Megan McDuffee is a Bay Area-based composer and synthwave artist. She composes music for film and video games as well as collaborating with various synthwave artists including ALEX and Moonrunner83. I talked to her about her passion for music, her creative process and where she finds inspiration.
Interview with Megan McDuffee
Karl Magi: Tell me about the genesis of your passion for music
Megan McDuffee: Honestly, it's been there as far back as I can remember. Even before I was six, I wanted to sing in my school's talent show and learn as many instruments as I could. I began piano lessons when I was eight, and the more music I immersed myself in, the more it became a part of me. It's just always been there.
KM: Talk about your approach to music and the elements, musical ideas or themes that you explore.
MM: For me, melody is everything. I crave strong melodies, and am drawn to melodic music of many genres. When I'm approaching a track, that's usually where I start. Even indirectly, like working on a chord progression just to get something down, and then adding a beat, which will then together inspire melodies. Of course, that's not to say I don't enjoy a lot of rhythmic and sound design-driven tunes as well :)
As far as themes or ideas? If it's for a client usually I'm given a brief which I'll go off of. But when I'm creating music for myself (or have a lot of creative freedom on a client project), I have certain modes and moods that I gravitate towards. Even certain key signatures and chords within those keys I'll find myself using regularly (I'm a sucker for D minor and a good minor triad add two!)
KM: How does the process work for you when you’re creating new music?
MM: It usually starts with me opening up Cubase, and setting up a new project with all of my favorite VST's. Depending on what style/mood I'm going for, I'll start going through presets in my synths, until one just sparks some ideas. I'll start coming up with either chord progressions or melodies, record them on my MIDI keyboard, and then go back and refine or tweak the patch.
When it's a client project, I'll analyze reference tracks for tempo, instrumentation, and chord structure which then guides my VST choice in Cubase. Aside from that I just start going for it!
KM: What has drawn you to synthwave as a style?
MM: Oh man, I grew up with 80's music. I was always drawn to the synth-laden and electronic sounds of the era. 80's film scores from movies I loved watching were a big part of my youth as well. I listened to anything 80's inspired throughout my life too, so when it was finally labeled synthwave and the genre became more popular I thought, "Oh good; the rest of the world finally caught on. I've been listening to this stuff for years! It ain't new..." Haha.
I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to synth-heavy music, I just am. I guess it was probably all the actual 80's music and film scores I listened to in my formative teen years. It puts me in a good head space - a space I like to be in.
KM: What are your impressions of the state of the electronic music scene today?
MM: It’s never been easier or harder to be an electronic music composer/producer. The technology is relatively affordable, and the information on basically anything you need to know to produce high-quality tunes is readily available. Sharing music has never been easier with the Internet. I know my music career wouldn't be where it is today without the insane amount of information and networking capability that the Internet provides.
That said, because of this it has become quite easy for so many people to create music (which is great), but this means the competition has grown exponentially. It's increasingly harder to get noticed and be heard.
I guess that doesn't really apply to the electronic music scene, but to all the music being created nowadays. However, I think that talent and marketing savvy will always stand out, even with the rampant competition.
KM: Where would you like to take your musical career in the future?
MM: I’ve done some really exciting things in the past year, having already been doing music professionally for the past seven years or so. I'd love to continue along this trajectory, scoring higher profile video games, composing and landing more Hollywood trailer music placements, collaborating with more well-known artists, and finally releasing an electronica album of my own!
KM: How do you keep your creative batteries recharged?
MM: I think I'm lucky in that I never have a problem with this. The love for music fuels me and I’m constantly motivated every day because I need to succeed at doing what I love. I couldn't do anything else in life and be fulfilled or satisfied. My drive is so strong that I often struggle with relaxing, and not working on advancing my career!
When my brain needs a break though, I like to run, watch movies, play video games, read or listen to my favorite creepy stories podcast.