Composer Interview: Marc Canham

Composer Marc Canham

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Marc. You’ve scored the music to a number of games including Far Cry 2, The Secret World and InFamous: Second Son. Overall, what do you find is the most difficult aspect of scoring for video games?

It’s a pleasure…The trickiest part of scoring video games is the same thing that makes then unique – the interactivity. Writing music that has to morph itself around the player’s decisions is a musical 3D puzzle and can prove to be a real challenge – but extremely satisfying when it works!

How do you approach the video game scoring process? Do you start with themes you’d like to develop, create a palette of sounds to use, determine where needs/doesn’t need music etc.?

I try and deliver a lot of the emotion in my music with the sound palette – the combination of sounds and textures has become very important to me over the years. Interesting ensembles of sounds and instruments helps create the feel for me – then I let loose with the melodies or motifs.

InFamous: Second Son deals with a 24 year-old graffiti artist in Seattle who develops supernatural powers after meeting a “conduit” (another person with Supernatural powers). How did you develop the score to reflect these themes?

We started more with the idea of creating a sound for Seattle. Something that summed up Seattle in the context of Second Son – a distressed and unpredictable sound, and one that reflected the conflict between the conduits and the DUP. Creating this sound took quite a while and we played around with several ideas. This heavy manipulation of sounds that we recorded then destroyed, then built back up in to an unpredictable and imprecise wall of sound. We wanted to sound like the music was just about holding itself together, and could fall apart at any stage – I guess we were keen to keep the mistakes and oddities of the recording process centre stage to give the score a ragged feel overall.

You’ve also scored a number of films including The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Final Girl, When The Lights Went Out etc. What are the main differences in the scoring process of a video game, compared to a film?

Films are linear – and as a composer you have a huge amount of control crafting the score around the images. Video games are interactive which opens up a whole new technical aspect of dissecting your music to react to the player – and this involves collaborating with the studios making the game in a very different way to film. In films the questions you ask yourself is “does this compliment the emotion”, in video games you ask “does this compliment the emotion and does it work interactively”.

You collaborated with Philip Glass and Paul Hartnoll on ‘Chime’ – tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

I was asked to get involved with the video game charity One Big Game, and one of the first titles they wanted me to produce the soundtrack for was Chime. This involved speaking to several artists and collaborating in getting new music, or versions of existing music to manipulate in to the game play. Music was an essential part of Chime and a real honor to be working with some amazing artists – the end results were really effective.

Although they will never be able to achieve a sound as realistic as live players, sample libraries have come on a lot over the past number of years. Have you found the gap between live players and sample libraries starting to close?

Certainly, the gap has closed with larger libraries and better recordings, but the gap is still significant in terms of what sounds better in terms of performance.

A number of our readers live outside of the major film/game development hubs. Do you think its necessary to move to London/LA etc. if you want to become successful in your field?

Blockbuster films tend to have a home in either London or LA, but with games the industry is much more spread out. Big games are made all over the world, which means there isn’t really a geographical epicenter for the industry, and as a result people are not too fussed where you are based. In film there’s much more competition in a smaller geographical space. I like to think if you’re talented and persistent you will eventually succeed to some level – if you are starting out I would focus firstly on you as a creative force – what makes you unique? And then maybe consider your location.

What are you currently working on at the moment?

Right now I’m on a PS4 title, preproduction for a big film being shot in the summer… and a docu-album-concert type project that is my first non-sound to picture piece for over 10 years – it’s called Territories and involves quite a bit of travel and collaboration. Unfortunately I can’t let on to what the video game and film titles are or I will be murdered in my sleep.

What does your daily routine consist of?

Wake up, drink coffee, take kids to school, drink more coffee, enter the studio, wait for the magic to happen, leave the studio, eat, sleep.

Having worked on over 100 soundtracks so far, you’ve had a large output of music to date. How do you stay inspired and keep your music sounding constantly fresh?

I love listening to music – especially music that takes me out of my comfort zone and presents new ideas. Typically I start the day randomly flipping through music that’s out there from lesser know artists – very often music I wouldn’t choose to listen to for pure pleasure. But the fact is, that in every genre or sub genre of any style of music there are people who demonstrate amazing talent at what they do – whether that’s a technical skill, a melodic skill, a sound-design skill… so as an artist it’s important we appreciate those talents and learn from them.

Where do you see the video game scoring industry in 5-10 years time? Much the same, or much changed?

More popular and on a par with how film composers are often regarded. Talent-wise, there’s immense talent and creativity already in the video game world, resulting in great music productions. I have no fear for its future… it’s an exciting time.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?

I mention it earlier… but if you can work hard on creating your own voice and style of composition then that’s the best thing you can do for yourself as an artist – after that comes a huge amount of persistence and ability to get over the knock-backs that are all part of the job. Also, get involved with as many cool projects as you can, collaborating with interesting people at a similar stage to you – directors, producers and so on… you might not get much if any budget at the start of your career, but if you do exceptional work that will change!

Can you recommend any useful books on composition/mastering/business etc. that you’ve read and enjoyed?

Generally I’m not very consistent at reading books about the world I’m in – one of the few music industry books I have made it to the end of is ‘Mixing with your Mind’ by Michael Stavrou. It’s a very alternative approach to recording and mixing audio that resonates with how I work… It probably would have helped to read more business books though.

Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?

That’s a tough one…. The sensible answer here is my Mac Pro as it’s the hub of the studio in reality. The more nostalgic answer would be my Prophet 5 synthesizer – but I could quickly put my OP-1 synth in a pocket also as it’s so small… and maybe 1 guitar – my ’67 Mosrite. I could just about carry and run with all that. I would just have to mourn over my other instruments.

Written by: admin

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

Film and Game Composers offers a wide range of interviews, reviews, guides and tutorials for composers and musicians who are interested in writing music for film, TV and video games.

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