I know there are guys who insist on writing every single note. I feel very strongly about what I do, but I believe when I work with somebody else they're going to bring another dimension to the music which actually adds more to the project. If the schedule is really tight and I have to bring in somebody to help me write something, I will do that. Creatively I’d rather not, because I love writing music. However, sometimes time will dictate that you must have help.
We often work by ourselves. I find that the more I open up my circle the more fulfilling it is, the more fun it is, the more I can do, the more I can create, and the more interesting the results are. It becomes effortless, actually. It becomes easier to do more, and I love that. When you bring more people into the mix suddenly one plus one is larger than two. When you see what your part is in that it becomes really satisfying and fun.
I will only take a job if I know I can deliver on time and on budget and high quality. The work will expand or contract to fill the time allotted, and sometimes a schedule is really short. When that happens I'll bring assistants in and get as much help as I need to get the job done. When it comes down to it you have a limited amount of time and there's no choice but to get the job done.
When I'm writing I like to do what I call 90 minute composing modules. I’ll come in for 90 minutes straight, I won’t answer any phones or emails, and I just write for 90 minutes. I set a timer. Then I take 15 minute break and I come back to do another one. I’ll do 4 or 5 of those a day. If I have to do a minute and a half by lunch then I'll do that minute and a half and at 12:00 I’m printing. It doesn’t matter if it’s done or not. Those are the things I do to make sure I’m on time. It’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, you just have to sit down and do the work. I find that if I have a lot to do, that’s the quickest way for me to get it done.
I worked on a TV show last year, and that was a really fun thing because I’d never done a TV show before. It was fun keeping ahead of the steam roller, because the steam roller just keeps going no matter how fast or slow you’re going. If you stop or get hung up on something it’s going to go right on top of you, because there’s no way the show isn't going to air when it’s scheduled. The pressure can be fun and stimulating and motivating, and I love that.
My writing template is a little complex, but it helps me prep for recording sessions in as little time as possible. The bottom line is that I mix my demos into into Pro Tools, and my template is built so that I can simply take that session to a scoring stage. It has my stems, my tempo map, and the click track printed. I don't need to spend any time prepping Pro Tools sessions before recording, I just take a drive with me and we’re done. My session prep is finished by the time I mix the first demo.
I use Cubase as my primary DAW for writing and MIDI sequencing. My MIDI goes out to Vienna Ensemble Pro servers and audio comes back into Cuebase. Inside Cuebase I mix the audio down a little bit and then route it to outputs which feed into a Pro Tools system. In Pro Tools I have my mix template. Everything that comes into Pro Tools gets routed first to stems and then to a final mix. The final mix has all the reverb on it. The stems are all split out including what I call reverb sends, but those audio tracks don't have actual reverb. If I'm mixing on a stage those tracks can be sent to reverb and it will sound pretty much like I want it to.
I'm also usually mixing while I'm writing. By the time I'm done writing I just need to print it, and the end result is a fully prepped Pro Tools session.
Especially if I’m doing television, I have to move quickly and I’ll just start playing. I do free improvisation. I play what I feel. I just let it happen. You can tap into something that’s not even you. You’re swimming around in a pool of creative juice, and it's pretty magical.
The budget is definitely a creative constraint. It allows you to have boundaries, and you work within those boundaries to come up with great stuff no matter what the constraints are. We can use MIDI to fake any size ensemble, but no matter what I always record something live on top of it as ear candy. The minute you bring one person in to record on top, it elevates the entire piece to a whole new place. We all use the same libraries, right? So record as much as possible live. It’s a matter of trying to humanize it as much as you can and differentiate yourself from everybody else.
Jack Wall’s distinguished musical career includes popular video game franchises such as Myst, Splinter Cell and Jade Empire. He is widely recognized for composing some of the most iconic scores for the medium. He created the distinctive musical signature for BioWare’s sci-fi epic Mass Effect. The soundtrack won numerous accolades, achieving cult status with fans. In 2011, He received British Academy (BAFTA) and Spike TV VGA nominations for his work on Mass Effect 2. Jack co-created Video Games Live and served as its music director and conductor from 2005 through 2010, performing with more than 50 of the world’s finest orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and London Philharmonia Orchestra. He was co-founder of The Game Audio Network Guild and is a frequent speaker at various educational institutions such as USC, UCLA, Expressions Center for New Media and The Los Angeles Recording School. He currently serves as online faculty member of Berklee College of Music in Boston.