Article: ReMixer Interview: Daniel Baranowsky

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  • This page was last modified on 15 November 2009, at 23:02.
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Daniel Baranowsky Interview Logo
Daniel Baranowsky profile
  • Real Name: Daniel Baranowsky
  • Aliases: danny B, SysteManiac
  • Date of Birth: 1984/04/05
  • Birthplace: Mesa, Arizona, USA
  • Website: dB soundworks
  • Family: Father Robert, Mother Deanna, Brother Andy, Brother Eric, Sister Christy, 2 Chihuahuas, "Chimi and Changa", and a Pomeranian/Bishon Friese "Gizmo", African Grey Parrot "BooBoo"
  • Education: Mountain View High School, Mesa Community College
  • Tools: (From dB soundworks) Windows 7 PC Workstation "Spitfire", Windows 7 HP Laptop "Zero", Viewsonic VX2640w 26" widescreen monitor, Samsung Syncmaster T260 26" widescreen monitor, M-Audio Firewire Solo recording interface, Berhinger 8 channel mixer, Yamaha DX-7 keyboard synthesizer, Roland AX-7 keytar MIDI controller, Cybersound mini MIDI controller, Evolution MK-249c keyboard MIDI controller, KORG padKONTROL drum machine MIDI controller, KORG nanoKEY miniature USB keyboard, KORG nanoKONTROL miniature USB mixing surface, KRK ROKIT 8 Studio Monitors, Propellerhead's Reason 4.0 software sequencer, Steinberg's Cubase 5 - 64 Bit Digital Audio Workstation, KORG MS2000BR hardware synthesizer, Various VST plugins and Reason ReFills
  • Instruments: Fender Stratocaster VG electric modeling guitar, Fender Squire acoustic guitar, Yamaha DX-7 keyboard synthesizer, Toca congas, Tama Rockstar drum kit

Interview

Conducted November 13, 2009 by David "djpretzel" Lloyd, Cain "Fishy" McCormack & Jimmy "Big Giant Circles" Hinson:

djpretzel: You've certainly been busy in the years since your last mix, from Voices of the Lifestream, was posted. Can you talk generally about what you've been up to?

Well, I was very fortunate to start working with Adam "Atomic" Saltsman. I had met him through Jared Hudson. We had planned to do the music together for a mod of Command & Conquer: Generals into the Halo universe. That got C&D'd, but Adam and I kept talking. So one day he sent me this game called Gravity Hook. It had no music at all, and when I remarked about that, he said he didn't plan on having music at all – he thought it worked better silent style. So in my infinite wisdom, I said something along the lines of "Fuck you, I'm writing music for it anyway," since I liked the look of it and wanted to flex my retro chiptune muscles. Ultimately doing the score led to me being invited to the preparty of TIGJam '08. There I met the Flashbang Studios guys, Alec Holowka (Aquaria) , Dan Tabar (Cortex Command), David Whitlark (Trileet), and others. I really consider this a watershed moment in my career, since I still talk with everyone I met and work with them on a regular basis. From there, I also met through word of mouth other indie game developers like Edmund McMillen (Gish, Meat Boy), Tommy Refenes, and Myron McMillin. I am extremely fortunate to have fallen in with this crowd.

Fishy: You've written music for several Flash games including those by Adam Atomic, Flashbang Studios and Cryptic Sea. How did you initially get involved in the Flash gaming scene?

I guess I kinda covered it a bit in the last question, but essentially, the more games I did, the more indies got wind of me. And that led to more gigs, to the point where I'm now able to sustain myself on royalty residuals and individual gigs. I'm not a rockstar just yet, but it pays the bills, and I love every minute of it!

Fishy: Canabalt in particular has been very successful with over 500,000 views on Newgrounds to date as well as an iPhone release. Did you have any idea at the time how popular it would be? Did you have any particular influences for the music?

No idea. Adam's rough estimate is that across all sites, it's been played "5-10 million times". That's insane. We also hit the top 25 on the iTunes games app store! Originally, Adam's prototype was a super simple block-jumps-on-other-blocks game. For some reason, it reminded me of Labyrinth Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog, when you break the blocks and flow through the water. So I had it in my head that it was going to be that kind of track at first. But once he put in the actual art, I immediately thought of The Matrix. After Adam put the sound effects into the game, I knew it was going to be very important for the atmosphere of the game for the player to hear them. So I decided to have an upbeat section, and a quieter ambient section. I think it worked out really well, and made it so the looping didn't get old too fast. I'm immensely grateful for the positive reaction the soundtrack has received, and I'm currently working on cutting ringtone versions and bundling them together with the full soundtrack, and selling it for cheap on my site.

Big Giant Circles: You've tackled a variety of projects musically, from casual remixes, to commercial soundtracks and various things in-between. Which single project has been the most challenging for you to finish?

Probably the most challenging one to date was the score I did for a short film with Bill Engvall and Danny Trejo called Cowboy Dreams. It was a lot of pressure, especially since I knew these actors on the national stage would be hearing my music on their film. It was stressful, but really rewarding. I got to meet Bill Engvall, he liked my music and laughed at my joke. That was really freakin' sweet.

djpretzel: You've got thirteen OC ReMixes to date, from thirteen different games. Was this coincidence, or did you actively try to avoid repeating yourself?

That's a really interesting question. I'm not really sure! I think I just loved so many different soundtracks, I wanted to eventually get to them all.

djpretzel: You've also had tracks on four OC ReMix albums - Relics, Phobos, Chaos, and Voices - under four different album directors. How did these experiences compare & contrast?

They honestly weren't that different to work on, it was basically just – here's this track, remix it. I tend to be a self-starter when I have a clear goal and deadline.

Relics was the first one ever, so we didn't really know how much of a success it was going to be. Ari was great to work with, he kept the whole thing disciplined and on task. Phobos was a great chance to explore my newly acquired percussion samples. Chaos was a blast, I mean... "Knuckleduster" was me attempting to be as off-the-wall and goofy as possible. Fortunately, it ended up even cheesier than I imagined it! Also, the music video that someone did and uploaded to YouTube is still the best thing that ever happened ever.

Artist E. D. Thweatt put together this great animatic featuring Sonic the Hedgehog's cast based on danny B's "Knuckleduster".

Fishy: Aquaria was an indie hit in 2007 and is now available on Steam. Have you always been an Aquaria fan? What was the process that led to your appearance on the OST, with a remix?

Actually, I didn't hear about Aquaria until just before I met Alec. I was regrettably somewhat ignorant about indie games at that point also. Also, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I still haven't even finished Aquaria yet :). Sorry, Alec! Just before TIGJam '09, Alec hit me up and asked if I could master the soundtrack for him. We conversed quite a bit through the process, and all through TIGJam. At some point, I think I just said I wanted to do a remix, and that was that!

Mini + Badass = Aquaria "Minibadass", also available as a bonus arrangement on the Aquaria Original Soundtrack. Will Dan ever finish the game and erase his shame???

Fishy: You've done plenty of both ReMixing and composing. Do you find one more fun or rewarding than the other?

I think ReMixing is usually a little easier, since the most challenging thing is usually coming up with melodies and progressions. It's a little less stressful too, I almost look at it like a game, you're rearranging existing material into something new. As far as satisfaction, they are certainly both satisfying in their own ways, but I think original material gives a greater sense of accomplishment. You made something out of nothing, it's that God complex itch that gets scratched.

djpretzel: On both "Knuckleduster" and "Invertebrate Retreat", you busted out some pretty awesome vocals. Have you done much singing, for mixes or originals, since? Do you feel like your vocal mixes were received differently, be it good or bad, from your instrumentals?

You know, I really enjoy singing, but I'm still super sensitive about my voice. I'm like most people, I abhor my voice when I hear it. I had the good fortune of having friends and associates who's opinions I valued tell me that I was a good singer. So I just keep doing it, confident in my associates that what I'm doing isn't awful :). I'm planning on getting an album of originals and remixes of game songs I've done out around March next year. That will be chock full of vocals. One of the strange things about me, is that I tend to dislike recorded material. I'm not sure what to make of that, but 9 times out of 10 I prefer tracked, quantized synthetic performances to sloppy, human, imperfect ones. I know that makes me sound like an evil robot, but it's true :).

As far as the reception, I think there's always going to be a group of listeners that hate vocals in ReMixes, no matter what. There's also a group that is way into them... you know, I think it's important to make the music you want to make. It sounds cliched, but if you write music that you love and enjoy yourself, more people will like it. It's just a more genuine way to create something. I think that's also why a lot of pop music is so vehemently despised. It's built to this formula – this is what sells, it exists to make money, and not to enhance or enrich the art form. That's not to say there isn't pop that I don't love, I mean – case in point, Michael Jackson. But back to the point of vocals in video game ReMixes, I think it's something that is almost anathema to people's nostalgia for video game music. It really depends.

Music & film, together at last, in danny B's studio

djpretzel: While those newer to the site might not realize it, you were a judge for a pretty long time. Do you miss it? Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat after nightmares plagued by ridiculously long queues filled with nothing but "Terra" & "IceCap" mixes? What's the main thing you took away from it all?

It was a good time. It was an encouraging experience early on, like, hey – people value your opinion enough to give you this modest amount of pseudo-power. Then it went to my head, and then the cocaine and hookers... Larry knows what I mean. My nightmares actually involve Glenn Beck mating with Tim Langdell and producing foul hellspawn, but that's a topic for another time.

The main thing I took away from it was a huge amount of new perspective. I got to hear hundreds of songs by people with varying degrees of experience. I was then tasked to criticize these songs, and back up my criticism. It formed the basis of my ability to take a rational, measured approach to songwriting and composing, and really taught me how one should detach themselves emotionally from criticism of their art. I think that's a vital skill.

Big Giant Circles: I asked this in the interview with Alex, and since I enjoy knowing fun, trivial things about people, I'll repeat the question for you: What's your favorite place to grab lunch for under $10? What's the last great movie you saw?

Subway. Their Buffalo Chicken sandwich is h-h-h-h-heaven!!! Too bad it's limited time only :/. I also like their roasted chicken breast and sweet onion chicken teriyaki. That with cheddar and sour cream Baked Lays and a Light lemonade for under 10 bucks!!

Oh, and I'm insanely addicted to turkey and cheddar Lunchables. Those are less than 10 dollars too!

Zombieland. Laughed my balls out of my face.

Big Giant Circles: Based on your recent successes, I'd wager you have a healthy career in the biz in store. Breaking out your crystal ball for a sec, where do you hope to see yourself in 5-10 years?

I hope so :). I'd like to see myself fronting a touring band, nationwide, working on indie and AAA console and PC game titles, and scoring films occasionally. As long as I can live comfortably, and my only responsibility to the world is to make music, I will be happy.

djpretzel: RAD TIMBALE LICKS?

I'm offended by this line of questioning. The judges most certainly can and will djp!

Okay, yea. Dick. <3<3<3

Survey

The following are standard questions asked of all interviewed ReMixers:

History

What was the first video game you remember playing?

Super Mario Bros. On a black and white TV. I'd imagine everyone my age would answer the same :). Also, Simon's Quest, and 5-1/4" floppy disk games on our IBM 8088.

Did you have any formal musical training or education prior to becoming a video game music ReMixer?

A broad shot of the tech inside dB soundworks

Music theory in senior year of high school, four years of community college, where I took music theory, aural perception, music history, recording, electronic music, sound for TV & film, composition, band, Latin percussion, guitar, voice, piano and music business. It was a blast!

How did you first get involved with ReMixing video game music? Did a particular game soundtrack or artist hook you?

The biggest reason I ever started ReMixing was because of Ari Asulin (Protricity). It's also a huge reason why I am where I am today. I can't remember how we got talking, but he took a little MIDI song I had done, and put it into Reason, and it finally clicked for me how a sequencer worked. Also, his ReMix "Brambles in the Breeze" was the song that convinced me to get serious and start writing. I had grown up adoring the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, Sonic, Zelda, etc. The big hits for me back when I got started were Jared Hudson's "Metal Gear May Cry", McVaffe's "IceCapped", AE's "Stainless Steel", and "Team Gato", to name a few.

Have you collaborated with other ReMixers on mixes, and if so, what was it like?

I worked with MixMastaMunk (now ProFiction) on a Ninja Gaiden remix. It was basically, he had made a remix, it was rejected, so I retooled it with better sounds and production. He was awesome to work with, we talked online for years after that. We haven't talked for a long time, but he's a really talented musician and I'm sure he's doing great!

Do you prefer working alone?

Sure. I was in a lot of bands over the years, and they always ended up ending because of something stupid that someone in the band did. The music was always awesome, and it was a good time, but working alone means that I don't have to deal with other people ending what is a great thing with stupid decisions.

How does collaborating change your creative process?

I've noticed that mostly, it exposes me to working with chord progressions and melodic choices that I never would have considered. I absolutely love taking existing progressions and melodies and turning them inside out, putting them back together. I think you get comfortable with certain ways of composing, and having to use other people's ideas makes you appreciate them and understand them. It has made me a better musician in the long run for sure.

What was the last musical project or track you worked on? Are you working on anything currently?

The last track I finished was last night, it's the score for a web series with Judd Nelson and Traci Lords. Currently I am working on Super Meat Boy, the followup to the popular Flash game – it's coming to Wii and PC/Steam. I'm also doing a new iPhone game called Das Cube, the music for the next SemiSecret Software (the Canabalt guys) game Retro Racer Revival, the new version of Off-Road Velociraptor Safari from the guys at Blurst, and various other projects that I can't talk about due to the joy of NDA!

Like Cave Story, the word-of-mouth success of Meat Boy lifted the freeware title to the next level on WiiWare. Central to the game's success is danny B's high-powered soundtrack.

Based on your experience as an OverClocked ReMixer, what advice would you give those trying to get something they submit posted on the site?

It's the same process as getting better with any kind of music. Constantly improve, find people who's judgment you trust. Find people who's judgment you DON'T trust. Collect a huge pool of opinions, and aggregate them. Realize that 90% of criticism is worthless. You'll know the criticism that is valid. With OCR, you also have to keep in mind that you're submitting to a site with specific guidelines and a rubric. It's this cool midpoint between sample upgrades and arrangements inspired by video game music. I always tended to lean more to the "inspired by" side, and reinterepreted songs as much as I could and get away with it.

Personal

Who/what are your inspirations in terms of ReMixing video game music?

This is a bad question for me, because I know I'm going to leave out some amazing musicians. McVaffe is huge. Vigilante, zyko, Protricity, djpretzel, Mazedude, AE, analoq, AmIEviL, Disco Dan, goat, virt, Jared Hudson, Rellik, tefnek, Rayza, Russell Cox.

Of the ReMixes you've made, which is your favorite? Why?

I gotta say, it's probably "Invertebrate Retreat". There are a million things I would do differently today on the track than I did back in the day, but I think it's a track that turned out a million times better then I had planned in my head.

How do you approach ReMixing video game music? Is there a particular sequence of events you find yourself following more often, or an initial process you always seem to use?

My primary goal in remixing is usually to take the song to an entirely new place. When I was way into "Dracula's Castle" from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I knew I wanted to use that track, but I didn't want to do the first thing that popped in my head – a techno-orchestral arrangement. I kept humming the tune in my head, and for some reason, it started going jazzy on me. So I ran with it.

It's hard for me to say now, since I haven't been heavy into the remixing for a few years. Since I was in it, I've transitioned mostly into writing original music, so it's hard to remember the state of mind I used to be in.

Games & gear in danny B's office

Which game composers and soundtracks do you admire the most?

Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy VII, Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy VII, Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy VII, Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy VII. In that order.

Also, Grant Kirkhope, Dave Wise, Harry Gregson-Williams, Koji Kondo, Yasunori Mitsuda, Matt Uelman.

Chrono Trigger, Super Mario 64, Perfect Dark, Castlevania, Katamari Damacy, Rock Band (SEE WUT I DID THAR).

What's one of your best or most enjoyable memories from working on a ReMix?

Oh, easy. Getting the guitar track for "Invertebrate Retreat" from Jesse (Vigilante). I looped it for freakin' hours man. HOURS. The solo at the end? He's not human. He's a robot. A sexy, guitar-god alien mutant robot from space.

What's the most challenging aspect of ReMixing video game music?

Making it your own. Anyone can do a MIDI rip. I think making a track that is identifiable first as its own thing is a lot harder than a track that is identifiable because of its source material.