Hey Reddit!

It was suggested by a handful of people that I come here and do this, so here we are. Feel free to ask whatever you like, but know that there are some questions I simply cannot answer. I'll try to answer what I can. Personal (non-music related) questions are fine too, as long as they're not too personal! :) I'd strongly recommend asking questions not already covered in past interviews.

Proof: https://twitter.com/#!/SamHulick/status/200682277208989696

By the way, I realize the scheduled time of this AMA is not ideal for folks way on the other side of the globe. I'll be here for a few hours answering questions, then will return on May 30th at 3PM Brisbane time (5AM GMT, midnight US Central) to answer questions for a couple hours.

PS: For those of you looking for additional unreleased Mass Effect music, you can find it here: B-sides from Another Galaxy


Ok folks, I think that'll do! Thanks to everyone who took the time to come here and ask questions. I'm sorry I didn't have time to answer them all, it was a bit overwhelming! You're welcome to follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, though I am more active on the former. Or if you have a more detailed question than will fit on Twitter, you can also ask me via my tumblr blog. I do read all correspondence, though unfortunately I'm not always able to respond.

Thanks again to you all and to reddit and the IAmA mods! Cheers!

EDIT 1: In the interesting of saving time and answering as many questions as I can, I may respond to your question with a link to my reply to someone who asked the same question. I'd rather do this than ignore the question, so please do not be offended if I do this. :)

EDIT 2: Links to some common questions:

Q: How did you get into the industry/any advice for a composer? Answer here

Q: Some of the pieces you're most proud of? Answer here and here

Q: More details on your computer rig/virtual instruments/recording process? Answer here

EDIT 3: Wow, this AMA hit the front page of reddit! Thanks for all the interest, guys, this is quite touching! I wish I had time to answer every single question. For those of you with unanswered questions, definitely scan through the comments as I've probably answered a similar question already.

Ok, I need a break. I'll be back at 3PM Brisbane time (midnight Central, 10PM Pacific) to answer more. Gotta show some love to the Aussies!

EDIT 4: Don't worry, your questions aren't getting buried. I'm sorting by newest. Be back in 4 hours.

EDIT 5: What's up, Aussies?! Fire away!

Comments: 888 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

ElectricTool206 karma

Hi Sam! Big fan of your work on the Mass Effect series - thanks for sticking through all 3 games!

I just had a few questions:

1) How much story/background info did BioWare give you for each piece of music you had to create?

2) The last few tracks (starting from "I Was Lost Without You") on the ME3 soundtrack have incredible emotional appeal and work extremely well with events that transpire. How much did you know about their intended use while composing? I really liked the "Spectre Induction" theme brought back on "The Fleets Arrive!"

3) What was your favorite composition across the ME series?

4) Do you play video games? If so, which ones would you consider to be your favorites?


MDesigner239 karma

I have BioWare to thank for having me stick around on all three games. ;)

1) With ME1, it was quite a bit of info. Obviously, supreme amounts, as it was a new IP at the time and we had to get brought up to speed. I still have the Mass Effect source book, basically an encyclopedia of all the characters, alien races, corporations, ships, etc. etc. Goes into excruciating detail.

In general though, once I was acquainted with the story and the musical style we were shooting for, enough info is given on each level or cinematic to give me a sense of context and mood/feel. I work best with "mood words." Gimme a plot run-down on what's happening, and some words like "heroic, tinged with sadness, like it's the last push" and I can usually run with that. BioWare is good about not giving me a reference track and saying "copy this!" They usually send me tracks and say "we like the feel of this tune, see what you can come up with."

2) I was given a full account of what the entire ending was about ahead of time, definitely. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I found out I was going to be scoring the scene where (ME3 spoiler) Anderson dies.

3) Tough one! "I Was Lost Without You" is up there for sure. Of course, the Mass Effect main theme is pretty crucial too, as it's used throughout the trilogy here and there. I can't pick just one, honestly. :)

4) It's hard to find time lately, but I try! I seem to have more time for quick mobile games where I can sit down for 30 mins during a break and kill some time or decompress. I have less time for the longer, epic games (Skyrim!). I did play Skyrim and beat it, loved it. On my list once I'm done with Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition & this other project of mine: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Max Payne 3, Batman: Arkham City. Probably more I can't think of.

Mycareer124 karma


MDesigner188 karma

It's NDA/secret material, sorry. :)

TitaniumShovel176 karma

Shamelessly plugging /r/masseffect where we worship the soundtrack you worked on.

How did you break into this business? Did luck have anything to do with it? What advice would you give to someone just starting?

MDesigner149 karma

Heck yeah! /r/masseffect is in my top bar along with /r/baldursgate. :) I browse both from time to time.

Luck is a small aspect I think. I mean, I think there's something to being in the right place at the right time. But there's a lot to it that's just perseverance and staying positive.

I went into detail about how I got into the industry here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/uan3a/i_am_sam_hulick_composer_on_the_mass_effect/c4tqqkx

keppj0nes103 karma

I want to say the Mass Effect 1 soundtrack made a huge impression on me as a long time listener of electronic music. For me, the atmosphere and synthesizers turned ME1 into the sci-fi behemoth it was meant to be. I always wondered, who was responsible for the synthesizer production of that soundtrack? And who are some of your favorite techno/electronic musicians?

MDesigner104 karma

who was responsible for the synthesizer production

Not quite sure what you mean. ME1 was Jack Wall, myself, Richard Jacques, and David Kates. We all used synth extensively.

Believe it or not, I'm actually not a big fan of techno or electronica (I don't really feel Mass Effect's style falls into either of these). The first electronic inspiration I can think of is Ray Lynch. If you haven't heard his stuff, check it out! His early stuff, I believe, is 100% synth, but as he released subsequent albums, he started mixing acoustic instruments with synth.

This is one of my favorite tracks of his: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXFWrVTqIko. I never get tired of listening to it!

keppj0nes37 karma

I get what you mean, I just use techno/electronic as a blanket term. Maybe I should have just said Ambient. Rolling synthesizers without a beat underneath. The Noveria track from ME1 was always one of my favorites. Do you have a favorite synthesizer to work with? Hardware synths or Software synths?

Thanks for the Ray Lynch track, Sounds a tiny bit like that track inspired something in ME?

MDesigner46 karma

Yeah, Ray Lynch is definitely an inspiration of mine!

I'm all software based. Arturia's "MiniMoog" VST plugin is something I used quite heavily in Mass Effect 3. In ME1 and ME2 I used their "Moog Modular" a fair amount. Omnisphere by Spectrasonics is also used quite a bit.

halstedom91 karma

Hey Sam. Some of your stuff sends shivers down my spine.

  1. I recall an interview in which you said that Uncharted Worlds from Mass Effect was inspired by this song, which I found incredibly interesting. Do you have any other compositions that have been inspired by something as specific as that?

  2. What direction are you planning to take BG:EE? Will you try to stick as close to Michael Hoenig as possible, or will you try to throw in as many Hulickian elements as possible?

  3. What's your, say, top three desert island albums?

  4. Which Mass Effect character do you like the most?

MDesigner157 karma


  1. A fair amount of the orchestral stuff in Mass Effect is inspired to some extent by the work of Jerry Goldsmith. Casey Hudson (Mass Effect project director) is a Goldsmith fan, so quite a few reference tracks that were sent my way were from the Star Trek films or Alien.

  2. Somewhere in between. I want the music I'm writing for BGEE to sound "Baldur's Gatey" enough to where people will hear it and think of Baldur's Gate and not just some generic fantasy RPG. There are certain musical signatures Hoenig used that I too am using. At the same time, though, every composer has their own style, so I'm branching out a bit from Hoenig's sound and making BGEE my own.

  3. "OK Computer" by Radiohead. "Violator" by Depeche Mode. Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, Assassin's Creed 2. "Fleet Foxes" and "Sun Giant EP" by Fleet Foxes.. oops, you said three. ;) I had the Normandy drop off a few more.

  4. Tough one! I always romance Liara. But I always like hanging & chatting with Garrus.

TheAlmightyMasamune69 karma


MDesigner94 karma

Tell me about it! Baldur's Gate 3 is a possibility. Depends on how BGEE and BG2EE go.

Seven-Force96 karma


MDesigner31 karma

I like everything about this comment.

sirbikesalot9 karma

I just wanted to say thank you for all the good memories Baldur's Gate brought me and my friends, it also helped me repair an estranged relationship with my brother.

Also, those games are like fucking crack. One hit and you're addicted.

MDesigner7 karma

Oh, I'm not responsible for the music in the old Baldur's Gate games. I'll be scoring the new content that comes with BGEE.

physicalred65 karma

What is a game series that you would love a chance to compose for?

MDesigner148 karma

Elder Scrolls. Didn't even have to think about that one. :) But I know Jeremy Soule is pretty firmly rooted on that franchise. The best I could probably hope for is to collaborate with him on it, but pretty slim chances there. It's nice to dream. :)

And in a totally different direction, there are a handful of indie games I've seen that have caught my eye and I wouldn't mind writing music for.

your_creator49 karma

Do you already 'know' how the music should play out or it is more of a 'try and error' when you compose?

MDesigner84 karma

My approach varies quite a bit. Most often, I "sketch" out ideas on piano first. So I'll use this single instrument to lay out my melody, and the underlying chord structure. Sometimes if I jump right into orchestration and skip this step, the music is not as strongly thematic or memorable. Just using piano at first allows me to focus heavily on melody. Then I use that as a skeleton and go back and orchestrate, layering on strings, brass, winds, etc.

Other times I do just jump in, maybe I was inspired by a certain synth sound, and I start with that as a pulsing base rhythm to layer on top of. Sometimes I have something playing in my head already, and try to record that the best I can.

AlwaysAlways44 karma

What's your favorite piece from your creations? I'm sure there has to be one that you can stand back from and say "Wow, I captured it."

Thank you for the AMA! =)

MDesigner91 karma

I get asked this from time to time, and I really can't pick just one! :) I wrote around 100 minutes of music total for the Mass Effect games, and about 90 minutes for Red Orchestra 2. That's a lot to choose just one piece from! Tell you what, I'll pick two from each game.

EDIT: oops, forgot RO2

AhnoldPalmer31 karma

Hello Mr. Hulick!I just wanted to say that i'm a huge fan of the work you did on the Mass Effect series. I have a couple of questions.

1) How did you get get started with composing music for video games?

2) What instruments do you play?

Thank you for your time!

MDesigner51 karma

  1. See my answer here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/uan3a/i_am_sam_hulick_composer_on_the_mass_effect/c4tqqkx

  2. Just piano. And not too well, I might add. I never took lessons, so I just learned what I needed to in order to compose. I like to think I can play piano well in the sense that I can play with feeling, but put a Chopin piece in front of me and I'm lost. :)

Kholdblooded29 karma

I have to say that 'Vigil' from ME1 is one of the most spine-tingling pieces in any video game, ever, and the music was a huge part of providing that feeling. What was your approach to composing for such a enlightening, emotionally-charged, and awe-inspiring scene? In other words, how did you go about capturing the feeling of the 'Vigil' scene in music?

I love your work.

MDesigner38 karma

"Vigil" was actually written by Jack Wall. Fantastic piece, definitely one of my favorites of his!

semata25 karma

What is your favorite fruit?

MDesigner24 karma

I dunno why you got downvoted. I kinda like the off topic questions.

Avocado. Definitely avocado.

Son_of_Orion25 karma

I've always loved your work on Mass Effect, Sam. It's great to meet you! :)

Question: when you were working with Jack Wall, what was the extent of your involvement? I mean, did you do a few tracks on your own? Were they mostly collaborations with Jack?

Also, how did it feel to work with the new composers in ME3: Chris Lennertz, Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco, and Clint Mansell?

MDesigner25 karma

Jack and I were co-composers, but we were assigned stacks of work by BioWare to work on separately (he lives in LA, I live in Chicago). It was probably the most efficient way to tackle such a large amount of music!

Same answer with the ME3 guys. :) I didn't actually work directly with any of them. It's more of a team effort, and BioWare assigns chunks to each of us.

cuebasiscool24 karma

Hi! Thanks for doing this! I have a few questions as a young composer: *How did you get your name out there and start getting video game jobs? *What is your process for writing? Do you start with an idea, melody, feeling? Or what? *And what is some advice that you'd give to a young composer about writing in the real world and making a living? Thanks!

Edit: formatting

MDesigner56 karma

  1. A lot of networking. I got my start by pestering people at BioWare by sending demo CDs back in the late 90s. ;) (don't do this though, more on this below) David Chan was nice enough to start a dialogue with me, even though I was pretty green, but apparently had potential. He asked me to write up a quick demo, I think I was unknowingly demoing for Jade Empire (he asked me to write East Asian-themed music). It wasn't a good demo, I gotta admit. :) Anyway, I spent a lot of time on the Northern Sounds forum, sharing music & getting feedback, got lots of great pointers from people there, which helped me improve as a composer. I joined G.A.N.G. and networked there, just basically shared my stuff, got to know people. I participated in a G.A.N.G. composer contest in 2003 which I won, and that really was the catalyst that started getting me more recognition and landing professional gigs.

  2. A lot of my writing is feeling based. I basically sketch out ideas (usually on piano first), and use the emotional feedback I get from that to gauge whether it's going in the right direction. Other times I hear stuff in my head and try to recreate it.

  3. Network, meet people, make friends. This is really what it's all about, I can't stress that enough. You can be the most talented guy on the planet, but if you are not likable, if you are not honest & trustworthy, if you are not easy to work with, you won't get much work. Game developers have so much on their plates, if you are a great composer who can write compelling material, AND you are positive and have a cheery disposition and a "can-do" attitude, you'll do just fine. Almost forgot, it was important that I attended the annual Game Developer's Conference. If I hadn't ever gone there, I absolutely would not have gotten the chance to work on Mass Effect because I wouldn't have met Jack Wall. I also wouldn't have landed Red Orchestra 2, because I met those guys at a party and it turns out they were fans of my work on ME1. So yeah, GDC. It's important.

*On sending demo CDs: it was a little more effective way back when. And cold calling is usually not a good idea anyway, most of the time audio directors do not have time to go through and listen to the stuff they get sent in (and believe me, they still get a fair share of demo CDs!). Your stuff will likely wind up in a pile (digital or otherwise). I'm not saying it never works, but it's a long shot. Best to take the advice above, IMO.

cuebasiscool4 karma

Thank you for all of that!

MDesigner13 karma

No prob! And yes, Cubase IS cool. ;) It's my weapon of choice.

Writteninsanity17 karma

What did you find was different between the Mass Effect 2 and 3 Albums, did you have more trouble catching the feeling of one game as opposed to the other?

MDesigner48 karma

ME2 was a bit of a departure away from the musical style in ME1. It was more of a modern cinematic sound first and foremost. ME3 was a further branching off into heavily emotional territory, though we made a point to bring back that ME1 sound that so many people loved. I think we were successful in that! I had fun writing the music for Mars, which is very ME1 influenced.

JDRaitt12 karma

What kind of music do you listen to now - is it the same kind of music you started off with when you were younger?

PS. at the risk of being a bit of a sychophant, i just want to say that i'm a big fan of yours - Legion is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time, and your recent work on the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack is fantastic. The Fate Of The Galaxy, Mars, A Cerebrus Agent and I Was Lost Without You are all amazing pieces. Your work over the 3 soundtracks has developed and become richer in a sense, and we're all looking forward to seeing more of you.

MDesigner28 karma

Thanks for the kind words!

I'm dreadfully picky about what I listen to. I don't log a lot of listening time in general. While I'm working on projects, I like to keep my musical brain free of outside influences. I made the huge mistake of listening to Inception's score while demoing for a gig. Couldn't get those damned themes out of my head, and it wound up influencing what I was doing. Never again. :)

But I do listen to various things when I have down time. Most recently: Fleet Foxes, Skyrim OST.

[deleted]12 karma


MDesigner7 karma

Hey Julian! Listened to some of your stuff, it's quite good!

  1. I'm probably not the best person to ask because I didn't study music. I DID do a hell of a lot of listening to classical stuff in college, and had a good friend who taught me a few things. I learned a bit about melody, counterpoint, orchestration. The rest of it kinda came naturally. I would say you could probably learn a lot by listening to the right music. Just my opinion though.

  2. I don't think it's a hindrance, just a personal choice. Skrillex and deadmau5 do OK. :)

  3. I went straight for games and stuck with that for many years. Just recently am I looking at branching out a bit into licensing and film.

  4. Cubase is my sequencer of choice. I run it on a Mac Pro.

  5. Just a great first break! Won a composer contest that got the attention of the right people.

  6. One of the best career moves I've made is started working with a publicist. Might sound strange, but he's great. There's a huge promotion/image/self-marketing aspect to this job, and having a publicist in your arsenal can only help.

firsthour12 karma

Did you have any involvement/input on picking the credits song for Mass Effect 1? I think Faunts' M4 Part II is a truly inspired and perfect choice for the game.

MDesigner11 karma

Nope, that was all Casey Hudson! And I agree, it's a great choice.

Mycareer11 karma

How did the creative process for the ME3 soundtrack work? Did you collaborate with the other composers and work on everything together, or was it more of an individual thing where everyone had their own pieces to work on and it didn't really come together until the end?
EDIT: Also just wanted to mention that the ME series as a whole just has some pieces of music in it that produce "THAT FEEL" more than any other music i've heard in a movie or video game, thanks for being an incredible composer!

MDesigner53 karma

Yep, the latter. We all worked separately from each other. Cris & Sascha got started a little earlier than me, so I got to hear some of their work. But other than that, it's just me working here and sending off tracks to BioWare, and then I don't hear anything else until the very end when the game and soundtrack are out.

Which feel? This feel? http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwi2nekeXY1qb9lhh.jpg

Darth-Cannabis11 karma

Couple of questions.

1) Do you play any of the games that you have composed for? If so, which one would you say is your favorite?

2) Has BioWare requested that you make any new stuff for the ME3 Extended Cut DLC? If you can't answer this one, then I can understand that.

MDesigner25 karma

I've played all three Mass Effects. ME3 was my favorite, but ME2 is a very close second. I did try to play Red Orchestra 2, but it's pretty damn hard. Or I just suck at online strategic shooters. ;) It was fun though, and visually it's incredible.

Phlogistan11 karma

Today has suddenly become an amazing day: I now know of the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition project. This is amazing. I freaking loved the Baldur's Gate trilogy, I still play those games once every year or two, and I will play the shit out of any remake.

Since this is an AMAA: Do you know if Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is aiming for full voice acting, or keeping with the minimalist approach of the earlier games (a brief introduction to establish tone, and text from there)? One of the things I loved about Baldur's Gate was how atmospheric the music was, what needed to change for the Enhanced Edition?

MDesigner11 karma

Can't really speak to the voice acting part as I don't really know for sure. As far as the music goes, nothing is being changed. Trent and I both love the original score that Michael Hoenig wrote, and wouldn't dream of modifying it. I'm scoring the new content in BGEE, for "Adventure X" and "Adventure Y" (names yet to be announced).

Xaeldaren11 karma

How does it feel to know that over the years you've made music so beautiful it's brought thousands to tears?

MDesigner20 karma

The two ultimate rewards for me in what I do:

  1. I've inspired someone to get into writing music. As a result of what I do and put out into the world, it's helped to alter someone's life path. That's pretty awesome.

  2. My music has moved someone so deeply that the music has become an experience in and of itself that stays with them.

Chiefer10 karma

Ok, I heard something about Bono from U2 mentioning that he's a fan of your music, which is pretty awesome, considering his iconic status. Care to elaborate?

MDesigner12 karma

Ahh yes. :) Back in 2006, when I was submitting demo material for Mass Effect 1, BioWare and Pandemic Studios had merged under Elevation Partners. Bono was on EP's board of directors (still is, apparently). He was at the Pandemic office, and an audio guy I know showed him some of my music from ME1 and Bono "really liked it." That's all I know, not sure what he said specifically or which piece it was (though I have a feeling it may have been Uncharted Worlds).

Koriantor9 karma

As a very amateur hobby audio producer, I'm very interested in how you worked, what tools you used, the techniques, etc.
-How did you start each track? What was the workflow like? -How long would it take you to complete each track? -What synthesizers did you use for each game?
-How much did you talk with the other composers for each game (I understand that the Wall of Sound team critiqued each other a lot)? -What was the hardest part? -Was there ever a point where you thought to yourself "I can't do this"?

-Finally, I've been making a project to recreate some of your tracks for production/musical practice and I was curious at how you created certain synths/sounds. (The basic idea. E.g. A saw led would be a filtered legato saw wave with a little vibrato). I'll link a youtube video for each track and give a short description (and time in the video) with the parts I'm curious about. Feel free to describe as many or as little as you want.

Battle at Eden Prime - The main moving arp line [The percusive "Hit" (@ 0:23)(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5_InBWKZGU#t=0m23s)

The Normandy (ME1) - The "Bells"

The Secret Labs - The "Noveria" synth. It's accompanying the plucked arpeggio line. and sounds less harsh (filtered more?) than the other arpeggio.

Uncharted Worlds - The semi-pluck arpegios (@ 0:00) The semi-bell arpegios (@ 0:06) The moving mid-range rhythm (@ 0:17) Did you arpeggiate it or did you manually write the arpeggios?

Mars (One of my absolute favorites) - Short mid range pluck-y arpeggios (@ 0:32)

The Catalyst - It all sounds like it's made with one synth (and an orchestra... and a guitar). It sounds like a smooth plucky FM synth. Not sure.

I have to go, but I have so many more questions. Thanks Sam!

EDIT: Formatting

MDesigner12 karma

Was there ever a point where you thought to yourself "I can't do this"?

This. Every time I start major project. Especially Mass Effect 3 (because it's the end of the trilogy and there were so many HUGE moments that carried so much weight) and Red Orchestra 2 (being tasked with 90 minutes in a style I'd never written before).

To answer some of your other Q's..

Each track starts out differently, but usually the more memorable ones start off as piano sketches. More about that here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/uan3a/i_am_sam_hulick_composer_on_the_mass_effect/c4tqexv

About how I made those synth sounds in the various tracks you linked: I didn't. If I spent time creating all my synth sounds from scratch, I'd never meet my deadlines. :) I rarely sit down with a blank synth template of a single oscillator and create a sound. Most of the time I start with a preset, and tweak the hell out of it to get something new. Sometimes I actually just use preset patches. You have to sometimes. Sometimes there's just a massive amount of work thrown at you, and it already takes so much time to find the right sound that matches what I hear in my head. Orchestral is easier in that regard. I know what an oboe sounds like. But loading up these synth VSTs, presented with a list of patch names like "Martha's Soup" and "Dimensional Explosion," you have no idea what that sounds like until you load it and hit a note. That takes time. So I'll usually quickly audition sounds and find something that's close, tweak it, and use it. I save most of my time and effort for actual composition and using my sound palette to create something musical.

[deleted]9 karma


MDesigner24 karma

I'd say "Dude, don't just major in computer science. Do a double major in CS & music. Yeah, it's a lot of work, but it'll be worth it. IMAGINE THE POWER."

Or maybe I'd just say "get a haircut."

mraumraumrau9 karma

What software do you use? With Sandy Bridge-E & its increased processing power + RAM limit, are master/slave systems still necessary if you want a full orchestra at your disposal?

MDesigner24 karma

I'm on a single Mac Pro 8-core, 2.66GHz, 16GB RAM. I'm running Cubase 6.0.5 as my music sequencer. I've got a wide assortment of virtual instruments, most of which run in Kontakt. LA Scoring Strings, CineBrass, Spitfire Percussion, Vienna, etc. Big fan of CineSamples! I feel like I've got plenty of system resources to do what I need.

hippopotamus828 karma

This might be outside your area, but I'm hoping you might have interacted with people who are part of large symphonies that play game music arrangements. I'm very interested to find out what their attitudes are towards game music and symphonic arrangements of game music. Is there a good proportion of those who don't see game music as anything more than something juvenile or driven by nostalgia? Or do many/most appreciate the value of game music or at least their symphonic arrangements? I suppose this would be especially more interesting regarding those who have played arrangements of music from older games where hardware could limit what a composer could do (eg. 8-16 bit Japanese RPG music comes to mind but there are many others).

MDesigner9 karma

It's a mixed bag. There are still classically oriented symphonies that are a bit curious about this whole game music thing. I have a lot of experience with Video Games Live which is run by a friend of mine, Tommy Tallarico. That may be a unique situation though, since Tommy is obviously into games. But I've noticed the musicians who play for VGL are really into it and have a good time.

bloopypants8 karma

Hi Sam, thanks for doing this AMA.

How do you establish story, place, and connection within your pieces? You want your work to resonate with your audience, how do you make sure that happens?

Thanks again and good luck with the rest of the AMA; sorry if my questions have been asked previously.

MDesigner17 karma

My rule is pretty much "if it works on me, it'll work." If I'm using growly synths to convey a sense of danger and I "get" that feeling from what I'm doing, then chances are it will work with the listener as well. It's especially true for the emotional pieces. When "I'm Proud of You" got me teary-eyed & gave me chills, I knew the piece was going to do its job and work in the context of that scene.

For level music on settings like Mars, it's all about taking in the visuals and the feel of the place, and translating that into music. It's tough to explain that process as it's very amorphous.

Prancerfilaho7 karma

As a 22 year old who has an associates in music performance and is going back to school for a BA in game design this fall; "video game composer" would be my absolute dream job.

My questions: 1) Do you have a fair amount of interaction with the game before composing to get a good idea of the atmosphere that you/designer wish to create?

2) Is this the career you've always imagined for yourself? If not, what led you to this type of work?

3) What program(s) do you use for recording, mixing, mastering, synth modeling, ect?

MDesigner6 karma

  1. Depends on the project. In most cases, I'd say no, not interaction technically, but I do at least get screenshots and/or recorded gameplay footage. BioWare always sends movie files, for cinematics as well as play-throughs of levels. It's extremely helpful!

  2. I initially started out majoring in computer science, actually. I spent many years as a web developer. I don't have any regrets: it's a high-paying career path that helped fund my music career. But even when I first got into working full time as a web developer back when I was 22, I did always have my eye on writing music for games. It was my dream job.

  3. I record and mix in Cubase, on a single Mac Pro. Mastering is minimal to be honest, just a bit of EQ'ing and VERY minimal compression in Ozone 5. I hate the whole "Loudness War" crap and refuse to destroy the dynamics of my music by compressing it so hard so the volume stays the same and people don't have to turn up the volume knob. Ugh. That's a whole other topic though. All synths are VST plugins I use in Cubase. Omnisphere, a couple Arturia synths (miniMoog, Moog Modular), a tiny bit of Zebra2 thrown in sometimes.

etherealmorning6 karma

Do you name the tracks, or is that the responsibility of BioWare (or some other entity/person altogether)? As a musician myself, I find that giving a name to tracks really helps me to better identify with the song(s). It also seems to flesh out the theme on a cognitive level for me as well. For example, the track from ME3 "I Was Lost Without You" is beautiful in and of itself, but the actual song title keeps me addicted to it. It just defines the track so well.

MDesigner5 karma

Depends on the project. I had full control over naming the tracks for Red Orchestra 2. For Mass Effect 3, that was handled by Rob Blake, BioWare's audio lead. On many of those tracks, he took bits of the dialogue and used them as track titles. I like the approach, personally.

PhatZounds6 karma

Hi, I just want to say that the music in the Mass Effect series is absolutely amazing and really sets the scene in many cases. Some of my favorite musical moments from that are when you first see Saren in ME1, the jarring music on board the disabled Reaper in ME2, and all of the music at the end of ME2 (The End Run), also the music when you see the thousands of Reapers in dark space descending on the Milky Way is quite powerful.

My question is unrelated, but if you could go anywhere (in this world or the Mass Effect universe) for a vacation, where would it be?

MDesigner23 karma

Thessia. With all those lovely asari, how could I not?

In the real world? Been talking about France a lot lately. I'd love to go.

mistrowl5 karma

Love your work!

Question about the process.. does the game company provide you with any art, animations, storyboards, or the like when they ask you to compose for them? In other words, how much do you know about how a game is going to look visually when you're composing for it, and how important is a game's look when it comes to creating its music?

Keep up the great work!

MDesigner10 karma

Yes, composers typically get concept art early on, and in-game visuals as soon as they're ready. BioWare is good about recording gameplay and sending me movie files so I can get a firsthand look at the levels I'm scoring. Cinematics are most often not complete, and are in the form of animated models without textures or particle effects. I have to use my imagination a little bit there. :) But it's always cool to see the final cinematic in the game and be blown away by how amazing it looks compared to the rough renders I had as reference.

Zimb05 karma

Did you work closely with clint mansell? Also, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion in the fan community as to what was going on with the ME3 score. Can you shine some light on what was different about the ME3 score process?

MDesigner13 karma

When working on a project of this scale with multiple composers, there's bound to be some confusion over who did what. I still get people thinking I wrote something that I actually didn't.

One piece from ME3 in particular is "An End Once and For All." Technically that piece wasn't really a collaboration at all. I referenced Clint's "Leaving Earth" theme, but other than that, I wrote and orchestrated "An End." It's common practice to credit a composer if you heavily borrow from their thematic material.

TheAngryBaron5 karma

I have a few questions I'd like to ask:

  • I've seen plenty of posts about how you got into the business, and I have a question related to that but not along the same lines. I always find it confusing how composers like you start off creating massive orchestral pieces. I would love to get into composing for video games (mainly because of the Mass Effect soundtracks, which all you guys did an amazing job on) but I find it confusing as to how you can prove you can create huge orchestral pieces on limited equipment. Was there a certain set of plug in's/AU you used like 'Vienna Symphonic Library'? Was it an obscene lucky break that you had an entire orchestra at hand?

  • How much orchestral/classical music in video games is created purely on the computer, as opposed to recording a full orchestra? I'm sure studios like Bethesda could afford the latter, but what about smaller studios?

  • I saw you were asked to demo some 'East-Asian' music for Jade Empire. How do you prepare for that, especially a genre that you have little experience of? Do you research the genre throughly before writing a piece?

  • Any quick musical tips/tricks/methods that aspiring composers should know about?

I think they're all the questions I have for now. I apologise if this is badly worded, I'm struggling to word it well since it's 2:37am and I'm already late to the party. Thanks!

MDesigner15 karma

Good questions!

Composing, I find easy. It's orchestration that's the tough part and takes the most time. It takes a good, high-quality set of samples (AU/VST) to pull off a convincing level of realism. I'll walk you through my setup:

I've got a single Mac Pro 8-core, 2.66GHz, 16GB RAM. Plugged into that is a MOTU Ultralite which is my Firewire audio interface. Plugged into THAT is a Studiologic SL-990XP which just serves as a MIDI controller. My Mac runs Cubase 6 which is my primary & only music sequencer I use. I use Vienna Symphonic for woodwinds, Spitfire Audio and True Strike for percussion, LA Scoring Strings, and various CineSamples libraries (brass, extra woodwind effects, extra percussion, choir, etc). Also important is a good orchestra hall reverb to add depth to all these great instruments. I recently bought Valhalla Room (only $50!) and am really digging it.

I write my tunes, then dump them out to WAV (usually 48KHz/24-bit), and open that up in Adobe Audition to trim it down if needed, or prep it for seamless looping. I also use Ozone 5's Maximizer to boost the volume a bit but I never compress very hard at all. Not a fan of highly compressed music, I like to preserve dynamics.

Smaller studios usually just go with samples. Heck, even the Mass Effect games are all synth & samples, with maybe a few live instruments here & there. Hybrid recordings are a great option, it saves the client money, and adding those live soloists or live ensembles breathes life into your production.

Regarding Jade Empire: well, there are two things here. There's what happened then, and what I would do now. ;) Back then I was pretty new to all this, so I just whipped up something that sounded sort of generically Asian-styled. The right approach would've been to dig up tons of references, traditional Chinese music of different styles, and soak it all in. Initial research is ALWAYS a great idea. Projects like this will call upon you to become a temporary musicologist and learn about these styles and what makes them sound the way they do.

Hope that's helpful. Party on! :)

ailee435 karma

Wait... theyre writing new music for BGEE? :( The original score by Michael Hoenig was awesome. Its probably too late, but please dont ruin the ambiance that was conveyed by that. The main theme, the music that plays in Inn's, the battle themes, all amazing.

Doesnt need improving in my opinion.

MDesigner17 karma

I'm only writing music for the new content, not the existing BG story. All of Hoenig's music will remain. I agree with you BTW, that music is excellent and I wouldn't dream of touching it.

dhphamCBR4 karma

Hey Sam, how do you make the sound for the reapers?

MDesigner17 karma


Nah, I kid. :) That's actually BioWare's audio department that does all that. I'm not involved in any sound design.

zap4 karma

What do you consider the biggest difference between game scoring and film scoring?

MDesigner8 karma

Film scoring is probably much like scoring cinematics in games. They're set to a locked-in time and you're writing for that moment. The biggest difference is obviously the level of interactivity in games. As a game composer, you have to be able to write in a way that your music can be chopped up (either vertically or horizontally) and have different parts play depending on what's happening in-game.

PateraSilk3 karma

Hello Mr. Hulik, thanks for doing this!

Have you ever done a major overhaul on a piece after seeing the visuals and/or dialogue it is meant to be paired with? Does that happen often, or does everything mostly come out as intended and then stay that way?

If I can fawn for a moment, I'd also just like to say that I think Mass Effect is one of the few games with soundtracks that are integral to the series. Very often games are shipped with 'elevator music' or a handful of discrete, interchangeable songs, but thinking of ME without Sovereign's Theme would be like having Star Wars without the Imperial March.

Uncharted Worlds frequently goes on repeat play during my AM commute. Thanks again!

MDesigner6 karma

Yes, definitely done major overhauls on a few pieces. Change requests from the client are just part of the job, and a game composer has to be OK with that. Complete rewrites don't happen too often. I've learned to never jump in and write a whole piece and turn it in. I usually start with a roughly orchestrated piece that's about halfway done, and turn it into the client to see what they think. If I get a thumbs up, I finish it and usually it's good to go. This saves me from spending too much time on rewrites. Or sometimes I'll have scored a cinematic that was supposed to be time-locked (basically meaning it's not fully rendered but the timing is done so it's safe to score), and then someone in the animation department changes something. :) Not a big deal though. There's always a way to adjust what you've written to make it work.

Scarazer3 karma

I'd just like to take a moment to say thank you for helping compose Red Orchestra 2.

1.) Would you say that RO2's multiplayer was more focused on than the single player?

2.) Do you know if Red Orchestra is planned on being continued any further?

MDesigner3 karma

  1. No doubt. Always has been a more multiplayer focused experience as far as I know.

  2. Don't know, and even if I did, I probably couldn't say anything. :)

blindinganusofhope3 karma

What is your favorite "new" instrument?

MDesigner7 karma

This: http://www.valhalladsp.com/valhallaroom

I know it's technically not an instrument.. yet it is, in a way. This is now my go-to reverb plug-in, and I think it sounds fantastic. And it's only $50!

[deleted]3 karma


MDesigner6 karma

Oh man, I'm a huge foodie. I love too many different types of foods to list just one. Sushi is up there though. Also, Greek yogurt + honey = amazingness. I try to snack healthily as much as possible. I follow a mostly Paleo diet.

Favorite drink? Water. Not much into fruit juices, sodas, etc. Favorite alcoholic beverage: mixed cocktails, straight cognac, sometimes bourbon if I'm in the mood for it, and an assortment of microbrews.

[deleted]2 karma

I've heard comments that music composition, particularly for video games and movies, is a career for a 'special few' and anyone not in that special few is going to struggle. In that case, do you have tips for aspiring composers?

MDesigner4 karma

It is a very saturated market, and it's tough to get to a point where you're considered "successful" (whatever that may mean to you) and landing major gigs. That said, I would never suggest it's impossible or that anyone should accept that only a small percentage will make a living at this.

Tips for aspiring composers:

  • Work like hell on your craft. Get REALLY good at writing music on a very basic level, that is, crafting strong, memorable melodies. Doesn't matter if you have the fanciest sample libraries out there and you can put together a mean track with epic drums and strings and blah blah blah. A lot of that may sound good from a production standpoint, but no one will remember it. Find your unique voice, learn how to write in a way that moves people.

  • My answer #3 in this comment might help for aspiring game composers.

TomOnABoat2 karma

Which of your compositions are you most proud of?

MDesigner13 karma

So far, I'm proudest of my work on Mass Effect 3 and Red Orchestra 2. I think I've really raised my personal bar on those. Red Orchestra 2 taught me how to tackle a massive amount of music, solo (90 mins). It also helped me to tap into the more soulful and emotional side of music, which helped out on ME3.

The main theme for "Adventure Y" (as Trent calls it) of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is done, and I'm super proud of it. It has a definite Baldur's Gate feel, very heroic, big, adventurous. Can't wait till we're able to release a sneak peek!

_TURbo2 karma

What are some of your favorite videogame scores?

MDesigner6 karma

LA Noire, Mass Effect (obv), Assassin's Creed 1 and 2, Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Shadow of the Beast 3, Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, Champions of Norrath, Red Dead Redemption, just to name a few.

PsychoM2 karma

  • How much information/visuals do you get about the scene before you compose music for it?

  • Is it hard to make loopable music compared to a song with a definite beginning and an end? What criteria makes a song viable for say, a battle scene.

  • I loved Mass Effect's soundtrack. I can't count the amount of times that I felt on the verge of tears or jumping with joy at times and a big part of that was just how well the soundtrack fit with the scene. It REALLY helped the immersion factor of it.

MDesigner3 karma

  1. This may answer your Q: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/uan3a/i_am_sam_hulick_composer_on_the_mass_effect/c4tscw6

  2. It can be a challenge sometimes. You have to keep in mind to not stray too much from where you started, otherwise you can be at the end of a 2-minute battle cue, and you compare the end to the beginning and it's like "how the hell did I end up here and how do I get back?!" My typical looping technique is to slice the last beat off the WAV file and paste-mix it into the beginning. It creates a seamless loop, though with the caveat that when the piece starts, you might catch a bit of that ending tail. So for instance, I would never end a looping piece with a humongous choir shout, because the reverb tail would definitely be audible in the beginning. Best to end looping pieces subtly so they blend better.

  3. Thanks! Many a tear were shed. Mission accomplished.

BeardySam2 karma

Did you ever meet Michael Hoenig and what is he like? I imagine he's quite an old school composer, how do his methods differ to yours or standard industry people today?

Do you like to record with full orchestras and how do you go about finding them?

I play in an amateur orchestra that was asked to do some soundtracks for low/zero budget things and it's always seemed to me that if you're willing to go amateur, a lot of people could get scores recorded for middle of the range productions.

MDesigner3 karma

Never met him, unfortunately. And actually I've never had anything recorded by a live orchestra for a game. Yet!

Clemenstation2 karma

Boo the miniature giant space hamster needs his own musical theme in BG: EE. Will you compose it?

MDesigner3 karma

I might. I just might.