Fun and lively, bursting with creative and imaginative vitality, Daniel Bejarano‘s music captivated my interest. I had the opportunity to speak with the Colombia-based composer, where we had a great conversation, talking about audio-visual inspiration, memory budget, pressure and productivity, and virtual reality! Check out our interview below.
When did you first become interested in music and being a musician?
Daniel: I think since I was a kid, there were always musicians in my family—my older brother and older sister used to play piano, and they were very involved with church too. I saw them all the time singing, and playing… So that was the first exposure I had to music.
Okay. Do you have any formal musical training? Or are you mostly self-taught?
Daniel: I never studied music when I was a kid actually. But then when I finished high school, I wanted to study music, but I felt I was kind of old, cause I was like 18. Before that I hadn’t had musical training. But then I just started, I went to a music conservatory, where I studied classical guitar. But then I went to college, and I studied music composition after that. So I have my degree in music composition.
Ah okay. So what was your very first composition? And what made you want to write music for the first time?
Daniel: Oh, wow… It was quite interesting because when I was studying classical guitar, I wasn’t sure about picking composition. But then I met one of my professors, who was an experimental composer. The way he was making his music was very interesting to me, so then I decided I wanted to compose music as well. I remember in college, a project where we had to compose a string quartet piece. It was not that good. (laughs) But that’s how I started. Most of my first compositions were projects for university. We had lots of variety… We had to compose traditional Colombian music, orchestral music, and we also had a strong influence by popular music. It was interesting, because we had to write in a lot of different styles.
Okay, that ties in with the next question. What or who are some of your main influences and inspirations, musical or otherwise?
Daniel: I would say I really love composers like Erik Satie, and Philip Glass. I like minimalism. But when it comes to orchestration, I like Gustav Holst. And then of course, thinking of video games… I would say, Gustavo Santaolalla. He’s an Argentinian composer. He composed the music for The Last of Us. It’s a beautiful, beautiful work. I really like how he combines traditional orchestral music with some very specific traditional instruments from Argentina and Latin America. He’s one big influence for me. And regarding the old guys, Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo of course, they are always an inspiration for all of us.
Yeah, cool. So what programs and equipment do you use to make your music?
Daniel: I use Logic, and Reason for making music, but for sound design, recording, editing, mixing, foley art, I use Pro Tools.
Cool, so what was the first video game soundtrack you ever wrote? How did you get the position and what the experience like?
Daniel: It was when I was finishing university; I had to do my dissertation, which was about music for video games. In Colombia, the game industry is very small. At that time, I didn’t think there was any Colombian game company. And I started looking for them, and it was quite surprising when I found one. I sent them an email, and I told them I’m doing my dissertation on music in video games, I would love to go and have an interview with you and know about you and all that. And they didn’t have a composer, but they had a guy implementing the sound. He gave me an interview, and then a couple of months after that, I graduated and I got a call from them. They asked me if I’d like to work with them, and course I did. That was a very, very short project. But I had the chance for the first time to work in a game company and to make some music. So at that time, I had to compose some very short piano, strings background music. So it wasn’t like a huge thing—it wasn’t a lot of themes or a lot of music. But for me it was very special and representative because that was the first time I wrote music for a game. It was a horror game. I had to record some voices and foley too.
Then after that, I got another job in another game company, where I worked for a year. And then I would say the first complete game I worked for was a game called iSaveU. I had the chance to write lots of different themes for that game. So those two games were the first experiences for me.
Okay. Talk about some of the original soundtracks you’ve written for games. What’s your compositional process when writing video game music?
Daniel: Most of the time, it depends on the project, but when the game hasn’t started, I like to talk to everybody, like the designers and the artists. In the case of iSaveU, they called me when they were already developing the game, but they were still in the initial phase, so I had the chance to sit down with the director. And he said we have this in mind, it’s an adventure game, very colorful. They showed me some of the animations, landscapes they already had. And it was quite easy for me, because when I can see pictures, images, any kind of art, ideas of what I want to do start coming to me. So I always try to ask for pictures, or the story, or animations, whatever they have that I can see, that’s a good way to start.
I also always ask for references, so when I talk to them, I ask for two or three references, just to know what kind of music they have in mind. Then I make my own version.
Yeah, that makes sense. So which composition of yours are you most proud of, and why? It could be from a video game soundtrack, or something else.
Daniel: I would say two of them. One of the themes from iSaveU, it’s called Ice Cartoon Music. I had to write a theme and variations, so actually this is a variation of the main theme, for that specific level. But I like it—it represents a lot about what the director had in mind… Candy, cold, wind, kids… And then I ended up making this piece that I really like.
The other that I’m proud of… It’s quite funny because I don’t have it on soundcloud. I had to write music for a drama, and we played it live every night. It has been one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had, because I wrote the music but we had to play it live. We had a big set of midi controls, computers, mics… I remember it was a beautiful piece, but it was never recorded—we just played it live every time. But I really liked that work, that was back in college.
Aww, too bad you never got a recording of it! So in your opinion, what are some of the main differences between video game music and other kinds of music?
Daniel: I would say non-linearity. We all know that when we write music for TV or films, we have the same piece every time—you cannot change it, not even the people watching the film. So it is a linear medium. But of course, video games are non-linear. So as a composer, you have to keep in mind that you’re making music for a non-linear medium, and that gives you lots of chances and a new perspective, but it also gives you lots of restrictions.
And also, memory budget. That’s something very different from movies. You have to worry about how long your theme is, how much RAM memory or disk storage you’re using. When you make music for a game, you have to have in mind all these things, which I think is fun. It’s interesting. You have to be creative!
Yeah, that ties in with the next one! What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve face while writing video game soundtracks, and how did you overcome them?
Daniel: Sometimes, companies come to you when the game is already done, and they ask for music, but they didn’t have in mind how much RAM or space they needed for the music. So I would say that you need to come up with a strategy to solve all these problems and still offer an interactive solution and not just a loop, which is a big challenge. So for example like making music with vertical layering. You can make an initial theme and then make so many layers that you can play with, so that the music won’t be that repetitive.
Okay. So what style or genre of music your favorite to write in?
Daniel: So many! But I like rock music. So fighting games, sports games, where you have the chance to play with lots of electric guitars and heavy drums… I like that! But of course I also like orchestral music. I’m actually retraining myself in orchestration. When you have the chance to work with real instruments and musicians, you get a different sound. But nowadays, sometimes you have to do everything within your DAW, using MIDI, there are lots of skills you need in order to make it sound as real as possible. So I would say rock and orchestral music are my favorite ones.
Cool, so what is one of the most important life lessons you’ve learned while working on a video game soundtrack?
Daniel: Wow… Whew! I would say when you have the pressure of time, when you have a deadline… Before that, you think that some things are impossible to achieve. But when you have a deadline and you are under pressure… When we were working on iSaveU, we were initially working just on three levels, but suddenly we had to develop another whole new level. We didn’t have a lot of time. I had to make a whole new theme, and all the variations and all that stuff, and we had maybe a week, and of course we had to work very, very hard. But then I realized that sometimes you can be very productive when you have one of these deadlines, and lots of pressure. When you focus yourself, even when you don’t have a deadline like that, you can put your own deadline, and you can achieve lots of things in a very short period of time.
Yeah, awesome. Now I have a list of rapid-fire questions! Give short answers as quickly as possible!
Daniel: Okay, I will try!
Okay! Favorite video game protagonist!
Daniel: I would say… Sonic!
Favorite animal in a video game, or a mystical creature!
Daniel: Maybe Bowser from Mario?
Favorite arcade game!
Daniel: Hm. I would say some of the old ones, like Galaga, or Asteroids.
Okay. Favorite Final Fantasy game!
How about favorite character theme?
Daniel: Megaman… Dr. Wily’s boss theme!
Okay, if you could befriend any video game antagonist, who would you choose?
Daniel: (laughs) Maybe Bowser also, from Mario. He has a cool car in Mario Kart!
Yeah! All right, that’s the end of my rapid-fire questions. So what are some of your future plans? What are you working on now?
Daniel: Right now, I just finished my Master’s degree, in Sound and Music for Interactive Games. I studied for more than a year, and I just came back. I’m putting together my portfolio—I had lots of projects that I developed for my Master’s degree. They are connected to my dissertation, which was about 3D audio for virtual reality. That’s quite interesting because 3D audio has been known most of the time for sound effects. It’s pretty straight forward—the sound comes from whichever direction. But when it comes to music, it’s quite interesting because we already spatialize sound—now what about music? Do we keep it in stereo, how we have always done it? Or do we try to also spatialize music in a 3D field? I was experimenting with that in my dissertation, and I have a couple of videos and compositions. I composed three themes, in 3D, where you have instruments around you… Just experiments. I’m putting together all the videos and uploading them to my portfolio, and I want to start showing that, because I know 3D audio is gaining lots of attention right now.
I’m also working on a video game with an indie company. We are developing a fighting game. So I’m writing the music for the first stages—the intro, and the first levels. And just that so far!
Great! Sounds like you’re pretty busy! All right, those are all the questions I have! Do you have any final thoughts?
Daniel: No, but thank you very much for this interview, and your time! I’ve checked out your website and other interviews. It’s very interesting what you’re doing. It’s also a way to help people, and connect people. So thank you for that!
Yeah, thank you so much!
Check out Daniel Bejarano’s vivacious music on soundcloud.
Cell Factor – Remake:
Supplementary photos courtesy of The Lausy Collective.