Originally posted on the SEGA Europe Blog, which Kevin managed and he had a hand in this so consider it rescued from the Wayback Machine!
Recently we gave you the chance to fire off a few questions to SEGA’s favourite musician Richard Jacques. And as promised, he sat at his keyboard and answered them for you. Here they are in their full unedited glory.
Question 1: How did you fall in with SEGA in the first place? – Posted by Ryan/Sharky
Richard: I have been a SEGA fan for many years, and one of my ‘defining moments’ if you like was playing Outrun arcade whilst on holiday in 1986. The game and the music just blew me away, and after spending a good hour on the game I came out humming “Passing Breeze” for days! (Actually, as I type this I am on a flight to Canada to perform my Outrun remixes at Video Games Live so it’s rather fitting!) I played many of SEGA’s games throughout school and university, and whilst studying for my music degree I had a Mega Drive, which I used to play religiously with my housemates. (In those days I was mainly playing games like Sonic, EA Hockey, Flashback, Aladdin, etc). During my final year of University, SEGA were advertising for an in-house composer to work in their new Development offices in West London, so I applied for the job, had 2 rounds of interviews including many music demo submissions, and the rest as they say is history. I think they were impressed that I could compose in many different musical styles, and the fact that I had just bought the Japanese import of Virtua Racing for the Mega Drive (complete with SVP chip and converter cartridge if you want to be really precise!!) So I finished my music degree on a Friday, moved to London on Saturday, and started at SEGA on Monday. No rest for the wicked as they say.
Question 2: What inspires you to keep making such excellent music for games after so many years? – Posted by Diogo
Richard: First of all I would say that my passion, dedication and enthusiasm for what I do is completely second to none. Many people that meet me can’t quite get over my love for what I do, so the immense passion and drive that I have certainly helps. I think it is partly because I get to work on some really great titles, and I have a fairly varied taste in both games and music. So I suppose the variety is what helps to keep me fresh and enthusiastic. For example, I could be at Abbey Road Studios recording with an orchestra for a project, making funky breaks for something like Jet Set Radio, writing sci-fi scores for Mass Effect, or electronica for The Club! I am a very flexible composer and so I draw upon a huge range of influences. This also helps to inspire me.
Question 3: What is your favourite SEGA game or series? – Posted by Angel Coma
Richard: That’s a tough question to answer – there are so many good ones!! I will try to name a few: I love the Panzer Dragoon and Shenmue series of games. They are all incredible games with great music too. Another Shenmue please SEGA! I also love Sonic CD (Japanese version for Mega CD), both Jet Set Radio games and NiGHTS. If I had to single out one, it would have to be Outrun. I just can’t get enough of it. Outrun 3 please Mr Suzuki.
Question 4: Do you have any mentors, or are you inspired from any composers who write instrumental compositions? – Posted by Heraclius
Richard: From a very early age I was inspired by my father who is also a composer. I would hear him composing and improvising at the piano so I guess I just thought this was a very natural thing to do. I think the first thing I wrote was at the age of about 7. It was a piano duet and I composed it by writing the first piano part and recording it onto a cassette recorder, then playing it back whilst I wrote the second part, then recorded both of them onto another cassette recorder. It was pretty lo-fi to be honest, but it worked!! I grew up listening to and playing / studying so many different kinds of composers and music genres, so it’s almost impossible to single one out. To give you an idea I would study classical piano and trombone, learning music from composers such as Debussy, Bach, Handel, Scriabin, Messiaen, but at the same time I was listening to a lot of hip hop such as Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim etc.; there was a great hip hop explosion in the mid eighties in the UK. So as you can see it was a dichotomy of different musical styles, which I was being exposed to at the same time. Moving further on through school and university I was studying a lot of jazz so I would listen to pianists such as Chic Corea, Dave Grusin, and I was playing trombone in various big bands, as well as playing both trombone and percussion in orchestras. At this stage I was studying composers such as Vaughn Williams, Holst, Mahler, Hindemith, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, amongst others. I was also becoming aware of all the various film music composers at the time, as well as playing more and more video games, so in a way you could say that everything was going into one huge melting pot of styles which I now draw upon in one way or another no matter what I am doing. In general, I guess you could say that I have always been a fan of a good melody, so no matter what artist or composer I listen to in the specific genre, they usually have a good melody.
Question 5: You obviously are a fan of the 80/90’s music, what are/were your favourite bands? – Posted by City Hunter
Richard: I have never thought of it like that! Well yes as I already mentioned I do like a
well-written and well-constructed song or instrumental, and as I like a good melody I guess you could draw a comparison with 80’s and 90’s music (although I do like pretty much all kinds of music). I also enjoy melodic catchy music! Whilst I was still at school I was doing some DJ’ing, and as the dance scene was becoming huge, I was listening to house artists such as Marshall Jefferson, D mob, Technotronic, etc. There was just so much good inventive music going on. Even the pop scene was really cool. You can never beat a bit of Abba (master songwriters and producers) but I would also listen to bands such as Genesis, SOS Band and some pop acts. Outside of my career and purely for pleasure, my favourite band has always been Incognito. I saw them just 2 weeks ago in London. They are a jazz funk band with a large Japanese following too; you may be able to spot some of their influence if you listen carefully! In general though I’m just a huge music lover and am very open-minded, so I will listen to pretty much anything.
Question 6: What styles and artists have influenced your music over the years? – Posted by Urtheart
Richard: Well I have probably answered that to a degree in the previous questions but can expand upon it a little more. It is very true to say that film music has influenced me over the years. So composers such as John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Michael Kamen and many more have influenced my orchestral writing a great deal, but you will also hear other stylistic influences from both jazz and dance music in my orchestral writing. If I was to attempt to give you a succinct (and somewhat random) list of stylistic and artistic influences over the years it would look something like this:
Classical: Holst, Vaughn Williams, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Mahler, Hindemith, Debussy.
Pop: Abba, Janet Jackson, Seal
Jazz: Dave Grusin, Incognito, Jazzanova, Chic Corea
Rock: Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Coldplay
Breakbeat: BT, Hybrid, General MIDI, Plump DJ’s, Freestylers,
Hip Hop: Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim,
Dance: Marshall Jefferson, Prodigy, LTJ Bukem.
Question 7: What first got you into music and composition? – Posted by Urtheart
Richard: I grew up in a musical family, my parents both being piano teachers and my father also a composer, so that was an incredibly natural music environment to be exposed to from such a young age. I used to hear my father improvising at the piano whilst he was composing and so I felt very comfortable doing this myself. It started off with just experimentation and improvisation but then I realised I enjoyed the actual composing and it seemed to come quickly and easily. Plus of course I was inspired by all the music listed above, and this made me want to create my own music.
Question 8: Are there many unique challenges in composing for games rather than TV/film and how do you approach them? – Posted by Stomp224
Richard: In a word, yes! There are many different challenges when composing for games as opposed to TV and film. The main difference is that films and TV exist within a linear medium, so in other words, you always know what is going to happen at a certain point in time, and can therefore create music for that particular moment. Games are non-linear, in other words interactive, so it is the player who is effectively controlling the writer, producer, director, cast, and composer of the game. So this means that whatever the player does, the music should react in some way or another and effectively score itself from within the music engine. Another major challenge is time and budget constraints, where developers and publishers in the games industry effectively want “Hollywood on a shoestring budget” so my team and I are always looking at options to produce Hollywood quality with limited funds and time. There are also a lot of technical challenges with regard to creating interactive music, and to be frank it is the challenges in general that attract me to the industry.
Question 9: How do you think Sound Design in games is going to evolve? – Posted by Stomp224
Richard: Over the years we have seen great improvements in the technical aspect of sound design. For example, we are now not so restricted by sound memory limitations (although there will be always some restriction) and nowadays we are hearing some very high quality sound design in games. Also, as CPU’s have become faster, we can now do more complex calculations with dedicated sound DSP processors for spatial audio, and techniques such as calculating occlusion, filtering and reverbs / delays. This means that currently the quality of sound design in games is very high. I think there are two main areas we will see evolve. The first one is in DSP technology, where we’ll be able to do incredible things such as synthesise ultra realistic sounds through physical and acoustic modelling, and also using DSPs to further treat the sampled sound sources with techniques such as convolution reverbs (which we are just starting to see come to consoles) and in effect ‘place’ a sound in a natural sampled acoustic space. The second area I feel will be in creative sound design, so rather than having a game designer or producer coming up with a list of sound requirements, the sound designer (or sound design team) will be given more creative freedom to simply do the ‘un-obvious’ thing and really give a whole new aesthetic to sound design in games.
Question 10: I’ve always wondered how composers work on a video game soundtrack. Do they compose before, during or after the game is designed? How do you personally proceed? – Posted by zepit
Richard: Excellent question! In general it is somewhere between the middle and end of a project. I have done projects in the past where I have been given the game almost finished, and on the other hand I have worked almost ‘blind’ from just a paper design document. So it can vary hugely depending on the genre of the game, and the producer and designers’ vision for the music. For the most part I would get involved anywhere from 6-12 months plus, prior to the game’s release. I prefer to work to playable versions of the game so that I can get a real feel for it, but of course I can work from game footage or design materials as well.
Question 11: I would love to know if anytime in the future we might see a CD of your best music out? – Posted by bcdcdude
Richard: What a great idea! Well I have been discussing a few things with SEGA recently. I would certainly like to release some of my older soundtracks for titles such as Sonic 3D, M:SR and things like that. A ‘best of’ CD would also be a great idea, and would give me the opportunity to re-visit, re-mix and re-work some of my older material, providing something unique for you guys. What do you think? Is there something that I have composed that is currently unreleased and you would like to see an official soundtrack CD? I’d love to know!
Question 12: Does there seem to be some special relation with you and the website UK: Resistance? They seem to love you very much! – Posted by bcdcdude
Richard: Hah hah!! Well we’re not married or anything like that! But I do love the crew at UK:R. They are absolute comedy geniuses and I just find their humour so incredibly funny. Plus the fact that they are the most die-hard SEGA loving fanboys around is also an endearing quality. What a perfect combination. I will have to ask them to cover my wedding or something like that. On second thought maybe that isn’t such a good idea!!!
Question 15: Lets say for some crazy reason all the SEGA characters got into a tennis match. Humour me here, I’m going somewhere with this…
Sonic plays Eggman, and it starts to rain, ad so play is stopped till the weather clears. Who would come out and sing a song to keep the crowds happy? Lets assume for this that Cliff Richard is unavailable on this day of course.
So Rich, which classic SEGA character would keep the massed crowds happy with their singing voice, and what would they sing? – Posted by SOL
Richard: Segata Sanshiro singing “Always look on the bright side of life” in Japanese would be quite amusing.
Or possibly Ryo Hazuki singing “Tubthumping” would also work!
Or Aqua singing Dreams Dreams from NiGHTsS In fact, there are countless possibilities here, I feel a celebrity covers album coming on!!!!
Question 16: So Mr Jacques, What does “You’re the one that makes me feel so high, Just like the diamonds in the sky” mean to you? X – Posted by DolphinsRock
Richard: Well that’s certainly going back a while!! The song “Diamond In The Sky” from Sonic R was created for the Radiant Emerald level in the game, which is basically made out of Chaos Emeralds all shining and glowing, so the inspiration is taken directly from the design of the level and the on-screen graphics. In addition to that, it does have a secondary, but my girlfriend is the only person who would understand!
Question 17: How much of a change have you noticed in the approach, skills required and nature of the game music industry since you began? Is it true that anyone wanting to get into this industry has to be a programmer and a musician!? – Posted by Ciaran McCrisken
Richard: No that’s not strictly true, although technical knowledge of how games work is a great advantage. My personal belief is that a composer who plays and understands games will always create a better score that one who is not a gamer. This is not to say that a composer should have to call him or herself a ‘hardcore gamer’ but how many film composers are there who have never seen a film? None. Exactly. A composer must understand the medium he or she is writing for – you would have thought that goes without saying, but you would be surprised at how many composers are either working in the industry or trying to get into the business and have never played a game.
I would say someone looking to get into the industry must have excellent musical ‘chops’. You must be properly schooled in music; people who can knock out a few tunes on eJay will not get very far when they are asked to create something truly original and unique. The skill set has also evolved over the years. For example, nowadays there are some great middleware tools available to composers working in the games industry for creating interactive music and sound design content. So personally speaking, this puts me in a great position because I understand the technology and toolset behind creative music for interactive media.
Question 18: Just like working with an orchestra for the first time on Headhunter was a massive experience, is there anything else you feel you want to do or achieve? – Posted by Ciaran McCrisken
Richard: I have been very lucky in that I have already achieved so many of my goals. Working with orchestras is sometimes criticised in the game business, because some publishers or developers believe that this is something the composer wants to do to either feel like they are important, or to jump on some kind of band wagon (or should that be orchestral wagon?!) The reality is that when a composer is asked to compose music in the orchestra style, this should always be recorded with an orchestra. Of course, this can be expensive but an experienced composer should always know how to get the best bang for the buck. Recently I have been contacted about scoring a major feature film. There wasn’t even an option of not recording the score with a live orchestra. So you see, I really try to push the boundaries of music within the games industry on every project I do. It’s true that many publishers and developers in the business still don’t appreciate the value that music has in a video game, but as I say it’s a ‘constant process of education’. Thankfully I am now in a fortunate position where I can ask for live recording budgets as my valued clients know that I am experienced in this area and this is how I can give them the best results, which is what we are all trying to achieve.
From a creative point of view there are still many things I would like to do within the industry. I would certainly love to score a Bond game. Many people in the press say my style is ideal for a Bond film so we shall just have to wait and see. I would also like to do a slightly off-the-wall score using a big band, maybe some kind of spy-based game set in the 60’s or 70’s. I like doing things differently, and since I am full of so many musical ideas, it would be great to work on a project where I work closely with the designer from an early point in the game development process, to ensure the music is a totally integral part of the game experience. I would also like to try my hand at creating a rhythm action / music game in the not-too-distant future. In short, my passion and enthusiasm for the industry tends to increase every day, and 15 years into the industry I am as enthusiastic about it as ever. There is always more to do!
Question 19: And…sorry, I have to…what is the best way to get into a job writing music for games? – Posted by Ciaran McCrisken
Richard: Well I have answered some of this question in the above posts, but in general I would normally give the following advice:
Take formal music training, study at least 2 main instruments as well as academic music studies such as composition, orchestration and arrangement, music history, theory, harmony, music technology and performance studies. This would include GSCE and A-level music, a music degree or equivalent, and experience in performing both as a soloist and within ensembles such as orchestras, jazz bands and rock bands. In terms of breaking into the industry, it is true that today it is an incredibly competitive business. The vast majority of composers are freelance-based these days, since there is no real need for game companies to have any in-house composers, and they also require the flexibility to hire different composers for different game projects, since each composer has a different music make up. I would also recommend brushing up on the business side of music, for example, understanding how music publishing works, learning to negotiate deals, and how to network and build up contacts. Although sending out demo CD’s / show reels of your work is still valid, it is worth noting that the games industry is one of the busiest and hardest working creative industry and many people (myself included) simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to trawl through endless demos, so having your show reel / music demos online are a more convenient way to pitch your work. Also, it is worth joining the Game Audio Network Guild and attending events such as the Develop Conference as well as reading industry publications such as Develop magazine and websites such as Gamasutra and Music4Games.Net. Don’t expect to go in at the top, since this would be unrealistic but be prepared to work your way up and possibly shadow another composer. For example I have other composers on my team who I work and collaborate with for certain projects, because I am always incredibly busy and get contacted about a great many projects. Above all, be open minded, be prepared to learn, be prepared to promote yourself without being arrogant or egotistical, and have fun!
Question 20: Is it true that you’ve released some music with West Records, the incredibly funky and utterly awesome breakbeat label? – Posted by Hatch
Richard: I have indeed had a couple of releases with West Records, under various aliases for obvious reasons. They are a great label, releasing superb breakbeat tracks. Think Jet Set Radio / The Club / Rez and if you’re into this kind of music, why not check them out.
Final note: SEGA fans everywhere would like to thank Richard for his contribution to video game music, and long may it continue.
Richard: Thank you! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all my friends and colleagues at SEGA, and all my fans who have been incredibly supportive throughout my career. I shall have to throw a huge concert / party in the future and invite you all!