An Interview with Darryl Duncan
The driving force behind Chicago-based GameBeat, Inc. is a man with firm goals and the tenacity to achieve them. Darryl Duncan, along with fellow teammates Tarrance Kramer (Senior Sound Designer/Composer), Albert Morales (Sound Designer, Mix Engineer, field-recording technician), Vincent Nerey (VP of marketing & promotions) and Lesley Adams (VP of Operations, Office Manager, Human Resources Director) operate a highly successful audio production house bent on gaming industry domination. In just two short years, Darryl's company has amassed quite a resumé of titles to include: John Madden Football 98, 99 and 2000; NCAA Football 98 and 99; Die Hard Trilogy 2; Ultima Online Third Dawn, Knockout Kings 2002, Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon and Blue's Clues Big Music Show among their 17 major game projects. Another sizeable game project recently presented itself proving the strong foothold GameBeat has on the industry.
What stood out most for me when doing this interview was how a man with formal musical training does his best to stay away from it. It's very refreshing to find someone who takes advantage of their own creative forces, ignoring the 'rules' and going with their gut instinct to produce their craft within an industry which often places too much value on credentials. While Darryl has the qualifications, he doesn't fall to them to deliver the goods. His instincts for what works has led him on an incredible journey and will continue to propel him and his team well into the next decade. Read on and you'll see what I mean.
Let's start at the beginning, Darryl, where did you get your start doing music and sound design?
My musical background goes back a ways. I was a self-taught organ player as a child and entertained family and friends from time to time. In the late 70s I played in local bands in high school. After graduation, I attended the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago where I studied Jazz Piano and Electronic Music. My sound effects background is less formal and was developed later in my career. It wasn't until I got into the video game industry that I began to consider myself a serious sound designer also. But I quickly taught myself the ins and outs of sound design and location recording. After taking on the role of lead sound designer for Madden Football 98, I knew what was needed to create audio for video games even though there was much more for me to learn.
So then, what brought you to the gaming industry?
The primary driving force behind getting into the gaming industry was fairly simple. After several years in the mainstream music industry, I didn't particularly want to depend on a hit record to feed my family. I felt the game industry was a bit more secure in terms of being able to make music and a decent living doing it. So, in 1993, I pursued a position at a major game developer. I created a demo reel with my music and sound effects abilities and within four months I had three job offers. One offer was in San Francisco to work for Living Books, the second was Terra Glyph Interactive in the Chicago area and the third offer was to start an audio department at EA Florida to work on the popular John Madden Football franchise. Being a huge Madden fan and the fact that the position was in sunny Orlando, Florida, the choice was pretty simple, so off I went.
Where did your gaming career go from there?
I worked for Electronic Arts for 3 years. I was responsible for the audio in the John Madden franchise developed in Florida. It was a pleasure working on such a high profile title, but I knew I wanted to do moremuch more. I decided it was time to take a chance. I promised to complete my commitments on Madden 99 and resigned from EA. Interestingly enough, once I resigned from the company, EA then became one of my biggest clients and I immediately began work on Madden 2000. In the span of about two months I went from EA employee to EA contractor. This was definitely a blessing being a startup company because we immediately had operating capital. The challenge then became getting in new clients and continuing to build and grow. Fortunately, we were asked to work on another EA title: scoring the music and sound effects to the cinematics in March Maddess 99. We continued to pound the pavement for projects. We then signed on to do the cinematic scoring and sound effects for Die Hard Trilogy 2. These projects, along with smaller ones along the way, kept us busy for the first few months and gave us a foothold in the industry as a video game audio content provider.
Tell me about your company, Game Beat.
Game Beat is a full service audio content provider for the electronic entertainment industry. We also service the advertising, marketing and Internet industries. We are just over two years old and currently have five full-time employees.
Is there a particular way of doing business which contributes to your success?
Our general philosophy is pretty simple, and that is to simply 'wow' our clients. We always try to give our clients what they ask for and much more, and we always deliver our assets in a highly professional manner, on-time! Aside from delivering good work we feel that our package and delivery method must give attention to detail. We find that it truly is the little things the clients appreciate. A small example of that is this: when we deliver music or sound effects, we create a detailed Excel spread sheet that allows the client to listen to all of the delivered assets right from this Excel document. They simply click on the music or sound effect title and they play right from within that document, as they read a detailed description of the version they are hearing and what it is meant for in the game. We have found this is one of the simple things that our clients really appreciate and has even led to other projects as a result of word-of-mouth about this service feature we offer.
How do you view the competitive landscape for game audio?
Hmmm, good question. Well, there are dozens of companies and individuals out there that do what we do and I don't think any one company stands out as our competition. I will say this: at the risk of sounding cocky, once a client uses our services, they are often the first to say, "Game Beat, has no competition," and we are very proud of that. We know we may not be the best out there, but we do believe we are "one of the best". The testimonials on our web site are proof of that.
developers seem to get stuck in their ways and are determined to use
that one guy who has been handling their audio for years, and that's
cool: why fix something that's not broken? But what these companies
are depriving themselves of is the versatility of and access to multiple
musical minds and diverse audio styles. This industry is much like
the music industry when it comes to audio: get a hit and everyone
comes after you for your services. But these companies should know
there are a lot of skilled individuals out there whose resumés
may not be extremely impressive: but they've got what it takes, all
right, and sometimes a company needs to take a chance to find that
out. I get demos from a lot of aspiring sound designers/composers
and there is a lot of talent out there, but so many developers are
afraid to take a chance on these guys. There was a time when we were
that company, now that we've gained some recognition and exposure,
we haven't forgotten that there are many who were in our shoes. This
is why I take the time to write each and every aspiring sound designer/composer
who writes to me and I try to personally direct them as best I can
based on my experience. Yes, I know that I may be grooming the next
up-start that becomes our competition, but I firmly believe that if
you give with a good heart, you will receive with a good heart, so
I do what I can to help others.