Announcing: TERRA MAGICA

Hello. This is Saori Kobayashi. Right now, I'm hard at work on the solo album Brave Wave and I announced last year at BitSummit MMXIV in Kyoto. I'm creating this new album to symbolize my gratitude to people all around the world who listen to my music. The name of this album is TERRA MAGICA.

Much of my past music has accompanied visuals of video games. I'd be asked by the director of the game to transform these visuals into what is ostensibly their "audio-equivalent." This music is then fed this into a story that's also been written ahead of time. When it comes to video game music, a world has been established for players to become immersed in, even before they have a chance to listen to the music.

TERRA MAGICA is the complete opposite of what I've been involved with in the past. For my solo album, the music takes precedence over any story or imagery, allowing listeners to visualize a world that only I have created. I hope to create an album whose music will inspire listeners and give them complete control over what they see in realm of their own imaginations. 

I personally enjoy fantasy games and RPGs; worlds where dragons soar across the sky, and cosmos where a vast bed of planets lie scattered across... these images are my fantasies. What are yours? I hope that when people listen to my solo album, they conjure up their own worlds like I do as I compose with Brave Wave. 

I still need a little bit more time to complete this album, especially since I'm in Paris for Japan Expo in July, but I sincerely hope you're looking forward to it!

Journey: A design exploration with Natalie Hanke

We released our first solo record today. Journey by AKANE is available now on our store, and will be available shortly on iTunes, Amazon, Google, and other services. You can listen to the entire album as many times as you like before buying it — so go ahead!

We had a tough deadline for producing the album, as we wanted to debut it at EGX (Eurogamer's expo in London) on September 25th, and also have it ready for AKANE's live show on September 29th. We realized later in the production that we wouldn't be able to design the album internally, and I had to find a solution pretty quick as the deadline loomed over our heads. Enter, Natalie Hanke.

I came across Natalie's work when both Cory Schmitz and Paul Veer recommended her to me. I loved what she did with Distance and decided she's the right choice for the style and aesthetics of AKANE. I especially loved her emphasis on clean and minimal design, often type-based and bold.

This is the first concept that Natalie made, which remains a personal favorite of mine:

Kobayashi-san and Takahashi-san thought it was a bit too clean, as AKANE, to them, is imperfect and chaotic. Going from that, Natalie experimented with new designs accordingly:

With a few interesting choices:

And liberations:

That's a lot of design that we had to wade through. The AKANE girls liked where Natalie went with the organic flower look, and wanted further exploration of the first cover. Natalie worked more, bringing a mix of hydrangea and sasanqua flowers:

Then upon further examination, Natalie decided it was better if both front- and back-covers were inverted-looking, as the contrast between orange (on the disc, and booklet pages) and pink would be just right. This resulted in the following backgrounds:

And there you have it:

The delicate mix of orange, pink, and black throughout the physical package looks pleasing to the eye and really gorgeous. We wrapped the whole design process in less than a month, which is a great achievement, and a testament to Natalie's craftsmanship under such tension and pressure. Having to communicate in Japanese to the AKANE ladies and then bringing that back to Natalie (and vice versa), I'm surprised at how fast we were able to finish the project.

I decided it would be better to differentiate between the physical and digital editions, thus giving a crimson/orange finish to the digital version and leaving the physical package with its unique pink outlook.

I'm proud of Brave Wave's first solo record, and I hope you'll end up enjoying it more after this brief talk about its design and designer. Head over to the store, play the album, and enjoy this unique neo-folklore sound from the heart of Tokyo.

Reflecting on World 1-2

One year ago this month, in May of 2013, World 1-2 was released to what seemed to me as a roaring plaudit. It felt good. Partly because I had no expectations and I was simply having fun with what we created together — I just wanted to get out of my own bubble and see what people would think of this weird gigantic album that I made solely by emailing people and asking for permission.

It's quite liberating to make something without prior experience in the field nor how things work, as intimidating as that could be.  It made me smile to see World 1-2 winning a Best Remix Album award from VGMO, in a category that included Nobuo Uematsu, Square Enix, Capcom, and others. That was a nice surprise because the album wasn't aspiring to be anything other than itself: a project that kind of celebrates video game music and its immense diversity, by highlighting forgotten composers and brave remixers . I do realize that it shook things up and introduced new ideas and approaches, if I may say so myself, and I admire that people seem to get it when it comes to its purpose and intent. It was entirely made with pure love and child-like excitement, and that struck a chord with many. It certainly makes me happy.

Looking back at it, World 1-2 was a people's album. I think. Lots of remixes, relatable video game art, an easy narrative to grasp onto (despite the intimidating track list). If you're a fan of video games, it's not hard to enjoy the album. There's at least a handful of tracks you'd love instantly, and that'll make you work your way through it.

I've been moving away from its formula ever since and I wonder if that would resonate with people more. I mean, it's not easily relatable and I understand that.  Starting with In Flux, I'm more interested in exploring new themes and weird ideas that seem super interesting to me, but are probably a bit more between the lines to people who aren't very invested in what I do with the label. No more mega remix albums like World 1-2 (except for client jobs) — only new ideas and initiatives. I still have one foot in the making side and another in the fan side, so I'm not totally absorbed with what I'm making yet; I'm not lost in my own sphere. I don't think that'll happen soon as well, because work doesn't exist in a vacuum, and delighting people is a very important goal to me: I care about making people delightful and excited with the stuff I make. But, I guess, my ego doesn't want to repeat the same trick. World 1-2 was novel; repeating it would be counter to the potential of my ability as a maker, and the broad range of ideas that Brave Wave is able to give birth to.

I guess I'm thinking out loud. Well, in any case, please look forward to the few albums we're gonna be releasing in the next few months. I've been working day and night on Brave Wave and I'm very excited to let people finally hear the new stuff we're all working on. Keiji Yamagishi (of Ninja Gaiden) has been working on his album for a full year now. That's crazy. We're trying to implement so many things and that pushed us back a bit. But that's the album I've been waiting for all my life, the album that I waited for Keiji to make since first playing Captain Tsubasa 2 on my Famicom, and for that I'm giving it my utmost will and dedication. We all are. But let's talk about that some other time, when we have more to show you.

Thanks for sticking with us.

From Saori: Working with Brave Wave

Hello, this is Saori Kobayashi. I worked at Sega for 4 years, and then became a freelance music composer working on games,  song arrangements, educational music arrangement, song composition, piano teaching and other music-related jobs. In 2003, I formed my own band unit, AKANE, which I’ve been earnestly doing since then.

Recently, I’ve been working with Brave Wave Productions and making music with them. This relationship originated when I was working on the music for Crimson Dragon on Xbox One. I knew people from the dev team since my days working on Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta. The director of Orta was one of them, and he introduced me to another person who had been at Land Ho (co-dev of Crimson Dragon) Alex, who is now Brave Wave’s CEO.

In the summer of 2013, Alex introduced me to the director of Koopa Soundworks (now Brave Wave), Mohammed. I heard that he wanted to get in touch with me because I had done the soundtracks for Panzer Dragoon and wanted me to make a new song, and Alex was kind enough to translate. This project ended up being the album In Flux. Mohammed showed me the concept of the album, which I found very appealing, and was happy to work with him.

That was a tough time of year for me, but I was able to make a song I was satisfied with called Shattered Moon. Mohammed and Alex were very happy with what I created. And after that, somehow they came to me with talks of creating a solo album without me even asking. This was something to welcome.

I’ve been involved in game music for a long time, and I hear that people from outside Japan are supportive of my work as well. Working with Brave Wave allows me to make music aimed at those audiences, widen my horizons and get in touch with those people directly. This is quite an exciting thing to be a part of, and I’m moved by how wonderful this all is. I am really thankful to Brave Wave for this opportunity.

By the way, my band, AKANE, is also in the middle of making a new album. We are doing our best, so I hope Brave Wave staff and listeners enjoy what we create. For the time being, you can listen to a snippet of Pirika from our next album, previewed earlier by Mohammed in this blog.

I’m looking forward to connecting more with listeners from outside of Japan. Thank you so much!

Visiting Touchten Games in Indonesia

My role as Business Development Coordinator at Brave Wave is to find new opportunities that will allow the company to develop. Whereas Mohammed is tasked with (and personally more interested in) getting in touch with music composers, artists and game directors for creative-related discussions, I come from a business-oriented background and thus am always focused on how to explore business opportunities and ensure that Brave Wave can continue to operate. I am always looking to meet successful business people to see what I can learn from them. Of course, when we founded the company, Mohammed and I agreed to preserve a high standard of quality and innovation for each and every album and game we involve ourselves with, and that can be seen in albums such as In Flux or games such as Shovel Knight, which Manami Matsumae contributed two amazing tracks to. I chose to visit Touchten Games, based in Jakarta, Indonesia as one of my first visits as a fulltime Brave Wave employee. An old classmate and friend of mine, Anton Soeharyo (29), founded the company back in April 2009 while living in Tokyo. Back then, he and his brother, Roki (26), founded the company on one simple principle: to create and deliver games that people will enjoy. Touchten has seen phenomenal growth since that time, and after a few success and failure stories inherent to startups, the company was funded by Cyberagent Ventures for an amount of money that allows them to operate at a loss indefinitely (and they’re definitely not headed in that direction). Their primary aim is to develop a strong gaming scene in Southeast Asia, a market that has traditionally taken a back seat to North America, Japan, PAL territories and China. 

Their office, on an upper floor of a high-rise mixed-use complex in the central business district of Jakarta, is a bright and productive working environment. The entrance adopts a custom seen with smaller Japanese offices: people are asked to remove their footwear at the entrance before stepping into the main office area. Even though the amount of space they have is not that much and they are still growing their headcount, they have deliberately dedicated nearly half of it to a leisure space, with a couch, mat, television, and eating counter. Even Anton and Roki have modest desk sizes that are the same as all other staff members despite being the owners of the company, showing that hierarchy is not essential in running a successful team. Outside the windows is a view of Jakarta’s skyscrapers and local houses below. They recently added an annex corner to the office by breaking down a wall and leasing additional space, but Roki suspects that even this expansion will not be enough in the long term.

But in spite of the financing and growth and the pressures associated with them, Anton and Roki refuse to concede quality and entertainment. Moreover, they value the young, energetic and globalized people that have joined their team as engineers, artists, sound composers, interns, PR and management. Every Monday at 10AM, Anton calls a company-wide meeting to discuss weekly plans, goals and deliver an inspirational message. When I was there, Anton wanted to let each and every staff member know how vital they were to the success of the company, and that without good people, there could be no good companies. It reminded me of something Mohammed reminds me of from time to time as we continue to develop Brave Wave into the best gaming music label out there.

I asked the staff to listen to World 1-2: The Complete Collection and In Flux. It just so happens that there were many Mega Man fans among the crew, so they all took an instant liking to One Shot, One Kill and Blue Star, both by Manami Matsumae. They played through the tracklists of both albums all morning, which left me convinced that Brave Wave’s music is suitable for a game development environment. Other people were fans of Akira Yamaoka’s work, while others took a liking to chiptune tracks by Eirik Suhrke and Keiji Yamagishi. Many staff expressed their desire to have Brave Wave’s music put into their game, one for their quality and the other for the internationalization that it would bring to their local titles. It’s a dream for many of them to be in the same project as the likes of Manami, Keiji, Akira and Eirik. Maybe that can happen someday…

As a business, I find Touchten highly inspiring and a good example to draw from in terms of strengthening Brave Wave as a company from behind the scenes (in contrast to Mohammed, whose creative direction forms the face of Brave Wave and is what you will hear about on this blog 90% of the time). Yet, Touchten and Brave Wave are not that similar to each other. Brave Wave makes music for a global audience; Touchten makes mobile and social games that currently are aimed at developing Southeast Asia’s game market with global expansion to come after. Touchten will need to grow its internal staff to maintain its momentum, while Brave Wave needs to connect with more freelance musicians for new opportunities. Still, it was a fantastic experience to be allowed to sit in for a day and see these wonderful people in action, and the fact our companies are actually dissimilar did not stop both sides from appreciating the vision of the other. We are talking about working together on some unannounced projects, but if anything I expect that we will at least be in touch with each other from time to time.

A Conversation With GamesInAsia: Gaming in Southeast Asia

Anton was nice enough to arrange an interview with GamesInAsia, one of Southeast Asia’s most popular video game news websites. The interview was arranged with one day’s notice, as Mohammad Fahmi, a writer for GamesInAsia Indonesia, was surprised that Anton and I knew each other and that I would be in Jakarta for a short time. I spoke with Mohammad and his coworker, Brian Chuang about the vision and history of Brave Wave, and in turn, I had a fascinating conversation with them about Southeast Asia’s growing game market. Gamers here prefer PCs and mobile devices, while consoles and handhelds have a lower share due to their high prices and lack of localization and/or local releases. Moreover, most gamers actually prefer their content to be in English due to its perceived prestige over Bahasa Indonesian and growing English proficiency among young people. This is in contrast to Japan, where games must be localized into Japanese if they are to stand a chance at having commercial success. It is the same reason why Brave Wave recently created a Japanese Bandcamp store with Japanese language product descriptions and Yen pricing.

Mohammad stressed to me that Indonesian gamers certainly love Brave Wave’s music. Mohammad actually told me how he was very eager to buy In Flux from Bandcamp, but because he did not have a PayPal account, he had been unable to and was stuck listening to it for free without downloading it. Indeed, in countries like Indonesia, credit card adoption is restricted to the wealthy and upper middle class and the lower salary standards mean that spending $10 USD on an album like In Flux is akin to an American with a modest salary spending $70 on a new video game after tax. It is not cheap for the developing world to delve into entertainment at first world prices (which explains why piracy is rampant and why there is a lack of content that matches quality standards in the first world).

Interestingly, I looked on iTunes’s Indonesian store and discovered that In Flux only sells for an equivalent of $6 USD there, which is 60% of the Bandcamp price, 50% of the U.S. iTunes price and about 33% of the Japanese iTunes price. This is not something Brave Wave decided to do itself, but apparently Apple has some methodology that ensures pricing for the same content available globally is priced according to local standards. In this case, Indonesia does benefit from a lower objective price (although $6 probably makes up a higher percentage of an Indonesian worker’s daily wage than $10 does for an American). Still, credit cards are needed for the iTunes Store in all countries, which will remain a challenge for some time.

While Brave Wave will continue to focus on North America, Japan, the Middle East and Europe for its growth, in a few years, it will be interesting to see whether Southeast Asia can form a bigger chunk of the pie than it currently does. We also hope that we can work with a talented musician from this part of the world and let gamers from all around the globe experience his or her wonderful music. If you are or know someone, definitely get in touch with Mohammed or myself and let’s see if we can create awesome art together!

Miyajima is out!

We released our new EP 'Miyajima' a few days ago. We allow our listeners to listen to any album in full, free of charge, because you deserve it. So go ahead and listen to the whole album, and if you like it, consider buying it.

The artwork above is created by David Hellman, whom you might recognize his style from the video game Braid. I've been working with David on a number of things for a year now, but Miyajima's art happened to be the first one we released publicly. So, how did it happen?

David's tee

After making our first t-shirt, I wanted to make something that's drastically different — an illustration, a playful drawing, something like that. David  experimented briefly with some ideas (as seen above) but I got busy with my Japan trip and decided to postpone the idea for later. However, I loved the wave sketch on the left; I didn't quite know what I want to do with it but I absolutely loved it. So, a few months later, I told David about our new EP. I thought it would be the perfect idea to reuse that wave sketch again, maybe expand upon it?

Waves draft
Waves draft

David sent me the above mockup and I simply loved it. the process was smooth and he blazed through the whole thing in a week, just in time for our April 20th release date.

I also created an alternate album art used for iTunes, so pick whichever you like for your iTunes library.

Our next update will be from Panzer Dragoon's Saori Kobayashi!

A Conversation with Saori Kobayashi

My good friend and CEO of Brave Wave, Alex Aniel, recently quit his job to focus his time and energy on what we do here at the label. We've been squeezing time since 2012 but we finally decided that one of us has to quit his job and attend to Brave Wave's daily operations. Seeing as he lives in Japan and around our friends and composers, Alex took a huge leap of faith and is partaking in a new chapter for us — and himself — with a set of new goals and opportunities. So, what does attending to Brave Wave means exactly? Well, for one, our meetings with our Japanese friends and composers don't have to be set for late at night — Alex just came back from an energizing meeting with Saori Kobayashi (of Panzer Dragoon) and Yumiko Takahashi (of Suikoden), one of many more to come. We're working with Kobayashi-san on two different albums, and currently neck-deep into helping her finish her band's 2nd album.

We had the pleasure to have a compact conversation with Kobayashi-san about her history as a composer for Sega and her plans for the future with us. I'll leave you now with Alex and Kobayashi-san!

Saori Kobayashi on stage

Alexander Aniel: Hello, Kobayashi-san. Thank you for agreeing to speak with us today about your background. Can you please introduce yourself?

Saori Kobayashi: Hello. I am Saori Kobayashi.I’m from Yokohama. I’m a pianist and composer and graduated from Musashino Acaemia Musicae, where I majored in music. I worked at Sega from 1994 to 1998 before becoming a freelance musician and forming a band called AKANE with Yumiko Takahashi (of Suikoden). I worked on Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta, as well as Crimson Dragon and other titles.

Alex: Indeed, fans in the West do know you for the Panzer Dragoon games. You became involved beginning with Panzer Dragoon Saga. How did you end up joining this project?

Saori: The development team at Sega was looking for people who were interested in composing for the game. At the time, I was eager to do soundtrack for an RPG, and I really admired the world that the series Director Yukio Futatsugi had created with the first two games. So I asked to compose for the game and they let me do it.

Alex: The main theme of Panzer Dragoon Saga is quite memorable. What was it like to write it?

Saori: Actually, I have a funny story about that. I created a few different songs that I was thinking of using as the main theme, but it was hard to pick. One day, when I had to decide what that theme would be, a coworker of mine told me that we would go drinking in 30 minutes, so I should finish up my work and get ready. So, I ended up composing the theme before leaving work that day as I had no other choice but to finish the song and go out drinking. (laughs)

Alex: You mentioned experimenting with multiple theme songs. What became of the other ones?

Saori: I have decided to bring back one of them for my next album with Brave Wave for my band, AKANE. It is called Pirika. When the album comes out in September 2014, please listen to it!

Alex: Can you talk a bit about Panzer Dragoon Orta and your involvement in that game?

Saori: Sure. I had actually left Sega already, so I was working with them again as a freelance composer. Thus, I actually had less material to work with in terms of trying to come up with the soundtrack. Plus, I had never done a shooter title before and wasn’t so sure how it would turn out, but I was happy with the result.

Alex: You’ve done a few games since then, and the most recent was Crimson Dragon.

Saori: Yes, I was asked to do Crimson Dragon as well. Like I mentioned earlier, I really admire the game worlds that Futatsugi-san creates, so I was only too eager to compose for the game. My rendition of the main theme is also going into the next AKANE album, and I recently performed it live at BitSummit in Kyoto last March. The video is up on YouTube! (laughs)

Alex: Please tell me a little bit about AKANE.

Saori: I am a member of AKANE alongside Yumiko Takahashi, who is known as the vocalist of Suikoden. Takahashi-san was a fan of my work for Panzer Dragoon Saga, and after we were introduced to each other, I asked her to do the vocals for Panzer Dragoon Orta. In 2003, we formed AKANE as Takahashi-san just asked me to do so. (laughs) We were active until 2011, and then we went on hiatus as we were busy. But we’re ready to make a comeback, and BitSummit was just the beginning. We look forward to working with Brave Wave on our next album that will come out this year.

Alex: What do you hope to achieve by working with Brave Wave?

Saori: We are very interested in connecting with fans from outside of Japan. It’s an honor for non-Japanese listeners to enjoy our very Japanese-inspired music, so I look forward to the people Brave Wave can connect us with!

Alex: Can you tell us about your upcoming solo album?

Saori: I am definitely making it, thanks to Brave Wave and their interest in my work. It is an honor to be working with you. I don’t have details right now, and I want to focus on the next AKANE album first, but please look forward to it!

Saori Kobayashi x Brave Wave

Alex: Thank you for your time, Kobayashi-san!

Saori Kobayashi: My pleasure. Thank you too. Let’s talk again sometime!

Miyajima EP, coming soon

We're currently working on a Japanese Bandcamp account for Brave Wave. Sadly, Bandcamp doesn't offer a native Japanese interface for Japanese customers, which means some of the text on the Japanese Bandcamp will still be in English. But everything editable will be presented in Japanese.

It's not only to give our Japanese listeners a sense of place and understanding when buying, but also to offer a better way to deliver physical products: our main Bandcamp store ships from the US, while the new Japanese store will be shipping items from Tokyo, which means saving an upward of $14 on shipping. Alex recently quit his job so he could focus his attention and time on Brave Wave, and this is one of the things he'll be taking care of: shipping our physical items to our Japanese friends. This also means that the Japanese store will have a number of signed CDs exclusively there, eventually, and that excites me. I always wanted to sell signed CDs but couldn't do it for various reasons, and now we're one step closer.

So, Miyajima.

Miyajima EP

We're going to release Miyajima EP as a way to celebrate the launch of our coming-soon Japanese store. Some of these songs were intended for World 1-2 and a few for In Flux. My vision for both albums was shifting regularly, and eventually I ended up with tracks that were fun and good but didn't fit the image and style I was shooting for with In Flux. So, in a way, these are In Flux B-sides; tracks that were done in the production period but didn't make it through. I figured it's a good occasion to release them to our listeners and let them enjoy a slightly different side of Brave Wave.

Miyajima is a 6-tracks EP with music by Eirik Suhrke (of Spelunky), Souleye (of VVVVVV), halc (of OverClocked ReMix), Benjamin Briggs, Andi Bissig, and Insert Rupee. Here's one full track to preview now:

New blog

Hey all. This is Mohammed, founder and director of Brave Wave, and I'll be writing on this blog regularly. The purpose of this compact space is to let me talk more about the things we're doing at Brave Wave, as well as  discuss some of the topics that run in my mind occasionally. While our main site will only be carrying announcements and highlights, this one will have more noise than signal, in that it'll bring a closer look at what we do and think about — without the glamor that follows our big news. Because the label is super-indie and super-small, we could easily reveal the human aspect behind everything we do. I think it's more fun this way. Stay tuned!