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WaveGroup Interview Part 2: "Hey, why can't you play a trombone solo with a guitar controller?"

WaveGroup Interview Part 2: "Hey, why can't you play a trombone solo with a guitar controller?"
By Louis Bedigian

"We're experimenting with some pretty wild translations, and think Rock Band enthusiasts will be open to these creative charts."

In part one of our interview with WaveGroup President and CEO Will Littlejohn, we learned a little about the process of converting songs into playable tracks. Today we learn about the many challenges WaveGroup has to overcome.

"Because we're focused on content for Rock Band, we look at any particular song in terms of the game and how fun we think the track can be in the game," says Littlejohn. "We're really open to different types of music, instrumentation, etc., so it can be a challenge to work with songs that don't match the instrument set in Rock Band. We're experimenting with some pretty wild translations, and think Rock Band enthusiasts will be open to these creative charts. Hey, why can't you play a trombone solo with a guitar controller?

"Another challenge is the decision we have to make regarding what you are playing at any particular moment on every instrument. For example, very dense guitar songs can present some challenges in this area, and the fun factor for that instrument in the game can be affected dramatically by these choices. If you've got three or four different guitar tracks going in a song at the same time, which one do you choose as the playable part? This is an area where the musicianship of our crew comes into play, and the experience of actually knowing the instrument in question can be invaluable. "


Has Rock Band made you want to pick up and play a real instrument?

What are some of the other challenges WaveGroup has had to overcome in bringing music to Rock Band?

Will Littlejohn: One of the biggest challenges as I mentioned before is getting the individual instruments split out into separate audio files. These split out files need to represent the final mix when they are all played together, something we call post mix stems. Imagine frosting a cake after it's been cut into pieces and separated, then reassembling the pieces into the final cake. Fortunately, we've got a whole studio full of great mix engineers, so we haven't met a song we couldn't tame in the end.

Another challenge lies with older tunes originally recorded on multitrack analog tape. Before we can even work on creating the post mix stems, we need to get the raw recordings transferred into digital workstations. Many of these older recordings are in poor condition, so we need to work with the tape to get the material transferred.

Which kinds of songs translate the easiest to music games?

WL: Hmm... I'd say for rhythm music games such as Rock Band, "easiest" is not a word I would use, as even very simple songs can be tricky in the translation. Generally, songs with a strong melodic element seem to come across a bit better. In terms of which songs that translate the best into the Rock Band environment, I think that might be up to the individual player to decide. I know players who really focus on the technically difficult tunes and put most of their energy into that area, while others are really into the songs they listen to on their iPod. For me, I like to play all styles from fast shredding metal to straight up rockers depending on my mood, with my personal favorite style being mid tempo groovers with strong melodies.

Though music games have been around for more than a decade, they only recently became popular in the United States. Why do you think that is?

WL: I think it was primarily a cultural thing. With the rhythm music game phenomenon starting in Japan, the first games in the genre released in the United States carried much of the same style, both in game play and the music, which made them popular in Japan. This didn't necessarily translate very well with an American audience, and while some of them had modest success, the real breakout didn't happen until the style and music aligned culturally with the U.S. Take the concept of the music game, throw a good dose of rock music and attitude in the mix, and the whole thing clicks.


Karaoke Revolution is one of the first games WaveGroup worked on

In addition to the new Rock Band deals, WaveGroup has worked on music games like Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution. How does the process of converting songs differ from game to game?

While there are some similarities, the biggest difference is actually our current role versus our role in previous games. As I've mentioned, before the Rock Band Network we were primarily involved as a content provider. We created the music that was incorporated into games rather than doing the implementing, having produced over 500 songs for various music games in the last seven years. Our role now is to use that experience and help other artists make a successful transition into the game with their recordings. We'll also slip a few of our own in from time to time.

Are there any other industries that WaveGroup is a part of or wants to be a part of?

WL: Actually, we are or have been involved in many industries involving sound and music. We've done audio creation projects for everything from cell phone handsets to full room multi-channel immersive environments. I'm proud to say that we're guilty of making a whole lot of noise over the years. As an example, we were deeply involved in the audio and user interface design for the new Jawbone ICON headset, which is a really cool Bluetooth headset released just a few weeks ago. We produced all the voice characters, custom audio tones and worked with the hardware and software engineers to integrate everything into a device smaller than your thumb. I for one find audio interfaces really fascinating, and we as a group have done some really interesting projects bridging the gap between people and devices.

We're also involved in IVR systems production, which in essence are very large and complex dialog projects. These automated voice systems are getting very sophisticated, and our job is to help create the very best end user experience possible. The systems we work on are really amazing, and quite usable. If you find yourself in a really bad automated phone tree, don't blame us, we didn't do it.

Of course, being an independent audio house, we work on all kinds of other projects as well. We produce original music for film and TV, make cool sounds for toys, build rumble tracks for amusement park rides, write music for product launches, etc. Never a dull moment at our place!

For more information on WaveGroup visit http://www.wavegroup.com/

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