Ever wondered what it might be like to make video game music? Well, look no further! Musician Leila Wilson, more commonly known as “Woofle”, has been something of a rising star in the indie gaming “indie-stry”. Her resume includes music for games like Hitogata Happa, Bunny Must Die, and the phenomenal Freedom Planet.
Dashing Nerds is thankful and proud to have the opportunity to unleash a barrage of questions at the kindly composer! Don’t forget to enhance the full interview with some of Woofle’s best tracks (We recommend Verse’s Theme!):
JM: I’m not really an expert on how to do this kind of stuff so it might be a little weird…
LW: Me either! This is only my second time ever doing one of these so we’ll uh… we’ll wing it! *chuckles*
JM: Alright, so question number one: how did you start out making music and what were your early influences?
LW: Well early on, when I was in kindergarten, they had this piano – it was just a stand up piano, not a grand – and it had the front off so you could see the hammers hitting the strings in there! I just thought it that was the coolest thing ever. Also our neighbors across the street had an old reed organ and I’d go over there specifically just to play that until, eventually, my mom bought it from them and I would just kind of roll my face across the keyboard until one day it sounded like music. So that’s where that started.
All my early influences were video games pretty much other than lots of 70’s and 80’s music, which is what my parents listened to. Between the 70s and 80s music and the video game music, it all sort of formed into this horrible monstrosity… aaand that’s why I make music now.
JM: Well, I enjoy it.
LW: Thank you!
JM: What were some of your main challenges? Do you still find yourself struggling with them today?
LW: Oh gosh, constantly. My main challenge I guess would be when I get hired to do something, trying to produce what the person wants. Sometimes it’ll go perfectly. Like, they’ll go “Hey I want X” and I’ll make X. Other times they’ll be like “I want Y” and I’m like “Oh, well they want this” and I produce Z because that’s my idea of Y. That I’d say is probably my biggest challenge.
My other challenge, honestly, is inspiration. I will flat run out sometimes and I think it’s because I make too much, too fast. It’s like a barrel of something in your head or it’s this cup of water and I gotta refill it at some point, and that is a pretty big challenge especially when you work so many jobs. When you’re at this point in the industry, pretty much anything that comes to you, you have to take. Not necessarily because you feel like you are capable of doing it, but because you have to pay the bills. So it’s a challenge every time.
JM: Alright, how about some of the good things? What are some of your personal favorite career moments so far?
LW: When Freedom Planet actually came out and it was done. I could look at it and think: here’s this thing – all this stress and stuff I had to deal with working on it – and it’s done, it’s there, and I can play it. Other people can play it. It’s complete. Definitely. That moment was just so relieving and it was a good feeling because something I’d worked on actually seemed to do pretty well. I was pretty happy about that.
JM: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen very many people complain about the music in Freedom Planet so-
LW: There’s a few! And it’s warranted, it’s warranted. I’m still learning everyday. My first couple soundtracks… whooow… ouch.
JM: Yeah. I think you have that problem with any kind of artistic endeavor. You’re just gonna look back at it a month later and just cry because what you thought was good was actually terrible.
LW: That’s exactly it.
JM: Right? Moving on: how has music affected your daily life?
LW: Honestly, it’s been part of my daily life ever since the early days—since the reed organ and when I was growing up my parents always had something playing…it’s always been there. Different music will come along and stuff, but it’s always been there.
JM: Was it difficult getting into the industry?
LW: Oh yeah. I mean, I got in through some really silly serendipity and I spent most of my childhood saying “I wanna make music for video games”.
… I’d started to make MIDI’s in ‘99 and I had no idea how people made anything of any higher quality. I’m like, “Oh I guess that just must be beyond me because I can’t do it now, I don’t know how it works”. I composed a bunch of stuff but I had nowhere to put it, so it mostly ended up on my hard-drive. I’d occasionally share it with friends and they thought it was really neat or they thought it was really bad depending on the song. *chuckles* It wasn’t exactly good, and I had no idea what to do with it all.
“…I spent most of my childhood saying ‘I wanna make music for video games'”.
I had met a couple of people through the Sonic fandom, and one of those was DM Ashura who did the music for Dance Dance Revolution, ultimately. He ended up being hired by a company that was importing Japanese games and needed new soundtracks…because the originals were really low-quality. He was working on a trilogy of those and he couldn’t get them all done in time. He ended up pointing them to me…
He was just like, “Sure, hire that chick. She’ll… probably make music.”
Next thing I know, I go from just having figured out that I can make things that end in .mp3 to working on a game that’s gonna be on Steam. It was serendipitous; it was luck of the draw because I don’t think I would have ever had a chance at making music for any games had I not met him…
This whole thing comes back to the Sonic fan-game community because a lot of those people ended up going on to do things. They went on to make projects like Sonic Mania and Freedom Planet or, in the case of musicians, they’d get hired to do stuff. I just kinda ended up knowing the right person.
JM: Do you find that you still have those kinds of challenges finding work today?
The main challenge is: there will be dry periods – you know how this goes – if you’re a writer or a musician, if your an artist, there will be periods where there’s no work. And then there will be periods where there’s too much work. That’s kinda what it’s turned into now. Just scheduling things and all that and then other times having nothing to do, frantically running around going, “Ah geez! I’ve got all of these bills!”
JM: *also chuckles*
Okay. I’d played Hitogata Happa – I played the crap out of it because it was the first Bullet-Hell game I’d really gotten my hands on. At that time I didn’t know that you’d done the music for it, but I must have heard that first level and the boss’ theme a hundred times.
LW: Oh, really!? Yeah, same thing. It was my first Bullet-Hell, too, and I was like, “I’m gonna play this!” A lot of the stuff I did for that… it’s like, “yeah, okay!” The boss music, I think, that sounds good but some of the other stuff… Like, I’m cringing whenever I go back. So I don’t play it very much anymore.
JM: Awwww. I bet it must be kind of weird to play a game and hear your own stuff going on in the background, eh?
LW: Yeah! It’s very odd because I never really thought that would happen. It’s a weird feeling. *chuckles*
JM: Do you ever feel segregated from other musicians or composers because of your work on video games?
LW: Yeaaah…oftentimes, when I’m out and about and I meet other musicians (or fans of music), a lot of them do non-video game music. They do – I dunno what to call it… you know, “music-music”.
And so when they go, “What genre do you do?”, my whole life flashes before my eyes. Like I’m being born, I’m coming out into the world, and I’m growing old and eventually dying… and somewhere in there I’m like, “I make jazz-fusion. That’s it. I make jazz-fusion.”
They usually accept that because I’m probably the only person who listens to it. *chuckles*
JM: Well, I know I’ve definitely been there a couple of times so I think I know kind of how you feel there.
LW: Yeah, they’re like, “Oh! So you write?” and you’re like, “Oh, this person doesn’t even play video games so what the heck do I tell them? I write for a news website!” I know exactly that feeling.
JM: Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with others?
LW: Depends…honestly, collaborating is really scary. I’ll often be intimidated by other musicians because they’re so good! I’m like, “What do I have to bring to the table?” I use Mixcraft and a lot of people use Fruityloops. It’s just not for me, really. So the tools that people are using have me questioning how it’s going to work. I do love to do it but it can be intimidating for sure.
JM: Do you feel like that bouncing it back and forth is better for the composition?
LW: Oh, definitely. If you’re working with different software, you can bounce just a track back and forth with somebody and say, “here’s this track as, you know, a .wav file – and you don’t have to worry about either them or you switching software. You just keep bouncing the .wav files back and forth, smashing them into each other until it becomes something. I’ve done that a few times—that works very well. I’d say that’s probably the best way for me to collaborate just because I pretty much suck at software and all the technical stuff. I’m lucky I even know how to turn my computer on.
JM: When it comes to creating something new, what is your thought process behind that?
LW: Usually if I’m asked to create something new, the first emotion to hit me is pants-crapping fear. I guess it depends on if I’m creating for someone else or for myself. If it’s for someone else I say, “ Ok, what do want? What kind of mood are you looking for? Tell me about the situation or the character that I’m composing for. Sometimes I’ll ask if there’s any song similar to the feel they’re going for. Generally, that gives me some sort of idea of what it is they’re looking for.
“Usually if I’m asked to create something new, the first emotion to hit me is pants-crapping fear.”
From there, sometimes an idea will just pop straight into my head, the fear goes away, and I feel confident that I’ve got this. Sometimes the song will come out fully formed and I’ll have to scramble to get it all going. If I’m creating for myself, I really have to be in the mood to do it. Otherwise, nothing is going to be produced at all.
I will say that usually the first track I record is bass. That kinda comes from being around in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras where it was much easier to parse out each track because there weren’t too many. Bass-lines, back in that era especially, were really catchy. So yeah, usually I’ll go for that first.
JM: Do you incorporate storytelling into your music? How do you convey that to the listener?
LW: All the time. That’s another one that comes back to whether I’m making it for myself or somebody else. I try to create their narrative if I’m doing it for someone. So for instance, if you take some of the later levels in Freedom Planet where the music just gets really frantic – and the same thing kinda happened in Hitogata Happa – where later the music is just completely insane, my whole thing is trying to show how high the stakes have gone. I wanna show that this really is life or death.
Sometimes the opposite is true. Somebody says, “Hey, I want a theme for this character and he’s a real nice, calm fella who likes flowers.” I can make something more lackadaisical, more happy, and incorporate it there. I think part of your job as a musician is to build a narrative, whether you are making it yourself or you’re assisting someone else and bringing their creation to life. It’s storytelling of a different kind but it’s definitely, I feel, necessary when you are a musician.
“I think part of your job as a musician is to build a narrative, whether you are making it yourself or you’re assisting someone else and bringing their creation to life.”
JM: Yeah, I’ve come to notice that, especially in your Elancia stuff, you use music to paint a picture of even the environments. It’s pretty fascinating, actually.
LW: Aww, thank you! That’s like, my ultimate goal: to set a scene. If I can do that, then I’m able to think, “Okay. I did my job!”
JM: Is there anything that you DON’T enjoy about being a composer?
LW: The business end of things is… kinda freaky because I don’t have a business background – I’m just some girl who has a keyboard… Here I am, dealing with these people—they’ve got deadlines, they’ve got projects, they’ve got all this stuff going on—and here I am coming in as a contractor. It’s sort of because these people are so nice and everything that it’s kind of intimidating.
I guess I also don’t enjoy scraping the bottom of the barrel when I’m really low on inspiration and I still need to create because, at the end of the day, it’s still a job and you have gotta produce the work. So dealing with the business end and your own limitations is sometimes terrifying.
JM: That sort of thing can be said about, at least in part, pretty much any job in life. But when it comes to using up your own creativity, I’d say it gets a lot more hectic and personal.
LW: Yeah…Any artistic thing: writing, artwork, music – all of those are just these really personal things. You kind of feel like you’re putting yourself out there with anything you create, and that is a very sharp, double-edged sword.
JM: Your fans, so far that I’ve seen, tend to be really well-behaved and loving people. Has there ever been a fan that has stood out to you in a positive way?
LW: Yeah. It’s really nice that some people really care so much that they’re willing to check out what I’ve written or they actually listen to my stuff on Soundcloud…I never thought about that when I started wanting to do video game music, that it might impact someone’s life and they might like it a lot. Or even that they might tell me they like it. So it really stands out to me when somebody notes me or when I look at my Soundcloud and see that somebody added a song to their list of favorites. It’s mind-blowing for me. Even some of the negative comments, they’re fine, because it means they’re listening and that they care.
JM: Yeah, and I’ve noticed that, for most of the comments, you at least try to give a response. Probably more so than I’ve ever seen anyone do it.
LW: I’ll go onto YouTube and look up Hitogata Happa and Bunny Must Die soundtrack stuff, especially Bunny Must Die since it’s more divisive, and talk to people about what I was working with. There’s a lot that I can’t say about the projects I worked on and how things went but, in the case of Bunny Must Die, I had like 15 days to make the entire soundtrack and it’s a cluster. There’s so much stuff that I could have done better.
I would always go on to YouTube, before I had made any game music…and I’d always wanted to talk to creative people. But they wouldn’t give me the time of the day. It’s no fault of theirs, it’s just kind of how things are. I didn’t want to be that person. There are times that I’ll get overwhelmed, but I always try to answer as many as I can. I think a lot of people see a wall between those of us working on the projects and the consumers. I don’t really see that wall.
JM: Do you have any stories of terrible fans?
LW: Yeeeaaaaahhhh. *laughs* There’s, you know, like when people wanna know “So… uh… where do you live?” I mean I don’t mind, I’ll just say that I live in LA. That’s as close as I’ll get cuz, you know. Then there are some folks who wanna know if I’m single or say if I ever leave my husband…
JM: Oh dear, the internet creepers…
LW: I’m just like “jeeeeezzz!” I should say that things like that are exceedingly rare. Sometimes it’s someone who comments something like “Ugh, this chord progression is terrible”. I just kinda shrug it off and think that there’s so much other music out there, why bother with mine if you don’t like it? In that situation, it’s kind of baffling… I mean, yeah, I’ve heard this chord progression before too. There aren’t too many out there, there’s a couple thousand. And then there’s stuff like Pachelbel’s Canon that’s in everything. If it’s that important they should just listen to something else.
JM: Alright, time for a Reddit question: Do you have any good “behind-the-scenes” stories that you are allowed to tell?
LW: Wait… Holy crap, people know about me on Reddit!? Oh gosh, there’s some things I wish I could talk about….
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