Back in 2010, I recorded an episode of the WTPT podcast discussing the Pokemon: The First Movie pop soundtrack. In the first part, we discuss some of the (then) recent Pokemon news, and give an overview of the album:
In addition to the podcast audio, I've added a number of updates and other information that will appear periodically through the video.
Special thanks to Jowy Romano for giving permission to upload this audio.
So, this weekend I was exploring some possible topics, and I ended up doing a couple of things, including checking out the recently released Rhapsody player for Wii U-which, by the way, in addition to a “not-great” search functionality, has a few issues in its UI. While I wasn’t especially pleased with the experience, my dissatisfaction with the application did give me some insight and led me to think about another product that I consider quite good: Mario Maker. Now, Mario Maker has very limited search capabilities as well, but for some reason it gets away with it, and I think that’s because of a few key differences between music and Mario levels.
The first thing is that the mediums are very different. Music is a mostly linear audio product, whereas Mario levels are an interactive experience with audio and video. This affects a number of aspects, most notably the ways in which the items can be browsed. In a musical search, I can basically look for songs based on an artist, genre, track name, or album name, but that’s about it, and if I need to know more about a track (for example, to find if it’s a cover of another track with the same title), I pretty much just have to listen to it. With Mario Maker’s Course World, while there is no text-based searching option, I can scroll through levels to find levels that look good based on a small preview image, completion rate, stars awarded by other players, and more.
Another important distinction is that the way the content is being consumed is different. In Mario Maker, the content is fairly disposable-even if a level is really good, I’m probably not going to play it more than once or twice before moving on. In music, there are really two different consumption modes-one is finding music you know you already like, and the other is finding music that is new or at least new to you. Digital music services have historically done the first case reasonably well, but struggled with the second. Mario Maker is more analogous to the second case, so the question is why does this work there? Well, going back to the browsing aspect, besides the previously mentioned level information, one other aspect that really helps in level discovery is the ability to restrict results to recently created levels. Digital music services will generally have a front page with featured new major releases, but finding anything deeper is very difficult.
Based on this information, it seems like a music search with date filtering and detailed per-track evaluation and interaction would work well, and as you may already be thinking, such a service does exist. YouTube, despite being billed as a destination for visual content, has become the de facto destination for finding music, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to being able to find old and new songs quite easily (tags and description text really help), users can share thoughts on individual tracks (much like leaving comments on a Mario Maker stage). Personally, I love reading what folks have to say about each tune, and it really makes the experience richer in a way that digital services haven’t been able to match.
So, can a music service adopt this style? Sure, it’s just that for the most part, these services are still organized with albums in mind, which also drives their interaction model. Shaking free from that won’t remove all their disadvantages, but I think it will help them compete. We live in an age where consumers expect to be able to share their thoughts on creative works, and it’s not surprising that the service with the best tools has been the most successful.
Steven: Alright. Well, since you did that song, you’ve had quite a long career after that. In fact, currently, you’re actually working in China. How did that come about?
Mark: Well, 3-and-a-half years ago, I was invited to score a live-you can call it a musical, but it was actually the largest multimedia event in the world. It was called Illusions [and was] just outside of Shanghai. And they had 5 composers who failed at doing the task, because the whole show was told through music. There wasn’t any language. It was a very big task. They had 5 Chinese composers who wrote Chinese music. And what they really needed was Lord of the Rings 400-piece orchestra and choir kind of thing. They had invested an enormous amount of money-much more than we would ever spend in this country-to create a show that would be on the world stage with actors from all over the world. And when they came to Los Angeles to find composers, I met the chairman and he fell in love with my film score and music. Because, it was kind of what they were looking for. It was very epic. A lot of my film scores have that epic sound with full orchestration, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Choir. And that’s what ended up happening. This show took a year and a half to build. The CGI film took four years to make. This was basically a show on an enormous stage that was built for us with 180 degree screens, 8 stories high. And in front of it, were 60 actors. Some of them being Cirque du Soleil and part of the New York Ballet. And that put me on the map in China. Since I successfully completed the mission of doing a musical of such stature, I was approached by a wonderful organization where they have a collection of masters from around the world in their field, and they are partners to help better and further the creation and the understanding of Chinese composers.
Steven: What else do you like about China, besides getting an opportunity to work on music there? What’s the country like for those of us who haven’t been there?
Mark: It’s mostly surprising for everybody who’s never been there. I’ve been there for 4 years. But it’s not that I’m there full time. I’m still based in California, in Los Angeles. And I have a studio in both Los Angeles and Shanghai. What we love about China is that they are open to experimenting. The process was much more different than it is here. Here, we spend years and years planning things. There, they spend a couple of months planning things and than put it into action and see how it turns out. And for any artist, I think it’s a wonderful thing to be in the sand pits of experimentation. There are amazing people that I have become connected with in the film industry-actually, in all industries-who are all part of the same consortium that we are. It’s actually called DeTao [pronounced “De-Dao”] , which means “The Way”. It’s almost like an enormous think tank of world leaders coming together that creates something new. I think it’s wonderful. The other thing that I’m going to say will surprise most people. Living in Shanghai is like living Paris or New York on steroids. It is nothing really Chinese about it, although it is China. And it was actually the area that I live in is called the Former French Concession, and it was built by the French. So, in essence, living in Shanghai is much more enjoyable in many ways than living in other parts of the world.
Steven: That’s really neat. What’s some of the other stuff you’ve worked on recently in either place?
Mark: Many things. One of the things I got to really explore is that I am a concert pianist. And I just have a new sponsorship by Bösendorfer. One of the things we’re doing is we’re doing piano performances around Asia, which is usually accompanied by the films I have scored. And it makes for an interesting new platform of performance. So, we’re doing that. I’m also writing, getting involved with films and television series in China. That’s an exciting thing. And the great thing about working in China is not only am I scoring for film, I’m scoring for provinces and scoring for cities. I was asked by the mayor of Shanghai to write the soundtrack for Shanghai. That’s been a year long project. I just recently scored the Zhejiang province, which is a very wealthy province in China. The capital of it is called Hangzhou, and it’s on a beautiful lake. The G8 Summit [Editor's Note: Actually the G20 summit] is going to be there. So, the government officials came to me and they asked our studio in China, called Studio Chait, to come up with the DNA, the brand of music, that depicts what they are and how they’re represented to the world. This is a very large project because it involves many people and statistics and research. So, scoring locations and cities and provinces is sort of like scoring the Olympic Games for me.
Steven: In what way?
Mark: Because it’s scoring the emotion that comes out of an event. How do you feel when you go to Shanghai? What is the essence of the Zhejiang province? And because I’m good at encapsulating a 4 minute song to tell you the emotion of a one and a half hour film, it’s a good strand of DNA that goes through everything that is associated with it. In essence, it’s what we call music branding.
Steven: Neat. And you mentioned you have a studio-type establishment that you do work from. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that? And it has website, doesn’t it?
Mark: Yes, it does. Actually, if you go to my website, which is markchaitmusic.com, there is a link to the Chinese studio as well. The easiest way to see what’s going on in China is to Google my name, Mark Chait, then put the word China in. Then, all the Chinese websites come up in respect to what we're doing in China. It’s really fascinating. Our organization is called DeTao, which means ‘The Way’. We have a staff, we have full scoring facilities, and we just did our official launch-opening up the studio-at end of July 2015. It’s almost like a full music studio/film scoring/sound design studio, and we are a full music solutions studio. So, if someone wanted to do a film and they want to have music and sound effects and sound design and all of the above, we fulfill those needs. That’s kind of the way of the future.
Steven: Fantastic. I really love that. Do you have any social media accounts you want to plug here? Why don’t you do that?
Mark: The social media accounts that we have are on something that I’m not sure your listeners can get onto. It’s called WeChat. It’s the Facebook of China, but it’s actually got every application combined. Most of our social media is on that. But also, I’m going to start adding things to YouTube. The best way for my social media is through my website, which is markchaitmusic.com.
Steven: Sounds good. Been great having you on. We’ve learned some fantastic things. Not just about Pokémon, but also about how the world of music is evolving. Thank you very much, Mark.
Mark: You’re very welcome.
Steven: This has been Steven Reich from the Poke Press studios in Madison, Wisconsin, on the phone with Mark Chait, co-writer of “The Power of One” song from the second Pokémon movie.