On Passion Projects and Hiring Your Fellow Artists


So, I don’t know if you heard… back in December, I released a 4-track EP back in December called Meet The Light. It’s a cover album of music from Kid Icarus, released on the 30th anniversary of the series. Today, I’m writing about that experience. Granted, this post is a little late, but I thought it was important that I discuss my experience releasing my very first solo EP. After all, I believe you should write about your experiences and the work you do, so why the hell shouldn’t I write about my EP?

For all intents and purposes, this album was definitely a passion project. I get pretty consistent work making music for games, but this was the first thing in a while that I made basically just for me. Going in, I felt like it wasn’t really going to be anything that would take off. I mean, people would probably buy a Legend of Zelda cover album, but a Kid Icarus one? Thankfully, I was wrong about that. I made the album free to download, but with the option for fans to name their own price. I was actually quite surprised to see people actually spending $5, $10, or $20 on the album. I even had a few people drop even more money than that. It was an honor to have people actually donate to my music. The money helps me a lot, I can continue making music for a living.

The importance of passion projects

Passion projects are something we do because we want to do it. And after this experience, I can safely say how important it is to create something for the love of creating. I love making music for games, but this is the first time in a long time that I got to make music for myself. Obviously, we have to survive and make money and work with clients/work on commissions, but as artists, we also have a need to create. It’s why people create music, code games, start YouTube channels, record podcasts, draw, write, whatever it may be. And you know what? A passion project can turn into something that can make you money. As I was saying, I was very pleasantly surprised that people paid for my album, something I was giving away for free.

What stops us from making passion projects is that at the end of the day, it might not seem practical to make them. What if nobody downloaded this album? That thought definitely plagued me throughout the arranging and recording process. Here I was, making a remix album from a game series that had, at best, a decent reception, but wasn’t insanely popular compared to other, bigger titles. But it was something I really wanted to create. Kid Icarus has always been a favorite of mine. As a child, the music from the game inspired me so deeply, so much so that I wanted to make music myself.

Fast forward to 2012 and the release of Kid Icarus: Uprising. After experiencing the game and its gorgeous, gripping OST, I was inspired to hunker down and level up my compositional skills. Inspired by the incredibly colorful orchestrations heard in the game, I got myself some orchestration books, studied the hell out of them, and then practiced my orchestration by arranging themes from the original Kid Icarus for orchestra. Again, that was another passion project. But what did I get from it? A wealth of knowledge about orchestration, practical experience arranging for orchestra, and an orchestral premiere in front of 1000 people at the University of Maryland.

I really feel like I learn so much through passion projects. I get to learn things that I might not otherwise learn doing work for clients. While recording Meet The Light, I definitely feel like I leveled up my skills, both as a guitarist and as an arranger. I also learned so many new recording techniques. For example, I never really had a great way to record acoustic guitar. During the recording process of the final track on the EP, “Home”, I tried plugging my acoustic-electric guitar into my board instead of struggling with a microphone that couldn’t adequately record my sound. I feel like the acoustic guitar came out beautifully as a result, and now, I have a much more effective method for recording acoustic guitar that I can use for recording music for clients in the future. So what I learned from my passion project feeds into my paid work as well.

Hiring others… and actually paying them!

So one big priority going into this project was that I wanted to make sure I hired other artists. Not only can another artist bring something new to your music, but you also help them out by making sure they have paid work. Every one of the artists who contributed to Meet The Light (John, Dan, Chris, Bill who did the mixing and mastering, and Karyn who did the amazing cover art) was paid in some way. Each one of them was paid in money, with the exception of Dan. With Dan, we made an agreement for a work trade, so I spent about 4-5 hours recording a track for him in exchange for the time he spent recording for me. In addition, I bought lunch for Dan and Chris, who both came to my home studio to record their parts.

All in all, I spent close to $1000 making this EP, in between hiring contractors and paying for promotional materials (you may remember my memeing from MAGFest). I wanted to learn how to create something utterly professional, so I told myself that I needed to invest in this album to make it sound professional. And now, as a result, I have some very well-produced music I can share in my portfolio. It definitely helped to have contributing musicians to the album. It was also a huge help to have Bill Rouse from Suture Audio helping me with the mixes, and mastering the album. I hired him because while I can mix my own stuff, I wanted to have another set of ears on it to ensure the best possible sound. He also really, really knows how to master music, while that’s not exactly where I excel (I’m much more of a composer/arranger). It was an investment that really paid off, because my album sounds much more professional as a result.

To top it all off, I hired my friend Karyn (check out her work here) to make some cover art for it. I mean, I can’t draw for shit, and while I kind of know my way around Photoshop, she made something so much better than I would ever make, capturing exactly what I wanted. She even laid out the text on the cover art too. Hiring her added that final touch I needed to make my product professional.

In conclusion

Basically, I spent a lot of time and money creating something that might not be entirely “worth it” in a monetary sense. But at the same time, it was enriching, both educationally and creatively. I took away a great deal of experience that I can in turn use to better the work I create for clients. I also learned a lot about hiring and managing outside contractors. Now that I have that experience, I can continue that trend to better the music I make for a living as well. And on top of all that, my album became the best selling video game remix album on Bandcamp for a few weeks, and garnered a great deal of praise. I even got to do interviews with Source Gaming, the OC Remix Podcast, NinImpact Gaming, and with my friend Joe Schroek on his podcast. I even had the courage to show it off to one of the original composers from Kid Icarus: Uprising, who said he loved the entire EP. It was a hell of an experience that I don’t usually get to have. After all of that, I want to return to this project, record even more tracks, and hopefully release a physical copy of the album later this year.


Does anyone even listen to CDs anymore though??

Anyway, thanks for reading my post! If you haven’t done so already, please download Meet The Light over at my Bandcamp page (it’s FREE). Also, please feel free to talk to me on Twitter about YOUR passion projects!

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