I’ve been meaning to write up a post about this, but just couldn’t seem to find the right time to do it. I decided that now would be as good of a time as any since this is the week of Thanksgiving here in the States. I usually don’t post incredibly personal bits on this blog, but I figured this one warranted an update and I hope you’ll indulge me.
10 years ago this month, I started my first professional gig in the video games industry as a sound designer.
Music has always been a huge part of my life. I would always sit down at the piano and plunk out either original ideas or something I heard on the radio. In middle school, I got my first Adlib card and decided that one of my projects for my “technology” class would be to record the intro music from several pc games using the pre-installed pc speaker and then do a comparison recording using the fancy new Adlib card. I remember when I started Dynamix’s Red Baron up for the first time with the Adlib. Instead of a series of arpeggiated beeps: a powerful synth chord burst out of my new desktop speakers. I was hooked. After that, I begged my parents for a soundblaster (and then later: the waveblaster daughtercard) and would always record things around the house, pitch them down, put them in reverse, etc, etc…This exploration started to bleed into my passion for games as well.
Doom came out and I was hooked. I played through the whole game multiple times and then discovered (via Compuserve) that you could actually MAKE YOUR OWN CONTENT. HOLY CRAP. I immediately fell down the rabbit hole of creating my own levels, my own texture sets, and of course, my own sounds. Well…to be fair, the majority of the sounds that I “created” were simply movie quotes that I’d rip from my VCR, edit down, and then put in the game…or I’d make fart noises and attach them to the “gib” animation of a character being blown apart. Ahhhh…high art.
In high school, I got my first keyboard and bit of outboard gear (Dr. Synth 330, baby!) and started writing and recording my own stuff with the help of a very close friend by the name of Jody. Jody basically planted the seed of digital audio as an art form in my brain. He introduced me to the totally abstract concept of recording to a click track. MIND BLOWN.
Throughout college (majoring in Musical Theatre Performance), I would always come back to writing music or doing little sound design projects as a method of de-stressing from classes, work, rehearsal, etc…but I never did anything with them. The most I did was use my student ID to buy a copy of Finale from the student bookstore and started making money by taking audition songs from fellow actors and changing the key to fit their vocal range or make shortened versions of the songs to fit under the usual “32 bar” limit of a musical theatre audition.
In my senior year of college; I was incredibly burnt out. I felt trapped in an area that I felt like I didn’t belong and had major reservations about who I wanted to be and what I really wanted to do with my life. My brother and I were working a couple of Quake III mods together and I started sending emails out to different companies basically to get ideas on how to break into the voice-over industry. One of these companies was Raven Software. Kevin Schilder was the audio director there at the time and he sent me a very cordial email back explaining how the industry was moving towards using SAG actors exclusively and that one would either have to be a member of the union or have a Taft-Hartley in place to essentially become SAG-eligible.
Kevin and I chatted back and forth via email for a few weeks and I told him that I had a bunch of personal audio projects that I never let anyone listen to before and wondered if he’d be able to give me a little feedback if he had time. Unbelievably, Kevin graciously said of course he would and asked me to send a cd. So, I sent a cd with the incredibly professional label of sharpie directly on the top of the disc that stated, “ZACK QUARLES MUSIC”. Ahhhh…presentation.
A couple of weeks went by with no word. I figured the disc probably ended up in the trash and went along with my semester…until an email landed in my inbox from Kevin that basically said, “I got your demo…we’re hiring…interested?”
“Uhhh…Josh? I have a weird email.” (Josh is my brother)
I flew up to Madison for the interview and was totally and completely gobsmacked. I was walking around a building, looking at artwork from games that I played and loved. I saw concept work for a new game and asked Kevin if that’s what he was working on.
“No. That’s what you’ll be working on.”
I got back from the interview and sort of lived in a daze for awhile. I didn’t know what to expect, but figured that they wouldn’t hire someone so (seemingly) green. Surely, they needed someone with a degree? Someone that was out of college for awhile? Someone that wouldn’t nerd out ridiculous on a constant basis?
I walk into my place with my friends Joel and Laura to find that my phone is ringing. The caller ID says, “Raven Software”. I take a picture of it and answer the phone…I still have the picture.
Long story short (too late), I got the job. I moved to Madison. I worked at Raven for about 5-6 years (there was a brief hiatus where I decided to come back and finish my degree). I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I learned what I wanted to be. I’m continuing to learn how to be better at it all.
In honor of this week; I am thankful for a number of things: I’m thankful for the people in my life that always went out of their way to listen. I’m thankful for my parents for letting me explore who I wanted to be with zero pressure. I’m thankful for the people that supported my decision to do something that no one else was doing.
I’m thankful to Kevin for taking a chance on me…and taking me under his wing. Kev – You have no idea how grateful I am. You are and will forever be: the bees knees. Thank you.