What made you want to create something like VGL?
I've been a video game composer for over 25 years. My goal in creating Video Games Live was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. I didn't want to just put on a symphony concert for hardcore gamers, I wanted to do a show. Not necessarily even a concert, but a complete celebration of the video game industry and so the way we designed the show was with everyone in mind. My two greatest loves growing up were always video games and music... so I decided to combine them both.
To describe Video Games Live quickly: it's all the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir onstage. But what makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronized - the music is synchronized with the big video screen and the rock n' roll lighting and the stage show production, special fx and interactive crowd elements. It's all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert mixed together with interactivity, cutting edge visuals, technology and fun that video games provide.
You don't have to know a thing about video games in order to come out to the show and have a greater appreciation for video games in general and specifically game music. Most of the letters and emails we get after a performance are from non-gamers. Parallel to that, it's also ushering in a whole new generation to come and appreciate a symphony. We'll get letters from parents after the show telling us that they took their 8 year old daughter to the show and she wants to start taking violin lessons so she can learn and play the music in our show. The same thing happened to me over 40 years ago when I saw the Rocky & Star Wars movies. For the first time I really paid attention to symphonic music which in turn got me hooked on the masters like Beethoven & Mozart. I believe pop culture can have very positive influences on other (and more classic) forms of art. Video games are one of them. They have evolved into our culture and have become one of the top entertainments of choice for the 21st century.
You have quite a variety of guitars you like using to play on stage, is there a secret guitar you haven't shown anyone that is strictly to look at?
No secret one... but I definitely have a favorite. It's made by a company in Texas called Teye Guitars. They are unbelievable! They make custom guitars for some of the biggest rock bands in the world. When I first saw my guitar I knew right away that I had to go out and buy a matching shirt and guitar strap. Hahaha!
My second favorite is a custom Gibson Les Paul called the Webslinger One. It's a very limited and numbered Spider-Man guitar from the 80's in which Stan Lee personally signed each guitar. I believe there are 75 of them. I like to open the show with it during Castlevania so people can see right off the type the type of fun (and pop-culture obsessed) time they are going to have.
You've worked with so many talented women, featuring people like Eimear Noone, Laura Intravia and Kinuyo Yamashita. Being one of the first shows to really broadcast females in these roles, have you noticed a lot more female audience members in your VGL years?
Absolutely! When I do marketing meetings with the local promoters and symphonies around the world one of the biggest surprises is when I tell them that about 40% of our audience is going to be female! They all assume it's going to be 90% teenage boys. But the reality is that about 80% of the crowd is between the ages of 21 - 40 and 40% are women!
In regards to hiring women for Video Games Live. If you look at the credits of our latest album that just released... LEVEL 5... you'll see that the conductor (Eimear Noone) is female, the mixing engineer (Leslie Ann Jones) is female, the mastering engineer (Patricia Sullivan) is female, the concert master/first chair violin (Lucie Svehlova) is female, the choir master (Miriam Nemcova) is female, my business managers (Beth Sabbagh, Jamie Yaller, Tess Jablon) are female, our woodwinds soloist (Kristin Naigus) is female of course soloist/vocalist (Laura Intravia)... female! These are all of the most important people of an album. I didn't go out looking to hire only women... but these are very high skilled exceptional people who have all come into my life in one way or another and impressed me more than any of their male counterparts. Besides... it's a scientific fact that women hear better than men!
If you could bring one person on stage, any person, who would you pick and why?
Well... we've had EVERY major video game composer on the planet on stage and performing with us at one time... from Mario/Zelda composer Koji Kondo to Castlevania composers Kinuyo Yamashita & Michiru Yamane, Kingdom Hearts & Street Fighter composer Yoko Shimomura, Russell Brower & Jason Hayes from Blizzard, Marty O'Donnell from Halo, Yasunori Mitsuda from the Chrono series... the list goes ON AND ON. Even game creators like Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Mario), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear), Ralph Baer (considered the father and creator of home video games) Alexey Pajinov (Tetris) and Yuji Naka (Sonic) have all graced our stage. So I'm going to go a little outside the box and NOT pick a game composer and go with my cousin Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Only because we've been talking about it for YEARS and it finally needs to happen! It almost has a few times. When we shot our PBS Special back in 2010 we were doing the Aerosmith song “Sweet Emotion” and he was going to come out (unannounced) and start singing the song live with the orchestra. Unfortunately that was right around the time where he broke his collar bone and he wasn't able to do it. Someday! It will happen!!
What was your most iconic show that you've done while touring?
Great question. The first show ever at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was pretty amazing. This was the first time anything like this had ever been attempted and most people thought I was crazy. I remember people telling me that I'm lucky if 500 people showed up and that I was going to lose everything I worked so hard for over the years. Well... over 11,000 people showed up for that first show and all of the sudden I wasn't so crazy! It was a very emotional night for me because I was finally proving to the world that people cared as much about this stuff as I do. I knew after that night that I could take this around the world for a long time. And here we are... almost 15 years later! Crazy!!
Another huge show for us was playing Red Rocks last summer with the Colorado Symphony. Such an iconic venue! Really incredible!! And we had so many composer friends as guests that night who flew in to be a part of the show.
Also making the list would have to be the 2 big shows we did this past summer at the Bird's Nest National Olympic Stadium in Beijing, China! Over 30,000 people each night! The production was insane! We even had synchronize water fountain that lit up and shot up during the show!
But those weren't even the biggest shows we've done! We once did over 40,000 people at an outdoor festival in Taiwan! Mind-blowing!!!!!!
Can you explain to us a little about the preparation that comes with each show?
It's massive. It would literally take me hours and hours just to start to scratch the surface. Hundreds of production issues to address such as lights, video, click-track, sheet music, rehearsals, microphones, guitars, amps, cabling, speakers, etc. The coordination/touring element such as flights, hotel rooms, load-in times, ground transportation, meals, etc. Then there's the financial aspects such as contracts, agents, payments, invoices. But probably the most important thing is the marketing. We spend days with the local promoter making sure all of the elements are in place to be successful. TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, online social media marketing (Facebook, YouTube), interviews & press, flyers & posters for local game stores, partnerships/sponsorships... etc., etc., etc... it goes on and on. PHEW!
How much enthusiasm did you first receive from orchestras about your show when you first started in comparison to now?
I've had to convince the orchestras over the years that this will be something that people are interested in coming to. Each year as we continued to sell out shows around the world, it got easier and easier. And now that there are like 4 or 5 other video game symphony shows that have followed in our success... it's even easier. The orchestras love it because it's a great way to bring in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate symphonic music. Which was always one of my biggest goals in creating Video Games Live.
A few years ago we graced the cover of Symphony Magazine where they stated that Video Games Live was helping to save orchestras around the world and helping to bring in new audiences. It was a huge honor! And earlier this year we received 2 very important Guinness World Records. One of them was for the most shows ever done by a touring symphony show and the other was for the biggest symphony show ever watched live (over 752,000 in China!).
View record here
Ladies, Tommy has a girlfriend. I know, hearts everywhere are breaking but it's also incredible! What's your secret for keeping the love alive when you tour for so long?
Actually she's now my fiancé! We've been together for over 8 years. She grew up a gamer and a huge Pokemon fan! She also used to watch me on my Electric Playground & Reviews on the Run/Judgement Day TV shows. It's been really great to have someone in my life who likes the same type of things as I do (and who is able to put up with me being gone). I wish she could be with me more. She's been with me all over the world with Video Games Live, including China, Dubai, Brazil, France, Australia, etc... but mostly she stays home to work and take care of our dogs and horse.
I guess one of the things that helps when I'm away is that we try to Skype every day when I'm gone. I try to update her on everything that is happening on the road... but it's a challenge sometimes because of crappy internet in places like China... or that I'm so exhausted at the end of each long day. But on the days off it's a lot easier and I like to send lots of pictures through Facebook Messenger as much as possible. It helps me to feel like she's there with me.
Out of all the cities you've been to, which one had the best food?
Well, being 100% Italian I have to say any town/city in Italy of course!! There isn't even a close second anywhere in the Italy. Italy is by far the greatest. The worst... China! Hands down!
What kinds of things will we be seeing in the future VGL concerts to come?
In the beginning of 2017 we are going to be launching the most epic interactive live show App the world has ever seen! A team of people over the in U.K. (who have also done stuff with the likes of Elton John, KISS, etc.) have been working with me over a year on this. It will do things during the show that no one has ever imagined before... AND we're doing it in many different stages & upgrades once it's out. Wouldn't it be amazing for anyone in the world to log into our App on a show day and use your phone as a VR device and be front row and center to every show we do around the world!?! It's coming!!!!!!!!!
We would like to note that Tommy and his fiance got married earlier in 2018 and we congratulate them!