Game Music

GDC 2009: Interview With Gerard Marino and Carmen Rizzo

April 21, 2009 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook GDC 2009: Interview With Gerard Marino and Carmen Rizzoon Twitter

Here we are with the last of our coverage to come out of GDC 2009. I’m honestly still recovering from the five day conference last month, but it surely was a lot of fun. On the final day of the conference, we were able to sit down with Gerard Marino and Carmen Rizzo to discuss their panel and talk about the game they’ve been busily working on over this past year.

As more information about this title becomes available, you can bet we’ll be covering it as the music sounds absolutely amazing. In the meantime, enjoy our discussion about blending musical styles, the potential for collaboration in the future, and Rizzo’s thoughts on digital versus physical distribution and film and games in general. The infamous Gerard Marino holiday party Guitar Hero contest where I supposedly “hustled” (or beat) him also comes up, so be sure to check that out. We already knew Gerard was awesome, but I hope gamers come to know Carmen Rizzo’s music as he’s extremely talented and a cool guy all around.

Read our interview with the duo after the jump.

OSV: We’re here with Gerard Marino and Carmen Rizzo, composers for an upcoming MMO title from Sony Online. They just gave a talk this morning about how they’re teaming up with the orchestral styles of Gerard Marino and the electronic background of Carmen Rizzo here. We wanted to know how you guys came to work together?

Marino: Basically, I was working for an orchestral composer named Christopher Young—I was doing orchestral programming for him—and we got on this film called Swordfish, and he was going to write half of the music and Paul Oakfenfold was going to write half of the music, and my job was to come up with electronic parts that would jive with what Paul was doing. So, that’s how I came to the table, and Paul happened to be producing and writing an album at Carmen’s studio at the time, so Paul’s other programmer was working on the film with him and set up at Carmen’s studio, so I was over there working with him, great guy, Andy Gray, got to work with him a lot. I got to know Carmen then, kept in touch over the years.

Rizzo: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. We were sharing my studio in Hollywood. It was my facility, but Gerard was working in one room on the film and I was working with Paul on the record, and I ended up working on the film a little bit, but that’s how we met. Gerard makes a living doing videogames, and he’s quite successful at it, I sort of entertained the idea of partnering with somebody, because I think it was sort of fashionable at the time and still is that composers are teaming up who are stronger in certain areas, let’s say. So he mentioned this game that I won’t mention… well, actually, no, it wasn’t even about that game.

Marino: Right.

Rizzo: That’s a very good point. He just said to me, “Hey, are you interested?” And I said, yeah, I’d love to get into that world but it’s very competitive, and I wouldn’t even know where to start. So we did some demos and we wrote some stuff and it was really good in fact, and he thought this would be really great for games. And we submitted for this game and got the gig.

OSV: I’m really curious because I know your area of preferred expertise is the orchestral stuff for Gerard and electronic stuff for Carmen. But you both do the other style on other jobs, so I’m wondering when you guys collaborate, are you writing or commenting on the other’s style?

Rizzo: For me, there really wasn’t. There were minor considerations, but nobody was like, “This is wrong.” It was nice. I like partnering with somebody because you don’t have the responsibility, it’s a lot less pressure. I know for me, we both do lots of different things and wear many hats, but one thing that comes with me for instance is mixing and engineering and the production side, and so when I do projects that I don’t have to engineer and don’t mix, it’s a blessing. So I’m certain with Gerard, having to not do some of those things with the electronic elements is fun.

Marino: Yeah, in this case, he is doing the mixing, and it was definitely a great help to me to not have to do it.

Rizzo: Because you know, it’s really hard whether you’re doing videogames or movies or records or anything, you’re often forced to do a lot. Whether you’re good, I mean, I know people who are mixing who are great mixers, let’s say, or people who are great musicians or whatever. You’re often forced to do other things, and it’s nice when you’re not. Back in the day you didn’t have to, you had the budgets to hire people, and now you don’t quite often. So when it happens, it’s great.

OSV: So Gerard, I know you have a history of collaborating with composers as in the case of Midnight Meat Train with Jason Hayes, and that was really cool. I’m curious, when you guys first started writing together, I heard the music this morning in the panel and it was amazing stuff. It works together so well. I’m curious how you guys think about how it works together, and just the process. Was it the first time that things kind of worked together, or was it like hard at first trying to learn each other styles?

Marino: Well, that track that I pulled apart for you in the panel, that was the first thing we did. And the first thing we did sounded like a million bucks as far as I’m concerned. So it was kind of like, “Wow, yes.” The second I wrote the basis of the theme, I started that particular cue, sent it to Carmen, first one that came back, even though we tweaked it just a little, the first one that came back, it was like, “Fuck yes.”

Rizzo: This is good.

Marino: Good freaking decision reaching out to Carmen.

Rizzo: Well, thank you. Not to jump in, but I think, and to speak for Gerard, and I think that Gerard from doing a lot of games and having to follow a lot of rules with what people want, I think it was challenging and rewarding that we could attempt to do something a lot different. And the same thing for me, I told you in the beginning I didn’t want to do something safe, and I didn’t want to follow those rules, and I wanted to be bold. I mean, not to speak for individuals, but there are a lot of games out there with crap music, it’s just kind of canned shit. And I know we have to follow rules sometimes, but it was kind of important that we stood tall.

Marino: It’s in our personality.

OSV: And I guess your experience with film and game, and you do have all these restrictions, but in your experience with commercial music and remixing and electronic music, you have more freedom. I’m wondering if there was a separation of ideas there. Were you pushing Gerard on his side to be more bold, because this is a game afterall.

Rizzo: I wouldn’t say I’m pushing Gerard, but what I’m saying is that when we have meetings with potential clients, I make it clear that if you want to do something original and take a stance, we’re the guys for you. If you just want Acme game music, there are plenty of guys out there who can do it.

Marino: Yeah, if you want something that is low key maybe, you shouldn’t hire us too, because we’re going to try to make music that is interesting and listenable. It’s almost impossible not to.

Rizzo: Yeah, and just one more thing on this. I mean, not to toot your horn too high.

OSV: I’m sure he loves it!

Rizzo: Gerard takes this very seriously. I think a lot of people from my experience who do videogames don’t take it seriously. If you were to ask the people at this convention, you’d be surprised, really, the percentage of people who really take it seriously. The amount of people who make their living as film composers or as remixer, they’re phoning this shit in. They’re having some assistant do it or they’re whipping it out. I’m not saying all the time, I’m not saying everyone, but I was surprised how seriously he took this, and the time and effort and the detail that he spent, and I think it’s overlooked, which is a shame.

Marino: Well, thank you for that.

Rizzo: And I don’t mean to toot your horn, but it’s something that I noticed. But when you make music for film or TV or any of that stuff, a lot of it’s phoned in.

OSV: On that same subject, are you feeling at all restricted working on this project because it is a game project and you’re answering to some audio director?

Rizzo: For me, no, because Gerard had the contact directly with the people over there. I was just disappointed that we couldn’t do it to picture, because for me, what little experience that I have doing film stuff or even TV, you get inspiration from the visual. But in this case, “Eastern Europe, two minutes.” It’s like, “Uhh, okay.” That was the only part that was disappointing.

Marino: And you know, there are technical limitations as well, like, okay, this only has to be two minutes, so we have to do certain amounts of things, so this imposes restrictions as to how soon the beat should kick in. So structurally there are some restrictions, but we actually had a really good go with this audio director. He’s a really open-minded guy and he had very, very few rewrites. Actually, no full-on rewrites, we never had to throw anything out, we just adjusted.

OSV: Wow.

Rizzo: Yeah, that part was kind of painless.

Marino: Yeah, it was so easy. One of the easiest jobs ever as far as getting on the same page with the audio director.

OSV: Now, with an MMO title, there’s usually so much music that is required. I assume there are some looping tracks, right?

Marino: There are looping tracks and non-looping tracks.

OSV: Like cinematic or scripted stuff versus open-ended, you do your own thing looped stuff?

Marino: Well, actually the music that we wrote is all about in-game. And the way that they were doing it really came down to stealth and combat. For the stealth tracks, they were not going to loop. They were going to get you into the mood of the place you’re at, so they kinda come up, make a statement, have a beginning, a middle, and an end kind of like a song, then kind of fade off, and you’re off doing your thing. Then when the action gets heavy, then a looping action thing comes in. But you know, the game’s not done, who knows what’s going to happen. We might get some stems in there and be looking at new mixes and activity, but right now, for what we did was just stealth and combat.

OSV: Any idea of how many minutes of music you two will be writing?

Rizzo: I think we did 40, didn’t we?

Marino: Actually closer to 50. 48 or something? And I should also say that [Cris Velasco] and [Sascha Dikiciyan] are on the project, they wrote probably as much as we did. And Tom Salta is on as well, and we all put in about the same amount of music. But I think it was all kind of the same structural thing, but in different styles.

OSV: I think if any project was asking for a soundtrack release, this one already sounds like it’s going to need one because the collaboration.

Rizzo: Yeah, there’s some good people on the project, so I haven’t heard their music, and I don’t know how long and what will be cut or not cut.

OSV: One thing I’ve noticed is that when I think of Western game music sometimes, it’s scored to a picture like you’re saying, but sometimes because it’s scored to a picture, when you take the music outside of the experience and try to listen to it at home with the soundtrack, it doesn’t necessarily work because it’s not to the picture anymore. I’ve noticed that some of the music I heard in your panel today, it was kind of catchy even though it was energetic and action-based, it was like, catchy stuff that I’d listen to.

Rizzo: Yeah, thanks.

OSV: So I’m wondering how you guys are coming up with this stuff for a game.

Rizzo: I think it comes down to experience. It just comes naturally. That first piece, there was no direction, he just sent it to me, and that’s what came naturally. That’s why I think it’s a good partnership when we do work together.

Marino: Yeah, and that’s why I actually approached Carmen instead of getting some whiz-kid techno guy who just got out of Berklee of something. Because I don’t want to hire somebody, and a lot of guys do that, a lot of film composers hire… I was actually doing that at one point, but if you hire somebody and you give them the directions for what you think want to hire, you can seriously miss the boat. And that person, depending on how much you pay them, that’s how invested they’ll be in the project. So I wanted to approach somebody to come on as a full-on equal partner, and had the depth of experience in writing his own music, and would be as dedicated to it as I was, being a partner and being on the byline on the composer thing.

OSV: And it sounds like it’s working out.

Marino: It is working out. And it may be cheaper the other way, but there’s no way the music would be as good. So that’s why I approached Carmen.

Rizzo: Well, and to be original. Because I think a lot of times, a lot of these people, they’re used to and trained how to imitate other people. And that’s why a lot of that shit sounds the same. They’ll use a term like, “I want the Oakenfold, or the Junkie,” or some brand name, and that’s why a lot of that shit sounds like those people.

OSV: It happens a lot in film too.

Marino: Yeah, temp scores. It’s not always your fault.

Rizzo: Yeah, it’s not necessarily their fault, but yeah.

OSV: I’m curious about the whole change in game plan they had for the audio direction. You said in the panel that you were picked for the heavy metal stuff, and the demo was heavy metal stuff, but they changed it to a 70s police drama style.

Marino: Yeah, they really liked the sound Lalo Schifrin’s scores for the Dirty Harry series. They asked us to listen to it and asked us for that kind of vibe. So we used some of the sound elements but didn’t really write like that at all.

Rizzo: Well, if I can say, if my memory serves me correctly, there were different genres that they needed throughout the game from the other composers you mentioned, and we assumed we were getting hired for another thing.

Marino: Yeah.

OSV: Yeah, you thought you’d be picked for the smooth electronic vibe stuff.

Rizzo: So out of the three teams, they were dividing it up, they said, no, you do this and you do that. We thought, really?

Marino: Yeah, really? I actually thought the heavy metal track was the weakest part of the demo that we turned in, and we got hired based on that.

Rizzo: So I think it changed. But at that point we were grateful for the gig, and we thought, yeah, okay, we’ll just adjust, and then it ended up morphing back to the original game plan.

Marino: Much closer to the original game plan after we actually turned in something.

Rizzo: Which would have really would have been such a great topic on its own today, which makes it such a tragedy to cut short. I say this on producing records all the time, you know, instead of copping an attitude and not doing it, or saying, “No, we want to do this.” We said yes, and it evolved into something else. And I think it would have been a great topic of conversation when you get work: how you get hired and why you get hired, and how it sometimes changes like it did in this case. But the panel didn’t last that long.

OSV: Yeah, a 20 minute thing. But it was good though.

Rizzo and Marino: Thank you.

OSV: You know, sometimes people come in there and play music, and it sounds like they’re just saying, “Look what I’m doing.” But it was actually pretty amazing stuff, it had a story, and you showed us what you submitted for the demo. It was really cool. I wouldn’t say the heavy metal stuff was the weakest stuff of what you played, but to me, it just sounded like it’d be the most out of place in an MMO title. I’m curious, and you know we think in terms of stereotypes, and I apologize. The job of a composer is to be versatile, but we think orchestral for Gerard and electronic for Carmen. I’m wondering how rock came in. It was pretty convincing heavy metal, so I’m wondering what your experiences are in that style that allowed you to create this demo.

Marino: Oh, well, before I decided to be a film composer and write for media, I was in a rock band in the 80s and we played metal all the time. We played all kinds of stuff. Anything from Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden up through Duran Duran and Prince. So I just love that kind of music in general. It’s a part of my identity back in the day, and if you listen to my cello lines in the God of War series, you play them on the guitar, and they translate into Metallica songs pretty easily.

OSV: For those who don’t know, Gerard is a huge Guitar Hero fan. And I hear he’s very skilled at the game. [Laughs].

Marino: Well, you know, he’s actually teeing up something up for himself here, but yeah.

OSV: I’m not going to say it!

Marino: At my Christmas party I had a Guitar Hero competition, and Jayson Napolitano hustled me and won the competition. He came in and said he’d never played Guitar Hero before.


Marino: Guitar Hero III, well okay, no, you said—

OSV: I said I played Guitar Hero I, I couldn’t be all the songs on expert, I skipped II, and hadn’t played III yet.

Marino: Well, I heard it as “I’ve never played before, how do you do this?”

All: [Laughs]

Rizzo: And he kicked your ass.

OSV: Well, it was a holiday party, and you were drinking a little bit, so…

Marino: Yeah, so I was drinking up there, I had other friends coming in, and I’m talking to them as I’m playing against Jayson, then I look at the score and I see 100 note streak, 200 note streak, and I’m like, “Oh, oh!”

All: [Laughs]

Marino: And I’m just getting it handed to me. And I just got freaking hustled.

OSV: That was fun.

Marino: Of course the prize was a cigar, and Jayson doesn’t smoke, so.

OSV: And how about you, Carmen? Your experience in rock that resulted in that demo?

Marino: Well, on those demo tracks, some of them were a little more heavy on each of us. So the one that we played that had the singer in it, my contribution to that track was very minimal, like, 80% Carmen. And on the heavy metal track was about 80% me. So I was kind of the rocker in this particular venue.

OSV: So they changed the style, and you used the instrumentation from the era, but composed in a modern style.

Marino: More or less.

OSV: Was it fun to set that kind of limitation on yourselves? Did it still feel limiting at all?

Marino: Well, by trying to not actually sound like the 70s, that was the removal of the limitation. It was like, let’s just use these cool sounds and write cool music.

OSV: And do these sounds lend something unique to the project?

Marino: Yeah, some of these tracks, when they start, especially the thinner moments in the stealth tracks, some of them just sound like nothing else. It’s almost like I wouldn’t put them on a demo to show somebody what I could do because it would sound like, “What is he doing?”

Rizzo: I really wasn’t thinking 70s at all. I was just thinking modern. I think for me that’s what was fun for the game. I didn’t feel constricted, I just felt inspired.

OSV: So the MMO is set to take place in modern times, but the music is taking on a 70s style?

Marino: Yeah, it’s a modern-day MMO, but the audio director liked those scores, so he said listen to these and see what you come up with. So we didn’t come up with something that sounded like it, but I’m very curious to see what the other teams came up with and I wonder how it’s all going to jive because we really didn’t hear what each other were doing.

OSV: Oh yeah. So it’s up to the audio director. Usually when you guys are collaboration, like you did with God of War, and I’m sure you see this all the time, Carmen, everybody contributes something and you have to have the same concept and some interaction to speak with the same voice.

Marino: On God of War, at least we were hearing some of the other stuff.

Rizzo: That will be this guy’s job, so.

Marino: Yeah, that’s his gig.

OSV: That’s going to be tough.

Marino: I think so.

OSV: And you’re not having to do any rewrites, so it sounds like it’s going good. So this game is a modern day MMO title, and typically we see futuristic or fantasy-based MMO titles.

Marino: And it’s for console too. It will be on the PlayStation.

OSV: So there are two new things here. Do you have any feelings about this one way or the other? Carmen, since you work in modern music, this seems like an easy cross-over, but for you Gerard, you’re still working on God of War with what’s coming up, so I’m wondering if it’s new for you.

Marino: Well, it’s great. It’s not like I’ve not done it. In the film work I’ve done and for the cinematic music I wrote for 187 Ride or Die, it was an ortronica thing where I was doing everything. It was a little less hip because I was using off-the-shelf loops and not making things from scratch like Carmen does. So it’s not like I’m a stranger to the style at all, but I just happen to be known in the game industry only for giant fantasy-adventure stuff.

OSV: And I hate to stereotype, so I’m sorry about that.

Marino: But I’m okay with that stereotype, because that’s probably my favorite thing to do anyway. [Laughs] But I love to do other stuff. I do happy comedy stuff too, but nobody would know it. And I try to talk people into considering me for doing those things, and usually they just kind of chuckle.

OSV: So it sounds like you guys are working really well together, and are happy with the results. Will we hear more of the two of you together in the future?

Rizzo: I hope so.

Marino: Well, yeah, if we get hired, we’ll do it.

Rizzo: There’s a potential big game that we’re up for. It’s the early days, but we’re hoping we’re going to get it.

OSV: So you guys are already looking to do it.

Marino: Oh, yeah. We’re out there trying. We’re just dying for the game to come out so we can really officially talk about it and everyone has heard it and knows it’s good.

OSV: Well, these MMO production cycles take a long time.

Marino: Yeah, it’s huge. I mean, I think it was supposed to come out last year.

OSV: I mean, Jason Hayes is an example. Nobody has heard his music for 3 or 4 years because the team is still working on it.

Marino: Yeah, Jason Hayes, I haven’t had a chance to introduce you yet.

OSV: Yeah, that’s what happens with these MMOs is that the composer disappears. They’re working on stuff, and they’re busy, but the game production cycle is so long, but nobody hears it.

Marino: So for four years, the music can be written, but not heard, and under wraps.

OSV: So, I was thinking, and we kind of touched on this, but with your experience in electronic music, what the potential is for a remix album. And for you Gerard, having to make these cinematic cues that have a time limit, and you said you want to expand them, have you considered an extended version, sort of image album project afterwards?

Rizzo: Well, it’s really not up to us. I mean, that would be really up to the label because I don’t know how valuable a remix album would be. First, the game has to be successful, then you can remix basically anything, but there has to be an audience. So, it’s not really much of a thought process. If the game’s successful, and we have a budget, then we can remix it.

OSV: So you guys haven’t dreamed of it like, “Oh, it’d be really cool to do something like this?”

Marino: Well, it sounds like the logical thing to do, and I believe we actually said something to the audio director about that, and kind of dropped the idea, but he’s so busy trying to get done what he needs to do.

Rizzo: And also there’s no vocals. You know, like those games where you have guest rappers and stuff, it’s a little easier for the public to buy.

OSV: So you’re thinking of a popular game, then you do a remix for people who are really into it and want more. But in your experience, what about use in promotion? Like making a remix or something and putting it out there beforehand. I know it’s not up to you, but what do you think?

Rizzo: Well, I don’t know, because they’re instrumental pieces. I wouldn’t recommend remixing it, I would recommend releasing it. Because if you’re that kid who plays the game and likes the music, and it’s dark and instrumental, I don’t know if there’s a need to remix it, but there might be a need to just have it because it’s cool.

OSV: And Gerard, you have experience with that, pre-releasing music.

Marino: Oh yeah. Sony’s been doing some things like that. On God of War II, they took one of the themes I had written for it, and put the stems on the MySpace page and had a battle of the bands to do a mash-up contest, and they picked the top ten and had the friend list vote, and the top track made it on the soundtrack album.

Rizzo: A lot of people do that for records. It’s very fashionable, but it can be very good, very productive, and it’s free. No cost.

OSV: I think it’d be cool to see something like that.

Rizzo: It’d be great.

OSV: Well, I hope the game’s successful and you have the opportunity to do something like that. Carmen, do you want to tell us where we can learn more about your music?

Rizzo: Sure, my label is Electrofone with an F, and it has a bunch of free music, and we got some good releases coming out. You can check out if you’re into that kind of music.

OSV: Does the label have other artists on it?

Rizzo: There are other artists. There are a couple of boutique electronic and boutique world music, and I’m concentrating on the world music because it’s the first.

OSV: Cool. And it’s digital, physical?

Rizzo: It’s digital only. I don’t believe in CDs and I don’t believe in LPs anymore.

OSV: Wow, we need to talk about this.

Rizzo: I mean, it’s just, I’m allowing the artist to do the physical records themselves. They manufacture it and they sell it on their own at their shows or whatever. But it’s digital only, and I only run EPs, and no more LPs, I think they’re done.

OSV: Why’s that?

Rizzo: I think it’s expensive to make, and people just aren’t buying records as much anymore. And it takes a long time to make an album. I think if you have the budget and time to do both, why don’t you just chop it up? I’m finding that because labels want artists to release more, with free labels and B-sides, and this and that, why not just chop your record in half and have that tool? So 6-8 months out when your record is dead, put out another record! It gives somebody another chance instead of spending longer to make this one album then beating a dead horse.

OSV: You know, it’s funny, because I agree with you on EP vs. LP. But it’s more because with an LP, there’s so much music there that it’s hard for me to sit there for an hour sometimes and listen to the whole thing through. I always want to listen from beginning to end to have the whole experience

Rizzo: I mean, it’s a shame because I love albums and I prefer albums, and there’s a market for them. But I think if you’re a fan of somebody’s music, you want something else, so why not give them something else? It’s like giving them a whole album, but you’re feeding them slowly.

OSV: See, I just like the bite-sized junks because then you can fully absorb that one to four tracks.

Rizzo: And one last thing, because you’re forced to self-promote, I can tell you, you have to give your fans often. An example, a lot of good stuff happens to me that I can tell the press. I purposely don’t tell it all at once, so every week I can update my social network, my website, so people have a reason to come back. And it’s the same thing with music.

OSV: Well, very cool. Anything to add, Gerard?

Marino: Not this time.

OSV: Well, thank you both for your time. Good luck finishing up on the game.

Rizzo and Gerard: Thanks.

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