Tommy Tallarico proved to us that you do not need millions to make a show that will atract the attention of an audience not necessarily connected with games. In 2002, when he began to work on „Video Games Live” nobody really believed that games soundtracks could be so popular that it could be promoted with live concerts. When the impossible became reality – that is what you can read in this interview with Tommy Tallarico that you’ll find below.

In 2002, when he began to work on „Video Games Live”. Thanks for finding the time for this interview. Let’s start with an introduction – can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Tommy Tallarico: I’ve been a video game composer and sound designer for over 19 years and have been privileged enough to have worked on over 275 games including such franchises as Earthworm Jim, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Prince of Persia, Disney’s Aladdin, Spider-Man, Metroid Prime, Sonic the Hedgehog, Madden Football, Blitz Football, Unreal, Pac-Man, James Bond, Knockout Kings, Mortal Kombat, Test Drive, Scooby Doo, WWE, Lineage, Twisted Metal & Time Crisis. I’ve also co-created, produced and hosted 3 worldwide television shows about video games including the Electric Playground (started in 1995) which is the longest running video game television show in history.

I’m also the founder, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.), which is a non-profit organization educating and heightening the awareness of audio for the interactive world (  I’m an Advisory Board member for the Game Developers Conference, a Governor for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS/GRAMMY’s), a spokesperson for the Entertainment Consumers Association, a proud member of the International Game Developers Association and a nominating peer panel leader for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

In 2002,  I teamed up with fellow video game composer Jack Wall (Myst, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell) to create Video Games Live.  My whole life, my two greatest loves and passions were always music and video games.  That was all I ever thought about and dreamed about.  It’s been an amazing honor and journey to be able to work in this industry for so long and I feel very fortunate to be able to continue doing it year after year. How did you feel when organizing the first Video Games Live show? Did you anticipate that the concert would be so successful on an international scale? 

Tommy Tallarico: My whole life all I ever wanted to do was become a composer, and to work in music. My two greatest loves growing up were video games and music.

Creating a unique show and presentation that reaches a wider audience of non-gamers is a huge factor in the success of Video Games Live.   Video game music is just as artistic and culturally significant as any film score or piece of traditional classical music.  Young people are aware of this, and putting together a show that proves this to the world was one of our biggest goals and reasons we created it.  Video games have become the entertainment of choice for the 21st century and the music being created is the soundtrack for anyone who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s.

Creating a unique show and presentation that reaches a wider audience of non-gamers is a huge factor in the success of Video Games Live. Video game music is just as artistic and culturally significant as any film score or piece of traditional classical music. Young people are aware of this, and putting together a show that proves this to the world was one of our biggest goals and reasons we created it. Video games have become the entertainment of choice for the 21st century and the music being created is the soundtrack for anyone who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. In videos, you’ve said that while producing the Video Games Live show, you concentrate mostly the concert visualizations and the interaction between stage performers and the audience. In your opinion, how important are these elements? How do they rank in comparison with the musical performance?

Tommy Tallarico: The music is strong enough to stand on its own, 100%. The proof of that is the Video Games Live album, Volume One. When it came out last year, it debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Charts. I think it’s further proof of how important video games have become in our society. So the music doesn’t need the visuals but Video Games Live is all about bringing the live experience of a video game (hence the name). There are three elements that make up a video game: the visuals, the music/sound effects and the gameplay/ interactivity. We bring all three of those things to the live stage.

We really had two goals in mind with Video Games Live. Our first was to prove to the world how significant video games have become and how culturally and artistically relevant they are. They are pieces of art, whether in itself or the characters or music or storyline. That’s why we set it up the way we did –  VGL isn’t just about the music, but about all the other elements of games.  Visuals, art, special effects, characters, interactivity, storyline, etc.  That being said, the music is definitely the focus and the most important element of the show, it’s just not the only element.

We wanted to create an experience that anyone can enjoy whether they’re into video games or not – in fact a lot of the responses we get are from adults who have never played a game that see the show and tell us ‘Wow, we  never knew video games were this powerful an art form, we now see why our kids  are so into them, thank you’. They understand it and we can present it in a form that they can appreciate.

Really the other reason for Video Games Live was to establish a live orchestral concert, and to really showcase the art of classical and symphony music as well.  What we want to do is to generate some interest in it, by making it more relevant to the younger generation – unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as  if a lot of younger people connect with current symphony presentations and music. With VGL we’ve taken a lot of the things many people can connect with, like the rock and roll lighting, cutting-edge visuals, stage show production and interactive segments and give the orchestra a video game flavor so the audience can really appreciate the music itself as well. You and Jack Wall are good friends, and you’ve worked together to organize Video Games Live. However, you are most famous for composing a variety of video game soundtracks. Why did you stop composing? I understand that your work with Video Games Live is very time-consuming, but does it also serve as a type of retirement? 

Tommy Tallarico: We both still compose music for video games actually (just not as much).  I recently finished working on the new Sonic the Hedgehog game (Sonic & the Black Knight) and Jack is currently working on Mass Effect 2.  Composing for games will always be a passion of ours and we’ll always be involved with it somehow.  Video Games Live takes 95% of our time these days, but it’s great to be able to still compose even if it’s on a much smaller scale.

We will never retire.  We love what we do so it never feels like work really.  I think that is the key to happiness and success.  Finding something you’re very passionate about and finding a way to get paid for it. Can you recall any particularly notable concerts? What was your greatest challenge, when organizing the tour? How did you overcome any problems?

Tommy Tallarico: One of my favorite memories from the road so far is when we were in Taiwan and I carried out the Taiwan flag during our encore. We were playing in Taipei when the Olympics were going on next door in China. China (who owns Taiwan) wouldn’t allow them to fly the Taiwan flag at the Olympic games and it was a very sad time for the country and people of Taiwan. So when we came out with the Taiwan flag it was a very emotional and uplifting gesture to the audience. We heard roars and applause like never before. People were literally crying in the aisles. Another great moment is anytime that we play in Brazil. The audiences down there are so appreciative and excited about our shows that they clap, holler, applaud, scream and hum along during virtually every segment in the show.

The biggest challenge was doing the very first show.  We incorporated in 2002 and it took us 3 years to put on our first show at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (July 6, 2005).  There were over 11,000 people in attendance which at the time, made it the biggest and most attended video game concert in the world.  The reason it had taken us so long to launch the first show (over 3 years) was because although people had been doing game concerts in Japan for nearly 20 years, no one had attempted to do it on the massive scale that we wanted to achieve.  When we performed that first show, it was the first time that music like Halo, Warcraft, Kingdom Hearts, Myst, Sonic the Hedgehog and others had ever been performed live. 

So getting the rights, licenses, video & marketing approvals, etc. was a huge task (even for me & Jack who had over 30 years experience in the industry and who knew and had worked with all of the game publishers and developers). By doing so though we were able to open the doors for a lot of other game concerts around the world which we think is great and something that we’re very proud of. Even the game publishers thought our idea was crazy at the time! I even remember sitting in the U.S. offices of Square-Enix back in 2002 trying to convince them that people in the U.S. were fans of the great Uematsu just like in Japan. They were genuinely surprised to hear this and within the next few years they were launching their own concerts in the U.S. as well. I think it’s fantastic that there are other concerts out there that offer variety for the fans. Just another reminder that points to the popularity of video games around the world. In the past few years, video game soundtracks have crossed into the mainstream – they’ve become extremely recognizable, known even by those who don’t play games. Do you believe that events like Video Games Live have something to do with this? Or is it just because the electronic entertainment market has matured, and musical possibilities have expanded? 

Tommy Tallarico: Our goal of proving to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become is being realized each and every day.  When we can go to places like Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Taiwan, Germany and Brazil and perform to tens of thousands of people  in those countries, I think it really shows the importance and admiration of video games and why video games have become the entertainment of choice for the 21st century!

After every performance we’ll receive around 5 to 10 e-mails from parents saying something like… “We all went to your show as a family last night and on the ride home, my son (or daughter) asked us if they could start taking violin or piano lessons so that they can learn the music to Halo & Zelda!”

That’s the kind of stuff that literally brings tears to our eyes and makes us really proud of all the hard work and obstacles we’ve needed to overcome over the past 8 years.  I think it also shows the kind of effect that the show and the music are having on people. While composing music, what do you use more – electronics or real orchestra music? What did you use to record the Advent Rising soundtrack?

Tommy Tallarico: Tommy Tallarico: It really depends on the game and the situation.  I’ve done everything from banjo music (Earthworm Jim) to using a 100 piece orchestra and 100 person choir (Advent Rising).  Taking projects that are differently musically always keeps what we do new & exciting. I normally use a computer when I compose. I have a keyboard, which is hooked up to a computer that has every single instrument in the symphony right there at my fingertips. So if I want a violin, or a cello, or a bassoon, or an oboe, it’s all a mouse-click away. And so I will hear something in my head, and then start to figure it out on the keyboard, and then start to record one part at a time. I write it, and then I pass it off to an arranger, an orchestrator, a copyist. Have you had the opportunity to promote other game music concerts? What’s it like to promote and arrange works? Can non-professional concerts compete with professional ones? 

Tommy Tallarico: We’ve helped out a lot of non-profit school projects over the years. There are some really amazing kids out there who are very passionate about this music and performing it live. We think it’s great and always try to support them as best we can. In fact, We work with the local Visitors Bureau and Board of Education as well as the “Grammy in the Schools” program to raise awareness of the arts, music and culture by inviting classes to come down during rehearsals for a tour and “behind-the-scenes” look at the show as well as speaking with industry professionals.

We also put together a non-profit deal with Alfred Publishing in which we gave them all of our orchestrations and arrangements so that over 75,000+ schools and universities across North America will be able to play their favorite music for Drum Corps, Marching Band or School Orchestra.

We’ve helped out a lot of non-profit school projects over the years. – Tommy Tallarico After years of waiting, I finally had the pleasure of attending Video Games Live last year in Lipsk. It was a day before the Games Convention opened. I had a great time listening to old melodies, but unfortunately, the PA system wasn’t working well. Additionally, some of the melodies I expected weren’t played at the show. Do you have any thoughts regarding this particular show? What were your impressions, after meeting with video games music fans from central Europe? 

Tommy Tallarico: The Leipzig, Germany show was really great. The crowd was very enthusiastic and excited to finally have it be performed in Germany. We’ve found that it’s absolutely impossible to please everyone in the audience and I’m sure in every performance we do someone will feel a little disappointed because we may have missed something. But the thing to understand is that we’ve created over 60 segments for Video Games Live but can only play about 20 of them a night (2 ½ hour show). There is so much amazing game music out there that we couldn’t possible play it all in one show.

The good part about this however is that we’ve NEVER played the same show twice over the last 5 years of touring! So whenever we go back to a city or country, they will always get a new show and experience. We think this is very important in building for the future. So although we may have missed one of your favourites… chances are… next time you see us we’ll be playing it. Just make sure you e-mail me a few months before the show so I’ll make sure to include it into the performance! You have a devoted fanbase in Poland. Is there anything you’d like to say to them? When can we expect you and Video Games Live to visit our country? 

Tommy Tallarico: It’s really an honor for me to know that people around the world appreciate and like the work I do. It’s a very special feeling and I hope to meet each and every one of those people when we finally come to Poland! There is a possibility that we will be coming to Poland during our big European Tour in November & December of this year. If we don’t make it this time around, we’ll definitely be there in 2010. We’re doing over 70+ shows in 2009 all over the world so it’s been getting tougher and tougher to put together dates for everyone. I guess it’s a good problem to have! That being said, if we don’t make it to Poland this year, I’m sure we’ll be playing somewhere that may be close enough for people to travel to. That is my hope anyway. Thank you once again for your time, and I wish you further success. 

Thank-you for helping us to spread the news of Video Games Live and our mission to further legitimize video games (and their music) as an art-form!  Hope to see you in Poland soon!!!

Editor In Chief

Mariusz Borkowski

For many years he’s been continuously sharing with others his passion for melodies from video games.