In the next few days I’d like to talk about the process behind creating the soundtrack for GunGirl 2, which, as always, you can listen to here. Some of the things I’m going to tackle include how to approach a large-scale soundtrack, how to work with a developer/producer on achieving the goals they set out for you, working with live performers, some tools I find invaluable, and how to mix and master your music to get that cutting edge.
I’ll probably post this over a few days, but let’s get started, shall we?
How to Approach a Large-scale Soundtrack
- Know the Audience and the Setting
This one should feel very, very obvious. If you don’t know who’s going to be hearing your music, or in what setting it’s in, you have no hope of creating a cohesive final product. There are a lot of starting composers that jump headfirst into their first project (usually a free game) and just start writing music. They produce and produce and produce without really looking back before sending something that they think they’re proud of to the designers.
Does this really work? Well – I’ll be honest here, sometimes it does. Plowing through material and just getting it done is an extremely important ability to have, but it’s not always the best option. Sometimes, the developer might be really rather grateful to for the large amount of music just handed to them, but it doesn’t always mean good things. I know that when I look back at the first large soundtrack I did, The Spirit Engine, I absolutely cringe. Some things there simply don’t fit (yes! I am using myself as an example of what not to do in this case). On the plus side, there is a lot of material there that I am happy with, but only a certain cream of the crop. I would not call this a tangible cohesive production.
There were SOME things I did right, though, and these are things I’ve employed since then.
- Create the Illusion of Cohesion
My original goal was to be a film composer someday (and to some extent, it still is). One thing that film composers are drawn upon to do fairly regularly is to create thematic elements for characters, locations, and emotions. People who do this incredibly well include John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, and… oh wow, those seem obvious. Well Harry Gregson-Williams, Danny Elfman, these are also people who get the job done. But of course film music has that, we know that, but what about Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo, Y. Mitsuda, Jack Wall, Harry G-W (yes, he started out in VGM), … this list will go on forever. These composers use a variety of methods to create tangible cohesion from theme to theme.
When I think of any evil or sorceress from Final Fantasy VIII (N. Uematsu), I will immediately think “Fithos, Luesc, Wecos, Vinosec,” but that example may be tacky and unoriginal. So, how about I ask you to close your eyes and think of a green-clad hero from Zelda. I bet you’re hearing our favorite heroic melody… Let’s change it up. Think of dinosaurs now. Did you think of this? Actually, you probably heard this guy. Astoundingly similar, though, aren’t they? And I’m sure the Orks and our heroes in Middle Earth make you hear a bombastic brass motif (read: Howard Shore is a beast).
My point is that there are memorable elements to each of these themes, be them instrumentation choices (as in using a tragically dark choir for the evil in the world), or melodic elements. I guess you’re wondering how I did this in GunGirl 2…
- Use Common Elements to create Cohesion (in GunGirl 2)
Having a fairly simple plot-line, GunGirl 2 didn’t really need a diverse set of character themes or motifs. I was asked to tackle “Hell Variations” of three major areas, the Desert, the City, and the Marsh. Besides those variations, there were four major distinct “hell” areas that needed scoring. With this in mind, I decided to come up with two larger motifs that’d be present throughout most of the agenda: I wanted GunGirl to have a theme. This is immediately apparent in the 11th second of the Opening Theme.
I decided to take this motif and place it through a great-majority of the soundtrack in a Lord of Vermillion style execution. In some places, the theme is almost identical to a tee (2:19 in Phantasmagoria
). In other places, I did a lot of changes to get the idea across without being so specific (1:17 in Sanctus Inferno
). Probably my favorite change is the sequencing of the melody into the Major mode which I did for Hell in a Handbasket (:30 in
Okay, so that’s the game’s theme, but what about the sound of hell? I decided to use two different instrumentation choices to tackle this. One is a ripping synthesizer heard in The Unforgiven (
). The most obvious though, would definitely be the crazy demonic voices heard throughout the soundtrack. My favorite implementation of this exists in Desert Hell (
), but you can hear it in Oblivion (Marsh Hell), very VERY obviously in Unto the Wicked (Ice Hell), and in Iron Curse (a more ambient choice), and so on and so on.
Next time, we’ll look at how more ways to tackle large scale projects and start talking about how to actually do the composing thing for a specific theme or area. That sounds like fun! I’ll also eventually talk about how I made creepy voices!
Thanks for reading ^_^