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Interview with Xavier ‘MV’ Dang

December 3, 2010

I’ve been extremely fortunate that another artist I admire has agreed to an interview with me. ‘MV’ answered my questions via email:

-I would like to start off by asking you about the remixes you have done over at OCR. I think they’re all outstanding and really imaginative arrangements of some well know video game pieces. Can I ask what your motivations were in remixing video game music?

Thank you. I’ve been sort of obsessed with video game music pretty much since I got my Nintendo NES in 1986. I had it offered to me for Christmas with both the (in)famous Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt cartridge as well as “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link”. This particular game took me months to complete as a kid and was the first landmark for me as far as my passion for game music goes. I listen to all sorts of game music regularly and fiddling around with video game music covers is how I got started in sequencing/tracking. It then seemed natural for me to remix some of the tracks I love, even though I have to admit that sometimes I find the source tracks so genuinely perfect already that I don’t even try to take them somewhere else 🙂

My favorite MV remix, a smooth trip-hop interpretation of Cammy’s theme from Super Street Fighter 2:

-To what extent do you think fan arrangements and remixing are important to the promotion and preservation of video game music as a genre of music in it’s own right?

They are even a pretty decent spotlight for video games alone. Back in the 80s and early 90s anyone out there could whistle the Super Mario Bros or Zelda theme but considering it a passion would have people roll their eyes. Nowadays a lot of video games have Hollywood-like scores, tons of people use video game tunes and jingles as their cell phone ringtones, and so many people play games that a lot of people can grow attached to their soundtracks. Arrangements/remixes have a lot more exposure now because people dedicated enough to the games they like will eventually look for them, all the performers on Youtube get millions of views as well which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Even renowned composers submit remixes and listen to them, and we all had
the great surprise to hear people from OCReMiX get featured in Super Street Fighter II HD Remix. Video game arrangements are here to stay and grow continually!

-I also like the chiptune work you’ve done over at 8 bit collective, being particularly fond of ‘Wonder Girl in Creature Land’. How do you approach writing chiptunes and what advice could you give in approaching the genre from a musical or production standpoint? (I’m about to write some chiptunes for a game I’m making and any advice would be much appreciated. I use a traditional DAW rather than a tracker)

Thanks again, writing game-ish chiptunes really is about two big factors: melody and nostalgia. I had trouble writing them before because I started making computer-assisted music as an ambient musician, relying much more on pad textures and mood rather than melody and sweet harmonies. After a lot of practice trying to reproduce rich and bouncy melodies while having a coherent background (oh and those hundreds of one-hour competition tunes also helped so much) I eventually got the hang of it, and I take great great pleasure in writing them. Production isn’t as vital in such tracks, in fact you want the dirty sound without interpolation for a Nes track, or the cheesy light reverb for a SNES tune, the gritty FM sound for Genesis, etc.. I admit that nearly all of my chiptunes are produced in a tracker, because I work in it at lightspeed and you can set yourself a limited setup for the type of soundchip you’re aiming at. There are some great sample collections and VSTi for DAWs nowadays though!

-Looking at your credits, you’ve worked on quite a large variety of different game and media projects. How did you originally find your way into working in the games industry and is there any advice you could give for someone looking to get work as a composer in this area?

Back in 2005 I had decided that I was decent enough to try my hand at the job. I started contacting a lot of indie companies but unfortunately nothing came. Ironically, I got contacted later on by people I had worked with on some free, fun game projects that eventually had gotten jobs in game studios. That is how I started working on several flash, cell phone and GameBoy Advance games. Business worked well but unfortunately in 2008 I had a streak of bad events in my life and I ruined a relationship with a game studio with which I could have worked on many Nintendo DS games as well as a Wii title. That has to be my biggest regret, since I’ve been struggling to find constant audio jobs since.

-Are there any specific lessons you learnt while working on a project that you could share?

Starting a freelance career in that domain is full of lessons. You have to be able to work on any style of music, sometimes in the worst audio environments ever (MusyX for GameBoy Advance was quite the nightmare), with pressing deadlines, and often without any build of the game, just a few screenshots. It sometimes takes the glamour out of the job, but as a freelancer the money wasn’t bad, and the experience that comes with all those crazy gigs is invaluable. Motivation, discipline and flexibility are the main assets you’ll need.

-Could you talk me through your piece ‘Doubting Sunset’? What was the context it was to be used in and how did you set about creating the piece so that it fulfilled that context?

“Doubting Sunset” was composed for the website of a PlayStation 3/XBOX 360 video game project developed by an aspiring team of talented developers, unfortunately the project has been on hold since then. I hope it picks up again because it was an interesting game concept set in Feudal Japan with samurai goodness. I have a lot of concept tracks for it lying on my hard drive. This particular track was meant to evoke the open space feel, and the mysterious beauty of a sunset in Japanese fields 🙂

-What skills do you think composers should have to succeed in the games industry?

Undoubtedly you have to be extremely versatile, I had to produce anything, from compositions to covers, from classic happy stuff to ambient, techno, funk, country, rock, orchestral, anything. If you can only produce one style of music and are not aware of the limitations and mechanics of how music can be implemented in games, you will have a hard time discovering about all the facets that the job has.

-Have you got any tips for working with developers to ensure a good working relationship and a good end product?

Honesty, diplomacy and professionalism. Those people can be great pals to you but in the end they will want a satisfying end result for the price they pay you. If you cannot work on a certain day, tell them, if you have a few WIPs that you’re unsure about, have them listen. Negotiate a good price for you, because video game music has a price, and you shouldn’t be underpaid for it; as long as you please them and show that you are reliable, then more contracts will come from them, and you’ll eventually be able to earn more as you build a relationship of trust with them.

Find out more about Xavier and hear his work at:

His website: http://www.xavierdang.com/en/index.html

His OCR remixes can be found here: http://ocremix.org/artist/4547/mv/remixes

His work at 8bit Collective can be found here: http://8bc.org/members/mv/

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