The following is an article by Jeff Holley, who composed a number of original pieces for The Forgotten mod. You can download a copy of The Forgotten's Official soundtrack, featuring Jeff's work and more, here.
Well, it all started when I got a message from my DMusic page asking if I was interested in doing some music for this mod. I replied saying I was interested and I pretty much made a random attempt at a theme song. It's always good when someone knows what they want, which I think makes it easier for me to get a basis for a song going. In this case, Blbpaws wanted something that had a feel like The Exorcist theme. So, I figured I should include a piano! After I had a nice piano theme down, I started to build onto it adding strings, some percussion, and some choir. When I would finish with a version, I would send it to the team and see what they liked or didn't like about it. I would get feedback about the percussion and some of the sound effects I might use. We would end up with several versions; some without drums, some with drums, more spooky, or more action paced. This sort of experimentation is necessary to explore the variety of sounds that are possible, even though we had to pick one in the end.
Let's see here... Making the actual song... We knew I wanted to have a recurring piano theme throughout the song and when deciding what it should sound like, I thought I would take "The Forgotten" name of the mod literally and convert it to something that had a sad feeling. After a while, I didn't want the song all depressing, so I decided to make it a little more "We won't be forgotten," which is of course one of The Forgotten's rallying cries. The piano was the first section I worked on. Since I think major chords have a happy feel, minor chords would have a sad feel. If I could get a nice melody going, I would have an idea of what I want the rest of the song to sound like and potentially what instruments to use. The piano ended up having a mid-velocity sound, which is not too loud but not to soft and some nice reveerb to make it sound a little more eerie.
Next, I thought I would add a nice cello/bass intro since they can have a more mellow tone to them and I didn't want it to overpower the piano too much, yet. The piano also starts as the melody and you can hear the piano chords come in after the small string intro. I had the low piano chords and cello make the harmony/chord progression. Then, I thought, what instrument says "military" or "war," since of course the mod involves lots of conflict and struggle., I thought of a snare ensemble and possibly some warm, ambient sounding drums. Again, I didn't want the snares to overpower the piano. I also started introducing the violins with a marcato/spiccato melody. It fades in leading to the choir. Speaking of the choir, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I decided to use a solo child choir because I bet I could make it sound eerie like the song and it ended up as one of the prominent points in the song. Everyone makes songs differently and there's never a right or wrong way, but that's how I did this one.
I'm usually my best and worst critic when I try to decide if I like the current melody. So, if I don't think it sounds good, I will probably delete it and try another scale chord progression. Sometimes I decide that the song is done and send it for approval and the next day, I'll have my DAW open making small EQ changes to it and the likes. So, for The Forgotten theme (which you can hear on the main menu), we ended up having 5-7 different versions and about 100 e-mails back and forth... Okay, not really one hundred, but still a lot. [Editor's note: Felt like a hundred to us sometimes, too, but well worth it]
When it comes to criticism, there's no use in getting mad because someone doesn't like it. I'm no professional composer, so I figure people won't always like what I make. Sometimes we can't agree on everything, but it's a group effort and everyone should be proud of the finished product. It's always great when everyone agrees on something, and that happened pretty regularly with this project! I just go back and make the changes they want and see how they like it. I draw on their comments and on music theory--I'm no master, but I know the basics of theory. I learn something from every song I make. You could argue there are right ways and wrong ways to make a song, but everyone makes songs their own way. I find that most of the virtual instruments I use are from EastWest Quantum Leap. Symphonic Orchestra, Symphonic Choirs, Stormdrum 2, and Ministry of Rock. I'm always working on upgrading my equipment, so the list is ever expanding! Also, I mainly use FL Studio, but I want to start working with Cubase soon.
As for how this all really started, I guess you could say I first got into composing when I was in a metal band in high school or when I learned how to play the violin in 4th grade. Ever since then, I've been hooked, writing random riffs for my guitar and using MIDI Instruments on my computer. I'll always enjoy writing music until the day I die or I go blind and deaf!
You can see more of Jeff's work on his site, and download the complete soundtrack for The Forgotten here.