In 2001, Tommy Tallarico wondered how game audio could have risen so high in quality without gaining a proportionate level of recognition to other aspects of games. For many years he'd observed great expertise and camaraderie among interactive audio professionals, but noted how there was really no formalized structure to bond the community together. Two questions seemed to challenge him: how can we build an organization for interactive audio professionals and what can we do to promote a level of recognition for interactive audio that is commensurate with its value?
The First Speech
Tommy began his address to an assembly of audio producers and technologists at Bar-B-Q 2001 by pointing out how far the game industry as a whole has come in the last ten years, not only in terms of revenues and mainstream penetration, but also in terms of mainstream respect and validation. And audio for games audio has come a long way, too. Now we can ship games with 5.1 surround sound. Now it is common to have resolutions like 44.1 or 48 kHz. Now live instrumentalists are routinely recorded - even full orchestra - elevating game soundtracks to the same creative potential of their counterparts in film. Chance Thomas, a composer for film, television and interactive media, worked very hard with Tommy Tallarico, Leslie-Anne Jones of NARAS (National Academy of Recording, Arts and Sciences) and others for the inclusion of game soundtracks in the GRAMMYs. The success of this effort was a significant step for game audio. But there was still something fundamental missing from the picture.
For years, Tommy had observed how interactive audio pros demonstrated really strong community, a community that only seemed to flourish at trade shows billed for the greater industry at large. It has been at shows like GDC (Game Developer's Conference, which features a dedicated Audio Session Track), E3 (Electronic Entertainment Exposition), NAMM (National Association of Music Manufacturers), AES (Audio Engineering Society), that interactive audio pros have banded together to lecture, talk shop, share war stories, and trade information. Tommy had often spoken publicly at these shows on producing audio for games, often laying out his own methods for success for others to benefit from. But again, the benefit of these communal events seemed to sag a bit in the time gaps between events.
Tommy's speech came to its ultimate point with a proposal. It rang out like a challenge to the assembly. Let's form an organization that will serve as a centralized community for interactive audio developers. One that will offer information and resources out of a stated concern for its constituents' professional welfare. One that will unite the weight of hundreds of previously separate entities into one powerful voice. One that will have the stability and clout to seek the betterment of game audio - a betterment that its purveyors had always collectively wished but could never mount enough force to achieve. Tommy asserted that now was the time to embark on this path, and in time, make it a super highway.
The Initial Work
The 2001 Bar-B-Q workgroup consisted of Tommy Tallarico (Tommy Tallarico Studios), Dennis Staats (Dolby Labs), Steve Horowitz (Nick On-line), Steve Ball (Microsoft), Van Webster (Webster Communications), Clint Bajakian (Bay Area Sound Department), Alexander Brandon (ION Storm), and Bob Starr (Beatnik Productions). The brainstorming was fast and furious, and by the end of Day One, we had a shape for the entire concept roughed out with a first draft of the mission statement and everything.
At this early stage, the mission statement read: “To empower the game audio community by providing resources, education, and recognition for its members.” The word “resources” referred to tools and references to help members get what they need, including job postings, industry news, industry contact lists and web links. “Education” refers to white papers, instructions, sample application specifications, audio system architectures, and business contracts, among many other things. And “recognition” refers to the member-promotion through annual G.A.N.G. awards, regular member spotlights, and assistance with members' own promotional efforts.
The organization was leaning toward being non-profit due to the altruistic nature of its mission and the way in which it loosely resembled other non-profit member-based organizations. In fact, Van's involvement with AES and his keen business sense came in quite handy to keep us on course towards a successful workgroup outcome.
Historically, a Guild was a trade organization that monitored and controlled the licensing of a particular art or craft. In the Renaissance, it functioned according to the old Master and Apprentice paradigm. The way an aspiring tradesman or craftsman would begin his career would be to work in the shop of a master, doing “grunt work.” Over time, he would be assigned increasing amounts of responsibility. Eventually, the associate would apply for Master status by creating and submitting a “Masterpiece,” which would be judged by the Guild. If accepted, the applicant would enter into Master status, and be permitted to open his own shop. We were very supportive of this model in that it promoted a sense of community, one that acknowledged levels of achievement and rewarded accordingly.
G.A.N.G.'s membership types are Student, Apprentice, Associate and Professional. The Professional type is divided into Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels, the last of which requires 25 years professional experience and a host of other criteria. The group felt that recognizing people's dedication by tracking their membership status would serve to inspire excellence throughout the field of interactive audio. In the same way, the many special awards G.A.N.G. will bestow at an annual ceremony are geared to have the same desirable effect of rewarding quality and promoting excellence. Armed with a name, we marched to the ranch for the presentation and immediately, folks started pouring up and handing us scribbled IOU's for their initial membership dues. Everyone agreed that the organization was something that was truly needed and so we resolved to take the next step.
The G.A.N.G. Summit
Over the ensuing weeks, Tommy conferred with many veteran figures in the field about the project, planning a G.A.N.G. summit where the founding committee would further the project and elect officers. San Francisco's Dolby Labs (www.dolby.com) generously arranged to host the summit that took place on the main floor of the company's theater. The date was 02-02-02. Tommy presented a set of G.A.N.G. Founder awards to the attendants who numbered around twenty. Ten of the attendees were designated members of the board of directors and the first official minutes were taken for elections, resulting in Tommy Tallarico, president, Clint Bajakian, vice-president and Dennis Staats, secretary/treasurer. Soon afterwards, Jack Wall was elected Senior Director.
The Official Launch GDC 2002
As GDC (The Game Developer Conference in San Jose, CA) approached, a logo was designed, the organization registered as a non-profit corporation with the state of California, a bank account set up, a web site designed and published (www.audiogang.org), promotional materials produced, and the organization stood poised to revolutionize the industry on its public debut, 9:00 AM March 21st, 2002. The session was a success with over 150 people in attendance and many filing up to join after the panel presentation.
Over the ensuing months and the membership grew and many more sponsors took interest in supporting the organization.
The First Annual G.A.N.G. Awards Show 2003
On March 6, 2003, the first annual G.A.N.G. Awards Ceremony was held in the Regency Ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose during the Suite Crawl night of the G.D.C. Over 600 people attended the awarding of over 30 awards for outstanding achievement in many areas directly and indirectly related to sound, voice and music production for interactive media. This awards ceremony marked G.A.N.G.'s first public success, enabling it to serve the community and solidifying its place in the industry.