Join composer Steven Melin of audio drama Dark Dice as we take a trip into a gigantic cinematic score for a Dungeons & Dragons actual play story. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called Devil’s Gamble. It’s a diabolical medieval battle track I wrote for the Dark Dice podcast. Today, we’ll break it down and get into why and how it was made. You’re listening to How I Make Music, where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and take a trip into how it was made. My name is Steven Melin, and I’m a music composer in Atlanta, Georgia. And this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to how I make music Episode 85 Devil’s Gamble by me Steven Melin. Thanks for listening in.
Dark Dice is a horror actual play D&D podcast that uses immersive soundscapes. The story is about six travelers who embark on a journey into the ruinous domain of the Nameless God. They will never be the same again.
1:26 Live instruments
One of the requests from the team on this show was to use as many medieval historic timeless instruments as possible, and one of the top requests was to use a hurdy gurdy. Take a listen to how ancient it feels when put next to a modern orchestra. Medieval instruments are very hard to tune, and they’re hard to play in tune with Western music. We decided to also add a lute to this project. A lute is basically a medieval guitar, take a listen to it. It’s an ancient instrument that was traditionally used to kind of strum along, playing a little tremolo. And those are two instruments we use constantly. As much as possible, throughout this whole soundtrack, we really have tried to hire as many live musicians as possible. Because typically, when you get raw recordings, even from world class musicians, it doesn’t sound good together. Even if it sounds out of tune, and it sounds rough, I think that’s part of the charm. It’s happening live right in front of you. And so as a composer, specifically for this track, Devils Gamble…This isn’t just a one-time track that plays in the background. This actually plays on loop and we’ll repeat five, six, seven times. And it can be cut off at any point. So in a way, it’s almost very more similar to video game music than film music.
3:50 Creative Team
I think whenever you’re working with a creative person, in this case, Travis Vengroff and the Fool and Scholar productions team, they’re so creative, and they really don’t repeat themselves. So they have a lot different IPs. They have a lot of different shows. And we’re even right now working on a video game, which is kind of an extension of this world. And we’re kind of trailblazing in a way.
4:16 Hammered Dulcimer
Another instrument that we have used a ton and this soundtrack is the hammered dulcimer. It’s basically a giant harp but it sits on a table and you hold two mallets and you just play it kind of like a drum set. It’s an instrument that like teleports you to that medieval stage. It has a very fantasy vibe to it. Be very pretty or also very, very evil sounding. If you whack it hard enough. We did record the live dulcimer. But well, here’s the funny thing, we noticed that it sounded too wimpy, dainty and beautiful. But this is not meant to be a beautiful track we kept to the original. But then we also pitch shifted it down two octaves, to play unplayable notes. To play this earthy growl that you hear whenever the big drums hit, it’s this BAAAHHHM! that helps bring all of this low end that you wouldn’t get otherwise. We wanted to keep as much as we could live. But if you’ve ever worked with live musicians, you’ll notice that there’s always this lack of production. When you take a bunch of different little puzzle pieces and you throw them together. It’s kind of like cooking. Sometimes you need to add a little bit of spice.
5:55 Recording the choir
Travis asked me to write this piece of music. We had this final version, and I thought that we were done. And then out of nowhere, right before the release of the episode. Three weeks in advance, he called me up and he said, “Steven, I just hired a choir. They’re in Hungary. Can you write a language for them?” I was like, “What? What are you talking about?” I had this crazy idea. I wanted to record them in Icelandic, which no one speaks! In a previous episode of How I Make Music, the White Vault episode, Travis and Brandon talked about the process of how we all worked together creating this choir piece and recorded the Budapest choir. So basically, I said yes, and I said very honestly, Travis, I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we’re going to figure it out. So just give me some time. And let me think this through. What you would do is with the choir conductor is they would literally go word by word, they would say the word out loud. And then you take a pen or pencil and you’d literally write out phonetically. However, it makes sense to you to read it. So that’s what I did. That’s all I knew what to do. And then when I created the sheet music, which is you know, where the choir is going to sing off of this for each part, I would just use those phonetics, and I put it all out. And it was this crazy process. This is what it’s like to work with Travis every single time. It’s always this crazy wild west adventure. But I think the result speaks for itself. Take a listen. It was just crazy. Honestly, it was crazy.
8:21 Double the sound
The reason I wanted to have two takes of every phrase is because I wanted to double the sound of the choir because we recorded a 40 person choir, but I wanted an 80 person choir. And so the way to do that is you take two clean passes, and you layer them on top of each other. And there’s some production things you can do using EQ and reverb and panning to help make it feel like it’s literally double the size.
9:06 Separate the stems
One of the secrets I’ve learned over the years is if you don’t want the team to turn down your music, you should create your own layers. Give them the tools, say here are 20 layers that I’ve created at different intensities. Here’s what I suggest, to combine for different types of intensity. And then let them do the fun editing, of writing their show around it.
And that’s about it for this week’s episode. We’ll listen to the full track in just a moment. But before we do that, thanks for listening to how I make music. catch new episodes every Wednesday on Spotify, Apple or wherever else. We’ve been listening to music featured in the audio drama called dark dice to hear the full story or to check out Some of my sample instruments that I’ve built for this very show, follow the links in the show notes. You can go to simplesamplesaudio.com. Check out what’s on offer at patreon.com/howimakemusic visit howimakemusic.com. For more on the aims of this show. How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, contact John Bartmann via the show notes. And now here’s Devil’s Gamble, a diabolical medieval battle track I wrote for the Dark Dice Podcast in its entirety. My name is Steven Melin. Thanks for listening to How I Make Music. Catch you next Wednesday.
All SFX from Freesound.org under CC0 license
Maxheadroom’s Galloping Horse
Horse and chariot 30 sec.mp3
Five seveN gun shot and silenced.wav
Ruth Glacier 20190603_113443 skiiers laugh and whoop.wav
ABOUT THIS SHOW
How I Make Music is a dramatically edited sound experience where behind-the-scenes musicians get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we challenge audio drama composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, visit johnbartmann.com