When it comes to video game cover artists and musicians, the internet has been an absolute godsend for the genre. From NoteBlock to FamilyJules, Tater-Tot Tunes to the Noble Demon, almost every game and song you can imagine has a near endless number of amazing covers and remixes to listen to online.
It’s an amazing time for video game musicians and their fans, and one which has turned the medium from a niche artform to a respected genre.
And it’s also provided a way for some of these folks to go legit too. Like today’s interviewee here on Gaming Reinvented, Game & Sound! Yep with nearly 20K subs on YouTube and thousands of purchases and downloads on platforms like Spotify, iTunes and Google Play, they’ve gone from strength to strength since their start back in 2014.
So today, we’re gonna learn all about them, how they got interested in video game music, and the story behind their channel and business as a whole!
Starting with a bit of personal background. So who are you? Who’s the person behind the Game & Sound YouTube channel?
My name’s Carmine and I live in a pretty small town in Southern Italy. I’ve always been fascinated by and interested in creativity as a way to express myself. As a result of that I tend to get into different hobbies that are usually related to art: photography, video making, drawing (although I really don’t share any of that online) and some poetry and writing too. This is particularly relevant because I don’t feel I’m particularly good with words, so that’s a way of challenging myself a little! On the “consumer side” I read a decent amount of books and enjoy pretty much any art form. I also have a particular love for space. I read a lot about astronomy, as long as it doesn’t involve actual math!
All of this ties into my main activity, which is of course music. I feel like if I go out of my way to learn new things and nurture my different interests, my music will also reflect that by naturally being more complex and multifaceted.
And where did the name come from? Presumably the original Game & Watch, right?
Exactly! Back then I wasn’t really sure about what to call the channel, so I did a little brainstorming with a group of friends and the Game & Watch idea popped up. I thought it was a good fit, as the future of the channel wasn’t set in stone but I was pretty sure I wanted it to be a container for my VGM stuff, just like the Game & Watch series was a container for different game ideas. Hopefully it makes sense! This was at a time when I wasn’t even considering the channel as something to actively work on, I just wanted a place where to put my VGM covers, whenever I decided to make them. I never intended for Game & Sound to be an alias, I just thought of it as the name of the channel. Still, my initial shyness in sharing any personal detail made people start addressing me as Game & Sound, and it stuck.
How did you get into gaming? What was your first game?
When I was born a Sega Genesis (Mega Drive over here) was literally already in my parents’ house. My dad just happened to buy one for himself at the time! I think the very first game my eyes have ever seen is Sonic the Hedgehog, then a bunch of other Genesis games like Cyborg Justice, Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, Quackshot starring Donald Duck, and Sunsoft’s Batman Revenge of the Joker. This was at an age when I barely understood how to play a video game! Some years later I got an SNES with Super Mario World and I got completely obsessed with it. Another game I remember vividly is Plok, a pretty obscure SNES platformer that will be important later on. Back then I didn’t know its soundtrack was written by two of my now favorite game composers, Tim and Geoff Follin.
What about your current game? What ones are you playing now?
Right now I’m playing Hitman 3 when I know I have a couple free hours when I wouldn’t be doing anything better. I have to admit that gaming doesn’t take that much space in my life as it did years ago. Time feels way more limited now, and I rarely find myself interested in the shiny new game that gets announced every now and then. By now I know my tastes well enough so that I don’t need to keep myself informed on everything like I used to. The latest game I really enjoyed was Metroid Dread, as it’s basically my favorite series. I usually like compact experiences that reward immersion, creativity and exploration. Sometimes I boot up Elite Dangerous and play it as a comfort game, just exploring around star systems while listening to some electronic music. Did I mention I love space already?
Which video game soundtracks have inspired you over the years?
This one’s a tough question! I listen to a lot of music and just a relatively small part of it is gaming related. Off the top of my head: Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, the DKC trilogy, Castlevania, Sonic, Mega Man… It’s clear I enjoy classic stuff most of the time! I also need to mention Cuphead’s soundtrack, which is amazing.
Among the less obvious choices I already mentioned Plok’s soundtrack by the Follin brothers, but I feel like talking about a couple others.
I love F-Zero GX’s soundtrack to death – acid and completely unhinged, just like the game. I know a lot of people love the more rock-oriented tracks from F-Zero X, but I have to say GX’s OST sounds just like it would in my head if I saw the game for the first time. Not to mention the sheer amount of tracks it features! Aside from tracks for each environment and story mode mission, each playable racer (40 in total!) has a personal track composed ad-hoc. I also think there are a couple of bonus versions of classic F-Zero tracks. It’s just an insane amount of work, and I could fully understand this only after starting to produce music myself.
On a more recent note, I enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles X’s soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano. The tracks feel melody-oriented and structured in a way in which they can totally stand their own ground if listened to by themselves. The OST features big orchestral ensembles mixed with electronic elements. That could have easily slipped into “cinematic” territory, but instead we got a soundtrack that values the composer’s writing, and I love that. One could argue that media composition should be more subdued in order not to remove the attention from the media itself, but I still find myself preferring strong musical themes and development. But that’s a subject for another day!
Finally, I’m listening to a lot of Hideki Naganuma’s work lately. His sample work is downright crazy, and I love just how funky anything he makes is. There might just be a cover or two planned…
Any soundtracks you consider underrated? Which ones?
I have to talk about Plok’s soundtrack here, as my story with it is pretty fun! I remember playing the game while I was around 5 years old and enjoying the soundtrack, just in a simple way like a kid would do. I never touched the game anymore while growing up, but those themes stuck around in my head for years, without me thinking about it too much. Fast forward into the future and I’m a guitar student getting interested in ‘70s Progressive Rock. Suddenly, a realization strikes me: “these 70s bands sound just like that SNES music I remember!”. Basically, I had discovered Prog Rock before I even knew what it was, a style of music still sitting among my favorites today. It’s hard to tell if playing Plok (a random SNES game my parents just happened to buy) and being exposed to its music at a young age actually contributed to shaping my musical tastes, but I’ve always found it to be a fun coincidence. Anyway, listen to it, it’s great!
While Tim and Geoff Follin’s work is pretty well known among VGM enthusiasts, I have to mention a soundtrack that might just be known to me and 10 other people on Earth. I’m talking about Sheep Raider, an obscure PS1 game about an obscure Looney Tunes character, which is basically a Wile E. Coyote clone. I remember the game being good in its own right, but the soundtrack really struck me as “too good”, if that makes any sense! It’s a blend of Drum n Bass, Jazz and Funk, with some Rock guitar thrown in at times. It’s difficult to describe, so I’ll just invite you to listen to it. Expect a lot of crunchy jazz chords! I don’t think Eric Casper, the composer, is active anymore and it’s a real shame.
How did you learn to write music? Did you go to uni for it, or are you self taught?
I started learning to play guitar at 11 and I kept taking guitar lessons until I was done with High School, when I went to study Jazz Guitar at a College of Music close by. The experience had its ups and (many) downs, but it gave me the opportunity to study what I liked and develop an artistic identity. I started understanding what I really liked and what I didn’t. Also, Game & Sound started during those years. I now have a Master’s Degree in Jazz Guitar, and got another Master’s in Jazz Composition. This is because I met a very good composition teacher during my guitar course, and that actually made me understand I cared a lot about the writing process. Looking back, I’ve always had a big interest in composition, even back when I was only studying guitar. It seems like I needed quite some time to finally embrace it! You can notice this shift in perspective even in my covers, as older ones are way more guitar-centered while recent tracks tend to distribute ideas better between instruments. Other than that, my latest tracks just have a lot more going on in terms of writing.
What instruments do you play? You’re obviously a guitar pro, but any others?
I’m really only completely comfortable while playing guitar. I can play bass due to the sheer similarities between the two instruments. I also play a little bit of piano, but that’s basically just to help me during the composition process and I would never say I’m a “real” player. I guess I “play” synthesizers, as I consider sound design a core aspect of those instruments, and I do design quite a good amount of sounds and sequences for my music. I got a lot into hardware synths during the last couple years!
Regardless, onto YouTube stuff now. What inspired you to start a channel?
As I’ve mentioned, it was just supposed to be a place where to put the VGM covers I made for fun. My first track was a Big Blue cover from F-Zero I made way before creating the channel (I had a personal Soundcloud where I uploaded my recordings), as an excuse to get accustomed to using recording softwares, programming MIDI and mixing. I really didn’t know what I was doing! I let some friends listen to the finished track and they encouraged me in making more. The second one was a “jazzy” version of the Song of Storms from Ocarina of Time and again, my friends’ feedback was positive. This was definitely a factor in making covers on a more consistent basis: I liked the creation process and I was eager to listen to my friend’s comments about what I was making. Honestly, it was as innocent as a kid making a drawing and showing it to someone, just for the sake of it.
Caption: Two of the first remixes/covers Game & Sound posted to their channel
When I decided to make it a consistent thing, I thought of a name and created the Youtube channel. My music was then available for anybody to listen to, and I started receiving comments and feedback from random internet people. At that point I was motivated to keep at it and maybe even attempt to grow the channel a little.
And why did you make it a video game remix channel?
It was a way of putting together my passion for music and my love for games (mainly) from the past. With time I was able to rationalize why I liked covering that kind of music so much, and it ties back to composition! When talking about retro soundtracks, composers had very little to work with and had to be creative to bypass technical limitations. However, I believe a strong musical idea can carry its own weight regardless. For example, think of Wily’s Castle from Mega Man 2 or the first Silver Surfer level: you can tell that’s basically rock music being played through an NES chip! You can tell the intention of the composer and get a feeling from it just by the way they write their music, and I’m deeply in love with this concept.
One type of comment I often get is about how much my covers “get” the feeling of the original tracks, and I must say it’s one of my favorite compliments because it’s exactly what I want to achieve with my music on the channel.
I’ve never liked identifying my music using a genre (although in the early days my limited knowledge made me gravitate towards rock/metal) and I think this kinda made it hard for my channel to have a clear identity in the eyes of viewers. If you skim through my covers you will notice I jump around genres a lot! However, if a common thread has to be found in my covers, I’d say it’s about interpreting the feelings I get when listening to the original versions and conveying them through my sensibilities and tastes. Due to its unique technological evolution, game music is one of the few types of music that can allow this process!
Were there any other YouTubers that inspired you there?
If I have to be honest, the decision of starting the whole VGM project was rooted in my personal experiences, and no single creator was a clear source of motivation for me to work on the channel. However, seeing other creators doing something similar to me was definitely important, as it made me aware there was a big community of people that felt passionate about VGM.
Either way, how do you decide which songs to remix/cover here?
90% of the time is pure personal interest. Back when I started working on the channel, choosing was pretty easy as all the popular tracks I knew well were available to cover. With time, I needed to start having brainstorming sessions where I listen to a bunch of tracks and write down the most interesting to me.
There have been times where I tried to cover tracks “strategically” in terms of timing, but I really didn’t like the process. I’m usually very pedantic with myself and I don’t like working on an overly strict schedule. There was a period where I tried to cover one track per week, but that usually led me to burnout sooner or later. Also, my arrangements have become way more complex than they used to be, and good ideas need time – at least, that’s how it is for me!
Have there been any songs you’ve changed your mind on? Perhaps because you didn’t think the remix idea was working?
There have definitely been projects where I felt stuck and took some time to find the right idea to continue the arrangement, especially during the first years. However, I finished nearly every project I’ve started, I think I have just 4 or 5 abandoned ones in total. When I start a new project for a cover I already have a pretty clear idea about the direction it’s going to take. Again, experience in writing helped me a lot with this, as I now find myself having more compositional tools at my disposal than I used to. It’s like learning new words every day, therefore being able to say more things as time goes on.
Do you get lots of requests? How do you handle those?
I do get requests from time to time but I like to retain all of my freedom in choosing what I will work on. However I do always keep in mind what people want as suggestions, and there have been times when I actually covered a requested track just cause I went to listen to it and liked it! I’ve never experienced an overwhelming amount of requests for a single track, but if I did I’d gladly cover it. In general, I appreciate people sharing their suggestions a lot, as it often makes me aware of great new music!
Which remixes are your favourites and why?
I’m glad the question is about multiple tracks, as I could never choose only one! I don’t think I’ve ever had a single favorite *anything* in life.
First one that comes to mind is my Stickerbrush Symphony (Brawl version) from VGM Covers Vol. 9. There’s a lot of myself in there and I’m very emotionally attached to it, but I also remember it being one of the covers where I felt like I really nailed the feeling I was going for. I can notice production problems here and there while listening to it now (which is true in different amounts for anything I’ve made before 2020), but the ideas were there and I’m still very fond of it.
I’ll list a few more in no particular order:
- You’ve Come Far, Ness from Earthbound, as it inspired me to be very experimental with sounds and moods, and I love how it turned out.
- Redial from Bomberman Hero, just because of how lighthearted and upbeat the track is, and how much fun I had covering it
- Route 209 from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, as I’m really satisfied with how the arrangement turned out. I feel like it’s one of my more fleshed out tracks in terms of writing!
Lastly, a special mention has to go to “Journey of a Hunter”, a Metroid Medley which is currently not available on Youtube, but you can listen to it on Spotify and other music platforms. This one has quite a story behind it, as it was one of the very first tracks to go up on my YT channel. I think it was the third one! Back then I was super inexperienced and the result was VERY rough, but I put a lot of effort into the arrangement and how I connected the various tracks in the medley. Last year, with the announcement of Metroid Dread, I decided to pick it back up and remake it from scratch while keeping most of the arrangement. It’s probably my most complex work to date. As you can imagine it is also a very important track on a personal level, as this new version of the Medley represents how far I’ve come since starting out as a musician, and functions as a direct comparison with my old self. If I really had to choose only one of my tracks for someone to listen to it would be this one, out of just how much it represents me.
Any least favourites? Or remixes you don’t like as much anymore?
Oh boy are there! I dislike a lot of my older stuff, but I usually try to tame my hypercritical nature by putting it into context: that was the best I could do at the time and I really didn’t know any better. There are a lot of covers I don’t like because of the production aspect (EQ, Mixing, Mastering), but I admit the ideas were there. The ones I really don’t tolerate are those of which I don’t even like the ideas anymore, or when I genuinely think I could’ve done better even back then. A few that come to mind: Zelda’s Main Theme, Green Hill Zone, Corneria, Luigi’s Mansion Theme, Moon from Ducktales.
A common problem I find in some of my older tracks is the lack of variety in the arrangement, as I had the bad habit of just repeating the song sections with little to no changes.
Any songs where you prefer your remixes to the original tunes?
This one is tough! Obviously, my versions of these tracks are a byproduct of my sensibilities so it would make sense “liking” them more, or at least resonate more with them. On the other hand, the original tracks gave me something I didn’t originally have and moved me enough to make me put time and effort into covering them. For this reason I’d say I’ll still put the originals on a different level.
Just as a fun anecdote, the only time I felt bothered by a track I was covering was with Route 209. That song starts pretty solemnly on a march rhythm, but has an upbeat section starting around one minute. It really feels like the song should go somewhere from that point, but instead the section only gets one exposition before the track loops back to the start. It really bothered me, and it was one of the reasons I decided to cover it!
Are there any songs you really want to remix/cover in future?
There definitely are! I usually don’t plan too many covers in advance, but I do keep a few in mind at all times so that I already know what to work on once I’m done with the current project. There have been times where I hadn’t planned ahead and that often led to a creative stop, so I try to avoid it.
About stuff I want to cover in the future, there will definitely be some Jet Set Radio tracks, and I also plan to do something with Plok’s soundtrack. I already covered a couple tracks some years ago, but couldn’t release them due to licensing issues. Now that they officially released an OST on the market I can finally license my older covers, so I’ll grab the opportunity to release them along with some new ones. Don’t know when this will happen though! Other than that, I plan to rearrange some old tunes I don’t like anymore, and maybe release some original music. I don’t know if it will be under the Game & Sound name though!
Have you made any original music?
Yes! I have a decent amount of original music lying around. The most recent ones are almost all Big Band compositions, a few symphonic tracks and ones written for smaller ensembles. I also have a huge amount of unused original music from when I was just experimenting with writing, before even starting the composition course, but I seriously doubt it will ever escape the depths of my hard drive.
Or worked on any games or other projects as a composer/cover artist?
I’ve never officially worked as a composer on a game project, but I’m really looking into media composition as a parallel activity to go alongside my VGM covers. In fact, one of the plans for this year is to build a website and a portfolio, so I can hopefully get started on a composition project. These first steps feel a bit overwhelming, but things need to start before going somewhere.
Beside that I have worked on some commissions in the past, and as far as covers go I’ve recently participated in NoteBlock’s Ultimate Smash Medley, an insane project with over 90 musicians covering every character’s track. Of course, I ended up making the Metroid Prime section!
How about other types of videos? Any non cover videos on the agenda?
Honestly, I’ve always had an itch for different kinds of videos but never actually did anything. There are a couple reasons for it: I don’t really know if people would be interested in them, and to double down on the subject, Youtube isn’t really the platform that’s keeping me around. Regardless, I’ve thought about videos focused on the gear I use, and others about the writing process. I even thought about analyzing some VGM but that really isn’t the most original idea I’ve had! I may try some of these in the future, just for the fun of it, but I really don’t expect anything important to come out of this.
Regardless, your channel’s doing rather well, with 17K+ subs and thousands of views per video. Did you expect to see this?
Of course I didn’t! Not at the start of all this anyway. However, the thing with expectations is they’re highly dependent on context. By now, I’ve come to expect certain numbers from Youtube, and they haven’t really been surprising me for a while. I know the platform hasn’t been kind to a lot of musicians in the past few years. Regardless, my channel isn’t the smallest around and I’m incredibly grateful for all the people who decide to watch my videos. The internet got us used to huge numbers but I really don’t want to take for granted any view or subscriber.
What do you think about it in general? How happy are you with your channel’s progress?
Youtube was a huge part of my activity as a cover artist, and it’s been my preferred platform for a long time. A lot of people, and some of my most faithful supporters got to know me and listen to my music thanks to Youtube, so I’m very happy about that. I have a lot of gripes with the platform, starting from how it handles copyright, notifications from subscribed channels, and the dreaded algorithm. Life for musicians, especially those dealing with copyrighted work, hasn’t been the easiest. I’m not sure what to make of all this other than trying to keep my music around on the platform, while shifting priorities if/when needed. I know a lot of fellow musicians have been doing the same.
Is YouTube your full time job right now?
Oh no, not in the slightest. My activity as a cover artist is, though! Thankfully, my numbers on music platforms have reached a point that allows me to consider this a full time job. Currently, Spotify is where people listen to my stuff the most, with currently over 90k monthly listeners and >300k monthly streams. I’m incredibly thankful for this, and honestly still find it astonishing if I stop and actually think about it. This is why I sometimes prioritize releasing a new track on music platforms rather than Youtube, which also requires extra work for the videos. I still have fun making videos and will keep doing so, but when it comes to choosing a preferred platform, I think the answer is obvious in my case.
Do you want to make it such in future?
I’ve made great progress in this regard during the last few years, but I’d really like to start working as a composer too. I’d also like to actually record my Big Band tracks with a real orchestra, but that’s quite an ambitious goal. Regardless, one of the focuses from this point on will be original music!
Finally, what advice would you give other creators wanting to get started on YouTube? Or into music in general?
That’s quite a big subject! I’ll talk about a few things that I think work for me.
First of all, think a little less and do a little more. This comes from personal experience with my struggle with perfectionism and the fear of not getting things right. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about any possible scenario before even laying down a note in my arrangement. I still advise being selective with your ideas, but do that with moderation. Sometimes an idea that doesn’t seem that great can be developed into something way better, you just need to start and you’ll figure it out along the way.
Following this train of thought, I’d advise you to just try whatever you have in mind, don’t be afraid of it not being good enough. Make that cover song, learn that solo, start that band. There’s value in doing something just because you want to: you’re expressing yourself, learning new things and getting better at your craft. Worst-case scenario you’ll improve your skills, best-case your creation will pay off in the long run. Today I’m able to achieve results I’m happy with only because I’ve been making music for years, which allowed me to get better at composing, recording and producing. Some of my most listened songs on Spotify are covers that I made “just cause” like 6 years ago.
Finally, I strongly believe we are what we create and vice versa. I think sometimes becoming a better composer just means listening to others’ music, reading, traveling, visiting museums, taking a walk in nature… experiencing life. All of that will be in our music next time we write something down, even if we won’t really notice. Don’t forget your theory books though, they will still help you a lot!
That’s a great point there Carmine! Having actual worldly experience is a huge asset for any creator, regardless of whether they’re a musician, game designer or artist in general.
And it’s also why Nintendo tends to prefer people with more varied backgrounds over hardcore gamers or Nintendo fans. Indeed, as Miyamoto said in an interview with the New York Times:
I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.
You need more interesting experiences to come up with unique ideas and concepts, and the best way to do that is to do things other than work on your art all day. Go outside and travel places. Have hobbies unrelated to your work. Live a life outside of the studio, not just one sat at home all day looking for that magical spark of inspiration.
Still, thanks for the amazing interview! It was great talking to you about your channel, and we’re excited to see what amazing covers you come up with in future.
And thanks to anyone reading this for sticking around to the end! If you enjoyed the interview, check out Game & Sound’s work on social media below…
Then leave your thoughts about the interview (and who you want to see us interview in future) in the comments below, on on social media or on our Discord server today!
Game & Sound on Social Media