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    2023.01.19 The Originality

    Music Designer, Sound Center, Juman Lee

    <THE ORIGINALITY> is a series about NC’s new generation — they are immersed in their jobs where they find inspiration. They pave the way towards excellence and then aim even higher.

    People at NC freely express themselves and achieve growth by challenging themselves to new experiences.

    Music designers at NC don’t just compose music — we also handle planning, directing, and communication. There is a myriad of tasks that require my attention, and sometimes it is difficult to focus only on music. On the other hand, this also means that creators have more freedom here. I am glad that I can take the initiative in displaying my abilities and developing myself.

    Music Designer, Sound Center, Juman Lee

    Music Design, Sound Center

    Music designers at NC create everything that is designated as “audio” within a game. Here, “creating” is not limited to only composing music. We also review game proposals, map out what kind of music will be needed, compose music, and then apply it to the actual game engine.

    You may have noticed that “alts” have recently become a trend on YouTube and elsewhere. Music designers must also have multiple “alts" as opposed to focusing on a single role. They are composers who write music, artists who play instruments and make recordings, producers who craft soundtracks, and designers who lay out and direct a player’s experience using music as a medium.

    All-Rounders Who Plan, Create, and Direct

    Music designers take on projects with the mindset of a developer. Music planning begins at the prototype stage of the game development cycle. If the music planning begins after game development has progressed, it is already too late. During the prototype stage, music designers consult with the directors and planners before beginning their review of the initial scenarios and game art images, allowing them to create the musical direction for the game.

    Once game development has progressed to a certain point, the actual audio is produced based on the genre, world setting, and character concepts. It is then processed so it can be applied to the game engine. In order to apply the audio to the game engine, some coding is required. At this point, constant communication with engine programmers is necessary.

    Once all the resources have been prepared, the music designers will apply them to the game engine themselves. During this process, the countless scenarios that may occur within the game and the game's production direction must be considered. Audio that corresponds to specific scenarios, such as when players move from a village to a field, when day turns to night, etc. must all be applied correctly. Players will then experience music that has been designed with consideration alongside game content.

    The Player: A Variable Adding Fun to Production

    Music contains design elements that can even be seen in visual mediums, such as movies and dramas. One needs to plan out what kind of music must be played, and when it must be played. However, if you consider music design in visual content a two dimensional world requiring only an X and Y axis, music in game production can be considered a three dimensional world with a Z axis called “interaction.”

    Music for purely visual content can be designed in a way that each beat is tailored to the minute, second, and even frame. But with games, such perfection is impossible to achieve due to unforeseeable circumstances. This is because of a variable called "the player.” In the case of game music, music designers must predict how a player will act within a game and design the music to match their actions. This is something that only game music designers are capable of doing. Although this is a difficult process, it is the challenge that makes the process fun.

    Growth from Synergy Between Music and Games

    A Turning Point in Life Brought to Me by Music

    I used to be a run-of-the-mill liberal arts student. Although I used to enjoy music and played the piano since I was young, it was never more than a hobby until I suddenly found the determination to pursue a career in music. However, I came to the conclusion that I would not have good odds in the Korean education system. I wanted to study music in a place where I was not restricted by conventional norms. The first place that came to my mind was the US. Despite my parents’ objections, I decided not to take the college entrance exam in Korea and prepared to enroll in a music program at an American university. In the end, my application was accepted, and I bought a ticket to Boston.

    Although I enrolled in a music school with a major in classical music, I found myself getting bored of studying only classical music for 4 years. I wanted to experience all genres of music, such as jazz, pop, hip hop, EDM etc. I decided to study media music eventually — a subject where I could experience a wide variety of genres. I moved to Hollywood, the home of the world’s greatest media market, and enrolled in graduate school, where I could learn more about music and its production.

    Achieving Quality through Persuasion

    I enjoy playing different games including NC’s games. My goal was to make music similar to what I heard when I played games. That passion brought me to NC. Although the sound department performs a more supportive role, we are often not perceived that way. When it comes to anything related to music, we are always thinking one step ahead of the other departments. Even if development does not require it, we plan music that is appropriate for the project and even propose promotional music to the business office. It is a process that is unique to the NC Sound Center and is not something that can be experienced in any other industry or game development company.

    The greatest thing that I have learned at NC is persuasion. Beyond making awesome music, we also need to persuade the directors and planners about why this project needs our music. Sometimes it feels like we hit a communication barrier during the collaboration process. In these situations, we try to brainstorm ways to overcome that barrier without conflict. Sometimes we organize and present stories of success that occurred at other companies or explain recent trends that showcase the direction that we wish to take. From time to time, we even invite the developers to join these presentations. Of course, not all our efforts are successful. But I learned that as long as we have a goal in mind, persuasion is a necessary step towards achieving it.

    Becoming a Better Music Designer

    In my third year of working at NC, I had to prepare for the launch of <Lineage2M> as the main music designer. I created the music, brainstormed how it will be presented in the game, and even recorded an opera overseas for the soundtrack. I had no time to rest. Even while commuting to and back from work, I would constantly think to myself, “Did I forget something?”, “What can I do to improve the quality?”, etc. Before the launch, I went through all content myself to check if the music was implemented in the direction that I had aimed for, and I tested the final build all night up until the day before the launch.

    After the game was launched, I read the player feedback which was very helpful — I learned what players liked in the game and what was, wasn’t impactful. This project allowed me to gain some know-how and grow as a music designer.

    Proven Game Music Designer

    Proactively Making Use of One’s Abilities

    Music designers at NC don’t just compose music — we also handle planning, directing, and communication. There is a myriad of tasks that require my attention, and sometimes it is difficult to focus only on music.

    Rather than getting stressed over the work given to me, I try to use it as an opportunity to learn. I studied Unreal Engine so I could better communicate better with our developers, and I also studied different videos to improve the content creation process. The process of transitioning from a novice to an expert one skill at a time is an enjoyable one.

    Music Offers More Immersive Gameplay

    In games, music is called BGM, or background music. Instead of being at the forefront, it plays a supportive role behind the main content. There probably aren’t a lot of players who focus on the music. However, if you play a game without the music, the experience will only be half as fun, and you will soon find yourself no longer immersed in the game. That is when you realize how big of a role music plays in a game.

    It’s okay even if players do not focus on the music. If players are immersed in the game and find it enjoyable because of the music that I produced and directed, then that is enough. That is the reason why I work hard and why I want to further hone my skills as a music designer.

    Players Love Creativity

    One could generalize game music and categorize it under art. However, creating game music is the task of creating content that communicates with people, and my job is to make playing a game an enjoyable experience for people who do not know much about music.

    Music trends change quickly. It is the responsibility of music designers to follow these trends by doing research and achieving the sound that players want to hear in a game. For me, creativity is not making something out of nothing — true creativity is staying up to date with recent trends, figuring out what the player wants, and then creating my music.

    Creating an NC That Is Loved for Its Music

    I hope that the music produced by the Music Design Department gets more love from the public. I also want to expand the ways in which we interact with the player to beyond just game soundtracks. Music video productions, concert planning, etc. are all projects I would love to work on. My current goal is to become a music designer who can contribute to increasing NC’s popularity among the public through music.

    * The content stated in this interview is the personal opinion of the interviewee and does not represent the official position of NCSOFT.