Today, we’re talking to Edward Ray who makes music and sound effects for games. I hope you enjoy this interview! His work on Carnage Cross, Circles, and Rogue Ascent VR is amazing – so make sure to check out Edward’s work! You can find a glimpse at his portfolio as well as his social media channels on his website as well if you wanna check those out! Edward also plans to make some music for my stream which is something I’m looking forward to sharing in the near future!
For starters, can you introduce yourself?
Hello. My name’s Edward Ray and I make music and sound effects for video games. I’m from London, England though I currently reside in the Netherlands. I suppose this is normally where I’d tell you what hobbies I have… Does working count? Let’s just say I get to do my hobby for a living. I try to do the exercise thing as well.
How long have you been into music?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 13 and am self-taught. I also played the drums during most of my teens – I actually had drum lessons for several years. I loved playing the drums but my main focus was always writing my own songs on guitar. I would spend a lot of time recording ideas on the drum kit, and then recording guitar parts over them with whatever basic software was available at the time.
I remember we had this “talent show” at secondary school – which, for your American readers, is high school. Anyway – during this talent show, the dad of a fellow student, who was a very talented musician in his own right, told me, “If I were you I’d forget about playing the guitar completely… Just focus on the drums.” On the off chance that you’re reading this, Keith, I’m sorry. Due to moving around, I ended up selling my drum kit. I actually haven’t played since… I’d love to get a kit again though.
These days, I play the piano, guitar, bass, and synthesisers – I’ll pretty much learn as much of an instrument as I can if the project warrants it. Though these days, the guitar is definitely my main instrument.
What inspired you to become a composer for games?
Video games were my first interest as a kid. From the age of 5, I was glued to the Mega Drive, then later the early Playstation, and the Xbox. I was obsessed with video games, like a lot of kids that age, I suppose. I would sit in maths and doodle the characters from Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu, and Silent Hill… Everything else just felt like an interruption to playing games. I didn’t really develop recognition for game music at the time. I just saw it as a total package… As being part of the experience. Actually, now that I’m off on this tangent – come to think of it, my first experience actually making music was on the Playstation! Do you remember MTV Music Generator 2? That’s it – there we go, that’s where it all started.
When I eventually got into music properly, I completely forgot about video games altogether for a while – music became the new obsession. I did the whole band thing for years, most of my life. With time, I got tired of the formula. I’m not sure what it is but it seems to me that a lot of musicians are inherently lazy. Or maybe just, most of the ones I’ve known…? Anyway, in between playing the guitar in Death Metal and all kinds of bands, I was always still writing music on the side, of all kinds. Pretty much whatever I felt like, on any given evening. Oh man, I have hard drives full of the worst reggae, pop, acoustic, orchestral and electronic tracks that the world will never hear.
Years later, I was sick one weekend and bought Hotline Miami. When I heard the soundtrack, it absolutely blew the doors off, for me. It’s not the most conventional game OST, in the sense that it’s more like a compilation album – sort of like GTA, I guess. Anyway, that’s what sent me down the rabbit hole of exploring game music more keenly.
I didn’t go to school for music or anything like that, though. I know a lot of people study at University for this sort of thing which is great but yeah, my path into it was totally different. I’m sure if any of my industry colleagues are reading this, they’ll think I’m a hack… Oh well.
Are there any other composers that you look up to?
Oh man, there are a few. I’ll split it into categories. A few of my favourite classical composers are Puccini, Boccherini and Elgar. For films? I’ve listened to Danny Elfman’s music more than any other film composer, by a wide margin. Games? It’s become a bit of a textbook response, though I really admire his work ethic and his approach to creativity, I’ll go with Mick Gordon.
What projects have you worked on so far, both professionally and privately?
A lot of video game projects, some non-game projects. I’ve done some work as a ghostwriter for a couple of pop artists. From time to time, I’ll get hired by bands to give feedback on tracks they’re working on, too. Kind of like a remote producer, in a way. Those are always fun projects to do, though obviously, my main focus is games. I recently worked on a puzzle game called Circles, by a chap called Jeroen Wimmers. It’s a real hidden gem of a game, if you’re into mobile games, it’s definitely worth checking out. Then, of course, there’s Rogue Ascent which I’ve been working on since last November. That one will likely take another year or so. Privately? I haven’t had much time for passion projects, though I have been remixing a solo metal album that I recorded almost a decade ago, here and there, just for fun. I’m hoping to quietly release that soon.
How would you describe the music that you make?
I’d hope to answer this question with, “appropriate”. I try to identify the commissioning parties’ vision rather than my own. I think that the most challenging and rewarding part of what we do as composers for hire is just that – helping others discover their musical vision for their projects. Most of the heavy lifting in terms of finding the right sound is through discussion, far before pitching and refining. I try to emphasise the importance of this – spending days in a discussion can save months’ worth of revising ideas. As far as I’m concerned, this preliminary work isn’t optional. A lot of creators don’t actually know what it is they’re after for their project, so your job as a composer then becomes to help them figure that out. Sure it’s convenient to succumb to tropes – it’s tempting to plaster big sweeping orchestral stuff over everything. If that’s what the project demands, that’s great – but we’ve heard that plenty. Each project deserves its own sonic character.
Now, as far as what kind of elements go, I enjoy using myself. I enjoy writing music with a groove and an edge to it. I like experimenting with strange techniques whenever I can and try to stay away from the “pedestrian” as much as possible. Unless that’s what the client is after… In which case I’ll gently try to convince them otherwise…
What’s your process when you approach music?
I don’t approach my computer until I’ve got a solid idea of where I’m heading with a composition. It needs to be at least 70% finished in my head before I’m happy to start tracking. So much music these days is composed with a keyboard and mouse – which is great – obviously. I’m recording into a computer using all the standard sampling software and the same plugins as everyone else, too. That being said though, for me, I need to have a good idea of where a composition is heading before that, instead of clicking about with a mouse and waiting for something good to come out. Intentionality is everything. I use hardware and acoustic instruments as much as possible, synths, guitar, and piano. I try to write as much music as I can away from the computer.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as a composer?
At times it feels like being a composer for games is nothing but challenges. I think the one that never goes away is what I was talking about before: Trying to whittle down the vision of the hiring party, finding a sound they’ll be happy with. Though that’s also the most rewarding.
A big challenge I faced when starting out was timing. Just like a lot of other composers and creatives for hire, I was reliant on doing that really annoying thing – reaching out to people to try and land jobs. At that stage, the stars have to align perfectly. Not only does the team have to not already have a composer, but they also need to be able to afford one and actually be willing to pay for it, too. Then after all that, they actually have to like what you’ve done before. Which, if that’s nothing, there’s a half dozen other people lined up, each with an impressive portfolio of their own. Then, of course, there’s the reality that most games being made never make it through to launch.
That’s a tricky one – some games have a shoestring budget, to begin with, then agree to provide commission on the backend. Which is great and also fair, particularly if a game has a lot of potential! It’s less great when the project never sees the light of day. And this might be after you’ve put months and months into working on it. Luckily I’ve avoided situations like that, though it does happen. I think a big challenge is avoiding that disheartenment.
What kind of music do you listen to privately? Is it very different from the music you make?
This is going to sound bizarre. Most of the time, I have to force myself to listen to music. What I mean is, that I have to allocate specific time to it – otherwise, it simply won’t happen. I’ve made a routine of it though, I’ll do this whilst going for a walk. I try to listen to stuff I’ve never heard before, staying on top of what’s new, obscure, and exciting…
Genre-wise? I like most things. 80’s music, classical, metal, reggae, techno… Anything goes. Come to think of it, I don’t suppose anyone can provide music as a service and not find something to appreciate in every genre. Actually, maybe that’s a bit of a romantic notion…
Tell us about Rogue Ascent VR, your latest project. What kind of game is it?
Rogue Ascent is a first-person shooter for the Oculus, it features the bleeding edge of hand-tracking technology. Honestly, what those guys are doing makes the music look like light work. Back in, I think it was September last year, I saw a post about Rogue Ascent VR in an online publication. I immediately enjoyed the aesthetic, it’s like a childhood fantasy/sci-fi cartoon come to life. That coupled with the fact that it uses hand tracking technology exclusively, I saw that it had potential from the outset.
I looked up and messaged the team – just to express my enthusiasm for the project, really. I was shocked to learn that whilst it had a whole team working on strategy, publishing and marketing, it was being developed by a solo developer. This guy – Jordan McGraw aka NoonerBear Studios – he’s a very clever chap indeed. I’m privileged to now call him a friend and we’ve collaborated very closely on the soundtrack. It’s been a very rewarding project, particularly as Jordan knows exactly what he’s after when it comes to the score.
How does Rogue Ascent VR’s soundtrack reflect the nature of the game?
Well, funnily enough, some of the music was written for the game before I knew of its existence. A few weeks after chatting briefly with the publishers, apparently, the team listened to a handful of tracks from my portfolio. As I say, I’d written these before I even knew about Rogue Ascent – just short compositions that I’d recorded to demonstrate what I would hypothetically provide for a potential client, if I were tasked with scoring a sci-fi shooter. Jordan asked if these had been used for anything else and if not, whether they could put them into the game. We then talked about additional tracks that he would like written… And here we are. Many of the elements from those tracks have been carried forth into the newer ones, though we have also added a lot of aspects. A sense of “espionage”, though ambience… Elements of prog rock. It’s diversified and has taken on its own identity, for sure.
What was the most fun track to work on? What’s your favourite track and why?
They’re all rewarding in their own way. In general, the most fun part of this work is when the people you’ve written a piece of music for getting enthusiastic about it, or people are playing the game and remark on the music. I must admit though when a track is finished, I will rarely go back and listen to it – unless there’s a practical reason for it. I mostly just hear stuff I would have done differently. I’d probably work on these things forever if I didn’t force myself to relinquish.
Are you still working on this project or are you already finished? Were there any challenges you had to overcome or any things you especially struggled with?
I’ll let you know when I’m finished! This has been an interesting project because the game is technically out already, though in Beta – so we’re still working on the final version. The interesting thing is, that anyone who buys it now has a fully playable game that they can then watch develop and grow over time. And there are some exciting things planned, from what I’ve been told.
A challenge I faced was in the beginning – I was working a full-time job alongside working on the game. This meant a lot of early mornings and late nights, as well as trying to make the most productive time whilst away from my day job. This meant doing full working days on the music on Christmas, New Year, etc. It wouldn’t have been entirely necessary if I wasn’t working two jobs but it was – because I was.
Tell us about Carnage Cross! What’s that game about?
Carnage Cross is the lovechild of Smuggler’s Run and Carmageddon if it were raised by Twisted Metal. You drive around huge maps in these insane cars outfitted with ridiculous firepower, trying to destroy the other insane cars, each with their own ridiculous firepower. It’s totally over the top, as you’d expect.
What did you want to do with the soundtrack of Carnage Cross? What sort of input did you get and how did you decide to make it happen?
I was a featured artist on Carnage Cross. I provided them with a track to be used at a new level they were developing. We’ve talked about doing more though that’s on hold for the time being. Now that you mention it, I should probably follow up with the team at some point. Allen, the lead developer, is a really nice guy – lots of talent. He speaks my language, too – loud and offensive music behind insane machines.
What track was the most fun to work on for Carnage Cross’ Soundtrack? What was the hardest track to figure out and polish?
It was fairly straightforward, to be honest. Allen had sent through some references, after which I got straight to work. I think I sent him a sketch within 24 hours, which he then approved. If I remember correctly, we went from ideation to completed product within a week. With references and descriptors, these things really can move quickly at times. Carnage Cross was one such example.
What kind of games are you into? Do you play a lot of video games?
Oh man, I wish. I’m terrible with making time for this stuff… I’m like the chef that goes home and eats Pot Noodles. Principally, I love games with a storyline, though I play so infrequently that I never remember what happened last time. So I stick to stuff with skippable cutscenes or no story at all. That’s when I actually have time to play, which is probably once every 6 months if I’m lucky. One thing I think the world is lacking is more horror games.
What’s your favourite video game soundtrack?
There are a few. I don’t want to say DOOM like almost everyone else. What are some more obscure ones…? I still really love the Alien Trilogy soundtrack, from the original Playstation. Abe’s Odyssey had a great one, too. Timesplitters. Silent Hill… Outlast. There are way too many amazing ones. I would also give honourable mentions to GTA: Vice City and both the Hotline Miami’s, though as compilations, I feel like they don’t count, somehow…
Are you ever truly satisfied with a given project?
If the rest of the team is enthusiastic, that’s the most important thing. Me personally? I’ve never been truly satisfied with a project. I think that’s just the nature of it though. I think a big part of the job is knowing when “good enough” is actually at the point where others will hopefully enjoy it.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? What kind of music will you make then?
I really hope I’ll still be doing what I love, which is writing music for games. As for the kind of music… You know, I’ve thought about this quite a bit lately… Honestly? It’s a total mystery to me. I will say that I would like to do as many diverse projects as possible whilst maintaining a sense of my own style. I would love to be at the stage where I can put out a piece of music in a style I never have before and for people to recognise it as one of mine. I guess the answer I’m looking for, as pretentious as it sounds, is that I hope the kind of music I make will be Mine.
Is there something you want to accomplish in the future?
I would be privileged to continue to earn my living doing what I love, though a specific goal of mine would be to write music for console games. If it could be a Mega Drive reboot, even better. If I could choose the game? Probably another Splatterhouse reboot. Or Chuck Rock! Either that or a new Outlast game.
Are there any projects you’re working on right now or that you’re planning at the moment?
Still, Rogue Ascent, though once we hit a couple of major milestones, I’ll continue to work on an upcoming horror game. I can’t talk about it too much yet, though I’m excited for that one. It’s a bit like a cross between Mist, Visage and that unreleased Silent Hill they teased for a while…
Where can people find your music and your works? Is there anything else you want to say to my readers?
There’s my website which links to all of my major destinations! That’s www.edward-ray.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram, that’s @EdwardRayMusic on both.
I’d like to thank you, Dan, for taking the time to chat. To your readers, I’d like to say thanks for taking an interest in what I do. I’d encourage you to find what interests you, set goals and work towards accomplishing that to whatever extent will provide you with fulfilment. No matter how daft it seems – I was working in marketing in the medical field a year ago.
And that was an interview with Edward Ray. I hope you enjoyed this post. As mentioned above you can check out Edward’s website, other projects and social media if you click on that link above. Otherwise, here’s his YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter! Make sure to check those out!