Ahead of tomorrow’s soundtrack release, we sat down with Rob to learn about how he wrote Dream Machine, the tune which plays in Wheels’ vehicle shop on Main Street. You can listen to it here!
When it comes to creating a new track, what is your process?
I start by considering the purpose of the music, what it’s actually for in the game. A good track needs to work in the location it’s going to be heard in, it needs to match the personality of the character it’s associated with, and it needs to fit the gameplay of its location. I’m always thinking about place, character and utility when I work.
I basically work from the bottom to the top, and then back down again. Typically, I start with a basic drum beat, just kicks and a high hat. Then, I add long bass notes, and then layer on the top melody. Once I'm satisfied with the melody, I refine the bass to align with it. Next, I introduce chords that harmonize with the bass and melody, and also create some fun rhythms. Afterward, I revisit the drums to ensure they complement the bass and chords. Sometimes I do these steps in a different order - it depends what’s inspiring me in the moment!
Once these elements are synchronized, I focus on finding the loop. All the music in the game has to loop, and I try to keep the songs around a minute in length. It's a mobile game so we’ve got to avoid that download getting too big!
After all that, I focus on adding texture and flavor. This could involve counter melodies, breaking up the drums for some dynamic variation, or adding small noises and details. It's important to avoid monotony, even in a one-minute track. By making it more dynamic, the track kinda starts to feel longer than it actually is, if you get it right.
How did you make Dream Machine match Wheels's personality?
Well, originally, I created a Wheels track filled with percussion and fast loops, cos he’s running a shop and you want it to feel snappy and transactional. But then Ed, our Creative Director, mentioned that he’d always thought Wheels was a bit of a surf fan, so I reworked the track to have a surf vibe. I changed the drum beat and added some bendy guitars, but kept that percussive and shop-like nature of the track. The challenge is making tracks which both sound unique and tailored to the character, but still fit with the other music and the overall atmosphere of Sunshine Days. The whole thing has to work together.
How do you mix and master the tracks for the game?
Once the composition is complete, I move on to mixing. I have templates that provide a solid foundation, getting the mix to around 90% completion. Mixing is the process of deciding what level every component of your sound and music should be, and how you want the final tune to sound. A touch less high hat here, a little less bass here, a bit more piano here… You also have to spend time on any finer details. For example, in Dream Machine there are some mechanic-shop sound effects like wrenches, sprockets, and nut tighteners, which need their own mix and extra attention.
You’ve got to master it properly, too. Mastering is the final step of the process, and involves tinkering with the sonic levels to add depth, punch and clarity to the sounds. In this step we can also fix things like unwanted hisses and clicks. Mastering makes every track sound consistent regardless of what you’re listening to it on, which is especially important for phone speakers! It enhances the overall quality and perceived volume of the track - basically making the music sound louder, without actually making it louder. It's a technical process rather than a creative one. The mix is where the creative aspect lies, while mastering brings the track to its full potential. When you master properly, the listener can’t even tell you’ve done anything, but the whole track just sounds better.
Make sure you check back tomorrow for the big soundtrack release!