Sound Byte: Meet the Composer - Ryan Shore

We talk to the man behind the score of the horror movie The Shrine on his recent work with the latest Spy Hunter game.


Composer Ryan Shore has a long history in creating music for films, but the OST for the 2012 remake of Spy Hunter for the 3DS and PS Vita was the first time he wrote specifically for a game. So how does the film and game experience differ? We had a chat with the composer, renowned for his work on 2012 Canadian horror movie The Shrine, about his new-found experience.

How did you get your start in the music-making business?

I started with music when I was 11 years old when I took up the saxophone. In the following years throughout high school, I also added the clarinet, flute and piano. I then went to the Berklee College of Music to study performance and film composing. When I graduated, I moved to New York City and began scoring films, working in musical theater, and continued playing multiple instruments.

When it came to film composing, I began by scoring short films at NYU and also worked for my uncle, film composer Howard Shore, for four years. The experience of scoring short films and working for Howard eventually led to my first feature film scoring assignment on my own--a film for Kevin Smith's company called Vulgar. My solo feature film career continued from there, and I have now scored about 30 features. In addition to my film work, I am now branching out more actively into video games, television, and records.

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What made you want to pick Spy Hunter as your first video game music composition project?

I was brought on board by my friend Jeff Nachbaur, who is one of the producers of the game. Jeff and I have known each other since high school, so over 20 years now. My interest in composing games has been steadily growing over a very long time. When he called me up, everything sounded perfect: the timing, the title, and the kind of music they were looking for.

This title gave me a chance to write a type of music I haven't been asked to write very often, and I couldn't have been more thrilled to jump in and be a part of it. I see video games as an exciting, vibrant medium with amazing stories to tell, and they offer tremendous opportunities for composing.

What instruments and synths were used to create the game's soundtrack?

I approached the writing by first creating a large palette of acoustic music in the big band instrumentation, like trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and so forth. I created about an hour of that style of music and recorded all of it in stems so that any of the elements could be later manipulated.

I then worked closely with a great remixer named Cheapshot to remix all of that music and bring all the current electronic sounds and production techniques into the score. There were tons of different sounds that were brought in from various sources: plug-in samplers and synths, pre-recorded elements, drum loops, vocals, sweeps, and sputtering effects. There were tons of editing and manipulation involved.

It seems that you're channeling bits of Apollo 440 and Juno Reactor in doing Spy Hunter's OST. Were those artists your influence, or were there other sources of inspiration you did research on for this project?

Absolutely! I was quite inspired by artists like Cheapshot, as well as other musicians like Skrillex and Deadmau5.

The "Peter Gunn" theme was the main leitmotif in the majority of the game's soundtrack. How do you make each iteration sound different without being repetitive for listeners?

That was actually one of my primary goals--to make sure the music is constantly sounding fresh and not repetitive. One of the ways I approached that was by utilizing not only Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme, but to also compose many other musical leitmotifs of my own that were inspired by Mancini's great theme. In the end, the Peter Gunn theme comprises about 20 percent of the score, and the new material is about 80 percent of the score.

In your personal experience, what's the main difference between composing for film and for video games?

I think the answer to that really depends on films and video games that you're writing for. In this case, I found it to be more musically-liberating than writing many scores for movies. For example, when you're writing music for a movie or television show, you are often supporting dialogue, so the music that is most appropriate for a scene can often be musically "incomplete" in a way. Think of it more of an accompaniment where the dialogue functions as the melody, where the music needs to take certain turns to match the timings of the scene.

In other media, pieces of music can sometimes be very short in length, as is required by the scene. For Spy Hunter, however, I was able to develop the music more fully and with greater detail since I didn't have to write the music around dialogue or specific timings. Also, most of the pieces I wrote were about three minutes long, and that can often be on the lengthier side for a movie or television show. It was quite exciting to be able to stretch out in those ways.

If you had a choice to compose for an established video game series, which one would you love to work on, music-wise?

The Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series have always stood out to me as series that I'd love to work on. I've had the opportunity to write scores for other projects that are also war-themed, and which take place in those types of emotional worlds, and I feel they're among my best scores.

Articles of War, A Letter from the Western Front, and Shadowplay, are films I've scored that all have that type of deep emotional resonance, and I found them to be a constant source of inspiration to compose for.

Now that this project is done, what future works can music fans look forward to from your end?

I'm currently working on a new animated television show for Disney, and I recently wrote two original songs for Sesame Street. There are also a few more movies in the works. I love composing for different media, and after scoring my first video game, I’m really looking forward to the next one.

The Spy Hunter OST is out on WaterTower Music.

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