Los Angeles, California, March 14, 2023— Brian White and his composing partner Brian Trifon never fully expected to live their audio dreams within the video game industry. “Neither of us had ever thought we wanted to be composers,” White says, noting that his early audio-industry goals involved more conventional engineering and studio production for bands and rappers, which he had already put on hold to pursue the more lucrative field of commercial jingles. His entré into the world of video game composition started with the anniversary edition of the sci-fi classic Halo: Combat Evolved for Microsoft. “They needed someone to execute some very specific tasks for that game, which included reprogramming the synth sounds of the original because they had no access to the original materials other than the two-track audio. So they called us in for our synth programming chops and sound design muscle to recreate these late 90s and early 2000s synth sounds and that’s how we got our start in video games.”
The next level
White and Trifon formed Finishing Move Inc. and continued delivering score and sound design for Microsoft as well as other publishers, including the recently-released survival-horror game; The Callisto Protocol. White attributes Finishing Move’s success to their ability to craft memorable content that is both enveloping and mindful of the player experience. “I learned a lot from composing for advertisements,” he says. “That work was really challenging because you have to jump into different styles and think fast and come up with musical ideas. It really planted the seeds of what I do now as a composer.” But to complete his development as a mixer, he needed to upgrade his monitors. “I think early in my career–because I didn’t have good speakers— I thought that the world of mixing was just compression and EQ,” he says. “But as you develop your ear and start working with better equipment you realize it’s about texture and depth, and to understand those intangible things you need speakers that can represent them.” To deliver on these all-important intangibles, White turned to the depth and clarity of Amphion monitors.
Working on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary represented a major step forward for White. “That was our big Mario warp-whistle moment,” he says. “We went from composing jingles for a mattress company to a triple-A game budget, recording a full orchestra at Skywalker Sound.” After the success of that project, Finishing Move, Inc. was invited back for the Halo 2 Anniversary soundtrack, this time as composers and score supervisors. It was critical for White to upgrade his setup to include detailed monitoring that could help him deliver on Finishing Move’s new responsibilities. He settled on an Amphion system that included stereo One18 monitors with an Amphion bass extension system, later moving the One18s to the rear position of a 4.0 configuration and obtaining a pair of Two18 monitors for the front left and right positions for even more detail. “I got turned on to Amphion very early,” White says. “I was one of the first in the US to have them, before they even had a US retailer. One of the things that intrigued me about Amphion out of the gate was that there’s no DSP in the signal path. It’s just pure information without that layer of conversion.” He set up his new speakers in his Highland Park studio, a 22’ by 18’ space built and acoustically designed to his specifications. “It’s not huge, but it’s big enough to serve as a viable mix room with room for recording when needed.”
Monitoring: the top priority
For White, upgrading to a monitor befitting his own attention to detail was long overdue. “If there’s one thing that I could go back and tell my past self it would be to get the best speakers you can possibly afford, even before you go and buy a bunch of microphones or plug-ins,” he says. “That’s how important good monitoring is. I spent so many years with bad monitoring, making incremental upgrades every few years. It just doesn’t get you there.” White notes that monitor quality is determined by more than its frequency reproduction chart. “A lot of people think about the frequency curve, and that is important, but it’s only one factor,” he says. “How fast are the speakers? How do they move air? How do they resolve? How does a transient sound on them? How does the imaging come together? These are the kinds of things that will impact how they feel in the room and how you work on them.”
White notes that getting things right in the mix is of special importance in the video game field given the contextual playback of sound design and music elements. “We do not have a mastering stage in game composition,” he says. “It’s just not possible to do conventional mastering due to the fact that the music has to run in real time within the game. So whatever we mix is what ships with the final product. I need to hear accurately what’s going on through the full frequency range all the way down to the sub bass because there’s no one to check my work, and with the Amphions I’ve got that.” Accurate monitoring also enables White to work quickly and meet the industry’s tight deadlines and need for prompt revisions. “When you get to a certain point, time is money, and you want to be faster about your decisions,” White says. “My system gives me the confidence to work quickly.”
While his Two18s and One18s provide pinpoint accuracy in the critical midrange and high end, incorporating Amphion’s bass extension system is key to White’s ability to deliver mixes with impact. “Games have a lot of sound design elements and foley, so we have to keep the low end tight to leave room,” White says. “We want to use the full dynamic range and have those cresting moments that help it feel cinematic, but spectrally it has to be contained, especially since there’s no dubbing stage where someone can dip specific elements. The bass extension system helps me make critical choices in the low end without sacrificing impact.”
Where White focuses on dynamics for in-game mixes, he notes that his priorities shift when working on game trailers. “For a trailer it’s the opposite of in-game: tons of low end, super loud, and very exaggerated,” he says. “The loudness wars are still very much in effect in that zone, so everything has to be really amped up. A gunshot is not just a gunshot and a punch is not just a punch. It might have a ton of reverb and bass bloom that’s over the top, so once again having accuracy from your monitors is key.” White’s mixes need not only translate to consumers, but also need to win over producers. “We need our mixes to pop and sound good in editing bays, many of which don’t have great speakers, so it really helps to have that mastering-grade low end to top end and really know where every element is sitting and how it will reproduce on a variety of systems,” he says. “A lot of other composers have to rely on visual spectral tools for that level of detail, but I can hear what’s happening straight from my monitors.”
Translation and fun factor
For White, allowing for a meandering career path has allowed him to discover opportunity in unexpected places. “Finding something that you can excel at and enjoy doing isn’t easy in this industry,” he says. “I never envisioned working in game composition, but as it turned out I enjoy it way more than I did engineering studio sessions every day or working in commercials. So the nonlinear career path has really worked out for me.” He finds that working with Amphion monitors has not only enabled excellence, but also helped him continue to enjoy his work. “Good monitors are very much about translation, but they’re also about the fun factor,” he says. “I can crank my system at the end of a long day and get that club-level presentation and it just puts a huge smile on my face.
For more information about Amphion, please visit: https://amphion.fi/
Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd. was established in 1998. We design and build loudspeakers that are characterized by honest and accurate sound reproduction. Precise driver integration ensures world-class imaging and phase coherency. Controlled dispersion technology helps achieve more stable results in a variety of room acoustics. All products are handmade in Finland (and the Amphion amplifiers are assembled in Finland) to ensure enduring listening quality.