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Donating to Afrorack

This whole year has been a struggle and the past few weeks have only made it more difficult. The death of George Floyd has sparked conversations about police brutality and the black lives matter movement. These conversations have been stressful, painful, but necessary. While looking at my own career and ways I can make an impact in my industry I decided to donate to Afrorack . So today I’d like to talk about what Afrorack does and why you should get involved.

About Afrorack

Afrorack is an audio arts organization that focuses on teaching sound design and modular synthesis to young adults of color in the Chicago land area. They are focused on creating a diverse community and teaching STEM with workshops, seminars, and ambitious programming.

Getting involved

You can get involved by donating as little as $5 a month to support their mobile workshops. You can also make a one time donation or donate to their go fund me campaign to help cover costs for this organization during this pandemic.

Why you should care

We have an accessibility issue in audio. The cost to really get established in the industry is thousands of dollars. Yes there are free things to use, yes you can try to start small and eventually save up money, but in general you need thousands of dollars to even get started with a career in sound design. This is a problem. It makes it harder for POC and people in difficult economic situations to even see sound design as an option. Programs like Afrorack help educate and close that gap. It makes the barrier of entry much lower and gives young adults opportunities they may not have even known existed.

I myself donated $10 to Afrorack. It’s not much, but it’s a start and I hope you’ll join me and help out an organization that’s doing good work in the audio space.

Black lives matter and we need to work together to end police brutality and make this country a better place. In the last week I’ve donated to multiple black lives matter organizations and I encourage you to do the same. It’s been a tough time and it’s been hard to even see why music and sound been matter. In the grand scheme everything I do started to feel insignificant. If you’ve also felt this allow me to give you some encouragement. Keep going. You are not alone and while yes music and sound isn’t the most important thing in the world it is an important thing in the word. Let’s use our field let’s use our voices and let’s use our resources to make an impact on the world.

My motto in life is “To make an impact on the world through sound” when I think of this mantra I usually think of it from an audio perspective. Working on bigger projects, landing bigger contracts, growing as an artist. But it can also mean using sound to impact people socially. It can be whatever I needed it to be and whatever I want it to be. And right now I need to be an ally. I need to be an advocate for my community and my peers. This is the next step but not the last step. I encourage you to take these steps with me and figure out how we can make this world what we want it to be.

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Kansas 1935: Deep Dive

Today I’d like to take a deep dive into the making of my latest song “Kansas 1935”. I’m going to talk about how it was made, what is what made for, and how I feel it ultimately turned out.

Kansas 1935 was a song I wrote for the Charity EP Jam. The Charity EP Jam is a project where a handful of composers write music based on a theme and the proceeds go to the Charity Able Gamers.

It’s a long road

The theme this year was dust. At first I struggled with how to approach dust. What does dust sound like? What does dust feel like and how can I convey it? I started by looking up dust storms, wind sounds, and even watching some documentaries on the Dust Bowl. That’s when I decided to write the song about Kansas in 1935. I wanted to share what I felt listening to the stories from that dust bowl and try to capture that feeling via music.

Rough Start

I started with an entirely different song and thought it was a solid beginning. After a couple days and some feedback I realized that was not the case. At first I tried to salvage what I had and make something good out of it, but after a while, I realized it was best to throw it all away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is start over so I did. It’s tough to admit something you made isn’t good, but it wasn’t good. Better to realize that and try again then to just have a meh recording.

Take Two

So I went back to the drawing board. This time I went with the instrumentation of piano and guitar. I also went in thinking of having one idea that would turn into different ideas and eventually end on something completely different. This turned out quiet well and I was able to also get my friend to play guitar on it.

Putting Together The Pieces

So the way the song works is we have four parts. At first all four parts are played one after the other. There are two piano parts and two guitar parts. The song is essentially done with new ideas when the piano is done playing at the 1:10 mark. Then there is a dust storm that occurs until 1:35. Once it settles down the music is rearranged and returns in a different order. The new order is 3,1,2,4. This is done to represent how the dust storm rearranged and changed the music. I didn’t choose the order. I actually wrote these numbers representing the different sections down on a sheet of paper, placed them in a jar, and threw them on the floor. I picked them up off the floor in order of the pieces of paper closest to me.

This actually turned out quiet well! I like the new order and I like the fact that the new order is kind of subtle. Many people don’t notice that things don’t come back the way they began until the songs is nearly done. I like having this kind of inside joke or hidden secret in the song that’s available for anyone to notice if they pay close attention. And if they don’t, hopefully they just hear a good song.

Closing Thoughts

I really enjoyed the process of writing this piece. It was hard, required a lot of rewriting, and it really forced me to reflect on my work and brought out my best. I hope in the end I did good work and made great art. If you have the ability to do so I’d love it if you’d make a donation for this album. It would really mean a lot to me and the proceeds all go to Able Gamers.

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Dance Again Deep Dive

Today I’d like to a take deep dive into the making of my latest single “Dance Again”. I want to talk about why I made it, how I made it, and what I’ve learned. Let’s begin.

My purpose for making this song was simple. I wanted to make a song to just make it. It’s been years since I have done this. As a professional musician I spend all my musician time working. I’m learning songs for gigs, I’m learning songs for recordings, I’m learning songs for a deeper understanding of a style or genre. While I obviously go for gigs, recordings, and genres I enjoy, you secede some freedom when you are a professional artist. Compromises however small, are made. I try to find things that are not only work, but fun, but even fun work is work.

So when I made Dance Again I went in with the mentality that this was just for fun, just for me. I’m making it to make something. Will I use it for pitching clients? Maybe if it fits, but I’m not trying to use it for that. And I made it with zero intention of doing so. The song came out the way it did because I liked it that way. No agenda, no deeper long term plan, just a fun song I liked.

Another thing you should know is that I use the app Korg Gadget on my Nintendo Switch exclusively to make the song. I’ve dabbled with this app for sometime now and I decided this was a great way to have some fun and challenge myself to go deeper into the app. I feel pretty comfortable with Korg Gadget and using it to make music I thought would be fun. The only sounds that are not native to the app are the voice samples I use. Everything else can be found using just Korg Gadget on the Switch.

Making Music is Hard!

I struggled a lot with the structure of this song. The drum pattern came to me pretty quickly and that was maintained throughout, but how to build themes and motifs around it was a struggle. The app refers to different parts as “scenes” so for a while I had extra scenes I was trying to fit in and certain scenes were longer before I was able to edit them down. For example, near the end I had the second to last breakdown happening for twice as long and I realize that was just way too much so I cut it in half.

This songs structure really came together when I let the words tell the story. Despite the few words, they actually dictate what’s happening on the record. The story goes a friend telling another friend that they should take their date dancing. After dancing the protagonist tells his date “you look really beautiful tonight” she replies “you don’t look so bad yourself mister” then he proceeds to offer her a ride home…

Impact of Sitcoms on My Song

One thing you should know about me is I love sitcoms. I mean I love sitcoms. I’ve watched How I Met Your Mother more times than I can count. Watched Friends at least 3-4 times since it’s aired on Netflix. And I’ve watched Cheers, Seinfeld, and Kings of Queens infinitely. Sitcoms have been there for me when I’m up, when I’m down, when I needed to laugh, and when I needed to cry. So why not use those voices to retell and reimagine the stories they’ve already told me?

Breaking Down The Words

So the first line I’ve used was from Friends where Rachel tells Joey “Oh dancing take her dancing!” In the scene she’s suggesting Joey take a date dancing and the same thing happens in my song. For the song it’s not the Friends characters just one person talking to another making that suggestion.

The second line is from How I Met Your Mother where Ted is telling Stella “You look really beautiful tonight”. Now in the show Ted is just saying that because he was caught staring at Stella. He didn’t really think she looked “beautiful tonight” he was just looking at her face to see what her reaction was to watching Star Wars for the first time. In my track the words were sincere.

Next line I used was from the same episode of How I Met Your Mother where Stella says “You don’t look so bad yourself mister…” in the episode it’s Stella coming on to Ted. In my song the same sentiment can be interpreted.

The final line I use is from Cheers where Sam Malone tells his worker Carla Tortelli he’s taking her home after their shift of work at the bar. In the episode this is a normal event. In my track it implies a pleasant end to a date.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My focus on this track was just to have fun, make some electronic music using Korg Gadget, and to tell a story using words from my favorite sitcoms. I think I accomplished all of these things. I really love the breakdown that happens at the :54 second mark. In my opinion it’s the highlight of the song. Coming in at a close second is the story developing from 1:11-1:33. I really enjoyed making this and I hope you enjoy listening to it. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback feel free to comment below. Take care and be safe out there!

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My Career Over The Years

A person’s career path is never a straight line and today I’d like to go in-depth on how my career has changed over the years.

When I think about my career in music it’s hard to pinpoint the start. Like many people, music has been a part of my life since the beginning. So when did I really take it seriously as a profession? I’d say that started for me when I was 17-18 years old in 2005-06. During that time hip hop music was my obsession. I was listening to the music 24/7, annoying my friends always talking about my favorite albums and my favorite rappers, and I even begin writing my own raps believe it or not!

The Hip Hop Years

So I actually started to make music and I had my friends helping me by making beats for me to rap over. They were primarily rock musicians but they were spectacular at their craft. So even though they were out of their wheelhouse they helped me tremendously. After a couple years though I realized they just weren’t as serious about making hip hop music as I was. I understood they were primarily rock musicians, but I was taking this music seriously and I needed to be around people who took it seriously. So I did some soul searching and decided to be a producer myself. I’d go back to school, learn how to make beats, and then work with other artists while also working on my own projects on the side. I started googling things like “How to be a producer” and asking people for advice on getting started. One thing that came up was the benefits of playing an instrument. It’s not a requirement but many said knowing how to play the piano would help me understand theory and harmony and make it easier to use a MIDI controller. So I used my sister’s piano and started playing. Than everything changed.

The Piano Years

I fell in love with the instrument. I was instantly hooked and couldn’t get enough. Suddenly the piano became my life and I went from wanting to do hip hop to wanting to play the piano for a living. So from 2010- 2017 piano was my main focus and specifically jazz music became my main focus. I went to college for it, graduated, and began playing gigs and teaching. By 2015 I was officially a professional musician! I had made it.

The Game Audio Years (Present Day)

In 2019 I started to search for other ways I could contribute to the world with my skillset. After thinking about it and trying different things I decided to work in game audio. I wanted to create compositions and use sound design to enhance the experience players have in these worlds. So I began creating a demo reel, working with an indie dev on an RPG, and learning all I can about audio implementation. Working in game audio has been one of the more challenging and thrilling things I’ve done in my life. There are so many new things for me to learn, but it’s so fulfilling when I figure out how to make the sounds work the way I want them to. I’m looking forward to where this next step in my career takes me and I’m so glad I’ll be able to document it all here on my website.

Conclusion

Throughout the years my career has changed so much. I went from rapper, to producer, to jazz pianist, to composer and sound designer. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is to be willing to adapt and change as I adapt and change. To not put myself in a box and force myself to become who I said I was but to just be who I am. Some may see these different roles and think I’ve been all over the place, but I was really just progressing through my career, expressing myself through music, and finding out where I felt the most comfortable and where I could make the biggest impact in the world. I’m glad to say that the biggest way for me to impact the world through sound is in the game audio space.

What’s your career looked like? Did you always know what your calling was? Did that ever change? Would love to hear your story and your journey in the comments below.

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Where I See Myself in Five Years.

Where do you see yourself in Five Years?

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Where do you see yourself in five years? This is a question people ask at job interviews all the time. So today I decided to unpack the question and answer it with 5 predictions on where I’ll be in five years. These are in no particular order and they are a mix of my professional ambitions along with some personal goals. 

 

Prediction 1. I will be living in LA.

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I don’t know when my love affair with Los Angeles began but I know I never want it to end. I’ve visited many times in the past four years and plan on moving there in the fall of 2022 at the latest. While I love the environment and culture LA has, I mainly want to go for work. As a composer and sound designer, living in LA puts me in a great position to work with game developers, studios, and musicians. The energy the city has along with my tremendous work ethic will put me in a position to reach my fullest potential. I love Chicago and always will, but I feel that living in LA will give me the opportunity to live my ideal life and it aligns with my mission to impact the world through sound. 

 

Prediction 2. Working as a Sound Designer at a AAA Studio. 

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This has been a goal of mine for a while. I’d love to work at a AAA studio in LA. I want to work with a team at a scale larger than what I am currently capable of doing alone. The collaboration, scope, and impact I can make through audio in this environment is why I wake up every morning. Can’t wait to make this goal a reality. 

 

Prediction 3. Be done with work by 6PM.

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As a freelancer the work can never stop. It’s awesome being your own boss, but are you a good boss to yourself? I’ll be honest, I’m not the best boss. Overwork myself, promises of downtime never occur unless we are on the verge of a breakdown, and there are poor benefits. By 2025 I will be done with work at 6PM. I want to spend my evenings relaxing and spending quality time with friends and family. Obviously, if I get that AAA position this should be an easier goal to achieve, but even if I’m still freelancing and doing it all myself I want to commit to being off by 6PM. If I need to get things done I can wake up early. I need to spend my evenings with the people that matter. 

 

Prediction 4. Working on other Music and Non-Music based projects. 

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I love making things. It’s why I’m in audio. Whether it’s making an SFX, composing a song, or writing an article. I love having an idea, exploring its potential, and sharing. It with the world. Since my main goal is to work as a Sound Designer at a AAA studio, making music making will ultimately be taking a backseat. I’d like to keep exploring my music creation as a side project and keep making other non-music-based projects. Whether that’s writing about sports, writing about games, or even making videos, I plan to still be making different projects that are not work-based and are just fun things I want to share with the world. 

 

Prediction 5.  I will be married.

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Obviously, this is a personal one and not 100% under my control (but really what is?) but by 2025 I want to be married and ideally have a child. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for 11 years so it’s time to make this official. I plan on asking her to marry me this year (it’s coming up 😬)  so this one should be the easiest one to accomplish, but as anyone who has been in a serious relationship can tell you, it can also be the hardest. We’ve been through a lot, but until death can be a mighty long time. I’m committed to getting married and making it work and I’m excited about starting this next chapter of our lives. 

So there it is. In five years I see myself living in LA as a sound designer at a AAA studio, done with work by 6PM, married, and working on cool music and non-music based projects. Where do you see yourself in five years? Comment below!