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#AFtalks: Music Behind Apps with Richard Ludlow, Co-Founder & Audio Director at Hexany Labs

Welcome to our #AFtalks recap!

Have you ever wondered how some apps and games chose their music or where they got it from? This week we caught up with an audio professional to learn more about the decisions that go into choosing music and sound effects for your app or game. For those that aren’t as music savvy, we aimed to provide our community with insight into the benefits of audio work and what steps to take to implement right groove into your app.

Our guest this week was Richard Ludlow, the Co-Founder and Audio Director at Hexany Audio, an audio post-production studio specializing in original music, sound, and dialogue for games and interactive media. We asked Richard to share his insights and advice on this topic with the questions below. Included are his answers:

Q1: How did you get into sound production for apps/games?

A: I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and while there I discovered and fell in love with game audio. Inspired by great teachers like Michael Sweet, I saw a career in music and sound for games as a real possibility, and while at Berklee co-founded the company I run today, Hexany Audio.

Q2: What are some of the benefits of having custom sound for your app/game?

A: Both licensed and bespoke audio work have their place in games— and I think this largely depends on the experience you’re building; but like most films, the majority of films are accompanied with some original music and sound. The reason being that every project is so unique and so varied, that it requires something special to fit it.

However, this is just one small reason. In reality, music and sound design evolve and change over the course of a game in many different ways than a linear experience like a film. And crafting an interactive score or sonic landscape that can change and adapt and be modified in real time based on the player’s actions means that some level of customization is almost always required to adapt to the interactive nature of games. But that’s what makes them so exciting!

Q3: What’s the first step developers can take towards having better audio for their apps/games?

A: The first and most basic step is probably just not waiting until the very last minute to audio to games. So often we find developers coming to us in the very final stages of development, looking for the audio frosting on their game cake. But audio can be so much more— and it can be cheaper, more effective, and better optimized when produced in tandem with the rest of the development cycle. I’d absolutely encourage developers to consider bringing on their audio team as early in the development process as possible.

Q4: At what stage of an app or game’s development should audio design begin?

A: I definitely should have read all of the questions before typing out these answers. :-) But hopefully, this underscores the importance of bringing on sound designers and composers early in the process. Pre-production definitely isn’t too early. Why? Because you can work out your audio tech pipeline and figure out exactly what tech you’ll need to budget for, both cash-wise and time-wise.

That being said, while being brought on early is great, being asked to design sound for animations that are incomplete or not even started can be a huge waste of time. It’s a balance of knowing at what stage to begin work on something so that it does not have to be re-done numerous times. The tiniest animation changes impact audio, so that’s why bringing on an audio team/person early on is best — they will be the person to tell you when they should be beginning work on the different aspects of your game.

Q5: How do you determine the appropriate audio for an app/game?

A: This is a great question. Sometimes developers come to us with a very specific vision, and other times they ask us to do what we think is best. Either way, we try and get a baseline for what the developer likes, and then extrapolate from there. This usually means providing references and producing concept audio and gauging reactions before diving into complete audio production mode.

Once we settle on a general style, we like to take a step back on projects that have longer production timelines. We evaluate the game as a whole and like to assign three keywords to it— words that we feel embody the spirit of the game and what we are trying to capture with the audio. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s a good litmus test to come back to during the design phase and say “is this sound capturing the essence of these words?” If not, we rethink it.

Q6: What are some common misconceptions behind creating or picking music for games/apps?

A: I feel like this varies from developer to developer. But with those less experienced, I’m not sure the time required to produce music is fully understood. We are often asked by developers newer to the process to create a couple versions and then let them pick their favourites. This can be an incredible amount of work because while you might be able to get the idea for a character from a sketch, a musical sketch is usually much more difficult for an untrained musician to imagine what it will sound like in the end— and consequently we need to produce it much more fully. So just keeping in mind how long it takes us to produce things will probably help everyone in the process. :)

Final Thoughts:

Share your thoughts and/or resources in the comments below!

Check out the rest of the insights we heard today on the #AFtalks hashtag.

Huge thanks to Richard and to all those that were part of today’s discussion! Join us for our weekly Twitter chat every Tuesday at 1pm ET (bring your friends!). See you all next week!