John Debney

- Lair
- Many film scores



Official website


John Debney is one of Hollywood's most in-demand film composers. With the video game project "Lair", he finally entered the world of game music. In this interview, John talks about composing music for games, the challenges invovled in writing music for "Lair" as well as his perspective on the game and film music industry in general.

Let’s talk about Lair. How and when did you first get involved with the project?

I was contacted through my agent who told me about Lair, a video game that Sony was producing for the Playstation 3 platform. Sony wanted to create a score that was large in scope that utilized strong themes laced with ethnic flavors, and they had the desire to work with composers of film scores. Being that Lair was more of a cinematic experience, they wanted to explore the integration of video game and film rolled into one. The creative team was fantastic and very collaborative.


How did you start out writing the music? How much creative freedom were you given by the developers in order to find a unique and creative soundscape for the title?

There was tremendous creative freedom to create a thematic and at times operatic experience for the gamer. I believe this was one of the most ambitious game scores that had been done to date. Utilizing artists from around the world, the recording process culminated in the glorious recording at Air Lyndhurst of the London Philharmonic and guest vocal soloists.


Could you talk a bit about the use of themes and thematic material in Lair? How did you deal with the interactive side of the game?

In truth, I created more thematic material than needed and Lair as a score that harkens back to the golden age of film scoring, establishing strong main character themes as well as sub-themes for many characters in the game.

Since I am the world's worst gamer, I can't speak to the playability of the game, however, the overall look is spectacular and I was blown away by the end result. 


There’s a great amount of choir in Lair. Was the choir recorded live or sampled?

This was synthesized choir in the main with "live" solo-ists. The Latin portions of the choir were created using ‘word builder’ symphony of voices technology.  


Overall, how would you describe your score and what aspect of it are you most thrilled about?

I'm rarely thrilled with my own work but I am pleased with the Lair score in that we pulled off a bit of a miracle. We recorded over two hours of music in about two days in London. The music is extremely challenging and we would've had trouble had we not been in London with some of the finest musicians in the world.


You’ve worked primarily for film. How would you compare movie and game scoring?

I love the creative freedom involved in the game industry. Also, the time frame is much more drawn out which was interesting in that I was able to create over a much longer period of time as opposed the average of 6 to 8 weeks in the average film score.


For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening? What attracted you to the genre of video games?

I believe that as games become more sophisticated (i.e. with more complex story lines and well defined characters) the desire for a more film score like approach is needed. Hiring a well established and accomplished film score composer only makes sense in that this wealth of talent and cinematic knowledge can be utilized in creating a great and memorable game score.


Does the overall composing process differ when writing music for games as opposed to film? What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?

The two processes are quite different. In creating a game score, there are different needs in terms of the technical applications. Games scores need to be written with the needs of the game in mind. Normally, much more music may be needed for the game as opposed to film. Alternate versions of cues and/or alternate endings may be needed as opposed to the normal film score. In general, there is a different structure and vocabulary that must be adhered to with video games.


Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

Well, my biggest hope is that eventually, the composer will be compensated properly for his or her contribution to the game. Music plays a major role in the gaming experience and I hope that like film, composers will be included and properly compensated in the area of artists' royalties. This is the single greatest obstacle at this point in time. We must educate game developers as to the inherent worth of music and create the proper atmosphere for compensation in the future.


What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3-player right now?

Jerry Goldsmith's Executive Decision is being played at the moment. John Williams also.  Past those two giants, I listen to a lot of talk radio...


What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

I'd have to say The Passion of the Christ in its sheer challenge and depth of emotion. It was the most difficult film I've done yet, yet one of the most fulfilling.


What would be your dream project?

I'd say perhaps: Star Trek 15 ;) or maybe one of the Star Wars films.


What are you currently working on?

A Thousand Words (Paramount), Old Dogs (Disney) and They Came From Upstairs (Fox).


Do you play PC or console games yourself?

I'm terrible at games but love to pretend that I'm good.


Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.

Thanks so much!