Become a computer nerd and lose all your friends.

That’s the best advice Konrad OldMoney can offer anyone interested in composing music for videogames.

Hard counsel to swallow, but it’s paid off handsomely for OldMoney. To date, he’s composed music for hugely popular videogames like FIFA 17, one of the fastest-selling games ever sold in the U.K.;  Fight Night Champion, which topped the U.K. sales charts; and SSX Deadly Descents, a franchise that was the fifth best-selling game in the U.S. in 2012. All this via EA Sports, an arm of the Electronic Arts videogame production house.

“After years of playing games, and eating Church’s Chicken Number 6 combos with gravy on the side, I met [music director for EA Sports] Ricardo Almeida and [game designer and producer] Freddy Ouano.

They happened to be fans of dancehall music, which is what I was making lots of at the time, and they gave me a shot producing music for SSX Deadly Descents,” he says.

OldMoney says working with Almeida’s and Ouano’s vision allowed him to zero in on what kind of music he needed to make and for which kinds of game players. “When you do your research on the target demographics, and you make authentic music that resonates with their taste, it really pays off,” he says.

“When you do your research on the target demographics, and you make authentic music that resonates with their taste, it really pays off.”

Hearing OldMoney break down his creative process is hugely insightful for someone who’s never played videogames. While announcers in a game like FIFA 17 are talking – “and they’re either talking while you’re winning or losing” – you have to “make music that has room for them, but leaves the player feeling the pressure of being down a few points near the end of the game.

“How do you create that emotional response without overpowering the announcers?” he asks, anticipating the question. “For something like that, I would get rid of drums, ‘cause they’re too distracting, and use synth arpeggiation as a clock instead. Maybe speed everything up by 15 bpm [beats-per-minute] or so over the 30 second clip, to raise the feeling of urgency.”

OldMoney says when making music for games, you have to consider who’s playing them, and what types of sounds will resonate with them.

OldMoney, born Konrad Abramowicz, immigrated to Canada from Poland when he was 10. Coming from one of the most homogenous countries in the world to multi-cultural Canada was eye-opening for young Abramowicz, but getting exposed to diverse sounds was, for him, the biggest thrill.

Aside from dabbling in dancehall and hip-hop, OldMoney has worked with several high-profile artists working in different genres in Asia. The list includes Korean hip-hop superstars Tiger JK and Yoon Mirae. The producer is also working with Dawid Kwiatkowski, who he calls “the Polish Justin Bieber.” We ask OldMoney if it’s challenging for a Canadian producer to approach artists globally and convince them to work with him. “Networking and collaborating is a very important part of the music industry and in the era of the bedroom producer, it’s easy to overlook that,” says OldMoney.

Eight years back, OldMoney produced a song for his old band Smokey Robotic. It got the attention of the two Korean stars, and he began collaborating with them. OldMoney is returning the favour, trying to get Korean artists exposure in North America. His new single, “Undefeated,” which appears on the official UFC3 soundtrack – along with tracks by Cardi B, Snoop Dogg and Future – features Korean emcee Junoflo.  “It’s nice to open markets for artists who have done the same for me,” he says.


  • Zero in on what makes you special over other producers. Like, why would a certain game franchise pick you over the thousands of other applicants?
  • Be prepared for lots of last-minute changes, if you do get assigned a project.
  • Start paying attention to who’s doing what in the game industry, and reach out to them. A great way to start is to talk to some publishing houses and audio library owners, and see if they’ll pick up and shop your catalogue.

OldMoney easily explains the difference between composing for games and for singers. “A game project has usually been really fleshed out by the time it hits my desk,” he says. “There are hundreds of songs, clips, and thousands of sound effects to consider. My value on games lies in being able to understand and deliver exactly what the producer and music director are looking for. Whereas an artist will often come to me in search of something that they can’t really put their finger on, and we go from there.”

OldMoney’s reputation has been growing steadily, with several big-name game companies – the names of which he’s forbidden to disclose – seeking his services. He attributes being in-demand to being reliable, delivering premium content on time, every time, and his attention to detail. In an article in Forbes magazine last year, OldMoney was quoted as saying his clients want “that Konrad sound.”

Here’s how he describes it: “A bold cup of expensive coffee, with a shot of Jameson, first thing in the morning,” he laughs, before getting serious. “I have a strong foundation in hip-hop, that pocket-in-the-drums that makes your neck snap back and makes you want to bang your head. That’s my favourite thing to add to my music, regardless of genre.”


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In September of 2017, Montréal’s Orchestre Métropolitain played, before an audience of more than 2,000 souls, the Symphonie du jeu vidéo de Montréal (the Montréal Videogame symphony), a multi-media concert presented in collaboration with Alliance numérique. The evening’s program was exclusively comprised of original music composed for videogames designed in Montréal. The event was highly symbolic for the music creators who are thriving, in a city that’s become an economic goldmine of videogame production. As a guide to this unsung trade, we’ve tapped the experience of a major player on the scene: Composer, studio owner and teacher Mathieu Lavoie.

Mathieu Lavoie, François-Xavier Dupras

Mathieu Lavoie and his Vibe Avenue business partner, François-Xavier Dupas. (Photo: Michaëlle Charrette)

First off, is it necessary to be a gamer in order to compose music for video games? Mathieu Lavoie giggles: “Some composers aren’t gamers at all, and got into it by fluke,” says Lavoie. “But most of the ones I know are at least a little gamer. However, when you’re successful in this trade, you become less and less of a gamer… Take me, for example: between my job at the Université de Québec à Montréal [UQAM], teaching composition for film and videogames, my role as the owner of the Vibe Avenue studio, and being a dad to a 19-month-old girl, let’s just say I don’t really have time to game…”

Lavoie is something of a local bigwig in videogame music. In fact, he’ll be sharing his art – and science – during the Sommet musique et technologie conference, presented by the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM) at Montréal’s PHI Centre on March 14, 2018. One more thing keeping him away from gaming…

“When I don’t have time to play, I watch videos of people playing to better understand how music is used in games,” says Lavoie. “As a matter of fact, there are probably more people watching other people play videogames than there are people actually playing; the success of the Twitch platform is mind-boggling,” he says of the Amazon-owned, YouTube-like platform that attracts phenomenally huge audiences by specializing in presenting people playing video games, live or recorded.

The art of videogame music is quite different from that of film music,” says Lavoie. “First off, I think composing for videogames automatically makes you a film composer. Generally speaking, a video game has imposed scenes, called ‘cut scenes,’ that are similar to a movie scene, inasmuch as the music has to correspond with the action. They are moments during which the player no longer controls his actions, so that the game can tell its story, and that scene has to be adorned with music – just as in the movies.”

That’s the easy part of videogame composition, which Lavoie compares to a “big jigsaw puzzle.” That’s because when a player acts in the gameplay, and the producers want music to accompany those actions, the composer must create music without knowing how the player will interact with their virtual universe. “It’s totally unpredictable,” says Lavoie. “We don’t know when the player will act a certain way – say, to start combat, or simply to walk around [the game’s environment]. Yet, the music has to be omni-present.”

Lavoie, who holds a doctorate in composition, and who’s also been teaching film and videogame composition for about 15 years, also calls it “modular music.” The composition isn’t linear; instead, it’s made up of a multitude of elements that can be assembled in different ways, to give the impression of a log soundtrack that isn’t redundant.

“So, for example, I’ll compose four-bar blocks that can be played in any order, because I’ve made sure that they’re harmonious,” he says. “The end of each block therefore needs to work with the beginning of all the other blocks. That’s what I call ‘open form.’ The whole idea being that not only do those blocks need to create an environment specific to a moment in the game, a module, but each also has to segue harmoniously to the music of the game’s next moment.”

“It’s logical to me that the videogame composer community took root in Montréal. We not only have a whole industry, but we have the expertise, too.” — Mathieu Lavoie

The other compositional technique that sets videogame music apart from that of cinema is one that Lavoie calls the “variability technique”: “Within a block,” he says, “you can imagine a musical theme, a melody, but in a way that it sounds just as good played by a clarinet or a violin. You can record the melody played by many instruments, and even record different melodies operating on a shared harmonic base, without having to re-compose the base of the module.”

You then instruct the game’s software to pick from the bank of melodies and instruments and assemble them to give the illusion of one long composition. “This way, each time you play the module, there’s a feeling of newness, because there are numerous possible combinations between the instruments and melodies. It allows us to create a lot of music without necessarily having to re-compose everything; in other words, with the same amount of effort, you can achieve three to four more times the quantity of original music by using open form and variability.”

Along with his Vibe Avenue team, Lavoie works on about 12 projects at a time every year. The majority of his clients are independent studios in the Montréal or Québec videogame industry. The community of independents is booming, very dynamic and unique, in that they are grouped in the Guilde des développeurs de jeux vidéo indépendants du Québec. “It’s logical to me that the video game composer’s community took roots in Montréal,” says Lavoie. “We not only have a whole industry, but we have the expertise, too. Take, for example, Audiokinetic, who developed the Wwise software, the tool of choice for the dynamic integration of music in videogames.”

In short, composing for videogames really is like a jigsaw puzzle, one that requires years of labour to complete a single project. Yet to Lavoie, that’s a privilege when compared to scoring films, because composers often have much tighter deadlines. “Generally, when a videogame studio approaches us for their music needs, we’re in charge of the whole gamut of soundscapes for the game,” he says. “From composing the music, to dialogue, to sound design. That’s something that’s missing in the realm of film, since apart from the director, there’s no audio specialist who supervises the whole soundscape of the movie. That gives us much greater control [over the final product] than in movies.”

Times have changed since the golden age of videogame music, and the unforgettable musical themes of Japanese masters of the genre. Like Koji Kondo, composer of the Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda themes, or Nobuo Uematsu, the “Beethoven of video game music,” responsible for the musical themes of games such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, among many other classics. “They were often one-minute loops that played over and over,” says Lavoie. No wonder those melodies are etched so deeply in our childhood brains.

“Does our work bring a distinct musical signature? We talk about it often, my partner and I,” says Lavoie confirms. “We’re weary of being pigeonholed, in case we get overlooked for certain projects! I think our trademark is the fusion of musical styles that we can offer. In almost every game we work on, we manage to create hybrid musical genres. And we work really hard on coming up with really catchy themes – melodies are important in a videogame, but they need to be used carefully. Our most popular soundtrack was the one for the game, Ultimate Chicken Horse, and its very funky theme. We sold several thousand copies of the soundtrack, and we’ve even played concerts with it!”

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Lindsay Ell is enjoying a rare day off at home in Nashville. “It feels like I’ve been on the road six out of seven days,” she says. But Ell’s not complaining. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter loves touring. Every morning, she rolls out of bed and follows her passion. “I’ve prayed of being this tired ever since I was a little girl! I get to live my dream and tour with acts I dreamed of playing with, growing up.”

1) Honesty is the key. “That is the No. 1 rule; it’s also a rule to never break. The more vulnerable you can be as a songwriter, the better the song usually is… The more real I can be, the better I believe the song is.”
2) Write every single day. “Whether it’s a title or just two lines. The voice memo app in my phone is embarrassing, but it’s filled with little tidbits, crazy ideas of me singing as I’m walking in an airport, or lying in bed half asleep… I try to write something every day and capture ideas as they come.”
3) There are no rules! “The minute I say, ‘It’s got to be done like this,’ tomorrow I’ll wake up and break my own rule!”

Those dream acts include Brad Paisley (with whom Ell is currently touring); Sugarland (who are re-uniting and taking her on the road this summer); and Keith Urban (Ell joins the four-time Grammy winner for the second leg of his Canadian Graffiti U World Tour in September 2018).

Since the release of The Project last August, the Calgary native, now based in Music City, has piled up the accolades. From the moment this debut dropped, it flew up the charts. The 12-song collection hit No.1 on the iTunes Country albums chart, No. 2 on the iTunes All Genres albums chart, and earned a No. 1 position on the Nielsen Soundscan Current Country Albums Chart in the U.S. High-profile U.S. TV appearances followed, including The Today Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!

With the help of producer Kristian Bush (of Sugarland), Ell has found her sweet spot. As she writes in the liner notes, “I wanted to call this album The Project because that’s exactly what it was. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’m a different singer, different guitar player, and different artist. I’ve finally found my voice.”

When asked if she ever imagined such rapid success, Ell remains humble. “I wanted my fans to fall in love with the songs like I did,” she says. “But I had no idea it would debut at No. 1. It all still feels surreal.”

“Castle,” co-written with Abbey Cone and Josh Kerr, is one of many highlights on the critically acclaimed album. The song is a metaphor for Ell’s philosophy of staying grounded no matter what success comes her way. In the chorus, she sings, “And even if we had a house up on a hill/ I bet we’d want a castle.”

Before recording The Project, producer Kristian Bush gave Ell an assignment she couldn’t refuse. “So many people have influenced me, so I didn’t know where to begin, or go next, with my music,” says Ell. “In our first meeting, Kristian… asked me what my favourite record of all time was, and I told him: John Mayer’s Continuum. He said, ‘Perfect! I want you to go record the whole thing. These are the only rules: you have two weeks; you need to play all the instruments; and you need to do it at the studio.’ For 14 days, I worked from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. trying to get this done… I learned so much about Mayer, and how he played guitar, and how I played guitar, and how I wanted my next record to sound. The gears just clicked.” After two weeks in the studio, she handed the assignment to Bush. “I told him, ‘I finally know how I want my record to sound!’” Ell has decided to release her version of Continuum, so her fans can hear her homework. It’ll be out later this year.

“It’s so easy, regardless of where we are in society, to think we never have enough, or we’re not cool enough, etc.,” says Ell. “We all get caught up in this cycle, but it’s not where our hearts and minds should be focused; it’s not reality. That song is about keeping things in perspective, and being grateful for what we have, and the lives we get to live everyday.”

Easy advice to take to heart, but how does the artist – as she stockpiles No.1 singles and her star rises – live this philosophy? “My fans,” she says. “I have such a close relationship to them and they keep my reality in check.” Ell is a self-confessed social media fanatic – spending an average of five hours a day on her various online accounts. “I talk to my fans, and see how my shows and songs influence their lives, and that keeps everything in check.”

All 12 tracks on The Project are either co-writes, or written by other artists. The album is a powerful collection of personal songs with simple, universal messages of love and hope. Before moving to Nashville eight years ago, Ell admits she’d never collaborated on writing a song. Now, co-writes are the norm. The first single, “Waiting on You,” was a Top 5 Canadian Country radio hit. The bluesy, country-rock song is the one that kick-started The Project sessions; it was a co-write with Adam Hambrick and Andrew DeRoberts. “Champagne,” a co-write with Walker Hayes, is another of Ell’s favourites, because it forced her to step outside her comfort zone.

“It was a great experience for me to have as a writer to learn there are no rules,” she says. “You can be fearless when you’re writing; there’s always an editing step later. I was with Walker and asked him: ‘Can we rhyme feel with Jessica Biel?’ and he said: ‘Of course you can!’ That was a good writing lesson.”

Ell’s music lessons – formal and informal – started young. By six she was playing the piano, and by eight she was learning guitar licks, honing her chops by following her father to country-bluegrass camps. These days, just like one of Ell’s early mentors sang, Ell is certainly takin’ care of business. Fifteen years ago, as a 13-year-old, she met Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Randy Bachman.

Says Ell, “Randy heard a demo I’d made of Jann Arden cover songs and Tommy Emmanuel guitar instrumentals, and said, ‘She sounds like a young female Chet Atkins; I need to meet her.’” A writing session between Bachman and Ell was arranged, and the Guess Who co-founder became the budding songwriter’s biggest fan. “He got me into blues, jazz, and rock, and that gave me a whole new vocabulary for my music that I hadn’t tapped into yet,” says Ell.

Today, the pair still keeps in touch. Bachman taught Ell one other important life lesson: never lose sight of why you chose this career. “Randy told me that this life I’ve chosen will be an emotional rollercoaster, and that I always need to remember why I love doing what I’m doing, and that will keep me grounded,” says Ell. “That’s great advice, that I still think about every day.”

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