The soundtrack has always been a significant part of the “Madden” series, giving each year’s game a fresh feel by featuring rock and hip-hop songs from popular – and sometimes, just burgeoning – artists. Every year, members of the “EA Trax” team would sift through thousands of songs to come up with the 20 or so that would give gamers a sense of cool and cutting-edgeness as they played America’s highest-selling sports game.
This year, however, the Madden creative team wanted to go in a different direction.
The presentation in “Madden NFL 13” has been completely redone, from the all-new menus (they’re very industrial looking… in a good way) to the quarterback cadences (recorded in-person for each of the “top ten quarterbacks,” according to EA) to the recently introduced announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
And the accustomed sound of “EA Trax” just didn’t go with the new look.
“In the past, we could put this soundtrack together, and it would be more of a mixtape of what we felt 'Madden' should sound like with the different genres, and it felt like that just got stale,” says Matt Bialosuknia, Madden’s audio producer.
So Bialosuknia and the rest of the "Madden" creative team made a landmark decision: they scrapped "EA Trax" and went with their very own “Madden” score. They wanted an original, signature theme that would play in the menus and within the TV-style presentation of the actual games.
Enter Colin O’Malley, an accomplished composer whose credits include “Tomb Raider Underworld,” the acclaimed PBS documentary “The Last Reunion: A Gathering of Heroes” and numerous projects with worldwide recording artist Yanni.
O’Malley met with the “Madden” audio team last year and they listened to some prominent sports themes, such as what you hear in NFL Films and numerous network broadcasts. Bialosuknia says it was like going to a pop artist and saying, “OK, now go write a hit record.”
“They talked a lot about wanting Madden to have a signature theme with a modern style … something you’d hear during a NFL broadcast, but pushing it into its own identity,” O’Malley said. “That was the starting point.”
O’Malley worked on the theme at his studio and came back to the “Madden” audio team with his interpretation.
It wasn’t right.
The “Madden” audio team wanted the theme to be bigger, more powerful, with more intensity and more emotion.
“One of the most helpful things is rejection, because you find out what people don’t like,” said O’Malley, who added that it’s normal to go back and forth on a score several times. “Sometimes it just takes a few rounds because talking about music and saying what you want, it’s hard to put into words. You almost have to hear the music to be able to say, “There it is, that’s what we’re looking for.” It’s just a matter of throwing ideas to the wall and seeing what sticks.”
It took two more trips back to the EA studios before both sides felt it was the perfect sound.
“By the third time, we played it, and then we all looked at each other and knew, this is it,” Bialosuknia said. “Then we put it into the game and we played it against the visuals, and we knew for sure, this is the theme we were looking for.”
The “Madden” creative team hopes O’Malley’s score will become iconic and recognizable as part of the “Madden” franchise.
While Bialosuknia left the door open for a return of “EA Trax” – “there might be a way in the future to have the best of both worlds,” he says – he expects the new theme to be in “Madden” for years to come.
“It just feels cool, it feels iconic, it feels like it would be missing now if we didn’t have it,” Bialosuknia said. “It just makes it feel epic to me. Madden deserved its own iconic score forever, and now it has it, and I think it’s going to be in the game for a long time to come.”
We sat down with O'Malley to ask him a few more questions about the score, his career and his process in creating a theme.
Are you much of a sports fan? Do you play Madden?
I’m into the NFL and NBA. I play the games like Madden, but I’m not very good at them. I spend most of my time writing the music. It’s really exciting to see it all come together when we play.
When you used to play Madden, did you have a theme in your mind of what would work even as you were listening to the EA Trax?
A little bit. Growing up with the 80s TV themes like Knight Rider that you couldn’t get out of your head, I’ve always been intrigued by those. I think games or movies or TV shows that stick with me, they all have that theme that sticks out, or most of them do. So to make that theme for a game like Madden, it’s a lot of fun.
You’ve created scores for a lot of different people. Say you have a great tune in your head – how do you choose who gets what? Do you acclimate yourself with a product or movie or game before creating for it?
There have been times where I do have themes that I’m working on, then years later I’ll come across a project and I’ll say, “Hey, this might work for that.” But for the most part, those end up being one of those early round themes they don’t go for. For a theme to really work, it’s a collaboration, and it’s a very specific identity they’re looking for. While I’d love to have a bank of themes to work from, it would sure save me some time, it just always seems to go down a different patch with each project because it really is a collaboration between a team of people who all have a lot of ideas.
Of everything you’ve done, what score are you most proud of?
As far as video games, I did the Superman Returns video game for EA a few years ago, and that’s how I met some of the people from EA. I also scored the last two Tomb Raider games. Outside of that, I work for an artist named Yanni, doing orchestrations that are the polar opposite of Madden, but it’s fun to do different things.
What was it like to first hear the Madden score coupled with the game?
The visuals are stunning. There’s something about combining the music with the visuals that’s really exciting. The visuals make the music better, in my opinion. It’s really exciting to see it all come together.
Jon Robinson contributed to this report.