jdodson: Could you describe how the process has been working with Chucklefish on Starbound to this point? What did they say when they approached you initially and what was your reaction to it all?
Curtis: This has been a really amazing experience, and the folks at Chucklefish have been fantastic. I initially got in contact with Tiy via the gamedev section of Reddit. I had posted that I was looking for projects to work on, along with a link to my website. Tiy apparently liked what he heard, and ever since I've been churning out music for Starbound. We're at the 5 hour mark (including the "experimental" tracks that won't be in the game), and still going strong. We want to put a *ton* of music into this game, and I'm working every day to help make that happen.
I have been blown away by the reaction from the Starbound community-- a day doesn't pass without a few supportive comments on twitter and via email, and the Starbound pre-order sales really do speak for themselves.
jdodson: You have worked scoring TV, Films and now Starbound. How does the creative process for scoring a game compare to TV and film? Now that you have worked on a game score is this something you want to do more of?
Curtis: The biggest difference is that game music is very ambient, whereas film music is written to picture. So with film/tv stuff, you've got a definite length, a set of hit points you have to emphasize, and a definite end. With game stuff, you're mostly writing background music, so it needs to be catchy, but not intrusive, loopable, but not too repetitive-- and of course, the structure is up to you. I have very much enjoyed the process of writing for games, because it really is nice to be free from a big hit point structure. Although I still want to write film/tv stuff, I have to admit that this game thing seems like it has some definite advantages!
jdodson: On your YouTube page you feature several videos during the creation process of several songs on the Starbound score such as “Haiku,” “Vast, Immortal Suns” and “Atlas.” I wonder, for you, what you set out to do by posting these videos for the community and how you think they turned out? I really enjoyed watching your process and hope they make the rounds to more Starbound fans.
Curtis: Early on, I'd watched a few of the streams from Tiy and Bartwe, and realized that the community loves to watch the game come together. I thought it might be cool to show a side other than coding-- what does it look like to write a cue for Starbound? (Additionally, as my day job is teaching music, I thought it might be nice to sneak some music education in there too!) I'm pretty happy with the videos, and I've been blown away by how many positive comments they've received.
jdodson: What has the most memorable moment been for you working on Starbound?
Curtis: At one point, one of my cues got posted on Reddit, and somebody compared my music to Aaron Copland, a 20th Century American composer who is perhaps my favorite of all time. I have to admit, that made my month. I was really happy that someone was able not only to make a musical connection between my work and that of someone I really admire, but felt strongly enough about it that they decided to write a comment.
jdodson: How do you look at your musical journey and how it has lined up to what you expected it would be. With that, I am curious what projects you haven’t worked on that you want to try?
Curtis: I'm still working toward my ultimate goal, which is to make a living writing new music. One of my big hopes with Starbound is that I'll get enough attention in the gaming community to find clients to work for, and projects to work on-- enough so that I can quit my "day jobs" and compose full-time.
jdodson: You feature “Hymn to the Stars,” a song from the Starbound score on your website. How do you look at this song compared to the other songs on the score and why you decided to feature it?
Curtis: I wrote almost all of Hymn in one sitting, by hand, with a pencil. First, I sketched out the main idea, and then I orchestrated it for strings. Usually I'll write a melody, or a chord progression, or just a few messy ideas before I start a cue, but I rarely write the entire thing, almost note for note, as it appears in the final product. I was really proud of the voice-leading in "Hymn", and I am almost always emotionally impacted when I hear it. Because of that, I thought it would be the best cue to feature on my website, as I think it really has the potential to impact people who visit.
jdodson: What other composers do you look to for inspiration or stand out to you as particularly awesome?
Curtis: John Williams is, I think, the most important American composer of the latter 20th Century. He has defined what "sadness", "triumph", "happiness", "adventure", and so many emotions sound like, and more than anyone else has brought truly great, finely crafted orchestral music to the attention of everyday people, who probably wouldn't seek it out otherwise. Having said that, I do love the music of John Coolidge Adams, Alan Menken, James Newton Howard, Michael Giacchino, Jeremy Soule, Martin O'Donnel, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman, James Horner, John Powell, and Harry Gregson-Williams. (To name a few). I try to listen to as much film/tv/game music as I can, and so I could probably name a hundred other who have influenced me.
jdodson: “Mira” for me is a really superb song. It also has the added awesomery of clocking in around 20:04. What was the process for creating Mira and also if you could speak to why such attention was spent to making it as epic? I am typically used to many scores trimming the run time of the songs to fit into a typical 3 minute motif and its awesome to see you breaking the mold here and offering it up in a unique form.
Curtis: I try to make my ambient cues as long as possible, and with Mira, I built most of the foundational "blocks" first, and then found ways to expand them, and combine them in different ways. The song repeats fairly often, but I tried to vary it enough to stay calmly in the background and not be irritating. Some of the inspiration for that cue came from the ambient music of Brian Eno, who has tracks that clock in at over at hour, but somehow manage to hover just at the edge of consciousness without every really "breaking into" the listener's attention.
jdodson: As you are looking beyond and working on your next project, can you talk about it and share how its going?
Curtis: I'm still working primarily on Starbound, but I've done some contract work in between. I recently scored a trailer for an upcoming documentary film "Hitman to Hero". They haven't posted the video I score yet, but I'm sure they will soon. Additionally, I'm hoping to write some Wind Band versions of the music I've contributed to Starbound so that students who'd like to play music from the game can bug their band directors and hopefully get the chance. If you know anybody looking to hire a composer, feel free to put my name in the hat!
jdodson: Did you get to play Starbound before you started the scoring process or were you given some other source of inspiration?
Curtis: I wrote most of the music to Starbound sans-game, but Tiy recently got me access to the dev builds, so that I could test my music. Before that, I was mostly going on screenshots, and pictures of areas on earth that fit the biomes. Lately, I've been naming cues after stellar objects, and I have to say that reading about them on the internet has itself been an interesting source of inspiration.
jdodson: How involved was Chucklefish in the process of you scoring Starbound? Was there much back and forth or were they fairly hands off during your process? I notice that Kyren & Tiy weren’t in the background whipping you when you scored the songs featured your YouTube page. :D
Curtis: The Chucklefish folk are very hands-off. I have free reign to pretty much write the music I want. They've never asked for a revision, which is pretty unheard of-- I've done upwards of 26+ for some of my film work, so to have almost 5 hours of music turned in with nary a request for changes is pretty great. All of the Chucklefish folk have been very supportive throughout the process, giving me constant feedback, which is almost universally positive.
jdodson: What advice do you have for anyone thinking about getting into musical composition? Anything you learned from your journey that might not be apparent to people just entering?
Curtis: People who've emailed/messaged me this question will notice that I've just copy-pasted the reply, but I think its the best advice I can give:
Write every single day, and listen every single day. Even if that means sitting down on the piano and just pumping out 8-bar melodies. (Especially if that's pumping out melodies. You never know when you might want/need them. Listen to whatever music you can find and try to find the things you want to "steal". Everybody "borrows" in the film/tv/game business. So listen to the stuff you like, and figure out why you like it. I love to visit imslp.org and just read along with a recording. You'd be shocked what techniques you can pick up by reading the score to, say, "Rite of Spring" along with a YouTube recording of the performance.
Try out different styles. I used to sit around and write "Star Wars" ripoffs just to see how close I could get to that "John Williams" sound. A friend of mine wrote a suite of film cues for his senior recital-- Western, Dramatic, Suspense, Horror, Jazz, etc. He's now composing full-time for a game studio.
If you want to make an extra buck while you do this, upload to libraries like AudioJungle or Pond5. You'd be surprised what a few hours work can net you when a cue gets licensed once a week. Save up for new equipment-- the kind of monster machines needed to run modern sample libraries (not to mention the libraries themselves) will run you a few grand, but you could make a few grand a year if you uploaded a new quality cue to AJ every day.
Finally, start networking now. Start with people at your school-- is there a film program? A game development class in the comp sci department? Next, go to the internet. I met Tiy (the head of Chucklefish) on Reddit. Seriously-- I went to the gamedev Reddit and posted that I was looking for something to work on. I had ten replies in an *hour*-- and not because me stuff is the best-- because people need music. I visit the Vimeo wanted/offered forums almost every day.
Just keep in mind that making a living as a composer is hard work-- I still have to work 2 other jobs, and I'm just now getting to the point where I might be able to cut them and start writing full-time. You have to make it something you commit to every single day.
There's a lot of work out there, and with the explosion of the game and web entertainment industries, there's only going to be more in the future. But you have to go get it.
jdodson: Have you wrapped up the scoring process for the game or are there outstanding things left to complete? Some sort of interstellar polka or Novakid emo ballads such as “Lets Burn This House Down by Occupying It,” “Every Time I cry it Burns the Flowers I Stand On” or the classic “I Was The Sun (Before it Was Cool)?”
Curtis: Oh we're still going strong! I need to get more "battle" music written-- especially battle music that fits the orchestral sound that we've settled on. Likewise, we've recently had a few musical partners join the project, and I'm hard at work collaborating on music with them. I think, as it stands now, that we're maybe 75% of the way there.
Just have to write, write, write!
jdodson: Since the Starbound score was already released as part of the pre-order I am wondering if there will be a second release on your site of the finished work with all the songs and the ones that didn't make the cut? Can you also order the tracks, my OCD personality needs the structure :D
Curtis: Tiy has said that the preorder soundtrack will be "updated" as new cues are written, and I plan on collecting all of the new tracks to sell as a "volume 2" OST on my site, so I'm sure they will be made available! Additionally, although I don't have much control over the preorder soundtrack (including art and track ordering), the OST's that I have made available all have track #'s built into the ID3 tags.
Thanks for your interest, and I'll be sure to keep you updated as new tracks are made available (the first two are already included in the Orchestral OST that I have recently begun selling).
jdodson: Curtis, I really want to thank you for answering my questions and wish you well on your next set of awesomeness. Is there anything you want to mention before we wrap things up today?
Curtis: First of all-- don't forget that there are other composers working on Starbound! Solatrus (http://solatrus.com) has written some jaw-dropping tracks for Starbound (I can't ever get Ultramarine out of my head!), and he's doing a killer remix of "Stellar Formation" which he'll be posting soon.
Second, if anyone in your audience would like to support the musicians working on Starbound's soundtrack, please visit my website and Solatrus' website, where you can buy OST's if you're so inclined. We're not asking you to buy stuff you already have-- I know so many people got in on the preorder!-- but if you'd like to show support for us, we'd greatly appreciate it.