Hi Johan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music/sound-effects business?
I’ve been a fan of games since I was a kid and have always had a passion for music and all things audio. I got a degree in Political Science and upon graduation I decided to follow my dream of having a career in music and audio. I studied at Full Sail in Orlando , Florida and got a degree in Recording Engineering. After working hard and spending a great deal of time networking I started writing music for a record label in Stockholm, Sweden (a division of Universal Music) as well as writing music for commercials and some TV stuff. My true goal was always to write music for games so I was always keeping my eyes open for any opportunities. I started attending Toronto ’s IGDA chapter meetings and made some key contacts that eventually lead to my first gaming project. I also joined the Game Audio Network Guild and attended the Game Developers Conference. I met some great people who opened up doors for me. There is a real sense of community in the game audio world and everyone is excited about how far things have come in the last few years - even more excited about what’s to come!
You’ve just founded your new game audio production studio in Canada . How difficult is it to get a foothold in the video game music industry?
It’s a very exciting and rewarding industry so there are of course a lot of people who want to get into the business. The key to success is to market yourself properly and to be a true professional. It is very important to be a team player and an excellent communicator. One must understand that as a composer you are in essence a member of the game development team who’s mutual goal is to create a great game.
Networking is also an important aspect of the business. One must attend the conferences and join the various associations. Most importantly, it is also very important to be thankful to those who give you opportunities and to give it all you’ve got when they give you a chance to show what you can do. If you follow these fundamental principles you will succeed despite the fact the business is highly competitive.
Your studio handles every aspect of a game’s audio – from voice-recording to music and sound-effects. How do you think all these aspects should work together in a game and where do you see room for improvements in the future? Where do you see game music/audio in five to ten years from now?
All aspects of audio must be seamlessly integrated into the game which is why communication is so important. In terms of voice recording, bad voice work can really drag a game down so it’s important to find professional voice actors. Voice acting is harder than most people think. It takes training and experience to be a good voice actor. You must also find the right voice actor for the right character. In terms of music and sound design, it is crucial that they work in sync. Depending on the style of music, the line between music and sound design is often blurred so it very important that they ‘work together’ so to speak.
Game audio has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. In the future I see more and more people getting set up with surround sound systems to further enhance the gaming experience. As Steven Spielberg has said “music and sound represent at least 50% of the entertainment value of all my films”. The same holds true for games. The recent improvements in game audio have added significant entertainment value to today’s games.
Many game and movie music fans regret that the sound-effects in both movies and games are becoming more and more important and developed and eventually try to replace music altogether. What is your perspective on this development?
My personal opinion on this is that sound effects can never fully replace music. Sound effects do provide realism and excitement but music provides the emotion. Without music the game would lose its human element thereby taking away from the realism of the overall gaming experience. For example, if the developer feels that it is key to the storyline that the gamer feel a certain emotion at a certain point in the game, only the implementation of the appropriate music can achieve this.
What composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?
I’m in to so many types of music from orchestral, to soul, to jazz, to rock, to electronic music so it’s hard to say. On the orchestral side, recently I’ve been listening a great deal to Don Davis’ The Matrix score. I simply love the way he uses the horns to drive the film. It’s very cool how there is no central theme but how the music is still distinctly recognizable as the Matrix score. Brilliant stuff! As far as game composers go my list of favourites is long. I truly believe that some of the best music today is found in games. At the top of my list are Jack Wall, Michael Giacchino and Inon Zur. I’m a big fan of Jack Wall ’s work on Brothers in Arms. It really caught my attention when playing the game. Of course, who isn’t influenced by guys like John Williams, James Horner, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman? Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is also a big influence on me (perhaps I’m biased by my Scandinavian roots). Wagner is great. I like powerful emotionally charged music. What’s in my CD Player right now? Well, I’ve got Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Bobby Womack’s Greatest Hits, Korn’s Issues, John Ottman’s X-Men 2 film score, Hans Zimmer’s The Rock, Danny Elfman’s Batman Returns, James Horner’s Aliens , and let’s not forget Black Sabbath’s We Sold Our Soul for Rock n’ Roll. I’ve also got Cosmic Gate’s Rhythm & Drums, a great electronic group from Germany . I’m switching my CDs all the time so next week it’ll be a whole other mix.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
I would have to say Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green for Brainbox Games/Digital Extremes for the simple reason that it was the first game Mannerheim Studios worked on. It felt so good to land that first gaming project.
What would be your dream project?
Being able to work with game audio is a dream in itself so as long as I’m doing that I’m living the dream!
What are you currently working on?
Due to certain confidentially agreements I am unfortunately unable to discuss it. I wish I could though!
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
Yes, I’ve always been a fan of games. You really need to be a gamer to understand how to write music for games. Recently I’ve been playing Call of Duty 2 which is fantastic. Incredible sound effects! The smoke grenade effects are amazing!
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
I would like to acknowledge and thank the founders of the Game Audio Network Guild as the organization has been my gateway into the game audio business.