Interview with MICK GORDON, Composer of DOOM 2k16 Soundtrack

Mick Gordon

Here is something for a change! We at Prog Sphere are definitely a big fans of DOOM franchise, and we had great expectations from this year’s take on the game. What’s even better about the new DOOM is the soundtrack composed by Mick Gordon.

Mick did great job with the combination of electronic and metal; he decided to implement extended range guitars in the sound and the outcome is quite epic: you get a game accompanied with a straight-to-the-face OST.

We talked with Mick about his work, working on projects, DOOM soundtrack, being involved in many different projects over the years, and more.

How did you get into composing for video games in the first place?

About 12 years ago I started making music on a basic computer setup and just started sending it around to different studios. After I while I was lucky enough to get some call backs and just started working from there.

Most people think that game and film soundtracks are basically the same when it comes to the structure. Do you agree with that?

Fairly well – obviously film is linear and games are interactive, but the approach is largely the same.

What is your creative process like once you have a new project before you? How do you get into the story for a certain game?

The developers usually send through concept art, story documents, etc. We chat a lot, talk about vibes and feelings and sounds, etc. Usually at this point there’s not really any game to play – it’s all on paper.

Mick Gordon

Let’s talk about the new DOOM game and the soundtrack you scored. Where did you look for the inspiration?

Just the DOOM universe itself. id Software has always had a strong legacy which is full of inspiration.

This soundtrack kinda makes me feel that it incorporates musical elements that are something you absolutely love to do: guitar sound and electonic music. Am I right?

Yeah totally man – I really love loud aggressive sounds that punch through the speakers. DOOM allowed a lot of that – it’s a lot of fun to do. It’s funny, because the music itself sounds loud and aggressive but making it is a really slow and calm process. You’ve really got to concentrate for long periods of time tweaking various frequencies and transients – it’s zen, really.

The DOOM OST is probably the “heaviest” soundtrack for a game that you worked on. How did you get into the world of extended range guitars?

We just wanted to bring a bigger, heavier and more modern sound to the game. Sure, we could do six string stuff, but that’s been done so many times before. Bringing into extended range guitars opened up new sounds.

For the purpose of getting the most evil, straight-to-the-face sound for the new DOOM, you picked a 9-string guitar. I am sure that many of the guitar players who are also fans of Doom franchise and the new soundtrack wonder about the guitar you used and its specs. So can you tell me more about it?

The 9 is just a stock Schecter Damien Platinum 9. It’s fairly basic – super light. I think I’ll swap out the pickups in the future – the stock EMGs tend to fall apart with the lower notes. I have a beautiful Mayones 8 string that I used a lot on the game – it’s featured in BFG Division. It was BKP Aftermaths in it and they hold up really well.

Schecter Damien Platinum 9

Schecter Damien Platinum 9

What’s the tuning on the 9-string you used?

It’s really stupid – ADADADGBE. Damn, right? Anyway, the point is that you have three octaves in a single fret. This frees your fingers up for other bits and you don’t have to hold weird shapes on the huge neck.

Did the guitar parts come before or after the effects? Provide some insight into the writing process for the Doom OST.

It was pretty basic – I’d set up a video of some early gameplay of the level and tap out a tempo that felt appropriate for the level of on-screen action. Once I had the tempo, I’d just set up a metronome and jam out riffs for an hour. Then, I’d take a break and come back and comb through it all looking for cool parts.

What kind of equipment, besides already mentioned guitar, did you use for scoring? Let us know about your signal chain.

Man, so much. Too much to mention. STACKS of gear. Synths (Korg MS20, Polivoks, Eurorack, etc); Pedals (Metasonix, Trogotronic, MuTron, Dwarfcraft, DeviEver, Copycat, and literally anything else I could find); Compressors (1176, Doublewide, LA3A, old massive broadcast limiters, etc). Just, heaps of gear, man. One cool trick I picked up from Sean Beavan was to record really distorted guitar parts at double speed up an octave to tape at 30ips. Then, play it back at 15ips. It’s such a cool sound – it’s really distorted but the note is still super clear.

Polivoks

What about the software and plugins?

Oh man, everything. Ha! My main DAWs are Ableton Live and FL Studio for designs and Pro Tools for mixing/arrangements. Plugins – all UAD, Waves, FabFilter, Slate, Softube, iZotope, etc. I like plugins for controlling things but I still prefer hardware. When I slam something into a hardware compressor it goes KAPUT! Plugins just don’t get there!

How do you go about overcoming challenges of fusing different styles into tracks? Doom OST is full of metal elements wrapped up with plenty of different effects and beats.

There’s obviously many different solutions. I try to find a clean, blended approach where the synths/guitars/drums/FX/whatever are all working together to reinforce an overall groove. This makes things tight and musical. Otherwise you run the risk of “Mr Potatohead” music, where you’ve got something corny like synth arps over chug chug guitars over double kick drum and it sounds like 4 bands playing at once.

Did you listen to a lot of metal when working on the DOOM OST? I’m asking because many metal fans, especially those that follow the so-called djent scene, will connect the soundtrack with bands such Meshuggah, Sikth, Periphery, Monuments, Vildhjarta, etc.

Honestly, not a lot. I had the huge pleasure of working with Fredrik Thordendal on Wolfenstein – he’s honestly the most amazing person. He’s such a nice dude!

Will the DOOM soundtrack be available for purchase?

I hope so… sigh.

I have played many of the games that you worked on in the past, and I would always have an impression that your soundtracks extend the stories of the games in a way that they form a unique entity. What is your secret for maintaining this?

Man, that’s such an awesome thing to say – thanks so much. I really don’t know how to answer that one. I guess I try to uncover something deep and meaningful about the game/character/story/whatever and find ways of accentuating that with music. Honestly, there’s a lot of luck involved. I think sometimes the placement helps, too. If you have a single piece of music – a theme, for example – and you play that over certain special moments in the story, it becomes linked to that adventure.

Over the years you worked with some of the biggest studios such EA, Microsoft, Bethesda, Ubisoft, to name but a few. How much did these experiences help you improve as a composer and a sound designer?

Every project is different and you learn so much throughout the process. Everyone works in different ways. There’s a lot of super talented people in the game industry – artists, designers, writers, programmers, etc – and these companies employ some of the best. It’s super inspiring being able to meet these people and work with them.

Mick Gordon

What’s your view on technology in music?

Music and technology have always been hand in hand – from carved wooden flutes to wooden/cat gut violins to industrial period saxophones to amplifiers and guitars to electronic engineers and synthesisers to programmers and plugins. You could say that music reflects technology almost perfectly.

You work as a freelance composer, so basically you are on your own. What are the benefits and drawbacks of being a freelancer?

The best part about the job is I wake up 10 metres from where I work. The worst part about the job is I wake up 10 metres from where I work.

Do you work on anything new at the moment? What is the future like?

Dude, so much awesome stuff! Got some announcements coming at E3, some non-game collaboration projects in the works, started working on an album, mixing some stuff, lots of trailers, etc. Lots of fun stuff, man!

I’m out of questions… Thanks for your time today, Mick. Is there anything you would love to add?

PROG SPHERE RULEZ!!!

Some photos in this post are from Mick Gordon’s archives. Visit Mick’s website for more info about his work.

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