Burglars Inc. is an exciting new plot driven puzzle game centered around a collective of thieves who crack safes with benevolent intentions. As a huge fan of 1960's era heist movies, Archer, Venture Bros, and Cowboy Bebop, I may or may not have squealed a little at the prospect of scoring this game. Here's a little bit about the process of writing one of the main character themes.
Chase is new to Burglars Inc. She's playful and fun but her youthful veneer belies her natural talent for burgling. The levels she's featured in are fast paced so the challenge was create a sense of urgency while keeping the music light enough to fit her personality.
My initial demo took stylistic cues from shows like "The People's Court", "The Powerpuff Girls", and "The Venture Bros". I wanted the actual substance of the music to be all business, while the instrument choices wrapped it up in a cutesy package. I'd describe myself similarly, but personal experience has taught me it tends to work better as a musical approach than a dating strategy. The rhythm ticks away regularly to mimic the feel of seconds counting down on a mechanical clock. All of this is against heavy piano stabs which add a little more emotional weight and allude to a sense of danger. Since the piece needed to be able to loop infinitely, I opted to keep the melody simple in an effort to avoid annoying the listener upon the 150th repeat. This first demo is provided below:
While I received some positive feedback, the general concensus was that the track came across a bit too modern and dark, and not jazzy enough for the style of the game. In short, it felt too "Brock Samson Smash (Venture Bros)" and not enough "Rusty and Danny Ocean (Ocean's Eleven)". I created another version with some horn parts sketched in, but it felt a bit forced so I went back to the drawing board.
In the next round I shifted my focus to music that had more of a straight jazz feel. I took more influences from the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Mal Waldron, and of course, Yoko Kanno. As it turns out, having an awesome name is like 80% of writing really great music. Forget studying theory/orchestration/sound design/etc. From now on I will be known as Bif LeStrange.
I decided to go with a more identifiable melody - something that even amateur burglars could hum to themselves while cracking safes at home. I kept the plucked strings and glockenspiel from the first demo, but pushed them into the background and used the falling line in the glock to paraphrase the melody played in the saxophones. I slowed the tempo down quite a bit so that I could add a bit more rhythmic density. Protip: Hand drums always make jazz cooler, and when in doubt, add more shakers! Taking cues from the epically named composers above, I let a funky bass line drive the piece. The overall effect was the following demo:
This track was received much more favorably and I got the thumbs up to move forward. After that, it was simply a matter of fleshing harmonies out, developing the material, and
hacking away at finessing the production.
I wanted the melody to grow like a Chia Pet in an advertisement, so I started each phrase as a thin line, and gradually fattened it as it went along. This was also a dating tactic of mine, and it worked as well as the last one I mentioned. I'm beginning to suspect I'm not very good at courtship. I added a countermelody in the trombones to give the repeated sections a little more spice. At this point the plucked strings were demanding too much attention, so I dropped them down an octave and pushed them further back in the mix. I also decided the solo needed to be played on the flute because obviously...the solo needed to be played on the flute. It captures Chase's playful qualities, and creates more diversity in sound. Also jazz flute is funny.
I'm incredibly happy with the way the music came out! I'm rarely able to work on this type of music so I had a blast with this project. Overall I contributed three tracks, and my only regret is that I couldn't contribute more. On the plus side, there's a fair amount of demo material that didn't work out for this project. Perhaps I'll finish some of them up and put out a Burglars Inc B-sides and Rarities collection someday. Until then, check out this game. I'm sure you'll have at least as much fun playing it as I had composing for it!
Burglars Inc, coming out on February 2nd!