Critical Role has recently released their first album, Welcome To Tal’Dorei, under the banner of their new record label, Scanlan Shorthalt Music. Welcome To Tal’Dorei features immersive fantasy music that is used during the Critical Role livestream games. The music brings audiences into the world of Critical Role’s Exandria through epic orchestral fantasy composition. However, creating music for Critical Role is a unique experience. As a Dungeons & Dragons game the story unfolds live during the stream through Matt Mercer as the DM as well as the players. Because of this the composers were given unique instructions on how to create music for this world without knowing how the story would unfold.
We had the opportunity to speak with composer Matthew Carl Earl, lead composer and part owner of Hexany Audio, about collaborating with Critical Role on their new album, Welcome To Tal’Dorei. Matthew explained the unique method in which he and the other composers created music for a story that has not yet been told and reveals how it was similar to composing music for video games.
MATTHEW CARL EARL REVEALS HOW THEY WROTE THE MUSIC BEFORE THE STORY PLAYED OUT ON CRITICAL ROLE
“I mean, it’s a little similar to how we approach video game music, but it’s even more removed. Because, film is probably the most locked because you have all these sync points you need to hit and you’re locked to these certain ideas and emotion. Game’s [are] a little farther removed. But in this it’s like, there’s not even visuals. There’s nothing, there’s not even a story yet. It’s like, they’re going to tell the story over it. So it’s basically writing moods that we know will encounter.
So it’s like we’re going to need some more peaceful things and some more hopeful things and sad and battle and really gnarly battle and creepy tracks and mysterious things. So it’s like writing all these different moods and then while we’re writing, just making up the story in your head basically to do it. And then Matt the DM, he arranges all the music and then will trigger it based on the moods he thinks he needs to convey while he’s telling the story.”
Music is an important part of storytelling. It can help convey emotions, intensity, and emphasize important plot points or character moments. However, creating the music completely separate from the story is an interesting storytelling and world building challenge for the composers.
By focusing on emotions that will likely be a part of the campaign and leaning into the fantasy element of Critical Role’s world Matthew as well as the other composers have found a way to tap into the story even before it came to life. Usually composers are working off some idea of a story whether that be a full cut of a movie, a scripts, outline, or concept art the story has been established. That isn’t possible for Critical Role because of the nature of Dungeons & Dragons.
“So the music comes first, not so much that they like, “Oh, this is going to be our plot. We’re going to do that.” It’s more like we come up with the music and the moods. And then while he’s coming up with his own fantasy stories for the characters and everything, he’s applying the moods we created to that story. So it’s kind of neat because it’s just all like fantasy, it’s all imagination. So that’s why it’s pretty fun, it’s pretty limitless.”
Each of the tracks on the Welcome To Tal’Dorei album leans into different emotions and different interpretations of emotions. Some have an eeriness to them while others are more hopeful, tragic, or action packed. The way that Matt Mercer is able to conduct not only the story and game, but music as well is truly impressive and proves his skill as an immersive storyteller. While Matthew Carl Earl, and the other composers, had the chance to work on this unique project there is one style of music Matthew wasn’t able to work on, but would love to create for Critical Role.
“One of the things that I really love to do, that I would love to do is almost tavern style music. Just really, really simple folk tunes, the inspiration from Ireland and that kind of thing. Just small little guitars and some little percussion, just playing these little jigs and fun melodies and stuff.I love writing that kind of music, so that would be really cool to do in the future.”
Tavern music seems like the perfect addition to Critical Role given how often the characters find themselves in taverns. Matthew Carl Earl brought to life three stunning tracks with “1000 Steps” leaning into an eerie magical feeling, “The Nymph’s Heart” taps into the peacefulness of a forest, while “The Champion’s Goodbye” is the tragic yet hopeful conclusion of the Welcome To Tal’Dorei album. And while Matthew said he isn’t currently working on anything else with Critical Role, hopefully the Scanlan Shorthalt Music record label indicates that more music will be coming soon.
New episodes of Critical Role Campaign 3 premiere every Thursday at 7pm Pacific on their Twitch and YouTube channels. You can now listen to and purchase Welcome To Tal’Dorei via Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and any other online music services. What do you think of The Welcome To Tal’Dorei album? Which track is your favorite? Would you like to hear some original Critical Role tavern style music? Leave your thoughts on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more Critical Role.
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