Announcing the memoirs of composer Chance Thomas
Arriving Summer 2023
Imagine we're sitting down together for lunch or cold drinks. Relaxed and comfortable, let’s take a few minutes to get acquainted.
My name is Chance Thomas. I‘ve been composing music for video games, film, and television since 1996.
I’ve had my share of failures, but I’ve also been part of some thrilling victories, including an Oscar win, an Emmy win, and billions of dollars in video game and film sales worldwide.
Though I was never blessed with generation-defining talent, I was given just enough talent coupled with an outrageous work ethic.
In terms of financial success, I’m certainly no billionaire. But I eventually became a millionaire. A multi-millionaire, to be totally transparent.
You may be similar to me – good mind, decent health, raw talent, lofty ambitions, ready to work hard, willing to study and learn. Not necessarily an outlier of nature, you may find yourself somewhere in the wide central span of the Bell Curve.
That’s okay. I’m right there with you.
This book will take you across the jagged peaks and valleys of an achievable music career. It explores many of the fascinating titles I’ve worked on, including The Lord of the Rings Online, King Kong, The Settlers, DOTA 2, Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, Avatar and many more. Each chapter reveals details about connecting with key people, pursuing projects, negotiating contracts, composing and producing scores - all the challenges, successes, failures, and funny stories that bring the experiences to vivid life. Plus a few chapters about my personal history for color and perspective.
Think of this as a career guidebook wrapped around a personal retrospective; a professional how-to manual woven into a memoir.
Let's get to it...
Sneak Peek (excerpt from chapter 7)
GAME MUSIC GRAMMY
The nightclub was dim and crowded as I pushed my way in. A mobile DJ booth pulsed in the corner. Red and blue lights flickered from the ceiling, tickling a small dance floor. Music industry insiders were everywhere. Suddenly, I spotted the man I’d come to see. Chatting with a group of record execs was C. Michael Greene, Chief Executive Officer of the Recording Academy, otherwise known as “the Grammy guy”. I wasted no time getting next to him.
I introduced myself as a new member of the Recording Academy, and mentioned that I composed music for video games. He nodded, but seemed disinterested and distracted, his eyes darting around the room. I pressed on, posing the question I’d driven to San Francisco to ask, “Do you think we could get a new Grammy Award category for video game music?”
His eye-wandering stopped, and he looked down at me – straight down his long, thin, slightly crinkled nose, “You mean like Pac Man and Donkey Kong?”
“No, not really,” I answered. “More like live orchestras, layered voices, acoustic guitars, and ethnic soloists. Sort of like what you’re hearing right now.”
Prior to our conversation, I’d arranged with the DJ to spin up a copy of my own Quest For Glory V soundtrack. The first track had just begun playing when I mentioned the new category.
I continued, “This is my latest video game score.” Greene cocked his head toward the ceiling and began listening intently. Cigarette smoke drifted upward, dancing hazy circles around the lights, but his eyes were fixed far away. I could see the concentration on his face, his lips pursed, eyebrows furrowed, an outdated paradigm shifting in real time. Finally, he turned to me and said, “You may be on to something here. Get in touch with our VP of Awards, Diane Theriot. Show her what you’ve got. I’ll tell her you’re calling. Let’s see where this goes.”
- - - - - - -
Diane Theriot was the epitome of hard-earned, effortless class. Picture the congenial charm of Oprah Winfrey with the seasoned wisdom of a diplomat. Not a perfect description, but that's pretty close.
As I walked into Diane’s dazzling corner office, she rose up, stepped out from behind her desk, and greeted me warmly. Dressed in a well-tailored designer business suit, she carried herself with an ease few could manage, even in their favorite sweats.
We connected effortlessly, relaxing into unhurried small talk. Then Diane addressed the purpose of my visit. “I understand you would like to discuss the possibility of a new Grammy Award category to honor music from video games? Please tell me what I ought to know about this.”
My presentation was locked and loaded. Game on...
Sneak Peek (excerpt from chapter 15)
LORD OF THE RINGS (part 1)
A loud knock at the door startled me. I was reviewing a newly mastered soundtrack album, lost in a dance of sonic colors, oblivious to the world around me. Shaken from my reverie, I pushed the pause button and opened the door, welcoming Daniel James into my studio. Daniel was new at Sierra, hired to assist with the design of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Online (MEO), the company’s top secret online game.
First impressions are unfiltered, and with a glance I liked Daniel already. He was a lanky Brit with mischievous eyes and a crooked smile, topped with a messy mop of brown ringlets, scraggled in every possible direction. Cradled in his left arm was a pile of books.
He plopped the books on my desk. “Your summer reading material,” he announced. Unevenly stacked from top to bottom were five thick paperbacks from Ballentine Publishing: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, and The Silmarillion. It was a formidable stack!
Daniel announced that he was very serious about making MEO into a spectacular game. He raved that the source material was unrivaled in all the world of fantasy. Besides, he explained, Sierra’s video game license was based entirely and exclusively on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, so everyone on the game team needed to be thoroughly versed in the literature
As Sierra’s Senior Music Producer, I had been appointed to tackle MEO as my next project. It was a dream come true, an appointment I'd lobbied for vigorously.
Daniel and I spent the better part of an hour discussing his vision for the game, and I told him I looked forward to receiving my marching orders. He pointed to the pile of books and said, “Orders received!”
For the next several months, I disappeared into Tolkien’s web of fantasy - wizards and Hobbits, Orcs and Uruk-Hai, Elves and Dwarves, warriors and kings. Threading magically through it all, was music. My mission was to understand with authority how J.R.R. Tolkien had envisioned music throughout the breadth and depth of Middle-earth, across all of its ages.
Each day I spent long hours researching and annotating Tolkien's books for everything they revealed about music. I found passages describing specific musical instruments used by various races. I found passages describing vocal tone qualities. I found more than 60 different songs in the books and studied them all, including song forms and styles. It was fascinating to read about the impact of music on characters, personality traits, and even the environment. I sought to capture the author’s magnificent vision, interpret it in contemporary musical terms, and give it pure expression through the music in our game.
From my literary notes, I drafted a 26-page Tolkien Music Style Guide. This Guide provided guardrails to keep my creativity from drifting wildly or even mildly off course. It insured that my composing and producing efforts would remain aligned with the literature, always in harmony with Tolkien's vision.
Let’s dig into the some of those details...
Snippets (from chapters 7, 11 and 28)