Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: ducktales

Music Ed Monday – The Big Leagues

When I walked into Complex Games that fateful Spring day of 2013, I saw 3D models of, what looked like, the nephews from DuckTales, but immediately put it aside.  I had a meeting with Noah Decter-Jackson (the CEO of the studio) because he wanted to talk to me about an upcoming project.

“… No…” I thought to myself in disbelief.  “I must be mistaken.”

I guess I was trying not to get my hopes up.  Then I passed another monitor and they were tweaking some colour on Scrooge McDuck’s smoking jacket.  Could it be…?

Then I saw Noah and we smiled and shook hands.  He invited me into his office and we caught up for a while (I had been doing contract work for Complex Games for about seven years at this point, so we’ve got a great relationship).  Off the cuff, I said: “Wow, this new game looks a lot like DuckTales!” To which he smiled and said “it is DuckTales.  Have a seat.”

The moment of rising anxiety-mixed-with-excitement is what I’ve come to call the “big leagues” feeling.  That was the first time I ever really felt like I was in over my head.  I was playing in the big leagues.

He walked me through the level design and we determined what would need music and how much.  It was only six tunes and I knew that I could do it, but the quality had to be so, so, so, so high.  I make my stuff as high-quality as I can, but it’s rare that I’ll be lying awake at 11:30 worrying if I put too much mid in the bass EQ.

(That specific example is below.  Seriously, it’s the most iconic bass line in Disney, which will bring me to my next point:)

It’s important not only to want to do a good job, but the other side of that coin is the overbearing feeling of “don’t screw it up.”  And it really is a ton of work.  A metric ton.  Of work.  It’s a ton work that you want to be great, but also to not screw up.

It is so messed up, but I got it done and I grew for it.  I was better for it.  It leads up to something I’ve told my students quite often, best articulated by Courage Wolf:

courage-wolf-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chewThe feeling of being overwhelmed by contibuting something that you believe is beyond you is called a great opportunity for growth.  By going through those feelings of stress, of working so hard you don’t think you can keep going, of continual revision, of the pursuit of your personal best and a constant and consistent strive for excellence, you enable yourself to grow.

I still get those feelings.  I got them with my next contract, KRE-O: CityVille Invasion when I saw toys for the game I was making.  I’m currently working on Betty Boop Dance Card for iOS and I still get those feelings.  Last week, I was so stressed that all I could think about was throwing up and scotch.  But hey, guess what? I made it through without either throwing up or scotch.  When you play in the big leagues, the big league feelings never go away.

Growth is never easy and it rarely feels good until after it’s over.

In teaching, this is what the musical feels like.  It’s two weeks before the show, it’s 9pm on a Tuesday and I just want to go home.  But we aren’t done yet.  We’ve been working on these scenes for months because that’s how long it takes and it has to be good.  That’s one part; the other part (as the pitband director) is don’t screw it up because the singers/actors/dancers are depending on you.  And then the show happens and it’s amazing and we’re so proud of everyone.  At that point, we know that it’s worth it and everyone grew even though it was so much work because it was so much work.

That’s what growth looks like.  You don’t get to grow by doing things you can already do, you grow by doing things you can’t.  You grow by throwing yourself in, drowning for a bit, stressing, struggling, busting your butt, then eventually figuring things out, then working some more, then getting it, then tweaking, then perfecting, then feeling awesome.

So bite off more than you can chew… then chew it.
K

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Music Ed Monday – Books, Covers, and Opportunity

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

-Steve Jobs

That sounds like something he’d say, right? Except that he didn’t, the actor playing him said that.

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

– Ashton Kutcher

Yes, Ashton Kutcher.

I went to see Jobs the other day (with my amazing wife) and I was a bit leary of Kutcher’s portrayal of one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of our time.  When I think of Ashton Kutcher, I think of That 70s ShowDude Where’s My Car? or Two and a Half Men.

But seriously, he knocked it out of the park and, while the movie was pretty good, I was totally transfixed by his performance.  The pursing of his lips, the hunched and flat-footed walk, the distant stare, the speech inflection… everything.

That show taught me two things:

1) Don’t go in with expectations (read as: don’t judge a book by its cover).  I think we do this a lot as teachers – we don’t mean to, but we do.  Concurrently, the students will also do a second-order judgement on themselves as you’re doing a first order judgement on them.  They are assessing themselves based on their judgement of your judgement on them.  It becomes a cyclical process of judgement.  Both parties need to stop doing this because it doesn’t help anyone.

Go in with a blank slate, both teacher and student.  Kids are so perceptive of minute actions that I think we really need to be mindful of what we’re sending out.  It might be a small stare, an exhalation of breath, a sinking of the eyes, a slouch, a quick turn away.

A particular former flute player of mine left Band in grade 10 and dove into choir, where she was crazy good.  I couldn’t remember her name when she was in my Jr. Symphonic Band in Grade 9.  I had completely forgotten about it, but she didn’t.  Even on one of the last days of her Grade 10 year, she reminded me that I could never remember her name.

Anyway, Ashton Kutcher was remarkable, even though I didn’t think he’d done anything that really blew me away until then.  But, what really got me, was a speech he made just last week at the Teen Choice Awards (yes, I know, but we’re not going in with expectations, remember?).

2) Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.  This one ties back to expectation too because there are so many opportunities that we get, but feel like we don’t deserve.   The most common one that I see is when students bring back that acceptance letter to Music School and tell me “but I’m not good enough to be there.”  Actually, you are, because you wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t.

But you wouldn’t have gotten in if you didn’t work the audition piece.  Sometimes, I feel like auditions are teaching toward the test.  You work a few pieces so hard that you master them, then you can’t get through something new.  But the lesson of hard work still applies because it got you in the door to the next opportunity (and you couldn’t have even unlocked the piece if you hadn’t worked your skills for years before you started practicing the audition music).

When I got the DuckTales contract, I immediately felt like I didn’t deserve it and that I wasn’t good enough to do it.  I was just punching above my weight class.

punchaboveyourweight

(from Urban Dictionary)

Except that I wasn’t – I could do everything that the creative leads, the producers, and the game and the music wanted me to do.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t obsess over it, or go to bed thinking about the viola part in the B section of the airship level, or if there was too much mid in the slap bass during the opening.   I even sent three or four entirely different (though incomplete) pieces away for the Cowboy level because it had to be right.   There was a healthy balance of “make it great” and “don’t screw it up,” and I suppose that both are important, to some degree.  A similar (but less crazy) feeling happened with KRE-O: CityVille Invasion.

But it’s not like these came out of nowhere.  The company, Complex Games, and I have been working together on and off for about seven years and I’m sure that they’ve had a similar experience in their growth too.  When I first started with them, we were working on a pirate game for Facebook and now we’re doing mobile games for Disney and Zynga.  And that’s growth.  That’s what growth looks like.  (And goodness, they do fabulous work and deserve all of the accolades that come to them).

The growth still comes from hours at a piano or in front of a sketchbook, like an artist in front of a canvas or a horn player in a practice room.  I really like that stuff.  I like leaning over the piano keys and sketching out ideas, then building that musical house one note at a time.

So, here’s my question: What makes you want to work hard? If you don’t know the answer that, then try this one: What do you love? Why not do more of that 🙂

I think a lot about this, about the nexus of hard work and opportunity.  Some people get lucky (and arguably, a degree of luck is still needed, even for the hardest workers) and some people cheat, but I think that’s the exception.   Yet, so many will pick that one time and try to emulate that… and fail.

“But so-and-so sightread the audition and got into honour band.”

“My friend so-and-so didn’t study for the History final and still got an 80.”

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Tiny Fey explains it best in Bossypants, describing her show would succeed where all other shows about awesome 20-somethings would fail:

For years the networks have tried to re-create the success of Friends by making pilot after pilot about beautiful twenty-somethings living together in New York. Beautiful twenty-somethings living in Los Angeles. Beautiful twenty-somethings investigating sexy child murders in Miami. This template never works, because executives refuse to realize that Friends was the exception, not the rule. The stars of beloved shows like Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Newhart, and The Dick Van Dyke Show had normal human faces.

The best don’t start as the best, but they got better with hard work and time.  Put in the time, put in the work, and it works a lot better if it’s something you love.  If it’s something you don’t love (i.e. geometry), you’ll probably still be better off if you give it your best shot.  I hated learning ratios in math, but I use them everyday.  Seriously, every day.

Find something you love and work it.  If you do so honestly, you will deserve whatever comes your way.

When the spark catches…

So, I worked on this game called DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot that was made by Complex Games and published by Disney.  My last post was about it and, now that the game is out, it’s starting to make some waves.

I’ve been following online magazines like Destructoid and Touch Arcade for a long time and today I saw DTSL on both of those this afternoon.  Then on Gamezebo and through YouTube videos.  There’s been so much hub-bub about DuckTales: Remastered that this game has really caught some of the mags off guard.  And really, how many people are expecting a third-person, team-based DuckTales shooter? 🙂

Very cool.

Very.  Very.  Cool.

(It would be even cooler if they mentioned the music :P)

DuckTales! Woo-oo!

DuckTales

I’m so glad that I can talk about this now.  I can’t believe I got this gig – it’s one of those types.  The type that keeps you up at night from being both excited and terrified about writing it.  Where you’re out for dinner and you can’t stop thinking about how you voiced the harmony coming into the B section of whatever, or if you really want to double the melody in octaves off the top of a piece.  It’s that type 🙂

DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot soft-launched in mid-July and I couldn’t be happier.  “Soft-launch” means that it launched in a region (Canada, in our case) without much hub-bub so that the technical bugs can be worked out before it goes live around the world.  I’m not sure when the worldwide launch is, but I can still talk about it.

Essentially, the DuckTales villains have stolen Scrooge’s loot and he needs you to get it back.  It’s a multiplayer third-person shooter and it’s pretty fun! The plunger gun is my favourite – yes, there’s a plunger gun.

Sadly, I can’t post the music because I don’t own it anymore.   Sorry, gang.  But if you want to hear it (and have an iOS-capable device), then you can download it for free below!

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/ducktales-scrooges-loot/id638515629?mt=8

More to come!
Kenley

PS: Waaaaaaaaaay more to come.  Some fun things in the works!

PPS: The most fun part to write? Unlocking the perfect slap bass sound in the opening.  Which slap bass? This slap bass: