by Jason Whong
Ambrosia Times: We're talking today with Eric Speier, head honcho of Speier Music productions. It's good to speak with you, Eric.
Eric Speier: Thanks, it's great to be here at my desk staring into the computer screen.
AT: I guess we'll start at the beginning, so it makes chronological sense. How did you get started in music making?
ES: I actually started playing trumpet when I was 8, and though I thoroughly loved playing "classical" and jazz, by the time I was 13 I realized that no one was going top ask me to play in their rock and roll band (and I probably wouldn't get a girlfriend)!!! I saved my paper route money, picked up the bass, and started playing in a band the next day (LITERALLY). I think the girlfriend took another year. We practiced every day after school from 3 to 8 and most weekends all day. I was hooked. I went to the Berklee College of Guitar for Boys, and earned my degree in music composition/arranging and performance. After a short stint in Wheeling, West Virginia, I moved to LA, where for 2 years I toured, played bass, and musical directed several acts. That was OK, but my real passion was writing, and I decided to do it full time. FYI, Ben Spees was my first client, he was 15 at the time, and working on his first game, "Derrat Sorcerum."
AT: At what point did you discover that you could use the Mac to further your musical efforts?
ES: In college, the Mac Plus had just been released; I knew a couple of people who had them, along with a sequencer and small MIDI set-up. At that point I realized the potential of using the Mac as a tool, but I didn't get one until I moved to LA, and the Mac IIsi came out. At this point it is an indispensible part of music making for me and in today's industry in general.
AT: So far you've written music for several of our titles. What would you say is the first thing you do when you set out to compose music for a game?
ES: The first thing that I do is ask the developer for any materials, picts, alphas, descriptions, movies, etc. so I get a feel for the game. Then I have a discussion with them about musical style, instrumentation, formatting, special requirements, i.e. whether something has to be "scored" to a set sequence, whether the cues should loop, or play through. As far as musically, that depends: If it is a scored piece, I always choose a tempo first (that way it fits the picture). If it is a groove-oriented tune, I conceive with the drums and bass. If it's orchestral or ambient, I usually come up with thematic material first (themeatic material can be melodic and/or rhythmic in nature.) As I get older, more experienced and, ahemmm "wiser," I find that much of what I write is already in my head before I even record one note, so more and more I tend to write the parts down on paper so I don't forget them.
AT: How many songs will you write for an average game? Are they all used in the game?
ES:That really depends on the creator. I've written as few as 3 and as many as 60. Some want short songs, 1 or 2 minutes, and some want 7 or 8 minute songs. Mostly, all of my songs are used, although I usually make a change or 2 per project. Generally the only time I write material that is not used is when the developer makes changes to the game and the music composed is no longer appropriate.
AT: What skills does someone need to compete in the music writing biz?
ES: A good grounding in business is probably the most important thing. The greatest music in the world means nothing if you can't land the gig. Listen to much of the stuff on TV, it's mediocre at best. Those composers get the gig by making and maintaining contacts, having great selling skills, and persistence. Musically, being able to write well in many styles while maintaining you own voice will keep you working. There is an old adage that goes, "I read music, but not enough to hurt my playing." I encourage all of those aspiring composers out there to learn the language of music, but only as a way of communicating and understanding the music that already exists inside of them. Learning the theory of music can ONLY help in that way. Learning theoretical music and harmony, reading, etc. can never make you a player or writer, only enhance your understanding and therefore your control (or lack of).
AT: Do you have a favorite composition?
ES: Well, that changes all of the time, but currently my favorites are the score from Schindler's List, Mahler's 5th, and I've been listening to Prodigy and Crystal Method. If you're talking about my own stuff, I'm really proud of the score that I wrote for the Columbia/Tri-Star noirish thriller, "Implicated."
AT: Have you ever been sitting in a subway or bus, and overheard someone humming one of your songs?
ES: No, but I walked out of a client's office one time, and a kid who was going in for a focus group was humming away the theme to Oregon Trail 2. My mixing engineer (who's a neighbor as well) is so inundated with my music, poor guy, that I often here him walking down the street whistling a tune I've written.
AT: Surely you've written songs for other organizations besides Ambrosia. Care to list a few?
ES:A shameless plug? How could I pass that up. I've composed scores for Columbia/Tristar, Orion Pictures, Paramount, The Learning Company, Nova Logic, and a host of others. In fact, on March 5th, the Sony Pictures film "Implicated" will premiere on Cinemax at 8 PM, and then it contiues airing every few days for awhile. I wrote and orchestrated the score using a 50-piece orchestra. I'm currently writing the music for "Aquanauts." Look for it in the coming months on Discovery Channel in the US, and check local listings around the rest of the world. I'm also finishing up Ferazel for you guys. (See Ben, finishing soon!!!)
AT: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
ES: Scoring major motion pictures, really putting a body of work out there, and traveling on my off-time (something I also hope to have ;-) ).
AT: What's your favorite iMac color?
ES: I'd have to say Lime, with Grape a close second.
AT: And which music format do you like best? MIDI? MOD? S3M? MED?
ES: I like to work with MIDI and live instruments as I'm making the music, and I like delivering as AIFF/WAV files. The other formats have their advantages too. I like the concept of MODs, but for me, the interface for writing the music, or translating it from MIDI is so foreign to the way that I think about music that I get really frustrated when I work with it. MIDI is OK when you are allowed to make your own instrument sets, but of course memory issues come into play as far as quality of music. For instance, MODS and MIDI instrument samples might take up 5 or 6 megs for a project, where as the instrument sets I use in my samplers to utimately mix down to audio files EASILY take up 256MB of memory for 1 cue. That makes the sounds have that much more depth and realism.
AT: Which vegetable do you like the most?
AT: And your favorite breakfast cereal?
ES: Cosmic choco-fuzz bombs with mini marshmallows!!!!
AT: Well, that about wraps it up. Kids, if you want to be a great composer like Eric, you'd better eat your cornflakes and zucchini.