Fine Tuning this week takes a look at the work of Marshall Parker, an industry veteran who has composed music for more video game titles than he’d care to remember. Those who grew up during the 90’s more than likely listened to his work in Star Wars (NES), Super Smash T.V. and the classic soundtrack of Shadowrun (SNES).
I’ve always been familar with the music of Marshall Parker but never did I expect to have the opportunity to talk with the man responsible for making a cyberpunk future world so appealing to me in my teenage days.
Hangie: Tell our readers a little about yourself, such as your music background, how you got involved producing soundtracks for the video game music industry, your favourite piece of audio equipment, and perhaps your future goals?
Marshall: I started playing piano at age 10. Formed bands at school and continued working in bands after I left school. I then toured Australia and the USA as musical director for a well known Australian country music singer, and was involved in a number of albums with him both in Australia and the USA.
After that I became really interested in record production, recording and songwriting. An acquaintance of mine, David Briggs, a Grammy nominated songwriter and guitarist with “The Little River Band” had a recording studio in Melbourne, and I booked there to produce a couple of tracks for a local singer. After that was done he invited me to come in and write songs with him. We soon became very good friends, and that began a long term songwriting and record production partnership. He also taught me a lot about recording techniques.
In 1990 I was approached by Beam Software/Melbourne House to compose tunes for their games. I think my first game was Star Wars for NES. I was going in to their office three afternoons a week, and still working with David in his studio. Eventually the demands of game audio began to get larger as the consoles got bigger and better, and I was spending more and more time doing the game music. 22 years later I am still doing it!! I believe I have composed music for around 70 games, and have been Audio Director on around 100.
Hangie: Walk us through a typical work day in the life of Marshall Parker.
Marshall: Right now I am working on a big MMO title so I am in the studio from around 9:30am till whenever I can leave. We are not too far away from finishing so there is a lot of last minute tidying up, laying up sound on cinematics etc, so very busy at the moment.
Hangie: As with any vocation, there are positives and negatives that come with it. What are aspects of your occupation that you love, what do you dislike, and what would you change if you could?
I dislike schedules of course, but they are a commercial reality. If I had one wish it would be that games companies would give more budget to music.
They always seem to say how important music is to a game, but when it come down to it a lot of the time they don’t allow enough in their budget to really do the job we would like to do on it.
Hangie: Which video game music artist if any; inspires you and which are your favourite video game soundtracks?
Marshall: There is not one in particular. I love anything from J pop to full on orchestral soundtracks, and everything in between. There have been many games with great music, from Mario to Final Fantasy.
Hangie: Do you ever get a case of ‘writer’s block’, and what do you do to fire up that creative spark when composing?
Marshall: Yes, I think that happens to everybody. I wish I had a dollar for every piece of music I’ve started and then scrapped!
You know when it’s right, so you have to treat every day as a new beginning.
Hangie: Your portfolio includes work on numerous video game titles. Which amongst your gameography were your most favourite to work on, and is there a track that you’ve composed which is especially meaningful to you, and why?
Marshall: Well these days I don’t do too much composing. I am more producing and directing music. I have fun working with musicians and getting their takes on ideas that I present to them. It’s like you are always collaborating and I really enjoy that. I have worked on big budget scores with Orchestras through to Gameboy music. They all have their place, so I really can’t name one specific project.
Hangie: Shadowrun for the Super Nintendo is undeniably your most well-known soundtrack to date. The music set upon the dystopian future backdrop blended perfectly for one of the most memorable gaming experiences to date. What was it like working on the game, and what was the thought process behind it all when you scored the soundtrack back in 1993?
Marshall: It’s so long ago, but I was made aware a few years ago that the Shadowrun music struck a chord with a lot of players. That’s really gratifying. It means you have done you job well. With every game I always try to work with the feeling of the game, and try to get the music right with both the look of the environment, and the feeling that you are trying to convey to the player.
Hangie: The fans of Shadowrun and even Jordan Weisman speak highly of the work you produced in the original Shadowrun title. Now that you’ve signed on for Shadowrun Returns and you’re working with Sam Powell (composer of Shadowrun for Sega Genesis) on creating the soundtrack for Shadowrun Returns, will some of the familiar tunes from the original be making a return, possibly in an update or remix?
Marshall: Actually I am directing the new music and my son Gavin is actually the one composing it. Gavin worked with me for many years at Melbourne House and is a highly proficient musician and composer. He has composed for 20 plus games himself. He is very familiar with my Shadowrun score, and he is doing a new take on it all, bringing it into this century! He is drawing inspiration from the original themes and expanding them. You will hear lots of recognisable bits from the original music sprinkled in there. He is doing a fantastic job with it, and I’m sure the fans will really appreciate the new music.
Hangie: What’s the experience been like working alongside Sam Powell on the Shadowrun Returns soundtrack?
Marshall: Had a chat to Sam on the phone recently and He’s a really good guy.
We worked out a way where each of our music can work and compliment each other. Working with Sam is great.
Hangie: You’ve been composing music since the early 1990’s and during this time, sound engineering techniques has certainly evolved with the times. Do you think some music composition techniques have been lost over this period?
Marshall: No I really don’t. There is now so much more at the hand of the composer, but to make it really cool and musical you first need to be a good musician. Good composers focus on the music first, and not on the toys available. They use those to enhance the music, but understand that the music itself and the emotion portrayed is the most important.
Hangie: Are there any tracks that didn’t quite make it into Shadowrun? I’d love to hear a sample if there is.
Marshall: Not that I can remember.
Hangie: I understand you now reside in Singapore. Have you been back to Melbourne, Australia recently? If so, what do you think of the CBD now?
It’s certainly changed a lot over the last few years.
Marshall: I try to get back to Melbourne every Christmas, although I won’t make it this year as deadlines just don’t allow me to get away this time. I love Melbourne. It is a great city and very dear to me, and my family is still there. I am really enjoying living in Singapore. It is a very cool city indeed.
Hangie: What’s a little known fact about Marshall Parker?
Marshall: Nothing that I would like to divulge on the Internet!!
Hangie: If you weren’t composing music for video games, what would you like to do instead?
Marshall: I consider myself very lucky that I have had a long working life as a musician, so it’s something I’ve never really had to think about.
Hangie: Do you have any suggestions, advice or pearls of wisdom for those looking to break into the video game music industry? Is it an occupation you would recommend?
Marshall: Only to be passionate about what you do and persist. From a practical point of view I guess you would not recommend being a musician because it is a tough road. However you must follow your dreams, and if music is your passion and your dream the I say go for it!
Hangie: Is there any avenue in which fans can legitimately purchase the Shadowrun (Super Nintendo) soundtrack? I’d love to purchase a copy for myself.
Marshall: Not that I am aware of, but I’m sure the new Shadowrun soundtrack will be made available.
Hangie: Any closing comments or thoughts you’d like to share with our readers, eg. social media account information, upcoming projects, etc.
Marshall: I am currently working on the MMO “Otherland” which is due for release in the first quarter of 2013, so look out for it. This has been a great title to work on for me, as it features over 6 hours of music in a lot of different genres.
Check it out!
Thank you to Marshall Parker for opening up to us. His work in video gaming has certainly inspired a generation and it was a real privilege for me (on a personal level) given Shadowrun (SNES) is one of my favourite games of all time.
Find out more about Marshall’s recent contribution on Otherland MMO at otherland.gamgigo.com. To listen to more of Marshall Parker’s work, there’s a whole library of music from different titles and platforms to indulge yourself in.