Video Game Music is Having a Moment. Vanesa Tate Will Make Sure It Lasts
The newly awarded MCV/Women in Games Award winner and King Catalog Games Director on the evolution of video game music, her own career evolution, and the bright future (for both) ahead
Early in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry slams his fists against an armoire and unsettles a framed photo of his late parents, which shatters to the floor. It’s OK if you don’t remember it. It’s hardly an iconic moment. But that subtle crack of the glass shattering turned out to be the sound of fledgling audio director Vanesa Tate breaking through.
Six months after graduating from university, Tate had already amassed enough experience working on music and sound design for advertisements and films to start her own company. While mixing in a studio that had recently become part of Warner Brothers, her work got noticed and she was invited to step into one of the biggest movie franchises in history.
“All of a sudden, I got a call asking, ‘Are you free to work on something?’,” says Tate. “So, I went in, sat down, and opened up the computer screen - and I see it’s Harry Potter. And I'm like, ‘Oh my god.’”
The job proved to be big in more ways than one. “I received the sound files for that day of shooting and when it came to the glass shattering I was like, ‘This is wrong. It sounds really processed and fake.’ And I thought, what should I do? I'm so young, and only at the start of my career and this is only the second day of this job working on such a big movie franchise ” says Tate. “But I couldn’t allow it to happen, so I had to speak up. And they agreed and changed the whole recording process - I even went out and bought an actual frame to smash! That was the start for me, and it gave me the confidence to continue to trust my instincts and abilities.”
To say that trust has paid off is an understatement. Tate embarked on a journey that would take her from feature films to video games to an instrumental (no pun intended…maybe) role in the future of King’s Catalog Games. Oh, and as of this week, she’s also happens to be an MCV/Develop Women in Games 2023 “Creative Impact” award winner.
Born in Buenos Aires, Tate was a self-described “geek” who was passionate about music and endlessly fascinated by video games.
“I remember playing video games as a child. I took some coding classes when I was six or seven, so I was already kind of a geek,” she says. “We had a Commodore 64 and 128 that I would play games on. I also had my music and sports, so I didn’t play all the time, but I always enjoyed it.” A few years after Harry Potter, while Tate was doing sound design on Hellboy II, the post-production team mentioned that they also worked on video games; Tate’s dormant inner gamer perked up. “I was like, ‘What do you do? How do you do it? Tell me everything about it!’ I was so interested. And then they hired me to do assets for an early Wolfenstein game.”
Tate’s interest in games grew, and she found herself at King in January 2020 as Head of Audio, just in time for the company to begin gearing up for the 10-year anniversary of its flagship game, Candy Crush. To honor the milestone, Tate led the charge in giving the mobile game’s soundtrack an aural facelift.
“In early 2021, I thought we had to revamp the whole soundscape of Candy Crush Saga,” she says. “Our priority was always to give the best possible experience to the players, and I saw a big opportunity in celebrating Candy Crush’s 10-year anniversary with new music and sound effects.”
Tate then appointed Sebastian Aav to compose a new score for the game which then found themselves, naturally, at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London recording the completed compositions with a full orchestra.
“Recording at Abbey Road Angel Studios was magnificent,” she says. “The acoustics are fantastic, in addition to the quality of the recording engineers and assistants. We all felt very humbled by it. And the choice of this particular recording studio was important – it set a clear message about the level of quality from the players and the conductor.”
With composer Bear McCreary recently nominated in the inaugural “Best Soundtrack Score for Video Games and Other Interactive Media” category at the 2023 Grammy Awards (for his Call of Duty: Vanguard score, incidentally also recorded at Abbey Road Studios), Tate is among a vibrant new wave of composers and audio designers finally getting video games the recognition they deserve in the entertainment industry.
“Video games are bigger than the film and music industries combined,” says Tate. “The reach music can have in relation to a video game setting is incredible; the emotional connection to the games we love is important to recognize. It can bring back so many childhood memories and feelings of nostalgia as music sets you into a place and time. It’s extremely powerful.”
Tate has seen the playing field for video game music evolve tremendously in the past few years, not just for in-game scores but also with virtual concerts and cross-promotion becoming de rigueur. “At King, we saw Meghan Trainor release a new single within Candy Crush Saga. We’ll see more and more of these collaborations and cross-promotional activities.”
The future looks – and sounds – bright for Tate as she continues to drive more creative innovation across the Kingdom.
“The impact in culture and the hours people are committing to playing video games are significant – the future of video game music is full of endless possibilities, with the chance to tell new stories in different ways, to have music interact with fans on a completely new level, and with unprecedented levels of global access.”
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“Video games are bigger than the film and music industries combined,” says Tate.