Search

Ryan Ike

Composer for Media

Tag

Music

I Ain’t Afraid Of No Gear Lust

I’d rather have a proton pack than a Megazord

Wait, where are you going? No this is serious, I was about to use those two things as a clever framing device for a lesson on how to make amazing creative work without expensive equipment and a massive budget! I can do it, I was an English minor in college! I have a master’s degree oh god please come back I’m so lonelyyyyyyyyyyyy

Oh…oh you’re…you’re still here. Oh god thank you. This means a lot. Having someone to listen, I mean. You can only give so many impassioned speeches about the power of community or the creative spirit to the lady ringing up your plastic bottle Canadian scotch before they slap your picture on a wall and ban you from Fred Meyer, you know?

Don't judge me, it'll get you there juuuuust fine.
Don’t judge me, it’ll get you there juuuuust fine.

I wanted to talk to you this week about a phenomenon every creative professional must face. It’s that feeling that you can’t really make something truly great until you have that shiny new toy. That the only thing holding you back is that your equipment isn’t nice enough, that you shouldn’t even bother starting on any of the great ideas you have because without that expensive mcguffin, whatever you’d make would be trash compared to everyone else’s.

This phenomenon is called Gear Lust, and it is the bright red Kia Sorrento of the creative world. It seems harmless, and might even get you places for a bit, but eventually, it’ll leave you stranded in a ditch, on fire, with hillbillies groping around in your mouth trying to pull out your fillings.

To prove that as a creative, you can (and should) make amazing stuff without first investing hundreds in top notch gear, I’m going to reference pertinent examples from real-life professionals to put everything into a tangible, grounded context that anyone can relate to.

Nah, I’m fucking with you, let’s talk about Ghostbusters and Power Rangers.

what
what

Both are amazing super teams of kind-of-but-not-really ethnically diverse professionals keeping America and parts of a soundstage in Japan safe from supernatural jerks. But while one is an excellent example of being scrappy and inventive with the equipment on hand, the other one tends to blow things out of proportion.

No really, I’m sticking with this metaphor. I’m gonna beat this dead horse until I either bring it back to life or animal control has to deploy bald eagles with stinger missiles to stop me. Buckle up.

Power Rangers? More like . . . like Power Dangers of . . . of buying. . . of when you, when you buy too much stuff . . . ?

I LOVED this show when I was a kid, and not just because it was essentially created in a lab to target childrens’ brains and shoot a beam of pure capitalism into their cerebral cortexes. Every toy store back then sold replicas of the butt-ton of weapons, robots, and characters featured in every episode, all of them hastily assembled, all of them lead-based. Like, holy shit, so much lead. If a nuke had fallen on my house, all I’d have to do was hold my dragonzord above my head and I’d emerge from the flames unscathed like some post-apocalyptic child-god.

So, predatory, kid-targeted merchandizing empire aside, the show was a treat. For those of you who never got into it (WHAT) or if it was beyond your time (GO BACK IN TIME THEN), Power Rangers was about 5 teens who get bestowed with superpowers by a giant head in a jar and his buddy, a robot costume with a little person slowly suffocating inside. And by “powers” I mean the martial arts they already knew how to do for some reason, coupled by a Dragoncon’s worth of crazy anime shit. Bows that turned into guns, guns that turned into bigger guns, and in one very special episode, bigger guns that turned into an MRI machine because Billy had brain cancer. It was . . . misguided.

Anyway, every episode followed a specific curve: Rita Repulsa, who lives on the moon and has nothing better to do than fuck with five specific kids in SoCal, makes a crazy monster and sends it to town. Power Rangers stomp it’s ass, at which point Rita hurls her crazy staff to earth by hand, which she can do because under her weird astro-frock she’s yoked as fuck, and it makes the monster super-sized.

ABS ARE MADE IN THE KITCHEN, MOTHERFUCKERS
ABS ARE MADE IN THE KITCHEN, MOTHERFUCKERS

The Power Rangers hop in their separate, prehistoric-themed giant robots, which they then plug together into a larger robot because they already color-coordinate their everyday outfits to their power ranger suits, so fuck it, we passed any modicum of restraint forever ago. They get their asses kicked while destroying half of Angel Grove, until they suddenly remember they can SUMMON A GIANT GLEAMING SWORD FROM THE CLOUDS LIKE ANY TIME THEY WANT. They light that bad boy up and then this happens.

Like death-flytrap

Every death-jellyfish

Single death-pirantishead

Time death-mantis

You see the problem here? The Power Rangers have insane tech coming out their butts, but they only use it in this incredibly rigid, limited way. Whenever a problem comes along that they can’t solve with the above routine, they freak out and bring in even more equipment because they’re not using what they already have to it’s fullest potential. Instead of needing to get a second giant robot involved, what if you tried intercepting Rita’s monster-enlarging staff and snapped it in two? Before you add a sixth ranger who’s a total dick to everyone off camera, have you considered letting NASA know that crazy horned space witches aren’t just for Yes album covers, but that there’s actually one living on the moon?

Instead of shouting “It’s Morphin’ Time!” whenever they transform, the Power Rangers might as well scream “We Are The 1%!” because they are incredibly privileged but unable to adapt to change in any way.

Bustin’ (Preconceived Notions of How Much Fancy Equipment A Creative Professional Really Needs to Succeed) Makes Me Feel Good

Now let’s discuss a team that handles their business the smart way, and I’m not just referring to the fact that they decided to hire Ernie Hudson, with all of his smoldering “I’m a New Yorker and I’ve seen it all” sexuality. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Ernie_Hudson_Ghostbusters
Ladies.

The Ghostbusters, by the end of the movie, have created a successful business, gone to and gotten out of jail, gotten a recommendation from the mayor, saved New York City from destruction, and created a situation where a ton of budding young teens in the 80s had their sexual awakening while watching Bill Murray bat way out of his league with Sigourney Weaver and crush the shit out of it.

Ladies.
Ladies.

They achieved all of this with the following:

A. Car to get to where ghost is at

B. Blasty Thing to trap ghost temporarily

C. Portable Boxy Thing to trap ghost for longer

D. Bigger Red Boxy Thing to trap all ghosts forever in a freaky purgatory where they never rest and are never reunited with their loved ones in the afterlife

That’s it.

The Power Rangers, as much as I love them, punk out if a big rubber guy doesn’t fall down in three hits. The Ghostbusters fought a literal god and, instead of running back to base to invent anti Gozerian spray or an Ecto Catapult or something (note to self, patent pending on anti Gozerian spray and Ecto Catapult), they pushed the equipment they had to the limit with clever problem solving. And by clever problem solving, I mean risking ending all life on earth and all of our molecules exploding at the speed of light.

Mission Accomplished, though, amirite? USA! USA!
Mission Accomplished, though, amirite? USA! USA!

As creative professionals it is very tempting to give into the idea that we can’t do our job to our fullest without top-tier equipment, but the fact is that almost no one starts out with that stuff. Name anyone you look up to or respect in your field, and I almost guarantee they got where they are by cutting their teeth on cheap, crappy, or minimal equipment, and only upgraded after they had a higher understanding of what they could do with less.

I’m not saying upgrading your gear in order to solve unique problems is bad. I’m saying doing it in that order is. The next time you run into an obstacle, or a client makes a request you don’t think your current tech will allow, try to find a creative way around it first before giving in to that need to upgrade. Hire a friend who plays that instrument you don’t have in your library. Borrow a colleague’s gear in return for buying them a drink. See if you can find a creative solution in the software or equipment you have now to meet your needs.

If you work this way, I promise that, when you do upgrade your gear, you’ll make smarter choices, and be a thousand times better at your job. Because you fooled everybody into thinking your shitty, free music writing software sounds like the New York Philharmonic.

"Ray, if someone asks you if you can write a 60 piece orchestra suite in Garageband, you say 'YES!'"
“Ray, if someone asks you if you can write a 60 piece orchestra suite in Garageband, you say ‘YES!'”

That’s it for this week, but I’d love to hear from you! Any examples of times you’ve given in to Gear Lust? I know I have. What about times you overcame a tech or gear limitation creatively, without buying something new? How bullshit was Power Rangers Turbo?

Ryan

P.S. Those free sounds I posted are leaving Dropbox this weekend, so grab them here if you haven’t yet!

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

Starr Mazer

Starr Mazer FundedStarr Mazer is one of those games that I still sort of can’t believe is actually happening.

Mixing old school SHMUP and point-and-click adventure game elements into an entirely new thing? Check.

Amazing cast of characters, led by a mix between Han Solo and Zapp Brannigan? Check.

Gorgeous pixel art that looks like an oil painting made out of little squares? Check.

Oh, and a soundtrack featuring the likes of chiptune legend Alex Mauer, Manami Matsumae from Mega Man, Virt from Shovel Knight, and over 20 other amazing artists?

YOU BET YOUR ASS CHECK.

Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer and tell me that doesn’t look so cool it’s unfair.

Starr Mazer from Imagos Films on Vimeo.

I couldn’t be more excited to be one of the artists included, and I can’t wait to get started. I’ll share music here as it comes along, but for now, here’s a remix I made of Alex Mauer’s main theme.

Oh, and to everyone who backed us, THANK YOU. Things like this don’t get made without hundreds of cool people being willing to take a risk on us. You are the best.

-Ryan

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑