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MAKING IT HUGE IN VIDEO GAMES

Memoirs of Composer Chance Thomas

Chapter 22 - Sneak Peek Excerpt

DOTA 2

My imagination was running wild, envisioning a glorious collision of high fantasy game music and Monday Night Football. I wanted screaming brass riffs and epic choral chanting; bristling synth lines and a full live orchestra. The first cue I composed morphed all of those elements into one heroic barn-burner. I sent the mockup to Tim for review. “Sounds great to me,” he said. Mike was onboard too, “Full speed ahead!” They cut me loose, and cues came together like wildfire. I had rarely written music so quickly, and I was enjoying the style immensely. 

My orchestral library was robust, but my virtual synth collection was a little weak. One of my composer friends, Or Kribos, connected me with Hybrid Two's CEO, who supplied complimentary copies of their insanely riveting virtual instruments Project Alpha and Project Bravo. I would end up using both generously throughout the new score. 

Once the music was composed and approved, I hired a 48-piece orchestra and a 24-voice choir, hoping to really bring the score to vibrant life. The orchestra performed fabulously. The choral singing was so epic!

Those recording sessions were among the best I’d ever produced, that rare project where every performance lands in the sweet spot. All of the recordings were crisp and clean. When I left the studio, I knew I had gold in those tracks.  

But I soon received some unsettling news. Mike Roskelley, my longtime mixing collaborator, was taking an unexpected sabbatical from mixing music. He was leaving the very week I planned to mix the DOTA 2 score. As an olive branch, he offered to let me use his studio while he was away, and encouraged me to mix the score myself. After those wildly successful recording sessions, I may have been riding too high on a cloud of endorphins. Against my usual better judgment, I decided to tackle the mix personally.  

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It was during this mix that I encountered one of the strangest and most disturbing experiences I'd ever had in a studio. I'd booked a week to mix the score, and found myself going at it pretty much around the clock. The music was complex, with multiple layers, and there was a lot of it. I was having a tough time wrangling all the tracks into shape. When exhaustion would completely overcome me, I would pull three chairs together and lie across them to snatch a few hours of sleep. I'd set my phone alarm for two or three hours, then rise and get after it again.  

Toward the end of the week, probably Thursday afternoon, I became frustrated. I was trying to blend some sampled strings with the live strings we'd recorded. But everything sounded distorted. No matter what I dialed back – EQ, effects, levels, etc. – nothing removed the distortion. I rebooted the system, checked the amplifier and speaker thresholds, soloed tracks, everything I could think of to troubleshoot. No good. I knew those tracks were clean because I had listened to them critically during the recording sessions and afterwards while editing. Still, the distortion persisted.  

And then, something truly alarming happened. I accidentally knocked a note pad from the desk onto the floor, and it sounded distorted. Everything in my mind ground to a halt. I was trying to make sense of what my ears had just told me. I snapped my fingers. Distorted. I clapped my hands. Distorted. I made several other noises in the room on various surfaces. All fuzzy and distorted...