Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Archive for January, 2011

Hey, it all sounds like video game music!

One of the most common comments I’ve had on music I’ve written in the past has been “Wow, that sounds like it’s right out of a video game!” or “It makes me think of Sonic the Hedgehog for some reason” or some variant thereof. This criticism has been one that I’ve actively tried to avoid (as most people tend to not take video game music seriously or hold it in high esteem), yet since I work in an electronic medium and have little access to real live instruments, it’s something that I’m basically going to have to live with until I can afford high-end sound libraries (I was using some of Nate Drew’s recently, but they all got stolen, so it’s going to be awhile).

In the meantime, I’ve resolved that, if I’m limited by funds and libraries and therefore can only write video game music, I might as well try to make it the best video game music it can be (for purposes of this post, when I refer to video game music I don’t mean the full orchestral scores you get out of Halo or whatever, but the more electronic sounds associated with games like, well, Sonic the Hedgehog). And even in that medium there is much that can be done to elevate music above the mediocre or utilitarian. Consider the following: back in the mid-90’s, there was a DOS game released called Clyde’s Revenge. It was a typical sidescroller of the time and the game itself, while fairly fun, was nothing particularly exciting or groundbreaking. The music was a general MIDI soundtrack done by a guy named Garret Thomson, and a typical track would sound like this:

MV14

It’s kind of funky, but nothing really to write home about. Now compare it to a remix I did in 30 minutes, using the same MIDI file:

Enter the Magnets

Still video game music, still using virtually the same notes even, but the latter is something I’d put on a playlist and listen to on its own, while the former is fairly blah. And it’s that skill I can work on and even market: writing music that can both enhance a game and stand on its own.

In conclusion, I don’t really have a though-provoking or controversial point regarding the state of video game music or my skills as a composer. I just did this remix and liked it, so I wanted to share it. That is all. Enjoy the Magnets!

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Oh, what have I unleashed? (Also, ABC Monsters)

(The above is a picture of the Cruncha from the ABC Monsters album, by Johnathan Whiting. For the music MP3’s, see the bottom of this post.)

Nearly a week ago, I made an infamous blog post. For me, it was just another one of those angsty posts I make on occasion, the kind where I get all my issues out so I can go on living, the kind that this blog used to be entirely comprised of, but in recent years tapered off after Facebook and such allowed people to find the blog more easily. This one was not really different. I’ve been going through some hard times recently, and needed a place to unload. At first I considered making it a private post, or keeping it public but deleting the Facebook notification that pops up due to my RSS feed (which I have done for this follow-up post). However, when enough time passed that the note popped up in Facebook, somebody had already “liked” it and another had made a comment, so I thought, “what the hey, let’s see where the chips fall.”

And fall they have. My most popular posts according to my site stats may still be the one with the picture of Frederic Chopin and Michael Jordan, and the one where Mickey Mouse tries to commit suicide, but this post has generated more feedback among people I actually know than any other post I’ve ever made, even more than the Glenn Beck post where I offended people. It’s probably due to the publicity that the robbery brought, as well as the reposting of it that Nate did on the robbery Facebook page, but for some reason everybody is giving their two cents, both in comments here and on Facebook, and in real life. I’ve never had so many people say to me, in person, “I read your blog post, and (etc.)” before. Frankly, it’s a bit surreal. I haven’t figured out quite how to respond to it all. So I’m going to do my best here, addressing a few points that seem to be common among comments and offering a little more insight into what I’m feeling and stuff.

First of all, as I said in the comments previously, it’s funny that so many people have complimented me on my courage to follow my dreams when I’ve felt like it’s just an inability to settle down. It’s rare that people follow their dreams to the bitter end, and apparently that’s impressive. But what people may fail to realize is that most people don’t follow their dreams to the end for a reason. That reason being, even though it’s inspiring and makes for a feel-good story, it’s really difficult and probably fairly stupid, and the failure rate is way higher than the success rate. Also, a whole lot of luck is required, luck which I seem to be running low on.

Secondly, just to address common responses to the robbery itself: we have no leads. Yes, it does sound like an inside job, or at least the work of somebody who had been into the office before. However, we have no method of figuring out who it could have been, since Nate and I can’t think of anyone we’ve offended recently that would do something so heinous. At this point we’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that we may never figure it out and, barring a miracle, we’ll just have to rebuild. Donating would help a lot on that front. This stuff is expensive, man!

Thirdly, one of the more curious reactions I’ve personally had is the fact that suddenly there’s a lot more support than I thought I had at first, both in words and in donations (Thanks to those who have donated, by the way! We’re on our way to rebuilding, but Nate would appreciate some more). I really do appreciate the vocal support. It’s just that, at the end of the day, I’ve still got to deal with everything. I can’t monetize good intentions. Actually, my gut reaction makes me think of times like when a certain relation of mine said he was very proud of me, then turned around and refused to pay $10 for a CD of my music I was trying to sell. Experiences like that have turned me into a believer of the “talk is cheap” principle. And before I offend anyone, this is really my fault, not anybody else’s per se. It’s my inability to turn people’s good impressions of my work into something I can make a living off of that’s causing me a lot of my stress. Maybe I need an agent? Or at least a good marketing person? I apparently can’t do it myself. Of course, I also can’t afford to pay a marketing person right now, so damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

The sudden publicity and responses have been a little disconcerting. I’m really not used to getting any sort of emotional support from any quarter. I didn’t really grow up in a loving, huggy family, and my natural introversion has precluded large groups of friends. In fact, I get along best with people that also have kind of a cynical edge to them (like Johnathan, who wrote a long, awesome comment about our friendship on the last post and still called me a jerk). Because, like Johnathan said, a lot of the jerks of the world are really people who want to be kind and caring but don’t know quite how to pull off the good first impression. The world frowns upon such people, which dampens their enthusiasm to try to improve themselves. So I make it a point to befriend those types of people, because everybody needs somebody to believe in them. Because I know what it’s like to be there. I’m there almost all the time myself. And believing in someone isn’t just saying, “Hey, you’re great!” because talk is cheap. On the other hand, the people who have responded, both in word and in donations, are certainly doing what they feel they can, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to marginalize their contribution because I have a personal bias against perfunctory, superficial kindness. I truly am grateful for the thought. My point is, I’ve gotten a bunch of support, but I’m ambivalent about a lot of it. And, hard to hear or say as it might be, that’s the honest truth.

Also, basically everything I said in the previous post had been percolating for a while. The robbery just brought it to a head. As a result, I think people have assumed that all the opinions I expressed came about as a reaction to the robbery, which may be another reason I’m not quite sure how to deal with it all. This is stuff I’ve been dealing with for a loooong time (and even posted about on occasion) but now suddenly people are concerned? Intellectually I understand the external circumstances that garnered that post a lot more attention, but I’m just not used to people caring, so I probably come across as kind of a jerk about it simply because I don’t know how else to react. If I just say, “Thanks to everyone! I love you all!” I don’t feel true to myself. In a way, it’s the same problem that I posted about years ago, where I compared myself to Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf in a few ways, one of them being that my psyche just doesn’t know how to deal with people being kind to me.

In many ways I just wish I could go back a month or two, where my concerns were my own and nobody else really knew or cared. It may have been hard, and a canker on my soul, but at least I knew how to deal with it. However, at least now I feel like I may have turned a corner. I can’t wallow in misery knowing that people out there do care, no matter how easy that may be. People need a reason to get up in the morning, and for a long time I haven’t had a compelling one, but now there may be a sliver of light. Come the day when I finally do get organized to start selling professional-quality work, I may have a base.

To conclude, I apologize to anyone who might feel marginalized by my lukewarm response. This has been a rather rambly post, and perhaps not the kindest way to respond to people, but at least it’s been honest. And the world needs more honesty. That way love becomes love unfeigned.

And truthfully, thanks for the support!

—–

On a different topic, since all the work from the ABC Monsters album Johnathan and I were working on got stolen, we are going to have to do the whole album from scratch. Therefore, so you can at least get a taste of what could have been (and at least partly of what is to come), I’m posting all the demo tracks we had made up to this point. Most of these tracks just have my non-polished vocal tracks with MIDI accompaniment, but I still like ’em! Please leave feedback!

Link to the Youtube playlist


Jeff’s confession

Facebook link to group

So recently my workplace was broken into and Nate Drew’s and my stuff got stolen. The video and link above go into details, so I won’t bother to here. What I feel I need to do, even if it’s just for the sake of my own soul, is to confess how I feel about both it and the larger picture in which it is a relevant part. (Warning: stream-of-consciousness rambling may occur. Consult physician before reading.)

I hate asking for charity. I absolutely hate it. Almost as much as I hate one-on-one interaction with strangers outside of a professional or task-oriented setting. It just causes so much stress on my psyche that it viscerally sets up my “fight or flight” response. Which is why, when Nate set up a Paypal thing, I was very nearly against it. I have a strong need to be independent; to pull myself up by my own boot-straps. This is mainly because I am so bad at it. To wit: regarding the things I had stolen, only the external hard drive was purchased by me. The computer was purchased by my parents as a graduation/five-month-early Christmas gift. The synthesizer was my dad’s, which I claimed after he died. The MOTU box was Nate’s. All the software was Nate’s. Heck, even the headphones I was using belonged to Sheldyn. Almost none of it was truly mine.

In addition, I’ve been irresponsible. Not just because I’ve been living with my parents (again) since I graduated. I was in college for ten years (off-and-on) for a few reasons. College provided me with a steady job (working at BYU vending). College let me live on my own, thanks to cheap student housing prices (yes, they were overpriced relative to the amount of space and privacy that you were allowed, but absolutely speaking I paid less than $300 per month, which was reduced to barely $100 during spring/summer). Also, I was basically promised that I would find my spouse during my educational years. So in order for that to come true I tried to stay in the system for as long as possible. Were the classes I failed due to me wanting to stay in college longer? No. Or at least not consciously. But whatever the reason, I was basically in a university environment, trying to do well socially, until I was old enough to be that creepy guy in the student ward, at which point I knew it was time to leave. (Side note: didn’t find a spouse.)

But now I’ve graduated. I’ve moved on. Is my life better now that I’ve left Provo, that place where I apparently was being pressured into marriage so much that I didn’t get married? (That’s right, I used my own declaration-of-self essay in an ironic way. That’s how cynical I’ve become.) I’m writing music for a living! Hasn’t that always been my dream?

Here’s what’s gone wrong on that front (and I’m not talking about the robbery). I’m not writing music for a living. At all. I’m writing music, and maybe I’ve earned, what, $500 since August? That’s not a living, not in a first-world country, anyway. That’s not even gas money (a drive from Riverton to Salt Lake and back five days a week). And the whole way along I’ve been told, “Don’t worry. Our projects will take off next month. Soon you’ll get a real paycheck.” And then I tell my parents, “Don’t worry. Soon I’ll be able to afford to move out of your basement,” or my rat-hole where I live like a troll, according to my stepfather, “and then I’ll be a real adult, instead of whatever ‘quarter-life’, Peter Pan syndrome, half-adult in arrested development I seem to be now,” (not a literal quote I’ve told my parents). And my parents (and probably other people too) wonder, “Why don’t you get a real job? Surely you can at least live with some roommates as a single guy working at the local Target or whatever. Or maybe even an office job, what with the bachelor’s degree under your belt.”

But I can’t. I can’t do it. Because doing it will mean that I give up everything I’ve worked for so far. All of the years in school, pursuing a degree in the lowest-paying field in which they offer degrees at BYU. Knowing that a person needs a great deal of interpersonal skills and charisma to even have a chance to succeed in the business, and also knowing that I’m the opposite of a self-promoter. Yes, I’ve posted a lot of music on this blog, but that’s mostly because I want people to share the experience I have listening to this stuff, not because I want to be all, “Look at me! I write awesome stuff!” And even those types of posts have tapered off (the previous post to this one notwithstanding), mostly because I realized that my approach to music is radically different from a lot of people’s (which also leads to stuff like this post when I get frustrated that nobody hears it the way I do, and I’m not talking about the perfect pitch angle, either), and I doubt I’ll find anybody who feels the same way as I do about the type of music I listen to.

In any case, due to whatever traumatic childhood reason I feel like pulling up (there are many), I don’t interact well with strangers. In the cases where I must (such as, oh I dunno, my entire frickin’ mission), it scares the hell out of me. More than anything else I can think of right now. Why? Because I have only a limited understanding of proper social conduct. When I talk, I talk. I’m often rude without knowing it. I’m often condescending without meaning to be. I’m fairly cynical. Often I don’t even make sense to myself. This blog post probably won’t make much sense, when all is said and done. I’m usually so nervous about putting across a bad first impression that I end up either saying the first thing that comes into my head (which more often than not is not something normal) or just existing in an awkward silence. And I think all the time I spend alone only serves to exacerbate that problem; since, when I’m alone, I can say whatever I want about whatever and nobody’s around to be offended or confused. And I do spend quite a bit of time alone: when I’m at home I’m in my “rat-hole” to avoid the condescension of my stepfather, and when I’m at work I usually have headphones on. Even when I’m out doing Poison Ivy Mysteries stuff I’m usually trying to keep busy solving problems. And it’s easier to be social there, because I have Annelise (and often her family) as a crutch.

On occasion I do try to break out of the box, reach out to people, overcome my fears and weaknesses in order to strengthen other people (and maybe get a date?). But then I’m confronted with a fact that I’ve had demonstrated to me over and over again, both from personal experience and from observation: people are selfish creatures, in so many ways. And if you don’t know the right way to deal with people, they’re more often than not unwilling to cut you any slack. My most recent attempt was with a girl who I shall not name on this blog. I tried extremely hard to be her friend. She’s had a stressful life, and I thought she could use someone who understood a lot of her situation, and how she may feel socially. Yet I had to do all the work in maintaining the friendship. I called her, but never got a call. Everything we ever did together I had to arrange. It was this damn song all over again, only I wasn’t even trying to date her (though at first I wouldn’t have been opposed to the idea). Eventually I realized that, while she was always complaining about how much her life sucked and how much she wanted friends, it wasn’t my friendship that she wanted. I don’t know whether it was something personal or whether she would rather wallow in a despair-filled yet familiar situation rather than risk something potentially life-changing. In either case, the outcome was the same, and when I stopped putting forth an effort she didn’t even bat an eye.

Anyway, that was a digression. Back on topic, I’m not a self-promoter, and I don’t do well one-on-one with people I don’t know, or just know casually. And both of these skills are necessary to land a job in the composition profession and get projects from clients. Which is why my job with Nate is one I am loath to give up. Most of what I do comes from either Nate himself and the clients he channels, or from Annelise and the murder mystery company. I don’t have to get out there and hobnob with the clients, separating myself from the crowd. It’s not me that’s important, it’s my music, and I prefer to let it speak for itself, instead of relying on my questionable social graces to land projects. So if I give up working with Nate, I give up working in the field. Even the ABC Monster album I was doing for reasons other than making money with it, as neither I nor anyone associated with the project so far has any sort of experience or know-how when it comes to marketing an album. (For the record, I’ve been doing the ABC Monster album for two main reasons: 1. to gain experience writing several different types of songs and have something to put in my portfolio, and 2. to show faith in Johnathan’s artistic abilities in a more substantial way than compliments can, much like Annelise and Nate have done regarding my musical abilities. Anyone can say, “hey, your work’s pretty good” with varying degrees of sincerity, but if somebody actively solicits your talents then you know they’re not just humoring you. He draws some good stuff, and it’s about time the world recognizes it.)

Thus the dilemma that has been presented. I can either 1)stay with Nate and earn maybe $1000 a year if past paychecks are any indication, especially with the robbery setting us back quite a bit, 2)start pursuing my own projects in the musical field, which for me and my charisma and self-esteem, seems about as possible as Josh Reese getting married: sure, it’s possible, but in all practicality it has a very low chance of occurring. Or 3)give up on music altogether and work at some office job or something.

Practicality dictates that I should take option #3. Common sense dictates that I should take option #3. My parents would love to see me take option #3. If I was serious about providing for a family, or even going on dates more expensive than “watching a movie on my mom’s TV,” I would take option #3. But, against all reason, against all common sense, against all rational judgment, I’m taking option #1. I have been since August. And I can’t logically explain why, other than that it’s something I have to do. (And yes, I know I already provided that link earlier, but I’m putting it in this post twice, for it’s really the best explanation I have.)

And now this finally brings us back to the robbery. Nate set up a Paypal donate link to help us recover the stolen equipment, but I’ve had a real problem sharing it with people. Aside from just the general human instinct to act self-sufficient, I can’t ask people to support me in this illogical and irresponsible career decision I’ve made, even if at the same time I’m not going to change it anytime soon. It’s the sort of doublethink world in which I apparently live. Why should I ask other people to donate their hard-earned money, which they should otherwise be spending on their own families or at least on people who have real hardships, toward the purchase of a computer and related gear so that I can go into work and write music instead of getting a job where I can afford to buy, well, anything at all? Does the world need me to write silly songs about monsters or background music for a show about extreme vacations more than it needs me to settle down and actually start raising kids? By asking for donations, I’m implicitly saying that yes, it does. And I can’t, in good conscience, allow people to donate money so that I can avoid responsibility and playact at having a real job.

So if you have read all this and still want to donate money, then please do. Nate really needs to rebuild his equipment and business. But don’t do it for me.