Aaron Walz has been producing music since his childhood. He has collaborated with many games makers and he’s known in the Casual Games community for creating the soundscapes for the Aveyond series. Cat On The Wall wanted to find out more about Aaron, his work and his passion for games. He kindly responded to our call and uncovered more about his life than we had hoped for!
Cat On The Wall: Can you introduce yourself and your work?
Aaron Walz: Sure thing! My name is Aaron Walz. I’m half Australian and half American and I live in San Francisco, California. I have been composing music and playing games since I was under ten years old. In fact, even at that time, I always wanted to be a game composer. I did a lot of freelancing and had another day job during and after attending University to obtain my BA in music. Then in 2007, I decided to get more serious and I started my company, Walz Music, and left my day job. I formed a board and brought together a team. I mostly do the composition, but the others help me with all kinds of things from playing instruments to updating our YouTube channel. Recently I created a complete discography and it seems I have produced about 400 songs for a total playing time of about 13 hours. I am very proud of my work and always attempt to create game music and artistically as possible.
COTW: You are well known in the casual games industry as the composer for the music of the Aveyond series. How did you get involved in this mammoth project?
AW: Great story! One day when I was in University, Amanda Fitch approached me and wanted to use some of my work for a game: Ahriman’s Prophecy. However, she didn’t have any budget and this was a free game. So I allowed her to use my music and she had a lot of success with the game! Later, she got more serious and wanted to create Aveyond. Thanksfully, she came to me to make all the music. I created about 30 songs for Aveyond 1. Then, I was able to convince her to let me use live orchestral instruments. So I hired players through the University and from the community and we created a soundtrack that won Game Tunnel’s Soundtrack of the Year in 2006. I have composed for the series ever since.
COTW: In your opinion what are the perfect ingredients for a game soundtrack?
AW: Well the songs can never be annoying or obviously repetitive. Every piece is its own little world and has a soul. You have to change instrumentation, key, volume and length for different emotions. You have to always remember how the player will experience the music. The more you can create an immersive interactive environment, the better. One thing I love to do is meet enough of people’s expectations, but then throwing in a creative twist… familiar yet different. Although I have strong influences, I don’t want to sound just like someone else. So, originality makes a great soundtrack. And about all else, memorable melodies.
COTW: Do you have a typical way of creating soundscapes for a game like Aveyond? What is your creative process?
AW: Well I create a spreadsheet with all the songs I need and notes from Amanda. Then I assign instruments for each piece. Like, for example, flute and harp. This means I can only use these instruments. Limitation is a great composition technique. I’ll do the same thing with other aspects of music, like… this one can only contain 6 different notes. I often write melodies first, often by just singing things. Sometimes I throw words in. For example, listen to “Shaenlir Castle” from Aveyond 2. I wrote the melody to the rhythm of the words, “Splendid, beautiful and cold, Castle Shaenlir.” I also plunk around on the piano. Often I find cool chords or rhythms and these become the basis for a new piece. I jump around a lot and create lots of sketches. I never throw anything away.
COTW: When working on a game soundtrack do you create by yourself or do artists featuring on Walz Music collaborate with you?
AW: Both. I myself have composed all the Aveyond songs. It’s my baby. However, my team plays the live instruments. I co-wrote one of the songs from Amaranth’s other game, Yummy Drink Factory, with one of my team members. They have also helped me write for other projects and often help me with the original design process. Sometimes when they play my pieces, they offer suggestions and note changes. I am lucky to work with really talented and creative people. Eva, Jason, Krisha, Matt, Cyndi, Teresa, Pete, LP… all of them are awesome and I couldn’t ask for more in a team. I’m so lucky and grateful. Of course, the best team member is studio mascot kitty, Palmer. He always sits and watches us record to make sure we’re doing a good job.
COTW: You are also a member of the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, how do you juggle your different musical activities?
AW: Yes I have always enjoyed spreading myself thin and like to do lots of things. I also sing with the small ensemble of GGMC, Counterpoint, so I have two rehearsals a week. I used to also sing with the San Francisco Choral Artists, so that was three nights a week! I also lead a quartet of singers and am in involved at piano bars and other local performance scenes. It keeps me feeling alive and involved when I’m busy. Honestly, how do I do it? Hmm I think I don’t waste a lot of time. I’m very pragmatic, organized and efficient. I also rarely ever watch TV or movies. And I don’t mind working really late. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m lazy just like everyone else. I love just sitting in a hot tub for hours when I get the chance, or by a pool.
COTW: What are your plans for the near future?
AW: Well I’ve been trying to woo some new clients for some time so I’ll continue to do that, even in this really hard economy. Luckily people still like and will pay for games. I haven’t taken a real vacation in several years, so maybe I can somehow manage going to Australia this summer to see loved ones. I’m going to start a few new projects pretty soon, oh and I’m trying to finish my second dance pop album this year. As always, I’ll be ramping up marketing and just trying to be seen and heard and known. Thank you very much for asking me to do this interview. It was my pleasure. I send out lots of love and appreciation to my fans and especially Aveyond players! And also to my awesome game developer clients!
Interview by CB Lux