An Interview With Video Game Music Composer and Arranger David Peacock
David Peacock is a composer and arranger with a broad range of musical interests and talents. He studied at the Berklee College of Music and has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Austin Wintory, Disasterpeace and Tina Guo along with pianist Agustine Mayuga Gonzalez and the Videri String Quartet.
I talked to him about his love for video game music, his creative process and how he recharges his creative batteries.
Interview With David Peacock
Karl Magi: What first drew you towards making music?
David Peacock: I was around four years old and I thought it would be pretty interesting to teach myself the piano, so I pursued that pretty strongly throughout my childhood. A large part of my learning to play instruments was playing by ear, so I picked up tons of video game tunes that I wanted to learn. As I got more and more options as far as my output was concerned, like participating in school orchestras, I got to share those creations with other musicians.
KM: What’s the approach that you take to composition and arrangement?
DP: I don’t think there’s one specific approach for me. It’s just about narrowing things down to the best of your ability until it sounds like what you were hoping for, letting it go and being done with it.
In one respect, it’s really nice that there’s not a set routine where everything feels repetitive. On the other hand, it’s scary because who knows if you’re going to hit the mark that you want or the mark that anybody you’re working with is looking for.
I approach arrangement with the same sort of techniques as composition. With arrangement, as my experience has grown, I like to be sure that I have something to contribute and that I’m not retreading or changing anything too much beyond the point of recognition. It’s walking that line while also being really fun with it and being able to get excited about it.
I like to imagine someone who has heard the in-game version of a song a thousand times hearing my arrangement and being excited by it. What’s exciting to me, hopefully, will be exciting to them.
KM: Tell me about some of the projects of which you’ve been particularly proud?
DP: I’m always happy to be collaborating with other musicians. I have a great relationship and collaboration with a pianist named Augustine Mayuga Gonzales. We’ve worked together on a number of projects and he’s been one of my go to collaborators and pianists to work with. We worked together on Undertale Piano Collections Volume 1 & 2 and Disasters for Piano which was a collaboration with Disasterpeace. I’ve also enjoyed working with the Videri String Quartet. We’ve worked together since their first album.
As far as projects are concerned, any sort of milestone projects where I’ve felt a sense of fear, where it was something new that I was afraid to do or hadn’t done publicly. I’ve gotten to do a few bigger projects that I’ve been excited to do because it was a chance to show off what I was doing. I like any opportunity or excuse to do research and immerse myself in something new and bring out something in myself that others can enjoy.
KM: Who are some of the composers who’ve been inspiring to you?
DP: I remember specifically growing up on Yasunori Mitsuda’s music. Like many people, Chrono Trigger was one of my favourite games and I continued to follow his musical journey afterwards. I noticed that he did a lot of experimentation and liked to research world music and other instrumental styles and incorporate them in his musical life. I followed his blogs and his work throughout childhood.
Beyond him, I liked a lot of the greats in the JRPG era like Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masashi Hamauzu and Nobuo Uematsu. I also loved Shiro Hamaguchi’s orchestral arrangements for the Final Fantasy franchise in the form of the Reunion tracks, or his arrangements for Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections.
Currently a lot of the people I get to work with are incredibly influential. Even if it isn’t specifically in the notes that they write down, it can be the approach and mindset they have in their lives and their careers. I want to know what has enabled them to maintain their sanity, to keep going and to enjoy life and do what they do.
KM: Where do you think video game music fits into the world of contemporary music?
DP: I think it fits in its own weird place. It’s still developing and growing. It’s still not the coolest thing to be listening to video game soundtracks, but I remember as a young kid you had to beg a parental figure to borrow their eBay account so you could buy a Japanese soundtrack online and cross your fingers that you didn’t get a pirated CD. Now you can download soundtracks right from digital storefronts. Those kinds of advancements are telling of the times. There are obviously people listening and paying attention. Companies and groups like Materia Collective are trying to officially license things, get things done properly and get the composers their money.
KM: Where do you want to take your career in music going forward?
DP: I want to keep deserving the opportunities I’ve gotten. I want to continue to work alongside other folks who want to work with me. I want to continue to be unprepared for, and a little bit terrified by the things that I jump into. I haven’t really stopped learning yet and hope I continue to do so. I’m approaching this like a sprint, not a marathon, as they say. The goal is to maintain the momentum and continue to develop my network.
KM: Aside from video game music, what sorts of other projects would you like to do?
DP: I’ve collaborated with talented filmmakers and directors. I’d love to do more of that work. There’s always possibilities for that sort of thing. I like the idea of being able to express myself musically without needing to have a purpose, so I like the idea of creating music just for the sake of creating music. I’m into visual art as a passion and I have appreciation for that sort of thing. I’m pretty overwhelmed by the options of what I can do which is both great and terrible because then I never focus on one thing, but it keeps me thinking about what different things I can do.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
DP: I try to be okay with just relaxing and taking time off. I’m pretty new to the freelance mindset, so it still sits with me that if I’m not working, I’m sinking which is not necessarily true. I try to say yes for every number of times that I say “no I can’t go out” or “I can’t do that”. I just give myself the space to just enjoy things like seeing films, playing games and maintaining what I’m passionate about. I feel like it’s a part of the job to stay informed about what’s going around you in your field, in whatever form that takes.