What kind of Creative Worker are you?

I recently went to Classic Game Fest in Austin as a guest speaker for video game audio and sound design. It was a fantastic weekend filled with retro gaming fun, nostalgia overload, and a soda vendor that gives you a copper mug with with unlimited refills. I’m not kidding about that last part.

And you can keep the mug!


We suggest mixing the orange with the vanilla.

Now, the main take away of my panel was the concept of sound and it’s fundamentals. What is a wave form? What are frequencies and how do they work? And since the convention was formatted for classic video gaming, I touched on the technical aspects of the Nintendo Entertainment System and how it goes about making sounds/music.

The second half of my talk consisted of some half baked theories that I have developed pertaining to creative work and how to function as a creative within a team or company. The interesting thing about this is that I spent less time on the latter discussion than the former, but most of my Q&A from the audience revolved around working, education, and the ideas I had presented concerning being a creative individual.

The question I respond with occasionally is, “what kind of worker do you think you are?” I reserve this question when people give me a blanket, “What is the best way do get stuff done?” inquiry.

Now, unless they understand the question I’m asking in return, I usually have to explain a bit of what I mean. It’s true! There are certain types of workers (at least in the creative field.) and that can really have an effect on how you “get stuff done.”

There are four different types of workers in my theory. To understand where you fall in this diagram you need to know the differences between Deadlines and Goals. These two factors play a large role in the life of the creative. People constantly speak of workloads, and quotas, and checkpoints; these two concepts are the balancing point of every creative individual with an adgenda.

Deadlines. This word. I’m personally upset that this word recieves such a bad rap. Deadline carries a negative connotation these days and a shoulder weight that can ruin a good Friday night. But deadlines are a MARVELOUS thing.

I define a deadline as “a marker that signifies the completion of work.” Pretty simple, right? However, too often people transform deadlines into these gigantic monsters that spell doom in the shape of an hour glass.

For any good worker, deadlines are important. They close the ambiguous cycle of work that otherwise would have no direction. The tasks for a deadline must be clearly defined, and they are usually concrete. Rarely do deadlines change on short notice.

The chief problem with deadlines is that people don’t realize its fundamental purpose:

Deadlines are for organizations.

Goals are a strikingly different beast. Goals aren’t so much organizational as they are personal. They are achievements or qualities that are built upon individual and/or group work.

Goals most commonly involve some kind of human or artistic growth within a creative. They are malleable and change over time depending on what motivates us. In a sense they could be viewed as the polar opposite to deadlines.

Goals are for people.

You will ease your mind and think differently about your work once you realize this simple idea.

Deadlines are for organizations. Goals are for people.

Once you understand this difference you can begin to form a picture of the kind of creative that you are (contracted, salary, whatever) by indentifying how you balance these two elements in your agenda.

The 4 types of creative worker

The Phenom is the top of the totem pole. The best players in the business are those that manage both deadlines and goals in tandem. They know how to get work done while still being able to facilitate personal growth.

I know you probably think highly of yourself, but I’m going to bet that you aren’t the Phenon…At least not yet! If you take yourself seriously as an artist you probably fall into one of the next two categories.

The Straight Shooter is one of the middle group workers. These individuals put aside creative growth to fall back on refined skill and ability. This allows for quick turn around providing a surefire completion of deadlines. The other individual, the Misguided Perfectionist, is the reverse. These creatives have a stronger need to explore their craft in new ways. They thrive on learning new things even if they don’t coincide with the work that is needed. The downside? They don’t like time constraints (deadlines), and commonly have self confidence issues with themselves and their work.

While these two types of workers could be viewed as equals, when it comes to “getting stuff done” organizations favor the Straight Shooter above the Misguided Perfectionist. Don’t fret! As you will learn, all of these types of thought are relavent.

The final type of worker is the Underdeveloped Enthusiast. You can identify this type by name alone but let’s elaborate. This is where all creatives begin on their journey. They are fresh and inexperienced. They have burning passion but lack the core skills or knowledge necessary to have a creative agenda. They are fundamentally unequipped to tackle deadlines or goals.

The great thing about the Underdeveloped Enthusiast (U) and it’s subsequent iterations is their inevitable progressions. Like I mentioned previously, if you take yourself seriously as an artist your path will follow the diagram above. Understand this is a rather macro view for individuals, but the theory remains depending on how you handle deadlines and goals.

Companies, groups, and even self employed creatives must eventually realize their own game as a worker. Read my descriptions a second time and ask yourself,

  1. How often do I meet deadlines? If not someone else’s, what about my own?
  2. What do I think of my work when I MUST be finished with it?
  3. Has my knowledge/skills affected my ability to get things done?

If you are any of these types of workers you should be thrilled! They are a signification of your willingness to understand yourself better. Now that you have this new view, take into consideration your work agenda and coordinate your strategies to fit your creative styles.

If a round peg doesn’t fit in a square hole, why force it? Place yourself in the proper position that fits your level of work and when the time comes, assess how you handle these factors. Straight Shooters can become Misguided Perfectionists, and vise versa. Both of these can reach a level of Phenomonal work ethic. It’s all in how you perceive yourself as a worker.

I have found this particular theory useful in the long term goal of realizing oneself as a creative. In the grand scheme of things my developmental journey would ideally look something like this:

Inception of Passion — Building Core Skills — Centralizing Abilities — Finding

One’s Work Type — Removing the “Imposter” — Fulfilling Personal Potential

— Uplifting the Next Generation.

This single theory is but a stepping stone in the “life cycle” of a creative agenda. It’s eb and flow often changes relentlessly, but the seven pathways remain firmly placed throughout.

Navigating is indeed difficult. Part of this pilgrimage involves a search through oursleves in an attempt to know “who we are.” For in truth, only you will understand yourself better than others can. Once you have a greater relationship from within, your ability to maximize this potential for others becomes limitless.

The Duck Hunt Conundrum

-Concerning the pixelated mallards of the 80's-

Reader. I love me a good game of Duck Hunt. That game that came out in 1984 about shooting ducks in a field. That's some good, clean, simple gameplay. Not sold yet? Let me set it up.

Nintendo was poised to release their newest product into the market as a toy and not a video gaming device. During the time, gaming was considered a passing fad that appeared to be failing at retaining a stable marketplace. Video games weren't popular anymore, therefore kids did not find them appealing, and parents did not want to spend money on something their children didn't want.

To sell their console as a children's toy, Nintendo would need to necessitate a product that gave off the facade of a "play thing." It is out of this need that consumers were introduced to peripherals such as R.O.B, the Power Glove, and the Zapper. The Zapper is a plastic handheld gun that detects lights projected on a CRT television. Turn these lights into assets like ducks and clay pigeons, and the formula for a game like Duck Hunt is born.

Duck Hunt is a game where one shoot ducks with the Zapper. The player is given the task of progressing through numerous waves of flying ducks while being allowed a certain allotment of missed shots. Eventually, failing to hit a single target results in a game over. So with all of this in mind the question now is, "What does music have to do with it?"

The Limitation/Innovation of the 2a03

There are many aspects of the NES hardware and software that merit extensive explanation to the uninformed ear. For now the focus will solely be placed on a component of the microprocessor known as the pAPU, or Pseudo Audio Processing Unit. The APU in question is the Ricoh 2A03. It has the capacity to create a combination of waveforms, noise, and albeit archaic, various audio samples.

You've probably heard this before. It's the jingle played before the beginning of a game of Duck Hunt. This is an example of the culmination of pulse, triangle, and noise channels that the 2A03 has to offer.

Here is an example of the DMC, or sampling channel. The barking of the player's dog as it jumps into the field of grass before a round of play.

These aspects of synthesis in modern day seem very limited, but during Nintendo's descent into household notoriety this level of musical expression was not seen in electronics outside of actual Electronic Music in the 80's; a topic for another day.

Hirokazu Tanaka, as with many of the staple NES titles of the era, was responsible for the Duck Hunt soundtrack... if you want to call it that.


More than half of Duck Hunt's OST pieces serve as sound effects. Remember, that an APU is the sole source of all sound from console to television. This means that sound effects and music are processed in the same vein. Aside from this detail, the track this whole article and my slight frustration is based on, is number 6.

Being a scholar of music, this specific track has aroused my intrigue through a combination of hardware limitation, ambiguity, and most likely, no other good reason. The issue itself is one of interpretation in terms of compositional identity.

Is this a duple, or compound phrase?

Consider the two musical examples for track number 6.

Example A: A jingle in 4/4, duple meter containing quarter and eighth notes.

Example B: A jingle in 6/8, compound meter containing dotted quarter notes and triplets.

It is with these two examples that an impasse of orchestration is brought into question through simplicity. The length of sound, variance of tones, and rhythmic emphasis on the triangle (bass) channel separate this phrase from a sound effect. Effects most commonly manifest themselves in the form of non-melodic, unmetered, percussive moments.

Example B fairs a better chance of assuming a truly musical function. As opposed to Example A, Example B completes the greater unspoken task of musicality by ending cadentially on the down beat of it's musical phrase. We observe this only through the example that the writer has given. The possibility of other interpretations aside from Example A or B are not out of the question. For all we know it could simply be a non-metered musical segment, but that wouldn't be any fun at all, would it?

However, In regards to "musical function" both examples reveal a harmonic lack of closure in the passage's resolution to the sub-dominant tone; an Ab major chord in the key of Eb major. Perhaps if Hirokazu chose to resolve to the tonic (Eb) we might have witnessed the fastest plagal cadence in video game history.

In Conclusion

What does any of this have to do with anything at all? Nothing really. It's more of a chance to see the inner workings of the fringe elements to something as simple as deciding what to do with your Friday night off. Countless changing variables, and technological advancements for half a second of sound ending in a question mark... to one person in particular.

I throw the ball into your court dear reader. Perhaps you don't have as many notches in your belt to understand the deep artist point I'm presenting; totally understandable. But it shouldn't stop you from noticing the intrinsic complexities of what we now know as out-dated technology. This is what I call, Retrology.

To those with the musical mind, what is your opinion? Give the track a once over and come to your own conclusions short of calling the composer and asking him yourself, which is probably something I could of done in the first place... do you really think he'd have time for that? I certainly do, and I find in these times of modern gaming stagnation, looking back at the intricacies of things long retired can offer some amazing insight to the here and now, and the next and far off.