.GAMES Domain: A 16-bit composer hits a high note

Canadian composer, sound designer, and video editor Robby Duguay (www.composer.games) discusses the challenges and rewards of working as a freelance video game composer, his favorite holiday, and his acquisition of a .GAMES domain in this week’s My Side of the Dot™.

Where are you based?
I work out of Toronto, Canada. I grew up in Ottawa.

How did you get started as a composer and video editor for video games and films?
I feel like I’ve always been a musician and an audio tech in some capacity, which lead to me becoming a composer. I went to an arts high school where we had 2-3 hours of music classes every day. It was pretty great! When I was there I started to write pieces for my friends’ productions—dance pieces, short films, whatever came up. Around that time I had to kind of choose my career path, and strangely enough I actually didn’t choose music. I spent about 7-8 years doing other stuff before I came back to it full-time. When I did, I started attending every possible games-industry-related event that I could, got involved with jams and made friends. I work out of GammaSpace, which is a coworking space for game developers and a hub for industry events. Game composers nowadays have to be good with networking, music, production, tech, and marketing, so it has taken a lot of hard work, but here we are!

How does composing music for an interactive game differ from composing for, say film or television?
Interactive audio needs to be approached differently than audio for linear media. Music often gives a sense of progression to match what the audience is feeling. Imagine a scene in a movie where a character jumps out from behind a crate. When writing the score for that scene you can build up to that moment and do a huge flourish when they pop out; you would know with frame accuracy when that was going to happen. If it was in a game, the player might go straight to the area where it happens, or they might hang around in the lobby for a while first, maybe explore a different hallway. You no longer know how long the music should build for. The music has to feel like it fits, and it needs to feel seamless. Composing music that changes based on interaction is a totally different way of thinking, and it’s that dynamic nature of composition for games that really draws me to it.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on, and why?
My favourite projects would have to be Fate Tectonics, and another game I’m working on right now called Graceful Explosion Machine. In Fate Tectonics we were able to include a fairly robust dynamic music system that changes based on gameplay. I got to write a sort of 16-bit interactive orchestra. GEM is a lot of fun to work on because I get to use a bunch of fun synths and interesting production techniques. I’ll be showing that off early next year. Besides those, I really enjoy working on my “12GB of Christmas” albums because I get to mash together my love of game music and of Christmas. I’m a huge Christmas fanatic. It’s my favourite time of year, and the music has such a great history and variation.
How do studios and collaborators find you for projects? Do you have any frequent collaborators?
The games industry in Toronto is huge, and very well-connected. Only ~5% of my work comes from someone finding me through my website, soundcloud, bandcamp, etc. The rest of my work has come from being around other people in the industry all the time. It feels like it’s all referrals. You work with one team, people get familiar with your work, recommend you to someone else or one person moves to another team, and then hopefully you continue to work together after that. I have a few people I collaborate with all the time. Right now I’m doing my second game with Vertex Pop, likewise for Secret Location and Laundry Bear Games. On top of that, I’ve worked with the founders of Laundry Bear on 4-5 other titles as freelancers at other studios. When you find people you like to work with, you try to stick together.

Composing, making trailers, designing sound, and teaching are a fairly lengthy and diverse list of skills and responsibilities. How do you balance them? Do you tend to do more work in one of these realms than the others? Do you have a favorite?
I always have three to five projects on the go at any given time, and I tend to divide them up to certain days of the week. In terms of preferred tasks, my number one role is as a composer. That on its own hasn’t made me enough of a living (at least not yet), so early on it was clear to me that I would need to do more if I wanted to stay independent and work in the games industry. I understand audio production from making music, and making sound effects is sort of like composing little tiny pieces, so it seemed like an easier pivot. Once I’d been in the industry around five years I started teaching game audio at the Sheridan college. It’s a good way to give back, make connections, and it’s good money in the slow season. As for making game trailers, I don’t have much of an explanation for that one. I’ve done a bunch of video editing work over the years, so it was just another service I started to provide when I realized there was a market for it.

What are your professional goals?
Right now half of my projects are fun and creatively interesting, so I’d like to do more and more of those. One major goal for me is to work on an old-school JRPG, a type of game that has been a huge influence on my music and my career in games in general. I’d love to be able to create a world with a long list of themes for characters and areas so I could play with the motifs and different emotions. Square-Enix made a bunch of those games back in the day; a few of my friends work for them now and I think it would be fun to do if the right opportunity came up.

How did you hear about .GAMES?
One day I was working at my desk and my friend Ben just bursts into my office and yells “COMPOSER.GAMES! GET IT NOW!” He’s a managing partner at a marketing firm (DECOSTA inc), and understands a lot about SEO and managing online presence. Both “composer” and “games” are words that I want a high search ranking for, so now I’m one step closer to that.

What prompted you to register www.composer.games and redirect it to your website when you already had your .COM domain?
I think it’s great because it’s a lot easier to tell someone to go to composer.games than it is to teach them how to spell my name. Most people misspell it as Robbie, or miss the second U in Duguay. Eventually I’ll have a proper landing page that connects with the rest of my site, but for now the redirect is very handy.

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