Sound Check: Jamie Lee

This week we are launching the first of our new monthly feature called SoundCheck. It intends to spotlight the work of a Sound Production student at New College Lanarkshire who has done particularly good work in recent months and deserves being showcased to the wider world.

This month, we would like to introduce you to Jamie Lee, whose work is featured in a recently released video game called Minitime, developed by the Norwegian indie studio Minibyte.

We asked Jamie a little about how he got involved and how he found his first experience of making music for a video game:

“How did you end up being involved in the Minitime project?”

Well the opportunity to work on the music for the game came around because of a few things. For one, when I was about 14 years old, I was composing stuff on GarageBand for the iPad in my bedroom, even when I was on holiday! A couple of years later I became friends with a guy who livestreamed Mario Kart on the website Twitch and said that he wanted to hear my stuff. This pushed me to upload my tracks to Soundcloud and one of the viewers named Thea liked the songs I had made and we became great friends!

She now works in video games, doing artwork and animation for an indie team named Minibyte. When working on Minitime, she remembered my fondness of composing video game tracks and so forwarded my name to the rest of the team she was working with. In the end, it was decided that they wanted two composers involved, myself and a German composer/producer named Hunga.

It just goes to show that you can find amazing friends and opportunities in the strangest places sometimes. Casually playing Mario Kart with viewers in a livestream, befriending them, can lead to doing the music for their game a few years later.

“How did you find the experience of working on sound for the game?”

I was initially scared that juggling college work and doing composition for this game at the same time would be difficult, but fortunately, I discussed this with my lecturers and they allowed me to use it as a Graded Unit portfolio artefact.

Communication mainly stayed between myself, Kristian (The Dev Team Leader) and Hunga within a Facebook group chat. The game consists of a large number of short minigames and Kristian would let us know when he had new content for us to play. So whenever there were new minigames added, we would choose which of us would compose the music for that particular section. The physical distance between us made communication a challenge at times, but we managed to make it work despite our busy lives and other commitments. (Shout out to Kristian and Hunga for being the coolest guys to work with!)

After the launch of Minitime on Steam, I got a ton of compliments on my work on the soundtrack.

“What software and tools did you use on this project?”

I didn’t get very technical with this project as it’s meant to just be dumb fun! The whole project was done within Ableton Live using my Arturia Keylab 49 that I bought after I was taken onboard by the team. Something funny I suppose I could mention is that Minitime’s main theme song was composed and played entirely on my PC’s keyboard!

I feel like Ableton Live 10 is fantastic in nearly every way and it was extremely suitable for this kind of project since it was heavily MIDI based. I implore anyone who is interested in composing for video games to get Ableton Live 10 Suite. I emphasise the Suite version because its better to be overwhelmed with instruments and various other options rather than scavenging the internet for that one French horn sample you desperately want for your victory fanfare.

“What was your compositional approach to the minigames”

I would open up the game and get a feel for the minigames that I would be composing for. I took into consideration the characters, the background/area, situation, game feel and pace. If a game was fast paced, it’d be obvious to just increase the tempo, right? The majority of the tracks are 120BPM to keep consistency between the minigames. Minigames, like the Guaca Mole and Tank, were influenced by what you see visually. You control a tank, so I composed a military style track using orchestral influence, yet kept it bouncy and light hearted. The Guaca Mole track was set within a jungle, so I felt that instrumentation such as steel drums and marimba would work with this setting. Its one of those instances where you need to use your own intuition to make a choice on what is most suitable for the setting.

“Can you outline some of the things you’ve learned during the process?”

In a project that is constantly changing and updated, communication needs to be really tight. If nobody else is communicating with you – be the one to ask the questions! You’ll get an answer and even get a conversation and discussion going where you may find more ideas. I found its best to be yourself and talk to the people you are involved with as if they are your friend. We all bonded because we’re all big Nintendo nerds. Having a wide variety of musical influences on hand, be it from YouTube or other places, can really help you find what you are looking for from a compositional or tonal standpoint.

When it comes to finding instrumentation or mixing techniques, I found it useful to study other peoples work to get a feel for what I was looking for. For example, I wanted to have the feeling of a Nintendo Wii Sports track in the Bowling minigame so I studied and replicated the music of this to find similarities and potential techniques used.

“What are your plans/hopes for the future?”

Professionally, I want to be obtaining opportunities everywhere, even in areas I am not so confident in as I feel the potential of failure allows you to grow as a person. However I am always optimistic that I can do an amazing job! I think the dream end goal would be to be picked up by Nintendo, its always healthy to be a big dreamer!

Places I can be found are:

Email: uberleezyyo [at] gmail [dot] com

Minitime is available to buy from Steam for PC, here: Buy Minitime

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