PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio:
Music and Videogames—A Composer’s Paradise?

Mar 13, 2012 4:50 PM, By Lisa Horan

Ten years later, Graves has composed for close to 100 videogame titles. “This suits me," he says. "The more originality I can bring to a project as a composer, and the more identity I can bring to a score, the happier that makes the clients and me, so it’s a win-win.”

That was how Salchow felt about his work on Resistance 3. “It was one of the most interesting games I’ve been involved with because it highlighted human tragedy, which is non-typical for a videogame,” he says. In the sci-fi-esque story, the world is destroyed by aliens, but instead of the game highlighting the war and fighting, it focuses on loneliness, sadness, and misery. “For games, there’s usually a lot of action music, which can be exhausting to create, so writing melancholy music for this project was beautiful.”

It didn’t hurt that Salchow was able to record the project with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London, either—a rare opportunity for many composers, but one that both Graves and Zur have also had the privilege of experiencing in their videogame work. (In addition to recording at Abbey Road, Graves conducted and recorded his live orchestral scores at Air Studios London, Capitol Records, Paramount Pictures, Skywalker Sound, and with the Seattle and Salt Lake City Philharmonic orchestras.) That’s because budgets and time frames for games often afford composers the luxury of capturing live, orchestral performances. The remainder of the time, these composers can enjoy creating from the comfort of their own studios.

Graves, for instance, works primarily from the 1,200-square-foot studio he recently built in his backyard, which is outfitted with five Mac Pros, two 30-inch Apple cinema displays, and Dynaudio M3As, Zur’s 800-square-foot studio is set up to accommodate just about any project that he lands. It features nine computers, Steinberg Cubase, Genelec 1080 monitors, and multiple libraries. “I have my studio set up so that I’ve got pretty much everything right at my fingertips,” says Zur. “Some of the projects I do don’t require orchestras, and when that’s the case, I’ve got the tools I need to create the right sounds.” Salchow’s streamlined studio features a Mac Pro running Cubase along with Pro Tools HD and a video player, and several computers on which he can create authentic orchestral sounds.

Prior to his foray into videogames, Zur enjoyed a very successful career as a film/TV composer, scoring such projects as Au Pair, Digimon, Power Rangers, and Escaflowne. He values the feedback he’s received from gamers who express how much they’ve appreciated the music he’s written. “I receive emails from players all around the world who tell me how much they’ve loved the music and how it’s helped them make a connection to the game,” Zur says. “Videogames really give you the opportunity as a composer to use music as a language, and when you hear that people connect to and understand what you’re trying to convey, it’s really gratifying.”

Graves finds gratification in the fact that he doesn’t feel like he’s working. “If I had a job as an insurance salesman by day, I’d still be doing what I’m doing for free every night of the week because I love it so much," he says. "The fact that I get paid to do what I love to do is not only amazingly satisfying on a creative level, but it also keeps me happy.”

That’s precisely the way Salchow sees it: “It’s not only therapeutic, it’s just plain good for the soul.”

Lisa Horan is a writer with more than 19 years of industry experience, and the executive director of PopMark Media, a unique partnership that offers creative and marketing services, custom music and music production, and audio post-production services to music, film, and business clients.

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