Do you come from a musical background? if so, what sort of musical projects have you worked on, did you go to music school, what instruments do you play? what game projects have you been a part of?
I grew up tinkering with guitars and keyboards of various sorts, but not for musical pursuit really. More for interesting sounds. I only really got my first bit of music theory training with my mentor B.Z. Lewis in 2006, and then more extensively at Pyramind Studios. I was voice editor for "Brutal Legend", a terrific open world game developed by Double Fine.
I believe you trained/certified at Pyramind Studios, could you comment about what you learned there and how that helped you get into the industry? Was it more a case of meeting good people and networking or learning your craft?
Pyramind Studios is directly responsible for me being in the industry, period. I took the full certification curriculum, the Digital Sound Producers Program. I learned everything from recording techniques, to synthesis theory, music theory, mixing, sound design for games, and music business. That environment was terrific, but the contacts and relationships I got there were essential. I met Paul Lipson there for my advanced Game Audio/FMOD series. He helped me meet Emily Ridgway (Bioshock, Brutal Legend, Destroy All Humans), one of the best sound designers ever! Pyramind Studios has two of the only Expert Certified Protools engineers, Steve Heithecker and Bryan Dale. I believe there are only 6 of those in the country! I still have a strong relationship with the studios and it’s team.
A lot of young composers/sound designers often discuss equipment, and what sort of equipment is important to acquire (software, interfaces, mics, sfx collections etc), from your experience, what do you feel are the essential pieces of equipment needed to gain experience, learn your craft but not break the bank (or what might be unnecessary purchases.)
You should definitely learn the big four – Protools, Logic, Reason, and Ableton Live. You are going to find them in some capacity no matter where you are. I started out on Protools, so I am most comfortable with it. They’re all basically the same tool, just different flavors. I have met some real die-hards about certain programs, but I think it comes down to what is going to fit the job (I actually used Sound Forge for most of "Brutal Legend"). You certainly want a good controller. I love almost anything by Axiom. I would say starting out, get a great mic (or a pair), an interface with a good solid preamp (Digi 002 or 003 is great, especially fitted out with Black Lion preamps), the four programs, good controller (I like the Axiom Pro 61) and then learn their boundaries. High end stuff should wait until you are confident in your abilities. Start with Pro Tool LE not HD, cut down on the plug-ins, get the expensive preamps and compressors later! Oh, and Warner Bros. and Hollywood Edge have some great deals on top notch sound libraries. Check them out, but then start making your own.
Do you have a favorite gaming experience you could share (could be on a game you worked on, or not – maybe it was memorable because of the people you were playing with, or because something in the game really blew your mind etc.)
I have to say all the game testing and problem solving I did on "Brutal Legend". I love games and I love playing against my friends, but seeing a game being born was an unbelievable experience. Everyday something new would appear. A new level or character, or Emily and Brian Min (badass sound designer) would put new sounds or dialog in. That’s another thing. There is a huge feeling when you piece together dialog, go into the game and implement it, and then hear the character speak it! It’s literally a world you are creating! I adored that time.
Do you have any specific goals you’d like to achieve in the audio/game world (i.e. you want to become an audio director, own a studio, only write music, produce your own games etc…)
Yes. I want to have a FULLY modular studio system. I think games are actually where the music industry and movie industry are being pulled towards. I think the old separate model of them being three different things is melting. The more experience I have in the gaming world the more I realize that you have to be adept at all of them, especially regarding sound. I would love to own a studio one day, that works in tandem with game developers towards elements of all three. It would be able to record a rock album, score and sound design for a movie, produce dialog and sound effects, and implementation for a video game, and then turn around and do a project that combines all three!! It is where this is headed.
what do you like most about being in this industry?
I love that nobody knows it’s full potential yet. It’s bottomless. I remember my dad talking about when they went to the moon, and NASA was this emblem of what could be done, the best and the brightest. It still is. I think the Games Industry is there. I see things like "Heavy Rain" which has a truly branching narrative, and think "gaming has no boundaries right now". It is only as small as our imaginations.
Interview written/edited by Dren McDonald