Interview: Tommy Tallarico talks Video Games Live

The gaming world's most prolific composer chats with us about the symphonic game music concert's return to the UK

Interview Tommy Tallarico talks Video Games Live  Everybody Plays
2nd May, 2014

While household names in the game industry are few and far between, Tommy Tallarico is a game composer that's done it all. From scoring best selling games to performing in front of tens of thousands of people live, it's a career that's been spent on both side of the musical divide. His pet project is Video Games Live, a touring concert that combines a live symphony orchestra with giant video screens, special effects, and Tommy's own electric guitar, as they rock through a selection of the most memorable game music of all time.

With the recently announced news that Video Games Live would be returning to the UK this November, marking the first time the show's been on these shores in six years, we caught up with Tommy to discuss the show, their recent Kickstarter-funded album, how games can help encourage children to play musical instruments for themselves, and how living homeless in California led to his first job in the industry...

Everybody Plays (EP): For those who don't know, could you sum up what the Video Games Live experience is all about?

Tommy Tallarico (TT): Video Games Live is all the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir, but what makes it really special and unique is that everything's completely synchronised. You have massive video screens, a stage show production, rock and roll lighting, interactive elements with the crowd - I like to describe it as having all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra, but combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert, mixed together with the cutting edge visuals, technology, interactivity and fun that video games provide. I really wanted to create a show for everyone - not just the hardcore gamers - and I certainly didn't want to create kind of a traditional symphony show, where everyone's in tuxedos, and maybe they hang a screen over and play music from Final Fantasy or whatever. I wanted to create something unique and fun, and take all the things guys like me and you grew up on, whether it's special effects, games and rock and roll in our daily life, and I wanted to incorporate all that into the show.

I wanted to keep the ticket prices as low as possible - which to be quite honest, that's the reason we haven't been back in six years. Doing just one off... I mean, there's other game concerts that came after us, and you look at their prices, they're literally twice as much as ours! They come in, do a show and then they leave. For me, I never wanted to do a show where people had to pay £100 to come and see the thing. For me, it's not about the money, it's about the experience of spreading, and celebrating video game music for the masses. I want everyone to come, I want families to come, and the only way to do this right in a way we can continue to keep the prices low was to do a full on European tour - and that takes time to put together! We've been working on this tour for a couple of years now, and we've got a nice leg going - we've got about eleven shows in three weeks all across Europe. I get more emails from the UK folks than any other area in the world, because we were there two or three years in a row, and we haven't been back for so long. 

EP: This is coming off the back of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the third Video Games Live album. You've had two CDs and a Blu-Ray of the live show that you mentioned earlier - why did you choose to go with Kickstarter for the difficult third album?

TT: It's a great question. I always want to do something to the best quality I can, and I didn't want to just come up with some half-assed album. In order to record over a hundred people, record a symphonic album and over an hour of music... We did fifteen huge tracks, a hundred people in the orchestra, a hundred people in the choir, game composers from all over the world - and it was going to cost several hundred thousand dollars to record a very high end orchestra and put it together the way deserved to be done.

These days, the way the music industry is, no-one's going to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a symphonic album that they think gamers are going to put on YouTube or torrent anyway (laughs). They've got a point! But my message back to them was always, look, if you're not greedy about it, if you give gamers high quality at a reasonable price - you know, same thing we were talking about with regards to our ticket prices - they're not going to steal it. You know, you can get this album for $8 on Amazon right now!

We couldn't get any support - no record company was interested, so I said "All right - screw you guys!" I took it to the fans, and I believed that if you give 'em something great, and you over deliver, they'll be more than willing to help the cause. 

I mean, when we put the target figure up there at $250,000, everyone said I was insane - just like when I told them I wanted to do a video game touring symphony concert back twelve years ago. I said I wanted to do the first ever show at the Hollywood Bowl, and everyone was like "Are you kidding me? You'll be lucky if 500 people show up!" Well, 11,000 people turned up for our debut show, and we've been going ever since...

But everyone was saying, no-one's ever raised that much money on Kickstarter for music, ever. And I said "Good - then we'll do it first" And so we raised over $280,000, we crossed the finish line within 24 hours of the deadline, everyone backed it, they were spreading word to their friends, it was unbelievable, the amount of support that came out for this thing. Even now, we're the third highest music project ever on Kickstarter, and the two above us are DVD/Blu-Ray film projects. So we kind of rewrote the books on that one as well! And it just goes to show the passion that gamers have, that we have about the whole project.

And the best part about the whole project is that we actually got it out on time!

I wanted to set the goal high, and then over-deliver on that. Next time we're round, when we do this in a year or so from now, we'll start with 6,000 people knowing it's a great thing, and we'll go from there.

Oh, the other great thing about the album too! Not only was it hard to get the record companies on board in the first place, but when I started talking about the setlist we wanted - you know, Monkey Island, Beyond Good and Evil, Silent Hill 2, they were like "well these aren't even AAA games". You know, Shadow of the Colossus(!) "So you want hundreds of thousands of dollars to record this thing, and you aren't even giving us Halo and Mario?" I mean, there's some big things on there - there's Warcraft, and Final Fantasy, and Pokemon and Zelda - but half the album is cuts the average gamer may not expect to hear, yet they're some of the best tracks on the album. I mean - the Tetris Opera, are you kidding me?

EP: It kind of works the other way round for me. I hadn't actually played some of the games that some of the tracks are from - and now that I've heard the music, I kind of want to go and play them myself!

TT: Right - I mean, that's the thing. I mean Journey, that's another one, Journey's music's beautiful..

EP: I think it was Shadow of the Colossus actually. I haven't played it...

TT: Oh! It's one of my favourite games of all time. I mean, dust off your Playstation 3 - one of the best things about it, they released Shadow of the Collosus and Ico, and they up-rezzed the graphics, so that's the version to go for. Don't go for the original, go straight to the Playstation 3.

EP: I might just do that! So, are you pleased with how the album turned out in the end?

TT: Absolutely! I mean, there was only one track I was going to get on there that I couldn't, that we recorded.

EP: I was going to ask about that...

TT: There was going to be sixteen tracks on there, and Nintendo shut the door on me for Mario. I had the most amazing Super Mario World arrangement. I recorded it, I mean, I have it, it was the best track on the album in my opinion, and they wouldn't let me release it!

EP: How come?

TT: I don't know the reason, I really don't. Maybe they're doing their own Mario album, maybe they're doing their own Mario concert, I have no idea... I mean, they did Zelda - did you go and see that by the way, when it was in London?

EP: I didn't... It was actually the ticket prices that meant I decided not to go!

TT: See what I'm saying! (laughs) In all seriousness, I'm not trying to put down other concerts. As a video game composer, I want there to be as many game concerts out there in the world as possible, because... I mean, I'm a gamer - not only am I a game composer, but I'm a huge gamer myself. My two biggest loves growing up were always video games and music. I'm not just some concert promoter trying to make a buck off of Final Fantasy or Zelda or whatever, you know - we do this for a reason. We change the show every year, and I'll be honest with you, I don't make a lot of music off this - I made a lot of money writing video game music, I'm still getting money for games I wrote the music for 25 years ago. I don't do it for the money, I do this for the passion, and the reason I started this show was to prove to the world how significant and culturally significant games have become.

And, we're also helping to usher in a whole new generation of young people, to appreciate the arts, and symphonic orchestras and all that stuff, and I find that to be really important as well. I mean, that's why when we do this show, we don't do it like Final Fantasy and Zelda do where it's just a classical show and they're just playing video game music - that's cool, but that's not what we are. We tell people that we want them to scream and holler, we want them to turn up in cosplay, and ripped jeans and video game t-shirts. We want them to bring in their video cameras and their phones, and take pictures, and spread it around Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. That's a big deal, and it kind of depresses me about the shows that have come after us, but hey, what are you going to do.

Lights, lasers, a full orchestra and two and a half hours of great music.

EP: What goes in to bringing a show like Video Games Live that's quite this spectacular to the UK? I mean, how do you go about putting it all together?

TT: That's a great question, I mean - there's so many logistics, if you think for a second. Not only is there a full orchestra and choir on stage, but everyone person has a little headphone and a click track system. There's multiple screens, all the lights and special effects and all the production that goes into that. And here's the most insane part - November 1st, Manchester, we load in that morning! 9 o'clock in the morning, our team's there, we load up, we start, we do the whole show, by 1 o'clock it's set up, at 1:30 we start choir and orchestra rehearsals, then we go to dinner, and then the show starts! And then we pack everything up again, to the meet and greet with the fans, don't sleep, fly over to London and do it all over again on the second. So, everything is done in one day!

Now, I send all the orchestra and choir music to the orchestra, like a month or two ahead of time. And that's one of the things you might want to mention - I don't do this show for myself, I do it for the audience, so I let the audience tell me what they want to hear. On our main Facebook page, I have a Facebook page set up for each of the events, so you can go into, say, the Video Games Live London events page, and I say "Tell me what you want to hear!" - and that's how I create the set list, from city to city and country to country.

Over the last twelve years, I've actually created over 125 different segments for the show, but I can only play about, you know, 18 of them a night, that's about a two and a half hour performance. But I can tell you, coming out of the gate so far, quite a lot of people want to hear - I don't know, maybe they're bored of some of the Halos and Zeldas, I don't know - but some of the things that I'm seeing a lot of Skyrim, Monkey Island, Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter, oh, Silent Hill - those are some of the ones that are popular so far, so you may end up seeing some of those at the shows.

EP: I think I'd like to see Silent Hill

TT: And again, on the album, I mean it's a totally different take on the thing, me and Akira playing guitar together, with the symphony. I mean, that's one of my favourite tracks on the album - I got to do to a little solo in the middle, it was fun!

EP: Out of the 125 arrangements you've put together, you must have some favourites in there?

TT: Yeah - I mean the first track off the album, Liberi Fatali, Final Fantasy VIII, the opening, is one of my favourite video game songs ever. I've never put it on the album because everyone's always like "Ohhhh everyone wants to hear One Winged Angel from VII", but I think everyone's sick of it as this point, you know!

But yeah, that's probably one of my favourites from an orchestration and arrangement standpoint, but for sheer energy and excitement, when I'm performing on stage - Castlevania, Street Fighter II, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, that's some of my favourites to perform.

EP: I hadn't actually realised quite how good the Street Fighter theme was until I heard the arrangement on the album.

TT: Yeah - I wanted to do a really hard rock [take]. I'm a big Eddie Van Halen fan, I grew up in a big rock and roll family, so yeah, whenever I get the chance to rock something out - and add the symphony on top of that - Street Fighter is a perfect one. Mega Man is another one, I mean, when you listen to the soundtrack, you can almost hear it. When I listened to it as a kid, you could kind of hear it you know, the guitar and the horns at the end of it, so it's just a realisation of a dream from long ago.

EP: And you get to play it all on stage as well, with an orchestra!

TT: It's incredible. To millions of people a year. I mean, for me, it's the best job in the world that I could ever have dreamed of. Like I said, my two greatest loves growing up were video games and music, but I never thought to put the two together, because you know, growing up in the 70s and 80s there was no such thing as a video game composer. So to be doing this, and taking all my game composer friends music from around the world, and be performing their music to millions of people, it's amazing.

I mean, we all do this, game composers, we all want to have our music heard, that's why we're ultimately doing this. We sit in our dark studios until 4 o'clock in the morning, and we put it as a little message in a bottle and send it out into the ocean. We upload it to an FTP site and then we're done. There's never that connection with a live audience, and the fans, and the instant feedback and the energy that comes from that - there's nothing like it. So composers want their music to be heard - that's any artist, right? But as a composer, most composers never get to hear their music live. So for video game composers to see their music being played live, and get that instant adrenaline feedback, Video Games Live has been a great outlet for so many of game composer friends to be able to realise that dream they've had.

EP: I mean, you said earlier about how it was a crazy idea - "a video game concert, who'll go and see that!?"

TT: Oh, everyone thought I was insane.

EP: When you pitch it to the orchestras, what's their reaction like? Do they know what game music is like, or are they of a different generation almost?

TT: Well, now that we've been doing this for twelve years, and filling arenas around the world from Dubai to Scotland, it's become a lot easier to just say "Here, look at this video - watch this if you don't believe it". But we do get certain orchestras sometimes, and they're kind of snobby. And they're like "What is this, this pop music, this new modern music - Beethoven is the genius, not Halo", so they're apprehensive.

And you can see when you first sit down with an upper echelon kind of symphony, and you can see the older people going "Sonic... the Hedgehog? What the hell, this isn't Stravinsky!" - and once they play the music, and they hear these amazing melodies. I mean, the reality is we all draw inspiration from the masters that came before us, so you get to hear Beethoven and Mozart and Tchaikovsky, so once they play it for the first time, you see their whole attitude start to change. And then, then the show happens, and 4, 5, sometimes 10, 20 thousand people are on their feet cheering and clapping like it's the second coming of the Beatles, and that is when they truly get it and go "wow". I get people coming up to me after the break saying "You know, I've been playing Oboe professionally for twenty years, and I have never, ever seen anything like this in my entire career - when are you coming back."

So what started out as apprehension - and I mean, I understand it. These are people who've been playing classic music for forty years, it's all they really know - they don't know the difference between Lara Croft and Crash Bandicoot, so for them to experience this, and see all these young people coming out who've never been to a classical show ever, that's when it really hits the musicians.

It's interesting. I was playing a show in New Zealand, and the person who was interviewing me for the local television station was a big music major. She comes up to me, and she says "You know, I've studied music history, and I had to step back, because do you realise that this is the first time ever that millions of young people have come out and stood in line to see a symphony?" Even in the time of Beethoven, it was a bunch of old rich people - and things haven't changed much! - whereas Video Games Live, 80% of the people are between 18 and 35 years old, and that's never happened. When she said that, I just thought "wow".

I'll tell you another great story that I think says a lot about this subject. A couple of years ago, we were performing again with this huge, well known, upper echelon symphony, and the woman comes up, and I think she was a flute player, and she comes up, and she has tears in her eyes. And she says "I just want to let you know, I've been in this symphony for 25 years, and I have a 17 year old son. His whole life, I've been trying to get him to come and see his mom play, and he's never seen me play - until tonight." And tears started running down her cheek. And she said "I just want to thank you so much, because not only is he seeing his mom for the first time, but all he's been doing for the past month is going around in school, bragging to everyone about how his mom's going to be playing Halo and Final Fantasy on stage tonight." She says "Thank you - I am literally the happiest mother on the planet right now" And it's like - wow! This is cool stuff!

After every performance, I'll get at least one or two emails from parents saying "We went to your show last night, we didn't know what to expect! My kids loved it, we loved it, it was so entertaining, so funny, and the music was so powerful - I get it. Now I know why my kids are so into video games, thank you so much. But the reason we're writing is because this morning, my eight year old daughter said she wanted to start taking violin lessons so she can learn the music of Final Fantasy"

And that's real life stuff that happens every day - and I get it! Because when I was ten years old and Star Wars came out in 1977, I had the same feeling! So because of pop culture - again, I come from a rock and roll family - but I got interested in writing for symphonic orchestras. And you're seeing the exact same thing happen thirty years later, where video games are inspiring a whole new generation to pick up instruments and get into music.  

And not only that, not only music. I mean think about it - take cosplayers. I mean, these are the fashion designers of the future, these are people who make these elaborate costumes, they spend hundreds of hours putting these things together, and because of video games, they have this creative outlet that was previously not there. And how about artists? Go on Deviant Art and put in Final Fantasy, or Zelda, or Warcraft, or anything, and you will see hundreds of thousands of [pieces of] art, all inspired by video games. 

It's funny - video games, and video games music is underground, kinda, but then everybody's underground. Is it mainstream? I don't know anyone under 40 who's never played a video game in their life...

EP: I know what you mean about the concept being a great way to get a new audience into orchestral music - but I hadn't actually realised about how it's a great way to get kids to learn to play instruments for themselves. And it's true! I mean, I played the keyboard when I was younger, and I was never really all that interested in the music I was trying to play - but then I got the Final Fantasy Piano Collections sheet music book, and all of a sudden, I was interested again, because it was all this cool music I knew.

TT: There you go! I tell you what, I'll go one step further. You ask any local music store, and they'll tell you that when Guitar Hero was at its high point, they were selling four times more guitars during those years that at any other time. And take it from someone who plays Guitar Hero on expert, and has played guitar for 40 years - some of the songs on expert on Guitar Hero are harder to play on the game than they are on a real guitar! It's insane! Then you've got games like Rocksmith, which take it even further and let you plug your guitar in - why not, right? That's the kind of stories we should be telling.

EP: When we talk about the preparation that goes into making a show like this, one of the most important parts is the arrangements, which for Video Games Live are fantastic. You kind of squeeze every great melody, every great segment from an entire game into a single five minute piece. Compared to some of the other concerts out there that do things a bit differently, like the German shows...

TT: Have you been to one of the German shows?

EP: I haven't been to them, but I've heard the music they came up with

TT: Yeah, it's pretty er... I mean, like I said, as a video game composer I want as many of those concerts out there, but as a composer I sit there and listen to those arrangements and I think "Yeah... I kind of hear the melody in there..." It's a very avant-garde look at orchestrations, and again it's very, very traditional, no screens, no lights. For the industry, I think that's fantastic - the more styles, the more variation, the better, but Video Games Live is the first, the biggest and the best, because it's for everybody and it's fun.

I mean, when people hear the music to Halo and Warcraft, and they're hearing the music coming out of their 5.1 sound systems, I want to start with that, and then make that even greater. So we have to use drum machines and drum loops for things like Metal Gear Solid and Halo - I can't get a hundred Taiko drums on stage - so I go to the original composer, and I say "Hey, give me those original sounds, and I'll trigger those during the show", and with the orchestra on top, it's huge, it's bombastic, it's energetic. I'm not interested in taking the Metal Gear theme and going "Hey, I wonder what it'd be like if Stravinsky wrote the Metal Gear Solid theme". Who cares?

EP: Some of the tracks seem more like they've just written their own music and said "Hey, this is our take on Starfox"

TT: Yeah, I know right! And you'll hear the melody for three seconds, and go - ah there it is!

EP: That Pokemon arrangement on the new Video Games Live album, on the other hand, is just goosebumps throughout

TT: Oh, thanks, I had fun with that one! And again, I don't understand why Nintendo just doesn't do their music like that.

EP: Square won't let you use their images either, will they?

TT: No! [So] the way I present, the way we do it with Liberi Fatali for example, [Square are] the only company that doesn't let us do visuals from their games. So what I do instead is, I put tons of Go Pro cameras all over the stage, on the instruments themselves, and we put it on the trombone, on the slide, and so you'll see the thing going in and out; I'll put them at the bottom of people's cellos and get a really cool angle, and the way I explain it to people is I say this song, Liberi Fatali is so incredible, and the orchestration is so amazing... [I mean], that's what separates the Beethovens and the Mozarts from an average composer - their strength in understanding how the orchestra works -  they invented it! - and the arrangements, and their orchestration. If you listen to the cello and the violin, they're doing two completely different things but they're working together. The choir and the woodwind are intertwined, yet it's making sense when it's all played together when it sounds crazy separately. Uematsu-san's music's like that, the orchestration is incredible - so for this song, what we'd like to do is really focus on the instrumentation, and show you all the instruments doing their thing, and tell people to listen closely. And the people are always all "Wow, this is really cool!", and we didn't have to show any video.

EP: Well, that's certainly one way around it.

To talk about yourself for a moment, you've had an expansive career in the industry so far to say the least, with over 300 games under your belt. How did you get your first break, and your first project?

TT: So, like I said, my two greatest loves growing up were video games and music, but I never thought to put the two together. I grew up on the East coast of the United States, and when I turned 21, I left my family literally crying on the doorstep. I left my parents, my younger brother, and I got in my car, and I drove 3,000 miles to California, to Hollywood, because that's what you do in the US. If you're following your dream, and you want to be an actor or a musician, you head to California.

I had a little three seater car, I put my little computer and my music keyboard in there, three shirts and a pair of jeans. And I drove out there all by myself. I had no job, no money, no place to stay, nothing. The first three weeks in California I was actually homeless, I was sleeping under a pier on Huntington Beach. But the first day I got there, I picked up a newspaper, and I saw a job selling keyboards at a guitar store. So I went down there and said "Hey, I could sell keyboards!" and they said "OK cool, you've got the job, you start tomorrow". 

Well, one of those three t-shirts I had on me was a video game t-shirt. Remember, this was the late 80s, no-one had video game t-shirts back then - now, you can buy them everywhere, but back then it was extremely rare, and the shirt that I had was even more rare, because it was for this new Japanese game system called the TurboGrafx-16, that wasn't even out in the US yet. And the way I got this shirt was I stood in line at this state fair, three states away, I heard they were coming there, so I stood in line, and if you give them feedback about what you thought of the system and the games, they give you a three t-shirt! I was very proud of it!

So anyway, my first day in the music store, the first person who walked through the door worked for Richard Branson. And they were starting a Virgin video games studio down the street that week. And he saw my shirt, and he's like "Oh my god, you know about video games!?" and I'm like "[knowingly] Ahhh", and download like 20 years of video game information on this poor b**tard. And he said, well, we're starting a video game studio down the street, do you want a job? And I said "Yeah, doing what?" So he said you play video games, you tell us what's wrong with them, and we'll pay you $4 an hour. And I was like "Holy s-, this California's a great place!"

And so there it was. I was in California three days, 21 years old, and I was in the video games industry. [But then] what I would do is I would bug the vice president of the company every day to let me do music, because they didn't have a music person. And so I'd say "Look - whenever you need music, let me know. I'll do it for free, just give me this chance. And if you don't like it, you don't have to use it, just at least give me the chance". And the first game we were working on internally there was Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia, the original Prince of Persia, and so that was the first game I ever worked on and did the music for.

I won an award that year for best music, so they were like "OK, I guess we'd better make you the music guy now"

EP: They started paying you for it then I hope?

TT: Well, yeah, exactly! The more I did and the more awards I won, the more I'd demand in a salary! (laughs) And I was there for about four years, and then I left in '94, when we all kind of left Virgin, and they formed Shiny Entertainment, where we did the first Earthworm Jim game.

EP: With 300 games under your belt, what would you say the hardest project you ever worked on was? I guess some games are more inspirational when it come to writing music than others?

TT: Err... I can tell you the shi**est one I ever worked on, which I guess was the hardest as well? A game on the NES called "Colour a Dinosaur". Look this one up - it's always on people's top ten worst games of all time. I mean, I've been very fortunate, I've worked on over 300 games, I've worked on some of the biggest selling and most popular games ever, from Sonic and Pac-Man to Tony Hawk and Metroid Prime. But I also have two of the worst games as well, one of them being Aquaman, and the other being Colour a Dinosaur.

What made it so awful is that back in the old days, music and sound was an afterthought. The NES was still a hot machine at the time, but I had never done a game on the NES yet. And that same VP who hired me comes into my office and says "Hey, we're submitting this game to Nintendo tomorrow, and there's no sound in it - can you put something in there?" (laughs)

And that's the way it was back then, there was no money, no audio, no time - it was just "Yeah, just make some beep sounds or whatever", and I really wanted to help change that, to change people - even game development people - I wanted to change their perception of how important audio could be.

So I had to learn this new system I'd never worked on before - and back then, creating music, the hardest part of creating music was getting it to sound right on the system. You know, writing it may have taken a day, but getting it to sound like something audible may have taken a week. So yeah, it's something I'm not proud of, but anyway - it's funny now though, because the game has become famous because I make fun of it all the time. In fact, people on Facebook and Twitter have just shown me this, someone on eBay is selling a copy of Colour a Dinosaur in original shrink wrap, and it's going for $1,500, 'cause I make fun of it so much.

EP: You've created a monster...

Yeah! It's become a collector's edition, and people try and get the game and get me to sign it, so yeah, it's funny.

EP: For someone looking to get into the industry as a composer now, I guess it's a lot harder because there's a lot more competition?

TT: No! It's a lot easier! I'll tell you why - I wish I had half the stuff young kids have now, I didn't have anything, I just had to make it up as I go along. First of all, there's the Games Developers Conference - I know in the UK they have Develop over there too. There's all these things where if you have money, you can get yourself along, and learn more in four days than you would in four years in college.

The video game industry is all about networking, and making friends, and there wasn't anything like that around when I was growing up! There wasn't E3, or Gamescom, or anything where you could meet games developers and get friendly with them. The IGDA - they have chapters all over the world where they have monthly meetings and you can meet up with people making games. So that's huge.

So the thing I would tell everyone who's looking to get into the games industry, whether it's design, or art, or coding or music is go to these conferences, get out there and meet the people doing what you want to do. And meet the people who are going to hire you to do it! The second thing is books! Go on Amazon and put in game music, you'll see ten different books come back telling you step by step how to make game music. We didn't have any books growing up, or internet!

And the tools and technology. You can download for free the tools and technology to make music for the Xbox or Playstation - we never had that growing up! We had to make up the programs as we went along and deal with 0s and 1s, literally  - it was hey, if I change that 1 it sounds like this, if I change that 0 it sounds like that, eh... I liked the other one better. That's how we did game music in the 80s!

The other thing is about 12 years ago, right before I started Video Games Live, I formed the Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G). It's a non-profit organisation that I founded, and we currently have 2,500 members representing 30 countries around the world. Every year for the last 12 years we have a big awards show at GDC with over 20 different audio categories, and it's really become kind of the Grammys of our industry. And we foster - we have apprenticeships, we have $20,000 scholarships for people looking to get in, so we kind of like to tell people "Hey, come on in!". We don't play our cards close to our chest - we say come in, and let us show you how to do this!

And the other genius part is, going back 25 - 30 years, there was probably less than a thousand video games that come out a year - now, there's probably a thousand games, because of mobile and indie games that come out a day! What that means is the entry level to get in to do something, there's so many people who need so much audio, it's actually pretty easy to get into. So if you want to get into game music, go for it, it's pretty damn easy.

EP: Easier than when you got started then, when there was a lot of serendipity at play

TT: Yeah, a lot of fate, let's say. I mean, what's funny is when I was ten years old, I used to put on video game concerts for my friends. I'd go down to the local arcade, I'd take my dad's big cassette recorder, and I'd record my favourite arcade game music, and then I'd bring it home and record my favourite Commodore 64, Intellivision and Atari tracks, and I'd put a tape together.  Then I'd splice the tape so I wouldn't lose quality taping it over a second time, and I'd invite my neighbourhood friends over. I'd charge them 5 cents, and I'd put my favourite games on TV, I'd hit play on the cassette tape, and I'd jump up in front of the television with my guitar and put on a video game show! And that was the late 70s, so I guess that was the first video games concert ever! Looking back now, I can see that I completely manifested this whole thing!

EP: Some things never change!

TT: Exactly!


Tickets for Video Games Live's UK Tour are on sale now at GigsandTours, for their two shows in November. On the 1st November they'll be at the Manchester O2 Apollo, and on the 2nd they'll be at the Eventim Apollo in London. Tickets start from £25, and go up to £40ish including booking fees for the best seats - and if you haven't been before, it's well worth going along. We'll be heading along to the show - so maybe we'll even see you there!

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