Hello Composers, Mike here! =)
Video game music has come a long way since the old days of 8-bit chips and limitations.
Even though I personally still love the retro game music, the trend is going in a direction that is more similar to film music (which I love too).
And in film music it is still standard to use live instruments in the soundtrack (at least for movies with a budget).
That’s why I am very happy to share an interview with Ariel Contreras-Esquivel today (in the picture), who is not only a great composer, but also a conductor with experience on using live instruments in video game music compositions.
Ariel will share his background and story on how he got into the video game music industry, as well as many practical tips, tricks and insights of using live instruments specifically.
First: Listen to this composition he made for the OST of the video game “Mushroom Guardian”, where you clearly see that he used live recordings of woodwinds in the score:
1. What is your story on how you became a professional composer, and in video game music in particular?
I’ve been attracted to creative areas since childhood, specifically at my 14 years old when I formed my first band as a drummer I loved to write some tunes and the lyrics. Then at my 16 I started creating some songs as a keyboardist.
I don’t have memory of not playing video games, in my teenage years together with a friend we used to play video game tunes on keyboard or listening piano versions of video game music on youtube. Since then I knew I wanted to compose music professional, but at first I thought on film scoring, curiously, inspired by Mussorgsky.
I made my break into video game industry in 2013, after a friend invited me to participate in a Global Game Jam to make some music. Back then I was composing for my prog band Eytan, writing for theater, films, commercials, concert, but video games wasn’t in my mind as a career.
So the GGJ changed the game forever, I’ve met all of my nowadays colleagues, right after the jam I was called to score 3 games from different teams, it was a blast for me. Then I realize that I’ve had found my core as a composer.
2. Let’s say you get a new soundtrack gig today for a video game. How do you get started?
Depends on the size and the perspective. But in general, I check all the available material and start discussions with the team about what the game goals are in all aspects (mechanics, art, music, targets, etc).
After that I go to my studio for research if needed, and to get a musical proposition to the table. When we have a stablished aesthetic horizon on the overall of the game, I start crafting, and keep researching if needed, some times I go to rehearsals of music groups who plays the music I want to learn, or buy a new small music instrument that get me there.
I try to get all info I can from the game and from the inspiration for the game. No matter if it’s just a script, or a rough mechanic video from the game, or some concept art, everything that allows me to really get into the whole concept and mechanics.
3. When using live instruments in your video games scores, what is your overall process?
First of all having a clear decision on what instruments I will use and how viable that is for the production. Then I look to make music according not only for the instruments I choose, but also for the musicians that will end recording that music and the studio.
Every musician is a world, everyone plays in a different way, so I try to write the best for that specific person understanding not only the language of the musical genre but also the language of the players.
In the process of scoring the game, when I have the chance, I use to have meetings with the musicians testing what I wrote, or if it is a new musical language for me I try to learn from the player how that language works, how to notate things in the best way.
After all the music, with virtual instruments, is approved and the implementation tested, some times with some assistant help we need to write all sheet for the recording session, some times are full ensembles and others only soloist. We record everything, and then add to the session for mixing and mastering.
4. Do you have some practical tips for composers that want to use live instruments in their video game music?
Focus on who are you writing for, more than what are you writing for. When writing the sheet music, be as clear as possible for the musician (and conductor if there is one).
If working with an orchestrator, use the same sheet template. All versions should look the same for the musicians and conductor, to avoid confusion during the recording session. Write for humans, not for libraries.
5. Anything else you want to add, words of wisdom and motivation perhaps?
Visual media composition is not an easy path, and overall not a cheap one. If sometime you feel frustrated, remember that not everything is having the most expensive gear, or going to the best colleagues, enjoy making music, embrace your own talent.
If you want to do something but you can’t find where to learn it, nor where to go for it, you can make it happen yourself.
Go and talk to others, share your passion, find other with the same impulses as you and then make things happen right where you are. You are more talented than you think you are, just work hard, connect with others, help others.
6. What are you goals and dreams for your music career?
Being able to write and perform live the music I love, working with great and kind people, sharing experiences and knowledge to people with low resources, having time to enjoy life.