about the technical details of game audio. Sometime I rember to add them to this playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqrMQvig3uIv9y7R8E-o2e3SCdzYAhD0g

Meetups:

If you are lucky enough to be in the Vancouver / Seattle are come check out our Vancouver Sound Design meetup: https://www.meetup.com/Vancouver-Sound-Designers/ as well as the Full Indie meetup where we have 200+ indie game developers meeting every month with talks and stuff: https://www.meetup.com/Vancouver-Indie-Game-Developers/

Seattle has an amazing community as well. The way to get in touch would be the yahoo email group: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SeattleGameAudioGroup/info

Closing notes:

I spent the whole evening in that hammock talking to people and getting inspired. That is the last thing I want to recommend to upcoming game audio people. Go out and mingle. Show yourself and your passion and get pulled into other peoples interest as well.

If you are keen on updates come follow me on Twitter¬†@chtammik¬†where I often times babble about game audio stuff and games I’m working on. As I mentioned before I work as an audio programmer at¬†A Shell In The Pit. We do all sorts of cool stuff! Other than that there is not much left to say.

Thanks for stopping by and please leave a comment with additional resources I’ve missed or if I spelled your name wrong or something;)

Cheers,

Chris

Update (2017.01.28):

Some kind people have shot me these following links that I want to share here as well:

  • http://www.nicolasfournel.com/
  • https://christianfloisand.wordpress.com/

Update (2017.01.29):

A couple of things I wanted to add were not really related to audio but great places for interesting ideas and inspiration:

Update (2017.02.05)

A really important one is this talk about contracts and how important it is to be clear in business by Mike Monteiro called “F*ck You, Pay Me”:¬†https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=KlKub99rG_4