Continuing on with our celebration of video game music, today’s installment of September’s Composer’s Corner features one of the world’s most notable “Chip-Hop” artists around, Random; or, as he’s more known in the gaming sphere, Mega Ran. After the blue bomber-themed album of the same name made its mark, Mega Ran went on to create a series of popular albums, including a tribute to FFVII titled Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII. The month, he’s currently in the UK touring for The Otherworld Tour, while also promoting the Mega Lo Mania documentary profiling his life. I spoke to Mega Ran about his success so far, some of his favorite artists to listen to, and where he typically finds his inspiration for upcoming albums. Sprinkled throughout are some embedded tracks I highly encourage you to listen to as well. Enjoy.
Indie Game Magazine: It’s unusual for an album in the indie scene to gain the blessing of a AAA studio, let alone cultivate a working relationship. Can you talk a little bit about how you and Capcom have coexisted since the release of the original Mega Ran album?
Mega Ran: It’s been a wild ride. Capcom was ahead of the curve in a lot of ways: One was enacting and enlisting the support of a community-based service back in the mid-2000s, and almost all developers have followed suit since then.
I feel like my relationship with them has gone like the Mega Man games themselves: When they’re into it, great games come out and the fans go crazy… When they’re not, and nothing’s happening, things are quiet, and people wonder what’s going on… And then when another project drops, the magic returns like it never left.
IGM: How do you decide which games to focus upcoming albums on? Is there a single moment of inspiration while listening to music, or is it a much more drawn out process?
Mega Ran: It’s usually a moment of inspiration that has stuck with me for a long time. Because so much of it is retro-game based, I only work on projects that are based on games that had a huge role in my development as a gamer, or taught me something outside of the game. Once in a while though, a single moment can come to me while playing a game that lets me know that I want to explore that theme more.
IGM: Equipment-wise, how do you go about composing your chiptune tracks?
Mega Ran: My setup changes a lot, but right now I’m using Logic, Ableton Live, Famitracker and various doodads and plug-ins.
IGM: Most musicians have a musical signature, leaving some sort of consistent digital thumbprint in their tracks. Do you have a distinctive signature that listeners can keep an ear out for?
Mega Ran: I try to leave one on each album, not each track. I look at an album the way a lot of musicians might look at a song– a very specific feeling goes into the overall approach and vibe.
The keen-eared listener can pick up on those little consistencies I sprinkle in if they listen to a few albums. There’s always an instrumental interlude on every album. Also, there may be a word, a phrase, a musical breakdown, or a weird sound that’s consistent from project to project. I’ve been doing that since 2008– but I don’t want to give all of those Easter eggs away!
IGM: Mega Ran in Language Arts was a cross-media endeavor that you successfully crowdfunded, and it came out great. How did the project turn out, and would you consider creating more cross-media comics and games that tie into your work in the future?
Mega Ran: Thank you, it was a very ambitious project that I’m very proud of. I’d love to continue with exploration of cross-media projects, hence our DVD project Mega Lo Mania. I think all the time about a continuation to the Language Arts story, game, comic and more… So maybe one day. The comic still continues on j1studios.com!
IGM: Is there any game tribute/album you’d love to tackle that you just haven’t gotten around to yet? Or perhaps something that doesn’t typically mesh with the chiptune style that you’d be interested in pursuing?
Mega Ran: There are many, but I feel like if I say them before I’m ready, someone else will take them! But I’d like to get to a Golgo 13 comic/game rap album. Or outside of the chip realm, BioShock would be a great universe to play around in.
IGM: What’s your favorite part of performing live at an event or convention? Is there any aspect of traveling on tour that you don’t particularly enjoy?
Mega Ran: The best part of performing is looking out into the crowd and seeing people smiling, dancing, and having the time of their lives. It makes all the long nights writing and mixing worth it.
On the other side, the long drives from city to city, especially alone, can be a drag.
IGM: What was it like juggling a teaching career with a rising music career? Did you find retiring from one to pursue the other a difficult decision?
Mega Ran: It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I love teaching, and I love making music. I promised myself I would do both teaching and music as long I could do them both at what I considered to be a high level. When music started taking off, I was missing days at school, coming in tired, and I felt I was doing the students a disservice. So I walked away not only for me, but to give them the best shot at achieving.
IGM: Of all the tracks or albums you’ve created, is there one that sticks out as being your greatest accomplishment thus far?
Mega Ran: Well, for the work that went into it, there’s a song called “Push” that is almost nine years old but still one of my favorites. My friend Matt Weiss brought in a live viola player, tracked that, plus multi-layered operatic vocals to make that track come to life and it still gives me the chills today.
IGM: Can you name a few other artists, chiptune or otherwise underground/indie, whose music you personally enjoy listening to?
Mega Ran: I love listening to Open Mike Eagle, he’s an indie rapper pushing the boundaries of rap music. Virt, Danimal Cannon, Super Soul Bros, Grimecraft, Sammus, SkyBlew, Tribe One, and so many more, but these guys inspire me to be better at music and at life.
Thanks to Mega Ran for taking the time to chat even while in the middle of a UK tour going on right now. We at IGM hope he’s having a wonderful time, and wish him a safe trip back once the tour has concluded. Be sure to stay tuned all month long as IGM Interviews transforms into the Composer’s Corner, as we showcase some of the greatest music artists in the gaming industry, all in an effort to celebrate an all-too important component to our shared gaming experiences.