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“Party tip: Imagine your dreams coming true. Now go work your ass off.” – Andrew WK

Well, that was a relief.

I’m sure many of you (being gamers and whatnot) can relate to being a little obsessive and compulsive over things at times. Ever since I was a little kid, I took obsessive behavior to a level no-one else I’ve met has really ever matched or understood. I used to sit for 7 or 8 hours at a time, copying maps from a world atlas, or recreating my G1 Transformers comics onto the hundreds of sheets of newsprint my father used to bring home for me from his day job as a newspaper editor (his other job was published poet – he was an awesome guy).

Upon discovering, as a teenager, a knack for music (after long spells obsessing over Guns ‘N’ Roses, some popular new passtime called “computer games,” cars and, believe it or not, football), that was it. The first time I ever picked up a guitar and my buddy showed me how to play an “E” chord, I was completely, utterly consumed by playing and creating music.

Fast forward to December 2011 and the obsessive behavior hit an all time high point. From the insomnia-fuelled night I accidentally began writing “Sovngarde Song” right up until minutes before its release 3 weeks later, it was the one and only thing I could really focus on and it occupied pretty much every waking (and sometimes sleeping) minute of my life. This may all sound terribly over-dramatic but in the four years we’ve been together, this was the first time my girlfriend was genuinely worried I might do my health some damage due to not sleeping, forgetting to eat and doing nothing all day long but mixing guitars, swearing at the computer, exporting audio files, adding harmony vocal layers, tweaking and replacing drum sounds, equalizing strings, etc.

It’s hard to overstate how important getting this song right was for me and my career. If I screwed up the Skyrim song, the backlash would have been huge. I listened to all the feedback you guys gave me over the year and took it all (well, most of it, haha) to heart and went out there with the mission to make the best damn piece of music I had ever made. But hey, it’s all good – judging by the half million views, links on the Bethesda Facebook and insanely awesome reaction from you guys it was all worth it in the end!

Before I talk about the song itself, let’s get the FAQs back on track after their Christmas break:

Isn’t it a bit shitty how you single people out and call them out on thier criticisms?

Honestly no, I don’t feel it is. Many frequent internet users have become far too accustomed to having no accountability for comments or remarks that if said to someone in real life, would result in them getting a smack in the jaw. If you come onto a web page and publicly make an aggressive, ignorant or rude comment in front of everyone, then act surprised and offended when you’re called out on it, you need to get off your computer and spend more time in the real world to learn how human beings work. I didn’t make you look stupid – you did that all by yourself.

I also never mention names, but it’s amusing to see people get mad at my responses and come angrily into the Encore comments section annoucing to the world like an attention starved toddler: “I’m the one who made that stupid comment!”

Criticism should be constructive. If you don’t want to be ridiculed, don’t say dumb, rude things in public. It’s quite simple, really.

Can I ask a question?

Yes. (Still waiting for the question)

Do you ever create music “under the influence” so to speak?

No. I don’t do drugs and try not to be around them or people who do them. Bad history there from teenage years. I will sometimes pick up a guitar after a drink or two and mess around, though.

Yo will you make a theme song for me, I do beast quickscope COD montages

Sure, let me just finish calling this plumber and asking him to fix my sink for free first.

What’s your favourite game music from 2011?

A toss up between the Crysis 2 main theme and the Deus Ex: Human Revolution main theme. Both are masterpieces.

How many hours have you spent on Skyrim?

Far, far too many.

What was your favourite non-gaming music of 2011?

Imaginaerium by Nightwish, and Deconstruction by Devin Townsend.

SOVNGARDE SONG

Thirty-three. That’s how many versions of this song exist. When I say obsessive I mean, “Ok, this guy is a little messed up in the head” obsessive. I was literally working on it all day every day and all night every night. Inon Zur once said that making great music was 20% talent and 80% hard work. I’m inclined to agree with him; it’s a trade like any other and you learn it through practice, grind and dedication. Spare a thought for video maker Justin Clouse who was getting bombarded once or twice a day with emails titled “Ok, sorry, this should really be the final mix,” only to get the same email again a few hours later. Even he was working on the video right up until a few minutes before it came out. A lot of love went into this song!

I tried to plan and organize it but in the end the melody just popped into my head in the shower. I knew it needed to have a Nordic, folk-like quality to the vocal and wanted something ‘epic’ sounding and classical for the music. I researched some old Viking chants, folk metal and old Scandinavian folk music (which was an absolute pleasure, there is some wonderful stuff out there). Basically it was all about the vocals – the harmonies were what would give the song its Nordic feel.

The idea with the song’s musical arrangement was to try and evoke the game’s two biggest activities -(well, two of them, a song about crafting iron daggers would quite likely somehow not have had the same emotional punch) exploring the huge gorgeous landscapes and the in-your-face brutal combat. All fairly simple, really.

Some of you with keen ears noticed the song sounded a little brighter – more sparkly and a little more professional than my previous work. This was due to the new music software I spent my every last penny on. Kontakt is a program that lets you play realistic orchestra sounds on your keyboard and it has completely changed the way I make music (you’ll see another example next week). It’s immensely gratifying to have an orchestra-like sound at your fingertips and I genuinely got shivers the first time I listened back to the middle section of the song when it crashes into the faster, celtic sounding string riff.

Lyrically, the song seemed to confuse a lot of people. It was just meant to describe the Nord way of life and attitudes throughout history, which was misinterpreted by many as a pro-Stormcloak song. But it is not political at all, it is completely neutral. I can see how it could come across as pro-Stormcloak, as they talk about the same stuff as thier political angle, but no – it is simply a song about the Nords in general, and about the Dovahkiin learning to use his Thu’um. The Stormcloaks’ motivations aren’t as black and white as preserving the Nord way of life and neither is the song.

The hardest choice that I (helped by a few trustworthy friends and the Escapist staff) had to make was which of the final two versions to use. There was a longer version (which is now on YouTube) and the shorter version which went up first, on The Escapist. The reasoning here was that most of us (me included) felt a five minute song was probably too long-winded for most people’s musical attention spans. Personally, I like both versions, they each bring something different to the table and both work equally as well to my ears.

The reason the YouTube version went up earlier than usual is because in the first 2 days alone, six or seven people had already uploaded it to their channels with no credit to me (one guy even claimed he’d made it himself and was responding to comments with “thanks” and “I worked real hard on it”). We can get them taken down but sometimes by the time I find them they have tens of thousands of views, so my only way to really combat it this time was to have the offical one on my own channel.

Criticisms

Before I get into these, it’s worth noting that 99% of the feedback on this song was wholly, overwhelmingly positive and that made me really happy. Last month was one of the best months of my life, in fact. These were just a few comments that I felt I wanted to address.

This doesn’t fit with the game’s music at all. Ancient Nords and Vikings didn’t have electric guitars.

And they had 60 piece modern classical orchestras, did they?

Should have sang it in a deeper voice.

Sorry, I left my other vocal chords in my other throat.

My main issue with this is that it feels to me that it’s trying to be two songs, one hearty and epic like the first bit, and one rock and awesome like the second.

Don’t get me wrong, I like both bits, but I’d rather two unique songs that have their own theme and tune, than one song that sounds like it’s meant to be two.

That’s fair, let me try and explain. I grew up on Iron Maiden/Peter Gabriel and stuff like that … it’s in my blood to have songs that change and evolve into something else as they go on. If I had my way, almost all my songs would do this, but I feel it might alienate listeners if over-used.

I liked it until the electric guitar, then it really just pulled me out of it. Yes, I’m of the belief that electric instruments should stay out of medieval songs.

Then you’ll probably want to contact Jeremy Soule and chastise him for all the synths he used making the Skyrim soundtrack. Did you know the entire Morrowind soundtrack is synthetic? Bet you didn’t. Music is all about heart and soul and creating a feeling, not being anal and pedantic over what fucking instrument it’s played on.

I need a download link for this song, I respect it too much to download it illegally.

I love you.

I used to think this song sucked, but then I took an arrow to the knee…

Next.

I wanted to put these two together, to try and convey why sometimes listening to criticism isn’t always a good idea:

What is this, why is this a longer version? It doesn’t flow half as well as the shorter one. You ruined it.

Wow, the longer version just flows sooo much better than the other one. Why wasn’t this one on the Escapist instead?

I think I’ve made my point.

Holy Fucking Shit. Am I crying? I’m fucking crying. Holy Shit, I’m crying. And I have goosebumps.

You’ve brought me to fucking tears with this song. It’s so beautiful. It’s so … I need a tissue. Now. ‘stumbles away looking for a tissue’

That made me smile. Nice to know the song moved a few people!

Are you still only using your own voice btw? I can clearly hear all kinds of voices in there + girl humming.

It’s all me. Lots and lots of layers of me (megalomaniacal laugh)

How freaking often do you make a chorus out of one line that repeats twice?

Er, never. Not once. Ever.

Was there some autotune on the vocals? They sound kind of processed or something.

Oh for the love of the Divines, not this again. Just either accept that some singers can actually sing or do yourself a favor and stop listening to music altogether.

No fus ro dah? i’m dissapointed

No and there’s no arrows, knees, sweetrolls or cake either.

I liked how you avoided your usual formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle-chorus

True, but I still don’t see why people have a problem with that formula. More than likely most of your favorite bands use it all the time.

You have got to make a song with Malukah, the dragonborn girl. Please. Please.

Way ahead of you there 😉 We’re working on something right now.

I found the metal part of the song to be lacking and not really fitting of the game in question

As music is completely subjective I can happily say that’s perfectly fine with me. However, in defence of the metal(-ish) part, I believe personally no other music style better captures and reflects the Viking, Nordic spirit and soul. There’s even an entire genre devoted to it.

When you think about it, metal and electric guitars are no more historically inappropriate to ancient Nordic warriors than a Western orchestra playing classical music. If anything they are MORE in tune with that spirit, being loud, brutal, chaotic and full of channelled aggression.

Instead of just saying “Men” and “Sons” he should say children or daughters. What’s so bad about saying “Children of Snow” to encompass both genders and make you feel you don’t need to be a man to enjoy this song like his past songs? If you give me the lyrics to this song I can see what I can do with them and then send them back to you.

I couldn’t make this shit up. This was an actual genuine criticism on the YouTube video. I’m not even going to get into the feminist vs chauvinist argument – the song was merely quoting the game on which it was based. When I declined her generous (and not at all egotistic) offer to re-write my song for me this was (part of) her response:

If MiracleofSounds feels this song shouldn’t be changed then he has no business singing next to the goddess Malukah. you don’t leave yourself room for improvement with an attitude like that. Heck I even offered to improve this song. And the more you respond in such a negative way to any suggestions I give you makes me question whether or not you want to be successful in this line of work. I’m not surprised your songs only have gotten 30,000 views.

4.3 million views actually, you were a tiny bit off there. Anyway, thankfully some female fans came to my defense against this rather odd criticism. Self important keyboard critics FTW!

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is a little bonus from another video … my favourite criticism I have recieved in a long time. This one just warmed my little heart, so it did.

You need to change up your style once in a while.

I’m very very sorry. I wasn’t aware that making jazz, thrash metal, folk, country western, trip hop, ambient, blues rock, grindhouse rock, electro-pop, dubstep, classical, arabic world music, industrial, rave, pop-rock, disco and tropical marimba songs in the space of one year was not varied enough for you.

As always folks, let me know what songs you’d like to hear about in the next Encore and feel free to ask any questions, no matter how odd they might seem (it would be hard to out-crazy some of the ones I get every day on YouTube anyway). Also, thank you so much to everyone who bought my album from Itunes and Bandcamp (hint hint) over Christmas. It’s lovely to know I have fans who support small musicians and buy the music instead of just taking it.

‘Til next time, sons (and daughters) of the snow.

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