Insaneintherainmusic Interview: Creating The Jazz Video Game Medley
The Jazz Video Game Medley by insaneintherainmusic is more than a tribute to video game music—it’s a testament to the collaborative nature of VGM covers and remixes and to the talent of Carlos Eiene (who I like to call the Jacob Collier of VGM). As I watched each movement, I marvelled at the production quality, the ingenious arrangements, and the staggering talent on display. After I finished the third movement, I only had one question on my mind: “How did he do it?” Fortunately, Carlos accepted my interview request, and the young maestro had plenty to say about the conceptualization, production, and impact of The Jazz Video Game Medley.
How did you develop the idea for The Jazz Video Game Medley?
I released a video on March 9th where I covered the theme from Wii Music (one of my favorite games as a kid) with my friend Emily Gelineau, a fellow Berklee classmate. Shortly after, her friend Cristobal Cruz-Garcia reached out to me on Facebook and offered me time in Berklee’s Studio 1. Cristobal was an MPE (Music Production & Engineering) major at Berklee, and because this was his final semester, he was able to book Berklee’s Studio 1, which is Berklee’s largest space for recording music.
Initially, I was thinking about just doing a few tracks with a relatively small band of other musicians. At some point, though, I got the idea to go even grander than that! Inspired by the 8-Bit-Big Band, who had been posting their arrangements in the second half of 2018, I wanted to try my hand at a big arrangement, but still do something a little bit different. I knew that the 8-Bit-Big Band mainly did arrangements of single songs, so I thought I’d try my hand at a medley.
After thinking about what I could possibly do with the amount of studio time I was given, I initially planned on a five-movement video game medley, with each movement covering a different emotional focus of game music. This was narrowed down to three in the final product.
Approximately how long did the medley take from planning to final upload?
The last movement of the medley was uploaded on June 15th 2019, and the first conversation with Cristobal regarding the medley that I can think of must’ve happened on March 10th or 11th, shortly after the Wii Music cover came out. So, all in all, it was about a three month process!
Movement 1 had 22 parts, Movement 2 had 29, and Movement 3 had 24, so that makes 75 overall!
How did you recruit the musicians?
When I came up with the idea of doing a huge medley, I knew that I had to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity I have of going to school with a bunch of other excellent musicians! I put out a Facebook post, asking who would be interested in performing on a video game music related project at Berklee, and got a ton of great responses! I had some people in mind before putting out that post, and most of them indicated interest.
Initially, I had only planned to record a string quartet and layer them over sequenced strings in post, since I’m not familiar with a ton of Berklee string players. Cristobal is a cellist, however, and managed to recruit about 10 more string players than I had originally planned just days before the session. This did make things a bit more difficult for me, since I now had to conduct and interface with more string players (which was already difficult for me, since I have no experience playing any instrument in the violin family). It was for the best in the end, though, as tripling up on the parts gave the string section a much more lush sound!
Did you arrange the medley first or did you recruit the musicians first and then arrange?
Arranging and recruiting were happening simultaneously! I started by writing the third movement of the medley, since it was the movement I had the best idea for at the time of starting the arranging process. I had most musicians secured about halfway through movement three, and continued to wrap up any loose ends within the ensemble as the arranging process continued.
How many individual parts did you have to write?
Oh boy! Movement 1 had 22 parts, Movement 2 had 29, and Movement 3 had 24, so that makes 75 overall! Most of the big band parts were covered just by one player, while the string parts were covered by 3 or 4 players apiece, with the exception of double bass.
Did anyone help you with the arrangement?
The arrangement was almost entirely done by me! I of course took influence from some of my favorite orchestrators and arrangers like Sammy Nestico, Klaus Ogerman and Nelson Riddle when writing the parts, but most transitions and songs were chosen and incorporated by me.
Where did you record the medley?
We recorded the medley in Berklee’s Studio 1, also known as the Shames Family Scoring studio (the working title of this project for the engineers was InsaneintheShames!)
How did you get permission to record the medley?
Cristobal was able to book Studio 1 early because of time that was allotted to him since he was an MPE major at Berklee! Usually, Studio time at Berklee is only booked the day before. However, because this was a special circumstance, it allowed us to book studio time well in advance and plan accordingly.
How long did it take to record the medley?
The medley was recorded on April 26th, 2019. Our session time started at 4 PM and ended at midnight, so we had 8 hours to record. We set up for recording between 4 PM and 5:30 PM, tracked strings from 5:30 to about 7:15, changed over to big band from 7:15 to about 8:45, and recorded big band from then until 11:15, where we had to stop to tear down.
A little known fact about the medley is that none of the mics that you see on the sax section are actually used in the final product! We had these condenser mics placed too far above the saxophones in an omnidirectional polar pattern, meaning they didn’t reject sound coming from other directions than the intended focus. Because of this, I decided to bring all the sax players in for their own individual recording sessions, and re-record all the sax parts. It was super worth doing that in the end!
My favorite non-musical moment was when someone’s phone went off in the middle of a take.
Who helped you film the recording session?
My friends Peter Xiong and Mike Koch (Jyggy11) helped me film! They did a fantastic job of filming from a lot of different angles, and added so much depth to the video. Peter is a Berklee student, and I flew Mike up from New York to assist.
Favorite moment while recording?
Hard to say! It was a very stressful but exciting recording session for me.
My favorite musical moment was probably conducting “To Far Away Times” at the conclusion of Movement 2! It’s a very personal piece for me, and I remember feeling extremely proud, nostalgic, and a bit tearful as we recorded the good take of that theme.
My favorite non-musical moment was when someone’s phone went off in the middle of a take. I think someone accidentally triggered Siri, and for some reason, Siri thought that someone was asking what the weather was, and it replied “Looks like there’s a chance of rain tonight.” (This incident can be seen at the end of the upload of Movement 2 during the end screen). This was actually the first movement and section we recorded, and given my username, I decided to take that as an omen that the recording session would go fine!
Was there any improvisation while recording?
Yes! There were a few improvisatory sections. There weren’t many specific instrumental solos, though there is one solo for Trumpet 3 in the Yoshi’s Island section of Movement 1. The rhythm section players (guitar, piano, bass, drums) had a lot of their parts left open to comping (light improvisation behind the melody).
How long did it take to mix and master the recording?
I mixed the tracks all throughout the month of May and the first half of June. It was a very long but enjoyable process!
Did you have any help with the mixing and mastering?
Yes! I had assistance on mastering some of the movements from Cristobal.
How long did it take to edit the videos?
I don’t have an exact time on editing the videos, but they did take quite a bit longer than my normal videos. I was working with a lot of very large video files, and had to use proxy editing for most of the videos (proxy editing involves using a smaller version of the same video file for playback within the editing software, and using the full quality version for rendering).
Was the audience reaction what you were expecting?
Yes! I didn’t think any of the videos would go insanely viral or anything, but I knew that they’d stand out from my regular uploads, as the amount of effort and coordination that went into the medley is pretty apparent the second you start watching the video, and see all the players, microphones, lighting, scenery, etc.
If you had to do this project all over again, would you do anything differently?
Oh yes, totally, lots of things. Some of these include: Budgeting more time for recording, including more time for setup on recording day, adding an extra rehearsal, adding more opportunities for improvisation within the ensemble, and planning the physical studio space to better isolate instruments such as piano and mallet percussion.
Do you have any plans for arranging with a larger group of musicians?
Yes! More to come.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, then I’ve got some good news for you. I conducted a second interview with Carlos about his philosophy on creating medleys!
Also, Carlos was gracious enough to grant GameGrooves an exclusive premiere of some behind-the-scenes footage of the The Jazz Video Game Medley rehearsals!