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Hexany Audio Composer Steven Grove Breaks Down the Music of Critical Role

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What began in 2012 as a bunch of friends playing RPGs in each other’s living rooms, has evolved into a multi-platform entertainment sensation, attracting over half a million viewers every week. After launching a successful animated show for Amazon and releasing numerous books, Critical Role is now expanding into music. On June 21st, they released the Welcome to Tal’Dorei soundtrack album with nearly an hour of immersive music inspired by Tal’Dorei and their world of Exandria in the Critical Role campaigns. One of the composers involved with the project is Hexany Audio’s Steven Grove. We spoke to him below about how the Critical Role musical landscape was created.

-Did you watch Critical Role before you started working on it? If not, how did you familiarize yourself with the project?

While I had played tabletop and roleplaying games in the past, I was relatively new to the world of Critical Role, so I was excited to watch a few episodes to prepare before starting work. Reviewing the episodes helped me to get a great feel for how the Game Master conducts the show.

-How would you describe the music you created for the show?

I produced a few tracks for the project that ranged from pounding epic orchestral fantasy to lighter and more ethereal tracks. The project called for many different emotions, so there was a lot of variety with regards to mood and atmosphere that they desired to capture.

In all of the tracks I recorded my own voice and processed the recordings in such a way to make them sound otherworldly. For the battle tracks, this meant singing in a low gravelly tone, layering and stacking the voices on top of one another; while for the softer tracks, the tone was clearer and more plaintive with formant shifting to render them more angelic.

Critical Role has a few other composers attached. Did you all meet together at any point to discuss the sounds you were creating?

There were several composers at Hexany Audio that worked on the project and during production we did listen to each other’s work to keep the sound cohesive. There was also a lot of excitement about the project and everyone was eager to share what they had written. Our music team lead wrangled us all to be sure we stayed consistent with the vision of the project.

-How would you describe your compositional process for Critical Role? Do you score the track from beginning to end or do you bounce around?

Usually, I like to complete a 1-minute demo before producing the entire track, that way we can receive feedback from the developer, discuss the direction, and discover early in the process if the piece is capturing the appropriate feeling that the client envisioned.

Once we receive feedback, I then start to sketch out the track to full length, incorporating any notes from the client and developing the themes from the demo. First, I think through things in broad strokes and then refine and polish the material as I work through the track. I always have TextEdit open and will make note of ideas that I want to achieve in the track or just general notes for areas I would like to come back to later.

With the music for Critical Role we had to rely on our imagination instead of being inspired by gameplay captures, storyboards, or artwork; while it was different in process, it permitted a level of freedom that was enjoyable since we were not tied to any extra musical event or game mechanic.

Critical Role is probably a lot different from the other projects you have scored, because of the fact that you don’t know ahead of time where your music might be placed. What sort of visuals do you use in this case?

That was one of the bigger challenges with this project. I don’t think I needed much in the way of visual inspiration, I was just excited to get started and had many solid ideas before I even started writing! I’ve also played Dungeon and Dragons many times before so I’m confident those experiences helped to inspire my imagination.

-Going back to the last question, when you have seen the broadcast show and where they inserted your music, what were your thoughts?

Some of my colleagues have shared moments when their music was featured in the show and I thought that it worked brilliantly and really helped to elevate the experience. I think it was a great idea to add original music to the show and I’m really proud that I was able to contribute.

-With all the music you have created over the years, would you say you have a signature style, musically?

That’s difficult to pin down since I tend to produce music in many different genres, but I do notice certain melodic sensibilities or production related decisions that make a track sound like me. I often feel the most creative and comfortable when working in a hybrid medium, fusing orchestral elements with interesting synth programming and sound design, or recording unique instruments. I have collected quite a few world instruments over the years and really enjoy learning and using unique instruments in my compositions.

-A side question, when you are scoring a video game that is only released for mobile devices, do you score it differently?

The process is for the most part very similar. With mobile games we don’t typically have as many requests for the music to be interactive with branching and layering but the process is much the same.

-Is there a type of project that you haven’t gotten to work on yet, that you would like to?

I’m still waiting on that Blade Runner project! Honestly, I enjoy the variety of different requests that we get commissioned to write at Hexany Audio. The variety really helps to keep me motivated and inspired!

You can learn more about Hexany Audio at https://hexanyaudio.com/. 

Editor-in-Chief at DroidJournal. A tech-enthusiast, guitarist, and an anime fanboy!

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