PAUL, YOU ARE BOTH A SUCCESSFUL COMPOSER AND AN INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE OF THE HIGHEST LEVEL. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THOSE TWO ROLES AND DO YOU EVER FIND THAT THE ONE DRAWS YOU AWAY FROM THE OTHER?
Thank you Adonis, I certainly ponder this question often and have answers that seem to evolve every 5-8 years or so! I get so much satisfaction from growing business; collaborating with others, and being creative in a world of applied strategic thinking – just as much as I love composing and playing music. Games has been my professional focus for almost twenty years now, and it is the place where I can stretch out in all the ways that speak to me. It is interesting that composing music is (often) a solitary, personal pursuit out of necessity, while things like executive leadership, growth management, and business pursuits involve constant interaction with others. The past decade has seen me driving larger projects from all sides of the audio pipeline – and that certainly has provided a balance where I can be creative, create amazing audio, mentor others, and help organizations grow and games ship. I love having the chance to write music, but more often than not I’m commissioning scores and driving large teams of people. I talk about this with other execs and audio directors all the time – what happens when you “go up the chain” a bit and get farther away from practicing your own craft and instead have to get things done through/with others? It can be really jarring for creatives! We absolutely need creative leadership in games, and the more you can understand all sides the more you can find balance for yourself and with all the other people you collaborate with.
YOU HAVE COMPOSED MUSIC FOR SOME OF THE BIGGEST VIDEO GAME TITLES EVER RELEASED. WHAT QUALITIES DO VG STUDIOS LOOK FOR IN A COMPOSER? ARE HIRING DECISIONS BASED PURELY ON TALENT?
What an awesome question, and I admit I probably get asked this more than anything else… I think the baseline expectation is that you (the composer) are a unique, developed voice that is fearless, excellent, and captivating. That is the baseline requirement – it needs to start with an exceptional aesthetic and stunning musical output that defines a narrative. This is all those years of solitary work I talked about; studios can hear this quality in the first 5-10 seconds of your music. Shockingly enough, this is not enough to get you hired. What ultimately gets you hired is your acumen, your collaborative approach, and your passion and history with games. I’ve seen all sorts of scenarios that play out around this dynamic and it certainly is tough for young composers just starting out to internalize. You might be a brilliant composer, but if your attitude and sense of entitlement is so off-putting that folks would rather not deal with you – then no gig. It’s the intangible soft skills like empathy, effective communication, listening that will win the day. I guess it ties back to the first question you asked – music is so personal and solitary, but you need to be a master at effective, convincing communication and have strong listening skills to be hired. It takes a lot of trust to hire someone to contribute to multi-m(b)illion game franchises…
AT SOME POINT, YOUR JOURNEY IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY HAD YOU PERFORMING AND RECORDING JAZZ WORLDWIDE. CAN YOU PLEASE ELABORATE ON THAT EXPERIENCE?
Haha yes its true, and that is definitely a part of my core background. I started playing guitar at eight, and never stopped. I got my Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and did so much live performing, touring around the globe, etc. It really defined my late teens through late twenties. I was so lucky to study and play with some of the finest players in the world, and those experiences help me every day in so many ways. It is funny, some of my best friends and favorite composers are jazz musicians/great instrumentalists as well. Gordy Haab and I geek out all the time about old jazz recordings (he is a badass bone player), and my pal Brian Trifon is a fantastic guitarist and we totally nerd out on gear, etc. Bear McCreary and Laura Karpman are also two outstanding friends and colleagues who happen to be exceptional players – I think it informs everything we do, and automatically gives us a platform to connect and share a common point of view. Trust me there are days when I wish I could just go out and tour again and play all the time, but now I barely have time to eat or sleep lol.
YOU ARE A LEADING FIGURE AND INNOVATOR IN THE INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHERE THE INDUSTRY IS HEADED AND HOW CAN ASPIRING COMPOSERS BENEFIT FROM IT?
Well, I firmly believe we are enjoying a golden age of gaming right now. There are so many powerful platforms, endpoints, screens of every size – and so many talented devs and publishers lighting up technology with massive narratives and sprawling IP. Composers and audio creatives have a huge role in all of this, and the demand for content means more work for composers of all styles and genres. I see so many devs driving for quality and investing in audio more than ever before – audio as a major content pillar is slowly becoming more important to studio heads and key decision makers, and I think that bodes well for everyone. What we make is over fifty-percent of any integrated entertainment product, and that notion is now making it into the mainstream. So yes, I feel very bullish on the future and think there will be even more opportunities for all of us down the road.
THERE IS A DEBATE GOING ON ABOUT ACADEMIA AND MUSIC COLLEGES THAT SATURATE THE INDUSTRY WITH HORDES(!) OF DEGREE BEARING COMPOSERS. AS GRADUATE YOURSELF, HOW USEFUL DO YOU THINK IS A DEGREE IN MUSIC?
I absolutely think a degree(s) are essential, and I personally use my education almost daily and in ways that are totally unexpected or out of the ordinary. I think there are lots of ways to educate ourselves beyond traditional academia, although I believe in it – especially for players and composers. When I hire people, it is a clear advantage and does speak to their ability to finish things or go through a process to completion vs someone who hasn’t. I remember I was having a particularly doubtful day back in school, and a great professor of mine once reminded me that “this is only a handful of years of your life, why not invest in it now and give it all you’ve got while you can. There is plenty of time to worry when you get out lol!”. I still take that to heart, and that idea helped me excel in college. I’m not sure there are “hordes” of young composers with degrees, but what I think young graduates need to do is apply their degrees more creatively and find a path to success that isn’t expected or straight ahead. I also think there is a time for going deep into academia, and then a time for going three times as deep into the private sector. School is important, but nowhere near as important as how you apply yourself outside of school. Say hello to school, and then definitely say a big goodbye haha – get out there make an impact for real!