ABOUT ME

My name is Jeremiah Sun and I've been a fan of instrumental music my whole life. I've been playing piano since I was five, and growing up, enjoyed listening to film and game soundtracks. Composing was not something I had any real interest in until recently. I've only briefly dabbled in it in a high school music theory class, and again for a church storytelling project for kids.

It wasn't until mid 2012, when I decided to become a solo game developer, that I revisited music composition. With no budget to hire a composer to compose music of significant quality and length I aspired to have for my game, (hours upon hours of orchestrated music even few AAA games can boast about) I rolled up my sleeves and attempted to teach myself how to produce digital music.

Looking back on my naive past self, it is a wonder how far I've been able to come. I blindly upgraded my computer, bought some sample libraries and a sequencer program, and brute forced my way into this field. I am still far from the best there is out there, but my unique journey, coupled with my additional skills in art, game design, programming, and storytelling, have allowed me to become a one-of-a-kind composer with a fresh approach to music creation.

With few exceptions, most modern soundtracks are servicable at best and forgettable at worst. It's a shame that deadlines, budgets and perceived value of music prevents truly great music from being realized. This is especially tough when a game producer has little knowledge of music theory, or a composer has no experience in game design. When the writing, visuals, and mechanics have exhausted their potential in communicating setting and plot, it is up to the music to step in and take the player to new emotional heights. This vision and principle is embodied in what I call myself, The Second Narrator.

MY PROCESS AND INSPIRATION

Using Music to Describe Story

I do not have a strict step-by-step procedure on how I come up with music. Sometimes, I sketch out ideas on piano, other times I play around with various instruments, and other times I jump in blind and see what happens. All the theory, tools, software, technical prowess I acquire are just tools that I may or may not depend on. The advantage of teaching myself composition instead of having it taught is that I am free to define on my own terms what "good instrumental music" should sound like.

First of all, in a heavy story and character-driven game, I think everything should have motifs and leitmotifs. Call this the Nobuo Uematsu school of composition. I come up with melodies and short phrases to describe all the characters, geography, and plot elements. With these at my disposal, the soundtrack itself comes relatively easier.

My observation of the use of music used in modern games is that most of the time it's there just to complement the visuals and set the mood. The mood itself is extremely static and hardly changes. If you removed the main theme from most fantasy RPGS, I would not be able to tell the soundtracks apart. My most important rule for myself is "always tell a story." It does not matter if the music is for a custscene, a battle, or just used as background in a forest. Creativity extends far beyond picking out the appropriate instrumentation and playing harmonies at the right volume level. There is always so much opportunity to enhance the emotions the player could be having. Using the motifs I've come up with, I can subtly weave them in the music piece to "Incept" the thoughts I want to be in the player's head. If an important charcter died earlier in the game, I can use pieces of that character's theme in appropriate places later to make the player's sense of loss that much greater. Or let's say you're navigating through an oh so familiar fire level. Instead of the usual male choir voices and aggressive brass just playing out long notes, I can instead use the music to describe the enemies in that area, or reiterate the music used in previous story scenes, or tease the theme of the boss to make the player feel he could be crushed at any moment.

Arranging Songs

When orchestrating songs, I keep myself 90% respectful of the source, and 10% rebellious. It was through arranging The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening that I developed most of my principles for pure composition. Especially when evaluating how to update music that was played on primitive hardware, I ask myself how would the composers have done it differently when given an unlimited budget and high-end equipment instead? And then, the 10% rebellious side of me will sometimes ignore that answer too, because I have even higher aspirations for what I want the music to accomplish.


My Influences

With all that I've shared, you may still be wondering specifically how I determine what my music sounds like. I enjoy thunderous swells, soaring melodies, fast ostinatos, playful countermelodies, frequent use of motifs, and lots of other stuff I can't describe well. Here are some of the masters that influence my work.

  • NOBUO UEMATSU

    — I admire his frequent use of leitmotifs and classical style in his earlier Final Fantasy soundtracks, VI beind my absolute favorite
  • HIROYUKI SAWANO

    — The Attack on Titan composer is the most recent on this list and quickly becoming my favorite. His XenobladeX Chronicles soundtrack defies any sort of convention. I admire how he is able to mash EDM, rock and orchestral instruments together to create something that is exciting and unique to the ears.
  • HANS ZIMMER

    — He has sound itself figured out to a science. His epic instrumentations are wondrous to behold and widely ripped off by others. But I also enjoy his riskier approaches, such as Sherlock Holmes and his recent Interstellar soundtrack.
  • JOHN WILLIAMS

    — Though I don't listen to him as much, his music has such iconic themes, and his orchestrations are very exciting with each orchestral section having interesting things to do besides "play in unison."
  • BLAKE ROBINSON

    — A big shout out to Blake Robinson and his fantastic Chrono Trigger Symphony, an epic orchestration of the entire Chrono Trigger Soundtrack. This was what inspired me to follow the same template for Link's Awakening and as a result improve my skills ten fold.
  • ROMANTIC/CONTEMPORARY ERA COMPOSERS

    — Mostly due to my piano background. I am always impressed by the intricate articulations from composers such as Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. They can sound complicated, but do not sacrifice musicality.

Great Soundtracks to Study

These are the soundtracks I listen to extensively, and I think are great for anyone wanting examples of great use of supporting music. If you've actually watched the movie/played the game, you'll appreciate it even more. This list is not a definitive list, just showcasing the ones that resonated with me the most.

  • Batman Begins
  • Ben Hur
  • The Bible TV Miniseries
  • Chrono Trigger
  • The Dark Knight
  • Final Fantasy IV
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening
  • Gladiator
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Interstellar
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
  • Nier
  • Okami
  • Princess Mononoke
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Schindler's List
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • Tron: Legacy
  • Xenoblade Chronicles

Software

  • Presonus Studio One
  • Ableton Live
  • iZotope Ozone 5

Sample Libraries

  • 8dio Agitato Grandiose Legato Strings
  • 8dio Claire Woodwinds
  • 8dio Ukulele Solo & Strummer
  • East West Hollywood Strings
  • East West Hollywood Brass
  • East West Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds
  • East West Symphonic Choir
  • East West Stormdrum 2 & 3
  • East West Ministry of Rock 2
  • Cinesamples CineStrings
  • Cinesamples CineBrass
  • Cinesamples CineWinds
  • Cinesamples CinePerc
  • Cinesamples Dulcimer & Zither
  • LA Scoring Strings FC
  • ERA Medieval Legends II
  • Forest Kingdom II
  • Ivory II Grand Piano
  • ProjectSAM Concert Harp EXP
  • MusicLab RealGuitar
  • Soundiron Olympus Symphonic Choir
  • Soundiron Voice of Rapture - Soprano

Hardware

  • Windows PC with 32 GB RAM
  • A boatload of SSDs
  • Roland FP-7F Digital Piano
  • M-Audio Axiom 49 Midi Controller
  • M-Audio BX5 D2 Studio Monitors
  • M-Audio M-Track Quad USB Audio Interface
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Headphones
MY WORKS

Resurrected Memories

April 2015 -> Ongoing

After finishing Link's Awakening, I decided to branch out and arrange tunes from many games that I've enjoyed. Many games have a couple tracks that I love and wish to hear orchestrated, and exploring different games and genres allows me to expand my self-study beyond the light-hearted/grand tone of the Zelda games. All tracks can be downloaded on Patreon.

Borealis Original Soundtrack

July 2014

This project has the honor of being my very first paid composing job. Massive Square, a modest development studio, asked me to compose background music for an Oculus Rift tech demo game. The demo takes place in an otherworldly forest where the Aurora Borealis possesses magical powers and is the focal point of the story. I used these elements to compose a highly atmospheric series of pieces that underscore the setting appropriately. The main melody in the forest theme is catchy and reused again in the end teaser to bring everything into a cohesive theme. With a tight deadline, I was able to compose all the tracks in 3 days, showing my ability for fast turnarounds.

More information on the project can be found here.

CONTACT ME