1) JACK YOU HAVE WITNESSED AND PARTICIPATED IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE VG INDUSTRY INTO A MULTI BILLION DOLLAR PHENOMENON. ARE THE BEST YEARS AHEAD OR BEHIND US?
Onward! There’s always so much going on. So many leaps and fits and starts in this industry. But it’s always rising. Technology is always improving. It will be interesting to see what becomes of VR for example. I do think it will find an important place and elevate the industry but at the moment it just makes me nauseous! But it’s early days for sure. But technology is not the best part by a long shot. The best part of the evolution of games will be the games that tell a story and make you feel something. We’re just now at the tip of the iceberg of what interactive storytelling will become. There are some wonderful examples even now of great, cinematic storytelling, but really it’s just the beginning. Even the Call of Duty games I’ve worked on – there’s a major focus from the developer on story. And music is one of the best ways of collaborating to that end. I love my part of that process. It’s so gratifying to make an emotional moment happen in a game because that moment is the product of so much work from the writer, director, designer, the programmers who execute that vision, the sound designers who create the sonic reality of the moment and then my part as the composer to bring it all to the right climax at exactly the right point. Great collaboration is necessary. And it’s exponentially harder to do than with linear media. But it happens. And when it does, it’s pretty great.
2) FOR THE LAST 3 YEARS YOU HAVE EXPANDED INTO TV/FILM SCORING. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN THAT ENDEAVOR? HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT FROM VG SCORING?
Television is going through a golden age right now. More than film even. A renaissance. Long form storytelling in an era when you can binge watch. It’s addictive and everyone does it. As a composer, developing themes for characters over a season is tremendously satisfying because they become old friends and pay off down the line in unexpected ways. I try to do that in games as much as possible over the course of a 20-40 hour experience but because it’s interactive it’s more challenging to plan. With serial TV, you can grow with the story and then you realize that that theme you wrote for episode 1 several months ago is going to work perfectly to end the season finale or whatever.
But challenge-wise, the schedule is relentless and it’s not for everyone. Where you might get many months with a video game to write 2 or 3 hours of score, you sometimes have to write 35 minutes in a week in TV land. But it has taught me a LOT about efficiency, the importance of my team, collaboration, and being a better storyteller musically. My chops have increased enormously as I’m working those muscles every day and I love that. I’m definitely a better composer because I can do more. Then I get to bring all of that new knowledge back to the game world.
3) NOT ONLY ARE GAMES SELLING LIKE HOT CAKES BUT VG MUSIC CONCERTS ARE SELLING OUT GLOBALLY. CAN YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON IT?
Well I started Video Games Live in 2002 with Tommy Tallarico. We did concerts together from 2005-2010 and then I had enough. I missed working and honing my craft as a composer and the travel was getting old for me. But I did get to perform as the music director/conductor with over 60 orchestras in 26 different countries. There are a LOT of video game music fans in the world! 6 years later, Tommy is still going strong but now there are several other concerts going as well. Zelda, Pokémon, Final Fantasy and others. Then you have Film and TV music festivals featuring major concerts now, not to mention the Hans Zimmer tour and upcoming James Newton Howard tour in Europe. I think this is great. This music is concert-worthy and they are selling. Why not?
4) YOUR JOURNEY INTO THE VG COMPOSITION TOOK PLACE AFTER YOU PAID SOME SERIOUS DUES INTO THE POP/ROCK WORLD. WHAT WAS THE PIVOTAL POINT THAT MADE YOU SWITCH FROM ONE TO THE OTHER?
I still really like to do all of that kind of stuff. I just produced an album of music for a theatrical show written by Cindy Shapiro called, “Anaïs, A Dance Opera”. Amazing music so very different from what I do but great. Also a few years ago I wrote the score to Lost Planet 3 for Capcom. They asked me to write Americana and Outlaw Country with some folk music thrown in for good measure. Stuff I grew up with. I hired a band, strapped on my guitar and went into the studio and made a record. What fun! I love making music that way. I’d write 4 songs in a week, then go into the studio and record the basics and overdubs – all with the best musicians in LA. I’d bring that back to my studio and finish producing the tracks. I wrote songs with Cindy for Black Ops III’s Zombie mode with a 19 piece Big Band. Those are my musical roots working with bands, musicians and artists before I became a composer. I guess becoming a composer was a natural extension of my experience in New York as a recording engineer and producer. The pivotal moment was playing a game in 1994 called “Myst”. I loved the ambient soundtrack and was drawn to figuring out how to work in games right away.
5) EVERY ASPIRING VG COMPOSER ON THIS FORUM IS THINKING: ‘I WANT IN!!’ WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ALL THOSE FOLKS?
I think the best way to answer this question is to tell my own recent story. 4 years ago – after writing music in games for 16 years, I had a very similar experience with a desire to get into TV music – not really knowing anyone who was writing but loving the music of people like Bear McCreary, Trevor Morris and Sean Callery. I made an effort to get to know these guys and others. One day I was playing golf with Trevor Morris and let him know I was interested in scoring some television. Not long after that, he invited me to collaborate on a series with him writing additional music. That was the beginning of my life in TV expanding my love of working in games to a whole new world. I think the same holds true for games. I have invited others to collaborate with me on scores just to expand my world and theirs as well. Find someone you admire and see if you can help them with anything. Depending on your career level, you may need to start by doing a few Starbucks runs, interning or whatever. But just be around someone who does it. If you listen and try to help them solve a few problems, you’ll get your shot to make music and then eventually get your own thing going. Don’t be entitled. Be there and do the work. Learn. Find your place. Be patient. You do that and magic will happen.