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Tom Gunn June 5th, 2024

Spotlight on Fat Bard

The St. Louis, Missouri-based audio duo, producing highly stylized music and sound design.

  The header image used for this article was provided by Fat Bard. View here

Hey Zach, great to meet you. Please tell us about yourselves and your journey up to now. What led you to start your studio with co-founder Patrick?

We met in 2010, shortly after Patrick graduated from Berklee College of Music and came home to St. Louis to kickstart a home-recording studio. I was in high school, playing in a video-game-music inspired rock band, and reached out to set up some recording time after a recommendation from a mutual acquaintance.

Over the next few years we continued to record together and built up a pretty strong working relationship despite our 10 year age gap. In 2012 I took a class on electronic music and got serious about music composition. Patrick suggested I look into game music, especially since the burgeoning indie scene was so fresh, and the barrier for entry was much lower than something like film scoring.

We chatted about this on and off for a few weeks and eventually decided to partner up, approaching it with the mindset of a rock band where we would create a singular, strongly-branded identity to work under. I chose to go to a local music college so we could remain in close contact while drumming up initial business, and in 2013 we started attending meet-ups and game jams to get our name out there.

For the next few years we did a handful of small projects (many of which never saw the light of day), and grew our craft and professionalism. It was during this time we met the local dev studio, Butterscotch Shenanigans, who hired us to do music and sound design for their upcoming title, Crashlands. When Crashlands launched in 2016 it was an unexpected success, hitting the top of the app store, and we found ourselves able to open a lot of previously closed doors. Looking back, now that we're both full-time with Fat Bard, that was the obvious initial launching point for us.

Your website says you produce highly stylized music and sound design - tell us a bit about the important role music and sound play in video games and experiences

I love that games allow soundtracks to be in the forefront and to be heard as something more than just "background music". And every developer we've worked with shares that value of treating music as a central identity of the game. When we say highly stylized we mean that, not only will the music enhance and uplift the rest of the game, but it will present as a singular artistic identity that feels tailor made for the project.

Sound design occupies a similar territory, though I often find it to be the unsung hero. Good sound design isn't necessarily obvious and flashy, and effectiveness has just as much to do with implementation as it does with sound creation. You can make a really cool and unique sound, but if you put it in the game and it comes across as annoying, or worse, confusing, then you're not servicing the gameplay experience. Since sound design is basically the feel of a game, we're always taking these things into consideration during the designing process, and we spend lots of time planning and iterating on the implementation to get things to feel just right.

What would you say is Fat Bard’s USP?

Music and sound design with a singular identity.

You've worked with a wide range of well known IPs, as well as being fun to work on do they also come with some challenges or restrictions?

Many of the larger titles we work on, like Brawhlalla and SMITE, are live-service games. So there are often months of scheduled deadlines for things that haven't even been designed yet, and we only have a short window to complete each one before moving on to the next. On top of that, when the game is also working with another IP on a crossover for something like Star Wars, our work has to go through extra lot-checks before getting approved. So the challenge is creating something not only you and the audio lead like, but also that the developer and the crossover IP holder like; and to often do it all within a two week timeframe. It's quite different than when it's just you and a solo indie developer, and you slap an audio file in discord and they go, "yup sounds good!".

How have you used the CG Hero platform so far?

While working on various projects there are times that the developer needs to add on another person to the team, and in those instances we can be a great asset to them by assisting. We’re always eager to not only use our own internal network to help connect people together, but to use CGHero as a tool to find new talent. It’s been incredibly useful as a way to fill in our gaps when we need someone with a specific skillset or style.

What is it about the platform that you like?

We like how easy it is to find new talent, see their portfolio, and quickly connect with them. The search tools are pretty robust and it makes things a lot easier than doing open callouts, corresponding back and forth with all applicants, etc. We also love how the site is now opening up beyond artists to a broader palette of creative fields. This makes it even more useful when we need to find a quick hire for a project

With the changes the gaming industry has been going through over the past 12 months do you see this, at least from a creative point of view, as an opportunity to work on a wider variety of projects?

I think this is a hard question to answer as a freelancer. We’ve seen a LOT of fellow freelancers struggle during this time, and I’m not sure we’re seeing more opportunity to work on a wider variety of projects. If anything, from our perspective, we’re seeing less opportunity because publishers are getting more conservative and taking less chances. I DO think that with a lot of folks from AAA forming their own studios there will be a lot of AA projects emerging and opportunities will open up from it, so there is some opportunity there.

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