Born in London, award-winning composer Stephen Baysted is well known for his versatility and emotionally charged and expressively powerful music. Stephen’s acclaimed music scores have been enjoyed by viewers and players worldwide in a succession of award-winning films, TV programmes and video games including the number one bestselling racing game Project Cars, Blink Film’s epic six-part documentary series Ancient Mysteries for Channel 5, and Graveyard of the Giant Beasts for Channel 4 and PBS.
That’s not all, he has also composed the music for cinema, television and radio advertisements, including high profile campaigns for Budweiser, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Samsung, and writes for many leading music libraries. On top of all that, he somehow finds the time to be a Professor of Film Composition at the University of Chichester too!
Stephen is currently scoring a new three-part series exploring Tutankhamen’s treasures for Channel 4 and a six-part factual series for BBC2 with Michelin Star chef Tom Kerridge. We caught up with him recently to have a chat about his setup, his love for Spectrasonics and Heavyocity, and the different challenges that composing for video games and cinema have.
Hi Stephen, you’ve scored music for several racing games over the years, how would you say composing for this genre of video game compares to composing for others?
Generally, racing simulations don’t use any music during gameplay, only in the menu system and cut-scenes. So your objective as a composer is to prepare the player for the race and battle ahead by creating tension and excitement, and by trying to immerse them in the sound world of motorsports.
As you’re a big fan of formula 1 racing, do you find that helps you when composing for racing games?
Yes, I think it helps to understand the challenges and dangers associated with the sport and I find it’s really inspiring to try to get inside the head of the racing driver, to imagine how they must be feeling driving at 200mph wheel-to-wheel with their competitors – the exhilaration, fear, danger, excitement, trepidation, determination, etc.
Tell us a bit about your setup – what key hardware can be found in your studio?
My setup is now a little less complex than it was a few years ago – I only have one slave computer (an older Mac Pro), a Mac Mini that runs video, and a fully maxed out Mac Pro ‘trashcan’ which is my main machine running Cubase and ProTools. Three years ago, I had 5 slave PCs running over a hundred channels of audio through 4 interfaces into my old Mac Pro! Now I stream all my sample libraries from SSD drives over Thunderbolt RAID arrays.
I have three UAD Apollo interfaces (an 8 and a 16 for my studio, and a Twin for my portable setup). I use Dynaudio BM15a and Acoustic Energy AE23 monitors. For my control surface, I use a Slate Raven MTi2 which controls Cubase and Pro Tools – it’s a fantastic platform. I’m a great fan of SSL hardware so I have one of their legendary G Series Buss Compressors and a pair of E Series EQs. I have a pair of Pultec clone EQs, a couple of hardware reverbs and some other compressors.
I do have a bit of a synth addiction as well! I’ve got a Roland Jupiter 80 (magnificent, massively underrated and misunderstood), Roland JD800, Roland JP8000, Roland XV5050, Dave Smith Instruments Prophet REV2, Sequential Circuits Six-Trak, Arturia Matrix Brute, Moog Sub 37, Access Virus B, Korg Minilogue, Yamaha DX11 and two or three more in boxes in the loft. Oh and there’s another one on order, but don’t tell my wife!
Which software instruments do you regularly rely on for your work and why?
One of the mainstays of my setup is Omnisphere 2. It’s a phenomenally flexible and versatile synth, and even more so when third party libraries and custom patches are used; you can cover so many bases with it, the sound quality is stunning and the speed at which you can work with it means that it’s often the first thing I reach for.
Where orchestral sample libraries are concerned, I have a huge number of them from most of the main library companies and all use the Native Instruments Kontakt platform. I am a massive fan of Spitfire Audio and the ways in which Paul and Christian go about sampling instruments at Air Studios and other smaller venues.
I have their bespoke Symphonic Strings library which, even though I bought it in 2011, is still my go-to large string ensemble library; it’s just so alive, vibrant, expressive and convincing. I have all of Spitfire’s ‘Albion’ range, the Sable small ensemble strings, the Sacconi Quartet, Solo Strings, Symphonic Woodwinds, Orchestral Percussion, Hans Zimmer Percussion and Piano, loads of their Brass libraries and too many of the others to list!
I’m also a big fan of Dave, Ari and Neil at Heavyocity (having worked with them on a Need for Speed game in 2010) and have a lot of their libraries too. I particularly find their Masters Sessions percussion collections fantastically useful and sonically superb. Their latest string library NOVO is excellent, as is
Gravity and Damage. I still use their Evolve libraries too.
Sample Logic’s Morphestra 2, Cinemorph X and Cinematic Guitars 1 & 2 are exceptionally useful and very flexible, especially for TV work. I have Orchestral Tool’s Berlin Woodwinds and Metropolis Ark. Berlin Woodwinds are meticulously recorded and processed and are very good for intricate solo writing. Metropolis Ark has a seriously powerful and bombastic sound and is perfect for trailers.
I have the Cinesamples Brass and Woodwind libraries, several of the Sonokinetic collections, a lot of the 8Dio libraries and Daniel James’ Hybrid Two Alpha and Bravo (which are stellar and perennially useful). I have a ton of other libraries too, far too many to list, but just a quick mention of the amazing Ilya Duduk and Loop Loft’s fab drum collections.
Gothic Instruments’ Dronar is a really useful tool for atmospheric and textural writing for TV, film and games.
You’ve worked on everything from high-paced intense action games to quite in-depth and intricate documentaries. Which do you prefer composing for?
All types of projects present their own unique challenges and I really love the variety of the work that I get commissioned to do. Game scores are radically different in terms of their structure and the process of composition than TV or Film scores, and they can be very complex productions to put together.
Are there any project in particular that you’ve worked that you have particularly fond memories of?
Very difficult question! Probably the first Project Cars game released in 2015 with Slightly Mad Studios or the film I, Claude Monet directed by Phil Grabsky from 2016. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be different.
Finally, what’s been your highlight of 2017 and what are you looking forward to in 2018?
There were a number of really great highlights this year, but the best was undoubtedly recording the score to Project Cars 2 at Air Lyndhurst Studios in London with the London Metropolitan Orchestra.
To find out more about Stephen’s work visit his website here
You can also follow Stephen on Twitter here