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Ryan Ike

Composer for Media

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Creativity

Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Barf

I had an important lesson to share with you this week, but then I started thinking about 90s cartoons and now everything’s all fucked up.

Let me…let me just work through this for a minute and hopefully it’ll come back to me.

When I was a kid, all my favorite tv shows revolved around teams of color-coordinated teenagers saving the world from robots with brain-squids for tummies and badly animated claymation pigs and stuff. Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, Power Rangers, things like that. Those shows were to me what Sex and the City was to adult women in the 90s. I’d sit on the playground with my friends, drinking my Capri Sun out of a cosmo glass; “Oh, Marshal’s definitely a Tommy. He always wears green, he’s a born leader, and he’s the only one of us who wields the fabled dagger capable of summoning the mighty Dragonzord from the depths of the sea.”

 

It was a simpler, stupider time.
It was a simpler, stupider time.

Anyway, one of my favorite shows was Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It was about a bunch of kids with elementally-powered rings, and when they combined them, they summoned a muscly blue dude who’s shirt was somehow both a V-neck and a crop top.

Or maybe an adult bib with a built in loudspeaker.
Or maybe an adult bib with a built in loudspeaker.

There were five Planeteers, and most of them ruled. Linka was a Russian girl with the power to blast her foes with hot, Soviet wind. Gi controlled water, and wore a gold medal around her neck all the time, which was probably the award for “Most Off-Screen Drownings Committed by a Single Person.” Kwame could make literal earthquakes, but who gives a crap because he was voiced by LeVar Burton, and being able to move tectonic plates is weak sauce compared to having Geordi La Forge for a voice box. Wheeler could start stuff on fire, and his name was “Wheeler,” so you know he had a promising future as a lead in a high school sex-ed video later in life.

And then, there was Ma-Ti.

Sigh.
Sigh.

See, the thing about Ma-Ti is that Ma-Ti sucks shit. His power was “Heart,” which is A) Not an element, B) The name of a 70s rock band that’s a trillion times cooler than what his ring actually does, and C) The worst. He had the ability to talk to animals, which, for some reason, he almost exclusively used on rodents. How many squirrels did it take to clean up the BP oil spill again? Oh, that’s right, none, because squirrels don’t give a flying-squirrel fuck about the environment.

He could also use his ring to “instill empathy” in people, which is like…what. What is that. God, that sucks. That’s not a thing. Kwame just swallowed the villain’s base into the gaping, ragged maw of the earth, but it’s totally cool because this other bad guy over here is, like, totally feeling my vibe, you know?

In addition, he could kind of do mind control, and by “kind of,” I mean, not at all, ever. He could beg a rhinoceros for a ride into battle and it would still have the power to kick him in the head and peace-the-eff out. That rhinoceros had the courage to do what his friends could not.

Ugh.

Wait, oh my god you guys! I just remembered what the point of all this was! I’m Ma-Ti! And you can be too!

As creative people, it’s important to know how your work “fits in.” What your niche is. While a few people achieve success by being a jack-of-all-trades in their field, many, many more do it by figuring out what their “thing” is and doing the absolute hell out of it.

But! It’s not just enough to find a niche for your creativity. You have to like the one you find, and that’s a whole other thing altogether. You might be a game dev who’s amazing at making shmups, but if you hate shmups, then none of it matters, does it?

I’ll give you an example; it’s taken me years to figure it out, but my niche is that I’m a very melodic composer. That’s just how I write; some composers base their music on ambience or rhythm, but I like to figure out a catchy tune first and hang everything else on that. That’s my thing. It’s definitely not the only thing I can do, but it’s probably what I’m best at, musically.

Thing is, I used to not like that about myself. Maybe it was all the atonal stuff I studied in grad school, but I used to think it was simple or naive that all I really wanted out of music was to make melodies people got stuck in their heads. Shouldn’t I want more? Shouldn’t I want to push the boundaries of what music is?

It was only when I realized that a massive percentage of everyone’s favorite game music is just catchy melodies that things clicked for me. Super Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, they all have tunes that stick with us, that we want to hum and sing and make our own renditions of.

Realizing that was what caused me to accept my niche as a melodic composer, and when I did, my writing changed completely. I was more productive, more confident in what I was doing, and best of all, the stuff I was making was better received by both me and my audience.

That’s the thing about Ma-Ti. Some people (cough) might think his ability to talk to animals could be equally achieved by spending four minutes googling birdcalls, but he knows what his role on the team is and he goes for it. He’s the emotional core of the Planeteers, and when one of your teammates is an angry ginger who can start fires with his mind, that’s a good thing to have. While the rest of the squad are busy trying to fix pollution by leveling buildings and flooding people’s basements, he’s trying to change the hearts and minds of the bad guys so they won’t want to dump toxic waste in that fish hatchery in the first place. They literally can’t summon Captain Planet without him.

Ma-Ti knows his niche. He knows what he’s good at, he’s proud of it, and he (somehow) kicks ass because of it.

Does finding your creative niche mean you’re only limited to doing that one thing? That you can only write noir thrillers, or only bake mini cupcakes, or only make side scrolling shooters? Of course not. But there’s power in knowing what you’re best at, and accepting why it’s awesome carries a lot of weight. It can turn you from someone who’s good at a specific thing into the guy or girl people come to because of that thing. Even if that thing is a stupid heart ring that wouldn’t even help you get a job managing the robotic mice at Circus Pizza.

So, how about you? What’s your niche? In your creative realm, what are you best at? What’s your favorite 90s cartoon? Does anyone remember Swat Cats? How dope was that show? Let me hear from you!

Ryan

A Grand Don’t Come For Free (But Self Worth Does)

I’m going to teach you how to get people to love your work. But first, let me talk to you about The Streets.

No, not the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen, where I often imagine I’m a silent, acrobatic protector, defending the city from the creeping tendrils of a criminal underworld until Audrey at Whole Foods yells at me to stop pretending those zucchinis are combat batons and get the fuck out.

No, you guys. You guys. I’m talking about The Streets.

I’m begging you; don’t read any further until you’ve watched at least the first 30 seconds of that. As a millennial, I understand that committing to an entire YouTube video is a lot to ask.  Working six unpaid internships and selling your bone marrow to a black market organ dealer behind Jack-In-The-Box just to pay your student loans means you don’t have a lot of free time. But, please, just give me 30 seconds. And don’t just listen.

Listen.

This is an English rap group called The Streets, and they are professionally, and completely unintentionally, the worst. They sing out of tune, they clearly show up to their music videos in whatever they were wearing that day, and I love them.

Oh, what’s that? You want another? Despite the fact that you’re vigorously and definitively shaking your head “no,” I can see your heart, reader. You need this. No, no, don’t get up.

In this video, he rhymes “yeah, yeah, I do want it” with “chips and drinks.” He’s got a stack of polaroids as thick as a fresh ream of printer paper despite the fact that this song came out in 2004. At one point, he stops to accuse an investment banker who bumps into him on the street if he’s “smoking crack or something” and it has so little to do with the rest of the song that I’m convinced it actually happened during filming and the editor was so bombed on Four Locos that it got left in.

So why have I gifted this incredible cultural treasure to you? Because this week, I want to talk to you about recognition, self-worth, and believing in your work, and through a hilarious cosmic joke, it turns out this band is the perfect example.

As creative people, we all crave recognition for what we do. Whether it’s from friends or family, our professional peers, fans, or just a few anonymous likes on Twitter, recognition is often the fuel that keeps us going, keeps us moving on to the next project. It’s certainly not the only reason we make stuff, but it can often be the thing that gives us the drive to soldier on when we miss out on that great gig, or when writer’s block has been hounding us for days.

The problem is, a lot of creators seek recognition from others first. They freeze before they hit “publish” on that next article, before going out on stage, before submitting that next big track to a client. The tense up and wonder “Will other people like this?”

They crazy thing? It totally doesn’t matter.

Agonizing over whether or not an amorphous, non-defined group of strangers will like a thing you’re working on doesn’t bring fans. It doesn’t bring recognition. Even if you successfully managed to tweak and twist your work into something that has massive appeal, now you’re stuck with a group of people who love a fake version of yourself that you only made up to make them happy. And what’s worse, you probably hate the thing you made for them now.

If you want recognition, and the financial and spiritual success that comes with it, the only question you should be asking about your work is not “Will this make them happy?” but “Does this make me happy?”

Look at The Streets again. Do you think they gave two shits about what other people were going to think when they made an entire concept album about losing a stack of drug money down the vent on the back of a TV? Do you think they stopped to consider how the masses would respond when they were writing sick rhymes like “yes yes oh yay” and “we didn’t order chicken, not a problem, we’ll pick it out”?

Absolutely not. They did all of those things because they thought it was cool. And yet both the videos above have over a million views. They’ve sold out shows, have numerous hit singles in the UK, and throngs of adoring fans who legitimately like them for the stuff they wanted to make anyway!

This is what happens when you work to please yourself first, and stop worrying about how to make a bunch of made up strangers happy. Your fanbase will grow, you’ll gain that recognition, and it’ll be because of work you truly believe in. Is it a harder, longer path than simply trying to pander to the largest, most bland crowd possible? Totally. But if that was all you wanted out of life, you’d be Michael Bay. And no one wants to be Michael Bay, not even Michael Bay!

This tactic of putting your own creative desires first can even win over people who don’t like what you’re making. When I was in high school, me and some of my friends listened to The Streets ironically. And rural Minnesotans don’t even know what irony is, so this was some advanced, theoretical-physics level poop behavior we were working with. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we actually listened to this stuff?” we’d say as it blared out of our stereo on one of our many runs down to Dairy Queen before meth addicts eventually turned it into a molten hole in the ground, filled with used “cookin’ spoons” and flaming popsicle sticks.

But Here’s The Thing: The Streets are so genuine in what they’re doing, so 100% behind whatever baffling musical decision they’ve just made, that I actually just like them now. They have a song called “Hotel Expressionism” that’s about being so good at utterly brutalizing a platinum suite at Holiday Inn that you’ve elevated its destruction to an art form, and I get it stuck in my head ALL THE TIME.

So please, the next time you catch yourself wondering if you’re making something that will appeal to others, something that’s “proper” or “right” or “acceptable,” stop yourself and, instead, ask if you’re making something that appeals to you. When you eventually start getting that recognition, and you will, it’ll be for something you actually don’t hate.

Your turn! What projects are you working on right now, and what do you like about them? Was there a time when you changed your work at the last minute to make others happy, and how did it go? Which Streets song is your favorite, and why is it “Sharp Darts?” Reply below and let me know!

Ryan

 

Fear and Loathing in Game Development

Let me tell you about my (literally) deepest fear.

See, I’m absolutely terrified of the deep ocean. Usually, the word “irrational” would appear somewhere in that last sentence, but I’m not being irrational, you’re being irrational mom!

Sorry, that got away from me a bit. So by “deep” ocean, I don’t mean the pretty, sparkly blue part that makes up the first couple thousand feet or so. That’s where dolphins romp and play and, I assume, press their blowholes together to make hilarious water farts when no one is watching. Ariel lives there when she’s not rearranging her entire life and everything that makes her special so that a boy will like her!

Prince_Eric
Destructive behavior, sure, but jesus look at that jawline. I get it.

No, when I say “deep” ocean, I mean the black part at the bottom. The part closest to hell, where there’s no light and the pressure alone could crush your skull like an empty Capri Sun. The part where this lives:

The Black Swallower

This happy fellow is called a black swallower, and I’m very afraid of it because it’s called a black swallower. H.P. Lovecraft monsters think about this thing when they’re walking to their car late at night in a bad neighborhood of the Far Realm.

“Well, fine, but that’s gotta be a special case right?” I can hear you asking. “Not everything down there looks like a sketch H.R. Giger threw away because it was wigging him out.” Well to that, reader, I say SURPRISEVIPERFISH

viperfish1

Nature forgot to tell this thing that you’re only allowed 2 fangs per mouth. Not every tooth can be a fang, viper fish. Oh, also, they’re so huge that it literally can’t close its jaws, and its eyeball looks like a window into a purgatory full of unfulfilled souls. So there’s that.

Need more convincing? Goblin sharks are real creatures that live on the same planet as us and can smell your nightmares from thousands of miles away.

goblinshark

Ocean. *Snaps fingers* OCEAN. Enough.

So why am telling you about this realm of horrors that scares the shit out of me? A place that makes up MOST OF THE EARTH, I might add?

It’s because I want to talk to you about fear this week. It’s because, as creative professionals, we deal with fear constantly, and on a daily basis. Fear that we can’t do it. Fear that we aren’t good enough. That we won’t get the gig, that people will hate our work, that everyone will figure out we’re frauds, etc.

It can be crippling at it’s worst, and anyone who tells you they never deal with it is a liar.

But don’t worry; I’m going to tell you two simple ways you can deal with fear in your creative life! While I’ll be speaking from the viewpoint of a composer for games, this applies to any creative field, whether you’re in game dev or not.

1) Make a Plan

Feeling fear is one thing, but part of the reason we stay afraid is that we don’t prepare for what we’d do if that fear came to pass. Not only does planning ahead help you face your professional fears head on, but the very act of making a plan at all makes you less afraid in the first place! Neat, huh?

I’d encourage all of you to make a list of your professional fears sometime in the next week. Literally write it on paper, like an old person. Try to focus your fears into tangible events, rather than vague notions of “everything will be awful forever.” Again, this makes them less scary and helps you obliterate the shit out of them.

Then, write down one or two things you’ll do to if this fear comes to pass. I’ll give you a few examples of my own fears/contingency plans:

Fear: People will hate my next track.

Plan: Remind myself that literally every great artist who ever lived (John Williams, Walt Disney, The Rock) has made or helped create absolute garbage to get where they are (Superman Returns, Racism, Pain & Gain). See what I can learn from the track no-one liked and apply it to my next one.

Fear: I won’t get the gig I want.

Plan: Spend the night drinking and playing Metal Gear Solid V, wallowing in self pity. Then, the next day, get back up on it and start reaching out to developers I’m interested in working with, because there are a near infinite number of cool games being made right now, and they all need music.

Fear: James Cameron will try to coax me into his submarine and drag me to the bottom of the sea on one of his I’m-A-Crazy-Bajillionaire expeditions.

Plan: I will plant my feet firmly, make eye contact, and say “No, acclaimed writer-direction James Cameron. No. You get back to Hollywood and come up with more stupid names for fake minerals to appear in Avatar 2 where you belong.

See? Many or even most of the fears you write down will never even be a reality, but if they do come up, having a plan in place reminds you that you can’t control your fear, but you can control how you handle it.

2) Remember You’ve Already Won

This one’s even more important. I got the chance to chat with Auston Wintory (Journey, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) a bit at Indiecade a few years back. When I was asking for advice on how composers like me can forward their careers, he said this cool thing (paraphrasing):

“Just by getting out of the house and being here, you’ve already done it. Even if you don’t make any new contacts or get any new gigs, you’re better off than if you just stayed at home.”

As a creative person, think about what your professional fear’s ultimate goal is. It’s to make you stop. Make you quit. Step away from your piano, put down your brush, close the novel you’re writing and never open it again.

If you’re creating the thing you love right now, or on the path to being able to so (school, internship, whatever), then you’ve already won. Whether or not you’re acclaimed yet, whether or not you can support yourself with your creative work (if that’s your goal), as long as you keep making the thing you want to make, it doesn’t matter if every fear on your list comes true. The absolute worst-case scenario for every single thing you’re afraid of is that you give up and never come back. Just by posting that blog, or starting that YouTube channel, or drawing a few more panels of that comic book, you’ve stopped your fears from doing the one thing they want to do more than anything: shut you down. And it only gets easier; the more you create, the better and more confident you get, and the more your fears shrink and fade.

Being creatively afraid is totally normal and ok. But our fear of failure is a lot less scary when you realize it has absolutely no power to make you stop doing what you do.

Happy Halloween!

Ryan

P.S. Bonus deep sea abomination! Blobfish!

blobfish

WHAT KIND OF GOD WOULD ALLOW THIS.

 

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