James Stant
James Stant

The Sound Architect catches up with audio extraordinaire,  James Stant. James  is a British composer, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist. Originally from Leicestershire, he now resides in Cambridge and works as a Senior Audio Designer at Frontier Developments, a 260-person studio founded by Elite co-creator David Braben.

James’ passion for audio led him to study at Coventry University, where he gained undergraduate and master’s degrees in Music Composition. Upon completion of his academic studies, he went on to undertake non-audio roles at Codemasters and Blitz Games Studios, working on a number of high-profile console and mobile games.

During his in-house employment at Rare and Frontier, he has made audio contributions to many major gaming franchises, with credits including  Xbox One launch title ‘Zoo Tycoon’, ‘Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts’ and the BAFTA-winning ‘Kinect Sports’. James’ past freelance audio work also features a rich catalogue of games released across a variety of platforms, including titles published by Microsoft and Ubisoft.

In December 2013, he was listed as one of Develop Magazine’s ’30 Under 30’; an international selection of promising game development talents under the age of thirty.

Outside of game development, James remains an active performing musician and has played in front of crowds of thousands at some of the UK’s biggest venues and events, such as Nottingham Rock City, O2 Academy Birmingham 1/2/3, O2 Academy Oxford 1 and most recently, Download Festival at Donington Park. 


Read the full interview below: 


How did your journey into audio begin?

It all began with my first console game, Jurassic Park on the Sega Mega Drive (I still have it, complete with its £49.99 sticker on the box!). I would sit for hours playing it with my dad, captivated by the game’s dramatic music and iconic sound design. Around a year later, at six years of age, I started to learn to play the piano, the first of many instruments thanks to the unfaltering support of my amazing family.As a 12-year old, I entertained myself on the long family holiday car journeys to and from Scotland by using MTV Music Generator on my PSone. The ‘building blocks’ interface was so user-friendly and it became incredibly satisfying to hear a composition come together. It was moments like this where my two biggest passions of music and games started to entwine and shortly into my teenage years I knew I wanted to pursue a career in game audio.I went to Coventry University to study Music Composition, staying a further year to complete my master’s degree. Prior to my final year of my undergraduate degree, I secured an audio internship at Rare, working on Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on Xbox 360. After this I continued to undertake quite a few freelance projects during my time at university, making audio contributions to games such as Kinect Sports (Rare’s BAFTA-winning Xbox 360 release), Fusion: Genesis (an XBLA title developed by former Rare staffers) and Cloudberry Kingdom (a game that would go on to be published by Ubisoft on XBLA, PSN, WiiU and PC).

After I finished my academic studies, I was keen to find a salaried game development job. With audio opportunities so few and far between, I chose the traditional game development entry route of quality assurance. I spent over two years doing this (at Codemasters and Blitz Games Studios) and learnt a tremendous amount about the industry and other disciplines. Blitz also allowed their employees to work on indie projects outside of working hours, which provided me with the chance to continue gaining audio credits and experience.

Early in 2013, the chance to join Frontier Development’s audio department arose and it was an opportunity that I simply could not turn down. I went for my interview on my 25th birthday and a month I found myself relocating to Cambridgeshire!


How long have you been professionally composing/sound designing now?

I began freelancing in my first year as an undergraduate in 2006 and I started off small with an internet browser game that just needed a few sound effects. I gradually built up my portfolio and credits list from there, working on indie games with clients based all around the world. Once I gained my first AAA audio credit and had that first big game to my name, things started to snowball. Like everyone else, I faced the typical Catch-22 of needing experience to get experience, but persevere and you shall prevail.


What has been your proudest project so far?

As my first boxed product, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts remains a definite highlight, especially as I simply adored Rare’s IPs during my childhood. I started working there the next working day after Grant Kirkhope left to join Big Huge Games and as an admirer of his work growing up, I always wish I’d had the chance to work alongside him. On the plus side, I did move straight into his spacious, well-equipped room when I started at Twycross… which still had his signed Victoria Silverstedt photo pinned up on the wall!

Working on the Xbox One launch title Zoo Tycoon upon joining Frontier Developments was also a great period of my career as I have very fond memories of playing the original Blue Fang release on PC. The team at Frontier did an amazing job and it really was a huge privilege to be involved in the development of Microsoft’s latest franchise instalment.

I have no doubt that the project that I am currently working will establish itself as one of the proudest highlights of my career… but more details of that to come all in good time!


What has been your most challenging project so far?

Zoo Tycoon was the most challenging project I’ve worked on, but it was also equally the most rewarding. I joined Frontier six months before the game was to be released, so I was very keen to quickly get to grips with the game, the in-house tools and general company practices. I soon became heavily involved within the core audio team and took responsibility for the biome ambiences, various animals (bears, giraffes, parrots, large lizards, etc.), guest emotes and conversations, diegetic music emitter placement, park decorations and a variety of other features. I also lent my voice to some of the male park guests for some of the NPC emotes, so keep your ears open!


What would be your dream project to work on?

I’m so incredibly fortunate to have already worked on the audio for a Banjo-Kazooie title and a Zoo Tycoon title, so feel like I’ve already been gifted with my dream opportunities. Just being able to make a living working on game audio is an absolute dream come true in itself though and I will forever be indebted to people like Robin Beanland [Head of Music, Rare] and Jim Croft [Head of Audio, Frontier] for giving me such tremendous opportunities. I love going to work every single day and I never take this for granted. Maybe in the future I will get the chance to work on another franchise from my childhood. I grew up as a Sega Megadrive kid though, so maybe a reboot of a classic series? Ecco the Dolphin, Wiz n Liz, Streets of Rage, Kid Chameleon, etc.


What are your main sources of inspiration?

The composers that have personally inspired me the most over the years have been the ones who use melody so prominently in their music. Like many, film composers such as John Williams and Danny Elfman have been big inspirations, but the game composers of the nineties influenced me considerably too. Koji Kondo, Masato Nakamura, David Wise, Grant Kirkhope, Robin Beanland are just a few that spring to mind. There are also a few crossover composers that I greatly admire, including Michael Giacchino and Steve Jablonsky, who are both well known film composers also practicing in the field of game music.


What software do you use?

For composition, Pro Tools has always been my DAW of choice, and that’s not to say I think it’s superior to any other, that’s just the one that I feel most comfortable with. It has long been regarded as the industry standard, but I think there are some great workstations out there now challenging for supremacy. I’ve started using Cubase since arriving at Frontier and I must admit that I’ve really enjoyed using it. When you spend years getting to know one piece of software, it can be quite daunting to approach another, but I’ve been hugely impressed by Steinberg’s DAW. For sound design, I will use Pro Tools or Sony Vegas and use Sony Sound Forge for sound editing. For implementation, I definitely favour Audiokinetic’s Wwise. I have used XACT in the past, but I find Wwise such a pleasure to use. I have iZotope RX 2 for audio cleaning and it has is one of those tools that you pick up and suddenly start questioning just how you lived without it!


Do you mainly source real instruments or use VSTs for composition?

Of course it depends on the style of music I’m composing, but I will always try to integrate like instrument recordings where possible. Time and budget will often dictate the approach taken, but the use of live instruments really does breathe an incredible amount of personality into a piece. The amazing support of my family meant that I was able to learn a number of instruments growing up and although I perhaps ended up a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, I have developed a strong understanding of how to write for different instrument families.

VSTs can, however, be great tools for creation and encourage you to go beyond your comfort zone, especially if you are not restricted to a strictly acoustic instrumental palette. The likes of Spectrasonics’ Atmosphere offer a world of opportunities and really inspire you to explore new sonic avenues. It’s not overly expensive and it is a tremendous software synth that really fuels your imagination, whether you are a composer or sound designer.


Do you have any “go to” plug-ins?

Not hugely so; probably just the standard favourites of Waves, Guitar Rig, etc. I have quite a few new additions to my home setup that I still need to find time to familiarise myself with a little more. I went a bit ‘over-the-top’ during Waves’ last Black Friday Sale. 80%… I just couldn’t say no!


What is the usual process with your position where do you start?

It normally begins with a discussion with the project leads, identifying references and generally ensuring that a unified vision is shared. With a direction in mind, the next step is establishing an instrumental palette and deciding which timbres are going to suit the scenario, both contextually and emotionally. Beyond this, I will then start to look at metres, tempi, structures and harmony/modality, ensuring that the instrumentation is suitably complemented. From here, one normally just has to allow the creative juices to flow!


What advice would you give to aspiring sound designers and composers?

A degree is not always a prerequisite these days, but a lot of companies do prefer you to have one. If you are a Windows user, download Wwise/FMOD and work through tutorials on YouTube. They’re free to download, so there’s no excuse not to. Also, buy yourself a portable recorder and take it with you wherever you go. Using original recordings for your work will help you to distance yourself from the crowd relying solely on library source.  I strongly advise people not to write off quality assurance (games testing) as a route into the industry. There may be so many more specialist university courses these days, but QA is still a viable ‘foot-in-the-door’. I consider myself a much more rounded game developer as a result of it. Audio jobs these days really are few and far between (especially permanent positions), so be prepared to relocate if you wish to follow your dreams.


Any major Do’s and Don’ts?


– Be incredibly careful with what you post on social media sites. Signing an NDA may be the first thing you do, but don’t ever forget its importance.

– Customize your application for each role you apply for. If the job specification explicitly states that the role does not include composition, don’t send a portfolio full of music; you’ll be wasting the company’s time and your own.

– Work hard, network and be patient. Getting into the industry is not easy, so don’t give up.



– Burn your bridges. This industry is surprisingly small and audio is a remarkably close-knit community.

– Keep your work to yourself. Share it. Request feedback, listen to the advice you receive and act on it.

– Get into games development if you want a 9-5 job. The industry can be very intense as deadlines approach and there will be some late nights. I hope you like pizza!


What lies in the future for you?

2014 is proving to be an incredibly exciting year for me. I’m absolutely loving working at Frontier and with Zoo Tycoon released on both Xbox One and Xbox 360, the company is hard at work on Elite: Dangerous and some other unannounced  projects. The work that the company is doing is so inspiring and I consider myself so fortunate to be surrounded by such immensely talented colleagues.


Outside of Frontier, I’ve been very lucky to work with various international rock bands including Bowling For Soup, People On Vacation and Patent Pending, performing to thousands of people at some of the country’s best live music venues. This summer I played ‘cello with Bowling For Soup at Download Festival at Donington Park, which was an utterly incredible experience!


Finally, what would be your number one tip for people wanting to break into the games industry?

Make a game. Regardless of your discipline (audio/art/code/design), just make something. It doesn’t have to be the world’s largest MMO. Maybe just start small (indie/mods) and use these opportunities to be creative, gain experience and build your list of credits. You don’t have to do it alone; employers/clients will want to know that you can collaborate with other creatives and this is a great way to demonstrate this. Make something and, very importantly, finish it.


Stay up to date with James at the following links:

Official Site: James Stant

Twitter: @JamesStant 

Facebook: James Stant


We hope you enjoyed that as much as we did, and look forward to more interviews coming soon! Check out the interviews page for more fantastic insights into the world of audio!

The Sound Architect



Interview by Sam Hughes


Uploaded 29/09/14


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