The Trackmania series has had a slew of fantastic composers and artists at the music helm – and they were picking me to have a go at it?!
Below is how I approached the music for Trackmania, my composition process, and what I remember the most about writing each track.
The first thing I felt I had to do was a ton of listening. My aesthetic and feel would naturally come through as long as I was having fun but finding the right musical “lens” to funnel it through was the first step.
H-Pi, Doo, Ed Banger Records – each had a different feel and interpretation, but the aesthetic I felt mostly closely aligned with was Professor Kliq. This was true musically, but I also knew the professor personally from our time attending music school together. We had great conversations on developing our craft back in the day and had made remixes of each other’s tracks as well as created a live DJ set. This was the world I wanted to put my spin on – this was my lens.
Since the bulk of gameplay is racing, I wanted to start developing the “racing feel” first. After I knew what the right feel was, I could port some of those ideas into the main theme for the game so everything felt holistic.
Before we get going, you can check out the entire soundtrack here: https://idol.lnk.to/Trackmania_OST
And if you want to see/hear a bunch of ideas I didn’t end up using go here: https://youtu.be/dipU8AfgJ5A
cheesy danceable breakdown regal racing
For me, writing music is about manipulating yourself to spark what I call that “musical intuition.” Many composers and authors have written about and described it better than I can and have gone into much more detail then I will here.
It’s a balancing act of “feeling” and “thinking” about the music – using your music theory knowledge to guide your experimentation and failure until you stumble across what just “feels right” – and then it flows from there in a sort of “rinse and repeat as needed.”
For me, barely any starting ideas begin at the keyboard. I’m always pre-occupied by whatever project I’m working on and ideas or riffs will randomly pop into my head – something I’m learning to cultivate more and more. My phone is full of videos of me playing guitar, piano, and tapping my chest while humming and also telling my future self what I “think” the harmony (chords) beneath the melody are.
I had been thinking a lot about how the Professor’s music always had a “bouncy” aspect to it. Then after exercising one day, I recorded this.
From there, it was a matter of adding layers and variation to make it feel like a complete piece of music. I incorporated synth sounds I felt sounded “slightly cheesy” since I felt that was a big part of creating a Professor Kliq-ish sound.
For the bridge, I indulged myself with a “breakdown.” My favorite genres of music are metal, electronic and classical, so I’m always looking for an opportunity to combine these genres together somehow.
Starting at 2:53, you can hear the breakdown begin with layers pulling back (the calm before the storm) and dissonant movements in chromaticism (or, moving in half-steps) incorporated into the original riff. But it doesn’t really begin to sound like a complete metal breakdown until 3:21.
Just change the synth to a guitar there - and what do you have?
Finally, after talking to the Ubisoft Nadeo team about the next track (main theme) I knew they wanted to relate the overall feel to the Olympics. I’ll talk more about what that means next, but I ended up going back over this track and adding brass and string harmonies to relate it to the main theme more and give it a more regal quality.
After writing this track, we had a form, feel, and template I could refer to in order to spark that intuition moving forward.
Opening Ceremony – Main Menu
80’s workout Olympic dance reminder
The Ubisoft-Nadeo team had referenced an Olympic feel in conversations and sent me this video as a reference.
As I listened, I didn’t immediately latch onto the Olympics aesthetic. The massive amounts of reverb and swirling synths gave me a very 80’s vibe, but more of an action movie or evening cop show than the Olympics. There’s a (seemingly random) clock sound throughout and even a siren at 1:44 – what’s Olympic about that?
It was very difficult to interpret “Olympics” from the reference until I reached 1:59. The feel drastically changes and finally made sense – it was lofty, slightly regal and almost reminded me of the music from the film Chariots of Fire. I immediately sent a message asking if 1:59 was the moment they felt was most “Olympic” and luckily, it was.
After pinpointing what “Olympic” was, I also began to think about what I interpreted it as. Not only was it Olympic, but perhaps being in a track with elements that felt 80’s to me kept bringing me back to a stereotypical 80s workout video. After listening to the Olympic passage many times and picturing far too much spandex and hairspray, I was working out one morning and recorded this.
I was between sets at the gym and trying to be quiet – you can hear doors opening and people moving around weights. Sometimes you just can’t help when the ideas come.
From there the ideas came quickly with the challenge actually becoming the mix. I kept pushing things towards something more dance-track focused as opposed to something for a main menu. The Nadeo team actually had the great idea of moving sections around for the song form that’s in the game now which I think works beautifully from both a musical and pragmatic point of view.
It starts strong to introduce the world and experience for the player, and over a couple minutes dies down and builds back to the full theme I hummed into my phone. This is a great way to remind the player to come back to the game if they’ve left the room on the main menu.
There is plenty more music to talk about for this OST - I'll be writing more about the writing process for Trackmania soon.
Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches as adjunct faculty in the film and game programs at DePaul University in Chicago.
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