Interview by Jordan von Netzer
Matthew Carl Earl began his music career at the age on 6, when his mother first started teaching him piano lessons. So anyone that knows him, is not at all surprised that he has become an award-winning composer for video games. At Hexany Audio, a Los Angeles based game audio production studio he is one of the owners of, Matthew has scored everything from the VR favorite Men in Black: Galactic Getaway to the MOBA Arena of Valor. It’s his work on the hit title, Honor of Kings (TiMi Studio Group, Tencent Games) that is currently garnering him praise though. At this year’s G.A.N.G. Awards, Matthew’s Honor of Kings “Haiyue Theme” tied with God of War Ragnarök in the Best Main Theme category. This is significant considering God of War Ragnarök won most of the categories, taking home a total of 14 awards.
Below we learn more about Matthew’s musical journey and his work on Honor of Kings.
You have been musical since you were 6 years old, when you began playing the piano. What particularly interested you about music?
Matthew Carl Earl: To be honest, when I was a really young I used to hate practicing the piano, I always told my parents that music was a waste of time because it didn’t do anything useful. Now as a professional composer, this is obviously hilarious to me, and I have to thank my parents for making sure I stuck with it! Though my true love for music didn’t start until I was a little older, 12 years old maybe. I started playing other instruments like drums and guitar, and started listening to more “nerdy” music genres like metal and classical. Then started getting interested in learning to write and record my own music. This was super fun to me! Especially tinkering with recording different sounds of things in the production process. I just kinda fell in love with music as an art-form at that point.
World of Warcraft inspired you to get into the world of video game music. What was it about that game that fascinated you?
Matthew Carl Earl: So, when I was in my mid-teenage years I was playing so much WoW. Like a ton. The idea of having a whole fantasy world with its own history supported by musical themes that develop over many years is so cool to me. Players will grow to learn and love how the music interacts with a certain zone or character, and then later, when there is a development in the plot concerning those same ideas, the music can recall these musical themes but in an updated emotional light. Really, really inspiring as a composer and I feel like no other medium can have this personal connection to the music like games do.
You are one of the owners of Hexany Audio, a game audio production studio. How did this come about?
Matthew Carl Earl: I was actually the very first employee at Hexany Audio in the beginning. I was really interested in sound design as well as music at the time and so I applied to their “Composer, Sound Designer” position and got the gig doing both. After some time one of the owners left and I stepped in and just stripped my sound design title since I was better at music. After that, the company just continued to grow and now we have a great team of 22 folks split between music, sound design, technical audio and production!
What would you say Hexany Audio specializes in?
Matthew Carl Earl: In a broader context, our company specializes in Interactive Music, Sound Design, and Audio Implementation. However musically, we’ve lately been geared a lot into full orchestral production as well as song production in a lot of popular music genres (EDM, metal/rock, ect.)
You have also scored a few VR games such as Men in Black: Galactic Getaway and Star Trek: Dark Remnant. Is your approach different to a VR game, as opposed to a game like Honor of Kings?
Matthew Carl Earl: Yeah, VR can be a bit different depending on the style of the game. Normally, VR is quite a bit more atmospheric and when writing the music it’s really important to purely support the narrative and not stick its own head out too much. Occasionally in VR you can also play with fun things like the HRTF head tracking and pan some musical elements, if the game calls for it. A game like Honor of Kings on the other hand, we are writing big, bold themes that demand the listeners attention. This is kinda the realm we get to flex our writing muscles and have strong melodic themes featuring big orchestrations!
Congrats on your Game Audio Network Guild award for Honor of Kings. Did you have any idea you might take home this award?
Matthew Carl Earl: I had no idea at all. I knew this music was special to a lot of the players and I was very proud of it, but the other nominations in the “Best Main Theme” category were musical titans that I all really respected, including; God of War: Ragnarök, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Elden Ring, and my good friend Brenden William’s “K’Sante” theme for League of Legends. These were all games I have either played or listened to the music extensively. So, some pretty stiff competition!
Your Honor of Kings “Haiyue Theme” tied with God of War Ragnarök for Best Main Theme. Were you familiar with Bear McCreary’s God of War Ragnarök theme before the award?
Matthew Carl Earl: Yeah, I was very familiar with Bear's God of War work. It was my prediction of the winner honesty! Beautiful writing, great themes, awesome production. Really amazing stuff and I still listen to it frequently, so it was an honor to have tied!
The Honor of Kings and God of War Ragnarök themes are obviously very different, but what do you think about them stuck out so much to the G.A.N.G. voters?
Matthew Carl Earl: Yes, they are quite different on the surface, but I think what kinda stuck out among the two was their contrast in emotions. God of War is a raw and powerful score to a raw and powerful character, yet at the same time, there is beauty and thoughtfulness within. HaiYue is almost the counter-opposite of that, she is a graceful and beautiful character, but her sound still has trauma and anxiety within. I think people really resonate with this complexity in both character building and the accompanying music.
Honor of Kings was recently released in Brazil and has quickly become the most downloaded free mobile game in the country, less than a month after its release. Is your score the same for that territory or did you create any new music for that release?
Matthew Carl Earl: I haven’t personally written any music yet for the Brazilian version. However, Steven Grove on our team has written quite a bit already! And actually, yeah. We have ‘localized’ the music a bit for Brazil. When talking with Sean Zhao, the Music Director on Honor of Kings, he brought up an interesting point. A lot of the chart-topping pop songs in China are beautiful ballads with a melodic focus. However, in Brazil many of the top songs are fun upbeat tracks that focus a lot on rhythm. This was a conscious shift in the writing approach that brings a new energy to the Honor of Kings sound.
Is there a genre of game you haven’t gotten to work with yet, that you would like to?
Matthew Carl Earl: Hmm, honestly one of the things I think many composers, including myself, dream of being able to score is a single player, fantasy RPG. I’ve done a lot of multiplayer fantasy genre, but there is something really special about the linear story driven narrative in single player games that would be really fun to score!
What advice would you give composers trying to break into the video game world?
Matthew Carl Earl: Learn as much as you can and keep writing music. Keep writing ‘game’ music specifically. Make up some fun prompts for yourself and just go for it. Advertise yourself as a game composer first and foremost. Make a great website with big play buttons where someone can immediately listen to your best work. Also, make yourself available. Make sure all your contact information is clear (and working). The easier you are to work with, the higher the chance someone will want to work with you. Show up to lots of game developer networking events and make friends, but never be pushy with folks.
Another point. Some people are quite critical of free work and you really should value your time, but honestly, if you’re young and you are just getting started, working on a small indie or university game project for free could be a great way to meet folks that are just getting into the game world themselves that you can grow with, get some real released material, and get some real experience working in games. All of my first paying clients stemmed from a college game that I wrote some free music for!
You can learn more about Matthew at https://matthewcarlearl.com/.
You can learn more about Hexany Audio at https://hexanyaudio.com/