Hello, Redditors! Garry Schyman here. I am a composer for film, television, and--oh YEAH--video games! If you’re a gamer (and I hear reddit has a few of those), you might have heard my music in any of the three Bioshock Games, Shadow of Mordor, Destroy All Humans 1, 2, and 3, and a host of others. My work for Bioshock: Infinite landed me the BAFTA award last year; one of the most prestigious awards for video game music, and one of the proudest moments of my life.

At the moment, I am having a blast scoring a fascinating game called iOmoon. It’s for Oculus Rift and it’s really cool. You can find more info on the game here. Love the immersive world in puts you in. Some very cool stuff coming up soon as well, but I am sworn to secrecy!

Hey everyone -- I have to run now but I want to thank everyone who came and participated! Great Questions and I really enjoyed talking to you!

My apologies to those questions I did not get to but I will do this again I promise!
I am a total noob on Reddit, so please be gentle.

That said, I am more than happy to answer your questions. AMA!

My Proof: (https://twitter.com/Schymusica/status/598893396598530049)

Comments: 59 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

J_Carro1124 karma

Hey Gary! Huge fan of your work in Bioshock. What was the most challenging scene for you to compose for in Bioshock Infinite?

Schymusica20 karma

Hi Carol -

Bioshock infinite was a very difficult nut to crack so to say. We really wanted a different sound for the game and I experimented for a very long time without finding it. I think to some extent the reason was that the team at Irrational was still finding the heart of the game while I was experimenting. Once they discovered that Elizabeth was central (which was after showing the game at E3 and seeing the response to the Elizabeth AI) I wrote a theme for her and Ken LOVED it. That was the hook I needed and it moved more easily after that.

toast_related_injury15 karma

  • When scoring, do you write an entire suite of pieces or overture, or do you work on separate ideas one at a time?

  • Any software/hardware you use that is outside of the realm of a typical DAW?

  • Where does a young composer get started in the industry?

Schymusica23 karma

I know there is a trend these days to write long suites of music at the beginning of the process - this is particularly true in films these days. It's a technique used Hans Zimmer in particular and also by James Newton Howard. Both great composers.

That said I have never used this technique. As I mentioned above I start with a cue (often suggested by the audio director) needed for the game and work on it until I get it right. Once I get it write the rest of the score can be much easier to write because I have established the style and themes. This to me is the biggest challenge.

I don't use anything unusual in terms of software. Digital Performer, Kontakt, Zebra, Omnisphere, VEPro and TONS of samples.

Getting started is a tough question to answer because you will find that no two composer have precisely the same trajectory. Some (though few) just explode on the scene and never stop. Others can work for many years without much recognition until something big breaks for them.

I think it's still best to live in LA (though especially with games not a requirement at all) and you need to be reaching out and making contacts and writing a lot of music until you really develope your skills as a composer and find your 'sound'.
You need to be sooooo passionate about it because it is not not not an easy way to make a living. You have to want it more than anthying. If you do you have a real chance.

Ciriacus8 karma

Mr. Schyman! I love your work on the Bioshock series, as well as Shadow of Mordor.

My question is: do emotions play a big part in composing music for a scene, or do you base a piece solely on the way the writing develops for that particular scene?

Schymusica10 karma

Hi Ciriacus,

Music is both an intellectual and emotional art. For me the best comes from the heart! However when you spend years and years composing and studying the music you write is informed by the technique and experience gained.

So really you need both to do the job properly. Writing songs is different from scoring in many ways because a song is all about the song and the emotions of the songwriter. But when your scoring anything you need to make the music about the game or film you are scoring and what the needs for the scene or level you are scoring. It's about the game and not just about the music.

However all that said I write from the gut and the more emotional I feel about the music I am writing the better it usually is!

meal_in_a_glass6 karma

Did you draw inspiration from a particular artist when writing "Cohen's Masterpiece"?

It's the single most amazing song from the entire Bioshock series and would love to hear more like it!

Schymusica15 karma

Cohen's Master piece was a blast to write. He was described to me as a crazy but brilliant artist but he was reactionary in his artistic tastes. I did NOT know that Cohen would blow up the pianist who was practicing the piece. It was a LOL moment when I discovered that!

My first thought was Rachmaninoff who was a classical Russian composer who was writing in an old fashioned though popular style well into the 20th century. So Rachmaninoff was the model in my mind. And Rachmaninoff was also a brilliant pianist and wrote a ton piano music so it just all made sense.

I guess I will write more like it when one of my clients ask for something like it. But it is a very unusual request.

I do remember finishing it and calling my agent and telling her that I felt like a "real" composer that day!

ROBOTlaserGO6 karma

What is the process of scoring video games like? Do they send you visuals and let you go nuts or do they have very specific styles, genres, and instrumentation already in mind? And finally, what was your main inspiration for scoring Bioshock?

Schymusica8 karma

It actually varies somewhat from project to project but you start with meetings and discussions about what the game is about and just as in a film you try to get under the skin of the game and find a sound or an approach the seems to feel right for it.

I usually work with the music director or audio lead with overall supervision of the games creative director. Sometimes the Creative directors leave us alone to do our thing and other times they are intimately involved in the details.

I start writing demos for the game usually for some important opening sequence. It sometimes takes a while with lots of music rejected by the developer until I get what feels right to them. Same thing happens in film.

They often send me game play movie captures of the areas where I am scoring at that moment along with lots of direction for what's happening generally in the game.

Of course there are in game movies that I score and those usually come in towards the end of the process and are scored just as you would a scene in a film or TV show.

Bioshock was a fascinating project to score. The inspiration is always the game itself and there was plenty to go off of in Bioshock - it's frightening vibe, the early mid 20th century time and characters that were sooo interesting like Sandor Cohen etc.

tritoneplz5 karma

Hi, Garry! Thanks so much for this! What is your favorite instrument or ensemble to write for and why? Any method of recording that you prefer over others?

Schymusica8 karma

I do love the orchestra! Just an amazing ensemble of incredible musicians prepared to make your music sound amazing - assuming you did a decent job writing it.

Smaller ensembles are also fun. I used small string groups in Bioshock Infinite. As few as 3 players and as many as 10 and they sounded wonderful. We went around and around whether to go with orchestra or smaller ensembles and we ended up in the right place with smaller groups.

Even the combat was smaller groups and it made it quite unique - I think

sonny411j4 karma

Hi Gary, thanks for the AMA. Considering that you are involved in television, movies, and video games, is there one medium that you enjoy best? Also, which pays the best?

Schymusica10 karma

Hi Sonny - I had some time to prepare your/1st questions so you get a LONG answer!

To be honest I enjoy all three. Sounds like a copout but they all have their upsides and downsides - both business wise and creatively.

TV is FAST meaning you often have just a few days to write and record a LOT of music. That can be incredibly stressful but also FUN - as in facing a firing squad and the feeling you might get if everyone misses! But on the business side you get performing rights royalties which can come in for years which can be incredibly helpful with the inevitable ups and downs of any career. We call it mailbox money!

Films ( if they are good) can be wonderful. I love playing picture and though compared to games it is relatively fast it is nothing like TV. You usually get a month or two to write and record and it can be very rewarding if like I said the film is good and moving in some way.

I love scoring games as well. They really changed my life about ten years ago when I started with Destroy All Humans! In some ways they are similar to writing concert music because you often are not writing to picture - though the music still has to conform to the needs of the game. I’ve said this a few times and I will say it again - the most interesting music I have ever been asked to write has been for games like Bioshock and Dante’s Inferno

No back end payments however so you get paid upfront and just hope that you keep getting hired so you can pay the bills!

crediblehulk834 karma

Mr. Schyman,

Huge fan of your work, I have a few questions related to Bioshock 1 and Bioshock Infinite:

  1. Bioshock 1 and Infinite share many plot themes. What, if any, specific musical themes did you carry over from the original Bioshock game in your creation of the Infinite soundtrack to reflect common story elements?

  2. The licensed musical choices in both of those games often directly or indirectly comment on aspects of the story. How much did you and the writers work together to decide on which of these songs to include?

  3. What moment in either or each of these two games do you consider to be the best example of what you were trying to express as a composer?

Thanks for taking the time to come and chat with us!

Schymusica6 karma


To answer question 1 - there was a conscious effort to have the score for BSI sound completely different from the original BS. The game is completely different in time and setting. That said there were a few music cues that were similar.

When for instance you enter a tear and end up in Rapture there was an opportunity to return stylistically to the original score. I believe there were two cues that allowed me to do that and it was fun to go back to that style. Also the use of so-called Aleatory was present in both games. Aleatoric music is very dissonant and can sound quite intense and frightening. Both games share that vibe aplenty!

Question 2 - I was not involved or consulted as far as the licensed music for either game. I think Emily Ridgeway on Bioshock and Jim Bonney and BSI did an incredible job finding the right songs and vibe for those games! Both incredibly talented people.

Quesiton 3 - In Bioshock I think "Welcome to Rapture" was a particularly interesting scene to score and I really dig the music I wrote for it. In BSI again a cue at the beginning of the game when you enter Columbia called "Lighter Than Air"

Mikinator53 karma

Hi Garry.

Does the playstyle of a game (FPS, Top Down, Third Person, etc.) have an effect on the development of music for a game?

Also, do you ever see video game soundtracks having mainstream retail releases like CD's?

Schymusica5 karma

Good question. The answer is yes the play style usually informs the musical style as well though perhaps less than the overall theme of the game, the characters and time and place etc.

But the types of cues that predominate can very often be determined by the games play style.

Shooters for instance can very often contain a LOT of combat music. Though the original music specs for Bioshock contained no combat music. Eventually I composed three or four.

Very few soundtracks that are not dominated by pop songs because big mainstream releases. Whether it's film and games they find a small though intense fan base compared to songs. That said I believe Marty O'Donnell's score for Halo sold well over a 100,000 copies and that's a big hit for a soundtrack!

AQ902 karma

Hey Garry! Big fan here! I have two questions! :D

What is your favorite game of all time and what is your favorite movie? :D

Schymusica7 karma

I have to go soon so this was an easy answer.

My games aside I LOVED Portal!

Favorite movie - Shawshank Redemption - with a fantastic score by Tom Newman