Chris Vrenna:
Scoring Games, Producing with Pro Tools

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Chris Vrenna is Tweaker

Scoring for Games
With such diverse talents and a busy and varied schedule, it’s obvious that Vrenna actively strives to do many things, and not get pigeon-holed into one set area or category of composing, engineering or producing. He does this by constantly working on multiple types of projects, from music, to film to TV, to games. He admits that game scoring is a bit tricky though.

“So far the biggest challenge in this one game is that everything has to be triggered through XMIDI in the sample bank and the sample bank can’t be bigger than 4mb,” he explains.

“Because the game is so massive, the music is the last thing they worry about fitting in. And because the music code can’t use compression, it can only use downsampling. Basically, everything just gets chopped down to 22kHz,” says Vrenna.

“Since I have to deliver 8mb of 16-bit/44.1kHz wave mono, what I have to produce is a four-minute song that still sounds cool and doesn’t get repetitive, that only uses 8mb of samples,” he adds. “That can be really hard to do.”

Variety is the Spice of Life
“When I first left Nine Inch Nails, I was focusing on producing and remixing. But now, with the way that the industry is going — like everything else — I’m just having fun making music for whatever application — whether it’s for a record, for a game or a film or TV theme or cartoon or whatever,” explains Vrenna. “Every one of them is different and fun.

“But I definitely have been switching gears into more composition-based stuff lately,” he says. “Right now it’s mostly games, but I just had a meeting for a potential movie. I’d definitely like to move more into that realm.”

Why Tweaker?
Tweaker is Vrenna’s pure creative baby — the thing he gets to do purely for himself. “If you’re producing a project, the A/R guy is going to browbeat you for the radio single, and a host of other things,” explains the multi-talented composer and producer. “If you’re doing a score, you have to answer to the director, the producer, the studio and even more people. On a game, you have to probably even more people to please.

“I think everybody’s gotta have something they can do where no one’s gonna tell you what to do one way or the other. Opinions are one thing, but you don’t actually have to actually answer to them. That is Tweaker,” says Vrenna.

“That’s what keeps you fresh...when you get to have fun making something stupid by yourself,” he adds. “It’s such a small project at the end of the day, and everybody knows that, there aren’t any false expectations about it, so that gives me even more freedom.”

Tweaker’s “2 a.m. wakeup call” is now out on iMusic/BMG. Vrenna plans to tour in support of the album with just two other members of the band — Clint Walsh and Paul Ill — playing both guitar and bass, plus both of them also on keyboards. And of course, Vrenna will handle the drums.

Previous page: For the Love of Hardware

Chris Vrenna

1. Tweaker of Sound
2. For the Love of Hardware
3. Scoring Games, Producing with Pro Tools

Studio Tools
(Part 3 of 3)

Pro Tools Is Portable
“Everybody has Pro Tools these days, in one form or another,” says Vrenna. “But that’s one cool thing about using Pro Tools. When you go to other studios, it always opens exactly the same way — the worst thing is that you don’t have any of the same plug-ins in your folder, but it still displays them so you can see what they were using, and it’s not a nightmare.”

Twice this year, Vrenna was called into studios to add programming for high-profile bands in the eleventh hour. He explains, “Each time I got the call, I brought down some of my hardware synths, walked in and could just patch in some MIDI cords, open up a new track, add in a couple things and — within three minutes — I’m programming right within their session. Pro Tools is just that universal.

“Some people complain, ‘I can’t customize the screens. I can’t change the key commands.’ But when you go in and do gigs like that, thank god!” says Vrenna.

Useful Links

Past Vrenna Interviews
Confessions of a Tweaker

Nine Inch Nails

Power Mac G4

Pro Tools
Antares Filter
Arturia Moog
Native Instruments
Trilogy Atmosphere

Roland V-Synth

Mesa Boogie Triaxis
Microwave XT
Line6 Amp Farm
Line6 Bass Pod

Audio Interfaces
Apogee Rosetta


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