1) TOMMY, YOU HAVE SPENT A DECADE OF YOUR LIFE PERFORMING WORLDWIDE THE MOST WIDELY RECOGNIZED VG MUSIC WITH TOP NOTCH ORCHESTRAS. CAN YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON THE ‘VIDEO GAMES LIVE’ CONCERT SERIES AND THE INSATIABLE THIRST OF GLOBAL AUDIENCES FOR THESE SHOWS?
It’s been an absolute incredible journey over the past 15 years of starting Video Games Live. Last year I received 2 Guinness World Records for the show. One was for the largest symphony show ever watched live (Over 752,000 in China!) and the other was for the most shows ever done by a touring symphony show (over 400+ and counting!).
When I first started talking about Video Games Live over 15 years ago everyone thought I was crazy! No one had ever done anything like this and on the scale we wanted to do. There had been a few small video game performances in Japan in the mid 80’s. But they were more of a traditional orchestra presentation (no screens, lights, etc.). My goal was to take all of the power and emotion of a symphony & choir, but combine it with the cutting edge visuals, rock -n- roll lighting, special effects, stage show production and interactive elements with the crowd to create a unique one-of-a-kind experience. Merging old with new, history with the future. My goal was not only to show the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become… but also to help usher in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the arts, symphonies and orchestral music.
The first show we ever did was at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic! People said we were lucky if 500 people showed up. Well… over 11,000 people showed up and we’ve been doing it ever since! I do about 50 shows a year all over the world. From Dubai & Doha, Qatar in the Middle East to over 20 cities in China, Malaysia, Australia, all over South America and of course every country and multiple cities in Europe and North America. Back in 2002 when we first started, there weren’t any touring movie shows or anything of the sort. A big turning point was doing our PBS Special in 2010 (which aired in over 90 million households in the U.S. as well as SKY ARTS in the U.K.).
We were on the cover of Symphony Magazine touting us as one of the big factors that were helping to save Symphonies across the world. That was pretty amazing and powerful.
Some of the recent highlights for me (aside from performing at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years in a row) was performing 2 SOLD OUT shows at the Bird’s Nest National Olympic Stadium in Beijing, China last summer! 30,000 people a night!
Red Rocks in Colorado with the Colorado Symphony in 2015 was also a big deal for me (because growing up I always loved watching U2’s Live From Red Rocks movie!)
People always ask me why I think the show remains so successful each year and keeps growing and growing and what is it about video game music that makes it so popular and engaging to people around the world. I think the answer is actually quite simple. When you play a video game, you BECOME that character. Therefore, the music being played becomes the soundtrack of YOUR life! People become emotionally attached to the music! How unique! Because of the interactive nature of what we do, never in history has this been the case with other forms of music. Even when watching a film.. you see Indiana Jones on screen and hear the music… that’s HIS theme. Not yours. Video game music (when done properly) not only enhances the experience… but becomes a part of the player! Powerful stuff.
One of the many secrets behind the success of Video Games Live is that I change the show and set-list constantly. In fact… we’ve never even played the same setlist twice! A 2 1/2 hour show consists of about 19 different segments. 15 years later, I’ve created over 170 different segments! It’s a huge part of our success. That… and the concept of scalability. I learned early on that the secret was to be able to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, Bird’s Nest in China, Red Rocks in Colorado… or… to be able to route 2 small shows in Rhode Island & Connecticut! That means being able to change the arrangements, and all the production elements (sound, video, lighting, fx, etc.). But if you create that from the beginning… it becomes easy. But it took me a lot of years to figure out all of the nuisances of each individual category and the secrets behind each one (which we still perfect as the technology changes from year to year and things become smaller and easier to accomplish).
It’s because of this unique system that I’ve now found another career in designing shows for Disney, MGM, Paramount, WB, other artists (like BT) and other shows such as Rockmania Live! doing Led Zeppelin with masterminds like David Campbell.
Being a Creative Director on live shows has become my new passion in the 21st Century. And seeing the success of all the movie shows out there now is really exciting. Although I see so much money being left on the table and marketing/networking/merchandising/audience & data gathering, etc. that they are not doing properly… or at all. I cherish the opportunity to work with others and share the information and knowledge/experience I’ve amassed over the years.
2) YOU HAVE RECENTLY COLLABORATED WITH EDM ARTIST BT IN A UNIQUE PROJECT THAT WAS SUCCESSFULLY CROWDFUNDED. CAN YOU PLEASE TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH THAT?
I’ve been friends with BT for about 20 years. We always loved each others work and always talked about collaborating on something together. About 3 years ago the TanZ Group approached BT about the possibility of doing one of his albums with an orchestra. BT immediately contacted me and within a few months we had all formed a partnership to create a live show and album experience (that album which would be funded through Kickstarter). I had produced 3 very successful Kickstarters for Video Games Live (all in the Top 5 money slots for music projects on Kickstarter) so it was a natural fit. I co-produced the album (called Electronic Opus) along with BT and was Creative Director for the live show… which we debuted to thousands of people during Miami Music Week (biggest EDM conference in the world).
BT is a musical and technology genius. He is so ahead of the curve… it’s ridiculous! We both have a deep passion for symphonic music, technology and strong melodies. It was an incredible collaboration and one for which I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. The Electronic Opus end products (both the show and the album) were better than I had imagined. A huge honor for me to work with BT.
3) YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER AS A VG COMPOSER AT A TIME WHEN THE INDUSTRY WAS A FRACTION OF WHAT IT IS NOW. SO YOU HAVE A UNIQUE VANTAGE POINT OF ALL THINGS VG. WHERE ARE THINGS HEADING AND HOW DO THEY RELATE TO COMPOSERS WHO WANT TO BE A PART OF THE INDUSTRY?
That’s a fantastic question. The video game industry is always changing. Mostly because of the technology. We’re seeing less and less big AAA title games as team sizes, budgets and risk factors start to rise. But mainly because so many mobile games are being created. Which opens the doors to many possibilities of people getting their foot in the door! The budgets aren’t as big… but mobile gaming offers a fantastic gateway into bigger and better things. VR as I’m sure folks are aware is another realm of gaming that will continue growing over the next decade.
If people are serious about getting into the game audio world, here is what I would say…
Whenever I speak at schools/universities/conferences, etc. I always talk about how passion and networking is just as important as talent! Believing in your dream and working/doing whatever it takes to get there, never giving up, etc. is most of the battle.
As gigantic as the game industry seems, it’s also a pretty tight industry and very easy to get into (unlike film/television, etc.) especially if you know and meet the right people.
Networking and keeping a positive attitude will allow you to achieve anything you set your mind to!
You’ll want to prepare some kind of demo (or easily e-mailed public links) of your work so that you’ll be able to let people hear what you are capable of.
In regards to game audio specifically, there are a few things you can do to put you ahead.
- Join the non-profit organization G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild) at www.audiogang.org. Over 2500 game audio professionals from around the world are involved. It’s an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the industry. If you join the Guild, make sure to check out this story on “How to get a gig”: http://www.audiogang.org/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=How-To-Get-A-Gig.html&Itemid=47
- Get the following books:
- “The Complete Guide to Game Audio” by Aaron Marks
- “Audio for Games: Planning, Process, and Production” by Alexander Brandon
- “A Composer’s Guide To Game Music” by Winifred Phillips
- “Composing Music for Games” by Chance Thomas.
Incredible resources, advice and insight!
- Join the IGDA (if there is a local chapter in your area). www.igda.org. They also have some great resources on their website such as: http://www.igda.org/breakingin/resources.htm
A great place to meet up and coming game developers and like minded people in your area.
- Check out the website www.gamasutra.com. There is a TON of game audio information and they do a monthly magazine called Game Developer Magazine.
- Make sure to go to GameSoundCon in L.A. every year! www.gamesoundcon.com
- Aside from joining G.A.N.G., the BEST advice I could give you is to definitely attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. www.gdconf.com. This is the networking mecca of the entire game industry! Over 20,000 game developers from around the world and nearly 1,000 game audio composers, sound designers, etc. are there. An absolutely fantastic place to meet and network with people. And you’ll learn more in 3 days than you’ll ever imagine! There is special Game Audio Pass, and as a member of G.A.N.G. there is a discount as well.
Talent is important, but just as important is “networking”. The above mentioned things will really help you to increase your profile among the people who you need to be in front of.
4) YOU ONCE SAID: ‘IF BEETHOVEN WERE ALIVE TODAY, HE’D BE A VG COMPOSER’. THAT’S A VERY BOLD STATEMENT! WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THAT TO BE TRUE?
Composing for video games is very unique and although similar to film & television, is still very different.
First of all, in film and television, music is considered background music, or “incidental” music. It’s considered background music because the medium of film and television is all about storytelling. It’s all about people talking to each other. So maybe a couple times during a film, you’ll get your chase scene, or maybe the big opening or credits at the end where the music is the feature. But for the most part, the music is background music.
In video games I like to refer to it as foreground music. Because in a video game, it’s not dialogue that drives everything. It’s action and interactivity. Which means the music is always out front. The music—and the audio in general—is the thing that drives the medium. It is our job as composers and sound designers to put the player in an emotional state of mind as he starts the level. That’s awesome for a composer.
I’ll give you another big difference: Even the great John Williams has to sit down with George Lucas at some point, and George says, “Okay, at one minute and 12 seconds, the music has to do this, because Darth Vader walks through the door. Then at 1:45, it has to do this, because the Death Star blows up.” So when John Williams is creating music for Star Wars, he is completely boxed in to exactly what that linear piece of media is doing. Whereas with a video game composer, the designer will come to me and say, “Okay, we have 100 guys on horseback, with swords, all coming to attack you. Write me a three minute piece of music!” Now I can just dream up whatever I wish and I might see storyboards, or play the game, and then I can sit there and just create without the restrictions of the linear media. You also need to think about the interactive elements in a video game. So although that first scene may have 100 people attacking you, you may also need to create a score and layers that work or can easily branch off to the next piece of music for when only 10 people are attacking… or 1 or none. A lot of times we’ll write and record the same song 4 or 5 different ways in order to accomplish this.
And it’s for all of these reasons that I’ve always said that if Beethoven were alive today… he’d probably be a video game composer! He wouldn’t be a film composer. He wouldn’t want people talking over his music. 🙂 He wouldn’t want to be constrained by exactly what the producer needed for that scene. He was all about putting somebody in an emotional state of mind which is exactly what we do in video game music, without all the dialogue and constraints.
5) CAN YOU PLEASE TALK ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH G.A.N.G (GAME AUDIO NETWORK GUILD) AND THE GDC (GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE)?
I founded G.A.N.G. the same year as Video Games Live (in 2002). Busy year! 🙂
The Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.) is a non-profit organization established to educate the masses in regards to interactive audio by providing information, instruction, resources, guidance and enlightenment not only to its members, but to content providers and listeners throughout the world. We’ve had over 2,500 people from around the world sign-up since its inception in 2002. G.A.N.G. empowers its members by establishing resources for education, business, technical issues, community, publicity and recognition. G.A.N.G. also supports career development for aspiring game audio professionals, publishers, developers and students. We even established a scholarship fund for students looking to study and make game audio a career.
It’s a resource for composers, sound designers, programmers, musicians, actors, engineers, producers, designers, directors and others who have a genuine interest in interactive audio. By banding together and providing one voice, members can better articulate, discuss and confront issues inside the community. One of the focuses and goals of G.A.N.G. is to encourage and promote the creation of better sounding audio. It provides a sense of community to its fellowship and the interactive community through the sharing of knowledge and experience among members and related organizations industry-wide. We also promote quality and the recognition of quality through the annual G.A.N.G. Awards Show which is held each year at the Game Developers Conference.
Some of the major accomplishments over the years were working together with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and then president Tom Lee to craft a new musician’s union agreement specifically for video games allowing game composers to use the finest musicians. It brought in MILLIONS of dollars for the AFM but unfortunately was canceled when the new leadership took over. But we are still trying to find ways to work with the new leadership to bring more work to the AFM. It’s been a challenge, especially when both sides really want the same goal (to get talented musicians working) but finding the exact path is difficult.
We consistently work with performing rights organizations and societies like ASCAP & BMI to educate video game publishers and developers about music publishing and ancillary licensing income. Our Education Committee creates curriculums for accredited colleges and universities around the world. We supply boilerplate contracts, proper information and contacts to submit demos, downloads to industry experts giving advice, panels and post-mortem discussions, etc. We’ve also been very instrumental in getting game audio and game music recognized in main stream award programs such as the Grammy’s, the BAFTA’s, MTV Music Awards, G4phoria Awards, Spike TV Awards, Game Developers Choice Awards, etc.
If anyone is interested in getting into game audio, they should definitely check it out and become a member at: www.audiogang.org
Please check out the new trailer I just put together a few weeks ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4ZzZ3s-GZU&t
What is the future of game music? Video games have become the entertainment of choice for a new generation… the entertainment of choice for the 21st century! As new generations of people start to get older, video games and their music will continue to evolve 100% into our culture as they are considered just as culturally significant and artistic as any film score or piece of classical music.