Andrew Skeet on ClassicFM.com

What's it like to rework the score for Tetris or arrange the music for Modern Warfare 4? You posed your questions to composer and orchestrator Andrew Skeet, master of video game music.

Andrew Skeet

Gamers and classical music enthusiasts in their droves joined our web chat with Andrew Skeet on Wednesday morning at 9am, where Tim Lihoreau took a moment out of his busy schedule to talk all things video game music. With so many huge video game fans posing their questions (including one named 'Get Video Games Music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame'), you got to the heart of reworking video game scores - and even asked Tim a few questions!

Tim Lihoreau: MORNING! And a huge warm welcome to Andrew Skeet, music maestro extraordinaire generally, but web chatting to us today about the music he has been involved in for video games.

Sophie Louise Kimmitt: Hi Andrew, we are an A level music group at Ockbrook school, very looking forward to chatting with you!

Laura Kate Chapman: Me too, can't wait!

Oh no! Some properly educated music people already - I'm in trouble. Don't ask me to do your music history questions!

Sophie Louise Kimmitt: Oh no we wont ask you that! But we were wondering where you get your inspirations from, I myself would love to go into composition, so any tips would be greatly appreciated?

 

Interesting question. I think this would be different for every composer but for me it has something to do with real musicians and situations. I mean for me it's not really looking out of the window at a beautiful mountain but a story (like a film or a play) or a group of players needing something to play or that kind of thing. Quite practical. What sort of music do you write Sophie?



Sophie Louise Kimmitt: I love writing for film and television, I am currently completing an extended project qualification and have decided to take a wildlife trailer and compose my own music to it, I have recently finished it and am hoping to get it performed by a local orchestra. Were you always interested in programatic music?

 


No I wasn't! I went through a very self-important phase when I was at the Royal College of Music (some of the musicians I work with may say I haven't changed!) and I wanted to be a terribly serious contemporary classical composer. Didn't really suit me though!



Sophie Louise Kimmitt: I have tried to write contemporary music however I don't seem to have the same flare for it as I do when writing programatic music, but I would love to experience different styles of composition when I leave 6th form, maybe my style will change?

 

I'm sure your style will change - maybe you'll have a few styles - don't want too many though or you'll forget who you are. It's OK to have more than one though.


Laura Kate Chapman: Hi Andrew, here at Ockbrook School we were wondering what kind of technology you use when recording your music?

For the video games albums it's quite high tech; we were in Air Lyndhurst studios in London - so that is recording to Pro-Tools using loads of very high end microphones, and as good a recording room as you can get. I use Logic Pro at home running lots of software plug-ins and samples which is what I used to do the electronic parts of the album. I'm reasonably technical but I prefer technology that you can immediately see what it does - big buttons marked "distress" is the kind of thing.

Tim Lihoreau: Very jealous. Air Lyndhurst is, for me, a more favoured place to record than Abbey Road. (Shock!) Sounds like you had fun.

I've had really nice recording experiences in both places. Abbey Road is a more awkward place to be conductor/producer because it's very hard to hear clearly in the big room. I find Air easier. I think for sound both very good - mind you, no good having a good room and £100,000 worth of microphones of the orchestra's no good. I was lucky in that respect!

Get Video Games Music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame: I have a question for Tim actually - did you listen to the show on Saturday? And what are your honest opinions on the music if you did!

Ha ha nice direct question Mark! What's he supposed to say!

Tim Lihoreau:  Dear 'Get Video Games Music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame' (or can I call you Get...for short?) I DID hear Howard on Saturday. Rarely miss him. I was surprised by how much I did enjoy it. Some pieces worked better than others for me. For example, when I heard the Zimmer music, I thought, melodically speaking, it was leaps and bounds above some of the others. So...yes, liked some more than others is probably the honest, short answer.

Get Video Games Music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame: That's very interesting - definitely "pleasantly surprised" is the feeling I'm getting from a lot of people who listened to the show who might not necessarily know the genre - and that's exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks for the honest reply!

Tim Lihoreau: Also, speaking with my Classic FM Creative Director hat on, we ARE a broad church, here. A rich tapestry, as it were. And in that respect, I think we should champion 'classical' (symphonic?) music wherever we find it. Andrew's yummy arrangements meant that what came out on the radio was great. And as they say, if it moves like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. And I heard great classical music.

I was pleasantly surprised too because I can't face listening to any of my recordings after we've finished them because I only notice things that annoy me. So it was nice to hear the first album again after almost a year.

Hamish Jupp: Have you always had an appreciation of video games or are you approaching the music as an outsider?

No, I always loved video games but kind of cut them out of my life for a little while before doing this. So I'm having to catch up a lot. Got a 3ft pile of XBOX 360 games sitting next to me right now (about to have a look at Dishonoured). So I'm a little bit of an outsider but I have good advice (hopefully) from my researchers - young composer Joss Campbell being the main one.

Hamish Jupp: I saw the concert for the first album, and I was blown away. Any plans to repeat for the second album?

Not at the moment. I'd like to though - on my list of things to think about!

Hamish Jupp: Do you prefer taking on the tracks that already have a classical feel or adapting the more zany non-standard video game music?

I prefer to do both so I don't get bored. Having fun with it while taking it seriously and trying to do it well is very much what I'm into. It's a different kind of thing - the more classical ones (like One-Winged Angel) are a challenge to take down accurately by ear and re-create and the zany ones are more creative to work on.

Hamish Jupp: I'm also interested about the songs that don't work or you can't use for any reason, could you give any examples?

Songs that don't work... the label wanted to do something from Resident Evil but to me we were only going to make that worse. I'm not interested in doing a song unless I think our version is going to be as good or an interesting new take. If the production on the song is really its main interest (with no strong melody or harmony) that is harder.

Hamish Jupp: Thanks for the answers! I love you bringing more attention to video game music as there is so much amazing going on there. I'm sure you're aware of a lot, but just in case you should check out a couple; the Machinarium soundtrack by Tomas Dvorak is mind-blowing, and Max Payne 3's by HEALTH is one of my favourites.

Mattijs Eggermont: To be honest, I like the first album more than the second one. The first had more known music and wasn't that heavy. The second one featured more unknown music (but from known franchises). The only known song to me was the Portal song, that one was great by the way. Was this a personal choice or did it just feel natural?

The second album is possibly a little less mainstream I guess. It's very hard to say why I chose certain things - I think you're right in saying it just feels right. When I listen to the possible tracks to record I look for things I think I'll enjoy doing and that we could do well. So however good the music in GTA is, there's very little that I think we could do something good with for example.

Tim Lihoreau: Can I ask... I missed the recent video game music concert… Is it done to footage on screen?

No. Partly that makes the rights a much bigger issue and also Video Games Live in the States does that really well but we decided to try and let the music stand on its own two feet. It has some pretty lights and was partly mic-ed up so it was like a normal London Philharmonic Orchestra gig but turbo-charged (not sure that was entirely to the taste of the LPO chief executive, but to his credit he let us do it!)

Tim Lihoreau: Andrew, one from me. Exactly how does the process work? Does a composer send you over a sheaf of, say, the motives he's used in a certain game? And you have free rein? Or is it totally different? I'm just intrigued.

I don't have much connection with the different composers. Sometimes we're in touch. Mainly I play some of the games, or look at YouTube and take recommendations from my researchers - then if it's, say, a Zimmer track which we're going to re-create I will take it down by ear and make a score. If it's Sonic the Hedgehog I choose half a dozen themes from it I like and treat it as almost a new composition using those themes as a starting point - and in between those two situations are tracks that I take the original as a basis and maybe enhance the orchestration a bit.

Tim Lihoreau: Do the composers themselves have approval? Or do they say… "Do what you will"? And has anyone ever said no to being re-arranged?

The composers don't hear it until it's done. I do what I like and keep my fingers crossed. The publishers (usually the game companies) have to give us their permission and I did have to send scores to Nintendo so they knew what I was doing. Generally with a few exceptions everyone's happy. Three songs were denied permission for the second album though - rather annoying, as one of them was my favourite. We're working on it!

Tim Lihoreau: And as a totally separate (and, some might say, slightly FRIVOLOUS) thread, I thought we could think up classical music and gaming. So... Pacmaninov? (sorry). And I'd like to see an album of Call of Dufay. Anyone?

Get Video Games Music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame: Super Mahler Bros was the best I could come up with.

Tim Lihoreau: And maybe, if we could persuade Andrew to resurrect and rework some older recordings, how about some Super Mario. Lanza. Tim

Laura Kate Chapman: Modern Warfauré ?

Mattijs Eggermont: Bach to the future?

Tim Lihoreau: I would like to hear Respighi's The (Angry) Birds. Away from classical, I'm sure Lionel Richie is a gamer. Didn't he famously sing a song called Halo? (is it me...you're looking for?) So sorry.

Joss Holden-Rea: Just wondering the steps you took to get where you are today, and any advice you might have for someone just setting out on that adventure? What kind of stuff were you composing at the beginning and how did you aim to get noticed? Sorry for the big question!

Good question. You're right, quite a big question for this little box. I did almost anything quite randomly to get noticed - so long as there were good musicians involved I was in. So in the 90s lots of pop arranging with great session players, then some TV music, then The Divine Comedy etc. Now more film, video game music and hopefully some time next year to finish off and release some of my non-commercial music. Rather random - you will get opportunities and then you have to do them well. So be ready!!

Tim Lihoreau: Andrew, I should let you go. Thanks EVER SO MUCH for sparing the time to talk to us. I will be avidly watching out for album three (and maybe even the concert?) Best of luck with this one, which I know Howard loved.

Don't forget, come back next week at 9am for another web chat with an inspirational classical artist - get your questions ready!