Interview: Composer Ryan Shore–From Sweet Sax to ‘Spy Hunter’

Over the last decade and a half, composer Ryan Shore has provided the music to a number of films across a wide range of dramas: from the suburban horror of the Jack Ketchum adaptation The Girl Next Door to the horror comedy Stan Helsing. Now he’s trying his hand at composing for games, providing the score for next week’s reboot of the Spy Hunter franchise at Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment.

I got some questions out to Shore by e-mail about his first stint working on a game, how hard WB wanted him to chase the Peter Gunn theme, and some of the perils and pleasures of composing for video games.

MTV Multiplayer: Tell us a little about your background in composing music.

Ryan Shore: I’ve been writing music since the age of 11, and for the first 10 years I was mostly only playing the instruments (primarily saxophone, but also flute, clarinet and piano), but even from that early age, I was starting to explore the writing. It was when I went to the Berklee College of Music that I really began to think more seriously about composing. I majored in film composing. But even when I was at Berklee, I was really much more of an instrumentalist. I played in as many as six registered ensembles every semester, and I even played as a guest in other college ensembles, such as New England Conservatory, Harvard University, Boston Conservatory, and MIT. All of this playing was in addition to tons of recording sessions, concerts, and local gigs.

Even though I was starting to explore composing more formally in college, I was still very much focused on playing. It was when I graduated that I really turned my focus fully to composing. It’s ironic that it happened at that time, AFTER I finished a 4-year degree in composing. I think the main reason I was attracted to composing and moved to it full-time was that I felt like there was so much more I wanted to say musically that I couldn’t say on my saxophone alone. I wanted to explore additional styles of music that a saxophone wouldn’t normally play in, and I wanted to explore the sounds of all the other instruments.

Multiplayer: How did you get the Spy Hunter gig? What attracted you to making the leap to games?

Shore: I was brought on board by my friend Jeff Nachbaur, who is one of the producers of the Spy Hunter game. Jeff and I have known each other since high school, so over 20 years now. My interest in composing games has been very steadily growing over a long time. Games have developed so much over the years, and because it is such a huge industry, the audience for work is now so massive. Also, the delivery formats have advanced to the point that the music can be created in the highest quality of ways. Games are an exciting, vibrant medium with amazing stories, premises, and new worlds, and they offer great opportunities for composing and exploring musical possibilities. It’s a medium for which I want to compose much more music.

Multiplayer: How familiar were you with the game series before taking the job?

Shore: I was very familiar with it, since I grew up playing Spy Hunter. I loved playing it in the arcades — at the bowling alley and go-kart track (where I did most of my stand up arcade playing in those days), and also on the various home game systems over the years. It’s been awesome to see how it’s developed over time, and quite amazing to now be a part of it.

Multiplayer: What kinds of expectations did the team at WBIE have in terms of the sound of the game? On a scale of 1-10, how important was it that Peter Gunn be in there somewhere?

They knew they were looking for an action-driven contemporary sound. Including the Peter Gunn theme was a given from the very beginning, so that would be a 10 on its importance to be included. However, it was also very important to the producers that it wasn’t only the Peter Gunn theme playing in every chapter, for fear of tiring the listener out on it. So I started by acoustically recreating the theme, and then writing a very large palette of new music that is very much cut from the same cloth.

Being a saxophonist, and after having played in so many big bands, this was really like being right at home for me. Then I took all those vintage elements and re-conceived and infused them with modern electronic sounds, grooves, and overdubs. Some pieces of music in the game are entirely based on the Peter Gunn theme, some are based entirely on the new material, and many are a combination of the two. In the end, the Peter Gunn theme comprises about 20% of the score, and the new material is about 80% of the score.

Multiplayer: Could you tell us a little about the overall theme or types of music you ultimately came up with—were there any particular points of reference you wanted to get in there?

Shore: I wrote a large amount of music for the big band and rhythm section instrumentation – many ideas for trumpets, trombones, saxes, strings, piano, organs, guitars, and drums. My goal was to make all the new material sound like it was an extension of the Peter Gunn theme. And I wanted that music to be married to feelings of each of the spy missions. The overall feeling that I wanted from the music was for it to be driving, determined, exciting, detailed music, and to have ever-changing development to keep the listener engaged.

Multiplayer: How is composing for games different from composing for other media? Were there any specific challenges or even advantages?

Shore: I actually found composing for Spy Hunter in many ways to be more musically liberating than composing a score for other media. For example, when you’re writing music for a movie or television show, you are often supporting dialogue, so the music that is most appropriate for a scene can often be musically “incomplete” in a way. That is to say that it may not have a melody or it may be more of an accompaniment where the dialogue functions as the melody, or the music needs to take certain turns to match the timings of the scene.

Also, in other media, pieces of music can sometimes be very short in length, as is required by the scene. However, on Spy Hunter most of the pieces I wrote are around three minutes long, and that can be on the lengthier side for a movie or show. So for this game I was able to develop the music more fully and with greater detail since I didn’t have to write the music around dialogue or specific timings.

Multiplayer: What allowed you to find a connection with the material—something that really brought Spy Hunter alive for you?

Shore: Watching the gameplay was a constant inspiration. Pretending that I was the driver of the G-6155 Interceptor Supercar (of course armed with all the advanced weaponry and high-tech gadgetry) was all the inspiration I needed to get right to work. Who wouldn’t want a car like that? Especially on the 405 during rush hour. I actually wished that there was even more music required for me to deliver for the game because there was no shortage of ideas. I wanted to keep going and going.

Multiplyaer: After all that, how would you characterize your first foray into composing for games?

Shore: I absolutely loved it. It was everything I hoped it would be, and so incredibly musically satisfying. I’m so proud of the work.

Multiplayer: What are you working on next?

Shore: I’m currently scoring a new animated television show for Disney, and I just wrote two new songs for Sesame Street. There are also a few more movies on the horizon, which are currently shooting that I’ll be scoring when they’re ready. I’ve been absolutely loving writing in different media, and after scoring this game, I can’t wait to write for another one.

Spy Hunter will be available on the 3DS and Vita October 9th.

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