I am Frank Klepacki - Audio Director, Composer and Sound Designer for Petroglyph. Known for my soundtracks in the Command & Conquer First Decade, and a certain track named "Hell March." Currently working on End OF Nations!
Oct 17th 2012 by rocktronic • 59 Questions • 1501 Points
Frank Klepacki has worked on titles for top publishers in the video game industry for over 21 years. He is the Audio Director, Composer, and Sound Designer for PETROGLYPH, having worked on titles there such as Star Wars Empire at War, and overseeing, implementing, and content creating for all audio aspects of the End of Nations project. Had worked at Westwood Studios for 12 years having composed for projects such as Command & Conquer, Blade Runner, Dune 2, and The Lion King just to name a few.
Did you ever think when you composed Hell March that it would become such a recognizable anthem for gamers
Nope. sure didn't. I just thought it was a cool metal tune to have in the game. It blew me away when it got the resounding response it got, and the fact people still talk about it today is just amazing and I'm so grateful!
I have several of your songs on my iPod to this day. Hell March is on my work playlist. Thanks for being such an inspirational part of my childhood!
Happy and flattered to have been an inspiration, thank you!
Thanks from the entire community of metal head RTS fans. Hell March is the theme tune for our childhoods and It inspired a lot of my friends to pick up a guitar.
Kick ass! Thanks!
Hi Frank, first I want to say I am a big fan of your work and music.
My questions are:
What is the favorite song you've written, and what soundtrack did you enjoy working on the most?
That is always the hardest question to answer! When you've written a thousand songs in your career, you can understand why that would be a little tough to narrow down, hehe. I have multiple favorites: Hell March (Red Alert), Got A Present For ya (Renegade), Divine Intervention (Universe At War), DogFight (Renagade), Zann Consortium Theme (Star Wars Forces OF Corruption), Prepare For Battle (Command & Conquer). I know there are others too. I would have to say Star Wars was my favorite to work on from a fan standpoint, as far as a completely original soundtrack goes, End Of Nations for sure. I think its some of my best work to date.
I remember having the most fun with Yuris Revenge (RA2 expnasion) and Firestorm (TS expansion). But also the original. That really felt new and special when we were working on it.
The original C&C soundtrack is, in my opinion, the coolest sounding ost ever. In the song "Target", where did the line "I'm a mechanical man" come from; did you just pull it out from nowhere, did something inspire it, or was it an existing sound byte that you decided to use? It's just so damn catchy!
Edit: This song, for those that are wondering:www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-lu73OdZJw
Hehe, I heard that said somewhere, and though it was cool, so I recorded myself saying it and put it in the song. It was inspired by the idea of piloting a mech. ;)
Sir, Act on Instinct was one of the first songs from a game soundtrack that I ever chose to listen to outside of the game.
And for that, I thank you.
Much appreciated! Keep rockin!
FRANK! I love your work in the command & conquer series! Made me buy the music tracks of red allert 3.
Thank you so much!
I really enjoyed my trip the Netherlands when I performed for Games In Concert there with the Metropole Orchestra.
I've always wondered how you got started with Westwood, C&C was the first game whose soundtrack I actually took notice of (Airstrike is still my favourite)
Thanks! I started as a game tester over summer before my last year of high school. I reapplied for the audio department when I graduated.
Do you/your staff use any DAWs in your music production? What software is involved in soundtracks like C&C or End of Nations?
I have always used Cubase since it first appeared on the PC! So every game soundtrack I've ever worked on since then has been done with Cubase in all it's versions over the years, all the C&C's up til now.
Hi Frank. First, I'd like to thank you for this. It was one of the best concerts I've seen.
Now for the question. Lately I've been listening to Rammstein and I've noticed some similarities in the music style. Are they of influence to your music or is it just a coincidence? Also, after wondering for 10+ years. What is being said in Hell March 1? All I hear is 3,4,5 (in english) "Geef acht" (dutch for 'stand attention')
Awesome! Games In Concert did rock! Loved being there, and for the record, best version of Hell March 3 in my opinion. ;) Live it had so much more punch.
Yes I've been influenced by some of Rammsteins music, absolutley.
The phrase is German "Die waffen, legt an" roughly translates "Ready weapons"
I love your work, and I am a huge fan of Renegade.
What was working at Westwood like? did Joseph Kucan really get the job as Kane from a 7-11 lottery/raffle?
I am sure you are aware, but Top Gear used Hell March in one of their episodes, I was blown away when I heard it.
Lastly, if you still have any ties with EA, you should ask them to release Renegade free for download like they with the early C&C games, and hand over any and all Renegade 2 stuff they have lying around. I am sure the community will be more than willing to take it over.
Working at Westwood was like a big family, great place to work and had a fun company culture, loved my time there.
No Joe didn't get the gig from a lottery, but he just sees it that way. You see, one day going into work, there was a deli next door, and Joe was sleeping right next to it, homeless, picking up scraps from whoever left the deli. One day the artists neeed a live male nude model to reference for 3d modeling. So they offered Joe a quick paying gig to nude model for a couple of hours so they could get all angles captured and translate it to the 3d tests. He just kept coming back and wouldn't leave, he kept offering to clean the office, the bathrooms, and they kept paying him because they felt bad. Then one day our receptionist went into labor unexpectedly in the lobby, and Joe without hesitation ran to help her and actually delivered her baby. We were in shock and he was the hero of the day. So then finally someone asked what his resume was, and sure enough we learned he was a former contestant on Star Search, which is a talent show that was popular in the 80's, but he lost his final round as a comedian and had struggled ever since, working odd jobs in truck stops and t-shirt wholesalers and the like. We hadn't considered the part of Kane yet, but they were shooting test footage the next day and Joe was helping set up the camera when it had come loose from the tripod and fell on his head. Cursing up a storm, he lunged it back on the tripod yelling at it for a good minute, and hit it a couple times before getting it out of his system and apologizing, cause he had kinda freaked us out with his outburst. What none of us realized is that the camera started rolling on the impact, and recorded the whole thing. This very footage was edited by the video crew, and used to show at the next game conference to build hype around C&C, and hence got him the role of Kane.
Footage is in the original trailer at 1:39 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aui392986EE
It was slowed down from actual speed.
At what age did you first get into music? Also, favorite group/artist?
Well music's been in my family from birth. But the age I took genuine interest was 8 when I began to learn the drums.
Again, several favorite groups! Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Metallica, Anthrax, Rob Zombie, AC/DC, Van Halen, VInce Dicola, Bob Schneider, Nine Inch Nails, E.S. Posthumus - I'm answering quickly, but I know theres more!
Hi Frank. Your music is part of my childhood. I don't really have a question. I just wanted to say that.
What franchise/game would be your dream to work on?
What are your thoughts on gaming soundtracks today, comparing it with ~15-20 years ago?
Dream to work on? Transformers. I really enjoy the War for Cybertron & Fall of Cybertron games and I would totally dig composing in the universe. And while I was at it, I'd bring in Vince Dicola too because he's the king of Transformers music in my book!
Game soundtracks today are of the same bar of quality as anything else, film , tv, or otherwise. Now with that said, the only thing that makes it special is the actual composition itself. So I find it few and far between that a soundtrack really gets my attention, because alot of them sound the same. And I think a lot of that has to do with people asking composers for the same types of cues over and over again. The typical hollywood action score. I'm a big advocate for creative freedom (within reason of course) and I appreciate much more when a composer is allowed to be more creative and give a personaility to a soundtrack. Its the reason any of my work has resonated with anyone. I was allowed to take chances throughout most of my career.
As someone who likes the darker, moodier Tiberian Sun stuff as much of the rock n' roll carnage of your other work, what inspirations did you draw on for Tiberian Sun and what artists would you recommend to someone who loved your OST for that game?
Thanks for scoring my the RTSes of my childhood with badass music, btw :)
Well, of course I can't take total credit for Tiberian Sun, I worked on that with my friend Jarrid Mendelson. We each wrote half the tracks, and then co-wrote I think 5 of them together in the same room. Those 5 are among my personal favorites in the game because I think we did more experimentally cool stuff together as a team bouncing ideas off each other and recording riff after riff like clockwork. I don't recall listening to anything else in particular other than to just go for this cool moody post-apocalyptic vibe with synths that was different from all the other C&Cs.
In the new game End Of Nations, I have track in there called "Sludge" which is very much along the lines of the TS vibe with live orchestra incorporated.
At what point in the development of games do the developer turn to you to start making music? Do they generally have an idea of what they're after or are you allowed to compose based on what you see?
I like to get involved early, when the first slices of gameplay or first level prototype is working well.
I like to set the stage for what the music will be early on and start composing right then, it's important to establish some original ideas early on and see what the team responds to or what kind of feel they might have initally, and then I take that and start fresh with the inital ideas and feedback to see what forms out of it. Then it's a gradual process of filling in the game as its made, and allows for more time to see how it can be improved or changed over time as the devlelopment continues. That is the luxury of being in-house. If you freelance, then generally you get called at the very end of the project and you have to rush a large amount of music out the door in a short amount of time.
What is your inspiration for your music? Which other video game composers you like listen to?
Thanks for your time, love your work ever since CnC tiberium dawn.
I have multiple inspirations. Most notable throughout my career that are the big ones are John Williams, Vince Dicola, and Michael Kamen as far as film composers go. I listen to a ton of different bands and that has shaped my musical taste and style as a composer as well over the years. Other game composers I listen to are Jonathan vd Wijngaarden, Alexander Brandon, Jack Wall, Steve Burke, Wataru Hokoyama
I remember buying Red Alert 2 at Best Buy and as a bonus getting the soundtracks to C&C, Red Alert, Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2. I'm surprised the CD's didn't stop working from wear and still have the songs on my iPod.
Are there times when you listen to music and think "Why didn't I think of that?" or is it more a "I should work in similar elements into my next piece?"
In terms of other composers for video game franchises are there any that you'd really like to work with? any composers in general?
RA2 was a blast to work on.
As fas thinking "Why didn't I think of that?" or is it more a "I should work in similar elements into my next piece?" Can't say I ever look at it that way. I tend to live in the moment and if I try too hard is doesn't come naturally or doesnt meet my own expectation. There are perhaps cool sounds or instruments I hear in other songs or a cool rhtyhm and I'll make mental note of it and use it as an influence later, thats probably the closest methodology I have to your question.
As far as other composers go, see my answer to Walterion. ;)
Another tough question that merits multiple answers! Favorite classic 80s stand-up arcade game is 720 degrees. Favorite FPS is Unreal Tournament. Favorite RTS is a tie between C&C Yuris Revenge, C&C Firestorm, and Star Wars Empire At War. Love me some GTA IV too.
Thank you for such great music. I have listened to Hell March countless times ever since I first heard it so many years ago. Did you experiment with other voice samples for the song?
Thanks! No, I wrote it really fast and got everything in it straight away - one of those things that just came to me instantly, I knew what I wanted to do with it without question. :)
G'day, Frank, long time fan.
Back in the SNES/N64 days composers didn't have a lot to work with so they had to express themselves with less. I think this is the reason most classic VGM pieces come from that time period.
From my own experience I have noticed that many modern games don't bother with unique soundtracks and only use the generic orchestrals or metal music we have heard a thousand times before.
But these are exceptions. Not the rule.
I guess the question I'm trying to convey here is that, do you think the overall quality of soundtracks has gone down over time?
I love this question because I have really thought about this recently. When you have limitations, you have to be clever in thinking of ways to utilize whats availbale to you to its fullest capacity. I had to really push how my stuff sounded on the early PC games, and Sega Genesis and SNES to get it to a point where I found it acceptable. And in working with that melody and bass lines and how they counter each other becomes extremely important, and cleverly filling in the spaces in between to make it interesting, using mulitple instrument changes, tempo changes, and hand editing instruments to sound a certain way, using pitch and dynamics as much as you can, its challenging!
The thing now is because the quality is on par with everything else, the compositions themselves now has to be the thing that stands out. I always go back to why I think John Williams is a genius for orchestral music. You will always walk away with a memorable theme from him, vs the average orchestral score from someone else. So the only difference is the score itself, not the instrumentation. So bottom line, you just have to compose well to make an impact. I rememebr very clearly the themes from Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Harry Potter. I can't rattle off that many movies from a single other composer that I truly remember walking out of theater and humming the theme the next day.
Tony replied "Is this Zach Galifianakis?"
Hey Frank, just wanted to begin by saying that I'm a massive fan of your work, especially on the C&C series.
I'd also like to say a big thanks to you on behalf of the C&C Renegade community and from all of us over at Bluehell Productions who are making free C&C FPS games for people to enjoy. :)
My question is, what's your favourite unit from the Red Alert universe and your favourite unit from the Tiberian Universe and which one do you think would win in a fight?
Ok that was technically three questions, but yeah. :p
You're awesome man; rock on! lml
Give my best to the community!
From RA, I like the Terror Drone, nasty little things!
From Tiberian, gotta go with the Commando. And he would win, cause hey, he's gotta present for ya.
What did you do during your education to get where you are now?
I was a professioanl performing musican at a very young age and starting composing and recording during hgih school, so I had a head start on forming what I wanted to do. I was in a very unique position to start in the game industry out of high school, the first platform I worked on was the NES! A far cry of whats required for games nowadays. I got to progress on the job as the technology advanced in PC and consoles. Education is absolutely necessary now before you do anything, and fortunatly there are much more college courses for audio now, and even full game development colleges which didn't exist when I got started.
Don't have a question for you, but I love your music! I listen to a Spotify playlist on repeat at work: http://open.spotify.com/user/128298635/playlist/3IHywxf3EyieTzd2ZrB8vv
I like a lot of your non-game music, as well. Thanks for all the good work you do!
If/when they remake the Dune movie can you please please please do the soundtrack?
I'd be happy to! Be sure to drop me the director/producers phone #. ;)
"Oh my God, it's Frank Klepacki!" - Me, two minutes ago
No questions, I just wanted to say I love your compositions. Especially in the Command and Conquer series, I think I might have to dig out RA2 now.
Thanks for all the great music! I'm currently using your tracks (primarily from Red Alert / Red Alert 2) to help my infant son go to sleep. (Makes it more enjoyable to play Hell March or Workmen than some generic lulliby.) Thanks again!
Nice! fast forward 20 years later - "You're son is doing great on the job, but for some reason he marches everywhere..." ;)
Do you get inspired by any games (that you worked on or not) to compose your solo projects?
My solo albums are generally a separate thing from the games, and it's more about writing cool tunes in the styles that enjoy, a lot of which happens to be in the rocktronic style I've zeroed in on with much of my C&C work in the past. BUT, now that you mention it...
The Morphscape album had a few early C&C inspired tracks, and I can say that my Infiltrator album would have been what I might have done with the RA3 soundtrack had I had the opportunity to do more tracks, I was working on it at the same time I was doing RA3, in the event that I would have been asked to contribute more. ;)
What are some influences that helped in your thought process as a composer? (Music Education Major Here)
How to get my brain to separate the sections / instruments melodies, counter-melodies and chords of a fully played piece. In orchestra rehearsal, the conductor often asks only trumpets play bar 9-16, only winds play bar x-x, etc. When you really listen when this happens, you get a clear picture of what makes the compostion you are playing work. That is one though process that is helpful.
Another is to write a piece with complete focus on only the bass line, and the melody. I find these to be the most essential bare bones to sketch out your idea with and then fill in the blanks later.
The mere sound of an instrument. We are so fortunate to be in an age where you can have a synthesizer in front of you and literally play any sound with it, rather than the old days of a composer with a piano and a feather pen. It's so easy to be instantly inspired by whatever instrument you happen to play a chord with as you switch between them, that you start writing to that sound immediately. Then dial up a new sound, write a new part. Maybe they don't go togther, but could be "made to" by coming up with a clever key change or transistion from one part to the next.
Bottom line, it has to "fit" the purpose its for. Composing freely has no rules, but if it's for a client or specific purpose, then you must focus on that emotion and make decisions on tempo, instrument choice, octave and key in order to compliment what is required.
Leave it alone, come back to it later. You can get to a point where you are no longer feeling the piece progress or you can't think of where to take it next. When that happens, save your work, get up, go do something else, even leave it til the next day, come back to it fresh.
Grew up with the C&C series, especially Generals and Red Alert 3. Loved your music in the latter (specifically Hell March 3). I'm a hobbyist game designer now and I borrow a lot of inspiration from C&C.
Would've loved your work in Generals and I read in your wiki article that you submitted an application to EA but wasn't contacted. After hearing the final soundtrack for Generals, what's your take on it? Anything different you would've done?
Thanks! You heard my Generals demo eh? Yeah what happened was our sister office in Irvine was developing Generals, and usually all audio was done by our team in Vegas, and this was the first time they sought it elsewhere. When I asked if they would still want me to do the soundtrack, they said to submit a demo, so I came up with a demo and forwarded it. I was hoping for some feedback, or a yes or no, but instead I heard nothing, and I saw the announcement later online same as everyone else that they chose Bill Brown. Who I thought did some cool stuff by the way, but the point is communication from the team on that would have been nice, seeing as I had been close to the C&C name and worked on every game in the series up to that point.
One of my favourite things about you, Mr. Klepacki, is that when one starts looking into what you do, they quickly learn that you seemingly just make music all the time. You have a bunch of records on Spotify, and most of them aren't even from videogames. It's just you making music, for funsies. I think it's awesome that videogames alone can not contain your compulsion to make music, I like that, shows a passion.
What's your musical background, and what all do you play? And what do you listen to when you're not making music for or generally being the Audio Wizard for Petroglyph?
First of all, I'm laughing hysterically at your username!
Thank you for the kind words, indeed it is my passion, since forever.
There is a need for me to express in one area what I find I can't fit in somewhere else. So that drives me. I play drums, guitar, bass, keys, and sing. I listen to a bit of everything, what ever I'm in the mood for. Generally though, my casual listening usually finds its way to either funk, or metal.
Hi Frank, big fan of Westwood' Blade Runner. I blame the music greatly for that.
When you have to compose a song without visuals (as in, a BGM or a Main Theme), which method do you prefer to understand the vision by the author(s): Through lengthy descriptions, or just brief notes?
When working in a soundtrack, do you like having musical references (such as "check out that one blockbuster movie soundtrack or that music composer style") and work your own way from there, or do you like making the whole soundtrack from scratch?
Which kind of music genre do you think it hasn't been covered enough in videogames in the last ten years?
And lastly, what's the last movie you went to see in a theater? Did you like the soundtrack?
I loved working on Blade Runner. I'm a huge fan of the film soundtrack, and it was a fun challenge to recreate from scratch some of those signature themes apart from adding some of my own in.
Composing without visuals you gretly rely on descriptions, design documents, or a personal meeting with designers or producers to get a sense or sight some examples of what the desired feel should be.
A little of both on referncing and making from scratch. I like to take in the examples as influences and filter them through my compositions in my own way to see if I can make it my own or add something original to it to identify it with the project rather than emulate something directly.
Genre thats hasn't been covered, hmmm, well I'd like to see more melody come back above all else. and any unique approach is always nice to hear no matter the genre.
The last movie I saw in the theater where I enjoyed the soundtrack was The Avengers. I had to see who scored it at the end, and sure enough, Alan Silvestri - whos work I also love!
No question Frank. Just an honest big thanks. Your heavy guitar sounds made me buy my own guitar. Rock on!