The Future of Audio in Gaming - Nile Rodgers Interview
By Brent Soboleski - "Shockwave"
November 8th, 2005

Last week, we had the opportunity to speak with one of the most prolific music producers in the history of the industry, Nile Rodgers. Known for such accomplishments through his work with such artists as Diana Ross, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, The B-52s, David Lee Roth, Grace Jones, and Mick Jagger, Nile has taken on the new challenges of working with talented artists to produce music in the gaming industry. One of his first projects that has really gotten him highly involved in the gaming world was his involvement with the Halo soundtrack working with Bungie Studios' Audio Director Marty O'Donnell. Nile has now been hard at work with his newly formed company, Sumthin Else Music Works, where he has decided to pursue the various paths offered to him in the gaming industry.

Here's what Nile had to say about his background, how he got into gaming, and how he perceives the gaming business in relation to the music industry he has been so much a part of for so long.

Needless to say, you are definitely not a newcomer into the music industry, but video games are something fairly new as far as top quality soundtracks go. What initially got you involved in producing soundtracks for videogames?

Nile Rodgers: I started fooling around with some of the early 8-bit titles because a couple of Japanese companies had approached me with the idea of working on music for their games. I have always been familiar with video games ever since back in the day. When video games first started to become popular, I was a lightweight gamer and I would play the early games between recording sessions. I remember going to the arcades to check out the new games and thinking how cool they were, but at that time I was just a casual gamer. When the first consoles came out, I bought a couple of consoles for the studio and I bought games like Ms. Pac-Man and we'd play that in the studio as well as at home in my apartment. So even then gaming has always been a part of my vibe and my culture.

When things really starting picking up for me as far as working with video game soundtracks, I'd have to say it was a few years ago when Marty O'Donnell (Audio Director, Bungie Studios) came to me to work on the Halo soundtrack. I had fooled around with a few titles prior to Halo, but that was the game that really took me over the top. People in my office who were working on the project with me would be playing the game and thinking to themselves, ‘Wow! This is some really good music!”

That's when I got hooked, and then I got involved in some other titles and the next think you know, I decided one day that I was taking all the things I had on my walls in my office down and replacing it with all the video game media that I had. People thought I was nuts, but I wanted to take all the bull**** down because when I get of the elevator and look at the walls, I want to know what it is we stand for now.

Tell us a bit about Sumthin Else Music Works and why you decided to create it.

Nile Rodgers: I don't want to say I've had good breaks, but things have turned out well for me. I've had to work really hard in my career. It's always seemed like I've always helped artists out of a slump and I've never worked with a band right when they are making it big. They always call me when they are in need of a boost and I come in and put them back on top. So things have always found a way to work out because I try really hard to always make something innovative in my work. So when Marty came to me with the Halo concept, I realized I would be able to do something totally new and do what I want with it. Not only that, but we would be working on something before it got huge and we could be a part of the initial creation of the project instead of picking someone up after they already started to fall off the charts.

That and the process of making the music for the game is a lot different than making music for artists or film, and I've done a lot of film in my career. With a game, we had to come up with creative ways to make the music work in a lot of different situations that wouldn't be as linear as making music for artists or film. We had to think about the different game situations as players move through the game and interact with the elements and still be able to create music that would sound cool. It's a weird way to write thinking, ‘If the user does this, is the music still going to be cool?”

So all of those challenges brought me around to make a complete change in my career. With Sumthin Else Music Works, I wanted to spread the love and give newcomers a chance to make it because something that really helped me were all the people who had given me an opportunity when I was putting my career together. So I figured it would be a lot easier for me to help other people get started in their career, so I formed the company. I was wrong though because it turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, but that just pushes us together even more.

How do you view similarities and differences between making video game soundtracks as opposed to albums for top name artists or even motion picture soundtracks?

Nile Rodgers: I think the main challenge is you have to score what you as well as what you don't see. Before I was never in a situation where I had to anticipate so many different variables, and now I had to come up with solutions for variables that almost seem limitless. But what's great about it is I'm having fun again. When I first started out in Rock'n'Roll, it was really fun. When I got started in video games it became fun again. I look at the music business as an old model, and with games its something relatively new and a much younger model, so that means we can come up with new ways to do something. I love the idea of it being limitless and the challenges it presents us as artists. I like to come up with ways to enhance a user's experience in the game, but also what they take away from that experience outside the game as well. The way I like to think of the game's score is that the score is anything that enhances the game's visuals.

So all of those challenges brought me around to make a complete change in my career. With Sumthin Else Music Works, I wanted to spread the love and give newcomers a chance to make it because something that really helped me were all the people who had given me an opportunity when I was putting my career together. So I figured it would be a lot easier for me to help other people get started in their career, so I formed the company. I was wrong though because it turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, but that just pushes us together even more.

Some of the titles that are just around the corner that you have worked on include Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power and Hitman: Blood Money. Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from each title musically?

Nile Rodgers: In Kameo, because you think of it in terms of a fantasy type world there are certain things that presuppose that particular style. I don't want to speak in clichés but you are going to have that sort of Lord of the Rings vibe where fantasy plays a major role in the game and its sound. With a game like Hitman there are less rules and working with the game's composer, Jesper Kyd, he has no expectations and doesn't approach the game with any preconceived notions. So he is able to come up with some wild ideas and concepts because his headspace is so wide open for new things. So when I first heard some of the work for Hitman: Blood Money I was like, ‘Wow, man!” where did this come from? But that's the cool thing about working with someone like Jesper because he is able to bring something to the table that is totally different than what I'm used to doing by myself. With Perfect Dark Zero, a lot of the music relates to the main character Joanna and her actions during the game. Being a total cut throat bad ass, Joanna needs to have some heavy rock music instead of something light that isn't going to reflect her personality.

What is typically the biggest challenge to overcome when producing a soundtrack for a videogame or any other type of media?

Nile Rodgers: I think the hardest thing to overcome is judging yourself and being your own worst critic so to speak. What winds up happening is you start thinking to much about what the publishers and the company I'm working want rather than what the users would want. You see, when I work on something I look at it as art. When I sit down and begin something I'm creating art. Art is something that opens up and enhances your emotions and that's what I like to think I'm doing. Art, well good art at least, takes you to a place you go during the experience of it, and then after you experience it you are different. That's what I try to think about as an artist. When I start to thinking about serving a commercial master, that's what gets in my way. On the other hand, sometimes I start thinking about if we have pushed the artistic envelop too far. You are walking a fine line between pushing the envelope and sticking to what the publisher wants from you as an artist. Games take a long time to bring to the market and over the course of that time, people can change their minds over and over again and again. It's struggle trying to stick to your gut and not let the process take you away from your ideas. I keep saying it, but I really think people need to realize we are dealing with art. The product may still be commercial and the games might sell, but we are still dealing with art.

The Xbox 360 is only a few weeks away and it will begin the next-generation of gaming. What are your thoughts on the Xbox 360 hardware itself and particularly the audio capabilities as they relate to current audio standards?

Nile Rodgers: For the last year I've been listening to dance music in surround sound and it's like a new drug to me. When I'm listening to the new 360 games like Kameo in full surround sound it's just killing me because it's so different than when we first started gaming. It really is like a new drug, in fact it's almost sexual because it's so over the top and it's a sensory experience.

With the Xbox 360's ability to connect to MP3 players such as an iPod, do you think many users will take advantage of incorporating their own music into the games they play? How do you, as a creator of a game's soundtrack, plan on taking that into account when you sit down and put together the original soundtrack?

Nile Rodgers: Well, I think the challenge is you have to make really good music and think that the music a composer makes is really cool. Some people may want to be able to lay in their own music, but I think the majority of users will feel moved enough by the game's music the composer creates so they won't want to alter it further. After a while tweaking the music might be a cool thing to experiment with, but initially I think people will be so blown away by what they hear that they won't want to change or add to it.

Where do you see things going from here? What can we look forward to in the future of audio, and how high quality soundtracks are implemented into the coming generation of gaming?

Nile Rodgers: Hopefully, you'll be hearing a lot more of the music my company is working to put out there. We are working really hard to show that we trying to stand for something. Out motto is, “If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.” We try to stand for something original and cool. We aren't afraid to take chances and have everyone blast us because we are taking a different stand than you might be used to.

Before we let you off the hook, is there anything else you'd like to share with us regarding the Xbox 360 or the work you've done for the games so far?

Nile Rodgers: I hope the people at MTV don't read this but I'm going to tell you something big that I'm planning. On the night of November 22, when the Xbox 360 drops - I have rented the MTV jumbotron in Times Square. This is the biggest high-def jumbotron in the world. I've got a band called Morrison Poe, who is doing the opening and closing music to Perfect Dark Zero. What I'm going to do is have their video running on the MTV jumbotron, and then I have about 30 of my best friends who have big SUVs with hardcore sound systems. So we've worked out a way to time things so we can all sync the audio playing in their rigs to match up with the video on the screen while it plays.

We decided to do this because we can't get a license to actually have the band play live in Times Square. This way people will just start hearing the music from all directions and they'll be able to look up and see the video playing on the screen with the lyrics typed out on screen so people can follow along with the music they hear from all over. The best part is I bought the usage of the screen through a charity event and I haven't done anything with it for like a year, so I have a perfect reason to use it now. Not only will I be helping a charity by paying for the screen, but I'll be promoting the game and the band during the Xbox 360 launch. It's gonna be wild!


I'd like to thank Nile for taking the time out of his schedule to speak with us over the phone and I'd also like to point out that in speaking with him, it is clear to us that he is truly an innovator who is driving to take things in new directions. His “art” is something that we as gamers are greatly looking forward to experiencing and I hope that there are more creators out there who think along the same lines as Nile. He has shown he is a valuable asset to the next-generation of gaming and he has no signs of slowing down. Be prepared come the Xbox 360 launch to experience some of the scores he has helped put together including Kameo: Elements of Power , and Perfect Dark Zero . Also be sure to check out Hitman: Blood Money , coming to the Xbox later this year.

To listen to the title track to Perfect Dark Zero and for more information on Morisson Poe and the wild event planned for November 22 in Times Square at 5pm EST, check out their website at .

For more on the Perfect Dark Zero Soundtrack, visit .