Tommy Tallarico Interview: Beyond the Concert Scene (November 2009)
Tommy Tallarico is a central composer in the Western game music industry. Active since 1991, he has worked on numerous titles since this time, including the Earthworm Jim franchise, Advent Rising, MDK, Maximo, Tomorrow Never Dies, and the Western adaptations of the Tales series. Since then, he has formed the Game Audio Network Guild and the widely successful interactive video game concert series Video Games Live.
The composer recently conducted a two-part interview with us. In the first part, he discusses the landmarks, controversy, and future of Video Games Live. In this second instalment, he discusses his involvement on a number of recent game projects, such as Earthworm Jim 4, Sonic and the Black Knight, and Flip's Twisted World.
Interview Subject: Tommy Tallarico
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Tommy Tallarico, thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak to you about your recent works. Despite your extensive Video Games Live commitments, you recently managed to squeeze in some contributions on Sonic and the Black Knight. Could you discuss you role on this project and what it was like to engage in this transcontinental collaboration?
Tommy Tallarico: It was a great honor for me to get contacted by Sega of Japan to work on the Sonic franchise. I have been friends with Sega composer Jun Senoue (Crush40) for a while and we've always spoken about someday working together. At the end of last year he contacted me and asked if I could write a few songs for Black Knight. Over the Christmas holidays I put together a few different demos and they ended up picking three tunes. I asked Jun if he wanted to play guitar on some of the tracks and he was thrilled. So I composed the orchestral tracks here and put some basic guitar stuff down and would send him all the music stems. He would then take the tracks and mix them there while adding some great guitar stuff as well. It was an awesome collaboration and I hope that East and West will continue to work together. I see a LOT of this going on these days with both sides. It's a great thing.
Chris: Productions like the Earthworm Jim Anthology demonstrate that the Earthworm Jim series remains very close to you. Looking back, what do you think made your scores for this series so iconic?
Tommy Tallarico: Earthworm Jim was a very fun project to work on and we were all just left to do whatever we wanted. Our small team of friends had worked together on so many great products before that, but for that project we were just given a timeframe to complete whatever we wanted to. We would come in and just try to make each other laugh. That was pretty much the game design for the entire project. So from that standpoint it was a lot of fun and I think you can really get the sense of that in the final product.
For that game I was really just focused on writing interesting and melodic songs. I didn't necessarily care if it matched the exact level or background. In fact, the more it didn't the funnier it was. For example, no game producer probably would have ok'd a banjo tune for rocket riding through space, but we didn't care. As long as it was kinda funny and people enjoyed it, we went with it. I would just write a tune and we would figure out where to put it later. Good times! I wish more game companies would just let the composer do whatever he or she wanted. You would see a LOT more creativity happen.
Chris: Do you expect to return to the recently announced Earthworm Jim 4?
Tommy Tallarico: Regarding Earthworm Jim 4, I'd love to do new tracks and maybe re-record or remix some old ones for the project. I'm in direct contact with the folks at Interplay so when the time comes to get involved they said they would give me a ring. I believe at this point they are only in the planning and fundraising phase. A developer hasn't been chosen as far as I know (but I could be wrong).
I was also contacted by Interplay to let me know that they are doing a remake of Earthworm Jim 1 & 2 for portable and downloadable platforms such as the iPhone, DS, WiiWare, XBLA, mobile phones, PSP, etc. (I own the music rights). I guess they are taking the original game and updating the graphics. I'm not sure which versions of my music they're using, but hopefully it will be the CD versions and not the old midi ones.
Chris: You also continue to head the music production company Tommy Tallarico Studios. Could you discuss the company's recent productions on various Wii and DS titles? How does your team manage to push the boundaries of sound design on these notoriously restrictive consoles?
Tommy Tallarico: For me personally, it's always been about the quality and catchiness of the music or sound design. I don't care how restrictive a console or the technology is, at the end of the day... if you write good music that people will remember, they will enjoy it. I try not to get too hung up on the technology side of things these days. I just create cool stuff and implement it properly and everything else will fall into place.
I'm currently working on a Wii title called Flip's Twisted World. I liked this project because it's being done by a rookie studio in the Toronto area who were big fans of my work on Earthworm Jim. They wanted to go for a Earthworm Jim and/or Donkey Kong Country type of vibe which I hadn't really done in a long time. They were also very flexible with my crazy touring schedule so it made it easy for me to work on in between concert dates. They are really cool guys and I'm hoping the product turns out to be very successful for them.
Chris: As founder of the Game Audio Network Guild, you've had a major influence on the direction of the Western game music industry. In your opinion, what have been the greatest accomplishments of this organisation? How has it made game music better produced and more recognised?
Tommy Tallarico: The Game Audio Network Guild is a non-profit organization established to educate the masses in regards to interactive audio by providing information, instruction, resources, guidance, and enlightenment not only to its members, but to content providers and listeners throughout the world. We've had over 2,000 people from around the world sign-up since its inception in 2002. G.A.N.G. empowers its members by establishing resources for education, business, technical issues, community, publicity, and recognition. G.A.N.G. also supports career development for aspiring game audio professionals, publishers, developers, and students. We even established a $20,000 a year scholarship fund for students looking to study and make game audio a career.
It's a resource for composers, sound designers, programmers, musicians, actors, engineers, producers, designers, directors, and others who have a genuine interest in interactive audio. By banding together and providing one voice, members can better articulate, discuss, and confront issues inside the community. One of the focuses and goals of G.A.N.G. is to encourage and promote the creation of better sounding audio. It provides a sense of community to its fellowship and the interactive community through the sharing of knowledge and experience among members and related organizations industry-wide. We also promote quality and the recognition of quality through the annual G.A.N.G. Awards Show which is held each year at the Game Developers Conference.
Some of the major accomplishments over the years were working together with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to craft a new musician's union agreement specifically for video games allowing game composers to use the finest musicians. We consistently work with performing rights organizations and societies like ASCAP and BMI to educate video game publishers and developers about music publishing and ancillary licensing income. Our Education Committee creates curriculums for accredited colleges and universities around the world. We supply boilerplate contracts, proper information and contacts to submit demos, downloads to industry experts giving advice, panels and post-mortem discussions, etc. We've also been very instrumental in getting game audio and game music recognized in mainstream award programs such as the Grammy's, the BAFTA's, MTV Music Awards, G4phoria Awards, Spike TV Awards, Game Developers Choice Awards, etc. If anyone is interested in getting into game audio, they should definitely check it out and become a member.