The Sound Architect caught up with composer, Tom Salta. Tom has received widespread industry acclaim for his world-class produced scores featured in video game titles such as Halo: Spartan Strike, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo: Spartan Assault (G.A.N.G. Best Original Soundtrack Award), Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, From Dust, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Red Steel (IGN Award for Best Original Score), Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X series and original songs and adaptations for the world’s #1 dance game series, Just Dance. In addition to these scoring assignments, Salta has created music for numerous national commercials and ad campaigns for companies like Coca-Cola and the Marines, as well as music for Hollywood film trailers.
Following his recent collaborations with 343 Industries on the re-imagined soundtrack to Halo 2: Anniversary (released as part of the Halo: Master Chief Collection) and award-winning original score for Halo: Spartan Assault, Salta returns to the iconic Halo video game series to provide an original score for Halo: Spartan Strike, the first Halo video game to be released on Apple mobile devices.
His second solo outing in the Halo universe, Spartan Strike continues the legacy sound of the series – featuring ethereal choral arrangements, piano motifs, synth ambience and sweeping sci-fi orchestral compositions (recorded with the New York Film Chorale and Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra) that are distinctly identifiable and authentic to the franchise. Expanding on his Spartan Assault score, Salta further develops his contemporary musical voice in the Halo universe with original sounds to complement the musical blueprint of the first trilogy, combined with a full modern sound production to create a new, classic Halo soundtrack. The Halo: Spartan Strike soundtrack is available now for digital download on iTunes, Xbox Music, and all other digital music services.
Read the full interview below:
First of all thanks for speaking to The Sound Architect™ Tom, it’s great to have you.
My pleasure, thank you for having me.
You have worked on some amazing projects; tell us how you began your journey into composing for games?
Unbeknownst to me at the time, it began when I started playing video games in the late ‘70s. Prior to composing for video games, I was a producer and songwriter working with recording artists since 1989. After some years of touring and studio work I was looking for another challenge and outlet to develop my own musical voice. This was around the same time that the original Halo came out and it inspired me to get into writing music-to-picture and ultimately to focus on my passion for video games. I created the album “2 Days or Die” (under my artist name Atlas Plug) which was written and produced for use in film, television and video games. The album attracted a lot of interest from video game studios and after several high-profile music placements I started receiving offers to score games, including Need for Speed Underground 2, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands… These titles led me to where I am today.
What would you say has been your most challenging project so far?
Each one has its own unique set of challenges, which is part of what keeps it interesting, taking me out of my comfort zone and helping my growth as a composer. But perhaps one of the more recent challenges I’ve undertaken was the first original score I composed for a Halo game, Halo Spartan Assault. It was a first in several ways…the first time I had to create an original score that fit into the Halo universe and resonated with the fans. And it was also the first top-down shooter style Halo game released on multiple platforms including mobile. This provided a new creative challenge but in the end, everyone seemed very happy with the outcome.
Are there any that you would say are your proudest?
It is immensely gratifying being part of the Halo universe. This is the franchise that inspired me to pursue a composing career in the games industry. So for me, to have contributed original scores to the franchise that Halo fans around the world are resonating with is an absolute dream come true.
Do you have any favorite software/hardware that you use?
The software that I use every day, and have been using since 1991 is Logic. In fact, I was using its predecessor, Notator Logic on an Atari ST before that. It’s what I use to create all my scores so it’s incredibly important.
What are your favorite instruments to write for, and to use to write?
I am a keyboard player so that is what I primarily use to express all my ideas. I love writing for lots of different kinds of instruments, both real and synthetic. Perhaps one of my favorite parts to create are percussion tracks. It’s always come very naturally to me and I ultimately spend lots of time crafting my percussion parts. It’s just very enjoyable for me.
Halo: Spartan Strike is your most recent game score. How did you begin writing for this project?
Since Halo: Spartan Strike was the sequel to Halo: Spartan Assault, which I also scored, I had a head start in terms of how to approach it. My first priority was to create as many strong potential themes and motifs as possible that I could use throughout the score.
What stood out to you with this title as opposed to the other Halo titles you’ve worked on?
I was pretty amazed at how ambitious the game design was. The graphics are truly eye-catching… lots of detail, incredible textures and lush environments. The variety of gameplay is also a step up from Spartan Assault as well as all the new vehicles and environments.
Did you use any interesting or unusual techniques?
One of the first things I did was capture the sound effects from Spartan Assault so that I would be able to create music that fit seamlessly into the dense fabric of constant explosions and gunfire. This was something I never tried before to this degree… I would be playing all these intense sound effects in the background and then start composing. It gave me an entirely different perspective and I think it worked out really well.
What do you hope the audience feels when listening to this soundtrack?
I hope that they enjoy getting lost in the Halo universe. I hope they become immersed in the experience and are reminded of why they love Halo games so much.
How does writing music for Halo titles differ from other titles, such as your work on the Ghost Recon series or Red Steel?
Halo was the first time that I scored a franchise where the sound was pre-established. Ghost Recon and Red Steel were very different music palettes where I was responsible for creating an original sound for each instalment I worked on.
When writing for so many game titles, how do you keep each one “fresh” and original?
I find that when I really immerse myself into the universe of each project, there’s a unique identity that emerges. My job is to support and enhance the vision of the developer with music.
Where would you say you mainly draw your inspiration from?
Certainly, a large part of my inspiration comes from a lifetime of listening to and writing in a broad spectrum of musical genres. I think all of us have a “creative pool” in which to draw from when we’re inspired. Another approach that I find useful when I’m starting on a new project is to find out where the project’s creators drew their inspiration. Often times, it helps me to define the original sources that inspired them so I can tap into the musical essence that they might have not even been aware of.
Was there anything that was a particular challenge?
I suppose that when you’re working on a top-down shooter like Spartan Strike that, by nature of its design, has consistent action and is limited by its visual perspective, it becomes more challenging to find different ways of musically adding dimension and a wide spectrum of moods…which for me are a big part of Halo’s musical identity.
What advice would you give to aspiring game composers?
My company is named “Persist Music” for a reason. It was inspired by one of my favorite quotes by Calvin Coolidge talking about persistence: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I would have never gotten to this point in my composing career without persistence. If you really want to succeed, never give up.
Any major DOs or DON’TS?
Absolutely…I find that a lot of beginners fall into the trap that when they’re working on a project, they expect that everything should revolve around the music and everyone should be immediately responsive to them. Once you’ve worked in the industry long enough, you really begin to understand what a team effort it is to create a game, a movie, a TV show etc.
So it’s important to put your ego completely aside and become part of the team. Be someone that’s pleasant to work with all the time, especially under pressure. That’s when people’s true colors emerge.
What lies in the future for you now?
Some very exciting things that, unfortunately, I’m not able to discuss yet. But perhaps Microsoft won’t be alarmed if I were to say that you’ll probably hear me in some future Halo-related projects.
Thanks again for speaking to us Tom, I hope you enjoyed our interview!
My pleasure, thank you.
We hope you enjoyed the interview! Don’t forget to check out some other fantastic guests over at the Interviews page.
Interview by Sam Hughes
Like what we do? Don’t forget to sign up for the Newsletter!
To keep going and bring you even better and higher quality content (plus getting more awesome writers involved) we’ve set up a Patreon page!
We hope to continue giving back to the audio community and with a little support we can go a long way.
Whether you donate, share the link or just read the interviews we’re very happy you stopped by and psyched that you like our content!
Thanks a lot!
Sam – Lead Editor