Interview with Piano Squall


Interview with Piano Squall

November 25, 2007

Back in June, VGMusic.com had a giveaway promoting Piano Squall's debut album GAME. He was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the making of the album.

About Piano Squall:

Under the stage name "Piano Squall", Michael Gluck performs videogame and anime music piano concerts to raise money for charity. Since 2003, he has given concerts in sixteen different states to benefit organizations such as The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Race for the Cure, Baltimore Reads, The Maryland Food Bank, The Matthew Foster Foundation, and Tsunami Relief. Michael also donates a portion of all album sales to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society to fight the disease that destroyed his grandmother's life. Piano Squall
GAME In 2005, Michael was invited to the anime convention Otakon, where he performed for an audience of three thousand people. Since then, his music has been featured by MTV, Newtype Magazine, GamesRadar, Destructoid, The Otaku, RPGamer, RPGFan, The Armchair Empire, SquareSound, QJ, and Music4Games. In 2007, Michael released his debut album, entitled GAME, which became the first videogame and anime piano solo CD to be published by an independent musician.

Yaginuma: Please tell us about yourself.

Piano Squall: I'm just a really big nerd with a lot of love for videogame music! I've devoted my life to performing game and anime music piano concerts to raise money for various charities. I play to benefit multiple sclerosis and cancer research, food drives, literacy programs, or any other important cause.

Yaginuma: Please tell us about your debut album GAME!

Piano Squall: GAME features twenty-six original piano arrangements of music from Final Fantasy, Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Mega Man, Chrono Cross, and Tetris. It's also got a few tracks from anime titles like Naruto, Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, and InuYasha. Proceeds from GAME benefit The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Yaginuma: Is any sheet music available, or do you figure out the songs all the songs on your own?

Piano Squall: I'm always playing RPGs and watching anime, and whenever I hear a great piece of music, I just go to the piano and create an original arrangement by ear. Then I score it out in sheet music and give it away for free download on PianoSquall.com. Videogame publishers like Square Enix put out great arrangement books too, and sometimes I'll mix some of those ideas in with my own to create a medley.

Yaginuma: Are the piano pieces recorded in "one take" or several takes? If so, did that require many "takes" to get a best version?

Piano Squall: I have videos on PianoSquall.com for visitors to enjoy live performances, and I also have an album of professionally mastered recordings. For CD production, the performer will typically record each piece a few times and then combine elements from each take into a single track.

Yaginuma: What model piano did you play on?

Piano Squall: I played on a Yamaha.

Yaginuma: Did you record in a studio? If so, how is performing in a studio different compared to live performance?

Piano Squall: I recorded GAME in my home studio, which is a much more controlled environment than a live concert atmosphere. On stage, you're playing on a foreign piano under hot bright lights in front of thousands of people, and maybe you're lucky enough to get an hour or two of warm up time before you get thrown up there. But the biggest challenge of playing a live concert is not any of these things; it's the fact that the acoustics and sound systems are different in every venue, and you can never hear your own playing as clearly as you can in a studio environment.

Here's a funny story about live performances. I recall one of my earlier concerts at an anime convention called Otakon back in 2004, I was playing for about two thousand people on a digital piano. With digital instruments, the sound is channeled out to the house speakers, and there is a second speaker that sits next to the performer called the stage monitor, which allows the performer to hear what he or she is playing. Unfortunately for me, the sound crew forgot to put the monitor on the stage, so I got up there, played the first measure, and realized that I was going to have to perform the entire concert without hearing a single note! Live shows are always full of surprises.

Yaginuma: How much practice does each song require before you begin the recording phase? Hours? Days? Weeks?

Piano Squall: I put weeks of practice into every track before I recorded a single note. I wanted to make this album the best that it could be.

Yaginuma: How long did your CD take to produce? (When did you officially start working on it?) Would you consider making a second CD in the future?

Piano Squall: It took six months to produce GAME. I officially started working on the album in January of 2007, and the first copy shipped on June 30th.

The overwhelming success of GAME has made it possible for me to already begin production on the second album, which will feature a selection of original compositions that I am writing for upcoming videogame titles. I am excited to share my original game music with you!

Yaginuma: Visitors of VGMusic.com would be especially interested in knowing more about the making of your original piece, "Boss Battle". Usage of MIDI? What software/soundfonts used?

Piano Squall: Creating the Boss Battle was a two-step process. First, I scored out the notes in a program called Finale and assigned instruments to each track. Then I passed the MIDI on to Michael Huang, my sound designer, who used samples and a program called Cakewalk Sonar to make the instruments sound real.

Yaginuma: What was involved in getting rights to perform the music?

Piano Squall: When you create an arrangement of copyrighted piece of music, you need to obtain something called a "mechanical license" to legally publish your recordings. The first thing you'll need to do is go online and visit a company called Harry Fox. HF acts as the administrator between you and the publisher of the music that you want.

For example, suppose you wanted to publish your own videogame music compilation album with music from Square, Nintendo, Konami, and twenty other publishers. You wouldn't actually contact the game companies directly to pay royalties, but rather, you'd give Harry Fox a call and tell them exactly which pieces you want to license. HF contacts the copyright holders on your behalf and secures the licensing agreements for you. Then you pay royalties to Harry Fox on every album sold, and they pass on the money to the publishers.

If anyone is interested in publishing their own album and would like to know more about the process, please tell them to email me at Michael@PianoSquall.com, and I will answer every question personally.


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