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Gaming Blend: Following up on the last question – regarding the themes of Journey – how did you manage to get cellist Tina Guo on board, had you known her before working on the Journey soundtrack?
Austin: Oh, well Tina, she and I have known each other for something like, almost ten years I think. And I've written cello solos for her on many, many, many projects that I've worked on over the years. I love featuring her in what I do.
It was inevitable when I realized that cello solos would form the bedrock of [Journey's] score, that it had to be her playing them.
Gaming Blend: Now you brought Tina back and collaborated with a ton of other artists on the Monaco soundtrack, a game that's also getting high praise and was already profitable in pre-orders before it actually released. Was it your idea to bring in all these other artists or was it the idea of the designers and how do you get all these artists collaborating on an indie project where the budget is a little more constricted?
Austin: So there's two different things: the actual score in the game to Monaco is 100 percent solo piano, from start to finish, so that when you actually play the game there's always this sort of rockish and crazy, silent-era style. However, for the soundtrack release – and I worked on Monaco for two years and it duck-tailed with Journey heavily – as I was nearing the end, I was just kind of sitting and thinking one day that it would be fun to hear all this music put through the filter of other styles by various artists that inspire me.
I just started reaching out to people and before I knew it I had eleven artists doing covers in whatever styles that they do. So it was purely for album release and it's not in the game anywhere. But it was basically just an excuse to have fun and I collaborated with all of them on their individual versions and gave them feedback while they were working on [their covers] and whatnot.
Gaming Blend: And one of the things that really struck me by surprise was Mega Ran and Jermiside's 'Stick 'Em', which was such a unique, multi-genre take on the song, fusing a bit of jazz with rap.
Austin: Yeah, well the sampling for the song that I wrote – there is a song for the end of the game called 'Can't Resist' with a piano featuring a vocal from Laura Vall, and when Mega Ran was starting to produce his track called 'Stick 'Em' he was drawn to a little bit of vocal or a little bit of sample from the vocals from that song. And so, we kick it off with that [sample]. But that track is derived from the song in the game called 'Can't Resist'.
Gaming Blend: Another thing that really struck me by surprise was your affinity toward sharing content and music digitally. You seem to want to ameliorate the bridge between people enjoying your music in the game and then enjoying it anywhere else, with tracks available on YouTube and BandCamp and SoundCloud. What prompted you to take that route, given that so many other companies go in the complete opposite direction, cutting off communication and the act of sharing?
Austin: Well, the way I see it is that if you want people to listen to it and be able to share it with people, then I am continuously flattered and deeply humbled by that, and if they are in a position to pay me for it, then I would rather frame the conversation in which they feel rather invited to do that, rather than feel like I'm mandating that or guilt them into [paying]. I would rather they do it because it appealed to them and is something that they're proactively doing and not something that they feel like they have no choice in.
I feel like previous business matters in the music industry have been based around the idea of controlling channels of distribution so that if someone wants something, they have to pay for it. But that's not really why I'm interested in music as a composer, so I don't really have much use for that business model when it comes to releasing albums. If people want to pay for it – I mean, this is how I make my living, so I try to make that clear – I'm not trying to encourage piracy or something like that. But the point is: I would rather it feel more like this partnership between the audience and myself, because they're not really separable. I don't really see them as this outsider that is eating what I feed them, it's more like a shared collaboration; a dialogue between composer and listener, in which both are playing an integral part.
So yeah, when people post my music on YouTube or on my channel, or especially when people do things like make covers on their own, sort of like fan covers, I like to go way out of my way to advertise those and support those. So yeah, to me it's a wonderful new ecosystem.
Gaming Blend: Given your liberal use of sharing music with listeners, have you ever been blocked from sharing your music from companies or publishers whose soundtracks you've scored?
Austin: Not really, because by and large I control the ownership and the rights to almost every project that I've worked on, and when I don't I always make sure that I have a really great relationship with whoever owns it. Like, for example flOw and Journey are both owned by Sony, of course, but I have a great relationship with Sony and I really like them and they have a similar set of ideas and principles that I do, so we never come into conflict over these sorts of things at all. They're really wonderful.
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