A quick update, then on to some awesome news! We're dropping this little news flash in the pre-E3 window just to let you know that we won't be there this year. Not in any official capacity, at least. A few of us might be walking the show floor, but we'll be in 'spectator mode,' enjoying the buffet of delights. But, fear not. We are in fact bringing you a pretty sweet announcement to tide you over.
We’re really excited to share this fantastic, game-related news today. While we continue to keep the curtain drawn on our project, there are some really cool developments (currently and upcoming) that we are able to talk about. Anytime these bits arise, we’re actively assessing the best ones to share with you. This is undoubtedly one of them!
All of us at V1 are very happy to announce that the inimitable JON EVERIST will be working his musical wizardry with us to create a truly stellar original soundtrack for our project! We’re really happy to be working so closely with such a great talent and this collaboration is already adding a profound sonic layer to the game.
Any of you out there who’ve heard Jon’s work (not only on the recent BattleTech release, but previous soundtracks for a bevy of Shadowrun titles, just to name a few) know that Jon brings a unique and accessible ‘je ne sais quoi’ to every note of every score he works on.
Please join us in welcoming Jon to our little band of misfits!
To supplement this announcement, he sat down with us to help provide all of you with a little ‘get to know ya’” session.
V1: “Have you always been musically inclined? Did you grow up playing instruments and listening to music?”
Jon Everist: I was drawn to music at a really young age. I got into the drums when I was around 10 (sorry mom!), and then piano and guitar shortly after. I was always producing music in one form or another and in bands throughout college, but I didn't have classical training until much later. I never imagined that I'd be working with orchestras someday.
I grew up mesmerized by game and film soundtracks, but it always felt like an unattainable dream to score them. I was always a very instinctual and 'by ear' composer, and I was hard on myself for not having classical training at a young age (pursuing a music degree was sort of an unspoken 'no-no' in my family). I didn't realize at the time that the writer's voice, ear, and instinct is the hardest thing to learn, so in a way I was already a bit ahead of the curve with how much practice I had producing music.
After writing music on the side while working a job I hated, I came to a crossroads where I had to ask myself "Do I always relegate music to 'side-hustle' status, or do I go all-in and see what happens?" I left my job and used every dime I had to go back to music school and to study Music for Games at DigiPen. Long story short - I got VERY lucky. I even had to leave DigiPen without graduating because I'd ran out of money to pay tuition, but at that point I'd started to get some work, and I've never looked back. I think what helped me is that I was making music every day. By always trying to improve and learn more, and playing my music for anyone who would listen, I increased my odds of getting a lucky break.
V1: “Was there a piece of music from an artist that really clicked for you? That one piece that landed and made you say ‘Oh, I guess I know what I’m doing with the rest of my life.’”
Jon Everist: There are many! I grew up on Squaresoft games, so soundtracks like Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger are what got me into making music in the first place. At that point I knew I'd be making music for the rest of my life, no matter what I was doing for a day job. I think the 'click' moment that got me to take the leap and leave my job started with Amon Tobin's score for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and Disasterpeace's FEZ. At that point in my life, I knew I could produce good music, but I still felt like I didn't 'belong' on a scoring stage with an orchestra, so hearing soundtracks that took an evocative but electronic approach really made me say: "I can do this."
Now that I'm comfortable with the orchestra, one of my favorite things to do is combine those two worlds together: modular and analog synths with live players. I think my circuitous path in music is reflected in my voice, which is a mixture of all these different types of music that I've loved, and now with the emotional power and versatility that the orchestra (and soloists) do so well.
I also must admit that if you told Young Jon that Older Jon would one day be sitting in the same room with the co-creator of Halo discussing scoring his team's amazingly cool new IP, my young head would have exploded. I loved Halo and Marty's soundtrack immensely, so getting to work with Marcus and V1 is one of those examples where your younger self just isn't capable of dreaming big enough; I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all really happening and I wish I could have told Young Jon to believe in himself more.
V1: “Will you tell us a little about your process and how collaboration factors in?”
Jon Everist: I really enjoy absorbing as much about the game-world as possible, I'm a very character driven composer. One of my favorite things about the process is to sit and listen to creative directors, devs, and artists to talk about the world they're creating, explain their stories, their characters, their aspirations; to be empathetic enough to reach the emotional core of what is propelling the story and gluing the world together.
I never want to get in the way of the story we're telling or force the player to feel a certain way, but I do want to challenge the player to feel. When I sent my first draft of our main theme to Marcus, he told me it brought him to tears, which is the highest compliment I think a composer can get (yes, we live off the tears of others, we are monsters). When we are able to strike the chord that drives others to create art, that sort of emotional response means we're heading in the right direction - and to keep digging.
Another thing I love is that Marcus, Jack, and I have a very open dialogue about edits and honing in pieces of music. As we dial in certain pieces of music and openly discuss what's working and what needs work, I think we get closer and closer to an ideal where music is completely absorbed into the game-world, where neither could exist without the other. Jack and I also work very closely together to make sure that the audio experience is cohesive and feeds off of each other rather than compete for space. Sometimes music needs the foreground, and sometimes music needs to just shut up.
V1: ”Help us contextualize and get a sense of what it feels like to conduct an orchestra (of any size), expertly playing a piece you wrote.”
Jon Everist: For me: terrifying and exhilarating but also completely unhelpful. There are composers who are great at conducting their own music during sessions, and I must admit I am not one of those composers. I think I'm much better served leaving the conducting to someone else so I can focus in the engineering room with my ears on the recordings, keeping things moving along, and keeping track of what is working and what isn't. This frees me up to make quick decisions for each take. Just hearing notes you've written being played by 75 humans is a very surreal thing. You've been listening to mock-ups of these pieces sometimes for over a year, and when you hear them played live, it's sort of magical.
There are so many moving pieces to these live sessions and things are moving very quickly. Every minute is accounted for and utilized. On average I'd say it takes about 10-15 minutes to record 1 minute of music. Sometimes we may only get 1 or 2 takes for a piece that none of these musicians have seen or played before, so you have to be very regimented about time and agile with edits and notes. I think some composers who are highly trained conductors can thrive off of that high pressure environment but for me it's sensory overload. But hey, I'll never shy away at a chance for a photo-op because it makes me look SO cool! When you see pictures of me conducting it usually means one of two things: we didn't have the budget to hire someone to conduct, or we finished our music in time to let me get up and conduct a few cues myself, for fun.
Don't get me wrong though, conducting your own music is sublime, and I'd love to do it when I'm not trying to beat the clock and get the best recordings possible in just a few minutes. Someday I'd love to conduct my own music in a concert setting, that would be amazing.
V1: “For the gearheads reading this, can you give us an idea of your home studio setup?
Jon Everist: My setup is pretty simple and streamlined. The most important thing for me is to have unfettered access to recording ideas quickly, as they come.
Everything in my studio is meant to be used at any moment, without fuss. I tend to start writing my music ideas at the piano and then shape and form those ideas in Cubase running on a suped-up Mac Pro with several external SSD's filled with samples I load in Vienna Ensemble Pro (I have templates for everything, and one large template is always pre-loaded). My Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt interface runs the show.
I like to make my digital mock-ups realistic and shippable as-is, but if a cue I'm writing will be recorded by an orchestra or other live ensemble or soloist, I'll export that finished track into Sibelius for engraving and score prep and eventually printing. I think the most important pieces of gear in my studio are my Barefoot monitors and acoustic treatment which give me a clear and transparent understanding of my mix as I'm writing and orchestrating tracks. Hearing things cleanly has been a huge time saver for me. I also have Avantone Mixcubes for referencing. I use a Dangerous Music 2BUS when I'm mixing stems to add a little analog flavor and glue to things. My MIDI controller is the Roland A-88 which I've had for many years and housed into a sit/stand desk that I built myself a few years ago. I also have an MCU Pro to control my DAW and help me mix/organize things.
For synths, I favor my Prophet 12 and my Make Noise modular rig. I've also got a ton of string and percussion 'instruments' laying around that I routinely pluck, bow, and smash. I also have an assortment of wind instruments and even a bass recorder that I use surprisingly often. When I'm recording myself I typically use an AEA ribbon mic and also a mid-side or stereo setup with some cheap-o mics.
V1: “Is there anyone you want to give a shout-out to, industry-folk, teachers/mentors, or otherwise, that’s had a helpful hand in getting you to where you are?”
Jon Everist: Definitely want to shout-out to my music teacher, Bruce Stark. He really helped unlock the classical side of music for me in a way that shaped who I am as a composer and person today. It felt like I was learning to write a language I'd been speaking for years and he gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities. I always have to shout-out Jenn Ravenna, who helped get me my first real gig. She did the cover art to the Shadowrun: Dragonfall vinyl soundtrack and worked on the Shadowrun games and on BattleTech. Check out her website here! Shout out to Maclaine Diemer (composer for Guild Wars) for letting me bug him with questions about recording, and Stan LePard (my orchestrator who coincidentally orchestrated music for some of the Halo games, as well).
I've got a close group of super talented composer friends who I learn from everyday and who help me grow as an artist. Also, above all, my partner Suzy who is my biggest supporter and source of all my inspiration.
V1: ”To wrap up -- At the risk of tooting our own horn here and without going into too much about the project, what excites you about what we’re making together?”
Jon Everist: During my first meeting with Marcus where he told me about the story and world V1 was creating it was impossible to hide my excitement - I was clearly giddy. I also got a chance to see him play through a demo and I was just so impressed with what I saw even though it was very early stuff. The expertise and care that goes into character and world-building for this project is world class, and from a mechanical standpoint, the game is just damn fun.
Everything about this project feels triple A, even though V1 is a small team, the talent of the roster from art to engineering is ridiculously impressive. I also feel a great privilege to work with Jack Menhorn on this, he has a deft ear and clear understanding of the audio story we're trying to tell, and how to balance the interplay of sound design and music to create a moving and engaging experience.
I am so stoked for people to see what V1 is cooking up, and I can't wait to share the music I've been writing...it’s all very exciting stuff. I'd like to share some behind-the-scenes updates as we move further along in production so people can see my process and what it takes to score a game like this. It's going to be fun!
V1: Thanks Jon!
We'll be back with another V1 dev profile and (hopefully) more project tidbits to share soon. If you’re interested in learning more about Jon, his work, and where you can listen to it -- check out the links below. We’re definitely fans of Jon. We’re pretty sure you will be too.