The world of video games is expanding more and more to give composers even more freedom to experiment and create musical worlds that other mediums such as films and television prohibit at times. Video games have also helped expand careers and in one particular case, introduce us to Oscar Winner Michael Giacchino of "Disney's Up!", and composer of "Star Trek" and the hit series, "Alias" and "Lost."
That leads us to composer Jeff Broadbent who is in a similar position of exploding someday soon to become an elite composer like Michael Giacchino. Jeff is a multitalented composer who upon interviewing him, is not afraid to take chances with the projects that he's given and enjoys what he does best and that is write great music for projects he's involved in. Electronic Arts' latest "Dawngate" is a great example of Jeff's talents for this fantasy role playing game.
For this special interview, Jeff candidly shares with me his thoughts on the game, the process on how the game was scored, working on a video game and his future upcoming projects. So sit back and enjoy Jeff's engaging thoughts.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.
JB: From an early age I always had a love for music. I started playing the piano around 7 years old, and shortly thereafter starting learning the alto saxophone as well. I performed in the California all-state honor band and was also an Oregon state saxophone solo finalist. When I was a teenager I studied jazz piano and improvisation. This got me interested in composition. Learning about music theory and improvisation was actually my “gateway” into composition. I enjoyed listening to film and video game music and also composing my own pieces. I later studied composition at Brigham Young University (Master’s degree), and film scoring at UCLA. I’ve always had a love of video games, film, and television, so composing for these media is a great fit!
Let’s talk about your recent work on the Electronic Arts video game “Dawngate.” What got you interested in this project?
JB: Audio director Caleb Epps approached me about this project, and filled me in on the details with concept art, back-story, etc. I was really inspired by the visuals and artwork – it was very vibrant and colorful. It also had a bit of an Eastern/Asian influence that I thought was very cool. All of this got me thinking about how fun it would be to compose a score that likewise was very colorful and vibrant. I demoed for the project and am happy to say I was selected to work on it!
Did the game’s producers want a big orchestral score that would capture the moods of the game?
JB: The game developers did want the use of the orchestra, but also additional instrumentation that would make the score unique and well-fitting to the game. Caleb and I discussed quite a bit what instrumentation would be best fitting to Dawngate. Eventually we decided upon a mix of orchestra combined with exotic world instruments (like Eastern flutes, plucked instruments, Tibet metal percussion and more), and even blended in some organic nature-inspired synthesizer ambiences and pulses to give a modern touch.
How difficult was it for you to come up with the theme for the score that would lead to the final result?
JB: It was actually not difficult - the interesting thing with the whole Dawngate score is that I got into the groove of composing and so the music came to me relatively easily. I think this was because I was very inspired by the art and story of the game, and that helps the creativity a lot. When composing a theme I will often play it on the piano first to work out the melody and harmonies. I find that if I can create a theme that will be interesting just by itself on the piano then I have the “seed” of a theme that can be fully orchestrated and expanded upon for the full version.
Did you find it challenging that your score would have to compete with the short scenes or transitions throughout the game?
JB: Not particularly – actually for Dawngate I composed a number of short musical transitions that work to connect the different gameplay states. For example, when the game player turns the tides of the competition and starts winning the match, the music transitions to more victorious music. A short musical transition helps make this change more seamless.
How much music did you end up recording for the game itself?
JB: So far I have composed approximately 40 minutes of music or so, if we count the low and high-intensity music layers. Each gameplay music track has both a low and high-intensity layer. These layers have different instrumentation and tension levels so the music can adapt to the level of combat during the game.
From your point of view, what were the recording sessions like?
JB: Actually, there were no recording sessions for Dawngate! The music was composed with virtual instruments. But I’m honored that you thought it was live orchestral music (smiles). I try my best to use high-quality virtual instruments and fine-tune the mix so it sounds as realistic as possible.
Will there be a soundtrack album for it?
JB: We are discussing the possibility of releasing a soundtrack, and it sounds like the developers are interested in this, which I’m happy about! For the soundtrack album I would re-work the tracks a bit to make them appropriate album cuts (for example blending the low/high intensity layers I mentioned so that the listener can experience them both).
What is that process that you go through composing for a video game?
JB: I start by talking with the developers and learning as much about their game as I can. I view concept art, read about the characters and story, watch gameplay videos, and basically immerse myself in the game.
After that I start to brainstorm musical ideas that can work for the game. I usually think in terms of sonic colors/instrumentation first – I will write down different instruments I think will work for the score, with the aim to make the sonic palette unique and fitting to the game. After that I like to compose the most important music cues first, which are usually the themes. I find that if I create the themes first it gives me melodic material which I can then weave into the rest of the score. This helps the music be more memorable and also better developed. After composing the theme I will move on to the in-game music, progressing track by track. The audio director will test the music in-game, provide me with feedback, and I modify as needed. Once the tracks are approved they are integrated into the game.
Was it hard for you to come up with thematic material for the games you’ve done in the past?
JB: Not particularly – I usually start by thinking what kinds of emotions I want the theme to convey, and then select the appropriate instrumentation and also harmonies I might use. Then I sit down at the piano and experiment with various approaches – at this time I usually write some different ideas on sheet music. Then I rework the theme, and after it’s notated via pencil-and-paper I move to the computer to produce it with the full instrumentation.
Do you think the world of video games has become a great outlet for composers such as yourself and many others to expand and write music that would otherwise be hampered by films or television?
JB:Yes, certainly! Video games is a growing industry; I was reading that it actually makes more money than the film industry now. There is also a large breadth of game projects, from smaller independent games to online games to big console games. So there’s a lot of opportunity for composers on many different fronts.
Do you think it is easy to write music for a video game as opposed to that of a television show or film?
JB: I would say they each have their own unique set of challenges. A challenge of film and television is creating music that lines up well with the scene and the various emotional cues of the visuals. In video games it is often required to write music in different interactive layers (such as low/medium/high intensity) so that the music can respond to the gameplay conditions. Video game music often needs to be action-heavy and exciting, whereas film and television music can require many different dramatic styles such as slow emotional music, tension music, full action music, and everything in-between.
You’ve also done work for movie trailers as well. Can you please tell us all about that?
JB: I’ve composed music for film trailers, primarily working with trailer music companies such as Position Music and Warner Chappell. Film trailer music needs to be very large in size, be immediate and full of impact, and have lots of emotional ramp-ups for the on-screen builds. The music has to grab the audience from the beginning and hold their attention for the length of the trailer. As such, the music needs direct motifs and themes that can be established during the short duration of the trailer.
Is composing for a movie trailer as challenging as writing for a game or a movie considering the length of a trailer is usually at around two and a half minutes?
JB: In this case I would also say that the challenges are different and unique. With trailer music, as I described, the music needs to have immediate impact, it needs to grab the listener and hold them for the roller coaster ride of the trailer. While composing for trailers it’s important to have a good sense of how to build the music in size and intensity as the trailer progresses. Also using unique sounds and “ear candy” is helpful in trailers to provide the attention-grabbing effect they require. In a film or game you have the entire length of the movie/game to develop themes/etc. but in a trailer it all must be very concise, immediate, and direct.
What is your favorite score that you’ve written to date?
JB: Tough question! If I had to pick I would say it’s split between Dawngate and I Am Alive (Ubisoft). I really enjoyed Dawngate because of the exotic music palette – combining orchestra with eastern elements, and also some modern synth touches. I also enjoyed the combination of ambient, combat, and thematic music in Dawngate, and the chance to write some beautiful and ethereal music cues.
I Am Alive is a favorite of mine because as a video game it’s quite dramatic. The narrative involves a man in a post-apocalyptic world searching for his family. For this score I had the chance to compose a lot of sound design-inspired music, using different ambiences and unusual instruments. So artistically it was very creative and satisfying for me.
Name a film that you would love to have written the score for?
JB: Hmmm, another tough question! I would say E.T. would have been a great film to score. The movie has such magic and wonder, and is a fantastic “canvas” for thematic development and emotional music. Having a great film or game to score really helps the composer get inspired.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
JB: A couple of games I composed scores for that are currently in beta phase are LEGO: Legends Of Chima Online (Warner Bros) and Tom Clancy’s EndWar Online (Ubisoft). For Legends Of Chima I composed a lot of epic and fun music. The video game accompanies the television show, so it was a lot of fun to work on this franchise. EndWar Online is a spin-off of sorts from the original EndWar console game. For this project I composed different music for each of the three factions (Russian, European, and USA). This was interesting because each faction has its own music style: Russia uses dark orchestra and choir, Europe is more hi-tech and modern, and USA has rock guitars and aggressive percussion. I’m working on several other projects at the moment but they are still currently undisclosed!
I really want to thank you once again Jeff for granting me this interview and I’m really honored to meet you.
JB: Thanks very much! It was great to meet you as well and take part in the interview.
Very special thanks to Jeff for being so gracious with his time for this interview and being such a great sport in navigating through a minefield of difficult questions. I least I think they were. Thanks Jeff!
Join the DAWNGATE open beta at http://www.dawngate.com.
Please feel free to visit Jeff's official website @ http://jeffbroadbent.com to check out his latest and upcoming projects.
Here is Jeff Broadbent's Bio:
"Jeff Broadbent is a Hollywood Music In Media Award-winning and Global Music Award-winning composer whose passion for music and sound has been heard around the world in numerous video games, television programs, trailers, and films.
Broadbent has composed music for some of the leading video game companies in the world including Activision, Warner Bros., Sony Online, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and NetEase. His unique and authoritative musical style combines the power and depth of the orchestra with cutting-edge synthesizers and sound design elements, making him a very unique, adaptable and versatile composer. Such musical diversity is evident in Sony Online’s PLANETSIDE 2 in which Broadbent fused elements of orchestra, rock, and electronic genres, winning him a Hollywood Music In Media Award for Best Video Game Score and a Global Music Award of Merit. Jeff’s ambient sound-design inspired score for Ubisoft’s I AM ALIVE resulted in rave press reviews, an Outstanding Production Winner Award (Square Enix Music Online), and an additional Hollywood Music In Media Award nomination. Broadbent’s adrenaline-fueled action music has been heard in blockbuster film video games such as TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (Soundtrack Geek Awards - Best Video Game Score Nomination), EXPENDABLES 2, and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.
“The power of music to instill a wide variety of emotions is unrivaled. It is a very visceral art, one that has the ability to speak to us on many levels. I have a great passion for music, and believe that it plays an integral part in human existence. My dream is to share this passion with others.”
In addition to Broadbent’s work for video games, his music has been featured on prime-time television for networks including CBS, MSNBC, FOX, the Discovery Channel, VH1, and more. In 2010 Jeff composed the score for the feature film THE GRAY AREA (winner of the Platinum Narrative Feature Award). In addition to his work for film, television, and video games, Broadbent has composed production and trailer music for some of the world’s leading music houses including WARNER CHAPPELL, POSITION MUSIC, SOUND IDEAS and more.
With the ability to produce large scale works for live performers or realistic sampled scores (electronic mockups), Jeff's diverse musical abilities can serve a variety of projects. As a sound designer, Jeff's abilities and extensive sound effects library make him a great choice for your sound design needs."