FYIG recently got the chance to talk to Stephen Cox and Danny McIntyre of Unified Sounds. Stephen and Danny talk about how they got started in the music industry, thoughts on VR, the music for the upcoming Farpoint on PSVR, and much more!
Stephen Cox and Danny McIntyre founded the music production house, Unified Sounds in 2012. Unified Sounds are doing the music for the upcoming PlayStation VR game, Farpoint developed by Impulse Gear. Stephen and Danny sat down with FYIG to answer a few questions about Farpoint and what Unified Sounds is all about. So let’s get to it!
How did you personally get started in the music industry?
Music was always in my life from an early age. I was in school band from middle school onward. During high school, I started a rock band called Taboo where I was the front man and played keys. We did a few studio recordings, toured a little, but we never really gained traction. Working with the various studios, managers, club owners gave me a good taste of how the industry worked as an artist or band.
After the band went through a bad breakup, I started experimenting with other bands and got into electronic music. I was given the opportunity to score this student sci-fi film Project Omicron along with my good friend Carl King. This was about 20 years ago and we still work together occasionally. I think it gave me the confidence (and demo reel) to go after Berklee College of Music majoring in Film Scoring and Music Synthesis. After that, I moved to Orlando, FL for an internship at a Post Production house called Sound”O”Rama. The owner, KC Ladnier was the post-production drill sergeant that I really needed being fresh out of school. Although he kicked my butt, he really helped me understand the intricacies of audio-post and music for all media. After the internship was over, small post-production projects turned into full features and opportunities to score to picture, which I dove into heavily. I know it isn’t your average, “I moved out to LA after school” story, but it worked… eventually.
You founded Unified Sounds with Danny McIntyre. Tell us how that endeavor came to be.
Stephen: I met Danny through Full Sail University where I used to teach; in fact, he was one of the guys who hired me to run a new Music Production for Media course they were putting together. I brought him into this CBS Sports music writing that I had been doing for year’s prior and he went after it like an animal. We started working together on a bunch of different projects for TV, film and corporate stuff. Then we soon realized that we needed a team to handle everything. We grabbed a few of the best local composers/producers who had an affinity for this kind of work and formed Unified Sounds.
Initially, we wanted to do the whole music production library thing: build up a catalog, go after networks and video production houses that use production music. Although that’s still something we can and occasionally do, we’ve shifted focus to bigger, custom music production projects. I’d like to let Dr. Danny chime in, in case I forgot something…
Danny: The fact is that we can do pretty much anything with our combined talents. Although we’re all competent in many areas, we certainly have areas of expertise. If there’s a project that requires a heavy amount of sound design, we know who to go to. If there’s a project that requires heavy percussion, we know who to go to. It’s really our combined efforts that make use stand out. Steve and I are great examples of this. I think our solo projects sound really good, but the stuff we’ve done together is on a new level entirely. Simply put, we compliment each other. It’s almost like Voltron (for the older readers) or Power Rangers (for the younger ones)… Strong on our own, but unstoppable when united!
Unified Sounds has done extensive work with television properties, but I haven’t seen much about any video games. Is this the first one for Unified?
Stephen: Farpoint is definitely the first major title we’ve ever done. We recently did a trailer campaign for Depth, which is an awesome shark vs. divers game available on Steam. One of our guys, Michael “Skitch” Schiciano, has had some success in the mobile market and a few console titles before coming on board Unified. He’s a music implementation wiz as well as an amazingly versatile composer, as are all of our guys.
Honestly, I feel incredibly lucky to have an opportunity to be able to shift focus from commercial work into the world of game music. Don’t get me wrong, I love TV and Film writing, but games… they offer technical challenges and rewards like no other project out there. Not to mention the sheer volume of music needed.
How did the opportunity to do Farpoint with PlayStation come along?
Stephen: I met our main man and good friend, Jonathan Mayer, at a Full Sail VIP event several years ago. He’s the Senior Music Manager for Sony Interactive Entertainment. I had admired this guy and the important work he does at Sony for years prior. He would fly out to Full Sail regularly to do guest speaking and Master classes. During these events, I would pick his brains relentlessly and made sure I kept in touch.
For the next year, I would send him random tracks from our CBS Sports work, trailer music and anything else that I or Unified Sounds was working on. Then he offered us an amazing opportunity. Unified Sounds was initially commissioned to do a series of background tracks for an unannounced Sony project, many months before Farpoint. It was amazing working on the proof of concept with Jonathan’s music team. Their workflow, efficiency, and talent are second to none in this industry.
Only a few short months later, after our work on that project was wrapped, I was given the opportunity to do a demo for what is now Farpoint. I only had 5 days to come up with two fully produced themes, so I brought in Danny and we went to town. We did a lot of sound design in the beginning before writing a single note, which really set the tone (and key) for the entire score. We bowed, hit and blew into any random object or exotic instruments that we could get our hands on to keep it organic. We also paid for some live instrumentalists for the strings. Sony told us that we “killed it” with that demo and one of the pieces ended up being the main theme.
What are your personal views on VR?
Stephen: I love it! I think it could very well be the gateway to something we haven’t even imagined… Maybe the first step to making the holodeck on the Enterprise D a reality. Of course, we’re a long way from that but think about the possibilities for arcades alone. I could see super-specialized VR rigs on treadmills, fans blowing in your face and bungee cords filling up movie theater lobbies across the land.
Regarding cinema in VR – What I got experience in Farpoint during the cinematic scenes blew me away. When you are actually in the scene with the characters, not as a viewer but a participant, it takes the emotional content to a whole new level. Being able to look at the actors’ face from all angles, seeing their expressions up close, and hearing their voice perfectly panned as if they were standing right next to you… man, this hit me hard when I got to play the “almost finished” version awhile back.
Were there any reservations about taking on a VR project?
Stephen: My only reservations were in regards to my giddy-schoolboy-excitement level when I found out that we got the gig. I had a hard time playing it cool when I got the call. In terms of creative reservations, absolutely not. The opportunity to do something this new and groundbreaking trumped all apprehension. I couldn’t wait to get to work!
What are some of the differences and challenges of doing the music for a VR title?
Stephen: There are differences in scoring VR, not to mention games in general, compared to film and TV. Although the cinematics are treated similarly, you have to be so careful not to kick the user out of the immersive experience during gameplay. In the beginning, we were told this should be very ambient, wide and more or less blended into the background ambience. Finding that happy medium where music would fit into the immersion was the big challenge.
All sound is so tight and directional in the VR world. Voices, ambience and possibly music can potentially change location depending on where your head is turned. If the music was scored and implemented in a way to stand out or sound too focused, the player may ask themselves, “Why the is there a cello hiding behind that rock?” In the end, the mix was super important. I worked closely with Sony’s Music Engineers and Music Implementers (Anthony Caruso and Rob Goodson) to crack the code and find the right balance. Those guys were a BIG part of Farpoint’s overall musical sound and awesomeness.
What stands out about Farpoint? What drew you to the game?
Stephen: When I was told about the storyline, setting and character development, I was instantly hooked. This is sci-fi at its best, which is my favorite genre of film and literature. Reading that project brief in the beginning was like Christmas for Danny and I…
Danny: I’m a big Sci-Fi buff. Pretty much any movie, TV show or game with spaceships and I’m in, so Farpoint was a very exciting project to be involved with. The interactive element of playing a Sci-Fi game is fun enough, but the VR component makes it a dream come true. Really exciting stuff.
How significant is it for Farpoint to be bundled with the new PlayStation AIM controller?
Stephen: When I got to play the early iterations, it was that AIM controller that blew away all my expectations. The tracking is so perfect, and being able to blow up spiders next to you, off-screen while your head is turned is amazing. I can’t understate what a game changer that AIM controller is. Seth Luisi, Sony, and the guys at Impulse Gear did such an amazing job with its implementation into Farpoint. As Danny says, “Maybe this is the Duck Hunt of this generation!”
Might we see Unified Sounds doing music for other PlayStation games in the future?
Stephen: We really hope so. It’s awesome working with such a powerhouse company. The passion, creativity, not to mention coolness, of every single person we’ve interacted with during these projects has been second to none. There’s a reason they’re on top of the industry!
What else are you working on now and in the near-future?
Stephen: We just wrapped up some tunes for the Masters Tournament on CBS Sports. We do a lot for them on a regular basis, which is a very fun gig. We did very well with March Madness this year. I have to thank our lead publisher Rob Aster of RRHOT who brought me into this gig almost a decade ago. We are tested on just about every style and genre of music and it changes up every few months. Music Production pushups! We also just wrapped a big compilation of accompaniment music for a Music Composition book Dr. Danny has been writing for the past few years. I’ll let Danny tell you more about that…
Danny: Routledge publishing approached Dr. Greg McCandless and I to co-author a book on contemporary composition and production. The book is designed to take students from the very beginning of theory and production all the way through complex approaches to commercial composition and scoring for media. It’s been a really heavy, yet fun project. The Craft of Contemporary Commercial Music will be available in a few months. I can’t believe that one is almost over!
Aside from that, we’re always scheming… Writing for CBS is what I call our default gig in that we always contribute to that project all through the year. Outside of that, there are a few things brewing but I’m not sure how much I can talk about at this point. All I can safely say is to keep your eyes and ears open because there’s a LOT more to come!
Tell everyone where they can find you online.
Check out our websites below. When the soundtrack and game release is closer, we’ll be posting things everywhere. I can’t wait for you to hear our best work!!!