Question Time Part 1 – chords, impostor syndrome, and Dungeons & Dragons

A couple months ago I started an account on, a site where people can anonymously ask you questions on any subject. Very quickly, I got far more questions than I was expecting, and most of them were great. I thought I would reprint some of the really useful answers (with a few edits for clarity) here on the blog, so that they have a permanent spot for my readers. If you’d like to ask me something, just go to

What were the most valuable lessons to you when it comes to composing music? Perhaps something you learned a long time ago, but still use almost every week/day.

The most valuable thing I learned and use every day would be chords: Major, minor, suspended, diminished, augmented, 7th, 9th, etc. How to make them on a keyboard and knowing what they’ll sound like. Another valuable thing I learned was to never hesitate to experiment with instruments outside your given genre. You almost always get fun results.

Hey! Just curious about your life and times before FTL. I’m floating between personal music projects and just starting to make contacts…and it’s tough not having any real finished project I can point at, besides demos. Was there a turning point for you where you just knew “oh, it’s on!”

The early times were tough, because most indie projects are never finished. I’d join on a student project or something similar, write a whole soundtrack, and then the game would never see the light of day.

I always kept some kind of day job, usually part-time, and lived modestly while I honed my craft. Having no finished projects to my name was disheartening, but the other option was giving up, and what’s the point of doing that? I had no children, and no massive student debt, to put financial pressure on me. I could afford to keep trucking along with it despite it not paying off. The good thing was that by the time opportunities did come along, like Gravity Ghost and FTL, I had so much hard-earned experience that I impressed the developers right off the bat and nailed it with both of the projects.

I didn’t really know I had made it until the day of FTL’s release, when I saw the sales of the game and the soundtrack on Steam skyrocket in just a few hours. Then I started getting interview requests. Suddenly I was a professional. It was one of the most surreal and awesome experiences of my life.

Have you ever had moments where you felt like you weren’t good enough when you were learning to compose? If so, what techniques did you use to overcome those feelings?

I’ve had and still have those moments all the time. I don’t know if I have any specific techniques, but I do know that practicing and study makes me better. I also don’t have ‘impostor syndrome’; I’m well aware that everyone else feels just as helpless and untrained as I do when it comes to making art. Seriously, everyone thinks they’re not good enough. Do your best to try not to sweat it so much and instead just focus on getting better.

Do you ever accompany your Dungeons & Dragons DM’ing with music? dmg-5e-cover

Yes! It’s a very important DM tool. I actually use a combination of sound effects and music. During exploratory scenes I’ll use ambient sounds for whatever environment the characters are in (dripping water for caves, jungle sounds for a tropical island, city sounds for urban areas, etc.) These are easy to find on YouTube or Spotify.

When the action heats up or I just want to heighten the mood, I have several prepared Spotify playlists that I’m always adding to:

  • Battle – Generic
  • Battle – Creepy
  • Battle – Boss
  • Chase
  • Heist
  • Creepy
  • Dungeon

(I tend to add a lot of horror elements to my D&D games.) I handpick each track to make sure it fits the mood. Tracks with dramatic shifts in tone, mood, or dynamics midway through will not work, which is why most movie soundtracks just are not appropriate. Game soundtracks, however, work great. Soundtracks that have many good tracks:

  • Assassin’s Creed series
  • Darksiders 2
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Monster Hunter 3
  • One Hour Photo
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