Megan McDuffee interviewed about composing for games and her new solo music

A prolific recording artist and composer for video games, trailers, and film, Megan McDuffee is set to release her first vocal-driven solo album, Inner Demons, on May 21. She has just put out the first single from it, “13th Hour“, a track inspired by the movie Labyrinth.

McDuffee has won awards for her work on the River City Girls game soundtrack, which she composed 50 tracks for and sang on. Her original sound design was heard in the theatrical trailer for Annihilation (2018). She has been involved with many, many other interesting projects – a complete list of which can be seen here.

In an email interview, McDuffee discussed her career and new music.

When you became interested in and started pursuing composing and scoring, were video games always part of what you wanted to do? 

Megan McDuffee: My initial focus was films, but video games were always something I thought about. I put a lot of energy into film scores, but my career just naturally started shifting to video games and I’m very happy it did! The VG community is awesome.

Were there any particular game soundtracks that inspired or influenced you?

Megan McDuffee: I wouldn’t say I’ve drawn inspiration from any particular game soundtracks (most of my influences are bands/recording artists and film composers), but I definitely fell in love with the soundtracks to my favorite games: Mario 64, Legend of Zelda OOT, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

As a game, River City Girls combined retro and modern gameplay and aesthetics, and the music goes along with that. Did that have any influence on your approach or process? For example, do you feel there were specific elements of classic game music you wanted to incorporate? Particular ideas of how to modernize?

Megan McDuffee: I didn’t really keep that in mind, and blazed ahead with my own style. The upbeat electronica and 80’s sensibility just kinda worked out!

It looks like you’ve had music licensed for many things. Has anything taken you by surprise? Either where it appeared or the context of use?

Megan McDuffee: I have, yes! Part of my ever-shifting-trying-to-figure-out-what’s-going-to-work thing. I think my biggest surprise was learning that a tiny little sound from a full trailer piece I had done was chosen and subsequently licensed for the Annihilation trailer. I was both surprised by the usage and the paycheck, haha.

In 2019 you put out a covers EP, ‘Barely Covered.’ What inspired that, and the song selection?

Megan McDuffee: Well, I’d always wanted to do my own rendition of ‘Toxic Love’ from FernGully; I loved that film as a kid, and the song always stood out to me. I’m also the biggest Tim Curry fan ever. So that basically dictated the direction of the EP. I knew I wanted sexually charged songs, or songs that I’ve always felt a sensuality from. Sexual tension in music is one of my favorite things, and I wanted a release with that blatantly clear.

You have a full vocal-driven album coming out soon. What can we expect from that?

Megan McDuffee: AAAAAAAH omg yes! I’m so damn excited. It’s my debut vocal LP that’s not for a game or client, and something I’ve wanted to accomplish my entire life. You can expect dark, edgy, moody electropop with haunting vocals and super catchy melodies. Think if Grimes, IAMX, and Depeche Mode got together to write an album influenced by games, film, sex, and creepy things.

Did you make the new album in a focused block of time, or is it material that you’ve been working on between other things?

Megan McDuffee: A bit of both actually. I started the album right after River City Girls released, and then didn’t revisit it for a couple of months. Then, I basically chipped away at it one day per week on the side of my client work during most of 2020. We moved in October, and then I finished recording the guitars, polishing the drums, and mixing everything at the start of 2021. And yes! It actually did evolve a bit. That first song really did set the theme for the album, but the style went from slightly gritty to a bit dreamier. The whole thing ended up being a nice mix of edginess and smoothness.

Do you feel your other work influences your solo music? (Either musical inspiration or perhaps things you want to do differently.)

Megan McDuffee: I think it’s the other way around actually. I mold what would be solo music into the client brief or what’s best befitting the project, as everything I work on has my own personal style. I just haven’t gotten to do much solo artist stuff as client work pays the bills 🙂

The internet has allowed listeners have easy access to a wide variety of music, and at the same time, ever more specialized scenes and genres can emerge and flourish. When you create your own music, are you thinking at all about where it might fit in?

Megan McDuffee: I just do me, and hope that people will vibe to it. So far so good!

Are there any particular ways that the evolution of musical technology has changed your creative/working process?

Megan McDuffee: Well, I definitely wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the amazing tech that’s available to me. I can have a very decent setup in my home, without having to pay thousands of dollars to record musicians or myself at a studio. The internet has also allowed me to find clients and fans from all over the world. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Many of my readers are interested in the tools behind electronic music. What is your primary setup like? (Hardware/software). 

Megan McDuffee: I’m mostly an in-the-box kind of gal. The workflow is just more streamlined. I do have a Roland Juno-6 that I record when it’s appropriate, as well as guitars, violin, electric bass, etc. I do all my work in Cubase, on an old pimped-out Mac Pro tower from 2009. This thing is a beast! Lots of ram and a SSD, and it works like a charm. My audio interface is a Focusrite Clarett 8pre USB, and my primary vocal mic is an Advanced Audio CM251. I have a couple of MIDI keyboards on which I pretty much play everything. Some of my favorite VST’s are Omnisphere 2, Papen Predator, Camel Audio Alchemy, NI Massive, NI Battery, and a bunch more. Then I mix on a pair of closed-back Beyerdynamic DT 770 pro headphones and test on my Alesis monitors, in my car, on the TV sound system, etc. to make sure it translates.

What would your dream scoring/soundtrack project be?

Megan McDuffee: I would die happy if I could score the upcoming Labyrinth sequel. The ’86 film is my favorite movie, and the music is absolutely incredible. It’s one of the soundtracks that made me want to pursue film scoring in the first place. The first song on my upcoming album is even a tribute to Labyrinth.

Do you have a favorite piece of music from Labyrinth?

Megan McDuffee: Oof, that’s so difficult. The entire soundtrack is forever seared into my brain, and it’s one long sonic journey. I’d say for Trevor Jones’ score, his theme for “Sarah” which shows up throughout the film is quintessential. It’s so beautiful. And then for Bowie’s contribution, either “As the World Falls Down” or “Within You.” They’re both spectacular.

Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?

Megan McDuffee: I love to hang and chat with everyone! I’m super active on Instagram and Twitter and will have some cool music videos coming out with the singles and upcoming album. Be sure to say hi and follow me for announcements and more music!

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