Today at Esperino, we begin the first in a new interview series affectionately dubbed ‘Fine Tuning’. We’ll be shining the spotlight on music composers and artists working in the video gaming sphere.
More often than not, we applaud the achievements of game developers for outstanding work, but how often do we pause to reflect on the individuals behind the emotional melodies or toe-tapping beats we’re listening to? Although the world in which they work is devoted to sound, these artists are often the most quiet of achievers.
Rich is responsible for producing the sensational chiptunes backing the retro 2D/3D shifting smash hit Fez, the bluesy Rock soundtrack for Shoot Many Robots, along with a portfolio of work spanning independently developed titles to established franchises.
Rich has generously given up his time to share with us on what it’s like to be a music composer, how he weaves his melodic masterpieces (or should I say, masterpeaces?) and give us an insight into his very unique and creative world.
Hangie: Could you please tell our readers a little about yourself, such as your study background, how you got involved producing soundtracks for the video game music industry, your favourite piece of audio equipment, and perhaps your future goals?
Rich: I started playing guitar in high school and started writing music around the age of 17 or 18. Dropped out of a design program to go to music college, and started working on games through a blend of internships, and a bit of luck with having some carryover familiarity from my chipmusic work as Disasterpeace. When I started writing music for games, I was just using my regular name, but at some point decided it made sense to consolidate my two names for simplicity’s sake. My favorite piece of audio equipment is probably my laptop, because I don’t like having lots of extra hardware. I’ve got a laptop, a pair of monitors, a MIDI keyboard, and an audio interface, the bare essentials really. Though I should say I have a couple of guitars and I just bought an upright piano. In fact, I take it back, the piano is my favorite!
My future goals are to pay off my insane student debt, and to have the luxury to focus on very few projects, only the most noble and interesting. Right now I am taking on lots of work in an attempt to get my stuff out there but also because of the aforementioned debt.
Hangie: Walk us through a typical work day in the life of Disasterpeace.
Rich: The only common denominator of my work days is that I work from home, so I try to only write music when I truly feel like it, and have the proper inspiration. I’ve got a nice little setup in my bedroom.
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?
Rich: The positives are pretty great. I get to write all kinds of music and I get paid to do it. I also set my own hours and generally have the most flexible schedule of anyone I know. The downsides are also pretty well-known. Work is not guaranteed, so sometimes you have to go out of your way to find it, and also self-employment taxes are kind of brutal. Another one of the downsides to being a freelancer is that you tend to get a bit scatterbrained, having to manage all the different projects and your business and so forth.
Hangie: Which video game music artist if any; inspires you and which are your favourite video game soundtracks?
Rich: I really love the work that Tomas Dvorak (aka Floex) does. His Machinarium soundtrack continues to inspire me. Little Nemo: Dream Master for NES is an all-time fave of mine, as well as the Chrono series (Yasunori Mitsuda).
Hangie: Concerts based entirely on video games have become a more socially accepted medium of entertainment with events like Video Games LIVE, Video Games Unplugged and the always popular Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy garnishing sizeable audiences. Have you ever attended any of these events before, and what are your thoughts on video game music performed on a grand scale?
Rich: I went to a Video Games LIVE concert in Boston a few years ago, it was very entertaining and it’s always nice to hear classic game music arranged for a live orchestra. There are few things as enjoyable from a musical standpoint as going to see a good orchestra in my opinion.
Hangie: Do you ever get a case of ‘writer’s block’, and what do you do to fire up that creative spark when composing?
Rich: Sure. I find that the best cure for writer’s block is to go out and live, and to get away from what you’re doing. Listening to other people’s music also helps.
Hangie: I grew up with Hudson’s Bomberman series (now defunct), and one credit that caught my eye was your involvement in the Bomberman Live: Battlefest soundtrack. How did you get approached for the role, and what was it like working on a franchise where the tunes and melodies are instilled into the minds of so many gamers?
Rich: It was an internship that I applied for through my college. We actually decided to (for the most part) write all original material and steer clear of the traditional melodies/songs of the franchise. In hindsight that might have been a careless decision, but there wasn’t any strong direction for us to do so. If I could go back I probably would have paid more tribute to that.
Hangie: Your portfolio includes an assortment of video game genres, the most recent work being Demiurge Studios’ Shoot Many Robots and Polytron’s Fez, each title with its own uniquely different music style. How do you approach composing music for such varied titles?
Rich: I really try to get into a headspace. For Shoot Many Robots, I sat around with my guitar a lot, figuring out lots of bluesy riffs and licks, and establishing early on a certain “sound”. I knew I wanted to go for a Drop-D sound, which is generally is very power chord heavy, but allows for more flexibility in coming up with riffy sounding parts.
For Fez, we established a sort of cinematic approach to chipmusic, taking those sounds and giving them a more contemporary and comfortable plot, with lots of reverb and attention to space, and also a focus on making it sound deteriorated. I did that using lots and lots of bitcrushing, and tape warping effects.
I also can’t stress enough how valuable it has been for me to collect all of my unused ideas. I have found great homes for dozens of seeds of ideas that sat idle for years. Majesty, Love, and Nocturne from the Fez soundtrack were all repurposed ideas that had been devised well before the I was even involved with the project.
Hangie: Demiurge Studios is currently in the process of developing Shoot Many Robots PVP follow-up, Arena Kings. Will you be providing any audio contributing to Arena Kings, or is it all still very hush-hush at the moment?
Rich: I don’t believe so, no.
Hangie: What’s a little known fact about Disasterpeace?
Rich: I originally spelled it Disasterpiece, and even made a bunch of logos and stuff with that spelling, but quickly scratched it. Also, Atebite and the Warring Nations was a submission for a concept album contest on TheShizz.org, the Minibosses message boards.
Hangie: If you weren’t composing music for video games, what would you like to do instead?
Rich: I’d love to make games (and I’m getting into that). If you had asked me 8 years ago, I would have told you I wanted to be a graphic designer at a small firm in a big city.
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?
Rich: I’ve been fortunate enough to have an easy go of it for the most part, in terms of getting lots of excellent opportunities. I always made it a point to seize most if not all game audio related opportunities, and I think that’s really one of the most important things you can do when you are getting started. Seize every opportunity for awhile, give yourself a chance to get acquainted, feel yourself out, and establish some kind of repertoire. I think you have to become somewhat well-established before you can be more selective. I don’t feel like I’m there yet, either.
Another thing I would recommend is to do it because you love it, and not to be afraid to just write the kind of music you want to write. We’ve all heard the epic orchestral stuff done to death, so unless you really love doing that, find your sound, and don’t let the pressure of your perception of what video game music ought to be change your output too much.
Hangie: Any closing comments or thoughts you’d like to share with our readers, eg. social media account information, upcoming projects, etc.
Rich: All of my music can be listened to and most can be purchased at Disasterpeace.com. Stay tuned for new projects, I’m sitting on a couple of soundtracks that should be coming out this year!
Thanks goes to Rich Vreeland for his time. Be sure to follow him via twitter @disasterpeace and Facebook to keep up to date with his latest work. Head over to Disasterpeace.com to sample his music for free via music streaming before purchasing.
I highly recommend listening to Atebite and the Warring Nations. There’s a certain nostalgic charm reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, taking you back to the golden era of gaming that quite simply needs to be experienced. Smack the play button below and give it a try!