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How Manchester Music Got to Casual Connect

September 8, 2011

By John Manchester

Back when my sons were small I was composing fulltime. I came in from the studio one day to find them in front of our TV, clacking away at some unfamiliar gizmos hooked to a black box, which in turn ran into the TV. Odd animated characters jumped around on the screen to the sound of doinky synth music, apparently at the behest of my sons. “What are you doing?” “Playing a game.” “Which one?” “Zelda.” Zelda –That drunken writer’s wife? No. Whatever it was they seemed to be having a great time In fact….”Uh, mind if I play?” They let me. They also showed me how the controller thingy worked, and the rules. They talked me through the dungeons with their spooky, but still doinky music.

I didn’t know that I’d lucked out, stepping into video games in their golden age. “Legend of Zelda” was great – still is great. “Super Metroid” might have been even better. Mario wasn’t bad either.

My sons are men, done with college, and have for the most part outgrown games. Not me. I don’t watch TV or follow sports. Games are a great way to change my internal channel from composing and writing, things I love but which tend to obsess me.

I found the best soundtracks to certain games influencing the music I wrote for my library. Ten years ago I considered taking a shot at scoring some games. I talked to one of our composers who’d done it, a guy maybe ten years younger than me “You want to score games, you gotta get into the culture. You have to go to this convention GDC and hang with 25 year olds all pierced and covered in tattoos. It’s like trying to relate to a different species.”

No thanks.

A year ago Mrs. Muse bought me a iPad for my birthday. Suddenly, it was Angry Birds all the time. Then even better games, like Osmos, and Plants vs Zombies, all the time. (at least when I wasn’t working or blogging.)

I read how Angry Birds had been developed by Rovio, a company of 5 in Finland. It’s sold over 200 Million downloads to date. It only costs 99 cents, but if I’m not mistaken they keep 70% of that. Let’s see, 200 million times 70 cents is…

I figured I wasn’t the only person thinking that if 5 guys could do that well, maybe this was the business to get into.

I finally went to GDC. It happened to be in San Francisco, home to the first Gold Rush. And clearly another one was on. Yes, there were a few tattoos, some piercing. But the people with them, and without them seemed more excited and positive than at any convention I’ve ever attended. And what’s not to be positive about? There is a gold rush on. If you’re passionate about games there’s a ton of work out there.

At GDC I heard about Casual Connect in July in Seattle, a convention for “casual games,” made for platforms like the iPad and Android, as apposed to the old AAA games for consoles like the Xbox and Nintendo 360. The AAA games now hire Hollywood films composers (and make more money than Hollywood films.) It’s tough to get into scoring them. But casual games are made by small companies like Rovio.

So my sales Director Simon Smart and I found ourselves manning a booth for Manchester Music in Seattle. Simon is originally from Wales. In addition to running our sales he does our mastering and also has written some nice pieces for the library. He’s a recording engineer with what I call “golden ears” –chops he got working at Abbey Road Studios in London.

The game developers that came by our booth liked our music, and liked our tiered pricing too. We explained how we are introducing custom music as well as the library. Since then we’ve sold some library music to game developers and are working on several projects, including ones for Big Fun in Atlanta.

At the convention I was struck not only by what looked like a good business opportunity, but by how everyone I met seemed so remarkably intelligent and creative. The kind of people I’d like to not only work with, but hang out with.

This was brought home to me when I attended the speaker’s lunches and dinner. Aaron Walz, head of the Game Audio Alliane had invited me onto a panel with other composers. Aaron is a great advocate for audio people in the games business. He told me, “Hollywood film composers come to me all the time, looking down their nose at what we do. They don’t play games. You indicated that you were passionate about games as well as music.” Thank you, Aaron.

At the first lunch I introduced myself to the guy next to me, wondering why unlike everyone else, he wasn’t wearing a badge. “Marty O’Donnell.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a composer.”

“Funny, me too! What have you done?”

“All the Haloes and Riven, sequel to Myst.” Ah. Now I looked at the large diamond ring on his finger. He entertained all of us at the table with the story of how he’d risen from writing jingles in Chicago to scoring one of the biggest franchises in entertainment history.

The second day the guy next to me at the table introduced himself, “Charles N. Cox, Microsoft.” Microsoft. Charles showed me a game on his iPhone that he was developing on the side – something I found many of these people do. It looked like a great prototype – and he needed music! We exchanged cards. Then Charles began to talk with Shane Neville of Ninja Robot Dinosaur from Vancouver, another big time game veteran. I’m usually quite talkative in such situations. But I knew now to shut up and listen. If I did I might learn something. I learned more in an hour about games than I’d found out in 25 years.

At the speaker dinner I sat across from a developer from Spain, Ricardo Carretero of Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team. Poor guy has to live on the island of Majorca. Since then I’ve played his game Pro Zombie Soccer Apocalypse – which despite its name is one of the better things I played on the iPad – a real steal for 3 $. He showed the prototype of his newest project to our neighbors from Israel. They played a little (as I looked on, wanting to get my hands on it). The Israelis offered compliments, but also criticisms. What amazed me was how open Ricardo was to their advice. I thought of how unlikely it is among us thin-skinned composers to offer, let alone accept musical criticism from our peers. I think we have something to learn from game developers.

I’m excited about our entry into the game business. And there’s a perk. All these years that I’ve been idling away the hours with games Mrs. Muse has been her usual supportive, circumspect self, only giving me the occasional semi-eye roll at the fact that I waste so much time doing something so silly.

Well, now I can tell her: I’ve been working the whole time doing research. Which reminds me. I have a level to beat in “Bioshock 2” and better get to it.

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From → Music Library

One Comment
  1. “‘Zelda.’ Zelda –That drunken writer’s wife?” Hoot!

    A good friend of mine refers to his daughter’s mother as Zelda in his correspondence with me, as in the perennial winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald Emotional Instability Award. Ah, Zelda — my mind rushes straight to the way Papa Hemingway settled his scores with her in “A Moveable Feast.”

    And as far as gaming is concerned, you are in good company. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” is a big gamer, too. And I think his wife spends a good bit of time rolling her eyes at him.

    Keep on keepin’ on, music man.

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