Tag Archives: freelance musicians

Life As A Freelance Musician Part 11: The Secret Art Of Composing Melodies

Melodies are what drive a song, especially in the case of classic video game songs. When you only have 3-4 channels, each note has to count. However, coming up with melodies that are unique and interesting is probably one of the hardest parts of composing. This article talks about some tricks for finding melody that don’t involve classical training or worrying too much about scales and things like that. These methods work great (especially for orchestral music) but since not everyone has that training and we’re focusing on video game music here, these are a few methods I’ve found handy for squeezing the best melody out of an idea.


Repeating Theme With Changing Bass Line

This is pretty much what most pop songs are and it works great for getting started in a video game song too. Come up with a simple melody that’s only a measure or two long. Set your DAWs to just loop it over and over. Then with a keyboard, try different bass notes along with the sample. You’ll quickly notice how the combination of bass note and melody change the feeling of the same notes playing repeatedly. Once you settle on a pattern you like, record (or put down MIDI notes) the bass part and then start modifying your lead to highlight the differences in the bass.


The highlighted section just repeats over and over again while the changing bass line modifies the feeling.
The highlighted section just repeats over and over again while the changing bass line modifies the feeling.

Here’s an example that started with just 13 little notes played over the course of 2 bars. The last two bars feature changes to break up the repetition and highlight the difference in the bass but at the beginning the highlighted notes played over and over with the entire bass line.




What Comes Next In Your Brain?


This is probably my favorite little technique. We listen to so much music that sometimes we sort of subconsciously know what “should” come next. It’s not always the most original thing, but if you are stuck, this trick can help you get back on track. If you have a song done up to a point but can’t seem to decide what should come next, set your DAWs to play it and then go into some empty space. At that moment, think what you expect to hear next. Don’t try to play it on a keyboard or a guitar, just let your brain tell you what comes next.


Arpeggios Lead To Ideas

Remember those 80s keyboards Radio Shack always had(has?) on display that has all those cheesy bosa nova presets where you press one key and it starts making a whole song? Well, this isn’t a bad way to stumble onto interesting chord progressions. I like to use arpeggio setups for this technique. Set up a arpeggio with lots of notes and just move around your keyboard and see where it takes you. Here’s a scratch track from an upcoming game where I built an arpeggio and started moving around the keyboard before settling on this progression that had chord changes I’d never have come up with just playing my keyboard.


Instant Inspiration


The most elusive of them all; sometimes you just get hit with a whole song all at once. This happens to me only about once every 3 projects, but its usually the best song in the whole project. Be ready to record ideas at any time. Most modern smart phones have voice memos. My wife gets a kick out of going through mine and hearing me going ‘duh duh da –daaaaaah’ when you can hear cars or a restaurant in the background, but you have to record when inspiration strikes. Often times, its when you aren’t doing anything that ideas appear. I was going to post one of my ‘da da daa’ tracks and a final version of it to show the difference but its just too embarrassing. I have heard more than one professional, respected songwriter/musician say that they have lost great song ideas because they didn’t have a pen or thought they could remember it later.


Subconscious Composition


I am not one of these people, but I know at least three who say they’re subconscious writes better songs than they do. They literally DREAM songs or have ideas in the moments before they drift off to sleep. Again, being ready to record and forcing yourself awake in these moments is the key. I can’t say this has ever happened to me and it seems like it’d require the most self control not to just fall back to sleep, but whatever works!


Work With Others


Nothing helps you get inspired more than working with other musicians. Have a friend write the melody or a rhythm track. Know someone who plays a rare instrument? Have them record a part. When I used to play in a band when I was younger, a combination of my friend’s ideas plus the “What Comes Next In Your Brain?” method applied by someone else to the same song lead to our group’s most dynamic and interesting songs. Two heads are better than one.


Got any techniques of your own? Any questions? Please share them.


Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.36.44 PMBeatscribe is a full time indie composer, musician and writer. By day he creates soundtracks and sfx for various mobile gaming companies, by night creates megaman-inspired chiptunes, in the afternoons he drinks tea. Check out his latest releases, tutorials and retro ruminations at www.beatscribe.com.

Life As A Freelance Musician Part 10: My Biggest Mistakes as a New Freelancer

Like anything in life, when you look back, you wish you had your current level of knowledge back at the start of a new endeavor. Here’s a few common mistakes that either I’ve made or seen others make when starting a career as a feelancer musician.

Buying Too Much Gear

Sure, we'd all love to have this in our basement, but is it the best use of money when you're just starting out? Do you really need all this to make music?
Sure, we’d all love to have this in our basement, but is it the best use of money when you’re just starting out? Do you really need all this to make music?

Probably the biggest thing I see all over the net is people who become total gear nuts. I hate to write this because I LOVE analog gear, I love battling to get some old synth to work with my system and having wires and knobs all around, but the problem is for many, this becomes too important.

I see folks who have every piece of equipment you could ever imagine and are surrounded by wires and modules. However, you listen to their songs and what’s missing is dedication to their craft or songwriting skills. The things they’re creating with their massive amounts of hardware only sound marginally better than tunes that could be created with more modern software-based methods.

Sure, a hardware oscilloscope looks cool with its little waves appearing as you play your song, but is that really money better spent than good headphones, good monitors or software solutions that do the same thing and then some? If you are just starting out, you might not even have the expertise or knowledge to fully utilize a lot of pro gear. It’d be better to spend your money on lessons or some other appropriate means of learning.

The companies that make gear are always telling you you need more. Remember that you really don’t need a more than a few pieces of hardware and a few programs to make decent music. There’s a level where buying gear and fiddling with it becomes a distraction from actually completing songs and producing something. Here’s a great article to start with from earlier in this series if you’re not sure what the most important things to buy are.

Not Backing Up Data

Now, a lesson from my own bank of failures. This is the most catastrophic thing that has happened to me thus far in my career as a freelancer. I had four large projects going at once, I had been working on them in tandem for about three months, so many things were close to done but not quite there. One day after a very long session, I delivered final drafts and a few completed things to most of these clients. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but the next day, ALL my music was gone. All my project files. I only had a backup from about 5 months earlier on a USB hard drive.

If this had happened ONE DAY earlier, I would have been unable to recover from the loss. I had just completed about 18 hours of work finishing 3 of the 4 projects. I still had to pull an all-nighter and remake the final projects songs for mastering. It could have been so much worse so it made me realize I better backup every day.

I don’t recommend Carbonite, since they exclude WAV files and a lot of others with their free plan. Also, have fun completely removing it from your system. Idrive.com is a much better solution that is simple and automatic just in case catastrophe strikes. Your money is better spent on a backup system than most other things you could buy when starting out.

Taking Criticism Personally

Early on, I lost some jobs and contests I entered. I felt my entry to the contest was the strongest of the many that I heard. The one they picked as a winner confused and disappointed me. I spent a lot of time and I thought their song was boring. Now, almost a year and a half later, when I listen back to mine, I hear glaring mastering and mixing problems. Although I still don’t think the winner’s track was more interesting, it was definitely professionally mixed and mastered whereas mine was a bit more amateur.

You can’t win them all. I still lose jobs. As mentioned before, you can’t always beat someone else’s prices or turn around time. And there is always someone more talented out there. I would imagine that even big-name Hollywood score composers don’t get every job they’d want. Take it with a grain of salt and glean any positive constructive criticism you can.

Worrying Too Much

When I first started, I worried constantly while away from my computer. I thought I might miss an important email or someone else would quote back a client before I could and get the job. I obsessively checked after sending auditions in. You don’t want your emotional state to be all about work in any kind of job. I’ve learned not to sweat it so much. What happens happens.

My articles have been a little inconsistent lately since I’m in the middle of a huge project right now. I’m saving up that melody one for when I have time to make it really good. Stay tuned, I am not disappearing.

Next up:
-The Secret Arts of Coming Up With Melodies
-Beginner’s Guide to Compression


Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.36.44 PMBeatscribe is a full time indie composer, musician and writer. By day he creates soundtracks and sfx for various mobile gaming companies, by night creates megaman-inspired chiptunes, in the afternoons he drinks tea. Check out his latest releases, tutorials and retro ruminations at www.beatscribe.com.

Music Stuff: The Sounds

So, you now have an all the gear you need, and a good DAWS installed. The next thing you need is to load it up with quality plugins to produce sound. Most DAWS come with some decent synthesizers, sample collections and loops, but you’ll probably find out pretty quick that you want to move beyond the generic sounds that come with it.


There are a myriad of different tools for making music, they range from lame to amazing and their prices range from free to thousands of dollars. You totally need to buy them all! Not really…We’re going to look at some of the best plug-ins that are good for starting out and also for doing VGM remixes and Chiptunes of course. We’ll also look at some of the non-music tools that help make your sound more professional.


Troll Disclaimer: This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, and all prices are just estimates of current pricing at the time of writing.


Basically, it works like this; these plugins attach to your DAWS, you assign them to a track and start laying down MIDI notes on your MIDI keyboard or by putting the notes in the piano roll. The system plays these notes through its synths or triggers the proper sample.


Chiptune Sounds

If you’re not going the hardware route and want to add some retro sounds to your songs, here’s a few great options that are somewhat affordable:

Plogue Chipsounds ($95.00 – Limited Free Demo)

Chipsounds is a really awesome plug-in that emulates the NES, Gameboy DMG, Atari SID and a bunch of other classic chips, some of which you may never have even heard of. It’s well worth the price and it’s clear that Plogue is dedicated to being as true to the original chip’s parameters and sounds as possible.

YMCK’s Magical 8bit (Free!)

This tool provides the primitive waveforms needed to create some basic 8-bit sounds. It’s not as confusing and complicated as Plogue, but does take a bit more work to create a real distinct sound of a specific chip.

VOPM (Free)

This VST might not be compatible with every DAWS but it’s a truly amazing way to get the FM Synthesis sound of the Sega Genesis. See this related article for all the details.


Bass And Synths


Bass is a key component to any song, and if you’re looking for powerful sounds, you’ll probably want to go further than your packaged bass synth that came with your DAWS. Here’s a few great options.

TAL Free Plugins (Free!)

These guys have all sorts of basic retro synths that mimic the famous TB-303 and other classic synth basses. It’s great for remixes and getting that retro sound.

Native Instruments’ Massive ($200 – Limited Free Demo)

Massive is best known for creating dubstep sounds. It’s powerful and flexible and can produce some nice pads as well. It’s worth trying out since the free demo works (even lets you bounce tracks, so really you don’t need to buy it) for 30 minutes sessions. It’s worth purchasing for almost any type of music.

Native Instruments’ Kontakt ($199.50 currently on sale!)

As you can see, NI makes it on the list a lot. I am dying to know why this tool costs 50 cents more than their other tools. The powerful Kontakt has loads of samples and modular synth interfaces that let you create modern sounds and classic bleeps and bloops. It also has exotic instruments and tons of third-party add-ons available.

Orchestral Sounds ($300+)

If you want to get into orchestral music, Final Fantasy-type stuff you can’t go wrong with Vienna Instruments or EastWest Quantum Leap’s systems. Beware though, you’re going to be dropping a pretty penny. I suggest starting the longly-titled EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Silver, it’s a well-rounded collection to get you started for minimal spending. Make sure you check the requirements of hard drive and memory usage since these bad boys are huge.


Creating drums can be challenging but fun. There’s a myriad of free sample collections, which you can load into you’re the sampler that comes with your DAWS. Here’s a few really great programs if you do want to drop some cash on some killer beats and rhythm elements.

Native Instruments’ Battery ($199)

Battery is a full-featured sampler that comes with lots of great beats and has tons of available expansion pack drum kits you can add too. You really get your moneys worth on this one.

FXPansion’s BFD2 ($99-$199)

BFD2 has some killer acoustic drum sounds that sound natural and full. The affordable BFD2 ECO is a great place to start for some acoustic sounds.

East West Quantum Leap’s Ministry of Rock 2 ($299)

If you want thundering heavy metal drums, you can’t be ministry of rock. It also comes with some amazing guitars and bass guitar sample-based programs as well.


If you can only buy one thing on this list, I suggest you look at this section. Most of the DAWS come with basic mastering tools, but you really can’t beat oZone for its all-in-one professional interface.

iZotope Ozone ($199)

This mastering plug-in contains equalizers, multipressors (we’ll learn about these later), stereo controls, harmonic exciters and maximizers to help you get a loud, professional mix. It also does technical stuff like dithering to make sure you’re really producing a quality mix and final file.


Mailing Lists

Chances are, you can’t buy all this stuff right away and you will probably make more purchases over time. Therefore, it’s a great idea to sign up to the mailing lists of many of the companies that produce these tools. This not only makes you privy to new tools that come available but you can also take advantage of holiday sales, limited time offers and other deals. I’d estimate I’ve saved about $500 this year alone by buying things during sales, using customer loyalty discounts for repeated purchases and basically just being a smart shopper. Here’s a few companies whose mailing lists you’ll want to join:


Sweetwater – They sell lots of gear and software and have regular sales.

Native Instruments – The makers of Massive, they’re always putting out new stuff too.

iZotope – Makers of Ozone, they have lots of great EQ, distortion and other effect plugins.

FXPansion Audio UK – Makers of BFD and tons of other great tools.

Next week, we’ll return to life as a freelance musician with a ‘day in the life’ perspective of what it’s like scraping out a living by making a lot of noise in your living room. Stay tuned.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.36.44 PMBeatscribe is a full time indie composer, musician and writer. By day he creates soundtracks and sfx for various mobile gaming companies, by night creates megaman-inspired chiptunes, in the afternoons he drinks tea. Check out his latest releases, tutorials and retro ruminations at www.beatscribe.com.

Life as A Freelance Video Game Musician: Part 2: The Gear

Cutman's home studio setup.
Cutman’s home studio setup.

The HQ of any indie musician is is home studio. There are a myriad of options as far as monitors, computers, keyboards, headphones, mics and other equipment that you might need or want. However, most indie musicians have a limited budget for starting off. Today we’ll look at the bare minimum equipment you’d need to start making some quality tunes.

If posisble, it’s best to decide on what digital audio workstation you’ll use before purchasing any of these items since it will influence what kind of computer you need and what kind of software instruments you might want to purchase. Check out our previous article here on that subject.

As always, these are just suggestions based on a few independant musicians, myself and Cutman’s experience and input. There are always other options out there, but we’re focusing on how to get the most for your money.

In this article, we’ll look at some handy suggestions for your computer, MIDI controller, Monitors and Headphones. Are prices are rough estimations of average prices at the time of writing this, so make sure you shop around!



Beatscribe's Mac-based home setup.
Beatscribe’s Mac-based home setup.

The heart of your your home studio is the computer. I’m not going to go into TONS of detail on this, it could be its own article. We’d recommend you get the most powerful computer you can afford. Few things are as intensive as audio processing on a computer. If you can get a SSD hard drive, this helps immensely in speeding up load times and giving you better latency, but it really isn’t needed to produce music.

Most DAWS systems work with dual monitors and most studio buffs will tell you they can’t live without two big flatscreens. Additionally, you’ll want a computer that has a good cooling system, ample storage space and all the normal things like antivirus protection and surge protectors.




Mac or PC?

The decision to get a Mac or a PC mostly depends on your choice of DAWS since not all are available on the Mac platform. If you do go with Mac, you will be closing the door on a lot of VSTi/VST technology that doesn’t play nice on a Mac. This includes useful chiptune tools like the VOPM vst for doing FM synthesis (Sega Genesis) sounds. I have an old laptop with Cubase on it just for the rare occasion I simply MUST use a VST. The bottom line is you’ll probably get more for your money from PC than with MAC.

MIDI Controllers

A MIDI Controller keyboard is not a necessity but it does make composing super easy and actually give you something tangible to “play” on. You could build everything in a tracker or your DAWS but having a keyboard is great for getting into the live vibe of making music even when sitting at home and composing on a laptop.

MPK Mini ($100)
APC40 ($400)
Edirol PCR series ($50)
MIDI Fighter ($300)
M-Audio Ozone ($150)

Production Headphones

Good headphones are perhaps the most essential component of making quality music. You have to be able to hear what’s really going on in your tracks. Richard D. James, who has more rare gear than many other musicians combined, once said in an interview, “All you really need to make electronic music these days is a laptop and a good pair of headphones”. If you can’t afford anything but a computer and headphones, make sure you get one of these great pairs.

Sony MDR-7502 ($50)
Klipsch Image S4 ($80)
Sony MDR-7506 ($100)
Beyerdynamic DT 770  – Cutman’s Favorite ($229)

Monitors (Speakers)

Monitors are essential to understanding what your song “really” sounds like. Home sound system speakers, PC speakers, car stereos and headphones all tweak the raw signal with extra bass and sometimes highs. This means that if you mix your songs relying on one of these systems, you may be over- or under-compensating for what the speakers do. Monitors produce unaffected audio that helps you know what your song actually sounds like in its most raw format.

Take the time to read up on positioning monitors correctly and how the room size and wall material effects the sound you hear. At first, you might not notice much difference by these elements, but they will have an impact on your final product.

M-audio AV40s ($150)
Yamaha HS-50s ($130)


If you plan to record acoustic instruments or perform live or sing, you’ll need a mic. The SM58 is a standard but decent quality mic for starting out. If you plan on tracking lots of live instruments, you might want to get a digital audio interface as well, but we’ll get into this in a future article too.

SM58 ($100)

Now that you have your home studio built, you need to look at getting the right plugins for creating some awesome tunes, third-party programs for mastering and mixing, and a few other useful bits. We’ll take a look at this next time. As these posts continue, they’ll alternate between talking about the gear and technical topics and talking about the business and lifestyle side of things.


Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.36.44 PMBeatscribe is a full time indie composer, musician and writer. By day he creates soundtracks and sfx for various mobile gaming companies, by night creates megaman-inspired chiptunes, in the afternoons he drinks tea. Check out his latest releases, tutorials and retro ruminations at www.beatscribe.com.