The team of Fermata Music & Sound, a professional audio company, talked about the way they work on music and SFX for games and films.
Who We Are
We are Fermata Music & Sound, a professional audio company comprised of 3 team members based out of Toronto (Canada), Barcelona (Spain), and Cordoba (Argentina). Although the company was formed this year, collectively we have over 10 years of experience in game & film audio. We have worked on a wide variety of projects, from AAA studios such as Ubisoft to small 2-person indie companies, and everything in between. Collectively, we have 80+ professional credits in audio for games & films, and have also been fortunate enough to have been recognized with 15+ awards and nominations; including 2 wins & 10 nominations at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, and 5 SOCAN Awards. And most recently, one of our team members (Ariel Contreras-Esquivel) was part of the audio team on Ubisoft’s Far Cry 6, which is an achievement we’re certainly very proud of.
Although most of us experience music & sound on a secondary, almost subconscious level, it has always remained just as important as 3D modeling, VFX, and animation, and can greatly influence the user experience. While a great music score can elevate the narrative and heighten the in-game action, sound design is one of most constant features of any game, as it can be used for a variety of events, such as cutscenes, special items, weapons, environment, voice-over acting, UI, and the list goes on.
Usually, we start working in the early stages of the game since we need to synchronize our work with the developer almost on a daily basis. Every time we receive a new feature that needs audio (music and/or sound), we start crafting it by getting video captures from the game. This way we can begin brainstorming with the team and start the creative process. Sometimes, there are some technical issues to address in terms of implementation. When this happens – and although we’re not programmers – we can make our own prototypes in the game engine, so we can test its functionality before asking the developers to make certain features for us. This helps us become clearer about our requirements, to understand how the game works, and any limitations or obstacles we might encounter (if any).
It’s important to be part of the pre-production phase or at least have access to game design and art design documentation. This would allow us to understand how the game is going to work and the artistic vision behind the project. Then we can start working with WIP material from the animators, environment artists, VFX designers, etc.
From the early stages all the way to the official launch (and even marketing campaigns such as trailers, conferences, etc), we enjoy being 100% involved with every facet concerning music and sound.
Using Temp Music & Sound
Just as it is common in the film & TV industry, we’re used to working with temporary, or “temp” music & sound design in video games. There’s still an ongoing debate in the professional audio community as to whether working with temp music/SFX can negatively impact the final soundtrack, as sometimes the project leaders become very attached to the temporary soundtrack. Because of this, they might end up requesting music that is far too similar to the temp, which might not live up to the full creative potential of the project. Because we have been in this industry long enough, we understand that using temporary sound design and music is an effective tool for editors and developers to assist their own creative process, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is why we enjoy getting involved in the early stages of new projects so that we can take part in those vital first discussions about how the sound & music will be used. It’s very common for the developers to send us a list of soundtracks that they have been listening to or using to edit their prototypes, as often times it is much easier to know what their teams are listening to, rather than try to explain in words as to what the sound and music should evoke.
Our New Service: Helping Developers With the “Vertical Slice”
We have recently broken away from tradition by working with developers directly on their vertical slice, rather than both parties fully commit to the project, as a way to solve two obstacles teams are often faced with: 1) finding the right audio team for their project; and 2) using a fraction of the budget to provide high quality, polished audio for a short demo presentation to impress publishers.
Very often developers are extremely hesitant about working with professional music & sound companies in the early stages of a new game, mostly because of the lack of funds available to even consider hiring professional audio while they're still paying for art and development talent (many times out of their own pocket). As teams prepare to provide a vertical slice, gameplay demo, or trailer to impress publishers and investors, many games fail to secure funding simply because the music and sound did not live to the same high standards as the visuals and gameplay.
Because publishers are looking at hundreds (if not thousands) of new games with potential, developers have a very small window to make a big impression, and based on our own experience in the past, this often comes down to a lack of professional audio to compliment the visuals because teams ended up using a temp score or unpolished free sound assets. When publishers are filtering through 200 proposals at any given time, the 5 they may end up choosing to look into further and potentially invest in are games that already have highly polished visuals as well as audio. This allows the publishers to determine which areas of the game might need further resources to be invested in, and if they see that the music & sound is one less component they would need to be worried about, the better the odds for the developer.
Our team has been trying to bridge that gap and work in parallel with developers to provide professional music & sound that is very high quality and polished, to help increase the odds of securing funding. This is an excellent way for developers to use a small fraction of their budget to test our team, even for a 2-5 minute vertical slice demo.
Get in Touch With Us
We’re always happy to chat with indie teams of any size to see what kinds of creative or financial obstacles they are currently facing as they develop their new games. Especially during these difficult times, with a global pandemic affecting many people’s incomes, it’s more important than ever to find creative solutions and engage in useful conversations about how teams can best approach their sound & music. We’ve even taken part in some of this year’s “virtual” conferences such as INDIGO and the Game Developers Carnival, and found it extremely encouraging and educational when speaking to developers all over the world about their experience with audio in general. We were also extremely happy to notice how much developers do care about the sound of their games, but sometimes just don’t know where to learn more and who to ask. We receive a lot of questions about technical implementation using tools such as Wwise, or mixing and mastering music for different game release purposes (whether it’s a desktop, console, or mobile game).
Even if we don’t end up working together, it never hurts to start a conversation and keep in touch. We know games take months (or years) to develop and launch, so we’re happy to simply have a chat about your project, what your creative vision is, and even some of your favorite game soundtracks.