Yesterday we held a really insightful webinar about music in games with Sony PlayStation music supervisor Lindsey Smith.
Thanks to those of you who joined us, if you missed out or want to refresh your memory you can check out part 1 of our conversation below:
Hi Lindsey, thanks for joining us. Can you give us some background on your career and what you do at Sony PlayStation?
I actually originally studied biochemistry, so me getting into music was a bit of a 360! I got a job as a receptionist at a record label and from there I started working at lots of indie publishers, so my background is really in sync licensing for publishing. And that’s how I got to know the guys at PlayStation pretty well, so when a job came up there they said, “are you interested in joining the other side?” and I was like yes I am, sounds amazing – who wouldn’t want to work at PlayStation! So that’s pretty much how it happened. It’s actually been really useful having a background in publishing because I understand how the publishers and labels are working and I think it makes it a lot easier for me when I’m approaching them.
What’s the team and the environment like at PlayStation?
So in the music licensing department there’s four music supervisors and myself, and then we have a manager Martin who looks after the team. We all sit together in one room and we all have our individual projects, so Martin will allocate work out to us – we all work across games and trailers so we all have our own stuff. But there’s a lot of camaraderie in the office – we all share music or share briefs, we like bouncing ideas off each other. So we have our own things to do but there is collaboration.
We always like to hear about teams working well together, especially when you’re pitching it’s nice to know you’re not just sending your music to one set of ears
Yeah that’s one really good thing about having a nice group of people working together in an office. One person will be working on an ad and they’ll turn around and say, “so we’ve sent over this and the client likes it, but it’s not quite right”, and then someone else will be like, “oh well actually I just got this from someone else and it might be perfect”. That actually happened last year for a piece of music and it ended up being on several trailers. Stuff like that happens quite often with us. So yeah if you’re sending your music over, chances are we’ll all get to listen to it and hear about it.
Excellent, so aside from people responding to briefs and pitching music in do you have any go-to web resources to help you think outside of the box?
For me personally I love Spotify and going through it and listening to all different things. I get onto this trail where I’m kind of like ‘oh these people are listening and they’re also listening to this, and then this, and then this’, and then I’ve had 4 hours of just going through and listening to lots of random music and I only intended to listen to one thing at the beginning. But you know we have a lot of people sending us music all the time and inviting us to gigs. There’s a lot out there, but there’s not really any specific way I look for stuff. I think organically lots of stuff comes to us.
Are you always open to the new labels and publishers sending you music?
Yeah I mean we’re all music supervisors, we do it because we love music. We’re all open to receiving music from anybody at any time, feel free to send it over. One thing that’s tough, and I know how tough it is because obviously I was on the other side and I promised myself when I became a music supervisor that I was going to email everyone back and make sure they know I’ve listened and downloaded their music. Then you get into this job and you just realise how tough that is. If I responded to every single email I got I wouldn’t actually get my job done.
But we’re all open to receiving music, we will all download and listen to it, maybe not the same day you send it, maybe not even in the same week, but eventually we get there. Obviously if I meet people it’s a bit easier for me to remember and put two and two together. One thing I have noticed recently is people send me music but it’s not always clear to me if they’re a label or a publisher. The name of their company might be something that isn’t “something records” or “something publishing”, so just drop in what you control, what you can turn around quickly, if you have any one stop shops. We’re happy to receive anything.
When it comes to games obviously we’ll have specific briefs but we’re not just about games at PlayStation, we have tonnes of trailers. I think we put out over 100 trailers every year, so that’s also a lot of music that we’re having to source and license, and we have no idea from one day to the next what we’re going to be asked for. So don’t just send stuff thinking about a specific project, send me your best music, send me what you want me to hear. Because you never know what’s going to be around the corner.
Right, and something else we also recommend to our clients at Synchtank is to keep your metadata really tight, because your file could sit in a music supervisor’s iTunes for 6 months and then be discovered and be perfect. But if you’re not removing barriers to contact it might not happen.
Yeah, that’s another thing. You hear music supervisors saying over and over again “please tag your tracks” but it really is so important. I’ve lost count of the amount of things I’ve dragged into iTunes and it’s just gone 1,2,3,4,5 and I’ll be like I have no idea what this is!
So regarding the trailers vs. the actual games what’s the difference in the kind of music you look for?
There are so many different types of game out there, so many different types of genres and it’s the same when it comes to trailers. It’s very much on a case-by-case basis.
So you mentioned pitching earlier but we just wanted to ask what are your biggest pet peeves about people pitching – what are the big no-nos?
To be honest the biggest one is tagging your music. I’ts just frustrating because I’m then like I don’t know what to do with this. I’ve put it into my iTunes and I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I just delete it because I don’t even want to listen to it incase it’s really great and then I can’t figure out where it’s come from!
But other than that I don’t mind people following up with emails, that’s absolutely fine, but don’t email me every Thursday saying, “have you listened to my music yet? have you listened to my music yet? have you listened to my music yet?” I will come back to you and if there’s something that you’ve sent me that I want to use then of course 100% I will. I am listening to everything but I really don’t have the time and it’s not being rude, I just want people to realise that with all music supervisors it’s not a case of us going “oh we can’t be bothered”, it really is just you’ve sent me an email and so have 200 other people.
I’ll usually just download everything and then run all the downloads in the background and then later in the day I’ll file them all away and have a listen. But I don’t really have time to respond to every person that emails me. But don’t let that put you off emailing me – please still send your music, I do want it!
Yeah we’ve actually got some questions from people and one songwriter asks “where do we send music to?”
Connect with me on LinkedIn – my picture is me sitting next to an alien!
One of the big things we were wondering about is whether there’s a general process for working on a game? How early does the music factor in?
Well that really depends on the game and what music’s going to be in the game. So if there’s going to be a lot of commissioned music then obviously we’ll be involved fairly early on, but they’ll still have quite a bit of the game made. If it’s gonna be a lot of licensed commercial music then we can come in a lot later on when the game is almost finished. So it really does vary from game to game.
And on the commission stuff do you work with the composer to score it and guide that creatively?
Well usually we’ll have a brief from the development team about what they’re working on and there’s a certain kind of format of the brief they provide so the composer knows exactly what they need to be doing. And then conversation will happen between music licensing, the composer, the producer, just to make sure everything is going according to plan.
Just a random question here – there’s a video game called Destiny that Paul McCartney wrote the score for and also wrote a single called ‘Hope for the Future’, and the video is all based in the Destiny world. Did you get to meet Paul McCartney?
No I didn’t! I don’t know if someone in our American office did though, I’ll have to check.
So early on when you’re commissioning or licensing music for a game do you ever get any creative input?
Again that kind of depends, because you’ll have some producers and teams that have a very clear vision from the off of exactly what they want and how they want it to sound, and what they want us to do is to source and license the music. And then you’ll get other teams, and it’s the same with trailers as well, where they’re not so set and they’re not quite sure themselves and they want us to provide a little bit of guidance and input of what we think might work or what we think is possible. So it all comes down to who you’re working with and what they want really.
Research shows that video game play is always increasing, particularly with the whole rise of games on tablets and smartphones. Has this global gaming culture changed your role at all?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily changed our role because ultimately we’re still licensing music. Our job is quite expansive because we’re not just licensing for the game we’re licensing for anything that we’re asked to license music for. I actually did an app game last year called Run! Sackboy Run! which is a side scrolling mobile app game off the Little Big Planet franchise. That was the first time I’d done anything like that so I thought that was kind of cool, and it’s a pretty cool game as well you should all download it! So for us because we already do lots of things it hasn’t necessarily changed our role dramatically but it’s giving a little more variation I guess to what we do.
Is there a different approach to a handheld or app-based game compared to a console game?
Well it would be a similar approach I guess to a DLC (Downloadable content) pack for a game so yes it’s different – obviously it’s much shorter and the lead time is much quicker on doing a DLC pack of an app then it would be doing a full game. But otherwise the process is generally still the same.
Right but you would look for music with more of an impact or a shorter time span because things are loading faster, there’s less time for music and so forth?
There’s not necessarily less time for music because an app or DLC pack can still run for quite a long time, but the process of start to finish – you can be working on a game for 2 years, but a DLC pack or an app you might do in 6 months.
Do you find that if you’re working on a long-lead kind of project that sometimes the environment that the game is being released into has changed and you have to go back and re-work things?
Not really because everything we work on has such a long lead time so the stuff we’re working on now obviously won’t be out for quite some time. But really with stuff like that you’re going for what feels right in the game, not necessarily what’s popular at the time, so generally you’re going to stick with what works. At the same time the producer might say “I don’t think this works anymore so can we look for an alternative?” But more or less you’re going to stick with what you think works with the game as it stands.
Are there any games that have come out lately that you’ve worked on and are really proud of?
Actually nothing that I’ve been working on recently has actually come out yet, that’s how long it takes to make a game! But one thing I was very immersed in because it was happening in my office was Little Big Planet 3, which was a big mixture of licensed music and composed music. That was a really fun game to hear because everything in there was so different and everything’s a bit quirky. I’ve never been a big fan of first-person shooting games, I’ve always been very much the fun, platform gamer and that’s exactly what Little Big Planet is. So it’s quite fun listening to it, I would turn around and be like, “what is that? who’s done that? who’s composed this?” So if anyone has it you should definitely pay attention to the music!
Can you recommend any resources for artists, songwriters, publishers, etc. wanting to find out what games are in production?
Well with the nature of the industry we don’t really have an IMDb games or anything. A lot of the time when a game is announced we’ve already started working on the music or the music might even be finished. So not really, it’s probably better just to make sure you’re keeping music supervisors up to date with the music that you have, and obviously we can reach out if we think there’s something that would fit. We do reach out a lot in projects, we can’t necessarily always say what we’re working on but we can say what we’re looking for. So I would just say keep us up to date.
Right so it sounds like a digested, monthly “here’s what we’ve got at the moment” email sent would be ideal?
Yeah, just send music along but don’t keep saying “have you listened to it? Have you listened to it?” Sometimes I will forget it I have because sometimes I’ll forget that they sent it to me, which sounds really terrible but it’s only because there’s so much stuff. Another important thing is please send download links not streaming links. I have quite a lot of people who send me streaming links but then obviously there’s not much I can then do with that. So download links are important as well.
And the more high quality the file the better?
Not necessarily because if it comes to us actually using it I can request a higher quality file, but obviously I need something to send to the producer or the marketing person, or even just to lay over the visuals and see how it sounds.
Check out Part 2 where Lindsey explains more about her job and gives out more great tips!