The video game industry, especially its musical side, is a challenging world that requires composers to be constantly inventive and be able to meet deadlines. Many people, who have worked in the industry for a long time aren’t afraid to admit that a job like that can be really tough at times.
Adam composes and orchestrates for the award-winning Overwatch franchise.
Today we have the opportunity to talk to Adam Burgess – a young artist who faces these challenges and has achieved great success. Adam composes and orchestrates for the award-winning Overwatch franchise while continuing to write his own original compositions for various visual media.
gamemusic.net: Could you tell us who Adam Burgess is? What kind of music does he like to create, what kind of music does he like to listen to? Does he play instruments and can you see him live, on stage?
Adam Burgess: I’m a composer at Blizzard Entertainment. I was born in Newcastle, Australia, and I have loved music for as long as I can remember. I grew up playing video games, and there are so many musical artists that I’m passionate about, spanning many genres, eras, and musical cultures. I really try to stay open-minded with both my gaming, and music, and not be constrained by anything. I love to blur the lines between it all, which you can hear in my music for Overwatch, and on the new Overwatch: Cities & Countries album.
I spent many years playing in bands and performing in Australia, but nowadays I’m a lot more comfortable and happier in the background, working behind the scenes. You may see me on stage at BlizzCon with the music department, but that’s about the extent of my performing career these days.
gamemusic.net: You graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2014. Has college prepared you in some way to enter the video game industry?
Adam Burgess: I learnt many compositional skills at college that I use every day, and I’m extremely grateful that I was able to study music formally, but there are also plenty of things that you must learn from experience outside of an academic environment. From a creative standpoint, studying music can help to refine your craft, but it cannot teach you how to find work, how to be a good team member, how to interact with a director, or what to do when things aren’t going to plan. Those lessons are equally important to finding work as a composer in the video game industry.
gamemusic.net: Could you tell us how your career developed after Berklee and how you ended up in Blizzard Entertainment?
Adam Burgess: My first job out of college was working for Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds creating music transcriptions, score preparation, and helping with some light re-orchestration work for one of his concert tours. I emailed him as a fan, and attached a transcription for one of his pieces that I had notated. Working for Ólafur gave me the experience I needed to find work assisting composers in the LA area. In those jobs, I learnt a lot about the music industry and its practices. I was exposed to music for film, television, trailers, and music libraries during that time. I also worked as a mix assistant.
This is a new way to approach in-game music for the franchise. – Adam Burgess
Throughout this period, I was looking for a position that would allow me to get my hands into creating and composing music. I saw that Blizzard was looking for a composer’s assistant, and it was a dream job. I submitted my online application, and I was hired by the music department, where I started working with composer, and our current Music Director, Derek Duke. I have been working closely with the Overwatch team from the beginning of my time at Blizzard, collaborating with Derek on the game for over 12 months before it was released. I moved from my assistant position, into a composer position in 2018.
gamemusic.net: What challenges does a young composer like you have to face? Many people, who have worked in the industry for a long time aren’t afraid to admit that a job like that can be really tough at times.
Adam Burgess: I think the challenges that I encounter are typical of most composers. How to keep the inspiration running, how to re-approach things with fresh ideas when something simply isn’t working, meeting deadlines, handling criticism. I would guess that most creative people tend to suffer from these same things.
gamemusic.net: A whole team of composers is always working on the music for Blizzard games. How do you share responsibilities in the Overwatch team? Are you responsible for specific tracks or their type?
Adam Burgess: My primary focus has been to create in-game music for Overwatch. A lot of this music can be heard on the new Overwatch: Cities & Countries album, but my work also extends to special in-game content such as Overwatch seasonal events, Archive events, and a few Overwatch hero launches. I’ll occasionally dip my toes into the Overwatch cinematic world, working on a trailer or animated short. I think everybody has a role that they fit into. It takes a team to create the music for this franchise, and we really try to play to each other’s strengths, and support each other in our work. It certainly cannot be done alone, and we believe that the game benefits from a variety of different compositional voices.
gamemusic.net: A lot of music from Overwatch still cannot be bought or even listened to on music streaming platforms. Do you plan to change something about this?
Adam Burgess: We’ve just released the Cities and Countries album, which highlights all the sounds from the maps that span the world of Overwatch. The album is now available now to stream on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Deezer. We’ve also updated the Overwatch website with a new music section that has our previously released Overwatch music albums. We’re always working on new Overwatch music and can’t wait to share more with the community.
gamemusic.net: Will Overwatch 2 offer us a breath of fresh air from the previous version, in the form of new sounds or music styles?
Adam Burgess: Overwatch 2 has a large story component, and we are currently exploring how music can help to support a narrative that spans many missions. This is a new way to approach in-game music for the franchise. There is definitely a core sound to Overwatch that we don’t want to lose, though having a more story-centric approach to the music will definitely introduce new sounds and styles that haven’t been heard in the franchise before. We are all excited where things are headed, and we look forward to sharing more when the time is right.
gamemusic.net: Overwatch is not the only game you have composed music for, right? Where else can we hear you?
Adam Burgess: Blizzard is the only company I have composed music for in the games industry. You can find my music in other titles such as World of Warcraft: Legion, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, and Heroes of the Storm.
gamemusic.net: Are you currently working on other projects besides O2? On the way are WoW: Shadowlands, Diablo IV, and the infamous Diablo Immortal after all.
Adam Burgess: As of right now, my focus is on Overwatch 2. However, working at Blizzard also allows you to spend time with other franchises. I have done it in the past, so it could potentially happen again. Time will tell.
I think everybody has a role that they fit into. – Adam Burgess
gamemusic.net: Would you like to end by saying something to our readers, give advice to beginner composers?
Adam Burgess: Thank you for spending this time with me. Talking to a publication focused on video game music is really awesome. I hope that everyone enjoys the music on Overwatch: Cities & Countries as much as we have enjoyed creating it, and I hope to see you all in game! For anyone beginning to compose, by advice is to simply write what you love. I really believe that everybody is a sum of their influences, and you will find your voice through combining those influences in interesting ways.