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Meet Donovan Jonk, one half of the game audio duo Megahammer Studios

Hello reader! 🖖
Last week we met Tomas Gomez, who decided to make his own game Slime Heroes after working for many years in the industry (Arenanet, Motiga, King, to name a few). He shared with us how his career started with night classes and brought him to work with incredible artists. Good luck Tomas!
Today we hear the story of Donovan Jonk, one half of a game audio duo called Megahammer Studios. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who studied jazz and music technology, who also worked at an independent record label and artist management company. Donovan is now venturing into the infinite musical possibilities of games, enjoying collaborations of all sorts.
Before we kick off, remember to follow us on Twitter at @this_is_aka, share this interview and invite your friends to join our community by subscribing with their email. Enjoy ❤️ Thanks for your support!

Robert Hunter (left) and Donovan Jonk (right), audio production duo Megahammer Studios
Robert Hunter (left) and Donovan Jonk (right), audio production duo Megahammer Studios
AKA: With Robert Hunter you form an audio production duo called Megahammer Studios, who compose music and design sound for media, including games. How did you two meet and what made you start the collaboration?
DJ: Robert and I met many years ago when we were just teenagers at a summer music camp. We were both enrolled in the garage band week at the International Music Camp on the Canada-US border, a wonderful program where scrawny teenagers in band t-shirts bash out power cords and eat cafeteria food. Over the week, we met and formed a group of friends there who are still some of our best friends today. Heck, I even met my future wife there! I remember Robert and I would dream up all kinds of weird genres that we would one day create, things like “klezmer-infused-progressive-death-metal-polka”. Actually, that still sounds like a pretty cool idea…. We kept in touch over the years and worked on various music projects. At some point things started to move towards video game music and here we are today.
Donovan
Hello, World!

We're ready for new game music and sound design projects in 2021!📣

DMs are open, so come say hi! We'd love to chat creative audio with you.🎶🤖🎶

🔊Sound On🔊
#gameaudio #indiedev #indiegame #gamedevelopment #gamemusic #SoundDesign #videogamemusic #vgm #composer https://t.co/kAOhhVoBhl
AKA: You’re a multi-instrumentalist with a Bachelor of Music in jazz studies and music technology from Minnesota State University Moorhead. How did you land on composing for games? What do you like the most from it?
DJ: I can’t say that anything really “landed” me in composing for games. My education in music prepared me for a lot of possibilities in the music industry, not necessarily game audio. I gained a solid understanding of arranging and composing techniques and developed a deep appreciation of the power of music analysis and theory. Understanding those fundamentals unlocks so much creative potential and empowers a musician to venture into all sorts of weird territory with confidence. I also got to spend a good deal of time in the university’s studio working with microphones, outboard gear, DAWs (digital audio workstations), and managing recording sessions. Combine all of that with a lifelong love for games and their musical possibilities, and I eventually decided I would try enter this world of game audio as a freelancer. It’s not so much a “landing,” but more of a continual “venturing into.”
Donovan
#AdventureGames friends, give me a challenge!

As a creative exercise I sometimes compose for a made-up game. This time I'd like your help to make things interesting. I might even stream it if possible

Genre: Sierra-style PNC
Theme: Extradimensional Sorcery
Scenes: top 2 choices
AKA: In your varied career in the music industry you were also an indie record label associate. Now you compose music for indie games as well. Any similarities in working with indie artists from these two different worlds? 
DJ: That’s true! I did spend some time working at an independent record label and artist management company. I think you can make some comparisons between the indie music world and the indie game world. In both, there is a strong DIY attitude that places value on originality and artistic integrity. There is a similar spirit of creative freedom too, which is always inspiring and energizing to be around. However, all that freedom comes with many of the same struggles: small budgets, a demanding entrepreneurial work-life balance, the constant need to hustle, difficulty cutting through the noise, the “selling-out” conundrum, and the danger of predatory business relationships are pitfalls and challenges found in both industries.
What is distinct about indie games, though, is the sense that things are really exploding, creatively and in terms of career viability. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, the music industry (especially on the indie level) has been seriously impacted by rapid technological changes that have upset music sales, distribution, and the social value of music. The games industry deals with these struggles too, but the social and market responses have been quite different. Despite all that, indie developers are connecting with their audience in powerful ways which reward all the creative variety that makes any independent industry so special.
AKA: What do you think of the indie games scene today?
DJ: I suppose I answered this to some extent in the last question. Suffice it to say I think the indie games scene today is awesome! Every day I find a new game that feels unique and exciting! Making music and sound in this world really feels boundless.
Donovan
Time for another🧪Megahammer L.A.B.S.🧪

Today, a lonely, warbling landscape of synths, soft piano, and found sounds🎶

🔊Volume up. We hope you enjoy.🔊

[Loose Audio Bits Showcase]
A home for homeless experiments, sketches, and soundscapes.
#gameaudio #synthwave #ambientmusic https://t.co/dt8cNRq2Pg
AKA: You also worked as a teacher. What advice would you have for someone who would like to compose music and design sound for games?
DJ: Teaching music has taught me a lot about myself and about my craft, and that experience has changed my attitude toward making creative audio. My advice for anyone thinking about starting out in game audio is to first become a student of their craft, then never stop learning. I don’t necessarily mean going to a special university program for game audio. Rather, listen to a wide variety of music, not just game soundtracks, learn all you can from experiencing sound in games across all genres, play multiple instruments, get into game jams, and meet as many fellow creatives as you can. There are certain areas of this industry that are quite crowded, so take the extra time to discover what unique perspective you can bring to the table. And most of all, stay focused.
AKA: You regularly stream on the MegahammerStudios Twitch channel, including composing live, like your audio/video collaboration with the pixel artist Stephen Schroeder (@thedeivore). Can you tell us more about this experience? Are you planning any other ones?
DJ: I think streaming is a fantastic way to create community and share your passion with others. Keeping an open channel to hangout with industry friends is very important to me. I’m usually quite insular, though, so this attitude took time to come about. The idea for the audio/visual collaboration you mentioned came from a discussion I started in the Megahammer Studios Discord server. Stephen got interested in the idea of creating a living painting with me, like a slice of a video game that doesn’t exist (though I hope one day it might). Stephen is often working on a wide variety of projects, but he’s got a special knack for adventure games and, especially, art in the tradition of EGA graphics from the golden age of PC adventures. Since I was itching to create some retro adventure game music, Stephen was an obvious choice for a collaboration. I think his art was the perfect fit for the project! We ironed out a good workflow over the course of the Twitch streams, something I’m now calling the “Megahammer A/V Club”. I have plans to do more collaborations like this with other artist friends in the near future.
Stephen Schroeder
I and @MegahammerAudio finished our A/V collab:
Alchemy!
A mysterious occult laboratory styled like an #adventuregame... and with real Roland MT-32 sound!

🔊 Turn those speakers up!! 🔊

Full piece on youtube: https://t.co/ialdtEVUr5

#pixelart #videogamemusic #RetroGaming https://t.co/aug8gmH3zH
AKA: Your demo reel showcases sound and music in a wide variety of styles. You also tweeted musical sketches for your upcoming project with @Raindrinker_dev (interviewed in AKA issue #1). How do you come up with the right sound for each title? Can you tell us more about your creative process?
DJ: It all starts with a ritual offering of floppy disks to a golem I created from a potato and an old Casio keyboard. After that, it’s your standard gut reaction to the game’s aesthetics, which informs some improvisation (guitar is my writing instrument of choice) on a few initial themes or harmonic ideas, then some consultation with reference material and my personal knowledge of the particular style I’m attempting, reined in by the technical considerations of the project, and iteration until something clicks. That is more or less how I started sketching ideas for Constellations, the upcoming game with Raindrinker and FreezedIce. They sent me a prototype of the game, a loose description of the music they envisioned, and a list of sound events.
Donovan
Sketching ideas for @Raindrinker_dev 's upcoming puzzle game in space (space...space...)✨🪐🛰️

Analog synthesis meets digital processing when @MoogMusicInc meets @xferrecords 💕

#gameaudio #videogamecomposer #synthesizer #indiedev https://t.co/OFlWMqqx39
AKA: Speaking of upcoming games, you recently supported the cyberpunk point-and-click adventure Invasive Recall. What do you think of crowdfunding campaigns? Is it viable for indie developers and artists to fund their work this way?
DJ: Crowdfunding campaigns can be extremely positive when done properly. I have little firsthand experience running my own, but I’ve seen some great success stories among my friends in the indie world and beyond. I try to support projects I believe in whenever I can, whether that’s by backing a game or simply sharing a campaign with others who will also appreciate it. Securing funding is one of the biggest challenges for any game, and waiting for sales isn’t an option for everyone. If fans want to invest early in the success of something that excites them, and if they can trust the people they are supporting, then I think crowdfunding is an excellent solution.
80 LEVEL
Carl Ljungberg, the Head Developer at Springbeam Studio (@sbeamstudio), talked about his latest project, a nostalgic 80s-themed game Invasive Recall, and explains what inspired the project:

https://t.co/6kfrikJu1k

#unity #madewithunity #pixelart #indiedev #gamedev #IndieGameDev https://t.co/AED8bieKn6
AKA: Can you name the first three artists or albums that you’re listening to at the moment?
DJ: Frank Zappa - Over-Nite Sensation; Lido Pimienta - Miss Columbia; and a found sound podcast by David Weinberg called Random Tape.
AKA: What’s your nickname when you play games?
DJ: That’s a tough one. As an adventure-gaming kid, I thought “Navonod” was a pretty clever handle, haha. My friend Aviv (@Cosmic_Void_ on Twitter, check out his games and art!) likes to impose monikers like “Megadon”, so maybe that will stick! Most of the time plain old “Donovan” is just fine for me. 
Cosmic Void
Hey #screenshotsaturday!

Our psychological thriller #adventuregame The Corruption Within is coming out SOON!

You can wishlist and play the demo on Steam ⤵️
https://t.co/AvwM6UG8Le

#indiegame #indiedev #indiegamedev #pixelart #pointandclick https://t.co/SOPYuQvP0f
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