What comes to mind when you hear the words “video game music?” Is it a vibrant series of retro-sounding bloops and bleeps and spacey laser noises? What about a rich, orchestral landscape that flows with the scenery as a sole assassin explores an open world?
Making music for video games presents an interesting challenge. The composer must create something that fits a narrative storyline as well as an aesthetic feel, in addition to providing a soundtrack that will keep the player motivated to work toward each target.
In episode 23 of our podcast Themes and Variation, I’m joined by two brilliant shining stars from the world of video game music — Chase Bethea (composer) and Zac Zinger (composer, performer) — both of whom have made great impacts in the video game music scene as well as helping to expand our impressions and opportunities in this industry.
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If video game music for you means tapping away at an 8-bit Nintendo Game Boy, well then you’re in luck. Soundfly’s got a highly-acclaimed free course taught by Chipocrite where you can learn everything you need to get started making chiptune music using LSDJ. Try it out!
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Episode 23 Highlights
1. Carter gets a demo of the Shakuhachi from Zac.
Carter: “The instrument I want to get into is of course the shakuhachi, featuring on this track and Zac, you know I have a bunch of notes on the instrument but it’s so much better to just get your insight on it, I don’t wanna just put you on the spot but… You happen to be an unbelievable player of the shakuhachi. I knew you as a saxophonist, I remember you playing EWI too, somebody that was always just pushing the boundaries of what they could do with traditional wind instruments and then going beyond that. How did you get to play the shakuhachi, where did it start for you?
Zac: “Yeah so when we were playing on the Berklee hockey team together, I didn’t even know what a shakuhachi was at that point, I didn’t find it myself until 2012. I actually have one right here.
Carter: “So sick, mind playing just a little bit of it for us?
Zac: “Yeah so it would be something like, I mean that Ghost of Tsushima would be…”
2. Zac Zinger on his road to becoming a video game composer.
Zac: “I always loved playing video games but I think in 9th grade is when I first played Final Fantasy X, and there’s a moment at the end of that where there’s a sync point and that was kind of the moment for me where I’m like ‘hey, you know there’s something to this video game music.’ It’s definitely more than just the bleeps and bloops. Of course I noticed it before but I never thought of it as something I wanted to do until then. And then when I went to Berklee, they had the film scoring program there, I think now they have a major in video game scoring, but when I was there it was just starting, they had a few classes as addendums to the film scoring course. So I took all of those with Michael Sweet and a couple other teachers and when I got out I was in Japan at just the right time. I met some people who were looking for a jazz re-arrangement soundtrack of Monster Hunter and I was doing some one-man big band stuff at the time and that’s what got me my first in with Capcom and everything kind of went off from there.”
3. Chase Bethea on what inspired him to pursue composing music for video games.
Chase: “So, things that I was kind of involved in, honestly it was just playing a lot of video games! Trying to cajole my father to buy the next game, you know or the latest thing to come out, I was fortunate to kind of have quite a few in the collection you know as a child and what not, but I think that like I said, that goes to show where my sound and my head was without knowing it. That was my world, that still is my world, reading the magazines, playing the games, along with still trying to grow up.”
Join Our Collaborative Playlist
Every time we launch a new episode, we create a collaborative Spotify playlist in order to share every song mentioned in this episode and explore many others that fit the theme. And you can add to it! We want to hear your favorite songs from video games, so feel free to add them to the playlist below.
Go ahead and add your selected songs to the playlist!
We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected]!
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