Multi-award winning composer Richard Jacques has been creating music for video games, film and television for 25 years now, working on massive titles including Mass Effect, James Bond 007: Blood Stone and Alice in Wonderland. We sat down with Richard ahead of his guest lecture at dBs Music Bristol to learn more about his incredible career.
Tell us a little bit about your journey into composition...
"I was a Junior Exhibitioner at the Royal Academy of Music from the age of 12, studying trombone and piano, as well as music theory, aural and other related subjects. I was also playing trombone in the Symphony Orchestra so I was exposed to the symphonic repertoire from a young age. I then attended Wells Cathedral School as a Specialist Musician, studying trombone, piano and percussion, and once again played in many ensembles from the symphony orchestra and big band to the percussion ensemble.
"I think studying these instruments and playing both trombone and percussion in large ensembles helped shape my compositional style, especially in the areas of rich harmonies and rhythmic writing. After Wells, I was studying for my music degree at University and during this time I majored in composition, music technology and performance. This was the perfect combination for me as I was still playing the symphonic repertoire on trombone, and was composing for large ensembles and I also spent a great deal of time in the studio, learning equipment and production techniques as well as getting involved with electronic music.
"During my time as a student I was also an avid gamer, and had some basic studio equipment of my own. I knew I wanted to compose for the screen from an early age but with regard to video games I wrongly assumed they were all made in Japan, until I saw an advert for an in-house composer with SEGA in a magazine, for a new role in their London development studio. I applied for the job and after two rounds of interviews I was offered the position as in-house composer. I completed my degree and moved to London the following day and began my career.
"I spent nearly 8 years with SEGA before spreading my wings and forming my own music production company and studios. So in a way it was my dream career but I hadn’t thought that it was possible when I was younger. Thankfully that was 25 years ago and I am still incredibly busy scoring games and still thoroughly enjoying it."
How different is your approach to creating music for film and television in comparison to video games? Is there a set template or way that you begin composing?
"The main difference between creating music for film or television and video games is that film and television are both linear media and games is an interactive medium, so the approach, both in terms of compositional technique and structure are quite different.
"For example, in a film, you have a set scene, let’s say a car chase that lasts 2 minutes. Once the composer gets a locked edit, he or she always knows that at 28 seconds there could be an event such as a near miss, at 1m20s there could be a shoot out, and at 2 mins the chase ends. If this example situation was played out in a game, it would be impossible to time any event this closely because you never know what the player is going to do and at what time they are going to do it, so you have the break down the music into its component parts and create an interactive/adaptive score that can then be implemented into the game using audio middleware tools.
"When I am scoring games I think of music in a completely different way, both vertically and horizontally, or using multi-layering techniques, or loop and stinger approach, or proximity based music. It really depends on the type of game and I often apply many different approaches and techniques throughout one game, even throughout a particularly level. I don’t like a ‘one size fits all’ approach as it depends on what is happening in the game."
How did you get involved with Mass Effect?
"I have known Jack Wall for many years and as well as being a colleague and a fellow composer we are good friends, and he called me up and invited me to work on the project. It was already a big game but was constantly growing in size, so it needed a great deal of music (I think in the end there was around 5 or 6 hours of score) and as Jack already knew me, and my style of composition, experience and work ethic he asked me to be a part of the team. Naturally, I jumped at the chance."
You mentioned Jack Hall, but were also joined by Sam Hulick whilst working on Mass Effect. What was it like constructing that soundtrack together?
"My role started out to be primarily scoring cinematics. For example one of my favourite scenes is when the player is aboard The Normandy and first visits The Citadel. There is a huge reveal of The Citadel, a gigantic space station/colony, which is visually stunning and it was definitely one of my favourite scenes to score.
"There are also a lot of branching dialogue choices to make, so I also scored many of these and then also ended up composing some music for the first 2 or 3 levels of the game. We all communicated regularly to ensure music and creative coherence and exchanged both thematic and motivic content as well as various sound sets for the synths that we used in the creation of the soundtrack."
You worked on James Bond 007: Blood Stone, a franchise that comes with a great deal of legacy and expectations. Were you able to still have fun working with such an iconic theme?
"Indeed, there were some very big shoes to fill when creating the score to James Bond 007: Blood Stone, but it was an honour and a pleasure to work on such an iconic franchise, and being a brass player certainly was a help in creating ‘that’ sound.
"Interestingly, I was not permitted to use or refer to “The James Bond Theme” so I was tasked with the challenge of making the score sound as authentically “Bond” without referring directly to the theme. I’m proud that I managed to achieve that and we were able to use “The James Bond Theme” as a pay off for completing the game, and during the end credits. It was a joy to re-record this iconic theme with London’s finest musicians."
You’ve worked on a broad range of video games, but is there a genre you've yet to work on or would like to return to again?
I would really love to score an RPG and a more narrative driven indie title.
What are your must-have tools?
"Logic Pro X, Vienna Ensemble Pro, Pro Tools 12, Final Cut X, Video Slave, ATC Monitors, Apple Mac Pro Computers x 5. And a huge sample library including Spitfire Audio, Orchestral Tools, Cinesamples, Project SAM, Stretzov Sampling, EastWest, Spectrasonics amongst many others."
What's been your proudest project so far and why?
"I would have to say James Bond 007: Blood Stone, for the reason that I felt this was such a perfect fit for me in terms of compositional style, and as many of the critics have said, I really felt like I created a modern classic Bond score. Also having the most incredible session musicians to record the score at Abbey Road Studios was also a wonderful experience."
Any advice for our students looking to pursue a career in composition?
"Always try and have your own musical voice, don’t worry about what others are doing and try to emulate them, but stick with what interests you and what you are good at and what makes your music unique. Be a great people person and networker, without being pushy or arrogant.
"Be open minded to always learning (I still study scores, and read books on both harmony and orchestration even after 25 years in the business), and have a solid foundation in music theory and harmony. Learn your instrument to a high standard (and it would help if one of your instruments was piano). Be prepared for some hard work!"
Where can people find out more about you and your music?
The best place is my website at www.richardjacques.com.
Are you interested in learning more about a career in scoring for video games? Read our interview with Drew Morgan, who spoke to us at length about his time composing for video games including his work on the soundtrack for Halo 4.