I played a lot of video games in high school. The arcade at lunch (Gauntlet and Galaga were my favorites) followed by the couch at my best friend Dustin’s house after school (Laser Gates on the Atari). My how things have progressed. This issue we catch up with a gentleman who has been helping that progression on the music front. Our interview with Tommy Talarico is in preparation to hear what that sounds like live and in person when he joins the Albany Symphony Orchestra for the internationally acclaimed Video Games LIVE performance in early October 2023.
Please state your name, where you are from and profession / title.
Tommy Tallarico – Born and raised in Springfield, MA but have been living in Southern California for over 3 decades. Have been a video game composer and sound designer for over 33 years. I started Video Games Live over 20 years ago (2002) and have performed over 525 shows in 42 countries around the world.
Video game music is kind of specialized, how did you get into this profession, what was the path for you?
My two greatest loves growing up were video games and music. But I never thought I could ever put the two together because there was no such thing as a video game composer in the 70’s! When I was 21 I got in my car and drove to California. I was homeless, didn’t have any friends out there, no job, etc. The day I got there I picked up a newspaper and got a job at Guitar Center selling keyboards. The first customer who walked in the following day was a producer who worked for Richard Branson who was starting a Virgin video game company. I was wearing a video game t-shirt so we struck up a conversation and he gave me a job as a video game tester. I was in California about 3 days and was already in the video game industry. I would beg and bug the Vice-President of the company to let me do music when needed. They gave me a shot to translate, compose and do sound design for the Gameboy version of Prince of Persia, which was a huge game at the time. I won a bunch of awards while at Virgin so they made me the full time audio person. In 1994 I left Virgin after 4 years and started my own company so I could do contracts for all the different game companies.
Can you give us some highlights, interesting projects and games you have worked on. Any favorites?
There was a big game in the early to mid 90’s called Earthworm Jim that myself and 8 friends created and worked on together. We were the same group of guys who had done the award winning Cool Spot and Disney’s Aladdin video games for the Sega Genesis. Creating something on our own, with good friends and something for which we owned a part of and became hugely successful, was definitely a highlight. Doing the audio design for Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater was also a great experience as none of us working on the project at the time had any idea on how successful it was going to be.
Working with Stan Lee on Spider-Man, working with the original Sonic team on a Sonic game and helping the original Guitar Hero team get tracks from the music industry were also big highlights. Two of the biggest highlights though were working with my two biggest childhood heroes. I worked with Muhammad Ali over a 6 month period in 1992 for the Muhammad Ali boxing game on the Sega Genesis and then a year later in 1993 I worked with Slyvestor Stallone for a week on the Demolition Man video game. They were both a dream come true and I have so many incredible stories about both.
What inspired you to move from the console to the real world symphonic environment? Any special moments to share in this area?
I always wanted to use REAL instruments for video game music. In fact, one of the first times a real guitar was used in a video game was for The Terminator game on the Sega-CD. The technology made this possible because instead of having to store everything into a small game cartridge, you could now just record real music and real instruments and have it play off of a CD! I remember some of the producers from the game feeling a little shocked that the rock music we were doing was “real” and that it didn’t match the 16-bit graphics of the game. They felt at the time that it sounded out of place. Only because they had never really heard real music with a video game before. Luckily, the soundtrack to The Terminator ended up winning multiple BEST MUSIC Awards throughout the industry. Once the CD technology arrived, it ended up becoming the norm moving forward.
A lot of you people into music fantasize about having their work in a video game. Any suggestions on how to break into that arena?
Yes! For sure! Join the Game Audio Network Guild or G.A.N.G. as it is commonly referred to. It is a non-profit organization I founded over 20 years ago. So much great information and networking one could do by joining.
Like most careers, networking is a HUGE part in getting your foot in the door and becoming successful.
Anything on the radar that you would like to share with us? It can be more than one thing!
I would encourage people to please check out our six Video Games Live albums. I think that most people who aren’t familiar with video game music will get a huge surprise as to the quality. That is why Video Games Live has become so popular and successful over two decades. The music and the experience is really for everyone, not just hardcore gamers. The storylines, visuals, characters and of course the MUSIC is really exemplary in every sense of the word. Some of the greatest letters and e-mails we’ll get after a performance are from the non-gamers in the audience saying… “I never knew!“
You can also catch me in Albany on Sunday, October 8 playing with the Albany Symphony Orchestra…see you there!
EDITORS NOTE: Click on the image below for tickets. Use code : ACE20 for a 20% discount!