Tommy Tallarico Interview: The Successes and Controversies of Video Games Live
The interactive video game concert series Video Games Live has experienced a very successful year, albeit one tinged with controversy. In his first interview with us, creator Tommy Tallarico reflects on how he has adapted the show to appeal to a very wide audience with the aim of raising the cultural profile of video games around the world. He also speaks openly about more difficult issues, such as the feud with PLAY!, criticism from traditionalists, and the delayed CD release. He also gives some insight into Video Game Live‘s upcoming TV special, second album, and DVD release.
This interview is the first in a two-part feature with Tommy Tallarico. In the second part, the veteran game composer discusses his involvement on recent projects such as Earthworm Jim 4, Sonic and the Black Knight, and Flip’s Twisted World.
Interview Subject: Tommy Tallarico
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Tommy, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and agreeing to talk with us openly today on some challenging issues. It’s been another very successful year for Video Games Live. Could you tell us about some of the tour’s accomplishments? What do you think continues to make Video Games Live so popular around the world?
Tommy Tallarico: Thanks for speaking with us Chris. I appreciate this opportunity. 2009 has been our most successful year yet. Each year we continue to grow and bring in bigger audiences. I think a lot of that has to do with the positive word of mouth that spreads after each performance. We did 3 shows in 2005, 11 shows in 2006, 29 shows in 2007, 47 shows in 2008, and nearly 60 shows in 2009. 50 – 60 shows a year is probably our limit with all of the traveling, set-up, pre-production, and rehearsal that needs to be done in preparation for a performance. So in 2009 we really accomplished our goal and figured out what our ceiling is.
Some of our other accomplishments for 2009 included a performance in Taiwan where over 100,000 people attended. We finally received the opportunity to perform in Tokyo, Japan and were the first non-Japanese produced game concert to ever do so. It was a great honour to perform two shows in the largest indoor theatre in Japan and partner with the Tokyo Game Show for those performances. What was also interesting to note about those shows is that it was the first time that Japanese composers like Koji Kondo performed in their own country to a live audience. Other accomplishments included playing in countries like China, Singapore, Poland, and Ireland for the first time and being able to expand our Brazilian tour each year. We also updated the production of the show. For example, this year we have three video screens, more lighting, HD cameras, more special effects, improved technology, etc. We’re always looking to push the limits and top ourselves year after year.
But probably one of the biggest and most important things that happened for us in 2009 was that we signed a deal for a national television broadcast on one of the oldest and most prestigious television networks in the U.S. The TV special will be filmed in January and airs in the summer of 2010. A DVD and second album will follow soon after. More specific details will be coming soon. It’s very exciting because I believe it will really help to thrust game music in front of the masses and into the forefront and limelight it so deserves.
Chris: A major goal of Video Games Live is to demonstrate that “video games are as artistic and culturally significant as other media”. How do you think the unique approach of Video Games Live has helped to achieve this? Has it ever been challenging making the concerts simultaneously entertaining and artistically appealing?
Tommy Tallarico: The main reason we created Video Games Live was to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. We were never interested in just putting on a symphony concert for hardcore gamers — we wanted to do a show that appealed to the masses. Not necessarily even a concert, but a complete celebration of the video game industry and so the way we designed the show was with everyone in mind.
To describe Video Games Live quickly… it’s all the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir onstage. But what makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronised with big video screens, rock n’ roll lighting, stage show production elements, special effects, and interactive crowd segments. I like to describe it as having all of the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert, mixed together with the interactivity, cutting edge visuals, technology, and fun that video games provide.
You don’t have to know a thing about video games in order to come out to the show and have a greater appreciation for video games in general and specifically game music. Most of the letters and emails we receive after a performance are actually from non-gamers. Parallel to that, it’s also ushering in a whole new generation of people to come out and appreciate a symphony. We’ll get letters from parents after the show telling us that they took their 8 year old daughter to the show and she wants to start taking violin lessons so she can learn and play some the music in the show. The same thing happened to me over 30 years ago when I saw the Rocky and Star Wars movies. For the first time I really paid attention to symphonic music which in turn got me hooked on the masters like Beethoven and Mozart. I believe pop culture can have very positive influences on other (and more classic) forms of art. Video games are one of them. They have evolved into our culture and have become one of the entertainments of choice for the 21st century. I know that probably sounds like a bunch of PR and marketing bullocks… but it’s true!
Chris: Your shows also incorporate features such as video screens, interactive segments, atmospheric lighting, and more. Could you elaborate on these additions and what they bring to gamers attending the shows? How do you respond to critics of these ideas that describe them as ‘crude’ or ‘gimmicky’ compared to classical concerts?
Tommy Tallarico: We don’t want to be considered a “classical concert” so I’m glad that people aren’t comparing us as such. I think that it’s a fair comment to say that most of the other game concerts that are out there are more of the “classical” or traditional types of performances and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with that at all. But that was never our goal and it never will be. From our perspective, we feel that the reality is that more traditional and “classical” type of concerts are very difficult to attract a mainstream and mass market audience. I believe that a lot of the traditional type of concerts will appeal greatly to the hardcore fans… and that’s great. But that’s not our goal. We don’t want to appeal to just hardcore gamers or symphony folks. We want EVERYONE to be excited and interested in video game music whether you play games or not, whether you normally go to a symphony… or not. In order to accomplish this successfully you need to appeal to people from more than just a symphony or aural standpoint. Things like Cirque de Soleil for example isn’t just about the music. It’s a combination of fantastic visuals, incredible music, amazing presentation, interactivity with the audience, etc. These are things that make it so appealing to a wider worldwide market.
Creating a unique show and presentation that reaches a wider audience of non-gamers is a huge factor in the success of Video Games Live. The way we look at is that there are three elements that make up a video game… interactivity / design, art / graphics, and audio / music. What we have done is taken all of these elements and combined them into a live performance. Having video screens really allows the non-gamers in the audience to follow along which is very important. Is the music good enough to stand on it’s own? I believe it is, especially when you see things like the Video Games Live – Volume Onealbum debuting at #10 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., but to have synchronised video and dynamic lighting as part of our live presentation makes it even that much more unique and spectacular… especially to the non-gaming members of the audience.
We like to think that Video Games Live is definitely a complete show experience and celebration of the video game industry. It’s not just a bunch of classically trained musicians on stage playing game music — we wanted it to be so much more than that. And although music is definitely the main focus of the event, we feel that by putting on a sensational show that can be enjoyed by everyone, it is helping to legitimize the gaming world to those people who may not be aware of how amazing it has become.
Chris: How do you decide which items to perform at each show and how do you manage to keep a satisfying balance of Western and Eastern material? Could you discuss further the new program additions to Video Games Live?
Tommy Tallarico: Whenever we go to a new country we always do a lot of research as to what the people from that area like. We speak with game journalists, gamers, take data from our website, go to forums, etc. We’ve actually created over 60 segments for Video Games Live, but we can only play about 18 per night so we’re always changing the show. In fact, we’ve never played the same show twice. We’ve done close to a 150 performances around the world and we’re always mixing it up and updating it. So, for the people who have seen the show before, next time they’ll get a new experience. We’re always looking to push the limits and top ourselves year after year.
There is so much great material from both the East and the West. In the East you have franchise greats like Mario, Zelda, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Castlevania, Chrono and Mega Man to draw from. In the west there are favorites such as Halo, Warcraft, God of War, Myst, BioShock, Civilization, Monkey Island, a lot of the Classic Arcade stuff, etc. It really depends on what part of the world we’re playing. But that being said, part of our goal and journey is to turn the audience onto some game music that maybe they normally wouldn’t hear and get the chance to appreciate. For example, in Japan this year we mostly had a setlist consisting of Japanese based titles, but we also performed games like Warcraft and Halo that have amazing scores that most of the audience would probably never get the opportunity to hear. During the meet & greet we received so many positive comments about how much they enjoyed the Western material.
Some of the new segments we’ve added to the program this year include Chrono Trigger / Chrono Cross, Mega Man, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid 3, Silent Hill, and Assasin’s Creed II. In addition, there were some new interactive segments, new soloists such as “Flute Link”, and more Blizzard segments from Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Diablo III. For 2010 we’ve already started working on various things too as I will discuss at the end.
Chris: Moving on, it’s fair to say that Video Games Live has received more criticism at this site and several other game music sites than most other concerts over the past three years. Why do you think this is? Do you think the criticism levelled against you was largely unwarranted or do you have some regrets?
Tommy Tallarico: I’m honestly not familiar with too much of the criticism at your site so it would be hard for me to comment on specific things. I tend not to focus too much on the hardcore sites because I think we would all agree that it’s sometimes extremely difficult to please the hardcores at times while still trying to create a show for the masses. I don’t mean that in any kind of disrespectful or derogatory way — I consider myself a hardcore gamer as well. And if I was doing a show for myself, the setlist would definitely be different and probably considered a little niche and crazy for casual gamers.
But the reality is that the mainstream national press such as the NY Times, London Times, USA Today, BBC News, FOX News, Globo, AARP magazine, LA Times, Rolling Stone, London Daily Telegraph, IGN.com, etc. have all given Video Games Live fantastic reviews. We feel that, for what we’re trying to accomplish, this is a great and positive thing. You learn very early on as a composer that no matter what you do or accomplish, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. As a show producer it’s important to understand that and be able to take criticisms as they come. If you’re unable to do that, you’ll tend to lead a frustrating and depressing existence.
From our discussions in the past, I think it’s clear that a lot of criticism has occurred due to unwarranted and unfortunate misinformation that has been spread by other game concerts. I fully accept and understand that being the biggest show may cause others to wish they were in our position or cause them to be frustrated or jealous. I get that. But I don’t subscribe to being untruthful to try and get ahead and unfortunately we’ve learned through a lot of different sources that this kind of thing has commonly occurred with certain people over the years. I’ve always been very open and honest when talking about our show, our goals, our dreams for the future, our marketing, what our show is, who our audiences are, etc. We have no reason at all to twist the truth or talk about other game concerts in a derogatory or negative way. As game composers ourselves (and knowing what our mission is) we want EVERYONE to succeed in as many places as possible. It just makes our own jobs even that much easier. The more successful others are, the more successful we will be in our journey as well.
Our show is very different from all the other more traditional shows out there in almost every way. From the production to the marketing and everything in between. But maybe that is partly why we seem to do a lot more shows than others? I don’t know? It seems like everyone wants to be in some kind of crazy competition to get shows. I really don’t understand this. Besides, what we do is very different from what others do so there is no reason for anyone to feel threatened by us. I think the bottom line is that the better, high-quality and more popular shows are going to succeed and get more business while the less popular or non-quality productions will not. This is clearly what is happening and I suppose that is what causes other game concerts to be upset. I honestly wouldn’t know though because I don’t think that way or subscribe to that kind of thinking. I think it’s fair to say that concert promoters, symphonies and the audiences in general vote with their wallets and ticket purchasing. It’s not our fault that some of the other game concert tours don’t do as well as others and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to blame us for their positions.
Another thing to keep in mind when talking about game concert productions is that the actual show itself is only one part of the equation. Proper tour and booking agents, sponsors, partners, public relations, marketing, symphonies, venues, promoters, budgets, ticket pricing, production management, team of people, local fan support, etc. ALL play into the equation of creating a successful touring production. This is something that we have always known from the beginning and have felt we’ve always been fortunate enough to make the proper overall decisions. We’ve certainly made mistakes on all of these things in the past, but we’re capable of learning from those mistakes and finding solutions in order to forge ahead. We have a team of eight production employees that have mostly been with us for the past five years of touring. We have the biggest music agents in the world (William Morris Endeavor Entertainment), a team of marketing people, an experienced public relations group, one of the top sponsorship companies in North America, a seasoned and famous entertainment attorney, over 20 years of game industry relationships and friendships, etc. These are all parts of the puzzle that need to be in place in order to really take our dream to the level we want to.
Chris: Several interviews indicate that the competitive scheduling of Video Games Live had negatively impacted upon the PLAY! A Video Game Symphony and the Symphonic Game Music Concert series. What is your own response to this? Is the scene really that cut-throat or do you think there is enough room for everyone?
Tommy Tallarico: I think this is where some of the misinformation from other game concerts starts to cloud the truth. There is absolutely enough room for everyone and the fact that anyone else says we have negatively impacted them seems like an excuse for their own inabilities of putting on a successful show. We’ve performed in cities right before concerts such as PLAY! and in cities right after them and it never affected our ability to succeed and return with bigger audiences the following year. We’ve performed in Germany within months of Thomas Boecker’s Symphonic Game Concerts and both his and our events did extremely well. So if his shows sold out and did fantastic, and ours did great as well, how is that negatively impacting anyone? I think it just helps to prove that multiple game concerts (especially in different formats) can absolutely survive and thrive around the world. Isn’t that a good thing for our industry? Why other game concerts get upset about that is something that puzzles me.
The “competitive scheduling” thing doesn’t come from us. We certainly have no interest in playing that game. Besides, from a business standpoint it wouldn’t be in our best interest to schedule a performance right around another game music event. Why would we do that and risk possible failure? We take very precise steps when entering into a new city or country. It’s taken us years to perform in places like Japan, China, France, etc. and we still very carefully plan on places we have yet to go to such as Australia and the Netherlands. We could have easily performed in any of those countries over the past few years, but instead, we need to go into a situation when everything is right. This includes the proper partners, promoters, sponsors, performers, etc. We tried rushing into the market during our first year in 2005 and it didn’t work out — the promoter ended up canceling most of the tour. We learned quickly from those kinds of errors and we never gave up the dream even after a lot of people had given up on us.
I just don’t think it’s fair to blame us or hold us responsible for other people’s failures or misfortunes. It’s difficult enough to do what we do, we have no time or consideration about what others are doing. We have our own goals and we try to accomplish them to the best of our ability. If they want to be upset and mad at us because we’ve been successful with our formula… I just don’t know what to say. Nothing we’re going to do or say will ever change that kind of thinking.
Should we not ever be allowed to perform in Germany because Thomas Boecker does concerts there? That would be pretty absurd and completely unfair to any game music fan out there. Especially ones that maybe aren’t interested in a classical or traditional representation of video game music. It’s my understanding from a number of different people that Thomas Boecker believes we stole away the Leipzig Games Conference from him. I feel bad that he feels this way and wish he didn’t. We like Thomas and all of the amazing things he has done to move our industry forward. To be clear and for the record… the Leipzig folks contacted us after seeing one of our Game Developers Conference performances in 2006. They loved the idea of our mission and the way we present the material to a wider audience. They asked us to perform at their event and I promptly e-mailed Thomas Boecker letting him know this. In fact, I even turned down the Leipzig Games Convention the first year they approached us because Thomas was already doing one of his shows that week. We waited a year and turned down the Conference out of respect for his show and all of the great things he has accomplished over the years. We purposely did not perform there in 2007 and Thomas knows this to be true because we had e-mail discussions about it.
I honestly feel that he shouldn’t be angry with us because we were once again asked to perform in Leipzig the following year in 2008 and accepted. It was a fantastic opportunity for us and over 4,500 people attended the performance making it the biggest game music concert in Germany. But from what others in the game industry and some of the Japanese game composers have told us… he is really angry with us because of this. I wish people would understand that not everyone has the same tastes when it comes to video game music presentations. A lot of casual gamers and mainstream public have no interest in seeing video game music played in a traditional symphonic setting. I understand and respect that hardcore gamers do, but those are not the only people that we try to cater to. I’ve always respected Thomas Boecker and he should be extremely proud and happy that he has achieved his goals and dreams. It definitely hurts my feelings a little bit to think that he is upset with us over this.
It’s difficult for me to answer some of these questions and I feel a bit bad because I don’t want there to be any negativity or competition when it comes to game music and game concerts. But I would feel even worse if I just said “no comment” or I wasn’t being 100% truthful. As a journalist you are asking tough questions, as you promised you would, and I wish more game journalists would follow your lead. They are great and honest questions therefore they deserve an honest response. I just don’t want people to view us as being jerks or have it seem like we’re picking on lesser game concerts. It’s not the case at all. We’ve helped out and shared information with many of the other folks who do game concerts like the Boston based VGO (Video Game Orchestra). We’ve donated some of our scores and orchestrations to Alfred Publishing which distributes to over 75,000 schools and universities in North America. We are an open book and would love to help out as many game concerts as possible. We have no reason not to and we’ve learned a lot about doing these things over the past eight years.
I also don’t want it to seem like all we care about is VGM as a business or money. This is far from the truth and certainly not the case at all. Quite frankly, both myself and Jack make a lot more money as game composers as opposed to game concert producers. Our production is extremely expensive to put on and we always keep the ticket prices as low as possible (and you don’t see us charging extra for a meet & greet after the show). We aren’t doing this for the money, we’re doing this because we love spreading the word about game music to the masses all over the world. Put simply, we love performing, we love the challenges that go along with producing shows like this around the planet, and we especially love knowing that our friends and fellow composers are getting the attention and credit they deserve. We’ve met so many incredible people over the years because of VGL. I think the bottom line is… we want everyone to succeed who is dedicated to the art of game music and the game industry and is working hard and helping to spread the word, and other game concerts shouldn’t blame us for their own misfortunes or for us achieving a certain level of success.
Chris: Thank you for your passionate and open response. Despite your cooperative tendencies, it has nevertheless come to public knowledge that there is a major feud between you and Jason Michael Paul of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. Could you discuss the history between the two of you and why such resentment developed? Is there any hope for a resolution in the future?
Tommy Tallarico: I’m not sure there can ever being a resolution in the future because of the type of person he has shown us (and others) to be. He would need to do a lot of apologizing to a lot of people in order for that to happen and I just don’t see him doing that any time soon. Although you never know. Our door is always open to accept his apologies if they are sincere. At least his attitude has changed for the positive in the press recently and we appreciate that. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction for him.
But to be perfectly honest, we don’t really pay that much attention to him. From our perspective he seems to have this false sense of entitlement that he deserves to be the only person doing this. Here is an example of a quote he gave a major national newspaper here in the U.S. (Washington Post): “Paul, for his part, complains that Video Games Live has hurt his business, and he finds the competition’s approach annoying. ‘My whole goal is to keep the arts alive in a way that is classy,’ he said. ‘We were on the verge of taking over the market,’ Paul said. ‘But because of the confusion they caused in the marketplace, I’ve had to scale back my vision.'” The verge of taking over the market? Why does anyone feel the need to take over the market in order to be successful? We’re annoying to him? Why? Because we are succeeding where he is not? I read the recent interview he did on your site and I thought it was amusing that he would refer to us as “the competition”. Why does there need to be so much of a competition? It seems that from his own words it is very bothersome to him that others are out there doing what he is trying to do.
You ask about the history. We approached Square back in 2002 and 2003 about doing Video Games Live. They were actually a little surprised to find out that we felt there were enough fans of Uematsu’s music in the U.S. to do a show here (strange huh!). Jason Michael Paul was dating the Square PR girl at the time and she asked us if we would speak to him about the possibility of coming to work with us. We agreed to speak with him out of respect for her and scheduled a call. He called us looking for a job and within 5 minutes we could clearly see that his attitude, ego, and vision wasn’t a right fit for us. During the call he told us that he produced Luciano Pavarotti and the Three Tenors. That seemed a little strange to us considering he would have been in his early 20’s to have done that. We knew the booking agents and promoters for those tours and being a big Pavarotti fan myself, I was also familiar with Pavarotti’s manager. When we asked around about who Jason Michael Paul was, no one associated with Pavarotti and the Three Tenors knew his name or what he did. I’m not saying he’s never had anything to do with any of those tours. Maybe he worked for a production company that did a show once? I’m not sure, but I believe he was trying to make himself out to be bigger than he was. That kinda drew a red flag with us.
A few weeks later he called us again a bit upset that we didn’t hire him. He then proceeded to tell both Jack and I that we had made a big mistake and he viewed us as his competition from now on. Needless to say, we were very perplexed. I remember Jack saying to him… “Um, why would you say that?” He ended up bad mouthing us to Square and some of our other Japanese composer friends — he would send us threatening e-mails and within a few months he announced that he was doing the first Dear Friends concert. I think that it’s a fair comment for me to say that it has been our personal experience that he is a dishonest person when it comes to talking about our show. Over the years we’ve received many phone calls and e-mails from different symphonies, agents, promoters, press people, industry people, game composers, game publishers, etc. telling us how he and a few of the other game concerts bad mouth our show and the way we do our production. I mean it seems a little hard to believe that so many different people around the world who don’t even know each other would all tell us the same negative things that some of the other game concerts say about us. I have no doubt that these other game concerts are passionate about putting on great performances, but I also believe that they should stop worrying about us and continue focusing on their own visions and dreams. There is room for everyone and I love the fact that there are a lot of different options for everyone. We’re here to stay and we don’t really pay attention to negative ideals. There are too many positive things to achieve and focus on. Karma will take care of the rest.
Chris: Moving on, you and Jack Wall have undoubtedly put a tonne of work into Video Games Live. I was curious about just what goes into each show in terms of planning, rehearsals, and the main performance itself? How do you all find the energy to keep on touring?
Tommy Tallarico: What keeps us going is our undying commitment and love for video game music and the entire video game industry. We’re some of the only game composers who put on game music performances. We have an extra added interest in making sure our message gets out and our goals are achieved because we’ve dedicated our entire lives and careers to the video game industry. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and my partner in VGL, co-creator and conductor Jack Wall, has been involved for over 14 years. We will never stop doing this and this is our lives. We’re not interested in running coffee shops or things like that — we’re video game composers and video game show producers. That’s it. Our only focus is to prove to the world how great video game music is and has become.
My two greatest loves and passions growing up were always video games and music, but I never thought to ever put the two together because there was no such thing as a video game composer in the 70’s and early 80’s. But when I was around 10 years old, I would take my dad’s cassette deck and go down to the local arcades and pizza parlors to record all my favorite video game music and sounds. Then I would come home and record my favorite music from things like my Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Intellivision, etc. I would then splice the tape together and invite my neighborhood friends over. I would charge them 5 cents while I played back the cassette and jumped up in front of the television with my favorite video games on in the background, then I would grab my guitar and play along with the cassette. I guess those were some of the first video game concerts! It’s such a dream come true for me to be doing it 30 years later on stages like the Hollywood Bowl with 150 musicians in the LA Phil and 11,000 people in the audience.
Chris: Returning to Video Games Live, you’ve also made a major impact in Japan over the past year. Could you tell us more about your experiences at these concerts? What has it been like to receive support from Japanese legends such as those at GE-ON-DAN at the concerts?
Tommy Tallarico: It was a great honor for us to perform over there and to put on successful shows in a very different format than the Japanese are used to. Norihiko Hibino (Metal Gear series composer) is very dear friend of mine and he really helped us to understand the Japanese game music fan mentality and what we needed to accomplish in order to be successful there. Some of the very positive feedback he received after the show focused on the fact that in Video Games Live we encourage a lot of audience interaction with the show and make it acceptable and completely okay to go crazy whenever they want. This is a very different kind of presentation than what has been done in Japan with game music over the past 20 years. Not to say that one is right and one is wrong. It’s just different, and it was very cool for Japanese audiences to get a little flavor of what our Western style presentation was like. They really enjoyed it and it was a fantastic stepping stone for us to prove ourselves in that market.
In regards to the composers themselves, there is so much respect for both East and West. The Japanese composers are always interested in what the Western composers do (from a creative, production and business standpoint) and we are always curious about them as well. Video Games Liveand the work we do with the Game Audio Network Guild has really helped to open the door between the East and West over the past year. You will start to see over the next few years that more and more Eastern and Western composers will be collaborating together and creating friendships. There has been a huge surge of this lately and both sides really respect each other a lot. Earlier this year when I was doing a press tour over in Japan announcing our shows, the Japanese composers threw me a fantastic party and almost every great composer and sound designer was present. It was a great night where I got to hang out with old friends and meet some of the people I always wanted to. I have a video of that party that I need to post up on YouTube at some point!
Some of the Japanese composers that performed and appeared at our shows in Japan were Koji Kondo, Akira Yamaoka, Norihiko Hibino, Kinuyo Yamashita, Michiru Yamane, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Yasunori Mitsuda, Kow Otani, Jun Senoue, and others. It was a fantastic night and one that a lot of people will remember for a very long time.
Chris: The Video Games Live Volume One album was released last year, but it wasn’t without some hitches. Readers would like to know why the album was delayed by close to a year and why the final track listings different to the ones originally announced. Looking back, what features of the album do you think made it so commercially and critically successful?
Tommy Tallarico: Regarding the delay, that’s a great question and I’m glad someone has finally asked it! We refuse to do anything on a small scale when it comes to Video Games Live. We know that by doing something big, it will only help to further prove how significant video games are. This thinking is why it took us 3 years to put on our first show, because we wanted to do it at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and the world’s press there. We felt that releasing a CD at the right time with the proper partners and marketing could have a very positive effect on game music in the media and around the world. We were definitely able to start down the path of accomplishing our goals. As previously mentioned, the album debuted in the U.S. Billboard charts at #10. This was a huge accomplishment for game music in the U.S. and many nationwide media outlets such as Variety, Rolling Stone magazine, CNN, FOX News, etc. reported about it. It was also the most distributed video game album to date. From Brazil to Taiwan, France to Japan, Mexico to Korea… it is everywhere. And not just as an import, but as a translated product manufactured abroad.
When doing something as important as this it is absolutely vital that everything can be the best it can be so that you have the greatest chance at success. We’re not interested in burning CD-R’s in our basement and trying to pass it off as a legitimate album. Some of the hardcore gamers may not have liked some of the selections from our first album. Arrangements like Tron, Civilization IV, Advent Rising, God of War, Myst, Medal of Honor, etc. may not be the first thing that comes to hardcore gamers minds when thinking about game music. But the album wasn’t just for them. It was for everyone all over the world. It was just as much for a 50 year old mom as it was for a teenage kid or 70 year old grandpa. We tried to make it for everyone so we also included hardcore favorites likeKingdom Hearts, Tetris, and our rock version of Castlevania. If I was making an album for hardcore gamers the track listing would have been a lot different. The mainstream media loved the album and it is still a big success. Not only from a sales and distribution standpoint, but from a mainstream cultural cross-over standpoint as well.
We would have loved to have had our rock version of “One Winged Angel” on there as well as Martin Leung’s Final Fantasy arrangement we put together. We tried getting Mario and Zelda as well. These were part of the issues that caused the delay. I think it’s a fair comment to say that some of the Japanese companies move a lot slower than others. After trying to get answers for almost a year, we decided to move on and prove to Nintendo and Square that we could really take a game music album to the next level. Both companies mentioned that they do not prefer their music to be compiled with other companies game music and we need to respect that. Once we decided to move one, we then needed to replace the Nintendo and Square tracks with other material and then we had to record and remaster the new stuff and update the artwork. EMI (the record company) also wanted to make sure that it had all of the worldwide distribution in place before continuing and they needed to ensure that it was being released and distributed during the proper time with all of the other releases they had in their catalogue. At the last minute we did receive the rights for our Sonic arrangement, but at that point it was too late to change it again so we’ll leave that one for Volume Two.
I believe our national television special is going to be a big deal with companies like Square and Nintendo and we’re talking to them now about getting them on board for Volume Two, the DVD, the TV special, etc.
Chris: Given your central role in the industry, we’d value your insight on how game music is developing a little before we finish. In your view, what is the future of game music?
Tommy Tallarico: Video games are quickly becoming the entertainment of choice for a new generation — the entertainment of choice for the 21st century. As new generations of people start to get older, video games and their music will evolve 100% into our culture and be considered just as culturally significant and artistic as any film score or piece of classical music.
Chris: It’s been a pleasure talking to you today, Tommy. To finish, could you tell us about some of your plans for 2010 in terms of tour locations, concert items, and whatnot? Do you expect fan and official support for the tour to grow even further? Also, is there anything you’d like to say to the fans of you and the show around the world? Thank you.
Tommy Tallarico: The big announcement will be the TV special along with the DVD and Volume Two CD. A lot of our U.S. dates will coincide with the TV special. We’re also planning to perform in major places we haven’t yet reached like Australia and the Netherlands. Building the market in China and other parts of Japan is also high on our priority list as well as continuing to focus on the major gaming, anime, and comic book conventions. We’re also starting to get approached by big music festivals, state fairs, and a lot of colleges and universities. We created the show to be extremely flexible. We’ve performed the show with 50 musicians on stage and 150 musicians (and everything in between). We’ve played in major arenas, stadiums, and cities but we’ve also played in smaller towns with their local college level orchestra. Our goal for 2010 is to take it to a lot of different places and presenting it in certain places that are rather untraditional for a typical symphony. Wherever there is interest in video games or a place where we can help legitimize game music… we’ll be there.
The show growth and numbers have been incredible and each year they keep getting bigger and bigger. Even during the worldwide recession this year we still continued to thrive and do better than the year before. Some of the new segments we’re starting to work on Super Smash Bros., Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter II, Pokémon, and Afrika. There should also be more Final Fantasy, Mario, and Zelda! Some other possibilities include Secret of Mana, Earthbound, Phoenix Wright, Dragon Quest, Shenmue, Katamari Damacy, Starfox, Okami, Pac-Man, and others.
In closing, I’d like to thank you for helping us to spread our message and dreams to a lot of the hardcore music fans out there. If anyone ever has any questions about Video Games Live please feel free to e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to send me a friend request on Facebook!
Posted on November 1, 2009 by Chris Greening. Last modified on March 2, 2014.