Hello Composers, Mike here. I had the opportunity to interview one of the successful members of Professional Composers.
He is not only a great composer, but an artist of many fields: game designer, graphic designer, video producer.
Let’s find out how he manages all of these areas, and the challenges and benefits of doing so many different things.
Hello Andrei, we are honored to have you share your story and wisdom here on Professional Composers! 😃
1. You are a really multi talented artist working with music, video, games and design. How do you find time to handle all these fields at the same time?
I appreciate the compliment! I don’t like to think of myself as “talented” but rather “motivated.” Growing up, I didn’t know how to do many things. I am a quick learner and I play by ear, so I was able to cheat learning with anything music related, but I’m a visual learner so in order to learn or understand most other skills, I often just had to see it spread out in front of me or practice it through repetition.
I have a short attention span, so I would often find myself learning how to program, getting bored, writing some new music, getting bored, and moving on. This pattern became consistent for as long as I could remember, and I didn’t realize that most people weren’t like this until I kept being told that I needed to slow down.
Ironically, I am not very patient with repetitive things, so if I’m doing the same thing twice I’ll always try and do it a little differently, which usually resulted in me learning how to do things better than before.
I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to practice with jumping between projects enough that I’ve learned to be time efficient with them. Only in recent years have I begun to have obsessions over my personal projects, which can often lead to me spending way too much time working on graphic design instead of writing music for a client or the other way around.
As you know, jobs aren’t always consistent when you’re freelancing, so the time always balances out. I have too much time still. I am a self-starter, but I am also compulsive and detail oriented, so my mind doesn’t rest until a project is finished.
This is a gift and a curse because If I start a project knowing it will take many hours, I’m dooming myself because even if I’m finishing another job, in the back of my mind I’ll be thinking “I have to solve that issue on project X.”
Sometimes I will go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night with a programming solution. This is rare, but while I don’t get any sleep I solve an issue, so it’s a win I guess?
2019 has been a different year for me, because I’m trying new fields of work that are still related to the four categories of skillsets that I promote myself to specialize in. This means that my clients are different, the project lengths are different, my income is different, and it is forcing me to re-think most of my routines.
In recent years, I feel that my attention span has been getting shorter, which allows me to jump between projects quickly, but it also spreads me thin. Most of the time I’m only giving 70% of my energy to a project because the other 30% is me subconsciously thinking about another problem I must solve.
Thankfully, 70% has still been able to let me do my job well in all areas, but every once in a while, it’s nice to feel so invested in one project that I’m giving it everything I’ve got. The results usually show.
2. How do you approach getting clients in such a wide range of professional work? Any tips on networking you can share with the composer community?
I’ve thought about this many times. I’m currently writing a book on how to take advantage of opportunities at a young age specifically in game development, but it hasn’t been published yet because I’m still getting feedback from different industry veterans in games and film about their takes on my approach.
It allows me to have a more thought-out guide for anyone who has the same question. I like to get out of the house as much as possible; go to different networking events in the area. The IGDA (international Game Developers Association) has a Baltimore City Chapter near me, so I attend frequently and often meet new developers.
Over the past few years, I’ve been able to land a few gigs here and there with one in particular becoming one of my largest and most exciting contractor work to date. There are a few colleges in Maryland that have popular film programs for the Maryland, DC, Virginia area and there are always different speakers holding events or students working on films.
Staying in the loop of what’s going on around you is a great way to get connected fast. Most of my film jobs have been through the people that I connected with at local schools or local film festivals.
Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles in California to attend different composer or game dev meetups and I’ve never left them without making a new friend or having a great conversation.
If you walk into any event with a positive mindset and willingness to learn you, it’s not difficult to see the opportunities around you. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
I’ve been mentioning the game industry several times but my advice is universal. You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s who you know” and that couldn’t be more true.
No matter what industry you’re in, getting a gig is mostly about who you’ve connected with because no experienced director will choose to go with some guy or girl that messaged them on Facebook or commented with their composer reel. I can admit, I have gotten a gig before by doing that but the post was recommended to me by a friend that I worked with previously so technically that doesn’t count.
My point is that meaningful conversations hold way more value than messaging or an internet identity. The more people you meet, the better you get at socializing and the easier it becomes to relate and connect to others.
I don’t consider myself an extrovert, but I’ve had to force myself to get out of my comfort zone many times in order to go to these events. It is energy draining, but always rewarding. No, giving your business card to someone doesn’t mean they’ll always remember or even contact you. Having a conversation that they’ll remember is way more powerful.
3. What do you feel are the upsides of being so broad in scope of your work?
Having a varied skillset allows me to dig into different fields of work when the gigs aren’t there or there is a dry season of work. If I’m working on a feature film that’s taking longer than it should, I might take up a UI design contract to fill some of the extra time because I’m still learning how long projects take to complete and the amount of work they’ll require.
Also, working on different types of projects keeping things interesting. Because I don’t like repetition, it’s easy for me to not work on the same task every day while still getting paid for it.
The other major benefit is that some jobs require me to be at my home studio, while others I can finish on a laptop anywhere on the world. I’ve often flown to L.A. with a laptop and worked at a cafe instead of being locked in a dark room writing something that may resemble a film score.
4. What’s in the horizon for you? Any projects or goals you can share with us?
On the film side I’m very excited about the current film that I just completed. It’s a romantic comedy called First Lady, directed by Nina May and starring Corbin Bernson and Nancy Stafford. I’m very proud of score and can’t wait to release it on Spotify for the world to hear!
I’m always learning how to score scenes more intentionally, so having my interpretations picked apart by other composers is extremely helpful. I plan on continuing scoring films if the opportunity presents itself, and no matter if it makes money or not, I’ll always be writing music. I’ll keep improving and hopefully no one will notice that I still have no idea what I’m doing.
Aside from film, I’m very passionate in visual design and aesthetics so I started SlimUI Solutions, a Unity Asset Store focused UI library.
My goal is to continue releasing high-quality and robust packages that are easy to implement, compatible on many platforms, and affordable for Indie Developers out there looking to increase the quality of UI & UX in their games without having to go through the process of learning it their selves.
I see many projects that have simple UI or basic copy-and-paste UI from YouTube tutorials. I post updates on my YouTube channel ‘ChromeFxFilms’ so that the features included in the packages are requested by my subscribers and actual users.
I’m considering starting a Patreon soon so I can release one to two UI packages a month but we’ll see! SlimUI.com is still in its early stages of development. If you throw enough darts, eventually one will hit the bullseye.
In the game industry, I’m currently working with a small team to develop my dream game based on a small prototype that I build back in middle school. It’s coming along well, but it’s not ready to be promoted so there isn’t anything I can share about it. I am super excited about it though, and I’m extremely blessed to be able to work on games every day, whether it be a personal project or a contract job. It’s a dream job either way!
5. Now, I know all composers are always interested about gear and tools. What are you current favorite software instruments & effects?
This is a question I’m always a bit cautious to answer, because I catch lots of flack for using non-industry standard software. My preferred DAW is Acoustica’s Mixcraft. I’ve been using it for years and even made tutorials for the company before they started producing their own.
I’ve been told that whatever you’re most comfortable with is what you should use, and it’s true! I’m considering upgrading to more industry standard software, but at this point in time it’s been an affordable solution and one that has allowed me to quickly mock up and write/mix my scores with ease.
When directors send me timecoded versions of picture lock, I usually will drop it into Adobe Premiere and put the music in myself to get a feel for how it matches the picture. All of that is done on my end and once I’ve polished and edited it myself I’ll send cuts back to the directors and get their feedback.
Because most of the films that I work on are remotely this method has proved extremely useful. First Lady, I was able to mix the score at my home studio and then meet with the real music editors in person and mix with them quicker because I had already worked out the whole score on my end. It saves lots of time, and everyone was happier.
I’m a big fan of the Komplete Ultimate bundle. Lots of great variation in synthesizers and orchestral samples to keep the inspiration flowing. I’ve had it for years and still haven’t gone through every sample included in it. I consistently use the live drum kits and Pianos.
For most of my synthesized or electronic scores and beats, I mess around with the Memorymoon ME80 Synthesizer emulator. In a matter of seconds, I can usually get a cool pulsing low synth sound or something straight out of blade runner.
For orchestral samples, I have stuck with almost the full CineSamples collection. High quality sounds with some real weight and lots of settings for reverb and articulation. I’ve used a large variety of string and brass samples and for the price I haven’t found any that match the quality of the CineSamples collection.
If you’re working with a budget, there are options. It’s rare that starting composers or indie films will have a live orchestra, so having quality samples that can cheat the sound of a live orchestra with clever mixing and high quality recordings makes a difference in the end.
I am a large fan of string and brass instruments, so whenever I need some emotional solo strings I will mock up with Tina Guos Cello series. There are so many samples that I haven’t had a chance to add to my library yet but as long as the films call for them, I’ll keep experimenting with new ones.
6. Finally, where can people learn more about you and your work? (website, social media, portfolio etc.)
I’m very easy to find on the internet, so my website www.andrei.shulgach.com is an easy way to find all my work and portfolios broken into different sections. I’m not that super active on social media but I update my Facebook (andrei.shulgach) and Instagram (@ashulgach).
I often respond to messages as well! My YouTube fan base often emails me asking for Unity Development tips or networking tips. I’m happy to share whatever limited information I have!
On a real note, I don’t look what I do and think that I’m amazing or even great at it. There’s always something out there who can do my job better, and they are younger than me, even though I’m considered young in my profession.
I’m happy with what I can do, and I’m glad that I’m able to use my skills to help others. I’m extremely blessed to have had the opportunities to work on any films, any games, website design, graphics, or any other projects.
I try to look for opportunities wherever I can, and the best part of it is that I’ve made lifelong friends that I can always call on for advice when I need it. We’re all human. We’re all learning, and as long as we can remember to stay positive, pay it forward and help others, good things will come out of it.
Mike: Thank you so much for sharing your experience and wiswom gained along the way. I wish you great success on your continued journey Andrei! =)
My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, and true nerd…
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