Interview with Richard Joseph
by Chris Abbott
What made you feel there was a career in becoming purely a game musician when you started as a programmer? How many other computer musicians had you heard of at the time?
I wasn't exactly sure that there would be a career. My first job wasn't worth very much and I'd already lined up a few commissions in other areas, so initially it was a 'hobby'. I have to admit though that I was already more interested in games audio than the usual stuff I was doing. I'd only played a few Spectrum games, plus all the stuff that existed in arcades and pubs, and I was really intrigued as to where they got the soundtracks. I hadn't heard of any musicians until Pete Stone at Palace played me Rob Hubbard's Monty On The Run and said
make it like that !
What was your quickest tune? How long did it take to do?
Rimrunner. It took about half an hour.
What was the tune which took the longest?
Barbarian. Well it was about seven minutes long. It was particularly difficult as my point of reference was Conan movie sountracks, which have orchestras. Synthesizing an orchestra on the SID chip with three channels wasn't exactly easy. It must have taken a few months I guess.
Did you think that
computer game musician was a proper career at the time?
It soon became so. Palace took me on more or less full-time and it wasn't long before I was able to ditch all the work I was doing in other areas. Of course all my mates in the music biz thought I was mad and some of them even blanked me for a number of years! Of course nowadays I have old contacts getting in touch hoping to get into games… 😊
How did you view the field of computer game music back then? Did you think of yourself as a pioneer? Or someone who just earning a crust?
Pioneer. It was the only way I could save face amongst my music biz friends who laughed at the C64, Amiga etc😉 But joking aside I was very much aware that we were doing certain things for the very first time. Especially with the Amiga- Megalomania featured extensive dialogue performed by 'real' actors, which was unheard of at the time. Using pop musicians like Betty Boo or a 'real Wimbledon Umpire' was an amazing thrill back then. We couldn't wait for the reviews. Magazines really did take notice of advances in audio, unlike now where you can record an orchestra at a top studio and few even notice.
Did you ever feel like the fans had a higher opinion of you than you did?
I naturally have a healthy lowish opinion of what I do anyway, and I was so bowled over by talents like Robb Hubbard and Martin Galway that I was never particularly comfortable with my role in the C64 days. It was only when the Amiga came along and I was looking after the Bitmaps and Sensible that I really stretched out and indeed became aware of 'fans'.
Did you feel you were competing with the other composers out there?
Yes. I felt that anyone could come along and take my job. It was conditioning from my music industry days. I wasn't worried about my contemporaries - they were all tied to major companies so there was no threat there - but I was always wary of newcomers. I would address the problem by hiring certain of them to do conversions of my work to other formats. In that way I made allies rather than rivals.
Did you ever have to evaluate the work of other people as part of a hiring process or interview anyone?
What was the pay like?
For the first few years it just got better and better. It got to a point where I was earning money that made my successful music biz friends green with envy. Then somewhere in the middle nineties people started arriving in the games industry straight from college and the fees plummeted. It's been a slow journey back…
What were the worst working conditions you had? And the best?
I worked from home so it was always perfect. Oh, apart from one time when I was doing the Megadrive version of a James Pond game and had to do a load of composing on the spot in a development office overlooking a coal mine 150 miles from my studio!
What was the worst waste of your music? (in terms of, good music in a bad game).
It has to be Moonshine Racers on the Amiga.
Great music, shame about the game said the 'Overall' comment in one of the mags. I had sampled an entire hillbilly band for the soundtrack and nobody ever heard it. Apart from reviewers of course who have continued to tip their hats at it over the years since. The worst waste on a good game though has to be Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll, Sensible's never-to-be-completed swansong. We did about 40 music tracks. There's a CD available of the entire soundtrack. But so far only one person has a copy!
What was the weirdest fan mail you ever got?
Hello, If you are a Time Traveller I am going to need the following: 1. A modified mind warping Dimensional Warp Generator # 52 4350a series wrist watch with memory adapter. 2. Reliable carbon based, or silicon based time transducing capacitor. I need a reliable source!! Please only reply if you are reliable.
Did you take your music as seriously as the fans did? Did you have any idea of the impact you were making?
I had no idea that there was any impact. I did take the music very seriously though. My employers were as frustrated as I was with the limitations we had and I knew that they were hiring me because I knew how to make good use of the machines. My job depended on me taking it all very seriously, all the time.
What do you think of today's retromusic fans?
Well of course I think it's brilliant. Looking back it doesn't surprise me that the fans are there but I would hardly have expected it while I was working out of a bedroom in Denham in the middle 80s! One chap said to me recently that his Mum listened to the Beatles but he listened to us games musicians. That really brought it home for me. I am a keen observer of the retromusic scene now. Where will it go next?
How did you deal with the 8bit era ending?
It was a relief almost. I'd only ever worked at Palace and there hadn't been a huge demand for music, as their games were very sound-fx based. I was daunted at first by the Amiga but soon realized that I could get on with working with 'real' noises (samples). And this was obviously the way it was all going to go in the future.
Were you ever recognized at computer shows?
Yes all the time. I had a lot of publicity in magazines. On several occasions I got spotted in WH Smiths looking at the mags. You don't get that now folks! They don't want individuals to be stars. Just the name of the publisher, and a list of as many credits as they can fit in the manual.
Were there any of your original pieces that seemed to come out of nowhere?
Which was the most difficult one to produce?
Was there ever a period in your career when you felt
in the zone?
During the Bitmap and Sensible days we WERE the zone!! We were doing such cool stuff back then and everybody wanted to know. I remember phoning someone up to introduce myself and the guy at the company told me
we only use the flavour of the month. I thought he was such a twat that the last thing I was going to do was tell him that that was precisely who he was talking to.
What's the weirdest company-related story that you were a witness to that sums up the times?
Oooh dear… I'll have to think about that one…
Are you fed up being interviewed?
No not at all. It's likely though that there are plenty of others, especially those who appeared during the latter nineties who resent my very being and are wondering why THEY aren't being interviewed.
Do you feel like you influenced today's game musicians ?
No not really. But in the mainstream perhaps yes! I do hear stuff I did on the Amiga woven into radio idents, adverts and the like though. As if a current music industry composer spent far too long playing Chaos Engine as a kid.. My heart went out to David Whittaker when I heard his 'Zombie Nation' tune played in the background while I was in the sauna the other night 😊
Do you feel like game music has built upon what was done at that time?
No. It's tempting to say that each new generation of games musician has been as arrogant as the one before, ignoring anything that has gone before. But games themselves have changed and the options available to sound specialists have changed too. It's true to say that those people able to adapt to changes have survived.
What's your most outrageous drinking story from the time?
From the time? So you mean I can't refer to the retro-night in Birmingham then?😉 I do remember overhearing Stan Schembri the C64 programmer on Cauldron II say
never trust a man who doesn't drink. I was a teetotaller at the time. Now I'm an alcoholic.
Would you say you're a different person these days?
Yes. Back in those days I was in the middle of a fairly chequered career as a music artist/composer. I was struggling to get 'known'. Over the years the games industry has provided that vehicle for me and obviously now I have a different kind of outlook on life. It's interesting for me to receive emails from people wanting to know how to get into the industry.
My advice can only ever be… if you want to get noticed do what I did and find something nobody else is doing.