Sebastian Wolff - Materia Collective: Profiles in Video Game Music

Updated on February 1, 2018
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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

Materia Collective has become one of the most prolific video game music releasers in the world. The collective was founded by Sebastian Wolff in 2015 and has grown steadily ever since.

The origin of Materia Collective was a Facebook post that Sebastian made out after the digitally remastered HD release of Final Fantasy VII was announced at E3 in 2015. He explains, “We ended up with 192 contributors. We ended up with a nearly six hour album with 87 tracks. We called it MATERIA, so that was the inception of the entire community and the collective.”

Since those early days, Materia Collective has become one of the largest video game music companies in existence currently. Sebastian says that he finds this fact both surreal and exciting.

Sebastian’s own musical path started with classical music. He began piano lessons when he was five or six and worked his way through the repertoire as he progressed. It wasn’t until high school that his passion for video game music surfaced. It was through the soundtrack of Kingdom Hearts as well as video game music communities like OCRemix that he found his passion. He points out, “It was like, ‘Hey! This is really good music that I could play on piano.’ It’s fascinating because that was sort of the spark for me. I wanted to have more video game music that existed for piano.”

Since not much sheet music existed for video game scores, he began transcribing the music from those games. Sebastian says, “I think in the last decade I’ve probably arranged 600 pieces or so. Those are still scattered around the Internet.”

As part of Sebastian’s continuing passion, Materia Collective is releasing more sheet music this year. He points out, “I want to give the folks who are growing up with video games now a way to have a similar experience and really get drawn to music again through the music that they already know that’s in the game.”

One of the most exciting moments for him is when the Materia Collective releases a new album. Sebastian says, “Once the physical merchandise arrives, especially for video games, it’s one of my favourite things. When you see that spread out across social media, all the backers and friends of the games have something tangible that they can get excited about all over again.”

Re-contextualizing and reinterpreting classic video game music is an important part of what Materia Collective does on its albums in Sebastian’s view. He elaborates, “How do you span all of that existing material, stay truthful to some of the original ideas that the composer intended but then also re-interpret the vision? It’s like, ‘Okay. These were the constraints from a technological level or from an implementation level, but what if the constraints were different? What if there was a different context and the music had a new life outside of the game?’ ”

He adds, “It gives the listeners who were already fans of the game, the music and the composer a new experience that they didn’t have before. I think that’s what I love about working on new projects. I love experiences that build on top of what people already are familiar with.”

One of the challenges that Sebastian has faced in the world of video game music is that game companies and developers don’t see themselves as music companies. He explains, “They might not necessarily have the resources, the interest or the understanding of how important the music is. From a licensing perspective, that is still one of the most difficult parts of working in this space.”

As is often the case, there’s also opportunity to be had in the challenge. Sebastian says, “Since Materia Collective isn’t just a label, we’re also a rights company and a music publisher, we’ve definitely started working with a lot of cool companies and a lot of cool composers to help them understand those rights and understand the space a little more.”

In Sebastian’s opinion, one of video game music’s greatest strengths is its sheer diversity. He says, “Video game music has come a long way. There’s such a tremendous variety of it. It’s almost like a microcosm of the entire music world.”

Even within one video game music composer’s body of work there can be a huge variety of different music. One of his favourite examples is an indie game called Fat Chicken that was scored by a composer named Jason Graves. Sebastian elaborates, “Jason Graves is a phenomenal composer. You look at his iTunes page and you see these dark, extremely potent soundtracks and then there’s this tiny little indie game: Fat Chicken. It is its own tiny indie experience alongside these much larger works.”

Sebastian’s expectations for the future of video game music are high. He says, “One of my favourite composers at the moment, Jessica Curry, is doing a segment on Classic FM in the UK. It’s phenomenal because she gets to highlight a lot of the composers that she knows and a lot of the cool works that have been coming out. She moves a little bit more into the forefront following the accomplishments of Emily Reese on NPR, Kate Remington and many more outlets. There seems to be much more interest in video game music than there ever was. I think we’re approaching a golden age of VGM and I’m really excited.”

The level of talent now involved in video game music is something that comes in for high praise. Sebastian says, “There is a tremendous level of talent represented in video games both on the creator level and in fan communities. Second to that also the YouTube and Twitch communities where cover music is celebrated.”

It’s Sebastian’s goal to help further video game music with Materia Collective. He points out, “I’m not expecting to get rich and retire on video game music, but one of the big reasons I’m here is to provide all the pieces that are necessary for an artist to be a success and really take off. Being able to facilitate projects that are literally rising up from nothing and being able to empower people to do creative things is one of the most inspiring projects in itself.”

In the future, Materia Collective will continue to provide composers and studios with the resources that they need to move video game music forward. Sebastian says, “I’m building a foundation right now for video game music to come to the next level. It sounds weird, abstract and grandiose, but I’m building a community and also the infrastructure for there to be much more of a bridge between the creator side and the fan side.”

Sebastian adds, “On a more succinct level, we are publishing 100 albums this year. We’re bringing out maybe five more books of sheet music, physical printed versions, and that will hopefully inspire other creators, companies and game studios to do similar things. Being able to now branch out and do much more of that in a very direct way with composers, with the game studios really excites me.”

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