AudioExclusive Interviews

Chase Bethea: Bits and Bytes of Music

October 1, 2017 — by David Radd


AudioExclusive Interviews

Chase Bethea: Bits and Bytes of Music

October 1, 2017 — by David Radd

Chase Bethea is a composer who has been writing music for games since 2011. The first game he ended up working on Electron Flux, a top down mobile puzzle game where players create pathways to direct energy particles.

“When I made music in the years before, I was always told ‘it sounds like it should be in a video game’,” said Chase. “I figured out how to pitch for video game projects and I realized that my sound fits that medium very well. Since I was a child, I have always been a passionate gamer. So, it made sense that I follow the path of game audio.”

Chase Bethea is a freelance Composer, Sound Designer/Audio Engineer for Video Games and a variety of other Media.

“Since I began working in the video game industry, I learned a lot even before my first gig,” he added. “When I was a Front of House Live Sound Engineer at 19 years old, I learned how to talk to people and manage bands. I learned about other mixing techniques that I did not learn in school. This helped a lot with networking with people as well as running and recording my own sessions for my compositions.”

“The project Electron Flux taught me how to write music for puzzle games and test assets on mobile devices. It taught me how to demo and bid competitively,” he added.

Natural Game Music

Early in his life Chase made music that sounds similar to video game music. He describes it as a “red flag that could have been as bright as the blood moon from Breath of the Wild.”

“I suppose this stemmed from me listening to the music on GameBoy and Sega Genesis through the sound test for thousands of hours. I was also composing and transcribing music on my Alto Saxophone when I was 12 to 14 years old,” Chase noted. “I used to tinker with 3D model software and RPG Maker 2000 and 2003 during high school. I also made music on the PlayStation 1 game MTV Music Generator. I certainly did not expect to end up where I am now.  I used to regret not listening to my friend’s comments sooner and figuring out how to get into the industry back then. It would mean that I would have started when I was 14 years old and would have possibly been working in the industry before the end of high school or right after.”

“I was always told that my music should be in a video game,” he continued. “I showed someone my very first track that I produced and that is what she said to me. Multiple people said the exact same thing numerous times as I produced more tracks for several years. Finally, one year I decided to do some research to see if video game composition was an actual profession and lo and behold it was. It was clear at that moment that since I already had a distinctive sound then, I should pursue it.”

Chase has worked on multiple science-fiction soundtracks, but he says that’s not the lone selling point on working on a score. “My ear gravitates to what sounds great. I enjoy Jazz, Orchestral, Ambient, Chiptune, Hybrid, Electronic and Progressive Rock the most,” detailed Chase. “I really enjoy action-adventure, puzzle, role-playing, strategy, platformers, shoot’em ups, and Metroidvanias.”

From Super Happy to Darkness

Super Happy Fun Block and I Can’t Escape: Darkness were also seminal projects for Chase. He was working on the scores for Super Happy Fun Block and I Can’t Escape: Darkness simultaneously.

“I alternated between which project I worked on daily or weekly depending on the milestone/deadline. For Super Happy Fun Block, I built a sound palette based on my demo, Sunny Ways, and established the theme,” detailed Chase. “From there, I looked at the concept art and composed the music based on what I felt the art conveyed. I stuck to my instrumentation and focused on achieving what the musical environment would be for the world and for the player. I wanted the music to be cognitive. After all, it is a puzzle game and so, the music should feel like it is there but at the same time not there. I wanted it to feel subconscious.

“On the other spectrum, the music for I Can’t Escape: Darkness was more aleatoric and atmospheric than the first game. I created a theme and decided to have loose instrumentation. The reason is because as I was creating the music, I wanted the player to feel certain moods at different times depending on the level they were on. I was also using a technique that I never tried before called Dynamic Layering. This allowed me to be as abstract and experimental as possible. In addition to achieving the immersion and sound claustrophobia for the player to experience.”

Another notable milestone was providing music which specifically was set to accompany the plot of </reality>. “When I was approached with the concept of </reality> I began to make a journal. The journal entries began with a synopsis of the character’s personality. I knew from the beginning that each character was going to have a theme and I wanted each of the themes to be unique. Most days, I sat at the piano and did some improvisation sketches and recorded them on my phone. From there, I fleshed out the sketches with more instruments that I had established when I created the main theme for </reality> titled Facts of Existence. Fancy Fish Games gave me the perfect audio asset list for track references, descriptions and duration times. I was able to gain some inspiration to what they had provided and put my personal spin on it based on the specific characters and a few key story events.”

Another seminal moment for Chase was providing instrumentals for Adult Swim. “For Adult Swim, I approached them by submitting music I thought would fit best for their bumpers. I had been watching Adult Swim for years so I knew the formula in terms of style and vibe.  The first two tracks I sent them got placed. It took me about two years to make the tracks because when I made “Lucky Aurora” I needed a guitarist and I didn’t know one at the time that could play what I wanted. The mix was done for “Lucky Aurora” but I didn’t finish the music for the other. I was also getting feedback from some of my producer friends to see if they thought the tracks were worth submitting. Once I finished “Lucky Aurora” I moved on to “Downstream Suite” and by then I knew enough guitarists to play on that track. I needed the guitarist to bring this live element and vibe that was missing. I could not achieve it with samples and my colleagues agreed. Finally, after I was satisfied with both mixes, I sent it off  to Adult Swim and both of them were placed on their bumpers.”

Wanting to Create Cool Noises

Chase says that he’s loved hearing cool noises and mimicking them from a very young age. Everything from spring door stoppers to blowing over the top of beer bottles fascinated him.

“I wanted to figure out a way to create them. When I worked at an internet media company called Vlaze, I was tasked with coming up with sound effects and with the tiny post-production training I had in school, I dived into figuring out the design process,” Chase noted. “Composition came to me around fourth grade. I would make up songs or remix songs in my head.” Chase started to play Alto Saxophone in fifth grade. At that time, he started to write down his small musical ideas. Those were his first compositions.

Chase feels strongly about the importance of music and sound for video games. He describes it as the glue that holds together the gaming experience.

“I believe some players would find it difficult to play a game they enjoy with the sound and music completely off (unless they are sneaking and playing so that their parents and/or wife/husband do not find out),” notes Chase. “Just like art, programming, and level design, audio plays a big of a role. The whole game ships as a collective art form. Music adds a little more magic to those beautiful moments, uncomfortable feelings and the comedic gestures while playing the game. It binds the storytelling and can make it more cohesive as well as a delectable play-through.

Music adds a little more magic to those beautiful moments, uncomfortable feelings and the comedic gestures while playing the game.

“I enjoy writing game music because it allows me to be the most creative with sounds and style. Many video game projects are different and are designed to challenge the player in a myriad of ways. This brings the challenge of composing music to fit what the project calls for, not what the music style should be. So, that allows me as the composer to mix styles and fuse them as I wish in order to accompany what the rest of the project is doing.”

Dealing With </reality>

Whenever Chase has creative blocks, he takes a walk. He says it is important to go outside and to take some time away from the computer.

“When I return to the computer after an hour, I am able to complete the composition,” details Chase. “Another way I handle creative blocks is sometimes I take a few days off from the project and return to it once something comes to me. This longer break helps. I also read books, listen to podcasts, watch or read interviews of other game industry professionals, attend other fellow musician’s concerts and play video games or listen to music from my childhood.”

He’s learned different lessons on different games as well. “The project Different Color taught me about audio file type formats that only work on Flash games,” said Chase. “The project Cubic Climber taught me a few things. One of them was how to work with foreign game developers and time zones. It also taught me how to write more efficiently by creating DAW templates. In addition, I learned how to work remotely by using Teamviewer in order to meet the release date deadline while I was working my day job.”

I Can’t Escape: Darkness taught me how to pace myself and to gather my ideas early as well as implement them. It taught me to be as proactive as I can even if the deadline is far away because time will creep up and assets lists may grow. During the project, I taught myself how to build a mini Foley sound stage to create assets for the game that did not exist. I also learned how to code for Open AL,” he continued. “</reality> taught me how to run recording sessions more efficiently when recording studio was inaccessible.

“All these lessons have been essential to my longevity in working in the industry and improving my craft. So, I would say super duper helpful!”

Play, Read, Study

When it comes down to making the music magic, Chase suggests the fundamentals, “Play the game, read the game design documents, study the art. Most importantly, test the music in the game engine! I found out very early in my career that it is imperative to implement the music in the game. This will determine if the music loops, fades, works with the animations, mechanics and mood.”

As for developers working with composers, Chase suggests they create an asset list of the audio basics to start. “For example, UI sound effects or main menu music,” said Chase. “Compile references and games that they believe best matches what the game is calling for. I have worked with some developers that want music that sounds like Hans Zimmer or sound effects from Mega Man X  just because they like it. However, in reality, that music does not fit the project at all.”

“Understanding what the game is conveying and trusting the audio professional that the developer hired will result in a collaborative synergy that will most likely create a compelling art-form product,” he added.


David Radd

David Radd

David Radd is a staff writer for David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.