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Whispers of the Plains: Heavy Melody

The Wonderful Heavy Melody, recently showcased in the latest Shift 2 soundtrack for their excellent remixes of various artists. They kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about their latest project. Here’s what the trio had to say:

How did Heavy Melody come together as a trio?

Dave: Neil and I met back when we were both attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. What initially began as a friendship through musical collaboration turned into a 20+ year career together.

Neil: Ari joined Heavy Melody shortly after we launched, back in 2005. He was finishing up his Masters degree at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, and was actually our first official intern. His knowledge of music combined with his technology background was a great fit for where we were headed as a company.

How did the recent project for EA’s Shift 2 come about?

Ari: We had worked with Charles Deenen (Audio Director at EA’s Blackbox studio in Vancouver, BC) on Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit for the Wii. When production ramped up on Shift 2: Unleashed, he approached us to demo for the game (composers generally compete, or “demo” as it’s termed, to score big gaming titles). After demoing multiple musical styles, remixing/recomposing a track by “30 Seconds to Mars”, we were awarded the job, creating 10 “Dirty” remixes for Shift 2.

On the remixing project for EA’s Shift 2, you were able to work with some top class bands tracks. Were there any in particular you were looking to work with?

Neil: EA had a few bands chosen once we had begun working but they where adding new bands for us to remix as the project progressed. We knew early on that STP would be one of the bands, which being fans, was very exciting for us. I have to say that all of the other bands involved were equally exciting to remix because they are all great artists. Having the creative freedom to recompose and recreate the music under the vocal was a huge thrill for us.

Dave: Technically, we didn’t actually work directly with the bands, although they had to approve all the remixes in the end. A vast majority of the direction and feedback on our work came from EA’s Audio Director (and indirectly from other EA folks).

Ari: The caliber and variety of bands chosen was truly amazing. There was an incredible range of material to work with, both contextually and stylistically. Every track got to take on a new sound of its own.

When you’re presented with a track to remix, how do you go about redoing a track Heavy Melody style?

Dave: Essentially, we start by doing a lot of experimentation. Reimagining a sound for a rock tune takes quite a bit of trial and error, to pull if off in a meaningful way.

Neil: We tend to create a host of original sounds (processed percussion, basses, guitars) to inject into the tracks. With the Shift 2 remixes, we were producing a super gritty, dirty-electro vibe for the remixes. Our goal there was to completely break down the tracks, and work toward a new version of the song that was completely different from the original arrangement. Most of the time, this involved taking bits and pieces of the vocal tracks and building the new “band” around them.

Ari: Throughout the remix process, we focused more on creating new and hard hitting sounds. For example, we would distort, EQ, compress, re-distort, and layer 4 or 5 kick drums, just to make 1 hard hitting kick for a track.

What is the most important aspect or goal for you all personally when you remix a track?

Ari: We want to enjoy, and be proud of, the end-result. What fun is it to work on and produce a track that you don’t like? They also have to sound “real” – radio ready – when you listen to them. On the production side, we like hard-hitting, edgy, gritty music with a solid, in-your-face sound, so this gig was a perfect fit for us…you can never have enough punch!

Of late Heavy Melody have been quite busy writing and remixing for the gaming medium, but you have also composed for TV and adverts. Does your approach change to creating music depending on what type of music you’re looking to make? Is it easier to create music for say a 30 second advert, than it is to create a fully realised four minute track for a game?

Dave: That’s a tricky question, because it really depends on the scope of project. Sometimes 30 seconds can take what seems like FOREVER to get right! In general, though, budgets can tend dictate the way in which we work. Every gig we take on tend to introduce unique challenges, whether it’s with creative direction, or expectations of the client. There are times where we’ll spend more than a week perfecting a track, because we have the resources to do so. These days, commercial advertising tends to have very fast turnarounds, with shrinking budgets. While we do our very best to nail the clients creative vision, sometimes there isn’t the opportunity to fully produce a track the way we’d like (by hiring live players or singers, for example). No matter what the job is, we always work with the idea of being solution orientated.

You also run a company called Heavyocity which develops virtual instruments. Tell us more about this, the product itself and how the idea came about.

Neil: Heavyocity was Dave’s brainchild, but it came into existence as a result all of us creating a wealth of our own unique percussive and musical elements. As composers and sound designers, we were filling in the holes that were left by the 3rd party virtual instruments and samples that we were using in our projects. At a certain point, we realized we could create a lucrative “business” by offering it to fellow composers, sound designers and producers. We launched the company in 2008, and have seen incredible success with our three instruments – Evolve, Evolve Mutations, and Evolve Mutations 2. The instruments stem from a more non-traditional approach, in terms of their sound. They introduce new ways, or options, when it comes to composing music in an industry that is, itself, evolving!

Do you have any particular stories or feel good moments from hearing your own creations popping up elsewhere or unexpectedly? They must be everywhere since its becoming such a must have product!

Dave: At this point, it’s seemingly impossible to NOT hear one of our sounds whether we’re watching movies or television, or playing video games. A massive number of working composers own one or more of our virtual instruments. We’ve developed relationships with many of them, which is really cool, because it allows us to get important feedback that we ourselves might not have come up with. Overall, it’s really gratifying to know that our sound is helping to inspire others in their creative journeys. On a funny side note, we sometimes joke about being on flights offering Direct TV, and not being able to escape the Heavyocity sound!

What’s next for Heavy Melody?

Ari: We have a couple of very exciting unannounced projects that we’re up for in the gaming and television worlds. We’ve been working on an exciting new unannounced Heavyocity Product for quite a while. We’re also working on a new music licensing initiative that we’re ramping up as we speak, recently launching “Heavy Promos”, a 10 disk set of licensable tracks. We’re going to be very busy composing this summer, and working with live orchestra. We’re very much looking forward to continuing to expand both our audience, and our sound!

Wow! That sounds like their summer breaks will be short and sweet! We’d like to thank Heavy Melody for taking the time to talk us HPM and wish them best of luck with the Shift 2 soundtrack and their continued assault on music technology that we are all thankful for!

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