Game Music Connect founders reflect on ‘staggering’ 2015 show

Following a triumphant return last month to London’s Southbank centre which played host to the meeting of some of the foremost minds in game audio, the dust is slowly settling, but the discourse on the exciting innovations in the industry show no sign of slowing down.

AMI caught up with the event’s founders James Hannigan and John Broomhall (pictured left and right respectively) to get their thoughts on the show, and where they think the industry is heading next.

How did you feel this year’s show went?

Broomhall: We’re really happy about Game Music Connect 2015. We were blessed with another fantastic line-up of guest speakers so were hopeful of a great show – and they delivered in spades. Sony’s Chuck Doud set the tone for the day perfectly with his keynote about emotional resonance in videogame music and his talk was a timely reminder of the excellence and effort involved in today’s top tier videogame scores. It really is quite staggering. This was followed by what felt like a very nice balance of ‘how’ and ‘why’ sessions – eminent guests talking about their approach to projects but also the thinking behind that approach. It’s been very rewarding for James and I to be the catalyst for connecting all our brilliant delegates from all around the world with such interesting, expert contributors – all under one roof in London for a day.

How has the event moved forward in comparison to previous years?

Broomhall: It’s interesting – we were very fortunate that between us we have such an amazing contact book that we were able to really hit the ground running in year one with guests like Jesper Kyd, Jason Graves and of course, Marty O’Donnell, to mention just three. That year set us on a trajectory which we are still following – our aim is to celebrate and explore the amazing world of videogame music and the extraordinary talent behind it. We’ve moved forward by bringing in more diverse content covering all aspects of the music process in games, from executive decision making, through to getting music on the stands or working with sample libraries or implementing music interactively.

Hannigan: This year saw a shift in focus. We had more set presentation sessions and less panel discussion and we think that balance worked very well judging by the feedback we’ve had. We’re extremely grateful to our sponsors and partners and it’s really great that our guests – who are all leaders in their field – choose Game Music Connect to present exclusive content – there was more exclusive content at Game Music Connect than ever this year. For instance, we were thrilled to host the first showing of footage from Karen Collins’ Beep documentary – an amazing, culturally significant project to document the history of videogame music – in particular she showed interviews with Japanese videogame music royalty whose comments provoked much discussion at the conference.

What made you start Game Music Connect? Is it achieving what you wanted it to?

Hannigan: In essence, we felt there was an absence of discussion about this new 21st century artform – why we apply music to game experiences and how. It seemed right to recognise and highlight the work of successful composers in this area.

Broomhall: And we felt that strongly enough to create this forum for the contemplation and discussion of all aspects of scoring music for games – there are significant philosophical and practical differences compared to our linear cousins in film and TV. As to if it’s achieving what we hoped, I think the honest answer is ‘yes’ – based on the feedback we get, not to mention the huge industry support. For instance, Sony Playstation have backed Game Music Connect from the outset. That a large corporation and platform holder should support and encourage videogame music in this way is something we think is rather wonderful.

How do you see the climate of game audio and music at the moment?

Broomhall: As an entertainment medium, videogames continue their ascendency. Now popular the world over, for many, they are the entertainment format of choice – interactive play experiences linking people all around the planet – quite astounding really when you think about it.

Hannigan: There are the jaw-dropping blockbuster titles whose production values push ever further into the stratosphere but there’s also a vibrant indie game scene which continues to blossom sprouting a huge array of smaller scale and medium scale titles, some of which have become iconic household names and some of which are artistically the most radiant of what’s out there.

Broomhall: All of these titles, whether large or small, require music, sound and dialogue and that continues to provide opportunities for audio artists, both in-house and freelance. It is now easier than it’s ever been to access game creation technology and even self-publish so we expect the opportunities for game audio to continue growing. 

Do you see immersive experiences and VR to be the biggest new factors in the industry? How is VR making an impact? 

Hannigan: Alastair Lindsay and Joe Thwaites gave a fascinating talk about applying music to VR experiences at this year’s Game Music Connect. They are closely involved in a slew of Project Morpheus virtual reality projects right now and kindly gave John and I the opportunity to experience VR for ourselves at Sony’s London studio just prior to the conference. We were both extremely impressed, finding the VR experiences we had very immersive and compelling. So it certainly seems like a very significant development.

Broomhall: Yes, I agree. Time will tell and of course, you really have to experience it directly for yourself. Seeing videos of it just doesn’t convey how utterly engaging VR can be. It’s fascinating to imagine how this technology can be used in the future for all kinds of interactive, immersive experiences including, but also beyond, games. The idea that in the future I might participate with friends around the globe in virtual reality worlds seems very appealing.

Hannigan: In terms of audio and music, VR has had quite an impact as real-time binaural audio is critical – you can imagine that accurate spatial positioning of audio is incredibly important and you can’t assume that traditional videogame tropes apply. For instance, music can support a VR experience very effectively but it can also break the spell and bump you out of the experience if it’s handled wrongly.

What do you think makes for great game audio, and how has that changed?

Broomhall: Game audio started with figurative sound – the bleeps and the FM synthesis and all that. Then it seems to me that, thanks to rapidly developing technological capability, we found we could have a virtual digital mixer and digital signal processing and realistic acoustic spaces – 3D audio in a 3D world with obstruction and occlusion and even modelling the effect of the weather on sound and all that kind of thing. Very clever but not necessarily entertaining or story-telling and at worst, sterile, flat and cacophonous – because so much of what we think of as great sound in movies say, is actually artifice – a non-literal approach to sound choices and dynamic mixing for emotion and drama. And to my mind that’s what’s happening now in games – we seem to have finally arrived at a more dramatic approach to sound, overriding and subverting our clever scientific systems to create drama.

Hannigan: The future of game audio should be less about technology and more about the power of ideas – using music and sound design to give deeper meaning to game-play and images.

Any favourite moments from this year’s show?

Hannigan: I couldn’t pick just one out – they all had their place and everybody did a really great job. When you put together an event like this you really hope that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and I think that was certainly the case.

Broomhall: Yeah, I felt that also. I guess there were many highlights apart from the ones already mentioned – for instance the Spitfire session talking about creating and using sample libraries in game music, Audiokinetic’s Simon Ashby on interactive music plus we were honoured to host our second ‘BAFTA Interview’ with key creatives behind the music of Alien: Isolation. And Darrell Alexander (COOL Music), Nick Arundel (Batman videogame series) and Allan Wilson (conductor/orchestrator) were excellent discussing the orchestral process. We’re very grateful to all of them for being with us. I’m still pinching myself – did we really have all those amazing people in one room?!