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Producer Michael "My'Kill" Calderon Joins Chakrasound; Brings Talent and Years of Musical Expertise to Gaming 

by Louis Bedigian June 21, 2005


“Chakrasound is doing what makes sense for games and what needs to be done to push things forward.” Destiny's Child hits like "Say My Name" and "Bills, Bills, Bills" might not mean much to gamers, but when the mainstream press talks about successful audio, they talk about mainstream music first. That's one of the reasons why it's so important for music producers like Michael "My’Kill" Calderon to acknowledge the game industry. His credits include said Destiny's Child tracks, along with noted work for Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, The Dogg Pound, Bunny Wailer, and Funkadelic.



 Exciting news for sure, believe it or not his credits are not the number-one reason to get excited. In speaking with Michael I found that he is more than just a music producer. He knows the ins and outs of music and its production. He comes to the game industry via Chakrasound, a rising game audio production house. Chakrasound provides a complete set of audio content and related production services for the video game industry. One of their biggest upcoming projects is none other than Project Gotham Racing 3 



 How does Michael Calderon do what he does? What exactly is it that he's doing? And what will he bring to the game industry that wasn't there before? We talk with the hit music producer to find out.  



interview

 Tell us about yourself. What do you do? 

 Michael Calderon: I am an audio engineer and producer. I also do sound design, voice-overs, and play many different instruments including guitar, bass, keyboards, horns, computers and the SSL. I write all different genres of music and have engineered/ produced jazz and pop, reggae and dance hall, techno/dance, hard-core guitar based stuff, metal, industrial, gospel, and, of course, a ton of California-based gangsta rap. 


How'd you get started? 

 MC: I was in a rock band back in the 80's which led to me owning a lot of PA equipment, and then mixing sound and live recordings other bands. In about 1988 I started working for recording studios. I have been in music since the fourth grade! My first and probably most influential teacher played with Louie Armstrong's band. I was blessed to have him as a teacher! He once told my mom that I was a "true musician". I'm still doing it, so guess he was right!  

What were your duties in the film and music industries? 

 MC: I am an engineer and producer first, and as mentioned previously, I also do sound design, voice-overs, and play different instruments. My strongest point has been the ability to capture the "magic". You can't teach that, it's an instinct! Something inside tells me they should do it again or that's "the one" take, the one that will make you get goose bumps every time you hear it back. That and my ability to make you feel comfortable in the studio -- you can't record magic if you're nervous! 

 Can you explain the difference between a music producer and a music engineer? 

 MC: The best of both share the same duties – great producers know how to engineer, and great engineers know how to produce. These days people call themselves "producers," and all they did was bang out a track on a drum machine. (Ahem...that's not production). When you show up to the studio and give your input as to whether a performance struck you the right way, that's production. For me, it's not always been about a technically correct performance, as it's been about "did the performance match the mood of the song/film or what the artist/director is trying to achieve?"     



The highly controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is among the games that have used Chakrasound’s voice actors. 


 You've worked on mega-hits for Destiny's Child, and your work has appeared in movies like Dr. Doolittle. What made you want to leave that world behind for the game industry? 

 MC: Until recently I would have never even considered it! Let's go back to when we're talking about 16 bit rom chips being state of the art, and you're designing with a SoundBlaster midi engine in mind – yuck! Now, game and film audio shake the walls down. Didn't used to be that way when I mixed for TV and film on auratones (yep, I've been doing this a while). Auratones are those tiny little square speakers you see in studios with no bass response whatsoever. I had to mix things and be sure they would sound ok on a mono television and a clock radio type speaker system. This is no longer the case, and games have followed film into the arena of "big sound."                                          

Is this a gig that you fought for, or did Chakrasound seek you out? 

 MC: Levon and I had kept running into each other over the past few years and always meant to do something together. We would see one another at studios in town and discuss the latest game titles because we're both gamers too, which I believe is important. He was always the techno side of music while I was doing the hard-core stuff from rap to hard-core rock, in addition to the R&B groups. We always meant to hook up and the timing was finally right. 

 Do you play games? Are there any particular titles that excite you?

 MC: I love games. Heck, I even still have my Genesis and about a million carts for it! First-person shooters make my head swim! I mean I actually get dizzy. Sports games, driving games and third person action/adventure stuff like the PoP catalog – I like those a lot and the music on that title is great – all that tension! Think it was Godsmack on that – I dig that stuff!

 Now explain the difference between game audio and film audio, or audio that you hear on the radio.  

Is it a major stretch to jump back and forth between them?

 MC: Like I was saying before, now that we have subwoofers in the kitchen sound has come a long way! [Laughs] The hardware has finally caught up! Between the consoles and the computers, games have a lot more room now that they are on DVD and with dual layer stuff coming out we should see even more material available on the game itself. Truth be told, to me audio is audio now. The limitations that used to plague us have been taken care of. Surround Sound is standard now and it's not so eclectic as it once was. New homes are even pre-wired for surround, you gotta love that! 
 I really think the difference is you can get a bit more drastic in film and game audio, I mean you want the walls to shake when the bad guys are chasing you – that's the whole point. You want to be submersed in this altered reality. With TV/radio, we still have some guidelines as to how far we can push the limits. Nothing's in mono, but we have strict levels (same with television) and if we exceed those levels the FCC is gonna have the signal squashed anyway, so you lose the impact you were trying to achieve in the first place. Better to just follow the -10 db guideline so you know your mix is going to sound the same over the air. 

 

Project Gotham Racing 3 is one of Xbox 360’s most anticipated titles.  


 How do you work? What is your style? 

 MC: I'm like a race car driver. I drive hard and fast, musically speaking of course. I slam everything! And twist it and bend it until it forms into what I want it to be! So if I have a style, I guess it's aggressive. But on a personal note I am one of the most laid back guys you'll ever meet. 

 Do you like to be in seclusion, have people around you, or...? 

 MC: When I am recording there are usually lots of people around! There's the band, the management, sometimes the label execs are there, and let's not forget their entourage. But when it comes time to mix I can't pay people to come through. I am usually there alone slamming sound waves up against some poor innocent wall and making someone's coffee dance off their table a few hundred feet away!

 What will you be doing at Chakrasound? 

 MC: I am going to be one of their main audio people. I have a lot of real world experience in the industry. In the past I have dealt with the accountants, label owners, studio personnel, artists and support teams. From my credits you would think I only do rap and urban music but I have mixed some really great hard-core guitar stuff and I did Colorado Mass Choir also, so I am not a one trick pony. I am also going to be collaborating on the musical catalog and writing tracks as well as performing on some of the company's other music that needs...hmmm...more aggression! See, there's that word again -- guess that is my style!

 Have you gotten your first project with Chakrasound yet? Can you talk about it? 

 MC: Actually I am implementing a streaming mp3 player so game developers can hear music from the catalog that's available for license. Sound is an important element, like color is to a painting, and it's easier to envision where to go next if you have some idea of the musical tension that you want to use. With the new players, clients will be able to listen to what we have available already for license or request something similar 

 Talk about your equipment, what you use, your favorite piece, etc. 

 MC: Favorite gear, huh? Man, you're gonna run outta ink here! But, hands down, has to be the SSL console. I mean I do a lot of work with computers, all that unmentionable software out there, I use it all -- Pro-Tools, Nuendo, Logic, DP, whatever -- but nothing runs like an SSL and I have worked in major studios for a long time so I am familiar with all of them. The emulations that the various recording software use now, they get better and better every year. And I like the fact that they react the same way as the actual analog products they are modeled after. 
 No way does a $350 plug-in sound as good as the $35,000 limiter it's emulating but it sounds good for what it is. And I have used everything under the sun – 1176, API's Fairchild's, LA2A's – which may all be Greek to your readers, but my point is there are a lot of so-called "audio people" who never used the real thing. They bought Pro-Tools or went to Full Sail and maybe touched an SSL or an 1176 but I have taken those things apart. It's a shame that the younger people coming up don't know what that stuff is really for. I had an intern once who actually mixed in a computer based audio program and brought it back on two channels of the SSL. Sheesh what a waste! All these wonderful electronics, a million dollar console, and here they go mixing in the computer? They were too scared! 
 Also, when games first started to get big, I mean really big, you had some guys who had been in bands in college, or programmers that knew a little about audio and for one reason or another they ended up becoming the audio people for the various studios. 
 The funny thing about Chakrasound is that it functions as a "traditional" major-league production house, with each member of the crew contributing a specialized talent or skill to deliver a total package as a collective unit and working through world class facilities. This has been the industry standard for major label music and Hollywood film for decades, but is something radically new to games. Chakrasound is bringing together decorated veterans who are specialized in their aspects of production and know how to push the limits of the equipment. When we come together, you get the "magic." There are lots of people working hard and making games sound great, but we are the folks who can make it sound incredible! 

     

  Another look at PGR3

 How long does it take you to complete a project? 

 MC: Well this is kind of a trick question here. The short answer is absolutely on or ahead of schedule! 

 Maybe what I should be asking is: how long would you like it to take you? 

 MC: First of all, there will always be scheduling issues that affect the flow – are we hiring a band or top name artist to record or perform on this song? Is Levon, myself, or someone else composing the music, and who has final approval on the tracks anyway? How many people in the choir?! Don't tell me you have the flu, etc. You will always have scheduling and other production details that can sometimes get in the way of a rapidly approaching deadline and those issues always seem to be at the control of someone else. 
 With today's technology, things do go a lot smoother than they used to, but the real key is to just know your stuff so you can get the job done. I have had music here in Texas and voice-over talent in San Francisco, we listened to them recording, coordinated the different takes, had them uploaded there, and downloaded here, and that commercial was on TV the next day! 
 I am very fast at what I do. I have the experience and people come to me because I get the job done in a timely and cost effective manner but I don't sacrifice quality...ever! That is why I like the whole Chakrasound concept; we're all about quality. And I have done a lot of professional quality audio. 
 Games seem to be the new frontier from an audio professional's point of view, and I am always there, on that edge, right on the cusp when things are about to break. I got in to metal in the 80's; LA gangsta rap in the late 80's and early 90's with Pac and Cube; hit the R&B super groups in the late 90's and early 2K. In short, I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time and games are definitely the next frontier. Chakrasound is doing what makes sense for games and what needs to be done to push things forward, and I plan to be a key to that success.

I’m sure you will be.  Thanks for your time Michael!