Profiles

Composer Shota Nakama and His Video Game Orchestra

It may seem hard to believe, but the videogame industry is in a graying stage. You can set the time it reached maturity anywhere from the mid-1990s on, but it’s certainly true that a generation-plus has grown up without knowing a universe devoid of galactic heroes, ancient villains and stolen vehicles, all residing inside the box.

Shota Nakama is of that generation. The not-yet-30-year-old composer and arranger moved from his native Okinawa, Japan, while still a teenager to pursue a music education at Berklee College of Music, where he majored in film scoring. “I chose that major because it’s the most versatile of all,” Nakama says. “You get to learn composing, orchestration, recording, sound design and editing.” After completing his studies, Nakama earned a master’s degree in classical guitar performance from the Boston Conservatory.

A videogame enthusiast, Nakama felt that the best scores in gaming deserved a wider audience. In 2008 he formed the Video Game Orchestra and began creating arrangements, which include a full orchestra, rock band and vocalists. VGO has garnered a considerable following over the past six or seven years and has performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall, the Seattle Paramount Theater, and a number of venues in China and Taiwan. Nakama recently founded SoundtRec Boston, a recording production company designed to provide audio services for film, videogames and animation houses based in Boston, where he lives.

Nakama has written a number of arrangements of music composed by Yoko Shimomura, one of the most well established composers in the videogame industry. It’s often difficult to draw the line between arranging and re-composing. Did Nakama in any way rewrite, or compose additional material, to the Shimomura’s scores?

“I have been closely working with Yoko Shimomura as her arranger for the majority of the Final Fantasy XV-related music, and I can say a halfway yes to that question!” he explains. “Sometimes I add quite a bit of things that don’t exist in the drafts she sends. She gives me enough freedom to add a bit of my own taste in her music, which is really great.”

Conduct a YouTube search and you’ll have no problem coming across VGO performances, which reveal that Nakama has a clear command of the orchestra. “I write the arrangements using Finale, and then turn them over to my engineer, Falk Au Yeong, to execute MIDI mockups, at least most of the time. He’s a tech wizard who knows a lot of samples and DAWs inside out. He mainly uses [Cakewalk] SONAR and Cinesamples. When I really have to do it on my own, I use Logic and Vienna Symphonic Library. I actually have been hearing a lot of great things about Spitfire from a lot of my L.A. friends.”

VGO tracks are often recorded at Boston’s WGBH Fraser Studios. Tracks are cut to a Steinberg Nuendo workstation and then brought into Falk Au Yeong’s studio as audio files, where they are imported into the engineer’s SONAR-enabled laptop. “My main work rig at home consists of a pair of PCs running in tandem, a main and a sample slave via Vienna Ensemble Pro, with the audio interface being a MOTU 828,” Yeong says. “I work primarily on a pair of AKG K702 headphones due to familiarity and personal preference. I have a small collection of microphones as well as Aural Sonic portable audio treatment panels used to set up my space for whenever small-scale tracking is required. Part of the reason my setup is lightweight is so that it can also be carted around. We’ve taken this rig to track stuff, run a multiple-output backing tracks/clicks/video solution for live concerts, and even for mixing sessions.”

“We have been working with SONAR for mixing almost exclusively,” Nakama adds. “Falk has been a dedicated Cakewalk user since slightly before the days it transitioned to the Pro Audio line. Having an old-school Electronics and Computing degree, he has always been a PC person because it is more open and customizable. Cakewalk has always pioneered the cutting-edge, being, for example, the first truly 64-bit native DAW on the market.”

Composers since Bach (and before) have dreamed of having an orchestra on call to perform their works, so it seems logical to ask if Nakama has plans to use the group that he formed nearly seven years ago for the purpose of performing arrangements of videogame scores as a vehicle for musical works that are solely his.

“I had thought about that, and my immediate thought was, ‘Why would people hire Video Game Orchestra to record for their film or animation projects?’ So the simplest solution was to establish another entity, SoundtRec [StR] Boston to handle all the recording projects,” Nakama says. “We are already in discussion with numerous film companies as well as animation companies about recording their music. We are really fortunate to have some of the best professional talents from Boston, who are very passionate about what we do, in our StR and VGO network. It won’t be too long until you start seeing our name on film and animation soundtrack credits.”

If you’d like to know more about Shota Nakama, you’re invited to reach out to him at contact@soundtrecboston.com.

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