This guy has a background solid enough to allow him jumping onto ethnic/organic sounds for a FPS soundtrack AND still being successful. Awesome interview.
The composer of SOCOM 4 goes in depth about his work, his background, and the future of the video game music industry.
Composing the music for the hit television series Battlestar Galactica is not a bad way to start a career. Bear McCreary has worked on several high-profile projects, including the television series The Walking Dead and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and in the video game world he's known as the composer behind Dark Void and SOCOM 4. When playing a shooter, chances are you are not focusing on the music, but if you take the time to listen to the soundtrack of SOCOM 4, you'll find that it's worth stopping to take notice of. I have some samples embedded in the interview below, so as always, enjoy and please leave your feedback!
GameSpot: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your musical background?
Bear McCreary: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest playing 8-bit video games and going to see big summer movies. And the whole time, I was listening to the music in both of these mediums, and music was always my passion, and I wanted to combine all these things. I started studying film music very seriously when I was in middle school, and by high school I was writing music all day every day. I was taking piano lessons and playing in rock bands, but basically my focus was classical film music and orchestral music and learning how that kind of music worked. I moved to LA to go to school and got my training at the University of Southern California, but prior to that, I actually met film composer Elmer Bernstein, who is one of the legends of the business, and he kind of took me under his wing, and I was his final protege for several years, so even during my time at USC, I was studying with and working for him and really learning the tools of the trade in the film music business for him. Shortly after graduating, within a year of graduating from USC, I began work as an assistant on a movie called Battlestar Galactica, which was a four-hour miniseries that the Syfy channel made. And when that was expanded into a regular series, I was given a shot at being the composer, and the rest is history.
GS: What was the first instrument that you picked up?
BM: Piano. I studied piano about 11 or 12 years, but I never really got very good. I was always good. But I never really liked to practice, like scales and things like that. I only wanted to play music that I really liked. So I was playing movie themes that I would hear in the movie theatre. I'd come home and figure them out on the piano just to elaborate on them and dream about writing my own. When I was 19, I got an accordion and actually became really good at it and started to actually practice that and over the course of a couple of years got pretty good at the accordion.
GS: Is there an instrument you wish you knew how to play?
BM: Oh I don't know. I wished I had picked up some stringed instrument. I know that the piano is technically a type of string instrument, but a string instrument where your fingers are touching string. Because I feel like, without having that experience on guitar, violin, or cello it's really difficult for me to learn how to play those instruments. With that said, over the course of studying and writing music I've become very good at understanding how those instruments work, and I'm very good at writing music that naturally fits all those instruments, but that's different than being able to pick one up and perform it.
GS: So how did you get into making music for video games?
BM: I had already been established as a composer in television and films, and I was approached by Capcom to do a game called Dark Void, and they wanted a big, epic, swashbuckling science fiction score that would feel very cinematic and exotic. I was thrilled to be brought on board and just had an incredible experience working on that game. The soundtrack of that game is still I think one of the most epic pieces of music I have ever written. But that sort of opened the door for me to get involved with the gaming industry, and simultaneously between that game I also produced a score for a spin-off called Dark Void Zero, which was an entirely 8-bit game. So simultaneously I am producing a full orchestral symphonic score and a combat '80s 8-bit score. So I really felt that launched me into the video game industry, because I was helping move music forward and looking back and acknowledging where it came from at the same time, both within one project, which was very exciting.
GS: How is it different composing for film and TV?
BM: It's not very different at all really. Technicalities with scoring a game are different. You're obviously writing a lot of music that is not through picture, but ultimately to me it's no different because you're still telling a story. I think about character themes, I think about the big picture, the narrative arc, where is the story going, how do I want the gamer or the audience to feel. But ultimately, that's the exact same thing, right? I mean, the music is designed to create an emotional response. So whether that emotional response is from someone holding a controller or from someone in a theater or a living room watching, that doesn't change at all. I'm still creating very emotional music, so in many ways, there's almost no difference in terms of my creating approach.
I didn't know he worked on The Walking Dead and the Terminator TV series, too. He's worked on the shows that are in my top 5!
I fracking love Bear McCreary... He is one of the few unique gems in Hollywood these days. He stays amazingly grounded and humble as well. I have all the Battlestar soundtracks, which at least to me, is the greatest set of overall music ever produced for a T.V. Show. Listening to the Socom 4 music.... It's near impossible for me to hear those Taiko drums and not think of his Battlestar soundtrack... I look forward to anything this man puts out. You can tell that he gets emotionally invested in anything he produces and it comes across in his music. I remember sitting around when I was young imagining what my Zelda game or Mario/Sonic themes would sound like orchestrated. He has said he did a similar thing when he was younger and applied that when he was doing Dark Void. That's an amazing amount of imagination and creativity. I'm glad that we as gaming and movie fans have someone like Bear, who is just as big of a fan as he is a creator of new and interesting film and gaming music....
I have to say, I'm actually a fan of more "orchestral" soundtracks for video games if just because I like baroque/classical/romantic music and in the weirdest way, some of that music is a modern equivalent to that. Is there modern orchestral music? Yes, but most of it is either derivative crap or just plain awful. McCreary definitely deviates from the orchestral structure of the now, but I still really his style and there's a lot to like about it. Some of those samples were a little inconsistent in themselves, sure, but he does a fantastic job of creating a strong tempo for the music, giving it a lot of body and though it does vary a lot, those variations tend to be really organic. I really expected to hate his music at first, but he sure showed me. He has that Danny Elfman vibe of creating very original music with strong fundamentals. Also, "organic" is such an overused word, even if it does fit in this context.
I for one am glad that Elmer took a dude named Bear under his wing. Thanks for the good read Sophia :)
Good interview. Mr. McCreary is a good composer. I really enjoyed the music he wrote for BSG, The Walking Dead, and DV. And I find it amazing that he wrote over 9 hours of music for SOCOM 4! That's a hell of a lot of music to write for one story.
Totally agreed that video games have gotten away from melodic/theme based sound tracks. Which sucks. Big orchestral scores are just lush crap.
Nice interview! Lots of content :D I gotta say, Bear McCreary is a pretty cool composer... I really liked BSG's score, and SOCOM 4's doesn't sound half bad either.