We recently interviewed one of our favorite musicians CoLD SToRAGE (Tim Wright). The following is the interviewCoLD SToRAGE
How did you get involved in writing music for video games?
I’ve always written music… ever since I was really young. There’s a C90 cassette tape that my Dad recorded of me making up songs when I was 3 or 4.
I think I caught the ‘computer music’ bug when I heard music in Commodore 64 games. Most of those were great songs in their own right, and they had to be… when you’ve only got 3 channels of sound, you need a really strong melody or hook to carry it all off.
I formed a demo group with my brothers and some close friends to create demos and games for the Commodore 64 and the Amiga, so this was how I got into writing music for computer demos and games.
In terms of getting as far as writing music professionally and getting paid for it… paid enough to earn a living, well that came when I got picked up by Psygnosis to write music for many of their Amiga games. I’d like to say that was down to hard work and perseverance, but it was just pure fluke, and being in the right room at the right time with the boss of the company, and him liking my work.
Prior to this, I’d sent my Amiga modules to various companies asking if they’d use me. Looking back, I wasn’t really at a point where my work was commercial sounding enough, although I still have a letter I received from Probe Software telling me that they really liked my work, and that in the future they’d like to use me.
What do you prefer writing, music for yourself or for video games more?
The two are quite different and rewarding in different ways. Writing for yourself can be daunting, because you don’t always have a guide or a remit to work to. You’re kinda ‘out there’ just seeing what happens. So generally speaking I like to start of with a theme for an album or a track, and that give me the impetus to write something. Because it’s just for my pleasure, I can do anything I like and try anything, even if it’s quite mad to begin with. I did a lot of nutty stuff on my Project Moonbounce 2009 album… that was a case of doing anything and everything and seeing if any of it worked.
Writing for games or film (which I’m doing a lot more of for post production houses these days) is really good fun, because you generally have a very tight remit. Sometimes you’ll be given a reference track from an album or another film and the client will say, “we want this ‘vibe’ but we don’t want an exact copy, and we want a bit of x-y-z thrown in too…”. This is ring fences me in, a bit like working on the C64 or Amiga in terms of having your hands cuffed a little, but the fun is in making the most of that, and hopefully bringing a smile to the clients face because they are pleasantly surprised with what you’ve achieved given the tight specifications, or the tight deadline (or in many instances, both!).
Where do you think the future for music is heading?
That’s quite a broad question! Interactivity seems to be very popular these days. Where people who aren’t necessarily musicians get to play around with sounds in a 3D space and make real-time music just within the bounds of their own creativity. All the music is in key and in time, they just get to decide when and where things play.
I think it’s great, that people get the chance to ‘play’ music without any performance or musical skills. It was one of the drives behind creating the MUSICtm/MTVMG branded products, but the 3D approach is a lot simpler, more responsive and of course real-time.
In terms of music genre and style, we seem to have hit a bit of a wall and we are looking back a lot and stealing styles and blending or re-inventing them. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard something really ‘new’. You can generally describe most music these days in terms of other styles, except maybe Glitch… although this has it’s roots in industrial I guess.
What advice do you have for musicians in general?
Wow, another massive question! Hmmmm….
1. If someone tells you your music is rubbish, ignore them. If you’re having fun writing it and you enjoy listening to the end result, then it’s GOOD music. You may be ahead of your time, and in 200 years you’ll be all the rage!
2. If at all possible, have a sleep between writing and doing a final mix on a song. Your ears get used to hearing the subtle aspects of a song while you write it, and the following day you may find that subtle section you love is gone in the morning, and needs a bit more volume. The reverse can also be true.
3. Don’t be scared of new technology. Anything that makes writing music easier, quicker and more fun is a good thing. It’s always about the end result.
4. Don’t believe that music software costing £12,000 is going to make you sound great. A good musician using something pocket money like eJay will wipe the floor with you. So, concentrate of the song, the melody, the vibe and not filling a room with kit or your hard drive with samples and software.
5. Noisy horrible samples can sometimes be better than super clear crystal samples. If something gets too clinical it can be lifeless. I was listening to a demo of some virtual orchestral software that is made up of thousands of real recordings. It lets you create a full ‘virtual’ orchestra without the time and expense of hiring a real one. Their web page went on about how they’d captured everything with zero noise, so I listened to the examples. They were like they’d been recorded in floating hospital in space. You’d have to go back in and add some coughing, chair scuffing and fan noise to make it sound like it was really recorded in a hall. These days I find I frequently pass many of my sounds through subtle distortion to give them some edge and dynamic feel.
6. Don’t expect to get rich and famous. Write music to write music, not to have people tell you that you’re great. If the latter happens then it’s a really nice bonus, but writing music can be a lonely occupation! In this day of YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and SoundCloud you can rapidly attract a following if your work is good, so don’t stress about a fanbase… worry about your music.
What is your favorite style of music to write in and your favorite to listen to?
I guess I like writing synth and orchestral. The two can be poles apart, but I find both of these challenging and enjoyable at the same time. The synth side of things is all about creating weird and mad sounds, and taming them so that they can co-exist in one piece of music. Synth sounds are generally very broad in terms of the frequencies they occupy, so you need to filter/E.Q. them a lot so that they’ll sit together in the same space and complement each other. Orchestral scoring is almost the opposite… you have to build up layers of instruments to create a full sound. Also the instruments are all very well known, so you have to rely on the melody and the phrasing to keep people interested.
Listening wise, I have a really diverse ear. It’s probably easier to say that I don’t listen to much Country & Western. I used to detest it, but as I’ve grown older I’ve learned that some of it is quite good, and I listen to bluegrass sometimes too. I’m getting a bit bored with all the R&B tracks in the charts at the moment. Some are good, but a lot are just too over produced for my taste. At the moment I’m listening to Imogen Heap’s Eclipse album, and last month it was Little Boots’ Hands. When I’m in the car it’ll be Radio 1, Radio 2 or Classic FM.
What instruments are your favorites and why?
I’ve played acoustic guitar for ages. I love it because you can just pick it up and play. Your fingers are on the strings, so you totally decide the tone and character of the sounds you make. Having said that, I’ve never had lessons and my technique isn’t so hot! The piano is something I was trained in up to grade 5 (UK, examination standard) so I’ll always love piano too.
In terms of instruments I can’t play but love the sound of, I guess that would be electric guitar, harmonica and I like ring modulated sounds too… anything from running a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass, to bell playing or vibraphone.
Should music in games be in the background or dynamically changing depending on what’s going on in the game?
This depends on the game. If it’s a narrative based game, then the music needs to join in and tell the story as the player moves through it – this can make the game much more compelling and fun or scary. If it’s a shoot-em-up or a racing game then the music has no massive contribution to the storyline as there isn’t really a story to be told, it’s simply there as adrenalin wallpaper which is still vital to the gameplay.
Do you see any trends with gaming regarding the direction where game development is heading?
Massively Multiplayer is peaking round about now. Games like WoW and recent titles on Xbox Live show how well this works. Playing games with people you’ve never met brings a lot of entertainment value to a game, as well as longevity. In terms of how we interact within a game, I think that’ll be the next big thing. We’ve seen baby steps in this direction before with V.R. headsets, and Nintendo has made it mass market with the Wii peripherals, but I think the next big step will be holodeck style environments, and virtual reality games like Eye Pet.
What is your favorite kind/style of game to write music for?
I’ve done a lot of fast paced racing or shooting games. Recently I’ve had the chance to write some music for younger children’s games, so that was fun. I’d love to write music for a horror game, something really dark and terrifying. It’s not a genre I’ve really had much to do with, so I think I’d really love the challenge of writing a score that gives people an adrenalin rush (like the Wipeout tracks) but for a different reason.
What is your favorite old game and why?
Hired Guns. This game was almost before it’s time. It was one of the best, if not THE best game Psygnosis ever released. The GFX, the fonts, the styling and the music and sound effects were all top notch. This game had me hooked for weeks! UFO Enemy Unknown was also a game I look back on fondly. To be honest, now I’m thinking about it, there are loads from the C64 days, and it also depends on what you mean by old, too… for example, I loved playing Freelancer on PC, and that’s a few years old now too. Going way back, I was hooked on Gauntlet in the arcades, and I wore out joysticks playing Space Invaders and Pacman on my old wood effect ATARI VCS.
What is your favorite new game (2 years old newer) and why?
World of Warcraft. It’s just so epic and all encompassing. I’ve played this with siblings, friends and my son. We all loved it, and although I’m taking a break from it at the moment, I’m going back for more when Cataclysm comes out. Can’t wait!
What is/was your favorite platform to write music for?
I knew where I was with the Amiga, and I think just as it was getting left behind I was really getting the hang of writing MOD files. I finally had a really good sampler and I’d learned a lot of techniques to squeeze the best out of those 4 channels.
Recently I’ve had a chance to go back to that with writing music for Nintendo DS games, so that’s been fun – even if I was a little bit rusty to start with!
If you’ve never heard Tim’s music, you should really check it out. Follow the link to hear many of his songs: http://obsoletegamer.com/free-stuff-the-music-of-cold-storage-aka-tim-wright-155/
Thanks for the interview Tim!