The Sound Architect speaks to Lance Hayes. Lance is an award winning composer working in media, advertising, television, and video game soundtracks. Some of his latest projects include composing and producing music for Nike+ Kinect Fitness, the Stranded Music for the mega hit video game Gears of War 3, music for Xbox Fitness and scoring the original soundtracks to the sensational Forza Motorsport series including the Xbox One launch title Forza Motorsport 5. Additional clients include Activision, The Discovery Channel, Warner Brothers, Best Buy, National Geographic, Harpo Inc., Microsoft, MTV, VH1 and many others.
He also teaches the Game Audio and Composition track for both the Summer Intensive and the Masters of Music program at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program as well as writing a game audio focused blog for Andertons Music UK.
In upcoming events, Lance is looking forward to talking about the process of composing, producing and implementing the FM5 OST at the GDC 2014 Highlighted Session titled Checkered Flag: Forza Motorsport 5 Soundtrack Post-mortem.
Read our interview below:
First of all, thank you very much for speaking with us Lance, it’s great to gain an insight into such a creative mind.
Thank you for the kind words, it’s my pleasure.
You’ve had a fantastic journey into music composition, how did that all begin?
I come from a very musical family. My mother was a violin prodigy who went on to become a section leader in the Seattle Symphony where my step-father was the principle percussionist.
I was steeped in this musical tradition, rhythm and melody, from an early age, both at home and going to concerts and rehearsals at what is now Seattle’s McCaw Hall. I spent a lot of time in both the audience and back stage, sometimes in lieu of babysitting. I joke that I’d been to more performances, operas and ballet by the time I graduated grade school than most people get to see in a lifetime.
During that time I studied trumpet privately and became interested in piano, composition, voice work as well as synthesizers and studio technology. I started writing music on my own when I was about 11. By high school I was playing trumpet in school and youth orchestras, bands, singing in vocal jazz, playing synths and singing in pop bands as well as musical theatre. Looking back, that was a great time!
My work as a composer blossomed with my interest in technology and by my late teens I had assembled a modest four track home studio. I spent most of my 20s writing music for theatre, low budget indie film soundtracks and fronting bands in Seattle at night. I learned about promotion and was refining my production chops during that period while recording band projects in my studio.
By my 30s I had all but abandoned my hardware to work with soft synths and in turn I had success with my music being licensed for TV, DVDs and trailers, most notably, early on, for The Matrix sequels.
Did you always want to work for games?
My initial composition ambitions, were to work in film or symphonic composition but that was before game audio was really a known quantity to me. It was later after my singer song writer phase and finding success producing production music out of my studio in the early 2000s that I rediscovered my roots in game audio. Having been a long time gamer going back to the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and C64 days, I had never stopped playing games.
But it was living in the Northwest that exposed me to the expanding game development field. Nearly every friend I had was in games or knew someone in games so around 2005 I went to my first GDC looking to learn about the game audio industry.
It was eye opening, and I had a fantastic time! I met some amazing people right off the bat and everyone in the community was very welcoming. That really informed my love of the game audio world, and I’ve tried to pass that along.
You’ve had quite a lot of success, tell us about some of your highlights?
The last year has been a remarkable and humbling one for me. I’ve had two soundtracks commercially released, I did my first 7.1 surround sound design and music mixes for games and was featured as a composer on three titles.
Being principle composer on Forza Motorsport 5 while it’s being promoted as the day one launch title on the Xbox One probably stands out as a top event in recent memory. Having my music featured in national advertising for Forza and Xbox One as well as interviews and lecturing has certainly been a rare opportunity.
What would you say was your most challenging project so far?
Most music projects have challenges, usually time dependant, but for sheer sweat and pressure, working on a launch title was an amazing experience. For FM5 we were writing quickly and so much was being revealed about what the new box and the related software could do during development. It was a moving target and there wasn’t much room for error, given the high stakes and the pre-determined launch window. We had to get a lot of stuff just right, the first time through.
Are there any of the projects you’ve worked on that you would say are your proudest so far?
I’m very proud of many of the games soundtracks I’ve worked on. I’m proud of the work I’ve done for various smaller developers over the years because I’ve had an absolute smash working on the range of music that indie soundtracks demand. Obviously, that I’ve had a chance to be a part of the Forza series has been remarkable and humbling.
What would your dream project be to work on?
I’m absolutely thrilled to have worked on the projects I have so far. In their own way they’ve all fulfilled dreams for me. Looking forward, something that I’d love to tackle would be a strong character driven story or something that I haven’t even considered. I’m really open to new experiences that will challenge me and allow me to grow as a composer.
What is your usual approach when you begin a project?
Most projects start out with me sitting down and listening to the developer, discussing the scope as well as central concepts and themes for the project. We usually look over art, video, and if there is a playable build, we go through some of the game. Then I start composing and iterating.
I wrote a piece that discusses this process in some detail for my “Next Level” professional blog series over at Anderton’s Music UK that’s been nominated for a Game Audio Network Guild Award this year. http://www.djdm.com/?p=960
What software/hardware do you usually use?
I’m running a Neumann KH 120A 7.1 surround system with an RME FireFace UFX plus ARC, which really is dreamy. I have a number of surface, performance and keyboard controllers including a Mackie MCU + Control Extender, C4 as well as an M-Audio Oxygen 88 as well as some vintage keys like my Juno 106, D-50 and some rack gear. My main DAW is an ADK custom 4U packed to the gills with TBs of SSD and magnetic drives, and an overclocked Intel processor. I usually roll my own PCs but my time has gotten pretty crunchy over the last couple of years and the ADK has proven to be been a good investment.
My software load out consists of Sonar X3 Producer, Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate, nearly everything from East West the various iterations of the Arturia V Collection, Propellerheads Reason 7, Vienna Ensemble Pro 5 as well as Sony SoundForge 6, (I can’t quit you!), and various game audio middleware solutions.
Any go-to plug-ins?
Musically I’m really in to the Parsec FM synth by Propellerhead. I really love how fast you get really imaginative musical sounds from it and it’s all over my latest electronic work. EWQL Piano’s Bösendorfer is a favourite in the studio and sound design-wise I’m enjoying Melted Sounds Whoosh right now. It’s a great Doppler tool if you need some unique content quickly.
Is there anything that you’ve written that you hold close?
It’s funny, I’ve been getting that a lot lately. I don’t know that I have a favourite track. I have some that are historically significant to me and ones that mean something to me in the current time frame but I’ve written a lot of music and I find that over the course of decades my mistakes don’t sound so bad and in some cases the work I was most excited about is not as fantastic in retrospect.
I try not to dwell on my musical past too much. Moving forward and being aware that I have this history of creating music that people enjoy is certainly a good feeling. Working on new music is the most satisfying part of it all for me.
What advice would you give aspiring composers?
Be flexible about your goals. You never know when recording a project for someone else or doing music for a low budget project might lead. That is to say, try not to turn down work!
Any major Do’s and Don’ts?
Do be honest with yourself. Don’t pretend to understand things you don’t. People would rather you ask questions than deadhead off in the wrong direction. But if you do, try to remember the old Turkish proverb, “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back”.
What lies in the future for you now?
I’ve got several unannounced composing projects, I’m teaching graduate students in my Game music and Audio class at Pacific NW Film Scoring program and I’m excited to give my first lecture at GDC 2014! Our talk, “Checkered Flag: Forza Motorsport 5 Soundtrack Post-mortem”, that I’m giving with Microsoft Audio Lead Chase Combs, has been selected as a featured Audio Track lecture and to be part of GDC Flash Forward on Wednesday.
Basically, if I had to guess, it looks like lots of music, writing and talking are in my future.
I appreciate you thinking of me for this interview series, thank you.
You can keep up to date on Lance’s activity at his home page: djdm.com
Hope you enjoyed the interview!
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