Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Stuart Chatwood took time out of his busy schedule to tell me about his career as a video game composer. He's been a musician for his whole life and the work he does on video game soundtracks reflects his passion for music in many forms.
Although he’s best known as the bassist and keyboard player for The Tea Party, Stuart’s interest in composing music for video games stems from his passion for playing them. He explains, “I’ve been a gamer all my life. My fandom predates the Atari 2600 so as they say, ‘I go way back.’ Music is what I do so it was a natural fit. In the late 90’s my band The Tea Party worked with a producer in Montréal that found out I loved composing for video games and eventually he ended up at Ubisoft and the rest is history.”
As a gamer, he has special insights into the best way to make music work in games. Stuart points out, “Being a gamer myself, I feel I’m in touch with what will work in a certain setting and what music will enhance the player’s experience. This gives me the freedom to explore deeper into musical themes that satisfy me. Somewhere along the line, some film school described good music as music that is not noticed by the listener.”
When Stuart takes on a new game composition project, he starts by exploring and discovering music related to the themes of that game. He says, “With Prince of Persia, I delved deep into Farsi music. I bought CDs, invested in sample CDs and listened to Farsi Folk radio for two hours each morning to let the music authentically seep into my psyche.”
After he’s immersed himself in music for inspiration, he moves to the next stage of the process. Stuart elaborates, “I will then start developing a rough template. I don’t always use templates, as in some sense I find them limiting, but for continuity there are times when it’s appropriate."
In Stuart’s view, video game music is increasingly becoming relevant as an art form in its own right. He says, “With every passing day, I feel that video game soundtracks are in fact being taken seriously as stand alone works of art. I feel that this is a natural progression as I know the amount of effort that I put into my works.”
Stuart has some advice for up and coming composers who might want to start working in the video game field. He says, “YouTube is an incredible resource. In addition to watching how other composers work, I’d recommend scoring some ‘mods’ of existing video games.”
His latest soundtrack is for the Red Hook Games RPG Darkest Dungeon. Stuart says that he wanted to create an epic sense of fear and vulnerability in the score. He adds, “The game draws on different psychological themes and I wanted the players to leave the game with the music still in their heads. Towards the end of the production, I was fortunate enough to bring in an opera singer to augment the orchestral elements that dominate the score. Chris from Red Hook was influential in pushing the industrial elements that provided a nice counterpoint to the traditional instrumentation.”
After finishing the DLC for Darkest Dungeon, Stuart and the team from Red Hook are compiling the game’s music files for a potential double vinyl release of the soundtrack. He’s working on some other video game projects, but he's focusing his attention on some different recording projects. He points out, "I’m mixing an ambient/folk record at the moment that I also co-produced, engineered and performed on. It’s called Uncommon Folk and features Glen Campbell, Mavis Staples, Jakob Dylan and other celebrity singers covering ambient versions of classic folk songs. We are also about to release an EP for The Tea Party containing some older material that we revisited.”
While traveling helps keep his creative batteries recharged, Stuart doesn’t often listen to other people’s compositions for inspiration. He says, “I’d rather not be in the game of recreating. I’d rather create.”