Today, we are starting the year with an interview with Chel Wong, an award-winning freelance composer for video games. She is also the Co-Organizer of Game Audio Boston, and the Head Curator of Audio for BostonFIG. Some of the games Chel has worked in include: Kine, Noobs in Space, Noobtubes, and Stratagem! which are in development.
This is what we talked about:
Threshold: Getting Started
J: What skills (either technical or personal) do you think that anyone starting in this industry needs?
C: I think anyone in any industry needs to know how to talk to other people. A basic skill that I think that everyone needs to know is communicating with other people; it’s important for every aspect of both personal and business side of things. Knowing how to talk to people in an organic and not in a salesy way is a really big thing. In the game industry it is easier than other industries because everyone’s passionate about games. People make games, they play games, and chances are if you are also in this industry, you also make and play games, and you love them, so it’s easier to connect with people.
As for technical skills… to be honest… I started in the game industry not knowing what a DAW was. I went to music school, and I feel like I have very strong ears, but I did not learn how to compose. I did not learn how to do sound design until later, and I didn’t even know what my tools were. I learned it all on the go, but I knew that I had good intuition. I feel that as long as you are able to learn and move forward with all these sorts of things and build upon your toolbox… that’s the biggest thing. But it doesn’t hurt to know how to use your DAW and how to mix, but technique is something that’s always getting better. When you ask, “Am I ready to start?”, you’re probably ready to start if you’re thinking about it, you just need to keep getting better as you keep going.
Attack: Things to discuss
J: What was your most unexpected experience in the industry?
C: The most unexpected experience I had in the industry was meeting Gwen Frey very early on my career. Her taking a chance on me, that really opened the gateway for a lot of things. I’m still really thankful to her for taking a chance on me. Through Kine, I ended up going to England to demo at a booth for EGX, and also at GDC at the Epic Games booth, that was pretty crazy. Besides being able to show at all these things, I think that what was unexpected is how people see me as a professional, at a point that I feel that I don’t necessarily deserve. It’s weird because when I look at things objectively, I think “yes, of course I deserve to be seen as a professional”. But there are people who have been working in this industry far, far, far longer than me, and to be seen as a friend on a personal level, but also as an equal professional, someone to be trusted with, that’s an unexpected thing. I’m not sure that’s the best answer I could have possibly given, but that’s what comes to mind right now.
Release: Talking about the good stuff
J: What do you think is the best part of working in this industry?
C: I love video games, when I was a kid, I thought I never wanted to work on video games, because as I loved them so much, I thought if I worked on them I might burn out and lose my passion for them. So far that isn’t the case. I think that every project that I take on has its own unique set of challenges, its own unique set of needs. I work with different people, and I feel like things will never get old. There’s something different each time. I want to challenge myself; I want to be creative. I still haven’t settled on a genre, but I do know I like to write layers, I like to write melodies that stick to the players after they stop playing. The best part of this, is that everyone is passionate about what they do. But also, things don’t get old. I will never get tired of it.
J: Can you let us know a little about your creative process? Anything about the technical process?
C: The way my creative process works is that I always start writing music in MuseScore. I used to use Finale, but I use MuseScore now which is free, and I like it a lot more. It’s not perfect but I didn’t pay for it. Then I import the MIDI file into Reaper, and I will humanize things, then apply instruments to it. Sometimes I record things, but I usually use VSTs and I do mixing and effects afterwards. Once all the music is done for a game, I then master it. For plugins and libraries, I use a lot of instruments from the Swing! and Swing More! libraries I purchased for Kine. I also purchased XO from XLN Audio and it’s freaking good. It’s a drum sampler, and I bought it full price with no regrets because I use it all the time. Sound design for me is a process that is a constant sandbox, for me it’s frustrating because I never feel like the sound effect is done, it can always be tweaked. A huge part of doing music and sound design is knowing when to let go, knowing when it will suffice and move forward. Perfect doesn’t exist. It’s better to be done than to be incomplete striving for perfect.
J: What are the biggest life lessons learned in your personal and professional career?
C: I have a couple of mottos. One is “to be the best that I can be and be the best that I can be to the others”. The other thing is a lesson: “opportunities are often forged, not found.” It is possible to find things to work on but when talking to friends. we were complaining about how hard it is to find job sometimes because freelancing is a struggle, and I said, “why don’t we try and do something together, we have enough talent that we can try and make our own studio”. I am not sure that it will ever actually become a studio, if it does it would be incredible, but I think it’s worth trying to make a game together. We’ll see how things go. When it comes to trying to find work, things don’t necessarily fall in your lap, sometimes you have to make your own opportunities, and see where things go from there. Not everything is going to work, not everything is going to come together, but if you just wait for something you may wait forever and ever. I do a lot of networking, but 99% of the people I meet I will never work with, but if I start something on my own, it will go places.
We’ll talk again in a couple of weeks for the next interview.