Microsoft maestro and Game Music Connect speaker Paul Lipson talks Xbox music

Music for Xbox – Never a dull moment

Paul Lipson, music and audio director for Microsoft Studios, is a leading industry figure undertaking and overseeing many music commissions for key franchises both old and new which are being orchestrated and recorded at the very highest level.

He will be a special guest at the forthcoming Game Music Connect event being held in the Purcell Room, South Bank, London on September 9th where he will, no doubt, share his immense passion for music in games and untiring zeal for continually raising the quality bar.

You have a unique position in the games industry. Can you outline your current role?
I have an interesting role with the Central Media Team at Microsoft Studios, particularly working as both music and audio director. Central Media can be likened to a team of industry veterans sitting at the centre of the wheel, with creative direction and production support that reaches out across our portfolio.
It certainly is an exciting challenge for us and a thrill to partner with our internal first party and third party development teams to advance the all-up content quality of projects.

Since joining the team at Microsoft, I’ve been keenly focused on advancing our music pipelines and have been working hard with my colleagues to raise the bar across all of our platforms including Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows 8 PC, tablet, and phone. This includes all aspects of music creation, from composition and composer management to production pipelines, recording, integration, technology, budgets, and soundtrack releases.

I also work as the Halo publishing audio director, supporting the various audio disciplines across published titles in the Halo universe with our excellent team at 343 Industries.

On the audio community side of things, I’m the vice-chairman of the board of directors of the Game Audio Network Guild (GANG), and participate on the Board with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammys), and the academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS). There certainly is never a dull moment.

Could you give some sense of the scope of projects your team covers?
Scope is one of the things I like best about Microsoft Studios, and we certainly provide support for experiences of all shapes and sizes. Many of our leading franchises require an immense amount of planning, care, and extensive creative and production resources that rival some of the biggest blockbusters out there on any screen. It is not uncommon to see us partnering with some of the world’s best orchestras and large ensembles to achieve thrilling results. Other titles might be smaller in scale, but make a huge impact – from console to mobile devices. As an all-up devices and services company, we want our entertainment experiences to delight wherever our customers engage – and we certainly strive to deliver with that in mind.

How do you find the attitude of orchestral and choir teams is towards video game music scores right now, and who do you like to work with?

Most of our partners have deep experience in games as well as big linear scores, so we all usually have a great time when it’s time to record.

We enjoy wonderful relationships with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM – the musicians union in the USA/Canada), and key partners in Europe – so it’s not uncommon to see us at Skywalker Sound, Abbey Road, and working with premier studios in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and in the UK. We have some exciting collaborations to announce through the upcoming holiday and beyond, so stay tuned.

Is it all about orchestral music for Xbox games, or will we see electronica, quartet – even jazz scores – is there a ‘leftfield’ for game music?
Oh, everything is on the table – no leftfield limitation for us at all. It always depends on the creative vision and what is the best way to heighten the experience for the player. We love large orchestral scoring, and do many sessions a year with some of the world’s finest players – which is appropriate for the epic nature of some of the properties we develop.

But we collaborate with masters in all sorts of genres, many of which defy traditional classification. It all goes back to my previous point of supporting the narrative experience and finding partners with distinct creative voices. We are always looking for the unexpected, and fresh ways to approach bespoke music creation. We have all sorts of hybrid scoring approaches that we are excited to showcase in the near future.

What, for you, are the key creative benefits music brings to the table in video gaming?
Music brings so much emotion and excitement to the stories we tell, and adds an immeasurable benefit to interactive experiences. Not only does music provide instant feedback to gameplay and player choice, it provides a recognisable identity and narrative context as the player interacts with the world.

If you close your eyes and listen to the score of your favourite title – it transports you without having to see anything with your eyes. All big properties and franchises share this common trait – a compelling story supported by music that is memorable, iconic, and instantly relatable to the essence of the franchise.

Memorable melodies, distinctive harmony, inventive orchestration and performance practice; all of these things are the hallmarks of successful scores that directly correlate to successful game experiences.

And it’s not just reserved for bespoke, commissioned scores either – we continue to make some bold choices when working with artists and licensing music for games as well. I think the same rules apply: artfully integrated music enhances the narrative and drives the player forward to the betterment of the experience as a whole.

How do you think music in Xbox games will develop from here? What does the future hold?
I was just talking about this very subject with the head of our team, content director Mark Yeend just the other day – we are absolutely bullish about driving innovation and quality that defines the next generation of games. Music for Xbox experiences will certainly be innovative, and we have some new approaches to integration and content development that will be defining to current and future experiences we are creating.

Looking into the crystal ball, I think finding new ways to develop and express quality will become the defining traits of the future. The emotional dynamic range in games is widening, and music is pushing a new era of emotional efficacy in interactivity and storytelling.

What can we expect to hear from you at Game Music Connect?
It’s a thrill to be speaking at Game Music Connect, and look forward to meeting with both old and new friends in the industry. I’m happy to share more about my own experiences and provide some insights as both a composer and music director. And of course I look forward visiting in London again – see you there.

For more on Game Music Connect, visit the event’s official website. Game Music Connect can be found on Twitter at @gameartconnect, or find the event on Facebook under Game Music Connect.

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