|| Sound Test - Interview with Stephen Kennedy
RPGamer had the privilege of talking to Stephen Kennedy, the Head and Producer of Project Majestic Mix, a fan-album of rearranged scores originally written by Nobuo Uematsu.
RPGamer: First of all, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.
Stephen Kennedy: It is my honor.
RPGamer: When did you decide you wanted to do a tribute album like this? Did you have any primary objectives with this CD?
Mr. Kennedy: It was the latter half of 1997 that I began to take the first steps for this album. However, my first ideas for this kind of project were much much earlier....sometime in 1993. There were a lot of objectives for the project....a whole lot. Many were there initially, but several others formed along the way. In the end, I suppose that it became much more personal to me than it was at the beginning. ...And really, why shouldn't four years of hard work be personal to me? Here's a non-detailed summary of many of my goals for PMM.
....I think that about covers it. ^___^
- Provide video game arrangement CDs to others at a cost more affordable than importing.
- Create arrangement CDs that involve fan input/ideas in its creation, and pay tribute to many pieces of music that have not been included in other arrangement albums.
- Begin to bridge the gap that exists between video game music and commercial music in the world outside of Japan and its surrounding areas.
- Create a new movement of commercially produced fan video game music albums.
- Share with others how Jesus Christ has taken someone (me) who did nothing productive with his time, changed my life, given me direction, is using me make a difference, and can do the same for you.
- Show others that there is more meaning and worth in music and people and life than what you initially see/hear.
- Inspire others to peruse their dreams and be an encouragement.
- Make many lasting friendships.
- Test and improve upon my musical skills and abilities.
- Help those musicians who "slip through the cracks" get noticed.
- Have a LOT of fun!
RPGamer: This album has been in development for quite a long time. Were there moments where you (and your group) were thinking of canceling it? If there was, what kept you going?
Mr. Kennedy: I don't exactly know the details about my crews mentality. I know that there were several times where things got really rough, and it seemed like quitting would have been the best thing to do. During those times I'm sure some of my crew, and I know many of the fans, just wanted to say "forget it". Despite how difficult it got at times, there was never a single moment where I thought about quitting. I came up with the project, I dreamt it, worked it, toiled it, and I had many people counting on me.
This project was done purely as a labor of love. In those times I felt weak and it seemed there was no hope, I remembered Psalm 1, and Psalm 37:3-9. I had a reason for the project, I had a passion, and during those times I just had to have patience and know that all would be well. There were a lot of people who had put there trust in me, and had faith in what I was doing. I wasn't about to let them down.
RPGamer: What was the most difficult part of producing this album? (hardware,
monetary, time, etc.)
Mr. Kennedy: HA! Oh man....there were sooooo many difficulties to overcome. The three you mentioned were all big factors...but they don't even break the tip of the iceberg. One of the most difficult parts of doing the album was not being able to produce it "together". The distance between everyone involved was a huge barrier for me. If I were only able to say one thing, I would say that the most difficult part was having to manage about 80% of the whole production by my self.
My lack of time and my own ignorance on how to do it all were the hardest things to overcome. Just to give you a small idea: I've had to personally respond to over 18,000 emails related to PMM since it's beginning...just sit and think about how much time that in and of itself has taken me....
Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not bliss, nor can it produce an album such as we have.
Aside from that, I'd say the second hardest obstacle was discouragement from fans and Squaresoft themselves. I understood Square's Human Resources defense mechanism...but...it was amazing (understandably) what it took to be treated differently than the other 1000s of similar emails they must get from fans. Quite frankly, that was very difficult. It's always hard to be considered seriously, when you don't really know what you're doing.
Persistence is the key. You bug people long enough and hard enough and they will eventually speak to you...even if it's just to get you out of their hair. ...you just have to be careful with how you are persistent, so that you don't disrespect them at the same time. I mean them no disrespect; but I was glad when I didn't have to go though Square of Japan anymore.
RPGamer: For the sequencers and composers out there, what hardware and instruments were used in this project? Was it all done in one place, or in multiple locations?
Mr. Kennedy: The location of all the music recordings etc. varies greatly, depending on who worked on it. Most of the final production and mastering, however, was done right here in my basement studio. As for hardware, I mainly use Roland's XV-88 synthesizer and my PC with an SBLive Platinum sound card in conjunction with Cakewalk's DAW- SONAR 2.0 XL, Tascam's Gigastudio 96, Fruityloops 3, and the "Advanced Orchestra" and "Classical Choir" giga sampler libraries.
Very little of the production used live instrumentation. The only two pieces that feature totally live instrumentation are "Balamb GARDEN", performed by me, and "Coast of the Sun," (which was performed in a high school band room) performed by the OneUp Mushrooms. Mustin's Prelude also includes a wide and wonderful assortment of live flavor. Some of the live instruments used in PMM were various acoustic and electric guitars, a flute, sax, trombone, trumpets, drums, harmonica, and vocals.
RPGamer: When you were making the album, you had a large number of tracks to sort through. How did you finally decide which tracks were going to be on the final album?
Mr. Kennedy: A large portion of what was used was the direct result of many polls that were held. However if I had gone 100% by the polls it would have ruined one of the projects intentions. Other than providing people with some great music, one of the main goals was to include arrangements of songs that had not been arranged previously for any other album. I wanted this album to have some wonderful music, but I wanted the track selection not to seem so familiar to all the other albums out there. Uematsu has composed a lot of wonderful melodies, many of which are overlooked.
Fan opinions are very important, but it would be wrong for anyone to let others opinions out weigh your own personal goals. As for the final track list, I did my best to balance between the respect of the fans, the respect of my project goals and intents, and also the on looking respect of Uematsu himself, and I think that I have done that. Some of you may ask why I've included the Prelude on the CD in light of my statement above. ...All I can say is "listen to it". This music should speak for itself.
RPGamer: How many people were involved in producing the CD? In addition, how hard was it to keep the team working together on a project like this?
Mr. Kennedy: In all there were roughly 30 people who helped towards the creation of the CD in some way or another. As for the second part of your question...I don't think I have to tell you how hard it is to keep 30 different people from around the globe synchronized and focused on their tasks at hand. Every single person who helped me did so out of his or her own spare time. It was difficult....very difficult to work as a team. It's hard to keep people motivated when you give them something to do in their spare time, tell them you can't guarantee them pay, set deadlines, talk to them only via internet, and never get to see them.
The Internet is a very poor means to communicate and produce something of this kind efficiently as a team. I don't recommend it. If it's the only way you can get your job done, then I recommend keeping it between a small select group of highly devoted individuals. I used to be a manager at a retail store and for me it would be the difference between (a) Hiring people to work for you and working with them to ensure jobs gets done. (b) Having people come help you for free in their spare time and only leaving little post-it notes around the store to tell them what to do. ....it's just not very effective. The better your communication, the better everything else will go.
RPGamer: Has the album gone as well as you thought it would? Is there anything you wish you could have changed, or improved on?
Mr. Kennedy: *chuckle* No. It has absolutely not gone as well as I would have liked. There were many delays and hiccups along the way that I would like to have avoided like the plague. A great many cause for our delays etc. were due to miscommunication and other company's failures to meet standards. However, the greatest part of our failures I blame on my own ignorance and lack of wisdom/knowledge. I went into all of this with absolutely no knowledge or experience musically or commercially. I was in way over my head. All I had was a dream and a passion to fulfill it. I've messed up a lot, and that's no lie.
However, what I have learned from my mistakes has been invaluable. Through it all I've learned information and insight and wisdom and an understanding of things that I will never forget. Though I'm not pleased with the way everything happened, I am very pleased at where we are now and how things turned out.
It's all quite the big miracle actually. If I were an atheist going into the project I'd be a believer now! I would be a fool to say that I don't have any more to learn, but I do know how to do all aspects of a production such as this now, and how to do it right. And it's because of that, I look forward to future productions. Things will be and are much much better now. It's been a long journey, but it's been a good one. Veeeery Educational. ^___^
RPGamer: Do you have any plans to do any other albums for other composers or series?
Mr. Kennedy: Absolutely. There are a great many things I would like to do in the future. ...and some, which are already in progress. That is all I can say at this time. *grin*
RPGamer: Did you find it difficult to appropriately arrange music from the 8-bit members of the Final Fantasy series, given the limited sound options available in the original pieces?
Mr. Kennedy: No, not at all. However, I am currently only speaking for myself. The only pieces that I chose to personally work with were the ones that had an impact on me in some way or another. It's kind of like relationships. With some you just "click"...with others you "double-click" ^__^
I didn't work with a piece unless I felt really comfortable with it or familiar with it in some way. Because of this it was easy for me to expand upon an idea or emotion I felt was already there.
RPGamer: Finally, is there anything you want to say to all the donators, contributors, and fans of both the album and the music it stems from?
Mr. Kennedy: Yes indeed. I cannot now, or in the future, ever hope to explain to you all how much your support and encouragement has meant to me. You have helped take a dream, a "fantasy" if you will, and make it into reality. A fantasy is just an unrealized dream. Thank you for dreaming with me, and for so many of you being patient with me during all the nightmarish moments.
It is with great humility and honor that I present this finished product to you in hopes that it will some how change your life, and the way you see it, just as it has changed mine. I only hope that I have been a small inspiration for others.
What good are dreams if they stay in your head?
RPGamer would like to thank Stephen Kennedy and the rest of the Project Majestic Mix team in taking the time to talk with us. If you're interested in the project, or wish to purchase the album, you can get more information at www.majesticmix.com, and can purchase the CD only at Animenation.
Interview by Rob Parton